Interview – ABC Weekend Breakfast – Sunday, 25 February 2018






SUBJECTS: Government division, North Queensland jobs, trade, Turnbull’s visit to the United States 

GEOGHEGAN: We do need to start with the domestic politics. Barnaby Joyce has resigned of course on Friday. From your side of politics let me say this is a gift to the Labor Party. It looked as though the government was gaining some traction at the start of the year. Even members of the government have admitted that this has derailed that. How do you feel about the whole situation?    

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INVESTMENT: This should have happened weeks ago. Barnaby Joyce should have sacked weeks ago. Malcolm Turnbull was too weak or incapable of allowing that to happen, so this has gone on and on. It’s become a bleeding ulcer for the government. But its also been a waste of three weeks. The people of Australia have been trapped in Barnaby’s bedroom for three weeks, with story after story about this when we should be focused on more important issues. In the last few months we’ve had data come out that shows that company profits have gone up 20 per cent but wages are only at two per cent – flatlining. Now instead of focussing on Australian jobs we’ve been focussed on one job – that’s Barnaby’s and people are rightly angry and frustrated that politics has been derailed by this issue.

NICHOLSON: Barnaby has now moved to the backbench and the Nationals will elect a new leader on Monday. Will Labor now move on from this and focus on those issues you speak of?

CLARE: We’ve remained focussed on those issues. I was up in Townsville this week with Bill Shorten announcing that we’d widen the channel at the port there so we can get more container ships in and out of that port so we can create more jobs in Townsville. The problem for the National Party and the problem for the government is this is not going to go away. Whoever they elect tomorrow, that person can expect to be undermined by Barnaby Joyce. He goes back to the backbench, but just like Tony Abbott you can expect him to fester and agitate and try and derail the government from there. They’ll be like Statler and Waldorf from The Muppet Show, the government’s greatest critics, continuing to undermine trying to bring Malcolm Turnbull and the government down.

GEOGHEGAN: Let’s move on. You mentioned Townsville. It’s an area of great concern. You’ve mentioned this in the past – the amount of unemployment up there. I think you’ve quoted a figure of 30,000 people in Central and North Queensland are unemployed. It’s a very large number of people that are looking for jobs. Critical to this has been the Adani mine. What’s your reading of this? Will this mine go ahead or not? And what is the Labor Party’s latest policy on this? Because it looks as though you’ve equivocated on this.

CLARE: Well it seems more and more unlikely that the project will go ahead – that’s what business people in Townsville have told me. But you’re right to say that 30,000 people are unemployed from Rocky to the tip of North Queensland. This project, if it does go ahead, will only create 1,400 jobs. That’s not good enough for the rest of those people who are left without a job. We need to create thousands and thousands of jobs. That’s why Bill and I were up there announcing one infrastructure project, but we’ve announced a series already and there’s more to come – the sort of infrastructure that will encourage more trade and more investment in North Queensland.  On Adani itself we’ve said it has to stand on its own two feet. We shouldn’t be throwing a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money at it to build a rail line from the mine to the terminal, and I think most Australians would agree with that.

NICHOLSON:  So as it stands now, should Adani go ahead according to Labor?

CLARE: The ball is in Adani’s court. They’ve got to make it stack up financially. They haven’t been able to get funds from Australian banks. They haven’t been able to get funds, at least sufficient funds, from overseas. They’ve got to go and get that money if they want this project to go ahead. It’s also got to stack up environmentally. We’ve expressed concerns about potential tampering of samples at the port after the cyclone last year. And there’s also a water management plan that the government still has to tick off. We’ve got to make sure that’s done properly so that there’s no poisoning of the artesian basin or no poisoning of farmland that’s so important in that part of Australia.

GEOGHEGAN: Well you’ve been up there as you said, you’ve spoken to community leaders, no doubt you’ve spoken to a lot of those unemployed people, what are they telling you? Do they want the mine?

CLARE: Well they want jobs.

GEOGHEGAN: Do they want this Adani project to go ahead?

CLARE: This is mining territory. There’s a lot of people working in mining, not just coal mining, but mining right across the board. And they want a job. They don’t care what it is. They just want to get back to work and that’s why the infrastructure projects that we’ve announced are so important – to try and create more jobs in North Queensland and as you said – 30,000 people are unemployed. The unemployment rate in Townsville is double what is in Brisbane – they want to get back to work.

NICHOLSON: Speaking of jobs, trade can create jobs. The Prime Minister has been in Washington speaking to the President, who seems to have left the door open to in the future joining the Trans Pacific Partnership. Do you think you’d welcome that?

CLARE: The $64 million question is what does America want to get back into the TPP. They got a lot of concessions from the other 11 countries as part of the original TPP. America got a pretty good deal as part of that. But Donald Trump called it a bad deal – he called it the rape of America. So, what does he have to get from the rest of the TPP countries in order to justify coming back in.

