Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Prince Phillip, Euro visit, vaccines.

Keiran Gilbert: Let’s go live now to the Minister for Trade and Tourism Dan Tehan. Thanks very much for your time. I’ll get to your areas of responsibility shortly, but this big news of the last 24, 48 hours and the passing of Prince Phillip(*) [audio skip] today the Prime Minister and Governor General will be attending a church service to pay their respects to the Duke. It really has been an enormous reaction in the UK and around the world to the passing of the longest serving consort in British history.

Dan Tehan: There has, Keiran, and our thoughts and prayers are with Her Majesty The Queen and her family. I think all of us appreciate what an extraordinary partnership the Queen had with her husband, and the outpouring of emotion is in much as part not only for the service and the duty of which he carried out, but also for the way that he was by the Queen’s side right throughout that — and our sympathies and our prayers are with Her Majesty at this time. It must be an incredibly trying time for her and the family, especially when you think of the life that they’ve lived together, what they’ve been though, not only dealing with public life but also they’ve had to be parents, as well, and deal with family matters, which have occurred right throughout their lives. So, our thoughts are very much with Her Majesty The Queen at this time.

Kieran Gilbert: And my interview with John Howard coming up shortly for his reflections on Prince Phillip. You, back to your area of responsibility, you’ll in fact be in the UK, as I understand it, later in the week. The face-to-face diplomacy’s been very difficult, if not impossible, during COVID-19 but, as I understand it, you’re departing for Europe and the UK on Wednesday. Will you be pushing for greater access to vaccines?

Dan Tehan: Well, one of the things that I will be doing is vaccine diplomacy. I want to speak with the European Union and also ministerial counterparts in France and in Germany and Brussels, and I’ll also be meeting with the Director-General of the World Trade Organization to talk about what we can do to ensure supply of the vaccine, not only for Australia but globally.

Kieran Gilbert: So give us a rundown of your plans. Obviously, you’ve- we’ve also got other challenges at play here with the free trade agreements with the UK and the EU but, alongside that, you’ll be seeking to achieve that greater access, as we mentioned, to the vaccines, which we’ve already paid for?

Dan Tehan: That’s right. So, the first port of call will be Geneva, and I’ll be meeting with the Director-General of the World Trade Organization. One of the really important things we have to do is get the World Trade Organization back up and running so we can ensure that trade rules are adhered to and we can continue on the trade liberalization path, especially when it comes to issues, for instance, like environmental goods and services, as we seek to deal with climate change. But I’ll also be talking to her about vaccines and export restrictions that have been put in place. She’s been outspoken against those export restrictions. Then it’ll be to Berlin to meet with my German counterpart; Brussels to meet with the EU Trade Representative, where we’ll be talking around the EU free trade agreement, the need for us to make progress beyond the 10th round, which was a very successful round, the most successful round we’ve had of the 10 rounds of negotiations; then onto France, where I’ll be meeting with my French counterpart for the second French-Australian trade and investment ministerial talks; and then onto the UK to meet with my counterpart Liz Truss to really put some energy into the UK-Australia free trade agreement. It holds big hopes for us to be able to have a truly liberalising agreement with the UK, and I’ll be very keen to progress that with Liz Truss.

Kieran Gilbert: And it’s also- do you recognise the importance the British put in relation to climate action? And they will want the Government, our government, to step up its climate response in order to do a deal on trade?

Dan Tehan: Absolutely, and that’s one of the key messages that I’ll be relaying in the UK and with all the other talks that I’ll be having, is this idea that we need to liberalize when it comes to environmental goods and services. If we can bring down tariffs on environmental goods, free up the flow of environmental services, that’s the best way we can ensure all countries have access to the technology, and the means, and the ways that they need to deal with emissions reduction. So, this will be a key thing I’ll be putting on the table. There was some Democrats in the US who have recently come out and said that environmental goods, in terms of the World Trade Organization, should be something that we need to be looking at again. So, on the back of that, I’ll be making sure that this is something that’s firmly put on the agenda.

Kieran Gilbert: I read your comments to Paul Kelly in The Australian yesterday talking about the importance of regional and global bodies in stepping up. Is that all in the context of China? Is your message to these groups, multilateral groups and so on, that if we’re allowed to cop this economic coercion that it sets a terrible precedent internationally?

