Transcript of Interview, Sky News Australia, AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert

Interview

BPC007/2014

12 February 2014

Transcript of Interview
Sky News Australia, AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert

Kieran Gibert: With me on the program this morning to discuss this and the other issues of the day, Labor front-bencher Richard Marles and the Assistant Infrastructure Minister, Jamie Briggs. Gentlemen, good to see you both. We will get to the Closing the Gap issue a bit later. I do want to get your views on that. First though to Toyota, Richard. This is Phil Coorey's story on the front page of the Financial Review. Toyota told that the Government... told the Treasurer, the Government, the key impediment for them to stay in Australia was actually the workplace conditions—i.e., the union-bargained conditions.

Richard Marles: So let's be really clear, Kieran. This is a story that has come from the Government. This is the Government saying what Toyota has apparently said to them. Toyota has refused to confirm that conversation with the Government and indeed the conversation that Toyota had with Bill Shorter, the Opposition leader, about their decision—he made it really clear that they could not speak more highly of their workforce, and their workforce and the conditions that they were being paid was not the issue. This is really a disgraceful attempt on the part of the Government to point the finger in the other direction and find someone to blame. And the reflex action of the Abbott Government when they look for someone to blame is to blame working people. And to have the double blow of finding your job is now no longer certain, that you don't know what your future is post-2017, and your own government is blaming you for the decision of the company is absolutely despicable.

Kieran Gibert: But if the Toyota Australia Chief said that to the Treasurer, as reported today, clearly it was a big factor. They might not want to make that known in this statement released this week, but if he has made that clear to the Treasurer, surely that was an issue. They took them to court. They took the union, the relevant union to court to try and reduce the conditions.

Richard Marles: Sure, and there are industrial relations issues that play out in any workplace. But when you step back and have a look at the bigger picture, it is really clear that it is not the conditions of the workforce which is the reason Toyota are leaving. Toyota are (sic) leaving because this government has made a conscious decision, a conscious decision that it doesn't want to have a car industry.

Understand Kieran, that around the world governments that want to have a car industry make the decision to do it, and it is in essence a public/private partnership and the subsidies which existed for the car industry when Labor was in power but also when John Howard was in power, were less than those that were in place in countries like Germany and Japan and the US. So the issue here is that this government has made a conscious decision that it doesn't want to have a car industry. That's where the blame lies. It's not the workforce.

Kieran Gibert: Alright, let's go to the Minister now who can speak for the Government. Is that true? Has the Government sort of made the call; we're not going to be part of that public/private partnership that Richard spoke of?

Jamie Briggs: Well, look there's a couple of points that need to be addressed in what Richard's just said in the story today. Firstly, the claim the Labor Party keeps making that Australia has the lowest per capita subsidy for its car industry is wrong and that has been debunked today, it's actually the highest per capita subsidy in the world that we've been paying as taxpayers. Small businesses have been paying higher tax to international companies to run operations in Australia. That's the evidence that has been presented today. So the Labor Party should stop using that information. It's wrong.

Secondly, there's a distinction between the workforce and the union bosses who lead that workforce. So we have the utmost respect for people who work at these factories, and it is a tough time for them. They have a period of four years to work through what is next for them in their working lives, and some will move on to better jobs, some will go to other positions and some will struggle, no doubt. That's the reality of economic change. A change that it must be said, John Button, who is one of Richard Marles' heroes, started 30 years ago. John Button was the person who was the first person to say; the Australian car industry needs to survive on its own. Now, Richard Marles and the Labor Party have walked away from that in recent times and they now use this co-investment language or public/private partnership language. That was not the language of John Button. John Button's language was; we need a car industry which can stand on its own two feet.

But what we saw towards the end of Toyota… And one point I do agree with Richard on is that it is not the workplace conditions themselves which were the reasons that Toyota came to this decision, but they were a factor, and as you said—rightly said—the Federal Court had a case before it just recently where the union so-called representing its workers argued against Toyota developing some more flexibility, just like the workers did in Detroit in 2009 when that car industry through the GFC hit the wall. So there is a distinction here…

Kieran Gibert: But surely Holden's decision to leave was a much bigger impediment…

Jamie Briggs: Absolutely.

Kieran Gibert:…with all the various impacts on the component supply industry, and so on.

Jamie Briggs: Sure. There's a series of issues which have been challenging the car industry for a long time, and the first victim of this was Nissan, well back in the early 90s. The second was Mitsubishi in 2006 and 2008, when they finally left; Holden, more recently, and of course Toyota in the end. It has been difficult to assemble cars in Australia and make the business case for it without significant amounts of taxpayers' money. In other words, small businesses in one part of the economy paying more tax to fund international operations in another part of the economy.

