Interview with Chris Smith, Sky News

  • Transcript
Subjects: Victoria earthquake; French submarine contract; Australia-EU free trade agreement; Australia-Austria agreement; International borders re-opening.
22 September 2021

Chris Smith: Dan Tehan is the Trade Minister, he's got to mop all this up. He's been working incredibly hard behind the scenes to get this deal across the line. He's due to meet with the EU in Brussels next week. The Minister joins us from Hamilton in Victoria.

Minister, thank you very much for your time.

Dan Tehan: Pleasure to be with you, Chris, as always. 

Chris Smith: Just before we talk about what challenge you've got ahead of you, you're on the western side of Melbourne at Hamilton. Did you feel the place rock and roll today at all?

Dan Tehan: No, we missed the earthquake, so it was very calm here, it was just life as normal, but I was on a Zoom call with my Victorian Liberal Party colleagues when it happened, and it was quite remarkable to see what was occurring in the offices of my colleagues who were in Melbourne.  And obviously, an earthquake of that size you really do feel, having spent three years in Mexico and having been on the receiving end of a couple of very large earthquakes there, it is quite disturbing when it happens. So I'm glad that it seems that everyone is safe and well.

There has been some damage but on the whole it looks like we've come through it as well as can be expected, which is great. In particular Mansfield, where I grew up and where my brother still runs our family farm, while it seems to have been at the centre of it, it seems to have got through it reasonably well as well.

I spoke to my brother this morning, who's the Deputy Mayor of Mansfield, and obviously there was quite a force there, but it does seem that they've come through it with some damage to some buildings but, on the whole, injury and loss of life has been avoided which I think we should all welcome.

Chris Smith: You would have expected France to lash out after Australia tearing up that contract, but did it surprise you to see the EU President say what she said about one of her member nations? It seemed as if she'd taken sides.

Dan Tehan: Well, we obviously expected France to be disappointed and I can understand why they are disappointed, but what we have to remember is this was a commercial deal and what we have to do is make sure that we ultimately can protect our national interests and that the EU can continue to pursue their national interests.

And my view is the Australia-EU free trade agreement is very much in the interests of the European Union, as it is with Australia. If you look at it from the European Union's point of view, they obviously want a foothold in the Indo-Pacific because the economic weight of the world is in the Indo-Pacific. So, our free trade agreement provides them with that opportunity and for us a free trade agreement with our second largest trading partner is obviously very much in our interests.

And that's the message that I want to keep giving to all our friends in the European Union, that this is very much in both our national interests to pursue this agreement and that's the message I'll be taking to Brussels next week.

Chris Smith: You've got a challenge ahead of you but has the Prime Minister made it easier for you given the deal that has been signed between Australia and Austria, what's that about?

Dan Tehan: So, what we've agreed with Austria is to cooperate on a number of fronts, including on the trade and investment front and also to make sure that we seek to pursue the free trade agreement that they would be part of, which is the European Union and Australia free trade agreement.

Look, the PM, what he does on the international stage is, obviously, put Australia's national interest first at all times and that's what he's doing in the US at the moment. He's met with the Austrian leader, he's met with the Swedish leader, he's met with representatives from the European Union itself, and everything he's doing is about putting our national interest first. I just have to make sure that I back him up, support him and send that very clear and consistent message when I go to Europe next week, and that is that we want to pursue our national interest in conjunction with the European Union pursuing theirs. And we both should be able to understand that in doing that sometimes we'll have differences, but at other times we'll be able to act together and really work to enhance both our national interests.

And an EU-Australia free trade agreement does that, in particular, in the way that it opens up and provides those opportunities for the European Union in the Indo-Pacific, where so much of the world's trade and economic weight is placed.

Chris Smith: Okay. I want to ask a question about international borders before we let you go. Do you see our international borders reopening before Christmas, and will the international borders be open, as the Prime Minister pointed out, to states like New South Wales that get to 80 per cent before other states and territories?

Dan Tehan: Well, the national plan is very clear, Chris, and that is that once we hit 80 per cent nationally and any state hits 80 per cent then we open up the international border. On the current projections, and from the work that's been done by Lieutenant General John Frewen and what he's forecasting, it does seem that we'll be able to open that international border to outbound travel before Christmas at the latest.

That's incredibly welcome news for our tourism industry and the 660,000 jobs that are dependent on it, because not only will we be able to open up for people to be able to travel outbound from Australia but it also means we can start to put in place the bubbles, the travel bubbles and the arrangements so Australians can return home for Christmas but also those international tourists, those working holiday maker visa holders, international students and others, especially those that will support our agricultural sector through our ag workforce schemes, that they'll be able to come to Australia as well. So that's my hope. That's what the national plan sets out and that's what we want to see.

Chris Smith: Okay. Have a good trip to Brussels and all the very best, good luck.

Dan Tehan: Thanks Chris.

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