Interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: G7 meeting, WTO, Tamil family, Dan Andrews.
09 June 2021

Michael Rowland: And while Victoria continues to manage its COVID outbreak, the Prime Minister is heading off to the G7 meeting with trade very high on the agenda. We’re joined now by the Tourism and Trade Minister Dan Tehan, in Sydney. Minister, good morning.

Dan Tehan: Morning, Michael. How are you?

Rowland: Very well, thank you. Now, ahead of the trip, the Prime Minister is giving a speech in Perth today. Pretty robust from all accounts. He’ll warn of the rising threat of conflict in the Indo-Pacific region. What are the miscalculations, as he puts it, that could trigger a war with China?

Tehan: Well, what the PM’s putting out quite clearly is that we do have a heightened strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific and it’s never been a more important time for liberal democracies to get together and make sure that we are 100 per cent backing a rules-based order, and what- make sure that when it comes to global trade, that they’re- those global trade rules are there, that they’re being adhered to. And also, as we set new rules, it is bodies like the World Trade Organization that are setting those rules. There’s never been a more important time to having all countries setting rules and making sure that those rules are adhered to.

Rowland: And on that front, the Prime Minister talks about the World Trade Organization pushing back against economic coercion, clearly a reference to China. What more from the Australian Government's perspective, Dan Tehan, should- could the World Trade Organization be doing to confront China on these trade issues?

Tehan: Well, one of the most important points the Prime Minister makes is that we need a proper- a functioning WTO, World Trade Organization, dispute body. And at the moment, the appellate body, where you appeal disputes to, is not functioning, and so he’s called on G7 nations to get behind World Trade Organization reform so that we can fix the appellant body and make sure that all countries, where there are- when there are trade disputes, can go to World Trade Organization to have those disputes resolved. It’s a body that China uses, it’s a body the US uses, so we want to make sure that all countries can use that and it’s properly functioning.

Rowland: We know, and you certainly know, that things aren’t great at the moment between Australia and China. Are there fears though that there’ll be further blowback from China on the back of these remarks? And on the back of this being pushed at the G7 meeting?

Tehan: Not at all. I mean, if you, if you look at what’s happened post the second World War and the global order that’s been put in place. The rules that have been put in place that has seen China develop its economy in an extraordinary way. It’s lifted millions and millions out of poverty because of those rules. It’s helped Australia, its helped all countries of the world. And what the Prime Minister is saying is those rules have never been more important. We must make sure, especially as liberal democracies, we fight to maintain and continue to develop them. There are areas like e-commerce, digital trade, where we need to be setting new rules. and we all should be coming together to make sure that we can do that. That is how we will pursue global peace and prosperity - it is having the rules in place and all countries adhering to those rules.

Rowland: Okay. On another issue, your colleague the Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, has suggested the Tamil family detained on Christmas Island could be resettled in either the United States or New Zealand. Is that the case?

Tehan: Look, you’ll obviously have to discuss that with the, with the Foreign Minister. I saw her comments yesterday. I also know that this, this issue and this matter is before the courts, but Marise has been pursuing that.

Rowland: Is there any prospect at all of this family being returned to their community in Biloela in Queensland?

Tehan: Look, my understanding is that that matter is before the courts, so therefore, I won't be commenting any further on it. But also my understanding is based on the comments that Marise Payne made yesterday, that we are looking at other resettlement options.

Rowland: Okay. Let's take it out of the courts for just a moment. Does it cause you, personally, Minister, any discomfort that we have a family, including two kids, born in this country, detained on Christmas Island?

Tehan: Look, Michael, this is before the courts. I’m not going to comment on a matter that is before the courts, so I’ll leave it there.

Rowland: Do you have any compassion for this family?

Tehan: Look, Michael. This matter is before the courts, so I am not going comment any further on this matter. I hope you can respect that, given my position, given the matter is before the courts. I'll leave it there. Thank you.

Rowland: Even one of your colleagues, LNP Member Ken O'Dowd whose federal electorate represents Biloela, has on- is on record as saying that family should be returned.

Tehan: I’m a member of the executive, Michael. The matter’s before the courts. I won’t be commenting any further.

Rowland: Okay. Let's finish with one other issue. You’re also a member of the Victorian Liberal Party, in fact a senior member of the Victorian Party. What do you make of the grassy knoll conspiracy theories being circulated by the State Opposition regarding the Premier, Daniel Andrews’, back accident?

Tehan: Well, as I understand it, it wasn't grassy knoll conspiracy theories. A series of questions was asked by the Opposition. In opposition you have the right to answer and to ask questions of the Government.

Rowland: Including whether police were called to the scene of the accident?

Tehan: Look, the Opposition in Victoria has the right to ask questions – that’s what happens in a properly functioning democracy. The government, and then you have an opposition which ask questions – they’re entitled to ask those questions. We get asked questions by the opposition, federally, the whole time, some of them I would prefer not to be asked, but they are. And that is- that’s what happens in a properly functioning liberal democracy, and the Victorian Opposition have the right to ask those questions.

Rowland: Okay. Okay. I hear what you’re saying. So you’ve seen the questions. Based on what you’ve seen, were they all fair questions to be asked?

Tehan: Look, what I am saying is they’ve got the right to ask those questions. Other people will…

Rowland: [Talks over] But do you believe they’re fair questions? [Indistinct]-

Tehan: …comment on whether they’re fair, or-

Rowland: But, no, I’m asking you. You’re a senior member of the Victorian Liberal Party, Dan Tehan.

Tehan: Yeah.

Rowland: Do you believe they’re fair questions?

Tehan: The Opposition has the right to ask questions. And, it’s up to commentators to decide whether they’re fair, whether they’re not fair - they have the right to ask those questions.

And, can I say, I support Louise Staley asking questions as a member of the Opposition in Victoria - that is what functioning Liberal parties are all about and good on Louise Staley for asking requests as the Opposition Shadow Treasurer.

Rowland: Okay. We’ll leave it there. Dan Tehan, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

Tehan: Thanks, Michael.

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