Doorstop interview: United States visit, TPP, South China Sea, business tax cuts and steel and aluminium tariffs.
THE HON. MALCOLM TURNBULL MP
PRIME MINISTER: Lucy and I are heading back to Australia now.
This has been - as you are too - this has been a very, very valuable visit.
Our goal was to broaden and deepen our enduring relationship with the United States, our great alliance. Build on a hundred years of mateship for a hundred more.
We've received a very warm welcome from the President and First Lady Melania Trump and we thank them for that. Very productive meetings, very frank and productive meetings with the President, with the Vice President at the Pentagon with the intelligence chiefs, with the Treasury Secretary and of course with the Governors here today.
This is the biggest delegation of Australian political leaders and business leaders ever to come to the United States. And you've seen the interest the warmth from the Governors down here in this meeting today.
I have to give great credit to Ambassador Joe Hockey and his team at the Australian embassy. This has been a huge effort to bring together this level of engagement. You know, when you have a friendship as enduring, as strong as ours with the United States it's often easy, I suppose to take it for granted. But of course you have to tend these alliances and these relationships and this has been a great example of effective diplomacy in action, effective engagement.
We see eye to eye. Our American hosts are enthused by our commitment. We have got across the message very clearly that America's commitment in our region is vitally important for us and for the United States and for the region. And, of course, you've seen the strength of that commitment here.
So a very valuable visit and we now look forward to our journey back to Australia.
What are the most significant outcomes of this visit?
Well it is building on that 100 years of mateship that I talked about. We've got specific initiatives in respect of digital laws and regulation to ensure that markets are open and we get transparency in markets and the way we regulate digital products and digital services. Steven Ciobo has been working very effectively with Robert Lighthizer on that, we obviously have a commitment to keeping energy markets open in our region and above all though, we have been able to share our perspectives on the region, on North Korea, on the global battle against terrorism and also our perspectives too on the importance of free trade and open markets.
You say it was a matter of building the relationship but is it also fair to say that you were trying to make sure that there was no drift in America that there is no sense of isolationism getting into the American system?
Well as I said today in my speech, President Trump has demonstrated in all of his strategies that he's laid out, that I described in my address, a commitment to a strong American presence in our region and around the world and that is vitally important. The United States has been the sheet anchor for that rules based order upon which all of our prosperity is dependent for so long.
Prime Minister, yesterday we saw a softening of the stance on the TPP from President Trump. From your meetings with him did you gauge there was a change they could re-enter?
Well I'm not anticipating that. As I said downstairs in my address we, Shinzo Abe and I in particular, decided that we should not let the TPP fall by the wayside when President Trump said he would not continue with it.
He was always going to do that. He made a solemn election commitment to do that and we all want politicians to keep their promises don't we? And so he was going to do that. He did that. What many people said, Bill Shorten notably, that keeping the TPP alive was delusional he said that I was on a vanity mission, urge me to drop it. What sort of leadership would that be giving up? Well we stuck with it and it will be signed in Chile in March.
Now what President Trump has said is that possibly, at sometime in the future, you know on different circumstances America could consider re-joining it. I don't think that's going to happen any time soon to say the least and not anticipating it. But the fact that the TPP-11 is there, the fact that it has continued, creates the option for America at some point in the future and other countries as well, to join the TPP on an appropriately negotiated basis with the countries that are currently in it.
Will Australia, Prime Minister, become involved in freedom of navigation missions in the South China Sea?
Well, Australia as you know defends the right of free navigation and overflight throughout the world. But we do not speculate on operational matters of the kind you describe. Or of any kind frankly.
Reuters have been reporting that talks are underway between the US, the Australians, Japanese and Singaporean Navy about using our Navy ships to reinforce sanctions against North Korea. Has that come up in your talks with the President?
We have discussed every - we've discussed a number of means of sanctions enforcement against North Korea and one of the most important areas, one of the most significant ways in which North Korea is seeking to evade sanctions is through exchanging goods, oil in particular, at sea. So we need to be acutely alert to that, we are and we need to cooperate and ensure we do everything we can to tighten the vice of those sanctions.
