Interview with Nicholson and Veness – ABC News Breakfast – Sunday, 20 May 2018


SUNDAY, 20 MAY 2018

SUBJECTS: Impacts of the Government’s mishandling of Australia’s relationship with China, live sheep exports, citizenship.

JOANNA NICHOLSON: The Trade Minister is visiting China and its being seen as an icebreaker after a difficult year between Australia and China.

GEMMA VENESS: To discuss this and other political news of the week we’re joined by Jason Clare, the Shadow Minister for Trade. Thank you for joining us.


VENESS: Now Jason Clare, are there delays or are there not?

CLARE: There are and a number of Australian companies have talked about that this week. Beef companies can’t get beef into China. There was a big deal signed with the Chinese Government to get chilled beef into China and that hasn’t happened more than 12 months after that agreement was signed. And now wine companies are struggling to get their wine off the docks. The Trade Minister came out during the week and said that the problems with China haven’t affected trade, that no companies have come to see him to tell him there was a problem. That was a lie and these companies have now come out and said that.

NICHOLSON: Steve Ciobo dismissed the fact that there were any delays. He said that the instance with Treasury Wine Estate was an isolated incident and there were reports that this was a labelling issue which wasn’t anything to do with the relationship.

CLARE: Well there are a number of companies that are affected. I guess the problem here is over the course of the last 12 months the Government has said some pretty silly and pretty stupid things and that’s got the Chinese Government angry and we’re seeing the consequences of that now.

Remember Barnaby Joyce when he was Deputy Prime Minister said that China was a bigger threat to the world than ISIS. He also said that we should be thinking about proposing sanctions on China when North Korea was testing missiles last year. Malcolm Turnbull himself as Prime Minister spat the words of Mao Zedong back at the Chinese late last year. All of that had a consequence. It’s made it harder for Australian businesses. They’re pretty upset about it and that’s why they’ve come out this week explaining the problems they’ve had.

NICHOLSON: Should Australia be screening what we say about other countries?

CLARE: No we shouldn’t. We shouldn’t be pandering to China, we should act in a professional way in everything that we do with China. What we should avoid doing is saying silly and stupid things, incendiary things that can lead to these sort of consequences for Australian businesses.

VENESS: While we’re talking about international relationships, it really looks like relationship counselling in terms of what they’re asking you to do. In terms of the Australia-China relationship, China is saying it’s not just about one thing, it can’t just be about trade, there has to be more. Australia can’t keep looking to the US on political issues but looking to us for trade. And also to find common ground with each other which we’re seeing with AFL this week. It’s kind of a bizarre handling of a relationship isn’t it? Really when it comes down to it, it is very similar.

CLARE: Well it’s a big and important relationship, one in every three dollars we make from trade, we make from China and that will only grow and become more important in the years to come.

The point I’m making is you don’t need to pander to China but you do need to act in a professional way. We can avoid the sort of problems that we’re having at the moment, and Australian businesses are suffering, by just not saying the sort of silly and stupid things that the Government has been saying.

There’s the threat of a trade war at the moment between the US and China – what’s happening at the moment is that you’ve got Chinese officials in Washington talking to the Americans, trying to sort it out. That’s what should have been happening for the last few months here.

It’s good that the Trade Minister is now in China. I hope that he gets to talk to the relevant officials. But really the Prime Minister should have picked up the phone a lot earlier and tried to sort this out. When John Howard had a similarvproblem in his first term as Prime Minister he sat down with the Chinese Government and sorted the problem out. That’s what the Government should do here.

NICHOLSON: Let’s move on to another kind of trade, speaking of the live export trade. So the Government is introducing some new regulations into the industry to make it safer for animals. That includes stronger penalties for animal welfare breaches, inspectors will be on boats and also there be restrictions on the number of sheep on board. Do you support those extra measures and do they go far enough?

CLARE: Well there are some good measures there, but I don’t think they do go far enough because there’s no guarantee that we’re not going to see those terrible images that we saw on 60 Minutes again. The Farmers’ Federation said that there’s no guarantee that it’s not going to happen again. The Australian Veterinary Association has said the same thing. In fact the industry has said the same thing.

There’s a better way here. We can build the abattoirs and train Australians to work in the abattoirs to process these sheep here and send the meat to the Middle East. Anybody who tells you that we can’t do that isn’t really trying. The Kiwis did this 15 years ago and that’s why Labor’s said we should stop the live export of sheep during the summer months when the risk that what we saw on television a few weeks ago happening is at its highest and as quickly as possible we should transition to a system like the Kiwis where we set up the abattoirs here, train Australians to become meatworkers and ship the meat to the Middle East.

VENESS: Was it fair, the outrage following the McCarthy Review which set up the rules as Jo just outlined because there was a lot of outrage when it wasn’t banning it when that actually wasn’t possible under the terms of reference of that review. So the outrage should have come before the review, which fair enough it was there but …

CLARE: I think the government had a number of options open to it. It could have done what we’re proposing, which is stop the export of live sheep during the summer months.

NICHOLSON: Does that mean you want to keep it going during the winter?

CLARE: Well you can’t stop everything on a dime. What we’ve said is that we should transition as quickly as we possibly can to a system where instead of exporting sheep to the Middle East, whether it’s in the summer or the winter, that we set up the abattoirs here, train the Aussies to work in the meatworks and process the animals here.

NICHOLSON: But eventually a total ban, is that what you would be after?

CLARE: Eventually do what the Kiwis are doing, which is process them here rather than see sheep boiled to death on a ship, spending weeks at sea to get to the Middle East at the height of summer.

