Interview with Greg Jennett, Afternoon Briefing

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Newspoll; HMAS Adelaide; federal election; international tourism; China-EU trade.
31 January 2022

Greg Jennett: From the Commonwealth Offices in Melbourne, Trade and Tourism Minister Dan Tehan joins us now. Minister, thanks for your time with Afternoon Briefing today, our first for the year.

Before we get to opinion polling – I know you can’t wait to be asked about that – but can we just pick up in a previous incarnation you had great familiarity with the Defence Forces in ministerial capacities. Andrew Green was just telling us about HMAS Adelaide, powerless or perhaps close to it, out there. Was this a good purchase? Is this ship performing in the way it was intended?

Dan Tehan: Greg, good afternoon, and it’s great to be with you on your first show. Look, I’ve just seen those reports and I’m sure the Defence Department will have more to say on that but it’s an incredibly important mission that the Adelaide is undertaking. Obviously, it’s supported by, I think, over $3 million of aid which the Australian Government is providing to Tonga at this moment. So, I think that what the clear message is that we are standing by Tonga in their hour of need and obviously sending the Adelaide there was a clear signal of our want and willingness to be able to help the Tongan people at this time. And I’m sure Defence will have more to say on the particular issues that the Adelaide is confronting at the moment.

Greg Jennett: I’m sure they will. Just briefly and finally on that topic, would it be your expectation that the welfare of the crew on board would be first and foremost here now, now that the Tongan part of the mission has been executed so that, you know, if necessary, if evacuations, if people needed to be flown off, for instance, they wouldn’t hesitate? Would that be a normal response in such a situation?

Dan Tehan: Yeah, the welfare of our Defence personnel is always paramount on any mission and I’m sure that that will be front of mind of Defence at this moment, and they’ll be doing everything they can to ensure the welfare of the personnel on the Adelaide. So, I think the Australian people can be rest assured that that definitely would be paramount in the thinking of Defence at the moment and they’ll be making sure that there are the appropriate welfare checks being made on all the personnel on the Adelaide to ensure that their welfare is absolutely paramount in our thinking as they deal with this issue.

Greg Jennett: Okay. Well, as we note, no longer in your portfolio, so let’s move on back to terra firma and the mood of this nation. With only – what are we saying – four months to go until an election, you, like other members of the Government, have made it your business to try and understand, capture, that mood of the nation. Does it come as any surprise to you that some paint – quite a deal of paint according to Newspoll – has been taken off as it’s measured today?

Dan Tehan: Well, we’re dealing with a pandemic. We’ve been dealing with a pandemic for over two years and that’s been at the forefront of the Government’s mind as we try and make sure as a nation we get through this pandemic, get out the other side and have a clear plan to present to the Australian people at the next election and that continues to be our thinking. First and foremost, it’s about dealing with the pandemic, the day-to-day issues that it throws up and I think we will continue to do that, and when the time comes we’ll be able to step back and put a very strong case to how Australia, as a nation, has been able to deal with this pandemic compared to countries right across the world.

Greg Jennett: Sure.

Dan Tehan: There’s been difficulties, there continues to be difficulties, but when the time comes, we’ll be able to present a case for not only how we’ve gone about dealing with the pandemic but what our plan is as we come out of the pandemic to make sure that Australia is set up for the next five to ten years ahead.

Greg Jennett: All right. But do you agree that there’s been some fundamental shift here when it comes to incumbency? So early on, let’s say the first half of this pandemic, it was not only perceived to be an advantage, I think, it was proven to be so at a number of state and territory elections, even a local government one in Queensland as well as national elections around the world – Canada springs to mind, perhaps even Joe Biden in the US. Is there a sense in which the frustration that the Prime Minister acknowledges makes incumbency a liability now?

Dan Tehan: Look, I don’t think incumbency is a liability. I think, in the end, it will be whoever can present the best plan to the Australian people at the next election to how Australia needs to be able to come out of this pandemic and set itself up for the future and that, in the end, will be what the contest will be at the next election.

And you have to remember the next election will be a contest. At the moment the Australian people obviously are looking at how they’re being governed at the state and territory level, how they’re being governed at the national level and how governments at those two levels are dealing with the pandemic and, obviously, when they’re asked, they’re making choices.