Kieran Gibert: Are you worried now, obviously, about the flow-on effects to the component manufacturers—hundreds if not thousands of them who will be basically out of business because of these decisions?

Jamie Briggs: Sure, but that has been something that has been happening in Australia for some time. We saw in the 2000s a whole series of white good manufacturers in Melbourne and South Australia leave, and that had a flow-on effect as well, because again, the cost of producing white goods in Australia was more expensive than it was elsewhere for several reasons, and workplace conditions are one of those reasons.

So it has been a change in the economy, there has been no doubt. A change started by Paul Keating, Bob Hawke and John Button back in the 1980s. Now, the point here is—and this is where the Labor Party is completely wrong, and they know they're wrong. It's political bunkum at this sort of point in time. That's what the Opposition does, of course. Holden's executive manager of their international operations in the second week of January this year, in Detroit belled the cat. He said there was nothing any government, under any circumstance, could have done to change GMs decision in Detroit about its Holden operations. Nothing. Same with Toyota.

Kieran Gibert: That's true isn't it?

Jamie Briggs: Nothing the government could do.

Richard Marles: It's absolutely not right.

Kieran Gibert: No, he did say that.

Jamie Briggs: But that's what he said.

Richard Marles: That…

Jamie Briggs: No, no, no. Address what he said then. Why did he say that? Why did he say that then if that's not true?

Richard Marles: Car companies are going to be diplomatic in the way in which they talk about the decisions that they've made, but if you're…

Jamie Briggs: So don't believe what he says.

Richard Marles: Look, you…

Jamie Briggs: Don't believe what he says because you know better.

Richard Marles: Let's be really clear, Jamie.

Jamie Briggs: Okay.

Richard Marles: If Labor had been elected on 7 September we'd have a car industry today. No question about that.

Jamie Briggs: That's just…

Richard Marles: We went to the last—it's absolutely right.

Jamie Briggs: It's just completely not true.

Richard Marles: We went to the last election with a billion dollar different proposition about…

Jamie Briggs: That's not true either.

Richard Marles: That is true.

Jamie Briggs: No it's not.

Richard Marles: It's absolutely true. We said that we would put $500 million extra into the car industry. You were going to take $500 million out. That billion dollar difference was the difference between having a car industry or not.

Jamie Briggs: So how does a billion dollars equal 500 million?

Richard Marles: No, no. You were going to take 500 million out of the existing amount. We were going to put an extra 500 million on top.

Jamie Briggs: That was not true either.

Richard Marles: That is true.

Jamie Briggs: So 500 and 500 (inaudible)….

Kieran Gibert: So you believe that Holden would have stayed, therefore Toyota would have stayed.

Richard Marles: Absolutely.

Kieran Gibert: Can you guarantee that that would have been the case?

Richard Marles: Of course one can't guarantee that…

Jamie Briggs: Ahh…

Richard Marles:…but what you know is that there was a conscious decision by Labor at the last election to put a proposition to the Australian people which would have given the best possible opportunity—a likelihood of a car industry remaining in this country. And you see, what it is Kieran, it's willingness for government to play its part in seeing that we have an ongoing manufacturing industry in this country, and we do not see that willingness from the Abbott Government. You know, if you look at the international spectrum of conservative parties, this mob are on the extreme in terms of…

Jamie Briggs: Here we go.

Richard Marles:…the way they're practising economics.

Jamie Briggs: Here we go.

Richard Marles: It's a fundamentalism and…

Kieran Gibert: But Richard, I want to ask you…

Richard Marles:…they're letting jobs out of the country as a result.

Kieran Gibert:…rather than get caught up in that sort of bigger picture philosophical debate, I want to ask you about the nuts and bolts of this because isn't it true that there are vastly more people employed in the service, distribution and other areas of the automotive industry—much, much greater than manufacturing industries? We're talking about a fraction—as sad as it is, and very sad it is; obviously tragic for the people concerned, but it's a fraction of the overall industry, let alone the overall workforce you're talking about.

Richard Marles: Well, so it's a good question, Kieran, in the sense that this is not just about jobs, but it is very much about jobs as well. But this is also about the capacity of the country. It's about our technological ability. It's about us being an advanced economy and when we lose our highest tech manufacturing because that's what making cars is; it's our highest tech manufacturing—when you lose manufacturing altogether then our capability, our industrial capability and the levels of technology that we have in our country decrease, and that flows into every aspect of the economy.

