Interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC Radio National Drive

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Travel restrictions with New Zealand, Support for the tourism sector, Interstate travel, National Socialist Network and The Grampians, New Zealand Trade Minister comments, Australia-China relationship.
28 January 2021

Patricia Karvelas: Dan Tehan is the Minister for Tourism, Trade and Investment. In fact, he was appointed to that role after the reshuffle late last year. Dan Tehan, welcome.

Dan Tehan: Patricia, great to be back with you and happy New Year to all your listeners.

Karvelas: Now, how many New Zealanders have been affected by the suspension of quarantine-free travel, and will those people be made to pay for their own hotel quarantine?

Tehan: Look, we’ll get a clearer idea of the numbers, but what it has to be clear is that we’ve always acted based on the medical expert advice as a Government, and the expert medical advice — the advice provided by the AHPPC — asked for an initial 72-hour suspension. We’ve obviously added to that based on that advice, and they’ve been in close contact with their New Zealand counterparts. We understand that there has been some disruption, but if we’ve learnt anything through this pandemic it’s been — get the health response right and that’s then the best way to deal with the economic response. Because, we all know that if we can make sure that New Zealand can get rid of this community transmission of this part of this virus, which is meant to spread quite rapidly, then we’ll be able to get the bubble open again with New Zealanders and we’ll be able to welcome New Zealanders back to Australia.

Karvelas: Is what we’re seeing here a reminder that the return of international travel is a long way off?

Tehan: I think it is a fair assessment to say and, once again, our medical experts have said this: that it’s most likely that we’re going to see international travel resuming probably towards the end of this year, or the beginning of next year. Now, our hope is, in between that time, we’ll be able to get bubbles established with New Zealand, potentially Singapore, and other countries. But that, obviously, will be difficult and we’ve got to make sure in the first instance that we’re able to deal with the virus successfully here in Australia. Obviously, we want New Zealand to get back under control the virus in New Zealand then we’d like to be able to start with New Zealand. But, the New Zealand Prime Minister has made it clear, in terms of Australia going — Australians going to New Zealand — it’s probably likely to be the end of March at the earliest that we would see a true bubble operating between New Zealand and Australia.

Karvelas: And, if that bubble were to, you know, a true bubble, as you describe it, begin, would it benefit from having, kind of, these green zones that have been developed for instance by the Victorian Government, to create, you know, areas where New Zealanders could travel quarantine free, and other areas that were considered higher risk?

Tehan: Well, we take the medical expert advice on that. I see that the Victorian Government were making some changes to their green and orange and red zone approaches this week so we would take the medical advice on that. But, one of the things we would like to see is a nationally consistent approach to those zones and we’ve obviously been asking states and territories to sit down and work that out. We so far haven’t got a consistent approach, but I think that would really benefit our tourism sector if the states and territories could agree on such an approach, so we’ll keep working with them. And, if we could get an outcome like that, I think that would help then in establishing bubbles with New Zealand and other countries.

Karvelas: Is the Federal Government prepared to consider Queensland’s call to extend JobKeeper for the tourism sector?

Tehan: We, obviously, are very keen to work with and engage with the tourism sector. I’ve been consulting with them since I took over the Trade, Tourism and Investment portfolio and we’re obviously open to discussions as to what we can do to help and support the sector, especially when it comes to those parts that have been impacted by international tourism. But, it’s not straightforward, Patricia. As we’ve seen with domestic tourism — we’ve seen a real rebound in domestic tourism — especially in regional and rural Australia, apart from those areas that have been hit by rapid border closures. And, so we’ve got to do an analysis as to what actually is occurring on the ground, whether you can target those areas that have been impacted by the loss of international tourism. We’ll continue to talk to, and liaise with, the tourism sector as we work towards what approach we will take when JobKeeper ends at the end of March.

Karvelas: How can Australians have the confidence to travel interstate when border closures are still so arbitrary and unpredictable? I mean, you just can see that there is no national approach. Would you feel confident going, for instance, if you’re a Victorian to Queensland?

Tehan: Well, it is one of the issues that I think it would be really good if we could deal with, and that is to get a nationally consistent approach as to how the states and territories open and close their borders, because I think it has created uncertainty and has meant that people are more comfortable travelling within their own states rather than interstate. And I think that’s one of the things that all states and territories should see in their own interests, so that is — if we could get a nationally consistent approach, I think we would see interstate travel occurring, and occurring in great numbers and that would give greater certainty to the aviation sector and to the tourism sector. So, it’s one of the things that I hope that they will be able to work cooperatively on, because the tourism sector, in particular, would greatly benefit from it.

Karvelas: Can you quantify the economic cost of not having that national approach?

