Interview with Mary Gearin, ABC Radio Melbourne Drive

  • Transcript
Subjects: Support for PNG and Tourism bubble.
07 April 2021

Mary Gearin: And I'm very pleased that we've got Dan Tehan, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment – federally, of course – and Member for the western Victorian seat of Wannon on the line. Thank you very much for joining us, Minister.

Dan Tehan: Pleasure to be with you.

Gearin: Today, obviously, we've been listening to the Prime Minister saying how they're basically—you’re going to take it up to the EU to reapply for these vaccines that haven't been forthcoming. Just to go though to the comments from the EU spokesperson overnight who said that he couldn't confirm any new decision to block the vaccines. So couldn't confirm any decision to block them. You and the Prime Minister have both taken this is good news, that they're not seeking to restrict the vaccines to Australia. But that's not exactly what he said, is it?

Tehan: So what we're hoping is that this is a signal that the export restrictions that were put in place by the EU won't stand in the way of vaccines coming to Australia, but most importantly, won't stand in the way of vaccines going to PNG. We hope to get 1 million vaccines for PNG. Obviously, the situation in PNG at the moment is fraught, and we really do need those vaccines to help and support PNG at this time and, given that the signal that was sent by the EU overnight, we have, the Government has written again to the EU in the hope that they will allow those one million vaccines to come to Australia so that we can make sure they go to PNG to help them at this moment.

Gearin: As you say, it's a signal, because it's not exactly what they said and you’re essentially calling their bluff, as it were, and putting that PNG shipment really up front on them to put the pressure on them about the worthiness of these shipments.

Tehan: Look, what we've been saying all along to the EU is we think there's a better way to do things than using export restrictions and it's something the new Director-General of the World Trade Organization has also said, that vaccine nationalism is not in the end going to solve or help us deal with COVID-19. What we need is an approach where we all work together and, in particular, we work together on increasing the production of vaccines across the board. So our hope is that what was signalled overnight by the EU points to a change in direction and we will be able to get those one million vaccines that are, that are desperately needed in PNG and we’ll continue to have a dialogue with the European Union. Obviously, the Minister for Health has been talking to his counterpart; the Prime Minister has been talking to his counterpart; and I've been talking to my counterpart in the hope that we will see those export restrictions lifted.

Gearin: If our overseas orders aren't filled though what sort of commitment can you give to our neighbours who, as you say, are needing those vaccines in PNG? Will you commit to sending the first million locally made vaccines to PNG?

Tehan: Well, we'll continue to work with them, obviously, we've already sent some vaccines to PNG. We've also provided them with financial support as well to help them secure other sources of the vaccine. So, we'll continue to do everything we can to work with them and help them but, in particular, what we really want to see is those 1 million doses that, that have been contracted to come and to help support PNG respond to their outbreak.

Gearin: [Interrupts] But with respect, Minister, sorry to interrupt, you're saying that the locally- the vaccines to PNG are the most important thing to think about. So why don't we commit to giving- to delaying that public rollout here and giving priority to locally made vaccines or what we've got to PNG?

Tehan: Well, we already have made a commitment to provide some of our locally made, our domestically supplied vaccines to PNG and as our vaccine production ramps up we will look at how else we can help as well. Obviously, we've got…

Gearin: [Interrupts] We've only sent a few thousand, though. Can't we ramp that up? And does it matter if our local rollout is delayed by a few weeks when we look at the situation there?

Tehan: Well, obviously, we've got to get the balance right and we will continue to look at our rollout and see the progress that’s been made there, and also to examine the situation in PNG, [Indistinct]…

Gearin: [Interrupts] So you might, you might ramp it up.

Tehan: Look, absolutely, but as I've said, we've already provided some vaccines to PNG and we'll be looking to see what else we can do, as well as sourcing through COVAX other supplies of the vaccine for PNG and the region. So we will continue to monitor the situation and look to do everything we can to help and support. But you have to remember, we did have contracts in place to be able to bring a supply of vaccines here to Australia and, obviously, that was going to help us as we stepped up our domestic production, but also were designed to help and support the region. So that's why we think it's incredibly important that we can get the supply of those vaccines from the EU to help PNG at this stage

Gearin: With your Trade Minister’s hat on, the danger is that a stoush with the EU isn't very useful for you right at the moment. You're in the middle of trying to land a multibillion dollar free trade agreement. It can't be helpful. Who can you least afford to get offside, your trading partners in Europe or the Australian public?

Tehan: Look, one of the things that you always need to be able to do in any relationship is to be able to have hard and difficult conversations, but also make sure that you do it in a way where countries understand the reason why you're having those conversations and, also, you can still progress other important parts about your relationship and…

Gearin: This can't be helpful, can it?

Tehan: Look, we've always had very frank discussions with the European Union and will continue to have them. I mean, over a long period of time, we've had very frank discussions, for instance, around agriculture subsidies and the way the European Union support their farmers in a way that we think seriously distorts the agricultural markets globally. So, we'll continue to have these frank discussions, but it doesn't mean that we can't continue to negotiate our free trade agreement with the EU and we've just, only recently, in the last couple of weeks, concluded the most productive of the 10 rounds of negotiations that we've had with the European Union. So there's no reason why we can't progress that. My hope is that I'll be able to get to Europe in the not too distant future to sit down face-to-face with my counterpart to really try and push, and progress, the negotiations even further and I don't see how this should prevent, and I can't see no reason why it will prevent, those very constructive negotiations that have been ongoing.

Gearin: Minister, with your tourism hat on now, we've got the important development of the New Zealand-Australia bubble. The Prime Minister has said it's all about jobs. How many jobs will this create or help?

Tehan: Well, the Australian tourism industry supports about 660,000 jobs so what we want to do is make sure that we're assisting and supporting those jobs and then growing them if we can. And that's why this bubble will be very important because annually there's about 1.4 million visitors from New Zealand that come to Australia and they spend about $1.6 billion here in Australia.

Gearin: [Talks over] Just to interrupt you there, we actually had someone on from the tourism industry yesterday who said, intriguingly: we spend more when we're in New Zealand than New Zealanders spend when they're over here. So, it should almost be- it's a great market, but it's not the best, is it?

Tehan: Well, one of the things that we need to do – and it's why we've launched a $3 million advertising campaign in New Zealand – is to not only encourage New Zealanders to come over here and remembering there's nowhere else that they can go at the moment. So we hope that 1.4 million might even be greater. But we've also got to get them spending when they’re here like they've never spent before. So one of the messages we've been sending to Australians recently is when you travel in Australia, spend like you're overseas here in Australia, because we tend to not put our hands in our pockets like we do overseas when we travel domestically and it's the same for New Zealanders when they come here. So we want to see a lot of New Zealanders maxing out their credit cards when they come to Australia. That's going to be our aim and if we can do that, then that will help support those jobs.

Gearin: Good sign up at the airport as they come in. Dan Tehan, thank you so much for joining us.

Tehan: It's been a pleasure. Thanks.

Gearin: So that is Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan joining us then.

Media enquiries