SUBJECT/S: Indian Prime Minister’s visit; China FTA; Green Climate Fund






KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda, thanks for your company. With me now, the Coalition frontbencher Darren Chester and Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland. It’s good to see you both, it has been a big couple of days. Darren, first to you. In this Parliament yesterday the Free Trade Agreement with China, today Narendra Modi the rock star from India.

DARREN CHESTER: It’s been an extraordinary 72 hours for the Parliament. On Friday one of our oldest and most trusted allies in the UK in David Cameron addressing the Parliament, and then a taste of the new I suppose yesterday and again today with both the Chinese and Indian leaders in the Parliament. It’s a very exciting time for the Australian Parliament and the Australian Government and the Australian people. It’s good to see that there’s been high level bipartisan support for what’s occurred over these past 72 hours.

GILBERT: Has there been bipartisan support… first of all, we’ll get to China in a moment but first on India let’s look at the significance of this visit. The first time an Indian Prime Minister has addressed our Parliament and potentially a Free Trade Agreement within a year which sounds hard to believe given the renowned bureaucracy that India is known for.

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM: This has been in train for some time though Kieran, you’ll remember significant strides were made a couple of years ago and governments before that as well. Prime Minister Gillard went to India, established for the first time getting one-on-one meetings as an annual event, managing to have our currency conversion normalised with China, and this is really a step forward and a conclusion of what will a very important relationship that we have economically with India.

GILBERT: You’re the Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism. In terms of the visa the Indian PM announced that Australians would get visa on arrival in India. How important is that?


ROWLAND: Absolutely significant. Last night I was at Allphones Arena where Prime Minister Modi alluded to this. I think that was probably one of the announcements that got one of the biggest cheers. He’s also planning to, it may have even done already, consolidate two of the overseas Indian national categories into one. So again removing some of that bureaucracy and as you know, it’s that level of bureaucracy when it’s done at the local layer that lends itself to corruption. This is a person who is intent on making sure that those elements are weeded out and he has a progressive nation. I congratulate him for it.

GILBERT: I put the same question to you Darren Chester, the Minister says that that’s the deadline they’re going to move towards that but it’s hard to imagine that a Free Trade Agreement with such a massive country could be done within 12 months but I guess if Modi is so convinced and committed to getting rid of red tape then that might be possible.

CHESTER: Well if anything we’ve learned over the past six months is not to underestimate our Trade Minister Andrew Robb. He’s been very diligent in travelling throughout the world, building on the good work of previous governments and I give credit to previous governments in that regard. But he has delivered three major Free Trade Agreements in the past 12 months. He set himself a deadline for China and achieved it. I think it’s realistic, I think Andrew Robb with the goodwill of the Australian people and bipartisan support from the Labor party will be in a strong negotiating position. I think the Prime Minister on his previous visit to India has established a very good relationship.

GILBERT: Why is it so underdone, the relationship? Because if you compare it to China it’s $15 billion in trade to India annually and China $150 billion.

CHESTER: I think we made the mistake perhaps of regarding India as a poor nation and not thinking that there would be major trade opportunities. We thought about them as a cricketing nation and that was about it for a long time and I think we’ve woken up to ourselves. India’s seeing the opportunities. We’ve had great trade with India in relation to education, particularly in Victoria, that’s been very strong. It went through a rough patch but I think that rough patch if you like has been strengthened now and we’re moving strongly forward. There’s 450,000 Indians who currently live in Australia with Indian descent. It’s a very significant population in Australia and I think the trading opportunities are enormous.

GILBERT: Well I think it’s surprising isn’t it given that we have much more in common with India if you look back at the military history of Indians being there at the Gallipoli landings and so on. They lost a couple of thousand soldiers during the Gallipoli campaign. I guess cricket as Darren said as well. And the average age of Indians now is mid-20s compared with China which is mid to late-30s. This is an enormous prospect for Australia given that we’re coming from such a low base.

