G20 a wasted opportunity for Abbott - Sky AM Agenda, 17 November

This weekend's G20 summit wasn't a good one for Tony Abbott and his government. He was forced by the other world leaders to talk about climate change after working hard to keep it off the agenda, he failed to deliver anything new on multinational tax avoidance, and his so-called growth package turned out to be nothing more than a list of the budget's most unfair measures. I joined Sky AM Agenda to take stock of it all; here's the transcript.





SUBJECT/S: G20 growth target; climate change; China Free Trade Agreement

KIERAN GILBERT: I'm joined now by the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh; you'd welcome the growth target? This is unequivocal win out of the G20, isn't it, 2.1 per cent from the 20 biggest economies?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: We'd certainly support anything that boosts growth, Kieran. The question here isn't about the value of the target, it's about the believability of how the Abbott Government intends to get there. If anyone can produce a serious economist who says that slapping on a GP tax or $100,000 degrees are going to make it easier for Australia grow rather than harder, I'd like to meet them. 

GILBERT: But in terms of the overall commitments, this is a multilateral organisation, the G20, and we hosted it. Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey drove this agreement – that's a clear win for them, isn't it?

LEIGH: It's a huge event, the biggest gathering of world leaders ever on Australian soil, and it's always great for Australia when these things happen. My concern was that on the world stage, when given the opportunity to talk about big global issues like climate change, we have Tony Abbott showing that it doesn't matter how big the stage is, he's going to show how small he can be. I was surprised in those opening remarks when he was complaining about getting things through the Senate, I almost expected him to start talking about Brookvale Oval and how its redevelopment is going to add to growth. Frankly, it's an agenda which was too small for the gathering of world leaders we had, and to suggest that climate change isn't a big economic issue is to fly in the face of IMF evidence which says unchecked climate change will take two per cent off global growth.

GILBERT: He did reiterate his commitment to dealing with climate change at the end, at the wrap-up news conference. Of course, he's got a different emphasis and approach to others, including President Obama, but the Prime Minister is adamant that his government is still committed to dealing with climate change, and he signed on to that agreement to have a concrete target post-2020. 

LEIGH: Targets are one thing. As with the economic growth target, Kieran, the question is: how do you get there? With Direct Action, we don't have a serious economist saying that paying polluters is going to cut our emissions by five per cent, let alone the aspirational bipartisan target of 15 to 25 per cent. Instead, we've got Australia being unique in the world now in being the only country that's gotten rid of an emissions trading scheme, which all serious economists recognise as the smart way of dealing with carbon pollution.

GILBERT: Ok, the Free Trade Agreement with China, that's another significant step forward. Nine years in the making, parties of both political stripes have been negotiating but it is this government which has got it done under the Trade Minister Andrew Robb.

LEIGH: Free trade is always welcome, Kieran. I say that not only as an economist but also as a Labor party representative. Labor has campaigned for free trade for decades, going right back to Gough Whitlam. What we want to ensure though is that this is improving flows of commerce. The best way of doing that is always through a multilateral deal which brings all the countries in, rather than a bilateral deal. The challenge with the bilateral is to make sure, for example, that we haven't given better rights to Chinese companies than Australian companies, that we haven't excluded significant sectors such as sugar, and that we've made sure Australians...

GILBERT: But isn't something better than nothing? With sugar, for example, you're talking about an industry in China which employs 40 million people, is heavily subsidised and is almost a form of welfare. They were never going to compromise on sugar, so why would you gazump the whole thing for the sake of one industry?

LEIGH: The fact is, Kieran, Australians deserve to see the whole deal. What we're seeing at the moment is selective leaking out to the press. We need that whole agreement put before the Australian people, so that just as you say, Australians can make their own judgement as to whether this is a good deal for boosting jobs. We need to make sure that this is going to generate plenty of jobs for Australians and that we're not putting ourselves in the position of not doing adequate labour market testing. If an employer wants to bring in migrant workers, they need to pass the test, in my view, that there aren't Australians who can do that job. 

GILBERT: I guess that's a fair enough point, but the Trade Minister has already made it clear that there won't be any cheap labour, that anyone who comes would be on Australian wages. What do you put the concerns down to among some in the media and elsewhere, about this China Free Trade Agreement? The Prime Minister this morning was in a robust interview with Alan Jones who is very critical of the China FTA, he's one of a number of people who are concerned about Chinese investment. What do you put their concerns down to?

LEIGH: Well there are certainly some people that we have never successfully persuaded on these issues, on the idea of free trade and investment being good for the Australian economy. But there's others who have quite legitimate concerns. I mean, if we're bringing in workers to do jobs when there are Australians who are ready and able to do that, then that's a concern for me as somebody who favours a strong migration program. Because Australians will begin to doubt a migration program which competes with the jobs they do rather than complementing the jobs they do. At its best, that's what our migration system should do. 

GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, thanks for your time this morning.

LEIGH: Thank you, Kieran.   



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