ABC Afternoon Briefing with Greg Jennett

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Simon Crean, EU Free Trade Agreement, Trade with China, Tourism Australia campaign launch in China.

Greg Jennett, host: Well, until his untimely death in Germany over the weekend, Simon Crean maintained a lifelong interest in trade, which is a portfolio he had held in government. He was in Berlin working as Chair of the European Australian Business Council when he died soon after exercising. Trade Minister Don Farrell joins us now from Adelaide.

Welcome back, Minister. As I say, Simon Crean has probably been in your political orbit for a long time and predates you in trade. Just tell us, I understand he continued to offer counsel to you in more recent negotiations that you'd been undertaking in Europe. Is that right?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Thanks, Greg. It was terrible news to get last night that Simon Crean had passed much too young. I've known Simon for more than four decades, firstly in his role in the trade union movement and then of course much more recently in both the Rudd and Gillard governments. But since I took on this role just over twelve months ago, he's been a terrific supporter of mine in trying to get trade agreements around the world, but particularly as it related to the European Free Trade Agreement. I was with him last year in Brussels and Paris, and I've had numerous conversations with him again this year. And he was always full of good advice, always happy. He always had a big smile on his face, you could never sort of put him down. He was always very happy, and it's so sad for Carol and his daughters that he's passed at this time.

Greg Jennett: Yeah, no, he was a very approachable human being is probably this description I'd put on it in my own dealings, but -

Minister for Trade: Good description.

Greg Jennett: Yeah, Don Farrell could we take it as given that in his own way through the European Australian Business Council, he was continuing to seek to put momentum behind the potential EU free trade deal right up until his death? Was that a part of his mission there?

Minister for Trade: Look, it certainly was Greg. No day passed when he wasn't focused on trying to improve our trading relationship with the Europeans. Even if we'd got, or even if we get a free trade agreement with the European Union, then of course you've actually got to translate that to practical results, whether it's in agriculture or manufacturing or services. Simon was very focused on what the next steps might be once we got a free trade agreement. And if we do finally succeed in getting that agreement, then it'll be in no small measure thanks to the great work that Simon has done over the last few years.

Greg Jennett: I think you accidentally cast that in the past tense as if to suggest, before correcting yourself that it may not be achievable. What has happened more recently upon your return from those negotiations that gives you hope that it is still salvageable?

Minister for Trade: Look, Greg, we want a free trade agreement with the Europeans. There are 450 pretty well-heeled consumers in Europe. It's an economy of $24 trillion. We want to diversify our trading relationship so that we've got trade agreements with more countries than we do at the moment. On the other hand, it's been a tough set of negotiations. I've talked in the past about the difficult issue of geographic indicators and of course, at this stage, we haven't had a good enough offer for our agriculture into Europe. The good news is that my officials have been negotiating over the last few weeks. And what's the saying - where there's life, there's hope - so, I'm hopeful that with a bit more of a push, that there's some prospect of getting an agreement with the Europeans. We want one, and we see the benefits for Australia. We think the Europeans would benefit from an agreement with Australia. But there's still a lot more work to do, I'm afraid.

Greg Jennett: All right, I do want to ask you about China before we wrap, Don Farrell. But one more, just looking back on Simon Crean, the politician, I suppose, you worked with him, as you say, through the union movement and then through politics. He missed his shot. I think he was the first Labor leader in many decades to not get to take the party to an election. Do you think he was harshly dealt by the caucus at the time?

Minister for Trade: I think if you look back at that period, I think had he been given the chance to actually take us to the election, he would have done much better than people would have expected. He was very professional, he was very focused, and it's just a great disappointment that he never got a chance to take on John Howard, because I personally think he would have done pretty well.

Greg Jennett: He may well have done better than Mark Latham, but let's not go there today, Don Farrell. Look, just finally on China, you have Tourism Australia's promotion, 'Come and Say G'day,' to be launched in China. I think that's coming up soon. Should you be doing this, though, until uncertainty is resolved around coercive and punitive tariffs? We know the goods we're talking about there, barley, in particular.

Minister for Trade: Look, we're making progress on all of those products, and I think just in the next few weeks, we hope to get a favourable decision on the issue of barley. I don't think we can wait until we resolve all of those issues to try and get Chinese tourists back into Australia. Pre-COVID we received about 1.4 million Chinese tourists per year into Australia. We actually want to get those tourists back. They haven't been travelling anywhere in the world for the last few years. We think it's the perfect opportunity for them to come and visit Australia. We know when they come, they spend a lot of money, and, of course, we've seen just how much damage has been done to the tourism industry as a result of COVID. So, no, I don't think there's any time to wait at all. Pip Harrison and her team are all going up to China to encourage the Chinese tourists to come back. We're slowly getting capacity back. We're back to about 50 per cent. We'd love it to be back to 100 per cent or more, but there's no time to waste. We've got our program, 'Come and Say G'day' with Ruby the Roo and I think it'll be a pretty successful campaign.

Greg Jennett: Well, maybe the fact that they're receptive to having it waged in the country is of itself a statement about the restoration of ties. Don Farrell, really appreciate your thoughts on all these matters today, particularly your old colleague Simon Crean. Thanks again for joining us.

Minister for Trade: Thanks, Greg

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