Interview with Chris Smith, The Credlin Report, Sky News
CHRIS SMITH: Minister, thank you very much for your time.
DAN TEHAN: Always a pleasure. Chris.
CHRIS SMITH: Do you welcome this approach from Taiwan to join the TPP?
DAN TEHAN: Oh look, we want to make sure that the TPP or CPTPP remains the gold standard agreement in the Indo-Pacific, and we want countries to join it who can uphold those standards. Now, it's a consensus-based decision of all the current members to make sure that those gold standards are upheld. So, whether it be Taiwan, whether it be China, whether it be the UK — who's accession process we're going through at the moment, all members want to make sure that all countries that look to us see us uphold those gold standards and have liberalisation at their heart. And I'm sure that all members will look at the Taiwanese application after we've done the UK application with that in mind.
CHRIS SMITH: So have they spoken to you or your department yet? And will you be reaching out to them on this topic?
DAN TEHAN: We haven't had a discussion since they formally put in their proposal to accede, but I've had regular dialogue through this year with the Taiwanese. One of the things that we've been working on this year, in particular, is what we can do around energy. We have been a long-term supplier of energy to Taiwan. They're looking to upgrade their energy supply, especially looking at taking more LNG, and then looking to see whether they will need hydrogen as part of their energy mix going forward. So, we've had some very detailed discussions around that so I'm sure that the next time we speak that this will be on the agenda.
CHIS SMITH: Their entry in this particular partnership would be a delicate issue given Beijing's aggressive nature at the moment. Surely, though, that kind of intimidation won't stop member countries from allowing Taiwan in?
DAN TEHAN: Well, the member countries have made very clear, and we've used the UK as an example, and that's why their accesion is going first. But what will dictate and determine accession is meeting those gold standards and that commitment to those gold standards, and that real commitment to liberalisation. We have a unique regional trade arrangement that we are a member of, and it's one which puts liberalisation at its heart. Now, we want to make sure that that continues and I know from all the other members that I've spoken to that is what they want to keep at the centre of the CPTPP. Now, the UK are going through the accession process at the moment and I can tell you — and I've been in constant discussions with the UK because their FTA will be part of the market access negotiations that we do with them as part of their accession — we’ve had some very tough discussions about what they'll need to do to meet those standards. And we are very much using that to say to anyone else who will be looking to come into CPTPP, ‘You are going to have to meet these gold standards’. And look, my hope is that the UK will be able to meet those standards, but those discussions are still ongoing, even with them.
CHRIS SMITH: Minister, what did you make of Paul Keating's soft discussion about China yesterday? It sounded like a job application for Chinese consultancy work to me.
DAN TEHAN: Well, Chris, I didn't see the speech, I was actually busy working but what I did read was the media reports. I'll tell you one of the things which I found very interesting about it, which I don't think has been pointed out too much, is the fact that he was very critical of his own party, the Labor Party, for basically not having a policy themselves. That basically all they're trying to do is hide behind the government and that, to me, is what he's really saying is they're weak. They can't develop their own policy when it comes to the Indo-Pacific. We've been very clear: we want to negotiate; we want to engage in the Indo-Pacific from a position of strength. That is what everything that we're doing is about: making sure that we've got a resilient economy; making sure we've diversified our trade; making sure that we put a partnership in place like AUKUS, which will give us access to the best technology that we need to keep this nation safe. We want to make sure, as a nation, that we position ourselves for the geo-strategic competition that's taking place in the Indo-Pacific to be in the strongest position that we can. And what he was basically saying was that what you would get from Labor Party is a weak approach, and one if you didn't have the Coalition doing what they were doing, one which basically isn't defined at all and I thought that was quite telling.
CHRIS SMITH: One last thing: What did you make of the unemployment figures today? A worsening number, but at the same time, congruent with what was going on in Victoria and New South Wales in terms of lockdowns.
DAN TEHAN: Absolutely, you've got it in one. Obviously, the lockdowns had an impact. We're seeing that in the data which, of course, is historical. But I can tell you, being out on the ground again in my electorate and elsewhere — and it's just wonderful to be able to do that, and hearing and speaking to businesses — their biggest issue is getting access to workforce. I think what this is a moment in time when both New South Wales and Victoria were locked down. I think what we're going to see is the unemployment rate pick up quite substantially over the next few months. And I think what we'll be hearing from business in particular is that they need workforce, they need workers, and that really we need to be looking to see what we can do in bringing in those working holiday visa makers, our international students, our Ag workforce visa holders because we're going to have to be able to meet that demand both domestically but also, I think, we're going to need to be able to do it also by re-engaging internationally as well.
CHRIS SMITH: Yeah, there's some serious work to be done on that score. Thank you so much for your time, Dan Tehan.
DAN TEHAN: Pleasure, Chris.
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