ABC Adelaide with Nikolai Beilharz

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Russia, Simon Crean.

Nikolai Beilharz, host: Don Farrell is the Minister for Trade and South Australian Senator and joins you now. Don Farrell, good morning to you.

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Hi, good morning Nikolai.

Nikolai Beilharz: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It felt like the events over the course of the weekend escalated very quickly. Were you surprised to watch this news unfold, that there was talk of treason and talk of a coup against Vladimir Putin?

Minister for Trade: Look, I think everybody was surprised by that Nikolai. We were issuing advice to the roughly 200 Australians that are still in Russia that they should register with the government's Smart Traveller site, and if it's at all safe to do so, that they should leave Russia as soon as possible because of all of the problems that we've seen over the weekend.

Nikolai Beilharz: Is that a change in what the advice had previously been?

Minister for Trade: I think it's a more formal piece of advice to people, given the very uncertain circumstances that now exist post the weekend.

Nikolai Beilharz: And do we know where those Australians are? I'm imagining at least a portion of them would be in places like Moscow.

Minister for Trade: Yes, look most of them would be in Moscow, but like everywhere, you'll find Australians everywhere. The advice to them from the Australian Government is because of all of the uncertainty that now exists, particularly in Moscow, but also in Russia generally, that they should firstly register, but leave, if that's at all safe to do.

Nikolai Beilharz: So there's no enforcement as such behind it at this point. It's a suggestion?

Minister for Trade: Yes, that's correct.

Nikolai Beilharz: Okay, so as the Minister for Trade. What could this potentially mean as well? Because we've heard a lot about how uncertainty or a lack of stability in Russia and Ukraine can have really huge ramifications, even here in Australia.

Minister for Trade: Yes, the war itself between Ukraine and Russia - a war that we describe as immoral and illegal - obviously has had a significant effect on the ability, particularly of Ukraine, to sell its products to the world. That's had a knock-on effect all around the world. We've of course, imposed very high tariffs on Russian goods into Australia, and similarly, we've removed tariffs on Ukraine goods coming into Australia. There's not a huge amount of those, but to the extent that we can assist Ukraine in this terrible war, we want to do so. And, of course, we're continuing to support them with military assistance.

Nikolai Beilharz: That is the voice of Don Farrell, the Minister for Trade here in Australia. Nikolai Beilharz with you for breakfast.

Nikolai Beilharz: Minister, when we talk, and we've been talking a lot, as you can imagine about power price rises lately. And one of the reasons that is pointed to as to why we're seeing higher power prices is because of this war in Ukraine. News like this, again, lack of stability, fear. Does that mean the likelihood is that power prices will go up even further?

Minister for Trade: Look, I don't think that's likely, Nikolai. Of course, when we came into office last May, we discovered that there were some significant problems in securing continued electricity supplies and so we introduced a cap on both the price of gas and the price of coal, and that has kept prices lower than they might have otherwise been. I don't think anything that's happened over the weekend in Russia is likely to change those circumstances. Obviously, there's a significant cost of living issue there, but the government is doing everything we can within the restrictions of laws to push down the price of electricity.

Nikolai Beilharz: As the Minister for Trade, you've been working, or you work with many people, but you have been working with the former Trade Minister, former Labor leader Simon Crean. We've heard the news overnight that he's died suddenly overseas at the age of 74, really being remembered across the political spectrum for his work. Can you tell us about your relationship with Simon Crean?

Minister for Trade: It's terribly sad news and I express my condolences to Carole and his daughters. I've known Simon for more than four decades, working with him originally when he was at the ACTU, and then more recently in Federal Government, both as a Minister under the Gillard and Rudd era, and more recently as Trade Minister. He's been providing me terrific advice on the EU Free Trade Agreement. As a former Trade Minister, of course, he was very familiar with issues in Europe, and he's going to be a terrible loss obviously to his family, but to Australia generally.

Nikolai Beilharz: And we have seen that this has been a moment of bipartisanship where people from across the political spectrum have been paying tribute to him and remembering that. He had a way of seemingly working across party lines in some sense.

Minister for Trade: He did Nikolai, and the interesting thing about him is he always had a smile on his face. He was never unhappy. Even in the most difficult of circumstances, he would always raise a smile and have a joke with you, and try to brighten your day. It's terribly sad that he's gone.

Nikolai Beilharz: What legacy do you think he leaves?

Minister for Trade: I think a legacy of professionalism. He was one to really bring Labor into the modern era, whether it was in terms of our trade dealings, because he was one of the early ones that all understood the importance of free trade agreements, and just how important they were for increasing the prosperity of Australia. But also being a stable and sensible sounding board for particularly younger people, in terms of how they should approach their political career.

Nikolai Beilharz: And he was fit, too, and he's still comparatively young.

Minister for Trade: Yeah, that is the worrying thing, Nikolai. He always looked fit, he was always trim and did lots of exercise. It's a very sad occasion.

Nikolai Beilharz: Well, thank you for sharing your memories of him with us this morning, Don Farrell. Thank you for your time.

Minister for Trade: Thanks Nikolai.

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