Interview with Peter Stefanovic, Sky News Australia

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Tasmanian schoolchildren tragedy; Australia–United Kingdom free trade agreement; COVID-19 restrictions.
17 December 2021

PETER STEFANOVIC: Well, Australia and the UK are set to sign a historic free trade agreement this morning that will see tariffs abolished on 99 per cent of the goods. Joining us live now is the Trade Minister Dan Tehan. Minister, good to see you this morning. Thanks for your time as always. I do want to ask you about this tragedy in Tasmania, though, and start there, because it almost feels like anything else today is quite trivial. But can I just get your reaction to what’s happened?

DAN TEHAN: Well, look, Pete, absolute tragedy, as you’ve said, and thoughts and prayers are with the families at this time. Unimaginable grief for them in the lead-up to Christmas. No-one could wish this upon anyone. And can I just say to everyone who’s been impacted by that, my thoughts and prayers are with you and the unimaginable grief. As someone – as a father, as someone who has children, I just can’t imagine what it must be like at the moment. And I know all the support that will be offered that’s needed to the family at this time and I’m sure everyone in Australia will be praying for those families over Christmas.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Yeah, no doubt. It’s just such a tragedy and really difficult to find the right words. I agree with you on that one.

Dan, also just on to this news this morning that the FTA with the UK has finally been sealed. What are the details and what are the savings, I suppose, that people, consumers, are going to see?

DAN TEHAN: Well, for consumers here in Australia, there’s over $200 million worth of duties that we have on UK goods which will be immediately removed. Similar numbers for the UK. For Australian farmers, it’s wonderful. We get substantial access, for our beef producers, for our sheepmeat producers, for our dairy producers, for our sugar producers, for our rice producers. It, basically, creates a situation where we can trade freely between the United Kingdom and Australia. We used to do it before the UK went into the EU in 1975. We can do it again. And not only that, we can move people between our two nations again freely.

Australians will be able to travel and work in the UK like the European Union residents can in the UK, and for those Australians under 35, you’ll be able to travel to the UK and work for three years and, likewise, those in Britain will be – those young people will be able to come to Australia and work here. So, it’s a truly historic agreement. It is a true free trade agreement and demonstrates to the world, at a time when there are protectionist forces, that countries can pursue free trade and it does create jobs, it creates investment, leads to business growth, innovation. It is a wonderful day for Australia and UK relations.

PETER STEFANOVIC: We’ve spoken about it a few times, Minister, and, you know, the Brits had kicked up a bit of a stink because they thought that it benefited us more than it benefited them, so, in the end, are we bigger winners out of it?

DAN TEHAN: We both win. Everyone wins from free trade. The two countries win. We see goods going to the UK eliminated 99 per cent on entry into force when it comes to UK goods coming here it’s the same, 99 per cent eliminated into force. What it will do is grow our two economies. It will grow jobs in our two economies, lead us to have closer links and really demonstrates that as countries we can pursue free trade and ultimately that that will grow the global economy. So, it is a win–win for both nations. And for Australia in particular, what it does is it rights that wrong from 1975. As a young boy growing up on a farm, I remember when the UK turned to the EU and the hurt and devastation that it caused, especially for our beef producers and our sheepmeat producers. And that rights this wrong, which is wonderful news for our farmers, but also it’s great for our two countries. It brings us even closer together. And at this time of geostrategic uncertainty and geostrategic competition in the Indo–Pacific for us to be coming together even closer like this is great for both countries.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Yeah. Okay. Just closer matters to home now when it comes to the Omicron surge, there is a bit of panic out there, as you would be aware, of, Minister. Are you urging everyone to keep cool heads at the moment and stay calm despite the rising number of cases, even though hospitalisations and those in ICU seems stable?

DAN TEHAN: Yeah, look, we all have to follow the health advice. We all have to make sure we continue to get our booster shots. Our vaccination rates in this nation are as high as in any country in the world: 99 per cent for those over 70; 94 per cent for those over 50. So, we’ve done the hard work when it comes to vaccines. We’ve got the booster program rolling out. Follow your health advice and everyone stay calm. We want families reunited right across this nation for Christmas. We want to make sure that we can continue to open up to the world like we have today. So, I’m sure if we keep following the sensible measures that have been put in place, we keep getting vaccinated like we have and like we will I’m sure when it comes to the booster, we will be able to keep this country open, which is so important for a country like ours. We’re an open trading nation. We’re always very open to the rest of the world. We want to make sure that we can continue to open up.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Just a final one. Would it be your preference that those close contacts in Queensland, that if they had to quarantine it would be in line with the southern states at seven days, rather than 14 days?

DAN TEHAN: Look, the more we can align the rules and regulations right across the country, the better. Because the difficult thing for people travelling is they’re not quite sure what the individual rules are in individual states and territories. National Cabinet met to try to make sure that we can have these uniform policies put in place. So, my hope is yes, we can get everyone aligned and the less rules and regulations are differing between states and territories the better so that we can move freely between states and territories again without having to worry or be concerned with different rules and regulations.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay, Dan Tehan, appreciate your time, as always, this morning, and thanks for always being available on the show throughout the year. I hope you and your family have a great and safe Christmas and new year.

DAN TEHAN: Same to you, Pete. Always a pleasure, and I hope you get a little bit of time off as well and can enjoy a bit of Christmas cheer.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Don’t worry. I will be doing that. Last day today. Dan Tehan, thank you. Talk to you soon.

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