E&OE…

KIERAN GILBERT

With me now the Assistant Science, Jobs and Innovation Minister Zed Seselja, thanks very much for your time. First chat for 2018 and it looks like a big year ahead already we are seeing the news [that the] Prime Minister planning a visit to the White House; at a time when the two nations have very different world views particularly when it comes to trade, don’t they?

SENATOR SESELJA

I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that in terms of different world views generally. Obviously when it comes to some aspects of trade like the TPP, we’ve taken a different view from the United States because in the end fundamentally Australia acts in its own interest. We do believe that freer trade is good for the world, but particularly good for trading nations like Australia who rely on the flow of foreign capital. We are a large nation with a relatively small population. We have done very well out of trade, free trade is beneficial to us.

KIERAN GILBERT

But as we seek to remove tariffs through the TPP…succeeding in doing so through that eleven nation agreement…Trump is lifting them… that protectionist sentiment during the campaign [Trump] is delivering on that now.

SENATOR SESELJA

Well as you say, on this particular issue, there is a different view, no doubt about it, we will act in our own interests, we will act in the interests of the Australian economy. We back our people. Fundamentally if you look over the past thirty, fourty years, this used to happen on both sides of politics, less and less with the Labor Party these days, the idea that if you do reduce some of these barriers, we back our industries to compete, we back our primary producers, we back our smart sector. If you look at this trade deal, not only do we have tariffs coming down of things like beef, rice and wine. We also see it in the services sector, which is huge for our economy, and the education sector, which I think is about our fourth largest export.

KIERAN GILBERT

Well that is all good, the IMF outlook is promising as well for a global recovery as the Treasurer discussed earlier. According to a number of commentators, who I know Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate in Davos over the last couple of days raising concerns that the Trump moves, and the protectionist elements of his policy could hurt that recovery.

SENATOR SESELJA

Well look let’s just wait and see, obviously commentators will commentate. When it comes to this free trade agreement and the TPP, we shouldn’t underestimate the significance of it. This is a very significant breakthrough, and it is one that Australia has played a key role in, along with our international partners, particularly nations such as Japan. The Prime Minister and Steven Ciobo need to take a lot of credit for that. There is always going to be cross-currents. Yes there have been some moves to protectionism; this is a statement by around 15% of the world economy with this major change that free trade is important, it’s important for global trade…

KIERAN GILBERT

Is such a big deal, can we just do that on common sense as the treasurer ask, as opposed to having economic modelling saying yes this does stack up?

SENATOR SESELJA

Well these things get modelled to death. There is no doubt that the Labor Party are now looking for excuses, they are looking to leave themselves the opportunity for if their union masters say don’t support it, they are looking for an excuse to do that. Are the Labor Party seriously arguing that by opening up foreign markets to Australia exporters, that that’s not going grow our economy and grow jobs. Let’s face it, let’s look at the record. We have grown 400,000 jobs in the last year, that hasn’t come about by accident; it’s come about through following economic fundamentals. That’s included lower taxes for both small business and individuals, less red tape, more free trade. We signed free trade agreements with China, with Korea, with Japan. These things make a difference; we didn’t get to 400,000 extra jobs last year, the population of Canberra just in one year, by making poor decisions, we did it through following economic fundamentals and freer trade is one of those. That will continue to build on that story of strong jobs growth, and strong economic growth in Australia.

KIERAN GILBERT

Now to the Trump and Turnbull talks next month, he is not a conventional President is he Mr. Trump? Facing various controversies from the Mueller investigation and onwards. Can it be managed that sort of relationship do you think; at a personal level between Mr. Turnbull and well, the unpredictable President Trump?

SENATOR SESELJA

Well of course it can. The Prime Minister has already shown that he will stand up for Australia’s interests and he will forcefully put Australia’s case. We are not always going to agree with the United States, but they are a wonderful friend of Australia. We value that relationship greatly; we are going to continue to build on that relationship in so many ways, in our economic ties, in our military ties, it’s absolutely critical to our well-being in Australia. That relationship is a strong one. The Prime Minister has shown already that he will stand up for Australia’s interests. But of course build that relationship in a very constructive way.

KIERAN GILBERT

Now finally, just news breaking that the Government is announcing that private health insurance premiums are going up 3.9% from April this year, any reflections on that? Obviously Mr. Hunt will elaborate on that later.

SENATOR SESELJA

Sure well obviously the Health Minister will talk more to that. I don’t know all of the detail of that. We would like to see those rises go up as little as possible. In previous years we’ve seen them go up 5 and 6%. Historically this is lower, but of course any increase is felt by all of us who have private health insurance, so we try and keep those absolutely as low as possible.

KIERAN GILBERT

Minister thanks so much we will talk to you soon.

SENATOR SESELJA

Thanks very much.

[ENDS]