Interview with Peter Stefanovic, First Edition, Sky News Australia

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Borders reopening; vaccination rates; Australia–France relationship.
05 November 2021

Peter Stefanovic: Dan Tehan joins us live now, Minister, good to see you, thanks for your time. That will get em' going, don't you reckon?

Peter Stefanovic: It will. It's a great ad, it's got plenty of star power and I think it'll get Australians thinking about giving the gift of travel at Christmas. We've been gifted living in the best country in the world so why not give the gift of travel? And there's many things you can do, whether it be give someone the gift of going to an event, give someone the gift of an experience, give someone the gift of going to a winery — there are so many options there for Christmas and what you're doing, at heart, is helping the 660,000 people that work in the tourism industry. So, I think, it's a great ad. It's very timely. We've got New South Wales and Victoria border coming down, which is wonderful news. We're about to hit that 80% vaccination rate. The tourism industry is back on its feet, but we need to support them, get through the next few months, and, I think, this ad will remind people of how important travel is, how important tourism is and very timely.

Peter Stefanovic: Yeah, no doubt timely. I did want to ask you about that. The fact that, you know, our two states are together again, the biggest states when it comes to population New South Wales and Victoria. So, that is going to increase the options now, I suppose, and Queensland is not too far behind. But WA, it's over to Mark McGowan and the roadmap is going to be released later on today, and no doubt you're hoping that it will allow Australians to be able to go back to WA as soon as possible.

Peter Stefanovic: Yeah, look, the quicker that we can get our state borders, state and territory borders, reopened the better it is, I think, for our nation. We'll be whole again and, I think, that's incredibly important, but also for loved ones to be able to travel before Christmas or during Christmas, especially to reunite over Christmas, I think, it's something that we all want to see. So, my hope is, what we'll see in that roadmap is, over the coming weeks, that we'll see a reopening again, because we all love Western Australia. We all love travelling to Western Australia. There's wonderful tourism experiences in Western Australia, but in particular for families reunited, be great if that could take place before Christmas.

Peter Stefanovic: You've still got a big problem though here don’t you Minister with worker shortages. Go around to any business around Sydney at the moment and you'll see people are hungry for staff. So, when will unrestricted numbers of skilled migrants —and let's throw international students into the mix as well — when will they be able to get here in an unrestricted way?

Peter Stefanovic: Well, they're next cab off the rank. Obviously, we wanted to make sure that returning Australians could come home and they've been the priority, but the next priority is international students, working holiday maker visa holders and our Ag workforce visa holders because we understand those labour shortages will need to be addressed. And as we re-open that demand for jobs, especially in our tourism sector, is going to come so we've got to make sure we're bringing the people that can help fill them. So next cab off the rank. We understand the importance there and we are seeing shortages.

Peter Stefanovic: Have you got a date?

Peter Stefanovic: They will be the next cohort —not yet, obviously — there's an important meeting of National Cabinet today and then more decisions will flow on from that. But we're very keen to get those international students, working holiday maker visa holders and our Ag workforce visa holders back as soon as we possibly can.

Peter Stefanovic: Ok, let's switch from tourism to trade, given Australia is now, let's call us a frenemy of France, is the trade deal with the EU in any danger of collapse?

Peter Stefanovic: No, we continue to work on our FTA with the European Union. It’s in the interests of Europe. It’s in the interests of Australia. We’ll have our chief negotiators will discuss it in December. The twelfth round will take place in February and, obviously, incredibly important for the European Union as they seek to pivot to the Indo–Pacific, where the economic weight of the world is. And for us, it’s the second-biggest export trade investment market that we have. So, it’s in both the EU and Australia’s interests. We’ll keep working on it and, you know, my hope is that we might have something in place by the end of next year.

Peter Stefanovic: Because we have spoken about this in the past, too, Minister. Isn’t it true that France would stand to lose more than we would if they tried to scuttle the deal?

Peter Stefanovic: Well, there’s a couple of things. First of all, when it comes to our trade investment relationship with France, we import from France, or France exports to Australia, over $5 billion worth of goods. We send about $1.2 billion back the other way. The investment relationship is very strong and works in the interests of both Australia and France. So, and my recent trip to France, every company that I met with, they’re very keen to see the economic relationship continue because it provides jobs in France, it provides jobs in Australia. So, I think we’re going to see that continue as normal. When it comes to the EU FTA we’ll keep working on that. These are tough these negotiations, but I’m confident that because of Europe’s desire to look more and more to the Indo– Pacific, and because there’s so much economic weight there, that they understand how important it is for them, as it is important to us getting access, secure access to the second-biggest market that we have.

Peter Stefanovic: Minister, you are a man well versed in diplomacy. Would you ever leak a private text from a key ally?

Peter Stefanovic: Well, one of the things that diplomacy has taught me is that occasionally you’ve got to move on, Pete, and you don’t rake over the hot coals. And I think the PM has made that very clear that that’s the best thing to do. I think that’s the right thing to do. Let’s not rake over the hot coals. Let’s just move on. Let’s focus on the things that are really important to the relationship, the values that we share, that shared history, especially with what – how we stood side by side during the First and the Second World Wars — they’re all the things we’ve just got to reflect on, and I’m confident that over time we will get the relationship back on an even keel.

Peter Stefanovic: You wouldn’t do it, though, would you?

Peter Stefanovic: Well, Pete, as I’ve said, we’re not going to rake over hot coals. The best thing we can do is just everyone move on, and we just focus about those common interests. That’s the best thing you can do. That’s the most diplomatic thing that we can do at this time.

Peter Stefanovic: But in many ways, though, as a Trade Minister you’ve got to go and mop this up on the world stage as a key trade negotiator. So, was the PM’s move there at least a setback for you?

Peter Stefanovic: What I’m not going to do is rake over the hot coals, and my job is to, basically, pursue our interests as best I can, and that’s the PM’s job as well, and that’s what he did with the AUKUS announcement. He pursued our national interests. Now, that was a tough decision to make. We knew France was going to be disappointed, but sometimes you’ve got to make tough decisions in the national interest and the PM was prepared to do that to make sure that Australians remain safe over the coming decades. Tough decision – sometimes there’s tough consequences — but you have to make them because they’re in the national interest and that’s what the PM did.

Peter Stefanovic: Can our allies trust us going forward?

Peter Stefanovic: Absolutely. I mean, no question. Look at our history. Look how we’ve stood side by side with all our key allies over the last, you know, 100-odd years. We are trusted globally. Everywhere that I go people…

Peter Stefanovic: Just not by the French.

Peter Stefanovic:…know that you can look Australians in the eye. They’ll – well, look, they know they can trust us. You know, one of the great honours that I’ve had is to be Australia’s Veterans’ Affairs Minister and I can tell you: you go to France and you visit those battle sites where Australia fought in the First World War, in particular, we gave up more lives on French soil than we have on any other country. They trust us. The French trust us. They know that when times are tough, when they need help and support, that we’ll be there for them.

Peter Stefanovic: Dan…

Peter Stefanovic: I think over time that will be reflected on.

Peter Stefanovic: Dan Tehan, I appreciate your time as always. Thanks for joining us here.

Peter Stefanovic: Thanks, Pete. Ends

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