Interview with Andy Park, ABC RN

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Anti-vaccine protests at Parliament House; Newspoll figures; Small business support; China.
31 January 2022

Andy Park: Dan Tehan is the Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister and my first political guest here on RN Drive. Welcome, Minister.

Dan Tehan: Pleasure to be with you Andy and congratulations on your appointment, and I'm sure I'll be the first of many over the coming months, but it's great to be with you.

Andy Park: Indeed. I'll come to the dismal Newspoll in a moment but first, I want to ask you about the pretty dramatic scenes outside Parliament House today. Hundreds, possibly a thousand or more, protesters gathering at the front doors of the building. Some were anti-vaccine and others were anti-vaccine-mandates. This was their key demand.

[Protest audio plays]

Sack them all if you didn't catch that. Now, vaccine mandates are largely a state issue for sure, but they delivered this message to you in the nation's capital. Do you have any sympathy for their position?

Dan Tehan: Well, I do have sympathy for people's rights to demonstrate peacefully in Australia. No matter what they're doing, they're able to be able to demonstrate. I haven't seen the footage of that demonstration and haven't seen the reports. As a matter of fact, that's the first I've heard of that demonstration, but people have the right to demonstrate in this country peacefully and if that's what was occurring, they have the right to do that, whether it be in front of the Federal Parliament or a State and Territory Parliament.

Andy Park: But, Minister, you might not have seen the coverage, but did you get wind that some of your members of your own Coalition, namely George Christensen, Gerard Rennick and Craig Kelly, support this protest? This sort of division can't be helpful less than four months out from a federal election?

Dan Tehan: Well, everyone has the right to protest and, of course, Members of Parliament will decide for themselves on what protests they want to support or don't want to support. As far as the Coalition Government is concerned, what we've been absolutely focused on is making sure that we are doing everything we can to deal with the pandemic, both on the health front and on the economic front. And if you look at the way that the pandemic has been managed, sure there have been difficulties, absolutely, but when you look at how it's been dealt with the rest of the world—in terms of the rest of the world—our track record stands, I think, great scrutiny compared to how it's been dealt with in the rest of the world, based on both economic and health outcomes. The way we've been able to work with states and territories over the last two years and, I think, when we can step back and look, for instance, how it's been dealt with elsewhere, we have managed what has been incredibly difficult two years reasonably well.

Andy Park: And yet the Newspoll doesn't seem to reflect that sentiment. Obviously, polls have margins of error, and this time around they appear to reflect a bit of a change in community mood, something that your colleagues have referred to. You said that you don't think that incumbency is a liability at this point in the pandemic. Are you concerned at these numbers today?

Dan Tehan: Look, we always want to be making sure that we're doing everything we can to ensure that we get through the pandemic as best we can, and also to make sure that we've got a clear plan for the Australian nation as we come out of this pandemic. Now, it has been an incredibly challenging couple of years, but I would draw on what happened last night in Australian Open tennis in the third set when Rafa Nadal was down two sets to love and love-40 on his serve. I think most people in that stadium thought that that match was over, but he drew on his experience, his belief and his hard work and ended up coming through and winning that match and becoming the highest Grand Slam winner ever —so I think there's a lot that we can take out of that match, and we will.

And when it comes to the next election, it will be a contest between us and the Opposition, and I think we will be able to say to the Australian people and demonstrate to the Australian people that we have a clear plan for the future and it will be up to the Opposition to be able to demonstrate that they have a clear plan. And so far throughout this pandemic, we haven't seen that from them. So once this becomes a true contest, I think, there will be a real choice that the Australian people have to make and I look forward to working with my colleagues to present that choice to the Australian people.

Andy Park: So to be clear, you don't view these numbers as a warning shot to the Government that voters aren't satisfied with your handling of the pandemic?

Dan Tehan: Well, I view them like all polls, and that is that what you need to always be doing when you're in government is focusing on the Australian people and doing everything you can to deliver for them. And we've tried to do that to the best of our ability through this pandemic, but also you've got to be putting forward a plan to the Australian people come election time —and our plan will be clear and what we look forward to is seeing what the plan is of the Opposition, because so far we haven't seen that. And that's when you get the contrast, and that's when we'll be able to really give the Australian people a clear choice as to who they want to vote for at the next election.

Andy Park: It's 14 minutes past six on RN Drive with Andy Park. My guest is Trade Minister Dan Tehan. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says the Federal Government can't continue to prop up struggling businesses with cheques at this stage of the pandemic. That was met with considerable consternation by the New South Wales Treasurer Matt Kean. Here he is on RN Breakfast this morning.

[Excerpt audio plays]

Matt Kean: I'll always stand by small businesses, and I'd hope that Treasurer Frydenberg will take the same approach. Small businesses are the engine room of the New South Wales and the national economy. They're one of the largest employers in the country. So we need to make sure that they can keep their doors open, get through this economic shock, and come out better on the other side, because that's in the national interest.

Andy Park: Minister, why is now the time to step back from support for those businesses?

Dan Tehan: Well, we're not stepping back, and we never have stepped back in our support for small business. And, as a matter of fact, we've provided over $60 billion of economic support for business in New South Wales, and we will continue to support them. For instance, through what we're doing with regards to the pandemic leave, through the small business loan guarantee scheme, and other measures that we have in place but what we've done all throughout this pandemic, as there's been a time when state and territory governments have provided support themselves, and we welcome them doing that. And then there are times where we provide support right across the nation, working with state and territory governments. Like we've seen with South Australia recently, they put a small business package for their businesses together as well, and they were quite happy to do that themselves.

We're seeing that in New South Wales, and we will continue to monitor the situation, especially when it comes to small business right across the nation. But we have played a significant role, more support historically than ever has been given to business over the last two years of the pandemic, and we'll continue to work with small business to make sure that they come through this pandemic in a very strong way. We know the last couple of months have been difficult for them, but what we also need to do is to make sure that the overall strength of the economy continues to be there, because that's one of the most significant ways that we can support small business through this pandemic.

Andy Park: Minister, when was the last time you spoke to your Chinese counterpart?

Dan Tehan: I haven't spoken to my Chinese counterpart. I became Trade Minister before Christmas about 13 months ago, and one of the first things I did was write to my Chinese counterpart and put to him that I would like to be able to sit down with him and work through the current disputes that we have in our trading relationship and I'm yet to get a response to that letter.

Andy Park: Minister, you've spruiking in the Financial Review four days ago that this is sort of working. This starts with China is working. How can that be true if you don't have an open dialogue with your counterpart in China?

Dan Tehan: Well, what I said in the Australian Financial Review was that economic coercion doesn't work and what we're starting to see is an awareness globally that the economic coercion doesn't work and won't lead to the type of changes that those who use economic coercion might be looking for. And we've seen that recently with the action that the EU have taken in response to Chinese trade disputes with Lithuania, they've gone to the WTO seeking consultations on that. So, I think what we're seeing is more and more support for the principled position that Australia has taken with regards to its trade disputes with China. Where we think we've got a strong case, we've taken it to the WTO and we've made very clear that we want to sit down and work through these issues, but we won't do so in a way that in any way impacts our sovereignty or our values and I think more and more we're seeing other countries come forward and support the approach that we've taken.

Andy Park: Appreciate your time today, Minister.

Dan Tehan: Thanks, Andy.

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