Interview – ABC Weekend Breakfast – Sunday, 28 January 2018


SUBJECTS: Tasmanian election, CPTPP, Sydney trains

JOHANNA NICHOLSON: Let’s start with the Tassie election. It’s shaping up to be pretty close race and potentially a hung parliament.

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INVESTMENT: Potentially. It’s a big challenge for Labor. We’ve only got seven seats in that Parliament at the moment. But if the New Zealand election last year is any guide, anything can happen when an election is called.

One of the big issues in Tasmania will be health. The Federal Government has ripped hundreds of millions of dollars out of the hospital system in Tasmania and the State Government has as well. Whenever you ask people what are the big issues that affect their daily lives – number one or number two is health. People hate the idea of governments ripping money out of hospitals. That’s what’s happened in Tasmania.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: That is partly a Federal issue, do you feel as though Federal issues will play a part in the election. We saw that the Liberals suffered heavily at the last Federal election in Tasmania.

CLARE: Yes, they don’t hold a seat in the lower house in Tasmania and that’s partly because of the decisions that Tony Abbott made in his first budget to rip I think $100 million a year out of the health system in Tasmania, about a billion dollars over the decade. And so, Federal issues will be part of it. Tasmanians are worried about whether they might lose some of their GST revenue as well. So there’ll be Federal issues but there’ll be State issues as well of course. 

NICHOLSON: Both major parties have said that they won’t do a deal. So if the election result is very close and neither major party has a majority, what will happen then?

CLARE: I think it’s fair enough that the major parties say they want to govern in their own right. Parties put policies together, they can only do that and govern as best as they possibly can if they don’t have to negotiate a deal with another party. So I’d urge the people of Tasmania to cast a vote for the Labor Party so that the Labor Party can govern in its own right.

NICHOLSON: And if that doesn’t happen? If the majority isn’t achieved?

CLARE: Well if it isn’t achieved then both parties will have to make a decision about whether they’re prepared to govern with another party.

GEOGHEGAN: Are these lessons learned from previous elections? We saw it in Queensland – Annastacia Palaszczuk ruling out any deals. Is this consensus now from the Labor Party across the nation – saying we will not do any deals whatsoever – particularly with the Greens?

CLARE: Majority government is the best form of government. When you have to negotiate with another party, it makes governing more difficult.

GEOGHEGAN: But with these close elections sometimes you simply have no choice. 

CLARE: The Liberal Party has this problem as well. They govern with the National Party and you see the brawls that exist within the Coalition all the time. 

There was resistance by the Liberals to introducing the Royal Commission into the banks for months and months and months. So, the fight between political parties is most obvious in the Coalition. There’s obviously the blews inside the Liberal Party between Malcolm Turnbull and the Tony Abbott forces, but also the fight and the divide between the National Party and the Liberal Party.

NICHOLSON: Let’s move on to other news now. Bill Shorten, the Opposition Leader, when the US pulled out of the TPP said that we should abandon that deal that is was essentially useless. Now that a successful deal has been negotiated without the US, was Bill Shorten wrong in saying that?

CLARE: Bill Shorten and myself both said that if a different deal can be struck without the US then we’ll judge it on its merits. And this is a different deal. The original deal that had America in represented about 40 per cent of the world’s economy. This represents about 13 per cent. So, it’s a different deal.

Trade is good for Australia. Trade creates jobs. About one in five Australians work in a job that’s linked to trade. So if this is a deal that creates more jobs and is good for Australia then of course we’ll back it. All we’ve said is we’ve got to go through the details of it. Barnaby Joyce this morning said he hasn’t seen the deal yet. We think we’ll see the details in March when they’re tabled and released in Chile, then we’ll be able to go through that.

We’ve also made a suggestion to the Government that they should get some independent economic modelling of the agreement done. The way these deals work at the moment is that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade negotiate the deal on behalf of Australia and then they provide a report to the Parliament saying it’s a good deal. It’s a bit like marking your own homework. I’ve said in an era when people are sceptical of trade deals it would help the Government and I think it would be good for Australia if we had an independent report saying: here’s the benefits,  this is where the jobs will be created, these are the industries that will benefit, these are the parts of Australia that will be better off and here’s the areas where we need to do more work to help people that won’t be better off.

GEOGHEGAN: Are you most concerned about a potential loss of jobs, in particular the issue of labour market testing, which could see foreign workers come to this country.