That is the way to bring North Korea to its senses without conflict.
Prime Minister, you've been travelling with four state and territory Labor leaders while you've been making the case for corporate tax cuts. Have you made any progress in convincing them of the merits of tax reform and have they any of them privately expressed that they agree with the government's corporate tax plan?
Well I haven't had the opportunity to discuss our enterprise tax plan with the Premiers on this visit.
As you know our focus is on getting it passed through the Senate. And our focus is on persuading the Labor Party and the Greens, that would be highly aspirational, but in particular to crossbench, look you can see here that this is pretty straightforward. If you reduce business taxes, you increase the return on investment, you get more investment, you get more jobs, you get better paid jobs.
That's always been the experience in Australia, it's the experience that we're witnessing here and as we've heard from business leaders who came on this visit here. Where you've got competition for capital for projects and investments. If you want to make yourself less competitive then you have a higher corporate tax rate.
Now we have to be realistic and recognize that our corporate tax rate which used to be competitive, is not any longer. It's very important that we remain competitive to protect and advance jobs growth in Australia.
Would you like their political advocacy and do think they've heard that message from the business leaders they've met during this trip.
Well I'm sure they will have heard it because the business leaders are very plain about it and you can see the effect of it in the United States and in as Steven Mnuchin said to me when we met him and discussed the U.S. economy and so forth. Secretary Mnuchin said the tax reforms that the Trump administration will add just under one per cent to GDP.
And he confirmed again, as we know, we've got the same analysis in Australia, that most of the benefit flows through to wages because if you have more investment, you get more employment but above all with more investment you get more productivity. So that is what drives higher wages. If you want to drive higher real wages, you need to get stronger economic growth and greater productivity.
What’s more important in the TPP – the economic or strategic benefits?
Well it's both. It is absolutely both. Obviously it opens up markets for us it is very, very beneficial for all of our exporters. It also sets the rules of the road in terms of investment. You know, we want to get more investment in infrastructure in our region and we do and there's lots of capital around, plenty of capital.
What is lacking is the legal framework whereby or wherein that capital can be safely invested.
So, the TPP is a big part of that agenda. You know, you've had Admiral Harris I think at one point said the TPP was as valuable as another aircraft carrier group.
So, you're talking about a very important exercise in binding in the region together and setting the rules of the road that enable there to be more trade more and more investment. So it's both.
Mr Turnbull there are reports today that Donald Trump is going to endorse the toughest recommendations from the Commerce Department for tariffs on steel and aluminium - 25 per cent for steel and 10 per cent for aluminium. Did you get a commitment from him that we would be protected from that. That our exports would not be affected?
Well as you know we've made a very strong case for the Australian exports of steel and aluminium.
You've heard the United States they - the BlueScope business alone employs 3,000 people in the United States. The President and I have discussed that. The position of our steel exporters in particular both at Hamburg at the G20 and here.
We believe we've made a very compelling case but obviously the administration has got to finalise its decision in this area.
Now can I just before I leave you all and back to Australia. Thanks for joining us on this visit. I hope you've found it as valuable as we have.
This is a real high point in the relationship. It is 100 years of mateship. It is a piece of history based on values, shared values. It represents a commitment a shared vision, shared values and a shared destiny.
And we talk about that history and we talk about the courage and the sacrifice that enabled all the freedoms we enjoy and we honour that and we will look forward to the next 100 years even though we won't be able to anticipate all the changes that occur in the next 100 years any more than people could anticipate the technology and changes of today a 100 years ago.
The one thing that we know is that those values we share, those Australian and American values. Democracy, freedom, the rule of law, enterprise - enabling that spirit of enterprise. Those values are timeless and in this age of unprecedented change both in its scale and pace, those timeless values are more timely than ever.
Thank you all very much and have a safe flight home.