Interview with Patricia Karvelas, Afternoon Briefing

  • Transcript
Subjects: COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement, agriculture visa, quarantine, storm damage in Victoria
17 June 2021

Patricia Karvelas: Dan Tehan is the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, and our guest this afternoon. Welcome.

Dan Tehan: A pleasure to be with you, Patricia.

Karvelas: We'll get to your portfolio in a moment but first, are you worried this latest change in advice around AstraZeneca will increase vaccine hesitancy?

Tehan: Well, I think what the Government has done all along, throughout this process, is listened to the medical experts and that's what's put us in such great stead in dealing with this pandemic, and that's why we've dealt with it, I think, better than nearly every country in the world — and we will continue to take that medical advice. The medical experts have now given fresh advice with regards to AstraZeneca. I've had my two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. It's clear that if you've had one dose, you should have a second dose. But now for those over 60- sorry, those under 60, the preference is for you to have Pfizer.

Karvelas: But Minister, clearly, if you're changing the rules again, and I understand the Government is taking the health advice, the Government isn't making up the advice, it's taking the advice of experts. But if you are changing the rules again, it will inevitably have an impact on the rollout won't it? And the timing? Which has an impact on things like our international borders reopening. It has flow-on effects.  

Tehan: Well Patricia, the key thing is that the Australian people can have confidence that the Government are taking decisions based on the best medical advice available internationally. Our medical experts are renowned internationally. They're the ones who are providing the advice to the Government. I think the real worry would be if we weren't taking the advice of the medical experts. I think all Australians can have great confidence that we're listening to the expert medical advice. We had the experts there at the press conference today providing that advice so I think all Australians can be reassured that that's what the Government is doing. They can look around the rest of the world and have a look at how well we've performed compared to nearly every other country and know that by listening to the medical advice, that's why we're in such a great situation and that's what the Government will continue to do.

Karvelas: Minister, can you understand, though, that if you're in your 50's and you rushed up, particularly in Victoria, to get your AstraZeneca jab and now you've heard that they've changed the bar again for when you should be getting it, you'd be miffed?

Tehan: No, I think what you should do is be reassured that the Government is listening to the expert medical advice. That expert medical advice says quite clearly, that if you've had your first dose, you should have your second dose of AstraZeneca. And the fact that we have listened to the medical advice right throughout this pandemic and the fact that, in terms of nearly every other country in the world, we've performed better then, I think, the Australians can be absolutely reassured that the Government is continuing to listen to the expert medical advice and that's what will keep us in such great stead. And, the alternative is we start making decisions not based on the medical advice and I just can't see- I'm sure that's not what you're suggesting…

Karvelas: Certainly not.

Tehan: …and I can't see how that would in any way help us. So, I think what we've got to do is understand we're in a pandemic, we're dealing with vaccines where medical scientists have done an extraordinary job in getting these vaccines into market. We've obviously taken more time and more care than nearly every other country making sure that the TGA approvals were done properly, thoroughly and not under an emergency situation. So, I think all Australians can be absolutely assured that the medical experts are doing the best job based on the best medical advice that they have and that the Government will continue to listen to that advice.

Karvelas: Minister, putting your tourism hat on, and there's obviously domestic tourism, not just international tourism in that. If people are fully vaccinated, when will they be able to – if I become fully vaccinated as of next week – okay, subtle boast there, looking forward to that –  and have the full coverage, why can't people who are fully vaccinated be able to travel across our country, for instance, without any restrictions? Because we're seeing still states put up restrictions based on small outbreaks.

Tehan: Well look, it's a really good question, Patricia, and one that through National Cabinet we will keep working with states and territories on. Obviously, if we could get to a situation where those people who are fully vaccinated would be able to continue to move when there were small outbreaks, and that they wouldn't be constrained by restrictions, that would be a positive outcome. But it's one where we need the cooperation and the support of every state and territory. So, we'll continue to work with states and territories on that and if the clear advice from the medical experts is that that should be able to happen, then that is something obviously from a Federal Government point of view we'd be looking to support through National Cabinet. But, obviously, it's something we would need all states and territories to also support.

Karvelas: Moving to your portfolio, or another element of your portfolio, the trade part. Is it fair to say that it's going to take close to a decade for Australian producers to really see the benefits of the free trade agreement with the UK?

Tehan: No, not at all. What we'll see happen from the moment this enters into force and everything points to that being July 1 next year, is we'll see immediate access to the UK market for our rice growers. We'll see substantial access for our cane growers to the UK market. We'll see substantial access for our dairy producers to the market. We'll see substantial access for our lamb producers and substantial access for our beef producers. And that substantial access will grow over time for our land producers and our beef producers. For dairy, it's a five year wait for full liberalisation. For sugar it's an eight year wait for full liberalisation. But the key thing here is all of our key sectors get immediate access and immediate substantial access, and especially for rice and sugar. For the first time, for a long time, they get immediate substantial access to a market in an FTA and that's why the President of the NFF said that both those agricultural commodity groups were absolutely over the moon when this FTA was announced.

Karvelas: Minister, what role did former prime minister Tony Abbott play in shaping this agreement, as an advisor to the UK board of trade?

