SUBJECTS: Free Trade Agreement with Indonesia; No Treasury modelling on Morrison’s jobs claim; Government resignations.
LAURA JAYES: But first, let's bring in the Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland. Michelle, good to see you. Does Labor support this free trade agreement?
MICHELLE ROWLAND MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: We do support increased trade with Indonesia. They are obviously one of our closest neighbours and they are a country with whom we need to do more trade. And this is inherent in all of Labor's policy settings and has been for some time. We've seen our future, for a very long time, as being in the Asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific region. We've also backed that up with some very important initiatives around Future Asia and encouraging more Australians to learn Asian languages like Bahasa.
So I think it's imperative that Australia increase its trade with Indonesia. And you look at some of the stats, Laura: we have about 18,000 Australian companies doing trade with New Zealand, one of our closest neighbours; a country of around four or so million people. We've got a quarter of a billion people in Indonesia and it’s only something like 2,000 Australian companies. So clearly that needs to be improved, and over the last five years we've actually seen trade go down with Indonesia from where it was five years ago compared to today. So it's very important that we stay focused on this for the long-term betterment of Australia.
KIERAN GILBERT: What about the agreement specifically? What about this agreement specifically and the labour market testing arrangements which are within it. Is Labor willing to cop that?
ROWLAND: Kieran, we haven't seen the detail of the agreement. I think that's one thing we need to bear in mind and we'll be closely examining it but we look forward to seeing those details. I think it's fair enough that Australians expect that in terms of labour market testing, that there should be an opportunity for Australian workers to apply for jobs. That appears to be commonsense and it's one, when I go out in the community, I don't get any push-back on.
But we do need to see the detail of this agreement, but in the meantime, exactly as you said in the opening commentary, it's very good news for Australia that we're getting that preferential treatment or at least having those sorts of advantages for Australian farmers, for the education sector and health sector, and that's a good thing.
JAYES: But you don't rule out renegotiating some of this agreement before ratifying it through Parliament?
ROWLAND: Well of course there's a process to do that, Laura, but I think we need to step back. We are very pleased that this agreement is being signed.
JAYES: But the unions aren't stepping back. We've already seen the unions send a shot across the bow, really, to say this isn't good enough. So is Labor under pressure from the unions already?
ROWLAND: I think the pressure comes from there being such uncertainly in the global economy. We've got, I don't remember a time, where we've had everything from Brexit to Trump to China and those sorts of tensions happening. So you can appreciate why workers are concerned about this. But ultimately Labor is very keen for this agreement to progress. In fact we kicked it off with Craig Emerson as Minister many years ago. As you said in your commentary, it did stall for a while there, that ill-conceived idea of moving the embassy could've ended it. But we are pleased that this is going ahead. It's going to be signed and we look forward to seeing the detail.
GILBERT: So the Prime Minister obviously confirmed late last year that any move would be or was put on hold in terms of the embassy and overall they got this deal done, so do you give the Government credit for this?
ROWLAND: I think there is certainly merit in having this agreement and I think this has been done over many agreements, where it's been kicked off by one government and ratified by another. I think full credit needs to go to all the Australian civil servants who worked on this as well, over a variety of governments and in very trying circumstances. I don't think these people behind the scenes get enough credit sometimes, Kieran.
JAYES: Well that's true; we'll keep an eye on that one. What about the people that work in Treasury, they've, well apparently according to this letter that we've obtained. Treasury wasn't asked or didn't do any modelling to back in the Government's promise of 1 million and a quarter jobs over the next five years. I mean, is that really a big deal when we've already seen the results of the last five years?
ROWLAND: Well on one level, Laura, it's not surprising that we don't have any evidence to back this up. I would point out the hypocrisy of this Government who is very quick to go out and commission Treasury modelling on Labor's policies but they appear to have been too lazy to do this on their own one! And it's not so much the number that matters. Indeed that is, as Jim Chalmers said at the time, probably in line with trends.
So it's not so much the number, it's that these people just appear to have stopped governing. Where did this number come from? Was it stated purely for political purposes, and if that's the case, look I can tell you going out and about in the community, when people think about jobs they're worried about their own jobs, they're worried about the fact that for so many people who do shift-work, they have to wait around and find out what time their shifts might be on, if any that week. They're worried about their penalty rates. They're worried about their kids getting good jobs.
GILBERT: But as Laura said the Government, in Opposition, made a commitment to create a million jobs before the 2013 election. They've done that so should we, you look at their track record and they've achieve that particular commitment, so why should we not expect them to do this?
ROWLAND: Well indeed it's in line with trends, as I said. But one thing's clear from this Government: it appears that if you want a job you should get on board with this Government because they're giving out jobs left, right and centre to anyone who’s retiring or anyone who is a mate.
JAYES: Well, if this is in line with trends, is Labor matching that promise of a million and quarter jobs over the next five years? Indeed, you could be in government in the next couple of months.
ROWAND: Well, I don't think we should get ahead of ourselves, and we need to remember that, as I said earlier in relation to trade, we have a volatile global economy. We don't know what's around the corner in terms of how some of these trade negotiations on a global scale will land. So I think we need to be very cautious in terms of making promises to the Australian people, and look, I would just point out when you talk about making promises, this latest promise about job creation from Scott Morrison, even his own frontbenchers didn't really know the detail of it.
GILBERT: When we look at the Government's resignations there, a couple of Cabinet Ministers over the weekend including Steve Ciobo, who spoke to Laura Jayes in that interview at the end of last week, when you look at Ciobo and Pyne, for example: collectively they've been in the Parliament for 40 years so isn't it fair enough, after significant contribution, that they move onto other things?
ROWLAND: Well, certainly everyone who is a sitting Member has the right to decide whether or not they're going to keep going and I've always thought it would be one of the greatest privileges in life, not only to serve in our nation's Parliament, but to pick your exit. Not everyone gets to do that, but this certainly is starting to look like a bit of a mass evacuation and a real race for the life-rafts. And again, I think this points to the instability that's overtaken this Government and I think you have to ask yourself the question: if some of these people who are resigning, and some of them, you know, they have very valid reasons for doing so, would they be making that decision if the situation were different politically for them today? And that's a question for them to answer.
JAYES: Well, do you think Julie Bishop could've beaten Bill Shorten? Bill Shorten seems to think maybe she had a chance.
ROWLAND: This is the really interesting thing. I see leak upon leak on Julie Bishop now and her coming out saying that she could've won. Let's just get this straight. We wouldn't be in this situation if they hadn't have knifed Malcolm Turnbull. We would not be in this position of talking about the merits of something that we will never know. We will never know if Julie Bishop can or can't become Prime Minister, and if she would've succeeded at the next election.
But I’ll say this: the next election will be very close. It would've been very close under Malcolm Turnbull, but all these issues would not have arisen if not for that catalyst of knifing Malcolm Turnbull for reasons that are still unknown to us and the Australian people.
JAYES: Michelle Rowland, always good to talk to you. Thanks so much for your time.