Interview with Sabra Lane, AM ABC Radio, Monday, 30 October 2017


SUBJECTS: FutureAsia – Trade, Barnaby Joyce

SABRA LANE: The Federal Labor Party believes governments need to better address the public’s scepticism towards free trade agreements or risk a backlash like that witnessed in the United States. If it wins the next federal election, the Opposition is promising an independent analysis of future free trade deals before they’re signed, and it wants all agreements reviewed after ten years to see if they’ve lived up to expectations. They’re just two ideas being outlined later today by Labor’s Trade Spokesperson, Jason Clare, who is revealing a number of new ideas in a speech this afternoon to the Australian Chamber of Commerce.

Mr Clare joins us now in our Sydney studio. Good morning and welcome to the program.

JASON CLARE: Good morning Sabra.

LANE: We’ll get to questions about your portfolio in a moment but first Barnaby Joyce says if he is re-elected, he’ll take the proposal to Cabinet for a bulk referendum as we just heard, simplifying the eligibility requirements for MPs but also have questions about indigenous recognition and the republic. What does Labor make of all of that?

CLARE: Look I’d be very wary about that Sabra. I think if politicians put a proposal to the Australian people that just made it easier for politicians to become members of Parliament I think the Australian people would rightly tell us to get stuffed. I want the Constitution changed to recognise indigenous Australians. I want Australia to become a republic. But I think the chances of that happening would be less if we jammed that together with a proposal just to make Barnaby Joyce’s problems go away.

LANE: Alright now to your trade announcement. This builds on policies already revealed by your colleague Chris Bowen. In a nutshell, what do you want to achieve with trade?

CLARE: Well look, Asia is where all of the opportunities for us are in the years ahead. In the course of the next ten years there will be three billion middle class consumers to our north and the challenge for us is to make the most of it. We’re very good at putting resources and agricultural products on boats. We’re good at attracting students and tourists and foreign investment to Australia but we’ve got to get a lot better at making sure that Australian businesses take up all of the opportunities that there are in Asia. Only fifty-five of the current top two-hundred Australian listed companies do business in Asia at the moment. We’ve got 18,000 companies that currently do business in New Zealand, but only seven thousand do business in China. What I’m worried about is that if we don’t get our skates on here, we’ll miss the boat and other countries will get the opportunities in Asia and we’ll miss out.

LANE: Having the Productivity Commission run the ruler over free trade agreements before they’re signed, how long will that process take and will you adopt recommendations it makes? Because often sometimes governments ignore the Commission?

CLARE: Well this would happen at the same time as the trade deal is being negotiated. The reason I think this is important is because at the moment when a trade deal is being negotiated, the Department of Foreign Affairs put together a report for the Parliament which says this is a good deal and it should be signed. I don’t think it’s good enough that the people who are negotiating the deal are the ones who tell the Parliament  this is a good deal.

We do need – this is a big deal, it’s about creating more jobs, and more opportunities for Australians – I think the Parliament and the Australian people are right to ask for independent advice that this is going to create more jobs, increase household incomes, create new opportunities for Australian businesses. And that’s why we are saying that if we’re elected, all trade agreements, before they’re signed, would be subject to advice from the Productivity Commission. And if the Productivity Commission came back and said this was a bad deal, I don’t think any government or any Parliament would want to sign it. You’d go back to the negotiating table.

LANE: What say would unions have in the process given they weren’t comfortable with the deal that Australia did with China?

CLARE: Well on the China deal, what we asked from the Government were changes to that deal to make sure if Chinese workers come to Australia they’re paid Australian wages  and they receive Australian level training. The Government finally caved into that and they finally accepted that that was the right thing to do. That’s the approach I think should apply across the board.

LANE: And reviewing deals once they’re done after ten years? That’s a promise regarding future agreements but what about those deals done in recent years like the deals with China, Korea and Japan?

CLARE: Well again I think it’s worth our while asking the Productivity Commission to have a look at deals that have been done to find out where they’ve worked, and where they haven’t. It will help us make changes to those deals and will also provide us with advice so as we can negotiate better deals in the future. It will also hold the feet to the fire of the government and the bureaucracy to make sure that we squeeze out every single job and opportunity out of these trade negotiations.

This is what businesses do. They evaluate things after they’ve been done and it’s what good governments should do as well.

LANE: As you mentioned you can’t really alter these deals once they’ve been done so it’s just an exercise in the lessons learnt?

CLARE: No, you can. On a regular basis the countries that have signed a trade agreement will go back and renegotiate separate parts of it. For example we’ve just done that with the Singapore Trade Agreement. So this evaluation is independent analysis by the Productivity Commission which will help provide the Government and the Parliament with the advice we need to make sure we can improve these trade agreements along the way.

LANE: You’re proposing these measures in part, these concerns about deals. Is it a little too late given the Farmers’ Federation believes there is already a lot of scepticism about free trade agreements saying it was a factor in last year’s election in the rise of One Nation?

CLARE: Well trade has never been popular. But if you look at what’s happened with the election of Donald Trump and Brexit you can see trade is about as popular as a snake in a sleeping bag at the moment. I think one of the reasons for that is that we’re still dealing with the hangover of the GFC. Real wages are flat. We’ve seen real wage growth at the lowest level it’s been in 20 years and at the same time you’ve seen businesses’ profits at the highest they’ve been in  years.

There’s a lot of people here and around the world saying, hey trade seems to be pretty good  for companies but I’m not getting anything out of it. I think there are a number of things we can do to combat that. One of them is tackling rising inequality in our community. We’ve got to make sure that more people benefit from these agreements and that requires changes to our education system to skill up people to make sure they’re getting jobs in these areas where there is growth. Where there’s growth opportunity. We’ve got to change our tax system to make it fairer and more progressive. But another thing we can do here, and that’s what I’m talking about today, is to be more open and honest with the Australian people and have independent analysis of these agreements to make sure that the deals that we do sign are the best possible deals.

LANE: Shadow Trade Minister Jason Clare, thanks for talking to AM this morning.

CLARE: Thanks Sabra.


MEDIA CONTACT: 02 9790 2466