Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sunday Agenda – Sky News

  • Transcript
Subjects: Reopening of borders; vaccination certification; Australia-UK free trade agreement.
12 September 2021

Kieran Gilbert: Let's get some reaction to the Premier there. Joining me is the Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister, Dan Tehan. Thanks so much for your time. Let's start with the comment Steven Marshall made in relation to reopening. You must welcome that, the fact that he says he will pull down the state borders at 80 per cent vaccines?

Dan Tehan: Absolutely and that's wonderful news in particular for our domestic tourism industry – 660,000 jobs which are relying on people being able to move, that mobility especially between state and territories. So that's very welcome news that he's backing the national plan, he understands the importance of those borders coming down and the importance –

Kieran Gilbert: It's quite different to WA and Queensland, though, isn't it?

Dan Tehan: Well, look, as he said, each state has their different circumstances but, you know, the fact that he's committed to the national plan and wants to make sure it's properly implemented, and, once again, our hope is with Queensland and Western Australia that we'll see a similar approach, that once they get to that 80 per cent vaccination rates they want to make sure that they also understand the importance of domestic tourism, of families being reunited before Christmas and they also will make sure, having signed up to the national plan, they'll adhere to it.

Kieran Gilbert: The point that he made about vaccinations being lumpy, in a sense that you can have a high rate in one area, low rate somewhere else, is the federal government looking at that as well? Because, I know, you're saying that at 80 per cent we're going to open up international travel and so on but is there a risk there if, say, one of the states does not get up to that 80 per cent mark?

Dan Tehan: Well, look, we want to make sure that we can get across the board, reach that 80 per cent mark. And that's why that data at the local government area is so important, and that's why we've started publicising that so we can look where, especially for the local government areas, where there might be some that are lagging so you can really put surge efforts in. And we'll continue to work with states and territories to be able to surge where those vaccination rates might be lower and make sure that we're doing everything we can to get them lifted.

Kieran Gilbert: But once you get to 80, we're reopening essentially for international travel?

Dan Tehan: So, the plan is once we get nationally 80 per cent we open up, and we're beginning to do the planning for that. So, this week the QR code that we've developed which gives you that vaccination certification system, we're sending that out to our overseas posts so they can start trialling that with those countries. So, we're beginning the plan, the detailed planning, for that opening up.

Kieran Gilbert: So which countries are we talking about?

Dan Tehan: So, that will go out to all our overseas posts but, you know, obviously, the focus is making sure that it will work with Pacific Islands, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, the UK, the US. So, that QR code that will be linked to your passport which proves your vaccination certification, we're beginning to trial that internationally as of this week.

Kieran Gilbert: So it's a QR code?

Dan Tehan: That's it.

Kieran Gilbert: So, like as we do if we go to the café or whatever, and it shows you've had two jabs of Pfizer or –

Dan Tehan: Absolutely. Absolutely. So when that international border opens we want to make sure we're ready for people to be able to travel again and, you know, it's incredibly important that we're doing that preparatory work, and that's what we're doing now.

Kieran Gilbert: But the message is you can't travel unless you get the jabs?

Dan Tehan: Well, it's going to be very difficult to travel without it given that the airlines – most of the airlines – are saying that you'll need proof of vaccination. Most countries are saying that there will be some sort of proof of vaccination certification. Now, over time, that might change, but we want to make sure that we're ready to be able to do it.

And can I say to all your listeners, Kieran, make sure you dust off your passport. Because one of the things they found in the US and the UK as they moved to reopen people's passports had expired, and they had huge queues to get passports reissued. So, in the lead-up to us hitting that 80 per cent mark, look at your passport, dust it off and make sure if you need it reissued get in early.

Kieran Gilbert: And the TGA, our Therapeutic Goods Administration, they would have had to approve the vaccines that someone has had to either fly out or fly in, is that right? Because the question is what do you do with the Russian vaccine or the Chinese vaccine?

Dan Tehan: Well, for those coming to Australia, obviously, the TGA will need to have had to approve the vaccine. What we're in discussions with other countries as to what systems they have in place to approve vaccines. Obviously, they have their own equivalents of the TGA. But for us the TGA will determine the vaccines that we've approved for people to use their certification to come into Australia.

Kieran Gilbert: Would you like to see the TGA have a look at the Chinese vaccine, for example? Apparently it has been pretty effective. I mean, we're not seeing massive outbreaks there and it is a big tourism market?

Dan Tehan: So they'll consider all vaccines, so whether it's –

Kieran Gilbert: They will?

Dan Tehan: They will. They will consider all vaccines and then they will advise the Government according to the assessment and the work on the efficacy of those vaccines and then we'll act accordingly.

Kieran Gilbert: The Airports Association is warning that some airlines are going to leave because there's not enough preparation done. Have we left it too late to give them some forward planning?