Dan Tehan: Well, as we come out of the pandemic, we’ve all got to be conscious that we don’t want to see trade retaliation. We don't want to see a shift towards protectionism. What we want to be seeing is everyone understanding the importance of trade liberalisation for driving economic growth. If you look at what happened to the world post-Second World War, it was that trade liberalisation agenda which helped lift countries out of poverty to make sure developed countries could continue to provide and increase the living standards in all their countries—and so this is a really important message we need to be given. Now is not the time for us to be resorting to trade protectionism. Now is not the time where we need countries using harmful trade measures against other countries. It's a time where we all need to be working together to grow the global economy out of this pandemic.

Kieran Gilbert: And to push back against China?

Dan Tehan: Well, one of the things that we're very keen to do is to make sure that with our trade disputes with China is that we're using every means that we can to deal with them. Obviously, the World Trade Organization is one of those mechanisms, and we're using that when it comes to barley. And we're under very deep consideration now when it comes to wine as to whether we'll also refer that to the World Trade Organisation. But we also need to be looking at other ways that we can address what's called these level-playing-field issues to make sure that everyone is adhering to the rules. And that's going to require new forms of new diplomacy, new alliances, new groupings when it comes to dealing with these trade issues and that's something that I'll be looking at, and talking to my counterparts, as I make this trip.

Kieran Gilbert: And have you had your vaccination before departing for Europe?

Dan Tehan: I've had one AstraZeneca dose and I'll be looking forward to having the second one when I return from this trip. You've got to have a 12-week gap between them. But I'll also be making sure that I'm practising good, safe COVID-19 practices while overseas.

Kieran Gilbert: Is the Government confident it can roll out the vaccines by the end of the year to have the nation population vaccinated? The population inoculated against COVID-19?

Dan Tehan: Well, look, that's definitely the aim, that's the goal that we've set is to try and have all Australians have a dose by the end of the year but we have to remember that we're dealing with a pandemic. Things can change, and we've seen things change in the last week when it's come to the AstraZeneca vaccine. So we've set ourselves a goal. That's what we'll be aiming to achieve. But I think all Australians understand, as they have over the last 12 months, when you're dealing with a pandemic there's a lot of unknowns, and you've just got to make sure you set your goals but you're prepared to adjust those as things occur. But, very much, we're hoping to have every Australian vaccinated by the end of the year. Obviously, this announcement about these extra 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine is welcome, so now it's just a matter of making sure that we get all the contracts honoured, and then we make sure that we can distribute the vaccines right across the nation.

Kieran Gilbert: A couple of quick ones before you go, the delay in the vaccine, though, raises the prospect of more state border closures, doesn't it? And lockdowns? That's a terrible message to send to industry and to tourism particularly.

Dan Tehan: Well, one of the things that the Federal Government has been asking of the states is that they use border closures or economic lockdowns as a last resort. And I think we’re, now that we're 12 months in, we've got to remember our contact tracing and our testing can be very much used as that first defence against the vaccine spreading and if we can do that, we can balance the health consequences of the virus and the economic livelihoods aspect of it—and I think that's incredibly important to remember. And the fact that we've now got a bubble which will commence with New Zealand shortly, I think, that should give confidence and hope to, especially, our tourism industry and other parts of our economy, which are dependent on travel. And we’ll continue to work with states and territories, and obviously with the New Zealand Government, to make sure we're doing all we can to see that movement of people occur- continuing.

Kieran Gilbert: And finally, it would be remiss of me if I didn't mention the boy from Warrnambool, Marc Leishman. He’s contending in the Masters. Not far off the lead right now.

Dan Tehan: No, doing an extraordinary job. He’s a wonderful Australian: laconic, friendly, but doing a great job in this year's Masters and, I can tell you, everyone in Warrnambool will be glued to their sets over not only the finish of the round today but tomorrow morning as well. And there'll be nothing greater for the south west of Victoria if Marc Leishman was able to win the Masters tomorrow morning. So we'll be watching closely, and let's hope he can do it Kieran.

Kieran Gilbert: Dan Tehan, we do indeed. Joining us live from Hamilton in country Victoria from Warrnambool. Thank you. Talk to you soon.


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