SUBJECTS: ChAFTA; Russia’s intervention in Syria; Newspoll
HELEN DALLEY: Joining me to discuss this is Labor’s Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Gai Brodtmann, from our Parliament House studio. Gai Brodtmann, now I know this is not about your sort of portfolio responsibility but let’s talk about it anyway. Labor has consistently said you are for the FTA, so what is the point of any amendments that won’t actually be amending the agreement itself?
GAI BRODTMANN, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Well Helen as you rightly say, we support a free trade agreement with China but we want it to be the best it can be. Remember, Labor is the party that liberalised trade in this country in the 80s. Labor is the party that opened up and deregulated our economy in the 80s. We have a strong track record in trade liberalisation. We are the party that masterminded APEC, we’re the party of the Cairns Group, we are the party of trade liberalisation. So we do support the free trade agreement with China but we have always had concerns with a number of issues. That is the labour market testing issue, that is the safeguards and standards and that is the access by specialists to those large projects. This is going to have an intergenerational impact. It’s going to have enormous benefit to Australia for many, many generations across every sphere. We’ve seen what’s happened on the vitamins front in advance of this agreement, so we do see the huge, enormous opportunities that this free trade agreement can realise. We support the free trade agreement with China but we have concerns in those areas and we are right to have those concerns – we want it to be the best it can be - and we won’t sell Australian workers down the drain.
DALLEY: If you say protections for domestic workers are not contained in this China free trade agreement, then why not suggest these amendments for this agreement? How can you protect workers by amending other laws?
BRODTMANN: We’re going to be revealing the complementary safeguards this week. I don’t have the details so I can’t reveal it tonight on Sky. I don’t have the detail – I don’t know what those safeguards are about or what’s contained in that suite of complementary safeguards. It will be revealed this week and perhaps we can have a conversation about it later in the week.
DALLEY: Well senior business leaders – you mentioned vitamins – the head of Blackmores is one of those senior business leaders who is urging Labor to go ahead and back this deal. Time is of the essence they say. They actually outright reject your claims that it could threaten Australian jobs, saying and I quote Andrew Mackenzie the Chief Executive of BHP, he says opening up more trade with China, freer trade with China, will help stimulate future investment and job creation. So are you saying all those business leaders are wrong?
BRODTMANN: No, I think we’re in violent agreement in terms of the opportunities that the free trade agreement can roll out. There are endless opportunities, intergenerational opportunities. We want it to be the best it can be Helen. We want to ensure that those safeguards and those standards are protected and we want to ensure that labour market testing is protected. So we do want to ensure it is the best it can be so that it delivers the best for Australian workers – not just today but in the future.
DALLEY: I know you can’t say what the details of your amendments might be –
BRODTMANN: I don’t know it –
DALLEY: But Andrew Robb has said in the past that on those special major project sort of provisions, those workers who certainly the union campaign was very strongly about Chinese workers more or less flooding in to take local jobs, he says they are temporary only, they will only be given short term visas and just for the life of the mine if we can’t get local workers to do that work. Isn’t that fair enough?
BRODTMANN: Well I suggest the Minister for Trade and the Prime Minister – who should show that he’s not like the last Prime Minister - once these complementary safeguards are revealed, sit down with us and negotiate with what we’re proposing, negotiate on our concerns and discuss our concerns and actually sit around the table to ensure that we have a bipartisan approach to this and we’re getting the best we can for Australians – as I said - not just today but in the future.
DALLEY: Alright well Trade Minister Andrew Robb said on this network yesterday that he will listen to your proposed amendments, he will sit down, so can you see this FTA getting Labor’s support?
BRODTMANN: Let’s just see what happens. We’ve still got to release these complementary safeguards and see what they are. Let’s just see what happens in the course of this week in terms of the Prime Minister coming to the table and showing that he’s not like the last Prime Minister, and also the Trade Minister, coming to the table to sit and talk with us about our concerns and negotiate the best outcome for everyone.
DALLEY: Alright, I want to turn to Defence. Russia’s intervention into Syria with bombing raids, they say they are on IS targets but the US and Saudi Arabia and others seem to be saying they are really hitting anti-Assad rebels who are more moderate. How seriously is Russia escalating matters in Syria by intervening, in Labor’s view?
BRODTMANN: Well Russia’s unilateral action in Syria is of great concern. It is very, very worrying which is why we want Russia to work with the international community to come up with a long term political solution. You can only achieve so much with military solutions or military strategies. What we need in Syria - for a stable region and for a stable world - is a long term political solution. And we need Russia to work with us in a constructive way, not operating in this unilateral fashion that it’s doing at the moment, to work with us, with the regional community and the international community to achieve that long term political solution.
DALLEY: Does Labor think that it is time now to have a re-think on our involvement and there needs to be a better exit plan or even a proper plan on how US and Russian planes can be in the same airspace in Syria?
BRODTMANN: What we want is to work with the international community to come up with that long term political solution that we’re all aspiring towards. To work with the international community but most importantly, the regional community, to work together to ensure that we have a stable and peaceful Syria which will see a stable and peaceful region. We want to work with the international community - with Russia, with Iran, with the Saudis, with Jordan, with countries in the region to come up with the best long term political solution that we can achieve.
DALLEY: The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop did talk a couple of weeks ago about the need to engage with Russia and also even potentially the Assad regime. Now that seems to be slightly different to what the Americans are saying. They don’t want a bar of dealing with the Assad regime or leaving them in place?
BRODTMANN: Well Labor has made it clear that we do not see President Assad as part of the long term political solution in Syria. As you know, this is a man and his regime that has killed tens of thousands of Syrians and also has been involved in chemical warfare against them. So we do not see him being a part of the long term political solution in Syria. As the Foreign Minister has said, we need to work with Russia, we need to work with Iran, we need to work with the Middle Eastern regional community as well as the international community to come up with the best outcome for the people of Syria and also the best outcome for the people of the Middle East.
DALLEY: Gai Brodtmann, a final issue. Bill Shorten’s leadership according to Newspoll is not looking so flash. Labor’s standing in the two party preferred improved slightly but Labor’s primary vote stays the same and on the better Prime Minister, Bill Shorten fell slightly and on Shorten’s performance he also fell slightly. Will he be fighting Malcolm Turnbull at the next election?
BRODTMANN: Yes he will be. Bill has been a fantastic leader. I’ve said it in the media in the past, there is a vast difference between my first term which was the Gillard and Rudd Government and my second term. Bill is a brilliant leader. He is inclusive, he is consultative, and he has united our team. We are all working together to hold this government to account and to win government next year and we are doing that through a range of measures. Not just in terms of opposing that hideous Budget last year that made so many cuts to our social fabric, to the lives of hard working Australians. We fought that Budget and we fought it hard. If it wasn’t for the work that we did we would have a GP tax now, if it wasn’t for the work that we did you would have cuts to ADF pay and conditions now -
DALLEY: I did ask you specifically about Bill though -
BRODTMANN: In terms of Bill, as I said, incredibly inclusive leader, incredibly consultative, leading a united team and we’re now putting policies out there. Since the beginning of the year we’ve put out multinational tax policies, superannuation policies, mental health policies, the infrastructure policy just recently, a raft of policies across a broad range of areas – vocational education – we have a very positive plan for Australia.
DALLEY: Gai Brodtmann, thanks so much for joining us.
BRODTMANN: Thanks Helen.