Interview on ABC - TPP


11 OCTOBER, 2015

Subjects: TPP, NSW Liberal Council, penalty rates, sharing economy


GEOGHEGAN: We're joined by Senator Richard Colbeck, the Minister for Tourism and international Education and also the Assistant Minister for Trade and Investment, from Devonport in Tasmania. Thanks very much for joining us on this Sunday morning.

COLBECK: Good morning, Andrew.

GEOGHEGAN: Just some reaction to news from yesterday, we saw the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull addressing the NSW Liberal Council meeting and he was heckled at one point as far as talking about factions not driving the Liberal party. What do you make of that reaction that he got?

COLBECK: Well I think there are still a few people in NSW who are reacting to the change of leadership, I think that's natural. But there's no question that when you compare the Labor party and the Liberal party the factions don't control the way that we operate the same way that they do in the Labor party. They don't control how someone might become a minister for example and they don't control a number of the things that happen in Canberra which is a very different process. So I think it might be a difference between what the Prime Minister was saying and what people were hearing.

I thought he handled it very well and was quite open to the fact that someone had a different opinion to what he did. The really important thing from my perspective is that we understand that there has been a change of leadership, it's happened and now our responsibility is to move on and do our jobs representing our constituencies.

GEOGHEGAN: Senator, we're having low audio issues with our link but we will persist. Can I then ask do you feel as though the Prime Minister has the support of the broader base of the Liberal party?

COLBECK: Well my experience over the last few weeks, and I've been around a fair part of the country, is that I think he does. I think most people have accepted that there has been a change and now if we want to retain government, which is important for Australia, we need to get on with our jobs and continue the very good work that we're doing.

GEOGHEGAN: Let's move to the issue of the Trans Pacific Partnership that involves 12 nations around the Pacific, including Australia. Much work put into this and this has been hailed by Trade Minister Andrew Robb as a great success, and we've seen the Prime Minister saying that. I imagine that many Australians are a bit confused about what this will mean for them. What does this mean?

COLBECK: Well it means new jobs, it means growth for the economy, it means new opportunities for new businesses, and it means more opportunities for our agricultural products. It means more opportunities and growth which is very important for our economy.

GEOGHEGAN: It also means the potential to cut tariffs. Is there any potential timeline for that to happen, which would obviously help the agriculture sector for instance?

COLBECK: Well depending on the particular commodity it cuts tariffs over time. It improves on some of the relationships that we have in recently negotiated free trade agreements, so it does open up new opportunities for some tariffs to come off.

With Japan and Korea for example we're seeing where there's been growth in our exports and new opportunities opened, and the fact that we've signed those agreements has actually got businesses in those countries looking again at Australia. So we ought to be taking advantage of the opportunities that have been created while they are still very fresh.

GEOGHEGAN: Greater access for many of our exporters, what about the reverse though, for consumers? Will it mean lower prices or will the access see some sectors where prices will actually increase?

COLBECK: Well its obviously going to mean that there's competition for product into the local market because trade is a two way street and we need to be prepared to buy things as well. So there will be competition in the market for a range of products and it will vary depending on the strength of the individual economy and we've already seen changes in the way our economy is structured over the last 10 or 20 years after we've started to open it up to a global economy and that will continue.

GEOGHEGAN: Senator, I just wanted to ask you to put your hat on now as tourism minister and the issue of penalty rates. Being a Sunday of course we see many businesses in the tourism sector opening on a Sunday and trying to attract tourists. What would you like to see with penalty rates and what's your message to unions?

COLBECK: Well my message to the unions is, out of the back of the economic summit that was conducted by the Prime Minister, where the unions said they had been looking at innovation looked like in the labour market. Now, industry's quite clearly put their position on the table and my invitation to the union movement is to put their position on the table so we can start negotiating.

It's quite clear that its difficult particularly for small businesses to open on weekends but we need to ensure that we look after the employees that provide a service that's also very important, many of them depend on those salaries. But we need to be prepared to sit down and have a genuine conversation about how we can provide for innovation in the labour market so that at premium times when business should be making a profit, which they can then return back into growing their businesses, that there's the opportunity to do that.

GEOGHEGAN: Have you advocated the abolition of penalty rates on weekends?

COLBECK: What I'm looking for is a conversation between business and the unions about what innovation might look like. Business has quite clearly put on the table that they want to see a change particularly to Sunday and public holiday penalty rates. We now have the opportunity because at the economic summit the agreement was that everything was on the table and we could start having a conversation. The unions have said they are looking at what innovation in the labour market looks like - let's hear what they're thinking.

GEOGHEGAN: Just finally, I wanted to ask you in terms of tourism we've seen players such as Airbnb and Uber in the taxi market feature in what I think the Prime Minister would call a digital disruption that we're seeing across the world at the moment. Some of these players perhaps don't play the rules as traditionally set out, do you support them? Over the past couple of days of course we've seen a tax on Uber drivers, clearly this is extremely disruptive?

COLBECK: Well it's obviously changing the market and this sector, transport and accommodation, wouldn't be the first sector that's been significantly disrupted by technology. The media industry for example is one that had significant change. The question from my perspective is how we take advantage of the way that people interact with those industries for the benefit of the industry and the consumer, that's the thing that I'd like to see. There are obviously regulatory frameworks that are of a concern to industry and most of those occur at a state and local government level, so there's not a lot of opportunity for the commonwealth to directly impact there. But bringing people together to discuss the types of frameworks to deal with some of these things is something that we can work together on.

GEOGHEGAN: Senator Richard Colbeck, thanks for your time.

COLBECK: A pleasure Andrew, thank you.

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