Kieran Gibert: Are you worried about that specifically when it comes to things like Boeing, the aerospace industry because there are skills, as Richard said, which do transfer over and I know that the industry relies on various components that manufacturers that feed into the automotive industry.

Jamie Briggs: Well, Boeing will make its own decisions and I'm sure Boeing has a business which is worthwhile pursuing in Australia, so of course they will adjust and they'll continue to employ, I think, far more than what's employed in the automobile sector at the moment.

Richard Marles: Well that's not right.

Kieran Gibert: Well in terms if you look at the entire…

Richard Marles: If you look at the entire automotive…

Jamie Briggs: …you interrupted me but anyway…

Richard Marles: Look at the entire automotive sector…

Jamie Briggs: Well that's because you include everyone who works in service stations when you use those numbers.

Richard Marles: No, we talk about car component companies.

Jamie Briggs: No, you don't. No. When you use the big 200,000, you're including the service industry in automobiles, so let's be honest about it. I mean, there's a whole lot of fear about the future of the Australian economy coming out of the Labor Party right now, but you know what they won't do, they won't work on something which would actually help automatically, instantly, they won't vote for the carbon tax abolition.

Richard Marles: Please…

Jamie Briggs: This is a party…

Richard Marles: No one, there's no one who has…

Jamie Briggs: Sorry again for talking while you're interrupting.

Richard Marles: Well, no one has raised that as an issue.

Jamie Briggs: Well, actually, they have.

Richard Marles: They haven't.

Jamie Briggs: Actually, they have. So, you know, if we want to have a genuine discussion about—you know, I hear all this talk about, where's the plan, where's the plan? Here's a plan.

Richard Marles: You haven't got a plan.

Jamie Briggs: Let's lower tax. Let's reduce regulation. Let's start to address the things that are stopping companies from employing Australians. That's a start. That's a start. If they got out of the way today in the Parliament we'd pass it.

Kieran Gibert: Alright…

Jamie Briggs: We could come together as a bipartisan Parliament. Why don't we do that? We can shake on it here. We can't really shake, but we can… 

Richard Marles: If you want to walk down the path of good economics you would have a totally different investment regime. The decision you made with GrainCorp makes it…

Jamie Briggs: Well, this is the investment regime.

Richard Marles:…makes it completely clear that this country is closed for business. It's closed for business, and you're actually sending the business that's already here offshore.

Jamie Briggs: This is the investment regime the Labor Party likes: $500 billion debt in five years, deficits for a decade, and let's print money like Monopoly money.

Richard Marles: And the only economy that grew through the global…

Kieran Gibert: Alright.  We're going to take a break. We'll be back in just a moment. Stay with us.

This is AM Agenda. Thanks very much for your company this morning. With me, Jamie Briggs and Richard Marles.

Jamie, reports from Fairfax that the government has already contracted corporate spin doctors to prepare the sale of Medibank Private. Is that true?

Jamie Briggs: Well, Mathias Cormann announced some time ago, the Finance Minister, that we were doing the scope of the study and preparing for the sale and that's what you would expect a government who took to the election a policy of selling Medibank Private to do. It's the right thing to prepare—to prepare properly, to talk to the market about what you're thinking about doing to get the best value for taxpayers if that's the direction we're going. That's not been…

Kieran Gibert: But it seems pretty inevitable though that this will be factored into Joe Hockey's bottom line come May.

Jamie Briggs: Well, if it's a sale, it won't necessarily affect the bottom line. It might help alleviate some debt or go into some infrastructure but, yes, obviously, you know, there are two parts to the budget. If you've got your ongoing commitments which, obviously, the budget will look at and then there are—then there is the issue of the Labor debt we have to deal with, $500 billion of Labor debt to go, a decade of deficits unless we address the setting.

So this is obviously part of our economic plan. We've said that for some time. It was, I think, three elections now we've taken this policy to. We're doing the right thing. The Finance Minister's working through the detail. You would expect that he will take a proposal to cabinet, I'm sure, soon enough and then we'll have a position around the budget.

Kieran Gibert: This was an election commitment. They've made it clear from the outset they're going to sell it.

Richard Marles: I mean, I love Jamie referring to Labor debt and he's very much on message there from …

Jamie Briggs: Well, that's true.

Richard Marles: ….the point of view of the government but for…

Kieran Gilbert: There was none when you came to government in '07.

Richard Marles: But for a party which had that rhetoric in the lead up to the election, the way in which you have embraced debt on coming to office has been absolutely unbelievable. But if you're talking about value for money, how is it value for taxpayer money that we're seeing $2000 a day spin doctors being put in place to sell a message that you can't sell which is making out the case for the sale of Medibank?

