Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Afternoon Agenda

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia China trade sanctions

Kieran Gilbert: Now to my interview with the Trade Minister Dan Tehan. I began by asking him about this focus of senior ministers on the Labor approach to China, and I began by suggesting to him isn't it simply the Government attempting to wedge Labor over the China issue?

Dan Tehan: No, we're just pointing out that when it comes to dealing with economic coercion, when it comes to dealing with the current trade disputes that we have with China, that the national interest has to be put first and what we would expect is that the opposition would join with the Government in standing up to China when it comes to these trade disputes.

Now Anthony Albanese had a bet each way, said that he would like to see some of these trade disputes resolved. Well, which ones does he want to sacrifice? And what industries does he want to sacrifice? Now he could come out and quite clearly address this matter and say, "Look, I made a mistake. I should have said we'll stand by all Australian industries,” but he didn't do that.

Kieran Gilbert: Well he has said ‑ he said that he wants all of the sanctions removed. There has been a clarification from Labor here. Do you seriously think that Labor would want some of those sanctions to stay in place? Wasn't it just simply a turn of phrase here?

Dan Tehan: Well it wasn't a turn of phrase because what we've seen all along, especially when it comes to these types of issues, is that he says he supports the Government but then in the next sentence says that he could do things better, he would do things better and he would have a different approach. Now it's very subtle in how he does it, but he never actually articulates what he would do and how he would do things differently.

So, he's either got to, if he's going to criticise for make those remarks that he could do things better, point out as to how he would do it. Now one of the things he did suggest ‑‑

Kieran Gilbert: It actually sounds ‑ but with respect, Minister, what he said sounds a lot like what you've said to me previously, that you want to a constructive relationship with China, you want them to remove the sanctions as part of any goodwill or show of goodwill and you want to crack on with the relationship. To me what he said sounds like a what you've said to me previously.

Dan Tehan: Yes, but there's a subtle difference in that what he's saying is that he was prepared to sacrifice some of our industries, some of our sectors to achieve that. What we've made clear all along, all along, is that we want to see the trade disputes that we currently have addressed, and all of them addressed, and we won't leave one sector behind to achieve what we're seeking to do.

Kieran Gilbert: Labor has said they want all of them removed. Now there was one comment, sure, but they've clarified that and said they want them all gone.

Dan Tehan: All right, well he's come out and clarified it but what you've got to see here is there is a history and a pattern of him saying, ‘Oh yes, we support the Government's approach but we would do things differently.’ Now here he set out how he would do it differently, now he's retracted from that. But what we would like to see is does he fully support the approach that the Government is taking? Does he stand beside us and will not criticise the approach that the Government is taking? Because every time he speaks with a little bit of a forked tongue he does subtly try and criticise the Government. He can't have it both ways. He wants to have it both ways all the time and he's got to stop it. He's putting himself forward as the alternative Prime Minister.

Kieran Gilbert: Do you welcome the comment from the Chinese, the new Chinese Ambassador, he extended an olive branch last week wanting to basically get the relationship back on track. Stuart Robert, your cabinet colleague, said it's wonderful to see the Ambassador coming forward with a very open approach. I think he'll find the Australian Government's response equally open to ensure dialogue continues strongly. That was Stuart Robert last week. Do you agree with his assessment?

Dan Tehan: Look, we do welcome the words, but what we would welcome even further is then those words backed up by action. I would love in the first instance a response to the letter that I sent over 12 months ago expressing the willingness of the Australian Government to ministerial dialogue. That would be a very good first step if we were able to sit down and work through the current disputes that we have. My hope is that what the new Ambassador will be able to do is begin to build that ministerial dialogue that we've been seeking so that we can sit down in good faith and address the issues that confront us in the trading relationship.

Kieran Gilbert: The New South Wales Treasurer, a Liberal Treasurer, Matt Kean, says he's very disappointed over the lack of Federal support for the New South Wales JobSaver program. He said he wanted to make the announcement alongside the Prime Minister and the Treasurer Mr Frydenberg but they're nowhere to be found. This is quite scathing from your Liberal colleague in Sydney Mr Kean, isn't it?

Dan Tehan: Well, one of the things that, you know, the Australian Government has done right throughout this pandemic is made sure that we have provided the support that's been necessary to get our economy through this pandemic. What we've been able to do is make sure that what was being forecast, particularly when it came to unemployment and scarring when it comes to youth unemployment, that we aren't seeing that. What we're seeing in fact is unemployment forecast to get below 4 per cent, which is truly remarkable. We haven't seen that achieved since the early 70s at a sustained period. So we will continue to keep focusing on playing our role supporting States and Territories like we have through the pandemic at record levels of support which has been provided, in particular to business.

Kieran Gilbert: This cost 700 million, apparently the cost would have been 700 million. You know, a big figure but nothing compared to what you spent on JobKeeper. Isn't it a no brainer to be stepping in and supporting small business three months out from the election?

Dan Tehan: Well individual States and Territories will make decisions given their own economic circumstances as to what level of support that they need to provide. We are continuing to provide support to certain sectors where we see it as necessary. But we also want State and Territory governments, given the individual circumstances that they face, to be able to provide economic support as well, especially when you look at the levels of support which have been provided by the Commonwealth over the length and breadth of this pandemic, which is unparalleled.

Kieran Gilbert: Finally, the Prime Minister's approval rating has collapsed over summer and the Government well behind in the latest opinion poll, the newspoll today. Can Mr Morrison turn this around; and, if so, how does he do it?

Dan Tehan: Well we saw last night an incredible tennis match, Rafa Nadal halfway through the match in the third set was love forty down on serve and I think everyone who was watching that tennis game thought he was out for the count. But experience, belief and hard work saw that match turn around and saw him holding up that trophy. I think experience, belief and hard work will mean that we put a very good proposition to the Australian people come the election, and I think this is going to be an incredibly close contest and one where the Government, the Morrison Government and the Prime Minister will be able to put a compelling case to the Australian people. That's what we'll be doing over the next couple of months, and we'll be doing it and we'll be able to point to our experience, our belief and our hard work at being able to set plan for where this nation needs to go into the future.

Kieran Gilbert: Trade Minister Dan Tehan, I very much appreciate your time as always, thanks.

Dan Tehan: Pleasure.

Media enquiries