CLARE: Labour market testing for me is just common sense. Before an employer brings a worker in from overseas they should first check if there’s an Aussie that can do the job. Malcolm Turnbull promised that he wouldn’t remove labour market testing last year, but he’s broken that promise and he’s done it with a number of trade agreements. It makes Australians very angry.

GEOGHEGAN: But isn’t that part of free trade, allowing free flow of labour?

CLARE: It’s not protectionism, I don’t think, to say that before a foreign worker comes to Australia you should check if there’s an Australian who can do the job. It’s just common sense. We’ve said that under Labor we won’t sign trade agreements in government that would do that. Unfortunately the Liberals do this and it’s the sort of thing that we’ll have to fix in government.

NICHOLSON: The US President says he will reconsider entering the deal if a substantially better deal for the US can be negotiated. If that is the case, how should Australia enter those negotiations?

CLARE: As the Prime Minister said, I don’t expect America to come back any time soon. I think it would be good for Australia and for the world if we could strike a trade agreement that covered the whole of the Asia Pacific. If we could get a trade agreement with America and with China as well, as well as the rest of the countries of the Asia-Pacific, it could form the basis of an agreement that would help provide peace and security and then economic development right across our region.

One of the big challenges we have this century is making sure that relationship between China and America is a fruitful one and grows. A trade agreement can make sure that that’s the case.

GEOGHEGAN: Australia has already hammered out a number of bilateral agreements. It appears that this is what President Trump is about. He would much rather do bilateral agreements rather than multilateral agreements because he feels as though there’s too much compromise involved. Does he have a point?

CLARE: Well the best form of a trade agreement is one that involves all the countries of the world. The next best is a regional trade agreement and then a bilateral trade agreement. You can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good and that’s why Labor and Liberal Governments have struck bilateral trade agreements.

But just going back to the point I made before, the trade agreement that I think would really help to set Australia and our region up over the course of this century is one that involves all the countries of the Asia Pacific. Two-thirds of the world’s middle class will be in Asia by 2030. It’s an enormous opportunity for Australia, for us to sell our goods and services to an increasingly wealthy part of the world. And a trade agreement with open markets, cutting tariffs where Australia has the opportunity to sell into that whole market I think presents enormous opportunities for us.

NICHOLSON: You would more generally like more scrutiny of trade deals in the future. How exactly would you like that to be done?

CLARE: We’ve said that the Productivity Commission should do an independent evaluation of the agreement before it’s signed. It’s not just me, it’s not just the Labor Party saying that. The Australian Chamber of Commerce has said this is what should happen. It’s what the Harper Review that the Government commissioned said should happen as well. The Productivity Commission has said we should do this. Other countries do this as well. There’s a whole bunch of Liberal MPs saying we should do this.

I think it’s in the Government’s interest because just going back to the point I made before, there’s a bit of scepticism out there. You saw that in the US election about trade. I think we shouldn’t expect people to just trust us. A lot of people don’t trust Malcolm Turnbull. But if a trade agreement goes through an independent evaluation, then you can say – look, these are the benefits for Australia, this is why we should sign up.  That’s why I’ve made the suggestion to the Government that they should do this.

GEOGHEGAN: Jason Clare, we’re running out of time, but I did just want to mention the issue of the ruling of the Fair Work Commission this past week in regards to the proposed train strike in Sydney. Are you critical of that ruling by the Fair Work Commission because essential the ACTU has come out and said this is denied the basic right of Australians which is to strike?

CLARE: Look, the point I’d make is this should never have come to this. The new timetable was put into place late last year. It’s a timetable that’s got lots of problems from my point of view as a Western Sydney MP. To get a train from Auburn in Western Sydney to the city where we are today, takes 50 per cent longer as a result of that timetable.

And just as concerning – we’ve got train drivers now that have to drive 13 out of 14 days. I catch the train a bit, so does my family. I hate the idea of a train driver working 13 out of 14 days. It worries me that we’ve got a system put in place that only works if a train driver has to work 13 out of 14 days. And for the State Government to let this go on and on and on when the timetable obviously created this problem I think is appalling judgement. It should have been sorted out last year before the timetable got put into place.

GEOGHEGAN: But more broadly the issue of the right to strike, do you feel as though that’s under threat for Australians?

CLARE: Again, the point is this should have been sorted out without the need to even strike in the first place.

NICHOLSON: Jason Clare, thanks so much for coming in.

CLARE: Thank you very much.

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