NICHOLSON: Would you call that a ban though?

CLARE: Well I’m not going to get caught up in words. What it is – instead of having sheep put on a ships and boiled to death on the way to the Middle East, process them here. No-one in Australia wants to see those images again and we should take the necessary steps to make sure that happens.

VENESS: They are shocking images indeed. But of course, it’s avoiding a repeat of the 2011 cattle live export ban, which was sudden on Labor’s part and it did have ramifications.

CLARE: There’s a few differences there. The trip that cattle make to Indonesia is a lot shorter than the trip sheep have to make to the Middle East. We’re talking about a much different temperature on the ships, because they’re not travelling into the summer in the Middle East. But the problem there was the abattoirs in Indonesia, it wasn’t what was happening on the ships and there’s been changes made to improve the processing in the abattoirs in Indonesia.

The other point I’d make is this – that the cattle that are raised in northern Australia, they can’t be raised to the weight that’s necessary before they’re slaughtered and so they’re grown in northern Australia, put on a ship and they continue to be fattened in Indonesia. That’s different to what’s happening with the sheep here. There’s no good reason why we can’t start now, take the steps that the Kiwis did, build the abattoirs, train the Aussies and process the sheep here.

NICHOLSON: When these issues were raised with the cattle industry back when Labor was in Government, why didn’t the Labor Party then look into the industry more broadly and uncover issues with the sheep trade as well. Clearly there were other ways.

CLARE: We did and we put in place a number of changes.

NICHOLSON: But perhaps not enough.

CLARE: Unfortunately, some of the things that we put in place when we lost government, Barnaby Joyce reversed. As a consequence of that I suspect, we’re seeing what we saw on TV a couple of weeks ago. Getting rid of the independent Inspector-General and so forth. So, I’d like to see the Government put all the things that we put in place five years ago back in place. But there’s no good reason, if we try hard enough, that we can’t put in place a system where we build the abattoirs here, train Australian workers to become meatworkers and process the sheep in Australia rather than see them boil to death on a ship to the Middle East.

VENESS: So before we move on to the next, what sort of timeline would it therefore be under that plan?

CLARE: Well, Joel Fitzgibbon has said is that this shouldn’t take 10 years. It will take a number of years but we should be trying to do it as soon as practically possible.

NICHOLSON: Now, moving on to another issue – citizenship. The Federal Government has ruled out a referendum to change that part of the constitution in regards to citizenship because it’s too close to a potential Federal election and also we’ve got that Super Saturday coming up with all the by-elections. Would you like to see a referendum held?

CLARE: I think the chances of it succeeding are really unlikely. I think most Australians wouldn’t support changing the Constitution in this area. It’s rare that Australians want to make life easier for politicians or potential politicians.

In my view there are more important changes that are needed to the Constitution. The next time we ask Australians to change the Constitution, I hope it is to recognise indigenous Australians in the Constitution. That’s what I think is the most important change we need to make.

There’s another way to fix this. A Parliamentary committee last week suggested that before any politician, before anyone nominates to run for Federal Parliament, they need to lodge a form which makes it clear all of their family background – where they were born, where their mum and dad were born, where their grandparents were born. Providing that information when everybody nominates.  That will help to make sure that we don’t see a repeat of this in the future.

VENESS: There are suggestions that they can be open to manipulation.


VENESS: Yeah, well this is what I’ve been trying to look at. They are saying that foreign governments – if you needed to get paperwork from a foreign government they could hold that out if that was their wish. Or I guess you could throw a spanner in the works during a pre-selection process and at least query someone’s citizenship and it would take them a while to prove it, it could be enough to sway that vote.

CLARE: One of the challenges created by the High Court’s decision is they took a really strict interpretation of section 44. Both sides got this wrong. What the High Court has said is that you need to have relinquished your dual citizenship before you nominate. Now, you’re right – if another country holds out it makes that process quite long and that can create problems for people who want to run for parliament.

It’s arguable, and some people have made the case, that really you should have had to relinquish it by the time the election day happened, or at least taken the reasonable steps that you possibly can. There are some countries like Iran where it’s almost impossible to relinquish dual citizenship. But, the High Court has made that decision, and it’s just going to mean that people who want to run for Parliament have got to make sure they get all of this done before they nominate and putting paperwork in as part of nominating should help with that.

NICHOLSON: Just briefly, Labor spent a long time saying that no Labor MPs would be caught up in this citizenship saga. In fact, Bill Shorten gave a rolled-gold guarantee that he was sure that no Labor MPs would be caught up. They have been. Should Bill Shorten apologise for making that rolled-gold guarantee.

CLARE: Well, he didn’t say that a journalist asked that. We were confident that we were right. We were both wrong. Remember the Prime Minister said “the High Court will so hold”. The High Court took a much tougher, stricter view of this than we expected.

The impact has been extraordinary – 20 per cent of the Senate that was elected only two years ago is now gone. But it is what it is. We’ve got by-elections that are coming up. They’re going to be tough, but we’ve got some great candidates, and we’ve got an even better argument, which is that instead of spending $17 billion in a tax cut for the big banks, we should invest that $17 billion in our kids and in our schools. So the argument we’ll be making around the country is that if you want to give $17 billion to the big banks vote Liberal, vote for Malcolm Turnbull, but if you want to give $17 billion to our kids and invest it in our schools, vote Labor.

NICHOLSON: Right Jason Clare, really appreciate you coming in.

CLARE: Thanks Jo.


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