Transcript of Interview: Sky News AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert

Interview

BPC077/2014

17 November 2014

Subjects: China Free Trade Agreement and the G20
E&OE

Kieran Gilbert: Coming up shortly, we're just sorting out the studio situation for our next guest, who is the Assistant Infrastructure Minister, Jamie Briggs. Well, Alan Jones was making the point to the Prime Minister; you only heard the Prime Minister's reaction there. I'm hoping to arrange for you in the next half an hour, we will get the full comment of Alan Jones as well. He basically made the point that the Prime Minister doesn't have a mandate for a free trade agreement. So to respond to that and the other related issues, we have Jamie Briggs here with me this morning. Now Mr Briggs, thanks for your time. What do you say to this suggestion and it was put to the Prime Minister this morning that the Government doesn't have a mandate for the China FTA that was made by Alan Jones, a strong supporter of the Prime Minister?

Jamie Briggs: Well, Alan's always had strong views when it comes to trade and free trade and so forth. He's quite passionate about this topic as he is about many others and that's the joy of being a radio host, or indeed a TV commentator. You get to put your perspective from time to time to our leaders. But the Government said when we were elected we'd do four things—you remember, we said we'd stop the boats and thankfully the boats have largely stopped. We said we'd get rid of unnecessary taxes and we've abolished the carbon and mining tax. We said we'd build the infrastructure and we're in the midst of building the biggest infrastructure spend in Australian history and we said we'd fix the economy and this is a major part of fixing the economy.

We've now signed free trade agreements with Japan, with Korea and hopefully, it looks positive about signs for today with the address from the Chinese President to our parliament and hopefully some announcements in that respect following. This will be a boon for our country, this will be an enormous, it will bring enormous benefits. I think about an electorate like mine, which is a large part of the South Australian dairy industry down at Mount Compass and Maclaren Vale and Adelaide Hills and Langhorne Creek wine districts. They will benefit enormously. My McLaren Vale wine makers who are already starting to find export markets into China; this will give them great opportunities for small niche, high quality wines that you would occasionally dabble in. People in China will be able to access this, but more importantly, our producers will be able to access bigger markets for it.

Kieran Gilbert: There are suggestions today in the Sydney Morning Herald that the Fairfax paper's saying this could be the most ambitious free trade agreement that China has signed since it committed to the WTO. Is that the Government's sense here because if it is, it would obviously as you say, be a big win to finish the year.

Jamie Briggs: Well, Andrew Robb has done an outstanding job. He's been one of the best ministers in a very high calibre crew. He's got on with the job of talking, sitting down, working through these arrangements for six years, free trade agreements were stuck, and there was no movement under the former Government. Therefore we didn't get the benefit. We were falling behind our competitors, let's not forget. Look at the strength of the New Zealand economy. You know five or six years ago before John Key came along, New Zealand was a basket case. Today it's one of the fastest growing economies in the globe, largely off the back of free trade agreements that John Key has put in place in New Zealand. We need to catch up; we can't let New Zealand get ahead of us, particularly for our producers who are like-for-like in many cases. We are a high cost economy but this will allow us to have access to greater markets, we produce far more food each year than we can consume. Let's not forget it was the agricultural industry in the first place, who demanded opening up markets in the '70s and '80s who suffered under the tariff regimes. They are the biggest winners in these free trade agreements by far.

Kieran Gilbert: And what about in that context the, I guess are you able to make the case—the political case against the very strong commentary, against Chinese investment and so on because that is only going to grow and in fact our—if you look at property for example, our property companies are marketing at length—extensively in China to recruit…

Jamie Briggs: Sure, we have a couple of points here: we have a framework in respect of foreign investment and the Government ensures that framework make sure that we understand what is happening as far as purchases of property, purchases of business, investment in Australia. But the really important point is that since 1788, Australia has been a net importer of capital. We must—to grow—we're a small population on a very large land mass. We've got great capacity to grow, even more than what we have, particularly in our resources sector whether it be mining or agriculture. In the north, which people talk about often, we need capital to build the capacity in that part of the country. It's very expensive but it's got great opportunity. That's why we've got a white paper into the growth in the north. This free trade agreement will also help open up additional markets, it will mean that we get additional capital spend in our country. It is overwhelmingly good for our country.

