Interview with Leon Byner, FIVEaa, Tuesday, 31 October 2017.


 SUBJECTS: FutureAsia – Trade

You would know that I’ve been very questioning on the value of many of these free trade agreements. Not because I don’t think that they can be good, they can. The problem has always been that the people who ultimately decide whether they’re worth Australia’s interest are the same people who broker the agreement, so it’s hardly independent. Now Australia has signed 12 nation, transpacific partnership agreement with the U.S. without any independent analysis of its economic effects and didn’t allow other parts of Government to independently analyse them. Now why would you do that? If this is, and these agreements are so good why would you not open them up to independent analysis? Well my next guest is saying ‘you get us into government’ – that’s the Shorten Government – ‘we’ll change that’. Let’s talk to Shadow Trade Minister Jason Clare. Jason thanks for joining us. What is it that’s brought you to this conclusion that we do need an independent assessment?

JASON CLARE: Well a lot of people have been calling for this for a long time, including yourself. But also the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the ACTU have called for it. There has been a raft of Parliamentary Inquiries including Labor and Liberal politicians who’ve said we need to do this. The only people who have said we shouldn’t be doing independent testing of these deals before they’re signed is Malcolm Turnbull and the Trade Minister.

BYNER: What do you think that is?

CLARE: To be honest I don’t know. I think it’s in their interest as well as in Australia’s interest that we do this. These are big deals. We’ve got to make sure they’re good deals. Before they’re signed I think it’s in the Government’s interest to be able to say ‘have a look at this report, this report says it’ll create jobs, it’ll increase incomes, it will be good for these different sectors of the economy.’ But also identify what are the costs as well as the benefits. The people and the industries that benefit and the ones that don’t, and what we should do about that.

BYNER: I want to ask you a very obvious question about this, and that is that at the moment when a free trade agreement is put to the Parliament you only get to ratify it, is that not the case?

CLARE: No, the Parliament doesn’t ratify it. The Government ratifies it. What the Parliament does, is a committee of the Parliament gets to examine the deal that’s already been signed by the Government and they get advice on whether it’s a good deal or not from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It’s called the National Interest Analysis. In other words the people that negotiated the deal provide a report to the Parliament saying it’s a good deal. People at DFAT are terrific professionals who do a great job, but I think when you’re talking about something as significant as this particularly in an environment where people are sceptical about trade, trade’s never popular and it’s pretty unpopular at the moment, you see that with the rise of Trump and what’s happened with Brexit in the U.K So before a deal’s signed we should get it independently analysed first. 

BYNER: It doesn’t make sense to me that you do the deal and then you’d analyse it when you’ve done it. You should analyse it before you’ve done it. Shouldn’t you?

CLARE: Yes, and that’s what’ll happen if we win the next election. What we’ve said is that before the deal is signed we’d table the draft agreement in the Parliament. Along with that we’d have this independent analysis of it available for the Parliament to look at, looking at the economic as well as the non-economic impacts of a deal like this.

BYNER: Look, the one thing that puzzles me is that any suggestion that we should consider Australia’s interest is often construed as being almost xenophobic. Do you find this?

CLARE: When you have these debates you’ll find that people are really worried about whether trade is creating jobs, or whether it means they’re going to lose jobs overseas. A poll came out last year where only one in five Australians said they thought trade creates jobs. That concerns me because we’re a trading nation. We rise and fall on what we sell to the rest of the world. We’ve always been a country that relies on trade and with the rise of Asia we’ve got massive opportunities ahead of us.

But unless we can build support for trade, and one way to do that is through having this open transparent independent report available to the Parliament, then you’re going to have more and more people say we shouldn’t be doing these sorts of deals.

BYNER: Yes. You know a bit of good news that’s happened in the last 24 hours. The Chinese have lifted restrictions on beef from Australia.

CLARE: Yeah that’s terrific news. There’s been a couple of abattoirs, I think half a dozen around the country, that have tried to ship their meat to China but because of labelling issues weren’t able to get them into the country.

One of the other things I announced yesterday Leon, is that if we’re elected we’d put together a joint team made up of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Austrade, Agriculture and Industry to work as one team helping Australian businesses to get their products into markets like China. They’re often hard places to get into. They’re called non-tariff barriers, issues that companies confront when they try and ship things into different countries. What we’ve said is we’ll put together this joint team, based on a model that’s recently been announced in New Zealand, and it will help businesses to get their products into countries like China when they’re having problems like the meat industry has confronted over the last few months.

BYNER: I’ll tell you what’s happened. We know that in gas for example, and we’ve differed to the expertise of people like Professor Samantha Hepburn, she’s an energy expert. She’s made the point that we’ve overcommitted gas. We don’t have a shortage we’ve just committed too much overseas. A lot of food products are having the same fate where we are seeing rising prices here. I mean it’s all very well for us to export and that’s great but if the consumer locally finds that there is a shortage and therefore they have to pay more, aren’t they going to scratch their head a little bit on this?

CLARE: You can understand that Aussies are going to say let’s make sure that when I go into Woolies or Coles or Aldi that I can get first class Aussie produce and I can get it at a good price. The farmers will also tell you we’ve got some great products here that we can sell to the rest of the world as well.

Australia is capable of feeding about 60 million people so we’re never going to feed the world but we can feed Australia and we can get our first class produce to some key markets in Asia, and in Europe, and in the US at that premium end of the market. Now one of the challenges we’ve got is products like say for example blueberries, which we can sell to a number of countries, we can’t sell to China at the moment because the Government hasn’t signed a fruit fly protocol with the Chinese. So if you go to China and you go into the supermarket to buy blueberries you’ll find they’re blueberries from Chile or from Canada.

These are the sorts of things that government can do to help farmers to get their products into market. Sitting down with countries like China and saying how do we sort this deal out quickly.

BYNER: Yeah another important issue here is that we’ve got massive power, and as you’re a senior minister I’d run this by you…

CLARE: Shadow Minister.  

BYNER: Yeah well theoretically if you won you would be but yes.

CLARE: There’s an election that has to happen.

BYNER: Oh absolutely. The situation here is that people don’t care how electricity is made they just want to be able to make it work when they throw the switch and get it at a price that doesn’t send them to the poor house. Do you think politicians of persuasions understand that?

CLARE: Any politician worth their salt knows that. It doesn’t matter whether it’s being able to flick a switch and expect electricity to work or to be able to turn on your computer and have an NBN that works and is fast. Or turn up at the railway station and have the train turn up. If these things don’t happen people get very angry very quickly and politicians that don’t understand that must be living on another planet.

BYNER: Jason Clare thank you for joining us. That’s the Shadow Trade Minister.


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