Interview with The Friday Showdown, Sky News
Nicholas Reece: Trade Minister Dan Tehan would be the hardest working politician in Australia, many would say, but he's made time for us today. Welcome to the program, Minister Tehan.
Dan Tehan: Great to be with you. And the idea of a beer on a Friday afternoon in a beer garden sounds pretty good, doesn't it?
Rita Panahi: Well, yes. The weather's holding up so fingers crossed we can get out there by the time we're off air. But I want to ask you about Australia calling out Chinese coercion in a statement to the World Trade Organisation. This was a strongly worded statement, Minister. Will it antagonise the very easily antagonised China?
Dan Tehan: Well, this is part of the trade policy review process that the World Trade Organisation goes through with China every two years. Other countries go through a similar process, some every two, some every four years, and it's about transparency. And so, what Australia has done in its statement has pointed to all the benefits that have accrued globally from China being a member of the World Trade Organisation and the benefits that have accrued to China itself. But also, we've also pointed out that some of the practices that we've seen over the last 18 months seem to have a political motivation to them and have hurt our exports, and that's not how we want countries playing or, basically, conducting themselves when it comes to the World Trade Organisation because that puts the very rules that we all are bound by at risk.
Nicholas Reece: Minister, China is our biggest customer and in business there is a saying that "the customer is always right". Do you accept any responsibility for the toxic relationship that exists between the Australian Government and Australia and its biggest customer?
Dan Tehan: Look, we've always made very clear that we want constructive engagement with China. In January, a couple of weeks after I became Trade Minister, I wrote to my counterpart, who was appointed at the same time I was, within about a 24-hour period, and I set out the ways that we could engage and how I would like to be able to have a ministerial dialogue, work on our differences, but also look at the areas where we could constructively cooperate.
Now, I'm yet to have a response to that letter. I'm happy to wait patiently for that response. But, obviously, when you look at the current situation, for example, in China where they're having trouble accessing energy, you know, Australian coal was being provided to China and helping them be able you know, to be able to deal with their energy demands. Now they've got energy problems. You know, our coal is there and if China wants it back we're willing to ship it to them again, and that would benefit China and consumers in China, and also would benefit emissions because our coal is, obviously, a lot cleaner than the other sources of coal they're now turning to.
Rita Panahi: Now, I want to ask about the issue of international tourists. We've now had Victoria join New South Wales and say they're going to do away with quarantine from November 1 for those who are double vaccinated. What are we doing on that front? When can we expect to see tourist numbers surge again and we'll have a list of countries where tourists can come from or is anyone who's double vaccinated welcome in Australia?
Dan Tehan: Well, great news today with the announcement by the PM that we're going to have a travel lane, or a travel bubble, open with Singapore in the next couple of weeks. So, we're beginning that process and we're very hopeful that we'll start to see international tourists, double vaxxed international tourists, returning to, especially to, New South Wales and Victoria without quarantine before Christmas.
We're beginning the process. Obviously, returning Australians are first cab off the rank, but then we want to move to international students, working holiday visa holders, those who will help us with our agricultural workforce shortages, and international tourists. And my hope is we're going to see that, especially when it comes to New South Wales, Victoria, hopefully the ACT, before Christmas, which will be wonderful news for the 660,000 people that work in our tourism industry.
Rita Panahi: Well, is what's the long-term plan there, because from December 1 New South Wales is essentially doing away with its vaccine mandates; people will have equal access, vaccinated and unvaccinated. Where do we stand as far as international tourists go? At what point will we welcome international tourists who are not vaccinated?
Dan Tehan: Well, we'll obviously work with the States and Territories according to the international plan on that. In the first instance, it will be those who are doubly vaccinated who will be able to come, and then we'll work on it to see what we do with regard to those who aren't vaccinated. Obviously, they will, in the first instance, need to do a two-week quarantine period, but as States and Territories work with the Commonwealth, obviously, we'll assess that and we'll seek to ensure that we're doing everything we can ultimately, over time, to welcome all tourists back because that's what we want. We want to be open again and ensuring we're welcoming everyone back to this country. But that will be done, step by step, with States and Territory governments, but very much in the first instance it's going to be those who are doubly vaccinated.