ROWLAND: Tremendous opportunities and we have a country which still has hundreds of millions of people who don’t have electricity to their homes. There are great opportunities for Australia to be able to contribute, to export, to be able to grow jobs in Australia as part of this emerging market and Prime Minister Modi realises a couple of things: the transformative power of education, and the importance of ICT as a key driver of productivity. You only have to look at what he did when he was Chief Minister in the state of Gujarat, investing in new economies including renewable energies including their water systems and water supply. This is a person who is intent on saying and doing what he says he is going to do.

GILBERT: He says he’s going to invite Australia, according to the Fairfax papers today, that he’s only used the speech today to urge Australia to play a role in supplying India’s appetite for energy including through coal and natural gas. This vindicates the Prime Minister doesn’t it in saying that coal does have an important role in providing electricity for the world’s poor?

ROWLAND: I think you also need to understand that there needs to be a mix and Prime Minister Modi didn’t rule out the importance of renewables and also again credit where it’s due; we recently concluded the ability to sell uranium to India for energy purposes and that’s something Labor supports as well. It is this mix that we have of energy supplies and we need to remember this vociferous appetite that is there in India. Not only for its ongoing sustainability but in order for it to actually progress to the next level in its economic development and Australia has tremendous opportunities here and I think we should grab them with both hands.

GILBERT: Let’s move on to the China Free Trade deal now. This is the most significant trade agreement that China’s agreed to with a substantial economy and Darren Chester it’s not been without criticism. There are a number of commentators who have suggested that we might be getting a bit and we might be giving away too much. What are the concerns in the community about the level of Chinese investment?


CHESTER: Well there’s never been a free trade agreement negotiated in Australia that hasn’t had some critics, but on balance you try to get the best possible outcome for your own nation and you have to give and take. From my perspective, as a Member from a regional electorate, the one thing that my local agricultural producers have been lobbying me for is better market access. Better market access to them meant China. The dairy industry in Gippsland provides 23 per cent of Australian dairy products, they want better access in the way New Zealanders have had that type of access for several years now. So on balance, I think we are going to come out in front. We have a very strong trading relationship with China already, but the future opportunities as China emerges and more move into that middle-class and demand high quality Australian products, with which we are renowned for, I think will see great benefits, particularly in the Australian agricultural industry, but also the services sector.


GILBERT: What’s Labor’s view? The Trade Minister has provided reassurances that any labour movement would be within current frameworks. Are you satisfied by that?


ROWLAND: We’d need to see the full text of the agreement Kieran, and Labor has made its position clear that we will be scrutinising the agreement through the Parliamentary channels that it will go through. But, I think it is important to recognise that free trade is important for domestic jobs, it’s important for growth, it’s important for regional growth, something Labor has always supported, but we would also want to ensure that we assess the outcomes of this in accordance with a number of principles, including making sure that we have appropriate labour testing in terms of skilled migration that may be under this agreement. I even heard, and I have not seen anything to verify it, but Craig Emerson was giving some commentary this morning about the international dispute resolution mechanisms and how local councils might even be liable for some decisions. That in itself is not extraordinary, councils are always liable for their decisions, but we do need to properly scrutinise the text of this, and let’s just remember there’s no such thing as “free” trade, it is all give and take as Darren mentioned, but I will be very interested to see some of the other aspects. I have seen telecommunications for example mentioned as one of the categories, but I would like to see the full detail of that.


GILBERT: Darren you can respond.


CHESTER: That opportunity does present itself to the Parliament through the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, which will examine and do an enquiry and then report back to the Parliament. So Parliament does have that full opportunity to enquire.


GILBERT: It comes into force midway through 2015.


CHESTER: I think there is something like 20 sitting days before it has to be presented to the Parliament for discussion and analysis if you like. But, the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties will have that opportunity.


GILBERT: I find it hard to believe that Labor would oppose it though in the end.


