Interview with Jim Wilson, 2GB Drive
Jim Wilson: Great news. Coronavirus vaccines are a step closer to arriving in Australia, after the European Commission formally approved a shipment to leave the European Union. Australia was one of 23 countries which had their orders ticked off overnight after concerns were raised that the European Union could block vaccine export under new measures it introduced at the end of last month. On the line is Federal Trade Minister Dan Tehan. Minister, welcome back to Drive.
Dan Tehan: Always a pleasure, Jim.
Wilson: Thank you for your time. When exactly will the Pfizer vaccine be on ships and ready to come to Australia?
Tehan: So, it will be on ships and ready to come to Australia in the coming days. We're now absolutely on target and on track to get the vaccine rolled out by the end of this month — which is just great news and, in particular, great news for one of the sectors that I represent, the tourism industry, which has, obviously been very hard hit by the pandemic. And, if we can get the vaccine rolled out, that means there will be no need for the snap border closures and 666,000 jobs will be more secure in this nation, which is really good news.
Wilson: Well, that is good news, especially for our tourism sector which is really struggling. I want to ask you about the tourism sector and the extension of JobKeeper in some form very shortly. Before that though, how many shipments of the Pfizer vaccine are we getting?
Tehan: So, to start with there's 10 million doses, and that'll be followed by another 10 million doses and then, of course, there's the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will also be imported but also will be produced here in Australia by CSL. So, the plan that we put in place last year which is being led by Greg Hunt, our Health Minister, and the Prime Minister, is very much in place, where we're on track and on target to begin the rollout at the end of this month. And, it will start importantly with the, with those elderly Australians and those on the frontline, our health care workers, those in our aged care sectors. And, I met with the EU Ambassador to Australia last week and he was at pains to assure me that the vaccines would arrive and they would be honoured and it's very pleasing news that that's been confirmed today.
Wilson: Okay, let's turn our attention to China and the ongoing tension with China. I know you wrote to your Chinese counterpart last month. Have you heard back?
Tehan: No, I haven't heard back but I said on becoming Trade Minister there were three principles that were going to guide what, the work that I did as Trade Minister. And, the first we were going to be proactive and that's why I wrote to my Chinese counterpart saying that we wanted very constructive engagement but it's also why I'm focussing on a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom, with the European Union, that will give us access to another 500 million consumers. There's much more we can do with India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan. We've got a new Biden administration and would be great to get them active in multilateral trade negotiations again. So, while we're still waiting patiently, which is another of the things that we will do as part of our trade policy, we are actively engaged with seeking market access in other countries and the last thing that will drive the approach that we take is a very principled approach. We want to make sure that what we do actually delivers for Australian exporters.
Wilson: How about the trade tensions with the UK? I thought we were great allies, but now the UK wants to create these climate tariffs to shield local industries from free trade. We're hearing this morning that the UK and the EU's attempts to impose this carbon tariff might undermine the free trade deal we're currently negotiating with them. Will Australia be fighting this?
Tehan: We will be fighting this. We just see it as another protectionist ploy. We don't think that it benefits free trade at all and we will be fighting this. It's unnecessary. We have multilateral agreements when it comes to carbon emissions. Australia always meet those requirements. As a matter of fact, we not only meet them, we beat them and that is the fora that we should look at how we address emissions. When we have free trade agreements, that's about liberalising trade and that's about creating jobs — and one in five jobs in Australia are created by trade, one in four in regional and rural Australia. So, it's so important to us that we keep pursuing trade liberalisation. That's what we'll do, because that's how we generate jobs in this country and the last thing we want is a key ally and friend, such as the United Kingdom, looking to put barriers in the way of that in the form of carbon tariffs.
Wilson: Okay. You mentioned the tourism businesses. You're also the Tourism Minister. Can you confirm if JobKeeper in some form will be extended for tourism businesses affected by the closure of not only our international borders, but also our state borders?
Tehan: So, we've been very clear as a Government that JobKeeper will end at the end of March and that's something that, as a Government, we've wanted to give certainty to everyone that that is when that program will end. It was always targeted and it was always temporary assistance. And, in Queensland, where I am at the moment, it's provided, for instance, over $28 billion worth of assistance. So, we have to, for future generations and to make sure that we gradually take some of the stimulus measures we put in place, JobKeeper will end. But, what we're looking at doing, and I've been in Queensland all this week, is talking to the tourism industry here. What we're looking to do is what measures we'll put in place post-JobKeeper to support the sector and …
Wilson: … What sort of measures are you looking at, Minister?
Tehan: Yeah, so the number one piece of feedback that I've got is, is that what the tourism operators want, what the tourism businesses want, is tourists. And, so, what we'll be looking to do is to see how we can stimulate tourism. The other feedback that they've given us quite clearly is that there is a lack of confidence in people's willingness and ability to travel at the moment in Australia due to the snap border closures. So, what we want to do is ensure that state and territory governments use their contact tracing, use their testing as a means of dealing with these small outbreaks of the coronavirus, and we give confidence to people to be able to travel again and we only use snap border closures as very much a last resort. And, if that happens, the feedback I'm getting from the tourism industry is, before Christmas, for instance, people's willingness and want to travel was there. They were spending and they were really supporting our tourism sector and that's what we want to achieve. We want to be stimulating people's want to travel and put confidence back into the sector and if we can do that, confidence in people's willingness to travel, confidence will go back into the tourism industry, and we will see a very strong rebound.
Wilson: So, will there be financial assistance in some form beyond the end of JobKeeper at the end of March?
Tehan: That is what we're examining at the moment. I've done this listening tour through Queensland. I'll be talking to the tourism industry across the rest of the nation over the coming days, talking to my colleagues, and we're looking to see what targeted assistance we can continue to provide to the tourism sector going forward.
Wilson: Okay. That's good news for the tourism who are doing it pretty tough. Minister, thanks for your time as always.
Tehan: Thank you, Jim.
Wilson: That's Trade and Tourism Minister Dan Tehan.