How to Best Secure Australia's Prosperity - Transcript, AM Agenda






SUBJECTS: Marriage equality postal survey, energy crisis, new book ‘Choosing Openness’, trade, immigration, foreign investment.

KIERAN GILBERT, PRESENTER: This is AM Agenda. With me now is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh. In relation to the Government and the states, what are your thoughts on GST held back in return for the states lifting these moratoriums. Do you think that is a good move?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Seems to be the blame game all over again, doesn't it Kieran? You’ve got a government that has been unwilling to impose a national interest test, unwilling to pull the gas trigger, unwilling to put in place a Clean Energy Target that their own hand-picked Chief Scientist recommended. And now they want to take money away from schools and hospitals across various states simply because they have been unable to put the right policies in place on gas.

GILBERT: They didn't have to pull the trigger, did they? They got the companies to agree to doing it themselves voluntarily.

LEIGH: Kieran, I remember back in April when Malcolm Turnbull was telling us that gas prices were going to halve. My guess is most of your viewers haven't seen that halving yet. The Turnbull Government has been a lot talk on this but unwilling to take tough action. When Labor put in place a national interest policy last year, we were criticised by Josh Frydenberg as being protectionist. Had the Government moved with Labor a year ago, we would be in a better place than we are now.

GILBERT: On to the same-sex discussion, and of Labor Senator Helen Polley from Tasmania. So she has been told to lie basically about her position on the issue even though she is voting 'no'. She has been told by colleagues and people in the party to say that no, she is supporting change. What do you make of that?

LEIGH: Labor allows members and senators a free vote. The vast majority of Labor senators and members will be voting yes.

GILBERT: But not her. She's been told to misrepresent that. It's a bit wrong isn't it?

LEIGH: I'm not sure what Helen has been told. I can certainly tell you though that the vast majority of my colleagues will be  supporting marriage equality.

GILBERT: Although you said you are allowed a free vote, it is not for long. Until next term of Government that the free vote is gone. It becomes a fixed vote for Labor.

LEIGH: That's right, that was the position that was arrived at the last Labor National Conference. I'd be pretty surprised if this postal survey doesn't get up though. I would hope that the issue will be resolved by the end of the year.

GILBERT: Yes, we I was told over the weekend by people involved in the campaigns that the tracking polling suggests that the number of voters participating is already around 50 per cent.

LEIGH: Fingers crossed people have gotten their ballots in. But for anyone who has friends or family that might have dropped it down the back of the couch, this is a good opportunity to make sure that those surveys are posted.

GILBERT: Is that number encouraging though at this stage, 50 per cent?

LEIGH: Obviously we'd like as many people to participate. If we have to be in this process, rather than just having parliament do its job, then let's make the participation rate as high as possible.

GILBERT: Now, you've just released a book on trade: Choosing Openness. It's an interesting time to be releasing this analysis, at a time when we've seen a move globally away from free trade and globalisationation, certainly in the USA and Brexit as well. What's your main thesis in this argument?

LEIGH: Kieran, the main argument I make in Choosing Openness, published by the Lowy Institute, is that it is in Australia's interest to engage with the world. There are strong populist forces ranged against globalisation, and indeed some worrying economic trends: with trade, investment and migration volumes falling since the Global Financial Crisis. But Australia's prosperity will be best secured if we're able to actively manage our engagement with the world through a strong social safety net which shares the gains of globalisation.

GILBERT: One of the things that, as you refer to, is immigration. The Labor Party has been very keen to, I guess, show that it is looking after Australian jobs first. On the skilled migrants, and the 457 visas. Is that part of the message here that politicians need to bring  the community with them to say well look, this is not about taking your job, it's about jobs are needed that are needed for our broader economy?

LEIGH: Absolutely, Kieran. Strong supporters of migration need to recognise that migration works best when it supplements the skills of the community, not supplants them. We need to make sure temporary migrants aren't being ripped off, and I know my colleague Shayne Neumann has been working very carefully on policies around temporary migration to make sure it works for all Australians. But our popular support for migration is strong, and if anything it has gotten stronger. Quite a contrast to what you see in many European countries.

GILBERT: What's your view when it comes to bilateral trade agreements versus the broader multilateral trade agreements which were the focus of years gone by?

LEIGH: Obviously multilateral is best, you do it across a range of countries, you don't distort trade. But in a world in which it has been nearly a generation since the last multilateral trade agreement was signed, we need to look at whether there is other ways of getting groups of countries together, either on particular products or in particular regions, to bring down trade barriers. Trade is really just another case of specialisation. If you don't grow you own food, cut your own hair and fix your own car, then you benefit from specialisation in the labour market. So too Australia, constituting just 0.3 per cent of the world's population, can benefit from actively engaging in trade.

GILBERT: And so in the short term, we've only got a minute left, your thought on the fact that Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership - that broader regional trade deal which I guess you are alluding to - that sort of framework in your argument. Should we as a nation now be pursuing the Chinese lead, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership which also brings in, from memory, India, Korea, Japan.

LEIGH: It's certainly the biggest game in our region, but we also need to look at things like the trade agreement to bring down tariffs on environmental goods, and opportunities for bolt-on trade agreements. We need less intellectual property in the trade negotiations. Too few trade negotiations now are about proper trade liberalisation, so we need a ‘back to the knitting’ approach for trade liberalisation. And I know that is something Jason Clare and Penny Wong have been advocating strongly.

GILBERT: Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh, appreciate your time.

LEIGH: Thanks Kieran.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.