Interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News
Laura Jayes: But don't go anywhere because I've got the Trade Minister Dan Tehan. He joins us now from Canberra himself, he is in quarantine after returning from the Europe and UK. Mr Tehan, thanks so much for your time. First of all, can I ask you about this hotel quarantine system? What we've seen in Perth, a three-day lockdown because of three cases. Now, the Premier, Mark McGowan, saying he doesn't want to take anymore stranded Australians from overseas. Is that fair enough? Or selfish?
Dan Tehan: Well look, what we've got to do is continue to work together to make sure that we've got the system in place which enables many stranded Australians to come home as we possibly can, and the Commonwealth continues to do its bit. We're increasing the number of returnees who will be able to quarantine in Howard Springs, that will lift to 2000 a fortnight by May, and what we need is all other states and territories continuing to do their bit. And if we work together on this, we can make sure that the system works so we can bring as many Australians home as possible.
Jayes: Mr Tehan, Mark McGowan seems to be suggesting that there shouldn't be exemptions giving- given who attend funerals, weddings, go overseas to work, and perhaps even, by inference from Mark McGowan, perhaps even our Olympic athletes shouldn't be going to Japan. Is that fair enough?
Tehan: Well, I think the best way for this to be discussed and worked through is through National Cabinet. That's the best way all premiers, territory leaders and the Commonwealth can come together and work through these issues so that the states and territories can understand the reasons why Australians are leaving and work that through with the Commonwealth and vice versa. We can work together to make sure as many Australians can come home as possibly can, especially given the circumstances that's still occurring overseas. So, I think the best thing is that we just sit down and work this through. We’re in a pandemic. Obviously, Australia has managed it incredibly well compared to the rest of the world, and we should be able to work this through, not do it through the media, and just sit down with National Cabinet and make sure we're all on the same page.
Jayes: Okay. You've just returned from the United Kingdom. Did you get some advice on how to roll out a vaccine?
Tehan: Look, I had a very interesting discussion with the UK Minister who's responsible for their vaccine rollout, and it was a very good exchange of information. He was very keen to learn where we're up to with our vaccine rollout, and obviously very keen to tell us how things are going in the UK. So, they're there, they've done a incredible job in getting their vaccine rollout up and running. Obviously, there's other places in Europe where they've had difficulties and they're still encountering difficulties. He also said that the UK were providing information and advice onto the European continent as well for their vaccine rollout.
Jayes: Well, we've seen some of these problems being felt in Australia, with AstraZeneca being blocked, 3.1 million doses. Now, less of a problem, I guess, AstraZeneca at the moment, but Pfizer, we will still be getting from Europe. Did you get any guarantees from the European Union that those border export controls wouldn't be exercised on those shipments to Australia?
Tehan: Well, the first thing to note is that I met with the European Union Trade Commissioner, Commissioner Dombrovskis, and he was able to give us a guarantee that the million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines, which will be shipped from Europe to PNG, would not be party to the export controls that are in place to the EU. So those- that shipment can go ahead directly from the EU to PNG and would not have to be-
Jayes: [Talks over] Do we know when they'll arrive in PNG, Mr Tehan?
Tehan: Well, obviously, now that we know that if those shipments go directly from Europe to PNG, that they do not have to be a party to the EU export control, we are now speaking, through the Foreign Minister and the Health Minister, to see whether we can get those one million doses from AstraZeneca. But getting that assurance now means that we know exactly that if AstraZeneca can ship those one million doses, there is no need to use the EU export control transparency regime.
Now, when it comes to Pfizer, obviously, Pfizer have honoured all their contracts with us and we assume that they will continue to do so. And one of the things which is likely to happen is that the European Union export control regime is due to terminate at the end of June—so we'll also have to wait and see whether they decide to roll it over or not, or whether they think there's a better way and that is encouraging production of vaccines. And one of the other things that I learnt while I was in Europe is that some of the major pharmaceutical companies are saying that they want that regime removed because…
Tehan: …they want to be able to invest with certainty into the European Union.
