Labor's got a strong record on trade - Transcript, Sky AM Agenda





SUBJECTS: New Commonwealth Bank CEO, Royal Commission into the Banks, Defence Exports, Trans-Pacific Partnership.

KIERAN GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, thanks very much for your time. Your thoughts on your breaking news that we brought to you just before the break, the new Commonwealth Bank chief executive has been announced?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Happy New Year, Kieran to you and your viewers. Great to be back on Sky. I've met Matt, I've found him thoughtful and engaged. Obviously the issues facing the big banks aren't just some of the scandals that have gone by but also the financial technologies. They’re facing new FinTech competitors: everything from ApplePay to scrappy start-ups. I think Matt's got the wherewithal to deal with these challenges but obviously there is some big reform required at the head of our big banks.

GILBERT: Yeah certainly is. He's coming in at a difficult time.

LEIGH: Absolutely. He'll have his work cut out for him. It's striking when you look at the leadership of Australia's major banking sector that it’s significantly younger than a generation ago. I think that does reflect the demands and challenges that the sector faces.

GILBERT: Is that a good thing do you think to have that sort of mid-career individual as opposed to someone at the end of their career taking the helm?

LEIGH: I think it is, certainly the impact of cryptocurrencies just to name one is a pretty sophisticated challenge facing big banks. You want your big banks to be nimble, to be able to not only deal with the scandals – and they've got to do that through this Royal Commission process – but also to reform and make sure they're ready for 21st century challenges.

GILBERT: The Government announcing this bid to lift Australia's profile as a defence exporter, I saw a former Australian Ambassador to Israel this morning suggesting that if they could be the fifth largest exporter, Australia should be able to crack the top ten. What are your thoughts on that?

LEIGH: We've got our success stories, including the Hawkei and the Bushmaster. But it's important to put this in perspective, Kieran. We're talking about $20 million a year, the Government can do far more through its own procurement processes. So for example, through the Offshore Patrol Vessels there is the potential to get much more Australian industry involvement in that. Labor's keen of course to see stronger exporters but we also want our own procurement guidelines ensuring we've got a healthy defence industry.

GILBERT: They're talking about a boost force rather than small and medium size businesses as well, that's a focus as well. Is that part of the mix here? It seems to me that most of the businesses we're talking about are larger scale firms like Thales and so on.

LEIGH: What strikes me in my electorate here in the ACT that you do have a range of start-up enterprises working in military applications. The heavy application of technology, not just to what’s being done in the airforce, but also to the work of the soldier on the ground and the potential of Australia to use our ingenuity and our know how to encourage our start-ups I think is definitely there. We’re just worried that we haven’t seen that through the steady deindustrialisation of Australia that’s occurred under the Abbott and Turnbull Governments.

GILBERT: Do you feel that there is a strategic component to this as well, as I discussed with the Foreign Minister? She was quite up front with the fact that this is also about boosting interoperability with like-minded nations in the region?

LEIGH: Absolutely. The more you understand, the more you’re able to make the better use of it. You see that in nations such as Israel, through their ability to innovate – that also makes their military more nimble. Working with our allies on technology and exports is just par for the course as we work with them on a human level during the joint exercises.

GILBERT: You look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the reaction to it, it looks like the Trump Administration – Donald Trump himself – facing a bit of backlash, certainly from the wheat lobby in the wake of the outcome of that particular free trade agreement. The signals from him as well, that he might be having a bit of a rethink about it all?

LEIGH: Kieran, you say ‘you look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership’. Fact is, we’d all love to have a look at this new trade deal which has a different name and is still being held back from the public. Agencies such as the Productivity Commission, ACCI have said they want independent economic analysis of it and that’s Labor’s position. We’re open to trade deals that benefit Australia and boost jobs, but we want to see the numbers crunched. Just as was done by the Abbott Government for the Korean deal, let’s do the same thing for this.

GILBERT: But you, as an economist and you’ve worked in trade for a long time as well for a former Trade Minister. Is your inclination to be positive about this sort of arrangement?

LEIGH: Labor's got a strong record on trade, Kieran. If you look through the Whitlam, Hawke and Keating Governments it was reducing our trade barriers unilaterally because we recognised it was in Australia's interests as a medium sized economy to engage with the world. As John Robinson once said- 

GILBERT: So does your instinct tell you that this is a good deal or do you want to see more information? On the surface would you instinctively be moving towards this sort of multilateral arrangement?

LEIGH: I want to see the deal rather than the press releases, Kieran. Of course Labor supports open trade, it's in our DNA. It's the way in which we boosted prosperity and it's a way to import competition to the Australian market. There are benefits of trade through product choice, through cheaper goods and services. But we need to make sure this isn't simply gumming up the works as the worst trade deals can do. Multilateralism is the way to go but when you take the United States - 

GILBERT: You don't want the Department of Foreign Affairs to do that though do you? If it's a dog of a deal as Barnaby Joyce put it?

LEIGH: I would like to see Productivity Commission analysis because I think they're the experts on this. If you take the US out, you take 40 per cent out, you need to do the analysis again.

GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, thanks so much for your time.


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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.