But the next federal election will be about the Coalition Government, our record and what our plan is versus Anthony Albanese, his record through what he’s said during the pandemic – which hasn’t been a lot – and then his plan going forward. And once we get in that real contest I think we’ll see a very different mood in the electorate.

Greg Jennett: All right. Well, interesting you make this distinction between state and federal, because we have another development in the last 24 to 48 hours, particularly out of New South Wales where states are going it alone and investing their own money without these 50-50 splits with the Commonwealth. But at the same time, the Coalition Government in New South Wales is pleading with the Commonwealth to come back to such arrangements, to chip back in to the tin. Why are those days gone? Why wouldn’t you heed the demands of a person like Treasurer Matt Kean or Premier Dom Perrottet?

Dan Tehan: Well, right throughout the pandemic we’ve worked in conjunction with state and territory governments. It doesn’t mean, though, that we’ve matched everything that state and territory governments have done. For instance, JobKeeper—we acted alone on that and that was the biggest financial support lifeline given to the Australian economy right throughout the pandemic. And we’ve provided over–

Greg Jennett: Sure, but you’re drawing a line now. You’re not doing those sorts of things anymore, I guess the question is why? Why can’t those days be revisited if there is an economic case to do so? And the New South Wales government believes there is.

Dan Tehan: Well, we continue to provide the pandemic leave payment into New South Wales and into other states and territories, obviously, there’s the support we’re giving to small business through some of the investment tax measures that we’ve got in place, so we’re continuing to provide economic support. But South Australia also has provided support to its small businesses and hasn’t called on the Commonwealth to match what they’re doing. So, we continue to work with states and territories, but given their individual circumstances, there will be a time where they think that they have a need to invest more, and the Commonwealth will continue to work with states and territories. Sometimes the states and territories will, obviously, look at their individual needs and make decisions accordingly. At other times the Commonwealth will work with states and territories while we – as we are continuing to do so at the moment through the pandemic leave payment.

Greg Jennett: All right. Can I just take you to a couple of things directly in your own portfolio. Tourism, you are, you know, flying the flag for the tourism industry. I think there was a little promotion yesterday about the 20 best beaches in Australia, but still – still – we don’t have a date for full border reopening or even selective border reopening to tourists from particular countries. Best guess, when should Australians expect this? Six months? Four months? Twelve? Where are we?

Dan Tehan: Yeah, look, we hope that it will be sooner rather than later, and the Prime Minister made some comments when he was in Cairns last week saying he hopes that we would be in a position to welcome international tourists back around Easter. Obviously, those international tourists from Singapore, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand are already welcome; working holiday maker visa holders; the backpackers are already welcome; our international students are already welcome back. But we will take the advice from the medical authorities as we seek to expand on those markets, as we have right throughout this pandemic.

And that’s why Australia has been able to deal with the pandemic so well – is because we’ve made sure that those policy decisions that we’ve taken match up with the health advice that we’ve been given. So, we’ll continue to work with health authorities, but the hope is that in the coming months we’ll be able to broaden even further the list of countries which we’re welcoming international tourists back from.

Greg Jennett: All right. Easter would be interesting because we’re all talking about possible election dates here. Just one final one: Australia will join this formal trade dispute between Europe and China. Why do so right now? Is there an underlying calculation here that things can get no worse for Australia than it currently is as far as trade is concerned with Beijing?

Dan Tehan: No, we’ve always taken a very principled stand in addressing the current trade disputes that we face with China, taking those trade disputes to the WTO where we think we have a strong case to do so. Obviously, the European Union have sought consultations with China regarding trade disputes that they’ve currently got with Lithuania, and that’s also impact exports from European Union countries as well, and we think that we have a real interest in this dispute that the EU and Lithuania are taking against China. So that is why we’re joining it. Once again, very principled stand in addressing the issues that we’re confronting in our trading relationship with China.

Greg Jennett: Yeah, it could get heated, too. But Dan Tehan, we’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much for joining Afternoon Briefing on this, our first day. We’ll be talking to you again before too long.

Dan Tehan: Thanks very much, Greg. Pleasure to be with you.

Greg Jennett: Dan Tehan joining us there from Melbourne.

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