Jayes: Okay. So Pfizer, this will be the workhorse. Under 50s will be getting this in Australia. So did you get that undertaking, a guaranteed steady supply of Pfizer? How many a month? How many a week are we talking?
Tehan: Well, as I've said, Pfizer have honoured their contracts with the Australian Government and we see no reason why those contracts won't be honoured into the future.
Jayes: How many vaccines a week are we getting from Pfizer?
Tehan: Well, obviously, for all those details, you'll need to talk to the Health Minister. He's across all that level of detail. What I was over there to do was to, to make sure that we could to ensure that those 1 million doses that we need in vaccines for PNG at the moment, which is quite fraught with the spread of COVID occurring there, and also to have discussions about the export transparency regime, and encourage the European Union to look at other ways - and my hope is that come the end of June, that's exactly what they might do.
Jayes: Okay, we had 3.1 million AstraZeneca doses on order. Now you're saying one million will go to PNG. Why not send all three million to PNG? Do we- are we still seeking that 2.1 million balance, given that CSL is ramped up here?
Tehan: Well, we obviously do have contracts with AstraZeneca and we have to work out—given what's happening with the ramp up here—if AstraZeneca are able to provide those vaccines to us. Then what we would do with them—as you know, we've said that we would provide to PNG, to East Timor and to other countries in South East Asia. We've also put money into COVAX so that vaccines can be provided to developing countries. So that's all being worked through at the moment. But obviously, a lot of it's dependent on when AstraZeneca are allowed to honour those contracts that they've had with us.
Jayes: Okay. Should we be sending supplies to India? We all know how bad the crisis has got there. We bought thousands of ventilators, I think 7000 from memory at the start of the pandemic, we haven't had to use them, thankfully. Is that an area in which Australia could help out India?
Tehan: Well, all those types of things are under consideration. Obviously, we want to be doing what we can to help and support India during the-given that the impact now that we're seeing from COVID-19 in India itself. So all those things are under consideration as to how we can best help India through this current crisis that it's facing, which has, obviously, has got out of control and they, you know, they need the help, all the help and support they can get, not only from us, but from countries around the world.
Jayes: I imagine as Trade Minister, it's quite challenging negotiating a free trade agreement given what's going on around the world at the moment. But, hopefully, the UK-Australia free trade agreement is getting into the final stages. Did Liz Truss give you a comfortable chair in the end?
Tehan: She did, Laura, she gave me a very comfortable chair. She was very nice. She rang me and apologised as soon as I touched down in London and we both agreed that what we needed to do was focus on getting an outcome that both would benefit both our nations. And we had a really productive two days, and I thank her for her hospitality. We were able to make significant progress on the negotiations, and we're about to embark on a sprint now where we will meet with our chief negotiators every Friday now until the beginning of June, so that hopefully we'll be in a position to sign a deal in early June.
Jayes: Okay. What are the sticking points?
Tehan: Look, I'm not going to go into the details of what the sticking points are. Obviously, we're in the last parts of the negotiation. Both of us have to consult with our respective governments but I'm very confident that given the willingness of both sides to be able to work together, to get as far as we did over the last couple of days, that we should be in a position to be able to ink a deal in early June. And once again, I thank Liz for the for the warm welcome she gave me, but also for the cooperative way that she worked with me to get the progress that we were able to undertake last Thursday and Friday.
Jayes: Just finally, before I let you go and quickly, the carbon border adjustment that's been proposed by Joe Biden in the United States, what would this mean for Aussie exporters? And do you think really that some of our exporters are being targeted with this measure?
Tehan: Well, we've made very clear that we think there is a better way to progress emissions reduction then putting in place carbon border adjustment mechanisms. The worry with those types of mechanisms are that they can be very protectionist in nature, whereby, if we were able to liberalise all environmental goods, all environmental services, you would then make sure that all countries could get access to the technology and the know how to be able to reduce their emissions, and we think that's a much more positive way to go about it.
Jayes: Okay, Dan Tehan. Enjoy quarantine. We'll speak to you soon.
Tehan: Thanks, Laura.
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555