Dalley Edition on Trade, Super and Polls

20 October 2015


SUBJECT/S: China-Australia Free Trade Agreement; Trans-Pacific Partnership; Superannuation tax concessions; Trade Union Royal Commission; Opinion polls

HELEN DALLEY: Tomorrow morning the Government will finally give its response to the David Murray Inquiry into the Financial System, some almost eleven months after it was handed to former Treasurer Joe Hockey. And in other areas, we are seeing action from the Government, where previously there was perhaps stalling. Last week saw Labor give to the Government its suggested amendments to protect workers - as they put it - to the China Free Trade Agreement. But they will be amendments possibly to the Migration Act, not the FTA itself. Again, the Government was far more conciliatory than previously. Well, joining me now in our Canberra studio is Dr Jim Chalmers. He's the Shadow Assistant Trade Minister and also Shadow for Superannuation and Financial Services. Jim Chalmers, thanks very much for joining us.


DALLEY: I know you have to go and give a speech in the House, but will the sorts of amendments that Labor put forward to get a compromise support for the China Free Trade Agreement, will they be acceptable to the unions who really pushed you to go a lot further?

CHALMERS: I think the benefits of the China Australia Free Trade Agreement can be really substantial, so long as we get two things right. The first thing is the labour market provisions which you refer to and the second thing is we need a really comprehensive strategy to make sure that the China agreement creates jobs and particularly in the services sector, because that's where the jobs of the future will come from.

When it comes to our amendments, we think it's in the national interest that we build these additional safeguards around the China Australia Free Trade Agreement. We've said for a long time now that we're up for a China Australia Free Trade Agreement, we just want to make sure it maximises Australian jobs and minimises the risk of exploitation.

DALLEY: But the unions wanted you to go further.

CHALMERS: The unions have made – like a lot of organisations in the country have made – a really positive contribution to this discussion. It doesn't mean that we have to pick up every single suggestion from every corner of the country. We listen of course to everyone, but it's our responsibility to put forward amendments in the national interest. That's what we've done and we don't think it's too much to ask for the Government now to sit down with Labor to agree these things so that we can get on and take full advantage of a better China Australia Free Trade Agreement.

DALLEY: Do you anticipate a similar scare campaign or smear campaign against the Trans-Pacific Partnership from the unions?

CHALMERS: You'd have to ask the union movement whether they intend to campaign against the so-called TPP. I think it's a welcome development that the negotiations have been finalised now. They began under Labor. It's an agreement that in my view has great potential for the country and for the region. But so far, we're just commenting on reports and claims out of the agreement. What we want to do is see the Government release the text, so that we can hold it up to the light, we can have a proper national conversation about the TPP and so we can get to a good outcome in the same way that we would like to do when it comes to the China agreement.

DALLEY: Well, I just want to get through a few issues. Jim Chalmers, you also have charge of superannuation. Now with a new Prime Minister, do you see room to move? There was some indication last week that the Government might look at toughening up tax concessions for wealthier people on superannuation. 

CHALMERS: It's definitely true that the language from Malcolm Turnbull is a bit different than it was under Tony Abbott. But the most important thing is what they do and not necessarily what they say. And what they say hasn't been entirely consistent either. Scott Morrison has been a bit less keen to get that kind of compromise.

Helen, we've said from the very very beginning: here's a good policy proposal. We don't think it's a good idea that 38 per cent of the concessions go to the top ten per cent of earners in a tight budget context. Here's a solution we've worked up with experts. If the Government wants to pass it, we'll work with them and we'll pass it. Because the most important thing is that we make superannuation fair and sustainable. And if they're in the cart for that, we're certainly in the cart for that and we'll work with whoever wants to achieve that outcome.

DALLEY: Now, the Unions Royal Commission is throwing up some fairly damning evidence against Leader Bill Shorten and what he did when he was at the AWU seemingly to consolidate and help build up his political power base without many union members knowing what he was doing with these companies. Doesn't the alternative prime minister owe the electorate a much more thorough explanation and response to this evidence?

CHALMERS: Helen, I don't think you can be more thorough than answer 900 questions at a Royal Commission. I mean, there's nothing that I can add for you, Helen, that would improve on the 900 answers that Bill Shorten gave at the Trade Union Royal Commission.

DALLEY: No, I'm asking do you think Bill Shorten needs to give a lot more?

CHALMERS: More than 900 answers? No, I think he's made himself available. He's participated in a constructive way. He's commented on it probably hundreds of times in the media since then.

This is a guy who's devoted his whole working life to representing working people. I think he's got a terrific record in that regard. And let's remember that this Trade Union Royal Commission is an $80 million witch hunt set up by people who think that it's okay for the Royal Commissioner to raise money for the Liberal Party.

DALLEY: Well that's what your side of politics says, but I mean, Jim Chalmers, with respect, the electorate would be hearing this evidence from people who aren't necessarily out to get Bill Shorten and they would be thinking - well, hang on – he has a case to answer.

CHALMERS: And I'm telling you, Helen, that he's answered 900 questions and every time he's been asked in the media by people like yourself or all around the country, he's answered to the best of his ability. I think that people do have the opportunity to ask him questions like that and he's answered them. My point is that I question the motives of the Royal Commission - definitely - and I think it's a waste of $80 million of taxpayer's money when they're cutting hospitals and schools and pensions and all kinds of things on the other side of the Budget.

DALLEY: The latest opinion poll - Fairfax-Ipsos poll - atrocious news for Labor with Malcolm Turnbull's ascendancy, wouldn't you agree?

CHALMERS: Look, I didn't get too carried away when the polls were terrific, and I don't get too carried away when there's one poll that has us behind. I think it's the least surprising thing in federal politics to learn all of a sudden that there's relief in the Australian community that Tony Abbott's gone.

DALLEY: Alright, Jim Chalmers, we'll have to leave it there so you can get to Parliament. Thanks so much for joining us.

CHALMERS: Thanks Helen.