NICHOLSON: But is it worth making some concessions for the benefit of having America in the trade deal?

CLARE: Well, I’ve said on this program before that the best type of trade deal is one that has America in it and has China in it as well. What we want is a trade deal that involves those two super powers of this century – America and China – as well as Australia and the rest of the Asia-Pacific in one trade deal. A deal where China doesn’t feel like it’s being contained by America and America doesn’t feel like it’s being ripped off by China – that builds stability in the region and provides an opportunity for Australian businesses to grow. So I’d like to see America come in. The big question is what would America want to be able to come back into.

GEOGHEGAN: Are you saying all or nothing? There are 11 nations as part of the TPP.

CLARE: It will grow over time. It will grow over time. I think our ultimate ambition should be a trade agreement that is APEC-wide, that involves all the countries of the Asia-Pacific, all the countries potentially of the Indo-Pacific. Be great to have India eventually join a trade agreement like this as well. It will provide the stability for growth in our region for the future.

GEOGHEGAN: Is your main concern in the TPP still lie with jobs? And how it may well affect local jobs?

CLARE: Well ultimately that’s what we should be focussed on. We want trade agreements that create jobs and create new businesses. We’ve got some of the detail so far on the TPP there’s more to come, more documents that will be released in about a fortnight’s time.

GEOGHEGAN: Is there a threat to local jobs as in the free-flow?

CLARE: It’s true to say that Australian farmers have got the jump on the US. America retreating out of the TPP is providing opportunities for Australian farmers that American farmers don’t have.  Some of the more contentious or controversial parts of the TPP have been removed or suspended. The copyright provisions are suspended as are the biologics or the pharmaceutical section as well.

But I’m still concerned, as a lot of people will be concerned about removing labour market testing. Before you bring in a worker from overseas you should at least have to check to see if there’s an Aussie who can do the job. The government promised they wouldn’t do this. They’ve done it in the TPP. It will take a Labor Government to come back in and fix that problem.

NICHOLSON:   Tax was also an issue covered by Malcolm Turnbull and the President. It seems at least initially that the business tax cuts in the United States have delivered some economic stimulus to the US economy. Malcolm Turnbull says that that should be an example for us. Is he right to be saying that?

CLARE: It’s important when you look at company tax not to look at that headline level of 30 per cent but to look at the average amount of tax that Australian companies pay. That’s 17 per cent or thereabouts in Australia. That’s one important point. The other important point to think about – the government is talking about a $65 billion cut in taxes for big business at a time when we’ve got a mounting budget deficit. The deficit will only get worse if we continue to cut company tax at this time.

Finally, I mentioned the point about flatlining wages – people aren’t getting a pay rise. Malcolm Turnbull’s best argument is that if we cut company tax then wages will go up by two dollars a day in 20 years’ time. It’s a much better use of that money to invest it in our schools and our TAFEs and our universities. I’ll tell you what, if you do that you’ll get a greater skilled workforce, wages will go up by more than two dollars a day in 20 years’ time.

GEOGHEGAN: Of course that’s the argument that Donald Trump also has, that Malcolm Turnbull has that if you cut corporate tax that allows a little more freedom for companies to employ more people and adds to wages.

CLARE: Well, the modelling that Malcolm Turnbull and Treasury have done says that wages go up by two dollars a day in 20 years. That’s it. Surely we can do better.

NICHOLSON: What do you make of the Prime Minister’s visit to Washington? It seems to have been quite successful? With talk of mateship, of 100 years of mateship and 100 years to come.

CLARE: We’ve been friends for a long, long time. It’s a strong and long relationship. July this year marks 100 years since the Battle of Hamel on the western front where Australians and Americans first fought together. We’re great friends, strong allies and we’ve got a lot in common. We’ve got a lot that separates as well. The firearms debate is a very good example of that.

GEOGHEGAN: Has your perception of Donald Trump changed at all? He’s been in office for more than a year now. There seemed to be a lot of members from your side were very critical of the President when he first came to office. How would you assess his performance?

CLARE: Well thanks for the invitation to answer that. Look the way I would answer this is to say that this relationship is more important than any individual Prime Minister or any individual President. Be it Trump or Turnbull, be it Hawke or Reagan, be it Roosevelt or Curtin. This is a relationship which has stood the test of time. It’s a cornerstone of our foreign policy and our national security. Trump has said that he’s interested in visiting Australia and I think that would be a good thing. American Presidents, at least the last four have visited Australia. Coming to Australia gives you an opportunity to see the world from our perspective and that would be a good thing because I think we see the world a little differently to the United States. Particularly China – we see enormous opportunity and America is more inclined to see it as a threat, as a threat to its domination. So it will give the President an opportunity to see how important it is that our part of the world continues to grow. And building a better relationship between the United States and China is a key part of that.