ROWLAND: Look we support free trade and considering we were one of the governments that were involved in this as well, but I think it is prudent to say we will be following those processes.


GILBERT: Let’s look at the speech now given by Xi Jinping, a very interesting speech in the context of what we have heard previously from David Cameron on Friday and then the President in Brisbane on the maritime behaviour, particularly of China in the South China Sea. It was really a move to try and come it all down from Xi Jinping, but how does that match up with the assertive foreign policy and the assertiveness of the Coast Guard of the Chinese?


CHESTER: Well I think it was an extraordinary speech and said from the outset that the last 48 to 72 hours has been extraordinary in the Parliament. I think what Xi was doing was sending a message to the Australian people and his own people that his nation is peace loving nation and he sees more opportunity for prosperity through peaceful decision making and the rule of law than through any aggressive acts and I thought that speech was an excellent speech, I look forward to reading it again today to absorb more of it. But it was a very detailed speech, it gave a lot of indicators of where China is heading and I think he was speaking directly to the Australian people.


GILBERT: Do you think it will make our policy-makers and Government, and others internationally, rethink the approach to China given the framing of China has been “we’ve got to watch them, there’s been skirmishes around the region, in the South China Sea particularly there’s been several skirmishes with the Philippines”?


CHESTER: As I indicated Kieran, I will be getting the speech and having another read of it. I can assure that our Foreign Affairs people, our Trade people, our Defence people will be pouring over that document and seeing what they think it means for our future relationship. We have a very strong relationship with China. We have deepening defence ties as well. China for the first time this year was part of the Pacific Rim activities in Hawaii where they joined another 20-odd countries in navy exercise. I think we need to be very careful we don’t try to describe China in terms of which it is not, it’s is part of the broader community as far the defence relationship is –


GILBERT: Sure, Michelle the peaceful rhetoric comes in the context of skirmishes between the Chinese Coast Guard and the Philippines Navy and other navies in the South China Sea, and regularly you see Chinese ships shadowing Japanese ships and planes in the East China Sea. It is not like they are coming to the table without any record of, I guess, assertiveness in terms of its region.


ROWLAND: The reality is that China has a variety of interests and conflicts of which Australia’s involvement and Australia’s observance of that really does lie more in the economic side of things. That’s one of the messages that was coming out in the speech: our future is an economic power. By speaking as he did, and I would agree with Darren’s comments, essentially to the Australian people saying “look at us for what we are”. And it is quite similar to India in some ways. When I was growing up, we learnt about China as a place where many people lived in poverty and to look at the transformation that has happened there in a relatively short space of time is quite extraordinary, so this is where they see their future as an economic powerhouse and I think that it bodes very well for Australia that we have such close relations here and we have built on that with this Free Trade Agreement.


GILBERT: The China-US deal on climate, there’s been a lot of made of that. On the Green Climate Fund, it looks like Canada is going to sign up to that. Canada, that was the one country that had been alongside the Prime Minister in his position on that. Is this Government going to rethink the Green Climate Fund to help poorer countries?


CHESTER: Let’s look what is happening in Australia, the Government won a clear mandate at the election to abolish the carbon tax and we’ve been successful in that regard and we’ve introduced our policy, which was the $2.5 billion Direct Action fund and that is rolling out right now across Australia. So that was the policy position we took to the election and we were successful at that time. Now, in terms of any new fund, any international fund being debated at the moment, that is a decision for another day, but as the Prime Minister and Environment Minister have indicated we are actually getting on with the job here in Australia right now of reducing our emissions.


GILBERT: Michelle, just 20 seconds before we go.


ROWLAND: The leader of Canada has shown that changing your mind for good is certainly something that is possible. I think that Australia has an important role to play in the Pacific, particularly in this regard, to making sure that we as a leading country in our region address climate change properly.


GILBERT: We’re out of time, Michelle Rowland and Darren Chester thank you so much for your time this morning.