Tehan: Well, for instance, when Victoria closed its border to New South Wales there were estimates of, you know, the impact on the tourism sector in New South Wales at up to about $3 billion, so it’s hard to get exact numbers. But there is no doubt that it has a significant impact on local economies when borders are shut and we have to remember that that impacts the whole nation as a whole. So, everyone loses out as a result and that’s why we’re very keen to see states and territories being able to sit down together to work something out. We’ll keep asking them to do that, but, obviously, in the end, it’s going to be up to them as to whether they can agree such an approach.

Karvelas: If you’re just tuning in, my guest this evening is Dan Tehan. He’s the Minister for Tourism, Trade and Investment. This is RN Drive. Let’s move to another issue. What’s your reaction to these images and reports of neo-Nazis burning a cross, doing other very disturbing activities in The Grampians, which is actually in your electorate?

Tehan: Abhorrent, disgusting, no place in Australia, something that I’m sure that all Australians would be aghast at. And, can I say that I commend the local people in my electorate who have seen this, or heard it, and immediately reported so that action can be taken. And, I absolutely commend them, because they know it’s got no place in Western Victoria and, the fact that they’ve immediately gone to authorities to seek to have it dealt with, I think, is a very, very good thing and shows the people of Western Victoria see no place for this in this country.

Karvelas: Should the group, the National Socialist Network, be listed as a terrorist organisation?

Tehan: Look, I’ll leave that up to authorities. Obviously, they will be investigating this. They will be looking at this group and various other groups, and they will make recommendations to Government. And, I’m sure …

Karvelas: … What’s your instinct on this? Is it something that worries you so much that you think that we need to, society wide – I mean, I’m asking a broader, deeper question here – take these groups more seriously?

Tehan: Oh look, there is no doubt that we have to take this issue incredibly seriously. We’ve sadly seen the rise of this type of activity in the last couple of years and, I think, that we do have to make sure that we deal with it and deal with it appropriately. And, it’s got no place in our community and, therefore, we need to take the strongest possible action we can to make sure we stamp it out. And, I’m sure that that’s what the authorities are looking at at this moment.

Karvelas: Minister, what do you make of New Zealand’s Trade Minister saying Australia should show China more respect?

Tehan: Oh look, I had a very good discussion with the New Zealand Trade Minister this morning. He rang me after he made those comments yesterday. And, he’s subsequently put out a Tweet this afternoon saying that New Zealand will obviously pursue its national interests as it sees fit, and Australia will do the same. And, I’m looking forward to having a formal bilateral discussion with my New Zealand counterpart, hopefully next week. We agreed we should do it sooner rather than later. It’s the second conversation I’ve had with him. I had a very good chat with him two weeks ago. New Zealand are hosting APEC this year, and I think there’s a big role that New Zealand can play this year in bringing the Asia-Pacific trade ministers together, and leaders. And, I’m looking forward to having further discussions with him, hopefully, next week.

Karvelas: You said you’ve spoken to the New Zealand Trade Minister. Did he offer you an apology?

Tehan: Look, I’m not going to go into the details of the conversation this morning. He’s put out a statement this afternoon, I respect the fact that he’s done that, and I look forward to …

Karvelas: … Did you make it clear to him that you thought it was inappropriate for him to do what he’d done?

Tehan: Look, I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of the conversation. I’ve got a lot of respect for the New Zealand Trade Minister. He’s been very welcoming towards me since I’ve taken over the portfolio. We’re going to have further detailed discussions next week and I really appreciate the fact that he initiated picking up the phone this morning and giving me a call.

Karvelas: Is that appropriate, given how little New Zealand contributes financially to the Five Eyes partnership?

Tehan: Oh look, New Zealand have been our closest friend for many, many years, and I’ve got nothing but warmth towards New Zealand, and I’m looking forward to working with my New Zealand counterpart. We want to make sure that everyone is working cooperatively together, whether it be on the trade/investment front or on the security front and, I know that that’s where New Zealand — that’s how New Zealand want to work with Australia. And, as I’ve said, I’m looking forward to having further discussions with my counterpart, hopefully next week, if our officials can arrange it.

Karvelas: You’ve reached out to your newly appointed Chinese counterpart. Have you had a response?

Tehan: Not yet. I wrote a detailed letter to the new Chinese Trade Minister. We were both appointed within about 24 or 48 hours of each other and in that letter I’ve said that we want to constructively engage and I’m waiting for that response. And, as I’ve outlined, the approach that I’m very keen to take as Australia’s Trade Minister is a proactive one. So, we’re going to be seeking to engage across the board. It’s going to be principled and, where necessary, patient and I’m happy to be patient in waiting for a reply.

Karvelas: Thank you so much for joining me tonight, Minister.

Tehan: Been a pleasure, Patricia.

Karvelas: Dan Tehan is the Minister for Tourism, Trade and Investment.

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