2GB Money Talks - interview with Ross Greenwood

  • Transcript, E&OE

ROSS GREENWOOD It's a pleasure to have the Foreign Minister on Money Talks this evening.

Many thanks for your time Julie.

JULIE BISHOP Good evening Ross. Good to be with you.

ROSS GREENWOOD Can I just ask first up, we should go to Dyson Heydon and really the whole issue of the way in which the Royal Commission has been handled. Dyson Heydon has said that he will remain as the Royal Commissioner as I think many of our callers, and I've in fact commented is appropriate, in my mind at least anyway. The ACTU and also the Labor Party appear still hell bent to push something through the Senate to encourage the Governor-General to make some decision about his tenure as Royal Commissioner. What does that say about the unions, and indeed the Labor Party and the way in which they appear, to me at least, be joined at the hip?

JULIE BISHOP Ross, I welcome Commissioner Dyson Heydon's decision to remain. This question of bias was never appropriate. In fact, those leading the charge against a distinguished and honourable man of great integrity have only one motivation and that is to seek to derail a Royal Commission that is investigating systemic corruption in the union movement.

And those who are leading the charge against Dyson Heydon are seeking to protect corrupt union officials who have put their own interests above the interests of the honest workers they were meant to be representing. Already we've seen 26 union officials referred for further investigation and prosecutions. So this Royal Commission is doing important work to expose fraud and corruption and illegal and unethical behaviour and to protect the interests of the workers who are paying their union fees to corrupt union officials who didn't have their interests at heart. So I'm very pleased that the Royal Commission will continue and continue to expose this systemic corruption.

ROSS GREENWOOD Because of course in the aftermath of the mining investment boom we need more construction, we need more activity, business activity. We know that our economic growth is not what we would like it to be in Australia. We need to find new avenues of economic growth. Anything that quite clearly is an impediment to economic growth right now is not in Australia's best interests.

And I do notice that unions, even sections of the Labor Party are now trying to fight against the China Free Trade Agreement and that almost seems to be taking on some popularity with the advertisements they seem to be running. Now you're in that area of foreign affairs. China it seems, according to Andrew Robb the Trade Minister, if there are going to be changes that politicians seek to make to that trade deal could very well walk away from something that is highly lucrative potentially to Australia's economy.

JULIE BISHOP The union movement is running a shameful and dishonest campaign against the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. This agreement is undeniably good for the Australian economy. It will boost job opportunities. It will create new markets for Australian businesses – small, medium and large – into one of the largest consumer markets in the world. The economic growth that will come from this Free Trade Agreement will benefit all Australians and for the unions to tell lies about the risk to workers jobs is utterly disgraceful. I've called it economic treason.

If the union movement manages to sabotage a free trade agreement with China, the ramifications will be enormous, not just the economic impact, but also our diplomatic relationship with China. And so I see this as one of the most irresponsible campaigns that I've had the misfortune to witness. And sadly, and regrettably, Bill Shorten doesn't seem to have the courage to stand up to his union masters and call it for what it is.

This is a shameful attempt to mislead people into believing that a free trade agreement with China will somehow destroy Australian jobs. Nothing could be further from the truth. This will create jobs. I've spoken to so many small, medium and large businesses who see huge opportunities to sell their goods and services into China, to get more investment out of China so that we can grow our economy here. So I'm a huge supporter of this Free Trade Agreement, indeed all free trade agreements.

You don't see countries lifting themselves out of poverty through handouts. You see it through more liberalised trade and that is what Australia needs. We need to have new markets, enhance existing markets with China, Japan, South Korea and the union movement's actions in trying to derail this Free Trade Agreement are utterly disgraceful and Labor should distance itself from it immediately.

ROSS GREENWOOD Well, Julie Bishop, you are the custodian of our diplomatic relationship with China, let's concentrate on that one for the moment because that seems to be where the unions are really focussing right now. What sort of a reaction are you getting from China in regards to that campaign? Are they conscious of it? Are they aware if it? Are they worried and concerned about where Australia really almost has a two-step political process that could undermine the future of that agreement?

