Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sunday Agenda Sky News

  • Transcript
Subjects: China; COVID situation in Sydney and Victoria; Indo-pacific region
18 July 2021

Kieran Gilbert: Joining me now live from Seoul, South Korea, is the Trade Minister, Dan Tehan. Minister, thank you very much for your time. For the first time we've seen a second Chinese intelligence ship approaching, to try and monitor the military exercise, Talisman Sabre. Is that a concern for the government?

Dan Tehan: Look, Kieran, all countries have the right, when it comes to freedom of navigation, to use their ships to monitor exercises. The thing that's important is that everyone understands that we have rules and we want everyone to adhere to those rules and when it comes to freedom of navigation, we want those rights as well, and as long as everyone adheres to the rules, then that's how you keep order, especially in our region. It's how we keep our region free and open, and it's the same for our trade rules. There are trade rules in place and what we want is everyone to adhere to those and that's the best way we can keep our region free, open and peaceful and prosperous.

Kieran Gilbert: We do freedom of navigation exercises through the South China Sea. Is this a similar principle at play?

Dan Tehan: Absolutely, a very similar principle at play and the most important thing is that there are rules in place. We want all countries to adhere to those rules and that's how we keep our region free and open. And if everyone adheres to the rules, then we know that there is an absolute consistency with how countries can relate with each other. That's how we keep our region, as I've said, free and open, and it means that we continue to engage in a peaceful and prosperous way.

The rules-based system has been what has benefited all countries since the Second World War, and we want to make sure that all countries continue to adhere to those rules because that's how we will all benefit from it. That ultimately is how all our people will benefit from it. It's how we'll keep our economy strong. It's how we'll keep our trading relationships in place, and that's the most important principle here.

Kieran Gilbert: Now, this exercise and the visit by these spy ships do come at a time of increased tension between Australia and China. Is your trade visit - you're in Seoul, South Korea, as I mentioned, you've been in Japan, you're visiting other nations in the region. Is it about trying to diversify our trade reliance on China which is far and away our largest trading partner?

Dan Tehan: Look, we've stated quite clearly that we want to see our trade diversified. We think it's vital to ensure that as markets come and go, as demand for our commodities come and go, that we've got the options there for our exporters. But also this is about making sure that we are doing everything we can to keep our region free, open, resilient and all the discussions that I've had with, whether it be in Singapore, Vietnam, Japan and I'm sure here in South Korea, will be in particular what we need to be doing on the economic and the trade front to ensure that we can maintain the rules-based system. That has meant that our region has grown like no other region in the world, has benefitted all countries in this region. And there's an absolute understanding in all the conversations that I've been having so far of the importance of keeping that rules-based approach to advance our economies and to advance our region.

Kieran Gilbert: Now, I want to ask you about the COVID situation in your home state. I'll do that in a moment. First, though, you've got this move in Europe throughout the week - it looks like a carbon border tax. Are you worried that other nations might follow suit? It looks like the Democrats are thinking about a similar move in the Congress?

Dan Tehan: Well, obviously, if the US were to go down this path, they would have to put in place an emissions trading scheme first, and it would have to be one which basically gets the tick of approval from the European Union. So I don't think that's something in the foreseeable future that we have to concern ourselves with. With regards to the European Union move, obviously our fear is that this will be protectionist in nature and that is a big concern at the moment.

We need all countries doing everything they can to keep their economies open at this stage and the last thing this world needs, as we hopefully will come out of this pandemic in the near future, is protectionist pushes. So the Australian approach - and I discussed this in Singapore and in Japan - is very much let's look to eliminate tariffs on environmental goods, let's free up environmental services, let's incentivise all countries to move to net zero emissions rather than looking to penalise.

Kieran Gilbert: Your home state, as I mentioned, Victoria, back in lockdown. Sydney in lockdown. It's our two largest cities. You've been in Tokyo, now in Seoul. Are you seeing similarly severe restrictions or are those countries starting to reopen like Europe?

Dan Tehan: Well, it's very interesting, Kieran. There's a very different approach depending on the countries, but there's a couple of important points here. All of them are dealing with this new Delta strain. No country has been able to eliminate this Delta strain and obviously Singapore, when it comes to Korea, when it comes to Japan, when it comes to Vietnam, all, like Australia, did very well in dealing with the coronavirus.

We're seeing in Japan a state of emergency. Here, in South Korea, they have not gone the heavy lockdown, they've tended to put restrictions in place. So they vary depending on the circumstances and on the particular government. But they're all, at the moment, trying to suppress the Delta strain, like we are in Australia. And they - one of the very interesting discussions has been how we plan for life once we've dealt with the virus, suppressed it, and how we begin to open up our economies; and they're all looking to next year, hopefully, to be able to put that in place.

Kieran Gilbert: Yep, and almost out of time, but in your mind, what does the benchmark need to be to do that? Because that's what we're all hoping for.

Dan Tehan: Well, obviously, the Doherty Institute will present National Cabinet with the suggestions that they think need to be in place. So I'll let the Doherty Institute recommend that to the government, and then obviously National Cabinet will look at that and that will give us a good indication as to what those benchmarks should be. But I think the most important thing is that National Cabinet has set out that four-point plan to - to reopening Australia, and I think what I'm seeing right across the region is all other countries are planning for that eventuality as well --

Kieran Gilbert: Yeah.

Dan Tehan: -- and that's the most important thing that we have that plan in place.

Kieran Gilbert: Dan Tehan live from Seoul. Thank you, appreciate it.

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