Kieran Gilbert: The G20 wrapped up at the weekend, including an infrastructure hub for Sydney. What are we talking about here; these are projects that won't be just in Australia, though, they're right across the Asia Pacific. How will that operate?

Jamie Briggs: Well, it's about a centre of excellence if you like. I mean Australia in some ways, in many ways leads the world as far as infrastructure investment, the way that we put PPPs together, that we involve the private sector. What the Treasurer has been working on over the last few months and you know, really after the weekend, people should congratulate the Treasurer and the Prime Minister for the outcomes they've got for Australia out of the G20. We didn't just host, we showed leadership as far as the outcomes that we were seeking to get from it and we certainly achieved those outcomes and the infrastructure hub was part of those outcomes.

Kieran Gilbert: Okay, well, I guess, and that is a significant step forward as is the growth target, but why was the Prime Minister resistant to have climate change discussed and it would be provided a distraction, the Obama speech and the push from Europeans and others if the PM just said okay we'll have it in there let's do it. He believes it…

Jamie Briggs: Well, the Obama speech was always going to be a distraction. I mean the sort of adulation that Obama receives internationally or within Australia he could only dream of receiving back in the US where he's just taken an absolute bath in the Senate midterms. So, I mean there's a fair disconnect between people who vote for him or seemingly don't vote for him and people who live in other countries. Whatever Barack Obama did on the weekend was going to be a distraction; that's the reality. He's a massive, massive distraction wherever he is, but if you look at the outcomes from the G20 you've got to give credit to Joe Hockey for all the leg work he's done over the last eight or nine months and putting the agenda together and for the Prime Minister for pulling off the weekend.

Kieran Gilbert: Sure, but in terms of the Green Climate Fund, for example, it's not just the US. Japan has announced $1.5 billion to this fund, Germany, France, a number of countries are committing to this to help developing countries mitigate against climate change. Why doesn't Australia get on board, because it sounds to me like an international version of Direct Action almost?

Jamie Briggs: Well, we're doing it; that's the point. We are doing more than most countries when it comes to action on climate change. We've got a multi-billion dollar program that…

Kieran Gilbert: That's for us, but not for the poorer countries.

Jamie Briggs: Well, we're doing what we can do within our own country. We are cleaning up our dirty power stations, we are investing in clean energy technologies for the future, and we're doing what a good actor in the international space would do.

Kieran Gilbert: Yeah, but you'd accept there is international pressure for us to get on board with this response for developing countries?

Jamie Briggs: Let's be honest, the rhetoric from the Americans is far more than the action. The rhetoric from the Americans is far more than the action. They have done, in Barrack Obama's time as President of the United States, very little domestically to do anything about climate change. And this is a point which the Greens—this is the hypocrisy of the Greens right—what has happened in the US is they've found shale gas and shale gas has been a complete revolution in—not only for the US economy, but also for their environment, because it's a much less carbon emitting technology than what they used before. So, therefore their emissions are reducing because they've found shale gas. Now, who's campaigning the hardest against accessing additional gas resources in Australia? The Greens. I mean this is the hypocrisy here in the climate change debate, the utter hypocrisy. They campaign against technologies which will reduce the amount of emissions being used in Australia, but at the same time they point to a country which is doing nothing domestically other than they've found a new technology they campaign against here.

Kieran Gilbert: Jamie Briggs…

Jamie Briggs: I mean give me strength.

Kieran Gilbert: …we're out of time. Thank you for your time this morning.

Jamie Briggs: Thank you, Kieran.