Tehan: Look, you'd have to ask that question to Tony Abbott and to the UK Trade Minister, but I can say this, one thing that Tony Abbott did when he was Prime Minister of this country was preside over three major free trade agreements for this nation, which have benefited this nation, and this UK free trade agreement, the best thing about this one is that it is even bigger and better than those three major ones that Tony Abbott presided over. This is the best free trade agreement that we have done since the Comprehensive Economic Relations Agreement that we had with New Zealand. It's comprehensive in people to people movement, in investment, in services, in government procurement, and in goods market access.

Karvelas: Well let's go to the people to people movement. Is there a danger the new agricultural visa category is created as a result of the FTA will undermine existing schemes we have with Pacific Island nations?

Tehan: No, not at all. What we are putting in place here is a first for Australia and this is why this agreement is historic in many ways. We will have a specific agriculture and agribusiness visa that's put in place, and this is something that rural and regional Australia have been wanting for many, many years, and it's another substantial outcome from this free trade agreement. And, it will mean that not only we'll be able to see the flow of agricultural work between Australia and the UK, especially on a seasonal basis, improve, but also we will be able to use this agriculture and agribusiness visa to expand to new countries and include the Pacific, where obviously we use that labour to help in our agricultural industry.

Karvelas: Minister, will the agricultural visa have fewer protections and regulations in place than the Pacific labour schemes?

Tehan: Look, all that detail will obviously be worked through and the Government-

Karvelas: [Interrupts] But you must know. Will there be less regulations in this one?

Tehan: Well, Patricia, what we've done through the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement, which has been my focus, is to put in place the commitment to develop an agriculture and agribusiness visa. Now, what the Government is also looking to do is expand that into South East Asia and into the Pacific. Now, the exact way that that's done, the exact requirements around that, will obviously be worked through in the coming months, and I'll be happy to inform you of all the exact details once that's been done.

Karvelas: Okay. Some Liberal MPs are unhappy the Nationals have pressed ahead with this announcement of an agriculture visa and are warning it would, actually, undermine the Government's flagship labour schemes with Pacific Island nations. Did David Littleproud jump the gun yesterday given the details of the visas still actually haven't been worked out as you've just revealed?

Tehan: No, not at all. What David was keen to promote was what we have achieved in this Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement and that is, for the first time, that we will have a standalone agriculture and agribusiness visa and David was out there promoting the fact that this wonderful partnership between Australia and the UK, which is going to grow even further, has established this visa and he's obviously welcomed the fact that we were able to achieve that. Now, obviously, he's very keen to make sure that it's enhanced because, as you would know, Patricia, one of the biggest issues facing regional and rural Australia at the moment is the lack of that agricultural workforce. It's going to be absolutely vital to make sure that the milk for the coffee that people drink in the city, the steaks that they eat, the wine that they drink, that we have a workforce to be able to produce that in this nation, and that's why this Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement will be seen as ground-breaking because we have negotiated this visa…

Karvelas: Okay.

Tehan: …and also, we'll be able to see this visa expanded.

Karvelas: So, can you give a guarantee for those who are worrying that this will not undermine the Seasonal Worker Programme, which obviously provides very significant income for nations and workers that desperately need it?

Tehan: Look, the Seasonal Workers Programme has been an outstanding success and we want to...

Karvelas: And it won't be reduced? There will be no impact on those programs as a result of this?

Tehan: We want to build on it, Patricia. We understand the importance of it. We understand the importance of it for Australia and for the Pacific Islands and East Timor. So we want to make sure that we build on that; we build on it and expand it, and as I've said; the most important thing, and the thing that is crucial for regional and rural Australia, is that we have this agriculture and agribusiness visa. That's the breakthrough. That's what we're able to achieve through this Australia-UK FTA and when the history is written this will be a major moment when it comes to how we've been able to expand the benefits of our free trade agreements even further for regional and rural Australia, and it was done by the Morrison Government.

Karvelas: Minister, why are members of the team or, you know, or the people who accompanied the PM to the G7 being allowed to quarantine at an ANU college? Why do they get that special treatment?

Tehan: So, Patricia, when you quarantine, you quarantine according to the requirements of the particular state or territory that you quarantine in, and it's all done based on the medical advice of that territory or that state. So, I can guarantee you that what the PM's team will be doing is following the advice that is- and the ACT requirements, and that's why- that's what they'll be doing. Now, the ACT has a number of different facilities that you can quarantine in. They're all specified by their medical experts and the PM team will be following that advice and those requirements that are put in place in the ACT.

Karvelas: Just finally, you're a Victorian MP too, of course. Are you shocked that thousands of people affected by last week's storms in the Dandenong Ranger will have to wait for three weeks to get power restored?

Tehan: Well I think the most important thing is that we're doing everything we can to get that power restored as quickly as possible. Obviously they were devastating storms and, look, not having seen it firsthand, but spoken to my fellow Victorian MPs who have, some of the damage that has been done is quite extraordinary. The size of the trees that have been uplifted and the damage that's been caused by those trees being uplifted is unprecedented. The fact that the SES had never been called out to as many incidents in its history, I think, points to the size of the damage that's been wrought. So, I think what we need to be doing at all levels of government and from a community point of view is just focus on repairing that damage and especially that power as quickly as possible.

Karvelas: Thanks for your time, Minister.

Tehan: Pleasure.

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

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