Interview with Peter Stefanovic, Sky News

  • Transcript
18 October 2021

Peter Stefanovic: It's time to bring in the Trade Minister Dan Tehan, who's just returned from a trip overseas. Minister, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. So still no official UK or EU trade deals; you were snubbed by the French; did anything positive come out of your trip?

Dan Tehan: Absolutely. Had very good discussions in London over the last two days on the Australian-UK Free Trade Agreement. We are literally millimetres away from being able to ink that deal. Very good discussions in Europe as well. Both the European Union and Australia recognise that that free trade agreement is in both our interests, so now it's a matter of us just getting on with it and making sure we get the outcome that we want.

Obviously, I was in India. They're very keen to progress a free trade agreement. We're going to see what we can do before Christmas. And also when I was in the United Arab Emirates both the UAE and the Gulf Cooperation Council are very keen to move on a free trade agreement. So, the plate is very full at the moment and we've just got to now get on and see what progress we can make, (a) in doing that last little bit of finalising the UK FTA but also in progressing these other potential agreements.

Peter Stefanovic: Okay. Given you were able to press the flesh with your colleagues overseas for the last couple of weeks, are you able to elaborate on how much of a diplomatic setback it is to not have improved climate commitments?

Dan Tehan: Well, look, one of the things that we've got to do is make sure as we transition our economy we can do so in a way that strengthens our exporters and strengthens our regions in particular. We've got to make sure that our plan that will get us to net zero will take our regions and our exporters with us and if we do that we get the right outcome. And we've got to do it on behalf of our exporters, because if we don't, protectionist forces are at play and they will seek to harm our exporters.

So, this is why it's incredibly important that we get our plan to getting to net zero by 2050 right. It's why we have to make sure that we understand there will be an impact on the regions, so we've got to take our regions with us and support us. We've got to make sure our dairy processors, our meat processors, our aluminium smelters, they all come with us and we make sure that they're part of the transition, and we do that: we strengthen our economy and we strengthen our trading relationships.

Peter Stefanovic: Carbon charges, they're from the EU. So, our businesses will face carbon charges if we don't improve our commitments and lock them in before Glasgow?

Dan Tehan: Well, that's one of the – that's one of the threats. We've obviously seen protectionist forces at work, and we want to make sure that we're part of the solution so that those protectionist forces cannot come to the fore. What we need to be doing is making sure things like export subsidies, agricultural export subsidies — which actually lead to emissions — that we're making sure we deal with those. That will actually benefit our agricultural exporters. Twenty-five per cent of emissions come from land use in agriculture. Agricultural subsidies generate those emissions.

So, if the world's serious about this, and the US and the EU in particular, ag subsidies have to be on the table at Glasgow. And that's something I raised with John Kerry when I met with him at the Paris OECD meeting. So, we've got to be part of this. We've got to be part of the transition. We've got to take our regions with us. But if we don't, our exporters face a real threat from protectionist forces.

Peter Stefanovic: Okay. There's definitely a lot of movement when it comes to international travel. We're going to be able to get our passports, our vaccine passports, that will facilitate international travel from tomorrow. You're also looking at increasing the amount of people – skilled workers – we can get from Britain. Now, ever since New South Wales has reopened, a lot of businesses have complained, Minister, that they don't have enough workers. So, realistically, when do you think we can increase migration to kind of plug that hole?

Dan Tehan: Well, we need to get our international students back, we need to get our working holiday visa maker visa holders back. We've got to make sure we can get the Pacific Labour Scheme, our agriculture working scheme, all up and running and get all those people back as soon as we can. Obviously returning Australians are the priority but my view is that we can start getting the rest back and including international tourists by Christmas.

I think New South Wales, obviously, is leading the way. But if we can keep going, keep getting those vaccination rates as high as they can be, then my view is we can get all those other visa holders, those international citizens, back as well before Christmas. So, as we open up we make sure we've got the workforce to really drive our economic recovery out of this pandemic.

Peter Stefanovic: Okay. So the Prime Minister pushed back on Dominic Perrottet last week saying, “Whoa, not so fast when it comes to, you know, free international travel. First of all, our citizens have to prioritised.” So I think you just sort of talked about that, too. When do you think we'll be able to have unrestricted holiday travel leaving Australia, coming back through Sydney? When do you think that will be in place? Before Christmas?

Dan Tehan: Well, my hope is that, you know, obviously we've got to get New South Wales to that double vaxxed 80 per cent rate and then we can start looking at these things.

Peter Stefanovic: Well, that's been passed.

Dan Tehan: This is the national plan. Sorry? Sorry, Peter?

Peter Stefanovic: That's been passed now. Passed on the weekend, so we can move forward on that one.

Dan Tehan: But we've got to get the 80 per cent for the national rate. So that's the national plan. It's each state and then the national rate. So as soon as we get that national 80 per cent rate we can start looking at these things, returning Australians first. And in my view, before Christmas we can start looking at the tourists, the international students, the working holiday visa makers and our Pacific workforce. Because we're going to need that workforce to drive our economic recovery as we come out of this pandemic. They're going to be an absolute key to it.

Peter Stefanovic: Dan Tehan, good to see you. Thanks for your time.

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