Interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News

  • Transcript
Subjects: COVID-19, Australia-UK FTA,China.
24 May 2021

Laura Jayes: Joining me is the Trade Minister, Dan Tehan, also a Victorian but is, of course, in Canberra. Dan Tehan, thanks so much for your time. Two cases in your home state, are you concerned that you might go back into lockdown?

Dan Tehan: Well, let’s just wait and see. Obviously they’re trying to confirm that and we’ll wait and see what the outcome of that is, but I’m sure now that the contact tracing and the testing arrangements that the Victorian Government have in place, that they’ll be very able to quickly get on top of that using their contact tracing and their testing regime. But let's just wait and see till the details emerge. But obviously, the Commonwealth will seek to do what we can to work with the Victorian Government to make sure that we can, if the two cases are confirmed, provide what support we need to, to be able for the Victorian Government to quickly get on top of it.

Jayes: Yeah. Minister Tehan, when we look at the vaccine rollout, this is relevant here of course, supply is still an issue, isn't it? In your portfolio, can you do anything there to speed this up? We're only getting about 350,000 doses of Pfizer a week.

Tehan: Look, obviously, the key thing here now is for all those who are over 50 to make sure that they're getting vaccinated. And one of the great things we saw this morning was Phil Mickelson win the US PGA, over 50, a real fillip for all of us over 50 who like our golf, but he's also been vaccinated. So I think what we've got to be doing is making sure we're encouraging as many people over 50 now to be vaccinated. What this potential outbreak of these two cases in Victoria shows that the virus, it can't be contained through borders. It's a very good first step against it, but obviously, we still have to make sure we're vaccinating our population against it—and we need to be encouraging everyone to get out there and get vaccinated as quickly as possible, who are over 50.

Jayes: Indeed. Now, that was quite a good segue, with Phil Mickelson there, I'll pay that, Minister. We saw the UK Government pay Elton John to be part of an ad campaign. You considering maybe paying Phil Mickelson to be part of an Australian campaign to combat hesitancy?

Tehan: Well, after what he achieved today, I think all of us who are over 50 have a spring in our step, and the fact that he's done his part and been vaccinated, I think, is great. So, I think the more examples we can have of people who have been vaccinated, who are getting on and living their lives, the better. And I think all Australians, especially those above 50, now need to be giving serious thought to being vaccinated. You know, we're seeing with this potential small outbreak in Melbourne the need for everyone to be vaccinated. I must say, I was in the UK a bit over a month ago, and I saw there what they've been able to do now that they've got over 50 per cent of their population vaccinated for the first time. They’re, with confidence, looking to open their economy and their way of life. So, I think the more of us who can do our bit, roll our sleeves up and get the jab, the better.

Jayes: But your government isn't saying that you will open up even if people are vaccinated. Are we going to see that roadmap? Should we see it?

Tehan: Well, obviously, it's difficult at the moment because there's still a lot of uncertainty. There are new strains. We've seen what's happened on the subcontinent in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and in other areas. So, obviously, we've got to watch and monitor this, and remember what's really stood us in good stead to get us through this pandemic so far and that's to take the expert medical advice, and we'll be guided by that. But I was listening to that previous interview that you had on and, once again, with these new strains, it's very clear that the medical experts are still assessing them and trying to get an understanding as to what herd mentality would now look like and so we're going to have to keep listening to that expert medical advice as we work our way through this.

Jayes: Yeah, Dr Eric Feigl-Ding was pretty positive about the immediate research on those variants. But look, let’s get to the UK-Australia FTA deal. We’ve seen some pretty fierce opposition from farmers in the UK, some even going as so far to suggest that a UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement as it stands at the moment might risk the rolling green hills in the countryside of Scotland. Is the deal at risk of collapsing at the moment?

Tehan: Look, I’ve been having very positive discussions with my counterpart Liz Truss. We had another discussion for over an hour on Friday evening. We’re likely to have further discussions mid this week, and then another discussion on Friday again. And one of the things we’re very determined to do is make sure that this is a win-win – a win for the UK and a win for Australia, and I think we can get that outcome because we understand the importance of trade liberalisation. And what we have to-

Jayes: [Interrupts] Have you shifted? Have you shifted to allay some of those concerns?

Tehan: Well, one of the things that we’ve been making sure that we can do is to ensure that everyone has the facts. And we have to remember, here in Australia 95 per cent of farms are family farms and we obviously have, we think, the best, the most sustainable agriculture in the world. And we think working in collaboration with the United Kingdom, we’ll be able to, in partnership, help their farmers with some of the practices that we’ve got here. And, likewise, we’ll be able to assist UK farmers down the track because the Indo-Pacific is a huge opportunity in terms of a market for UK farmers. And, you know, if they can look to try and get their produce here into Australia then they could seek to get it also into the Indo-Pacific if they were able to successfully join CPTPP.

So, these are the types of discussions that we’re having. People shouldn’t be afraid of free trade. People should understand that it will enhance both economies, grow both economies, and benefit the agricultural sector in the UK, here in Australia, and all types of other sectors as well including both services sectors here and in the UK.

Jayes: Well, you say people shouldn’t be afraid of free trade, but many countries have become more protectionist over the last year. And I guess, many Australians would point to China. We’ve got a free trade agreement with China. That hasn’t exactly put us in great stead in the last year because China has continued to impose tariffs and hurt Australian producers.

Tehan: But if you look at the trading relationship between Australia and China, it's benefited both countries enormously. It's helped lift millions out of poverty in China and it's improved and increased our standard of living here in Australia and that's a message we keep giving the Chinese Government. Both our-

Jayes: Not a message directly? Is it still radio silence from your counterpart?

Tehan: Look, still no response to the letter that I wrote in January but, obviously, it's a message we still continue to give publicly, that both economies have benefited from our trading relationship and that we'd like to sit down and work through the current disputes that we've got so that we can enhance and build on the trading relationship, one which grew quite significantly after we signed the free trade agreement between Australia and China.

And I think we can point to that when it comes to the United Kingdom free trade agreement to show that both countries’ trade will be enhanced by a free trade agreement and it will benefit both economies.

Jayes: Okay, and we'll see a deal in the weeks or months ahead?

Tehan: Well, look, the aim is to try and have an in principle agreed deal by early June, and that's what myself and Liz Truss are working on. Our officials are working tirelessly. There are meetings and calls being made on a daily basis between the subgroups of the negotiations. So, it's full steam ahead to try and get an outcome by early June. And can I thank all those officials who are working tirelessly, both on the UK side and here in Australia. They've been doing an outstanding job. There's a lot of text to be agreed and finalised as we try and get something agreed in principle by June. And we'll continue to work as tirelessly as we can to get this outcome because we truly believe it's in Australia's national interest and in the national interest of the United Kingdom.

Jayes: Okay. Dan Tehan. Early June, we'll hold you to that. Thanks so much.

Tehan: Thanks, Laura.

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