Interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-China Trade relationship; quarantine; vaccinations; Deputy Prime Minister.
25 June 2021

Michael Rowland: Okay. Let's get more now on one of the big stories we're following this morning – China's complaint it’s lodged with the World Trade Organization, accusing Australia of anti-competitive behaviour. The Trade Minister, Dan Tehan, joins us now from Canberra. Minister, good morning.

Dan Tehan: Morning, Michael. Good to be with you.

Rowland: It's great to have you as well. So, China’s accusing us of anti-competitive behaviour regarding some Chinese imports, including stainless steel sinks. What’s Australia's defence?

Tehan: Well, we'll robustly defend this dispute and our defence is that we go through proper processes through our Anti-Dumping Commission when we put duties on place, and we do so based on detailed analysis of Australian industry – and so we will robustly defend it. We obey the WTO rules; we take them seriously. They’ve stood us in great stead as a nation. And so we will obviously take up the consultations with China on this dispute. We're happy at officials’ level to discuss it with them, and also at ministerial level. But we will robustly defend this case.

Rowland: This comes just days after Australia took similar action against China over what’s happening to our wine imports over there. Is this retaliation?

Tehan: Well, that's a question you’d have to ask of the Chinese Government. But one of the things that I would point to is, normally, in these types of disputes or cases, these issues would be raised through the relevant WTO committee. They would also be raised at a bilateral level before it's escalated to a WTO dispute. We didn't see that happen with regards to this case. But the actual reasons for this, you would have to ask the Chinese Government.

Rowland: It's getting pretty ugly. We're pretty much in a trade war now, aren’t we, with China, Minister?

Tehan: Well, what we want is very constructive engagement with China, and we’ve said that all along. The trading relationship is an incredibly strong one. It's worked for both countries. It's lifted millions out of poverty in China, it's helped us maintain our standard of living, and we say all the time that we want to sit down and work through these disputes. There might be things we can't agree to, but the best thing is dialogue. And, I sent a letter to my counterpart in early January, setting all the ways out that we could work together and how we could work through these disputes and I'm yet to have a response, but we do want constructive engagement with China.

Rowland: Well, there's a problem right there, isn’t it? That’s a problem right there. What, six months and no reply?

Tehan: Well, what we've got to do is keep making it very clear that we do want to sit down and talk and, in the meantime, obviously, our officials will keep the dialogue going and we'll make sure we're doing everything else with regards to our trade policy to advance it. Like, things like the UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement, where obviously we're able to get a great win for our exporters.

Rowland: Okay. Just a couple of other issues before we go, the ABC has confirmed this morning, the Prime Minister – this is regarding these purpose-built quarantine facilities – has proposed one of two sites in WA and also a site in Brisbane. Can you tell us anything about those plans?

Tehan: Well, obviously, we're in discussions with all states and territories, including the Queensland State Government, the Western Australia State Government, about additional quarantine sites. There's a very clear methodology as to what we think is appropriate and those discussions continue —and they'll- obviously we'll advise more detail as the discussions advance.

Rowland: The Prime Minister last night on Sky was again advocating his support for a plan to allow fully vaccinated Australians, that's those of us who have two doses not to be subject to these travel restrictions and border closures. Why would that be a good idea in your view?

Tehan: Well, this is an initiative which has been strongly supported by the Australian tourism industry. Obviously, every time we get border closures it has a huge impact, especially on the Australian domestic tourism industry. There's over 600,000 jobs which are dependent on us being able to continue the mobility that we need, when we have- whether they be lockdowns or border closures. So, this is about protecting livelihoods and making sure our aviation sector and our tourism sector can continue to be able- to continue to sustain itself throughout this pandemic. And we think encouraging people to get vaccinated and then giving them the freedom to move around when there is outbreaks is a very strong way for us to make sure that we're protecting our economy and jobs in our economy.

Rowland: I guess it's only an academic discussion at the moment because only 5 per cent of us have been fully vaccinated. That's not great, is it?

Tehan: Well, what we’re seeing is the vaccination rollout continue at pace. The first million doses it took us 46 days for us to get through. We're now vaccinating a million Australians every 10 days. So we’ve ramped it up and that will obviously continue to ramp up as we try and get as many Australians vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Rowland: Okay. Just before we go, on a scale of one to 10, Dan Tehan, how happy are you about Barnaby's return?

Tehan: Well, obviously, this was a decision of the National Party. The National Party has elected Barnaby their leader. The most important thing, as far as the Liberal Party’s concerned, is we need to continue to have a very good working relationship with the National Party. We have to make sure that our focus as a Coalition is on the Australian people, and if we do that we'll be able to present a very good case for re-election at the next election.

Rowland: I didn't hear a number. Is it ten, is it two, is it nine, is it five?

Tehan: Well, I’m not going to give numbers.

Rowland: Go on.

Tehan: No, I think that's more for the commentators to do, Michael. I know you’d love me to give a number on all my colleagues and that would make for some great television.

Rowland: Well hey, we can make time if you want to go there…

Tehan: [Indistinct]… don’t think that’s my job.

Rowland: We can throw out the rundown, let's do it.

Tehan: Yeah right. I'm sure we could but I don’t know whether, ultimately, in the end, that would be the best thing for the Australian people.

Rowland: It would be great for us.

Tehan: I know it would. It would make some great television for you, especially this morning. But I think what we've got to be doing is focusing on the policies that will deliver for Australia and especially, for regional and rural Australia.

Rowland: Dan Tehan, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

Tehan: Thanks, Michael.

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