Interview on Channel 9 Today

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia Post inquiry; EU export restrictions on COVID-19 vaccine.
14 April 2021

Karl Stefanovic: Tourism and Trade Minister Dan Tehan joins us now from Canberra. Good morning to you, Dan. Nice to see you this morning. Firstly, if we can talk about this, we just had former Australia Post boss Christine Holgate on the show. Why has no-one in government apologised for humiliating her?

Dan Tehan: Well, this issue was about the inappropriate use of government resources and you will remember the bipartisan view that Christine needed to resign, and that's what she ultimately did.

Allison Langdon: Well, she is refuting that, saying she didn't resign. There was also an investigation which cleared her of any wrong doing. So, doesn’t the Prime Minister now need to pick up the phone and say he is sorry?

Tehan: Well, as I said, this was about the misappropriate use of government expenses and, at the time, there was bipartisan position that her position was untenable and she resigned. And obviously, there's a Senate inquiry going on at the moment; the CEO of Australia Post has also put evidence around this issue. But in the end, this was a decision about the misappropriate use of government expenses.

Stefanovic: And it was found that there wasn't. Will the Prime Minister resign? Sorry, will the Prime Minister say sorry, or both?

Langdon: [Laughs] I thought it was strong.

Tehan: No, I mean- [laughs] the Prime Minister will be very much focused on his trip to Western Australia and on making sure, obviously, on Monday with National Cabinet, that we're doing everything we can to plan for the vaccine rollout for the rest of the year. And that's very much foremost on his agenda. Obviously, we're also framing a budget at the moment so there's been extensive meetings around framing that budget, and also ensuring that as we come out of COVID-19, our economy continues to grow and continues to come out of it. And that is very much the PM's focus at the moment.

Langdon: But, hang on, Dan. I mean, the Prime Minister needs to deal with this issue with Christine Holgate, doesn't he? I mean, he was wrong. So, he can say, look, he made a mistake, we all make mistakes, we've got to own those mistakes when we make them. He's got a real issue now at the moment. He's been accused of bullying and humiliating her, at a time when he seems to have a broader issue with women. So, this is something that he and your government needs to deal with, correct?

Tehan: So, this matter has been dealt with. There was inappropriate use of public expenses. Both sides of politics called for Christine Holgate to resign. The Leader of the Opposition said her position was untenable and she resigned. And that basically is where this matter ends.

Stefanovic: So, he won’t say sorry?

Tehan: Look, as I’ve said, this was about the inappropriate use of government expenses.

Langdon: Okay.

Tehan: Christine Holgate resigned and both sides of politics said she should resign and that’s ultimately what she did.

Stefanovic: It's okay, Dan, for you to say I don't know if he's going to say sorry or not.

Tehan: Well, ultimately, look, I was in Cabinet meetings all day yesterday. All I've seen is that what we've seen is there was the inappropriate use of public expenses, both sides of politics at the time said that Christine Holgate should resign. That's what occurred. The CEO of Australia Post obviously gave evidence as well yesterday and, as far as I'm concerned, that's what this issue is about, that misappropriate use of government expenses.

Langdon: Well, there are those within your own party, Nationals Matt Canavan who thinks the Prime Minister should say sorry and move on from this, hopefully. But, look, you're about to head off to Europe shortly to try to secure more vaccines for Australia. Do you think that's going to happen?

Tehan: Look, my hope is that what I'll be able to do is convince the European Union that using export restrictions on vaccines is not the way to go. And I had a phone call from my New Zealand counterpart yesterday, when he heard I was undertaking this trip and he has asked that New Zealand's name be added to these representations as well because they're also very concerned about what export restrictions mean for vaccine rollout in New Zealand and in the Pacific as well. So, that's the case that I'll be making and I'll be seeking to see whether there are alternatives to using export restrictions to try and speed up production of the vaccine globally and to ensure that contracts can be honoured. Because when they're not honoured, as we have seen here in Australia, it does disrupt the planning of the vaccine rollout.

Stefanovic: What makes you think - and this is with the greatest respect - what makes you think the EU is going to give a toss what you think, when even countries inside the EU aren't getting their share of the vaccine and don't look like they’re getting their share of the vaccine for some months?

Tehan: Well, as you would have heard last week, the EU spokesman came out and said that they're only using export restrictions in limited ways. But what we've seen is that that's ultimately held up almost three million doses getting here to Australia. In terms of planning—not just here in Australia but in countries like PNG, for instance, where the situation with regards to COVID is also fraught, it is very difficult for these countries to be able to plan their vaccine rollouts. So, we've got to be able to provide certainty and the only way you can do that is by ensuring the contracts will be honoured.

Now, I am sure they understand that, so what we need to be looking at is are there better ways for us to be increasing the production of the vaccine? And they're the discussions that I will be having in the European Union and also with the Director-General of the World Trade Organization, who has also been critical of the use of export restrictions when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccines.

Langdon: Well, Minister, we certainly hope you're successful because, as you know, we've heard over the last few days we've heard over the last few days we may not see international travel resume until 2024. That's pre- pandemic levels. How can our tourism industry possibly survive that long?

Tehan: Well, what we've got to do is look to see where we can open up bubbles. But also there's figures out today which also demonstrate that if we can get Australians travelling in Australia and spending like they do overseas, we’ll actually get a net benefit to the tune of $7.5 billion for our tourism industry. But also, from a government point of view, we're going to be making sure that we're also helping and assisting where we need to. We’ve got a second round of our travel agents’ package, that brings to nearly $250 million we have provided in support for our travel agents.

And then, of course, we’ve got our $1.2 billion aviation and tourism sector package and our discounted flights are selling right across the nation. The airlines have backed it in by putting in discounted flights themselves. So, we've seen a big uplift in travelling. As a matter of fact, one airline saw more sales in 24 hours than they have in their history when the discounted tickets went on sale. So, we will continue to support our tourism industry. We will look at other bubbles. We have obviously got New Zealand in place at the moment, but if there's the potential for Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea down the track, we will look at those. So, we’ll continue to provide that support for our tourism industry. But the fact that Australians are travelling here and spending like they haven't spent before is also a very good sign for our tourism industry locally.

Stefanovic: We will definitely need all those little bubbles. Dan, it would be good to talk to you while you're overseas, actually, in pursuit of these vaccines. Thanks for your time today, appreciate it.

Langdon: And good luck.

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