Interview with Kieran Gilbert – AM Agenda – Wednesday, 29 March 2017


SUBJECT/S: Cyclone Debbie, North Queensland Economy, China Extradition Treaty, Boao Economic Forum and Trade

KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda, we’re standing by to take you to the emergency headquarters for a briefing on Cyclone Debbie as crews head into those area affected. We’ll take you there live when it gets underway.

In the meantime, I’m joined by the Trade Spokesman for the Labor Party, Jason Clare. Mr Clare, I know you and Opposition Leader Shorten are heading to this region next week. Obviously all of our thoughts are with those affected.

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INVESTMENT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RESOURCES AND NORTHERN AUSTRALIA: Hopefully the worst is over, but with the torrential rain and the strong winds people still have to be very careful up there.

This is an area that hasn’t just been hit by a natural disaster – it’s been hit by changes in the economy. Places like Mackay and Bowen have seen unemployment go up. Average wages have gone down when in our big capital cities you’ve seen wages go up. Housing prices in places like Mackay have gone down by 20 or 30 per cent as well.

They’ve been hit hard by changes in the aftermath of the mining boom and LNG construction boom out on Curtis Island, so this is an area that’s been hit very hard.

It’s why Bill and I will be up there next week, travelling from Rocky all the way through to Cairns, talking to people about what are the sort of things that are needed to help rebuild Central and Northern Queensland

GILBERT: And one of the industries most crucial to that part of the world is tourism, isn’t it? And its infrastructure would have been damaged as well?

CLARE: Yes, potentially. We’ll have to wait and see as emergency crews trawl through the wreckage of this storm. I heard some good news in Cairns recently where they said that Chinese tourism in Cairns is up about 30 per cent on last year. But when you have devastation like this, it’s going to have a big impact on tourism.

GILBERT: I want to ask you, in your capacity as a former Home Affairs Minister, the implications of the China Extradition Treaty basically being stalled now. On our relationship with the Chinese law enforcement authorities, we saw a hundred million dollar seizure of crystal methamphetamine in the last week or so, arrests made, due to the tip off of the Chinese. Are you worried by not authorising this treaty that we have a flow on effect to things like that?

CLARE: I was actually in Guangzhou around the time that that happened. I’m not worried about that Kieran because the relationship between our law enforcement agencies in Australia and in China is strong and deep.

When I was Minister, I was responsible for signing off a lot of those mutual assistance decisions, and making decisions about whether we should extradite people or not. I’ve had to make the decision to extradite people and also make the decision to refuse – not with China, but with other countries.

The decision that the Labor Party’s made is that we shouldn’t go ahead with this at this time. We’re not saying that we should never do it, but given the differences that exist in a number of our existing extradition treaties, it’s a good time for a review.

GILBERT: You were at the Boao Economic Forum last week, one of the things being discussed is that we can pursue a closer economic relationship through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP as it’s called. Given the TPP’s been knocked over by Trump, do you agree with that sentiment? Do you think it’s something the government should be pushing?

CLARE: Yes, I think the Prime Minister should be putting his shoulder to the wheel to execute a great trade agreement here for the region. With the TPP dead, this is where all the focus of the region is.

Potentially a trade agreement involving sixteen countries – all the ASEAN nations as well as us, New Zealand, China, India, Japan and South Korea. Potentially 30 per cent of the world’s GDP. I think more than that – 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. So we’d like to see a great trade agreement concluded by the end of this year.

This year’s the 50th anniversary of ASEAN so there’s a real opportunity to bind the region together with the trade agreement, and hopefully Kieran, an agreement which the United States might join one day. I’d like to see a trade agreement for the region that crosses the Asia-Pacific and that involves the two giants of the region, China and the United States. One of the weaknesses with the TPP was China wasn’t in it. One of the weaknesses with this agreement is no America. We need both.

GILBERT: Well there’s no prospect of that happening in the short term with Donald Trump.

CLARE: Not the short term, in the long term.

GILBERT: And it’s odd to have the Communist Party-led People’s Republic of China the free market advocates right now, the free trade advocates as opposed to Washington.

CLARE: You see that in President Xi’s speech at Davos earlier this year. You’ve got America retreating into protectionism and the Chinese are leading the argument here. And they’re making the argument not just for free trade and not just for the expansion of trade in the region, but they’re saying that that growth needs to be inclusive. We need to make sure that everyone benefits, not just some parts of our communities, and not just some countries.

GILBERT: And one of the things they talk about, I’m sure you would have discussed at the Boao Economic Forum, is the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative which is about infrastructure across the region and in the less well-off nations of the region particularly.

CLARE: This potentially means jobs for Australia. It means roads, rail networks, ports, airports, right across Asia. They’re going to need steel for that. That means iron ore. That means coal. So there are opportunities for our resource sector, but opportunities potentially for other Australian businesses if we get our skates on in engineering and skills development, and helping to build that. If that project comes off, and ideas are great – execution of those ideas is the hard part. If that comes off, that will accelerate the development of the world’s biggest middle class right on our doorstep, and that creates great opportunities for all Australian businesses.

GILBERT: Mr Clare, I appreciate your time as always. Thanks very much

CLARE: Thanks Kieran.