JULIE BISHOP Well they are certainly aware of it but they are also somewhat confused because Labor luminaries like Bob Hawke, who is very well known and respected in China, is very supportive of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. I wish Bill Shorten would listen to the advice from Bob Hawke who says that this is so important for our economic growth. Former Foreign Minister, former Premier, Bob Carr says that the Free Trade Agreement wording doesn't need to be changed. He is supportive of this agreement. So this short-termism that seems to have captured the Leader of the Opposition in Bill Shorten is very disappointing.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Australia to have a Free Trade Agreement with what will be one of the largest economies in the world, our largest trading partner and for the life of me I cannot understand why the union movement thinks it is in the interests of Australian workers to destroy an agreement that will provide jobs and opportunities for Australian workers.

And of course China is conscious of it but we have explained that the Free Trade Agreement will go through the process of being scrutinised by a Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, as all Free Trade Agreements and other treaties are, and that the Committee may well come up with recommendations. Likewise China has to take the Free Trade Agreement through its processes.

But we are determined to provide this opportunity for Australian business, for Australian workers ,and I don't believe that the union movement will, at the end of the day, be able to persuade right thinking members of the Labor Party that they should walk away from an agreement struck with our largest trading partner.

ROSS GREENWOOD Just one other thing and that is Australia's obligation with regard to aid. We know that certainly as part of the Budget cutbacks that aid has been one of those areas that has been looked at and has now been reduced. The whole point about aid now though is that you are now trying to engage the private sector into boosting aid and development. Are you looking to see whether the private sector can maybe step in where government does not have the resources necessarily, or the political appetite, to be able to provide the amount of aid that may be internationally - the OECD and other nations - might like Australia to provide? Is this the reason why you want the private sector to be more involved?

JULIE BISHOP Well Ross, the reality is that fighting poverty, lifting standards of living starts with boosting economic growth and economic growth is driven by the private sector. In developing countries around the world it is the private sector that accounts for 60 per cent of gross domestic product, 80 per cent of capital flows, 90 per cent of jobs. So that is the reality and wasn't readily recognised by previous governments or understood in our aid program.

So what we are seeking to do is leverage the private sector involvement in developing countries with government funding so that we can do more. We can get more effective outcomes by partnering and working together. And so I have launched a partnership, between the private sector and the Australian Government so that we can better implement our aid program by drawing on the skills, the expertise and the funding of the private sector in countries where they are already operating, together with the Australian Government's skills and expertise in delivering aid. And together we will be able to achieve so much more in lifting standards of living, lifting people out of poverty and driving sustainable economic growth, particularly in our region – the Indian Ocean, Asia-Pacific.

ROSS GREENWOOD And do you believe that's more important than trying to provide aid locally? I mean many companies already have very large indigenous programs for example and they'll send workers into those communities to try and lift education standards and educational outcomes in many of those areas. Do you think that is as important, or is it in conjunction, or how does it work?

JULIE BISHOP It is very much in conjunction with the Government. This is a partnership. For the first time the Australian Government has articulated a vision of bringing the private sector together with government to deliver better outcomes in developing countries. So in health, in education, there are many private sector organisations that are operating in these countries and also supporting basic health services, basic education services. By teaming up with the Australian Government we can bring all our expertise and resources together to get better outcomes.

And we've had some enthusiastic support already from companies as large as Westpac and ANZ and Carnival Cruises, Rio Tinto and we will see more companies, more businesses working with NGOs, with charities, with government to embrace what I call 'the new aid paradigm'. We have to recognise that foreign direct investment dwarfs aid dollars in developing countries, that remittances from Australia, from Pacific Islanders in particular who are working in Australia, back to their developing countries, far exceed our aid budget. So private sector investment is growing and we are now envisaging the private sector as a core component of our foreign aid policy.

ROSS GREENWOOD Just a final one, we know that the economic rhetoric is very hard to achieve these days. Is your colleague Joe Hockey's job safe as Treasurer?

JULIE BISHOP Joe Hockey is doing a great job. People forget that he inherited some of the worst set of financial accounts of any incoming government. As Treasurer he had to face the legacy of six years of Labor trashing the Federal Budget, record levels of debt and deficit. And Joe is having to, not only deal with that legacy, but also with irresponsible Labor Senators who are refusing to pass measures through the Senate that would repair and restore the Budget. They are even refusing to pass savings that they themselves identified. I mean that is how ridiculous they are being. So even productivity measures like restoring the Australian Building and Construction Commission so that we can have greater productivity in our workplaces, that is being opposed by irresponsible Labor Senators.

So I think Joe Hockey has a very tough job ahead of him but he is handling it well and I don't believe for a moment that the Prime Minister has any intention at all to take him away from that very important work.

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