Dan Tehan: No, not at all. I mean, that's what I was talking about before – we're actually putting the systems in place so that once we hit that 80 per cent rate we're ready to go.

Kieran Gilbert: So you're bringing them with you?

Dan Tehan: Absolutely.

Kieran Gilbert: Because the Airports Association sounds like they're concerned about this.

Dan Tehan: Yeah, no, we've been working with the airlines and, obviously, we'll be working the airports as well, because they'll be a key part especially for those coming into Australia to make sure that we've got the systems in place to be able to deal with especially the QR code which will give that proof of vaccination. So, we'll continue to work with them. We'll continue to put our plans in place. And obviously the key to it now is to get people rolling up their sleeve and getting vaccinated so that we can hit that 80 per cent mark sooner rather than later.

Kieran Gilbert: And I guess you want as much flexibility in the system to get people in the country as well. It's a pretty good market, the old tourism industry, isn't it?

Dan Tehan: It is. So it's incredibly important that we can get people coming back to Australia. Now, we've already put that bubble in place with New Zealand, and what we want to do is build on that mechanism to be able to welcome back as many international tourists as we possibly can in the safest way that we possibly can. And that's why these systems are being put in place. Because we understand we've got to open up, but we've got to open up safely.

Kieran Gilbert: Why – on another matter, the UK FTA, why did you pressure the British to water down the climate commitments in it?

Dan Tehan: So, no pressure. What happens in free trade agreements is we focus on trade, and that's what we've been doing. And on this agreement, in particular, we're on track to have it as the fastest FTA we have ever negotiated.

Kieran Gilbert: Yeah, we'll get to the timeline in a second but, I mean, the Brits had in their internal correspondence saying that Australians want the specific climate goals removed.

Dan Tehan: Yes.

Kieran Gilbert: That sounds like pressure.

Dan Tehan: No. No pressure. What happens in our FTAs – and this is something we've done in every single one of them – is we reference multilateral environment agreements and say that we will honour our commitments. Now, we actually went a step further with the UK and specifically referenced Paris and that we would meet our Paris commitments. So – but you've got to remember, if you use a bilateral FTA, which is all about getting better access for our beef, for our sheep meat, for our dairy, for our sugar, which is what we will able to get through this FTA, that's what we want to focus on. Multilateral environment agreements, emissions reduction, is done in those negotiations.

Kieran Gilbert: Why did you want the goals out, though? What was specifically the concern about having those? Because, as you said, you've signed – well, the deal is basically to say, “Yes, we recognise Paris,” but you didn't want the specific goals in there.

Dan Tehan: Because what we don't want to see is bilateral FTAs becoming quasi negotiating agreements for multilateral environment agreements.

Kieran Gilbert: Okay.

Dan Tehan: You get some who will want to bring all issues – and that means what we don't get is the focus on getting those outcomes for our farmers, for our service providers.

Kieran Gilbert: And you could have that deal, you said, done by October? That would be extraordinarily quick.

Dan Tehan: That's it. It would be the quickest FTA we've ever done. So last night I had another two hours on Zoom with Liz Truss. We continued to negotiate. We swapped our mobility offers. So that is about the exchange of people between Australia and the UK. We'll do services and investment next week. And all going according to plan, we'll have it signed in October – the quickest FTA we have ever negotiated.

Kieran Gilbert: That is very quick, indeed. India, I'm not expecting would be as quick, but is there any progress there? That's a massive one.

Dan Tehan: We are making progress with India. We've decided and agreed that both countries will put additional negotiating resources on to that agreement and we're hopeful that we might be able to make some rapid progress over the coming months. So we continue to work very hard on it.

Kieran Gilbert: Finally, journalist Annika Smethurst reports at the weekend about a clash between your former boss Fran Bailey. When she was tourism minister she sacked Scott Morrison, who was the head of Tourism Australia. You were Fran Bailey's chief of staff. A bit awkward, isn't it? How do you deal with that with Scott Morrison?

Dan Tehan: Well, I think the former Prime Minister John Howard got this right where he just said, “Look, there was a personality clash.” And it's not the first time we've seen a personality clash in politics. Deb O'Neill at the – over the last year has obviously run Kristina Keneally out of the Senate and she's now got the map out looking at how you get from the Northern Beaches to southwest Sydney. So not the first personality clash; I don't think it will be the last.

Kieran Gilbert: It hasn't hampered your progress, anyway, I guess. You still got promoted.

Dan Tehan: Well, when you're a staffer or a chief of staff, my view is you don't be heard and you don't be seen; you just quietly go about doing your job, and that's the best thing you can do when you're a staff member.

Kieran Gilbert: Dan Tehan, thanks for your time.

Dan Tehan: Pleasure, Kieran.

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