Nicholas Reece: Minister Tehan, you have warned that Australian farmers and miners will be slapped with carbon border taxes if Australia doesn't commit to a net zero emissions target by 2050. Why don't your Coalition colleagues in the National Party get that?
Dan Tehan: Well, I've had a lot of discussions with my colleagues in the National Party and within the Liberal Party and I think there is an understanding of the dangers of protectionist forces using the discussion around net zero to put tariffs up and to drive protectionism even further as we come out of this pandemic.
Now, you always, in political parties, get differing views on issues, so not everyone is convinced of that, but I think the majority of our party room both or the Coalition party room understands there is a need for us to get net zero by 2050 and, in particular, of the dangers that protectionist forces will come to the fore if we don't achieve that and will try and use that to harm our exports, which obviously isn't in our national interests.
Nicholas Reece: Now, I know you've also just returned from a two-week trip in Europe, working hard. Is it correct that you had several high-level meetings with the French cancelled?
Dan Tehan: It is. Obviously, I wanted to meet with the French Trade Minister, and I was going to meet with their top business group. Now, both those meetings couldn't take place. I was able to exchange pleasantries and shake hands with the French Trade Minister on the margins of the G20 meeting in Italy, and we said we look forward to being able to catch up properly when circumstances allow, but it's a difficult time in our relationship with France at the moment.
Obviously, we took a decision with regards to AUKUS which was in our national interests, and that was a tough decision, but you've got to take tough decisions when the national interest is at stake, and we'll continue to work through that with the French. But when I was in France a couple of weeks ago, obviously, there wasn't the circumstances that enabled me to sit down with my French counterpart, but I hope, over time, that I'll be able to do that.
Rita Panahi: Minister, how long will this tantrum from the French continue? They've already re-established a relationship with the US. They seem to have forgiven and forgotten there, but with Australia how much longer are we expected to be frozen out like this?
Dan Tehan: Look, I think it might take some time. There's, obviously, grave disappointment on their side but, you know, the most important thing from an Australian point of view is that we just keep explaining the reasons why we did this; that, you know, we've got a very changed geo-strategic circumstance in the Indo Pacific. We took a decision that was very much in our national interests. It now gives us access to nuclear powered submarines, very sophisticated missile technology, AI, cyber technology, that will enable us to provide security for our people and, ultimately, in the end, you have to put the security of your people first. So, we'll keep explaining that, but it could take some time for us to be able to get things back on a level playing field with the French.
Nicholas Reece: I also understand that Australia and the UK are on the brink of a new free trade deal. I think it will be free in quite extreme terms, probably only matched by the arrangements that exist between Australia and New Zealand. In practical terms what will this deal mean for Australians?
Dan Tehan: Well, in practical terms what it means is greater diversification of where we can send our goods and services. It also means that people will be able to move between the UK and Australia much more freely, especially young Australians under the age of 35. For our farmers, for instance, the market for the UK has been closed for sheep meat for the last 50 years. So, we'll be able to provide lamb roasts, lamb chops into the UK market, and that's fantastic access for us. On beef we'll be able to do the same. Sugar we'll be able to do the same.
When I was in London I visited Tate & Lyle, the biggest manufacturer of sugar in the UK. And once the agreement is inked and into force, we were able to see where the boats will be able to come with Australian sugar direct from Queensland or Northern New South Wales, up the Thames, dock at this processing facility that Tate & Lyle have in London and will be made into sugar for the UK market. Now, that's something that we haven't been able to do for 50 years.
They had posters on the wall from when the UK went into the EU, of the workers then striking, saying that they wanted to continue getting Australian sugar, not French sugar, would you believe it or not? So, this would be ground-breaking in what it does and it will be wonderful for jobs for the whole economic relationship with the UK.
It will also facilitate greater investment. When I was there also there we announced and were there when it was publicly announced that an Australian company which has won the contract and will invest £1 billion in putting 4G and 5G into the London Underground, both underground and above. So it will also facilitate investment like that.
So it's a wonderful, wonderful agreement, adds to our trade diversification, and I think will really strengthen the relationship that we have with the UK, which is really important at this time.
Rita Panahi: Absolutely. Minister Tehan, thank you so much for joining us today.
Dan Tehan: Been a pleasure.
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