I mean, that's the—that's the issue here and, really, our—I mean, our concern about the substantive issue of a sale of Medibank is what that will do in putting—in terms of putting outward pressure on health insurance premiums. We don't think the government has made that case out but what's clear is the government don't think they've made that case out either which is why they're having to employ these spin doctors.

Kieran Gilbert: Should the government be in that space, though, providing private health insurance?

Richard Marles: Well, the critical question here is the government making out the case for the sale of Medibank, and in engaging in a sale of Medibank, we need to know that we are not going to see an upward pressure created on health insurance premiums. That is the issue here.

Kieran Gilbert: Are you comfortable with the government paying 200,000 to the corporate spin doctors to explain that…

Jamie Briggs: Well, there are a couple of points here. Firstly, the Labor Party of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating would have been for this because they understood the economy. The Labor Party of the Greens' influence, Richard Marles is now a member of; believe that public ownership of assets is what you have to do so …

Richard Marles: No…

Jamie Briggs: I mean, it's a very different position the Labor Party has now moved to sell…

Richard Marles: That's not true.

Jamie Briggs: And that's a reasonable thing for them to—to be but that's, you know, they're so influenced now by the Greens. That's what people have got to understand they've come from. But in respect of the so called corporate spin doctors, there's a difference between talking to the public which is the job of us, and talking to the market which is what we would be preparing the sale for so we got the best value for taxpayers' money and that is the—that's the difference here.

So, you know, look, the Labor Party will do what oppositions do and try and create all these sorts of stories but, ultimately, what we're about is if we do move down this path and the scope and study recommends we move down this path, something we did say to the electorate at the election, we want to get best value for the taxpayer, best value for the…

Richard Marles: Can I just say, Jamie?

Kieran Gilbert: Just quickly, yes.

Richard Marles: The Hawke/Keating philosophy was that you look at privatisation on a case by case basis but you need to make out the case for the sale. That's why it is employing these consultants.

Jamie Briggs: And we did.

Richard Marles: And that's …

Jamie Briggs: At three elections.

Richard Marles: That's our view as well.

Jamie Briggs: Three elections we supported it.

Richard Marles: What is clear is this government doesn't have confidence in itself to make out the case for the sale of Medibank, which is why it's employing these consultants.

Kieran Gilbert: Let's move on finally the Prime Minister to deliver his Closing the Gap statement, first one under Prime Minister Abbott to Parliament 9.30am. I spoke to the Aboriginal Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda; I just want to recap a little bit of what he had to say on his assessment on where things are at:

(VIDEO)

Mick Gooda: “ I'm today thinking about the positive things, we're looking to halve the infant mortality rate by 2018 I think we're on track for that, which I think is a really important building block, if we can get kids off to a great start in life we're gonna see the results in 20 odd years.”

VIDEO ENDS

Kieran Gilbert: So Mick Gooda there saying that we're on track to halve the infant mortality rate by 2018, that's good, that's obviously good news, and this is one area Jamie where there is full bipartisan support, this was something Labor introduced but the Prime Minister embracing this annual statement wholeheartedly.

Jamie Briggs: Well, I think it's a great opportunity for the Parliament to inform the Australian public, use the power of the Parliament to inform the general public that this is a big challenge for our country, it has been for a long time and not enough has been done to address it and you know successive governments now have committed to putting policies in place to address what is in some circumstance a disgraceful difference between what we expect in a country as rich as Australia, and what is, what the conditions are in certain communities in Australia, and today is a great opportunity for the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to update the House on that detail. The Prime Minister, as everyone knows, has a great passion for this issue, and I think you'll see that passion today. There is much work still to be done, there are some good results, there are some concerning results still and it is the challenge as the custodians of government, of the elected government, working with the Parliament to put in place policies which help to address this long term challenge.

Kieran Gibert: And Richard Marles, I know that you have got your issues with the Prime Minister as we know from today, many political disagreements, but this is one where you're on the same page 100% aren't you?

Richard Marles: Well, we commend the Prime Minister for continuing the Closing the Gap statement, it's a very good thing that is being done by both parties, and I agree with what Jamie has said, there are real areas of progress, infant mortality, access to early childhood education, but it's also true that there are lots of areas which do need work and that fundamental gap of life expectancy does remain stubbornly high, coming down incrementally, but it needs to come down more quickly. I think what is important is that the finances and the budget matches the rhetoric here, and it's really important that the money that has been put up by successive governments is kept in place by this Government.

Kieran Gibert: Gentlemen thanks for your time, good to see you both.