Interview with Ashleigh Gillon, Sky News
Ashleigh Gillon: Joining us live, now, is the Minister for Trade, Dan Tehan. Appreciate your time, Minister. Thank-you for joining us on NewsDay. Clearly, Europe seems to have sided with France over this saga. Is it likely we will see a suspension of free trade deal talks?
Dan Tehan: Well, our hope is that it will be business as usual when it comes to the Australia-EU Free Trade Agreement. That's the process that we're working on at the moment. Obviously, there's been some intercessional discussions, which continue. We welcome that. And, obviously, I'll be travelling to Europe next week, and I'm looking forward to sitting down with the EU Trade Representative, Valdis Dombrovskis, to have discussions about the EU-Australia Free Trade Agreement. We were able to make good progress in rounds 10 and 11. I had very good discussions with EU Trade Representative Dombrovskis when I was in Europe a few months ago and my hope is we'll be able to just continue the process, leading towards the conclusion of that agreement, which is important for Europe, and important for Australia.
Ashleigh Gillon: With respect, though, Minister, it's clearly not business as usual with the EU. I mean, the EU council president told the Prime Minister in Washington that transparency and loyalty are fundamental principles. We've heard from Germany. They're describing this saga as unsettling. Central to the furious reaction is that the AUKAS agreement was being negotiated in secret all year, even though the US and UK are key members of NATO. How can they ever trust us again? Why would they want to move forward on a deal with us after this?
Dan Tehan: Well, obviously, there was a contractual arrangement between a company in France to provide submarines to Australia. Now, we've taken a decision, which we believe is in our national, sovereign interest, absolutely in our national security interests but that doesn't mean that we can't continue to progress the discussions that we've got ongoing with the EU on our free trade agreement. That's in the interests of the EU. It's in the interests of Australia. When I was over in Europe just a few months ago, in France, in Germany and in Belgium, the common refrain that I heard was that the EU-Australia Free Trade Agreement would give a foothold to Europe in the Indo-Pacific, where the economic weight of the world is. And in all countries, I was told that if Europe can't do a free trade agreement with Australia, in the Indo-Pacific, who could they do one with? So, I think there's a clear realisation that this agreement is in the interests of the European Union, and in the interests of Australia — and we'll continue to prosecute that. We'll continue to advocate for that agreement, because we truly do believe that it's in the interests of Europe, and in the interests of Australia.
Ashleigh Gillon: Well, France is obviously a powerful player, in terms of looking at the EU structure. President Macron, as we've been reporting, isn't taking Scott Morrison's calls. Have you tried to reach out to your French counterpart? Have you had any better luck getting through?
Dan Tehan: Look my hope is that I will be able to meet with my counterpart when I'm in France for the OECD Ministerial meeting and also...
Ashleigh Gillon: Just to clarify, you haven't spoken to your counterpart since this submarine deal was announced?
Dan Tehan: No, I'm hoping to meet with my counterpart when I'm in France for the OECD Ministerial meeting and my hope is that we'll be able to sit down and, obviously, we understand that France is disappointed by this decision, and what we want to do is be able to sit down face-to-face, work through why, ultimately, Australia made the decision. Why we made a decision which is absolutely in our national interests, and then work through how we can make sure that there's an understanding that sometimes countries do have to make difficult decisions in their national interest. But then work on how we can continue to make sure a very strong and historically close relationship can continue, and we can continue to build on the economic relationship and all other parts of the relationship.
Ashleigh Gillon: So, Minister, sorry, just to clarify. Have you tried to reach out to your counterpart and they haven't got back to you? Or you're just leaving this until you do get there next week?
Dan Tehan: No, we've put in a request, as you do when you visit any country, to see your ministerial counterpart. And that request has been put in and my hope is when I get to France for the OECD Ministerial meeting, I'll be able to sit down with my counterpart and we'll be able to have these discussions. That's what we do in the normal course of events, when we visit any country, whether it be from a multi-lateral meeting like the OECD, or whether you're there on a bilateral visit.
Ashleigh Gillon: OK. Well, it will be interesting to see if they take that meeting, Minister. I do want to get your reaction to the news coming out of Melbourne today, we've learnt that the central city vaccination hubs, the Town Hall hub, they've shut down until Monday, after staff were spat on. What is your reaction to that, and the scenes that we've seen in Melbourne this week?
Dan Tehan: Well, that type of behaviour is deplorable, and it's got no place here in Australia and I absolutely condemn it, as I condemn the scenes that we saw yesterday, especially at the Shrine of Remembrance. As a former Veterans Affairs Minister, I think that sort of behaviour has no place at a remembrance, at a remembrance venue, at a shrine and, you know, it's deplorable behaviour, and it's not worthy of what we want to see here in Australia. It doesn't represent who we are as a country and my hope is that the violence will stop, and stop immediately.
And especially, that we're able to get back to being incredibly respectful for all Australians, and, in particular, those who are seeking to vaccinate Australians at this time, because it's so important that we all get vaccinated so we can get back to enjoying those freedoms that we love so dearly.
Ashleigh Gillon: Minister Tehan, appreciate you joining us. Thank you so much for your time.
Dan Tehan: Thanks, Ash.