ABC Drive Darwin with Liz Trevaskis

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: National Australia-Indonesia Business Council Conference, Trade and Investment with Indonesia, US B52’s in Northern Australia, Mining in Litchfield National Park.

Liz Trevaskis, Host: We know just how important Australia's trade relationship with Indonesia is here in the Top End. And Indonesia is one of our most important export destinations, in particular for live cattle exports. The National Australia-Indonesia Business Council Conference is on in Darwin this week, and delivering the keynote address tomorrow is Federal Minister for Trade and Tourism, South Australian Senator Don Farrell. He is with us in the studio this afternoon. Senator, ‘selamat sore’, I think for ‘good afternoon’ in Bahasa.

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Well, my offsider here does speak Indonesian.

Liz Trevaskis: I got a little nod from your offsider there. I think I got it right.

Minister for Trade: You got it right.

Liz Trevaskis: Thank you for coming in this afternoon. You're here for a big Indonesia-Australia business conference. How important is a gathering like this for growing Australia's economic relationship with Indonesia? What's happening here this week?

Minister for Trade: Well, we've got over 350 business people coming to Darwin to send a message both to Australia, but more particularly to Indonesia - that Australia is open for business. We've got a country just to our north, 270 million people, and we simply don't do enough trade with them. We want to start the conversation about how we increase that level of trade. Within a couple of days of becoming Prime Minister, the Prime Minister took myself and a couple of other Ministers - the Foreign Minister and the Minister for Manufacturing - to Indonesia, and we met with the President. We took a range of business people along with us. So we want to start that process. We've got this huge population to our north. We've got lots of synergies between our economies and we want that trading relationship to grow.

Liz Trevaskis: So what are the kind of tangible outcomes that territory businesses could see from a conference like this being hosted here? Where's the potential for NT economic growth with Indonesia? Because we know about the live cattle trade and the challenges over the last decade. How might the territories benefit from growing this relationship?

Minister for Trade: I think there are two aspects to it Liz. It's building on the things that we do well, and the live cattle trade is one of those things. Indonesia's gross domestic product is increasing. It's rising. There's a rising middle class in Indonesia. We think we can sell more of what we already sell to them. But then there's all the new technologies. Prime Minister Albanese has said we want Australia to be a renewable superpower. We've got lots of sun and lots of wind. We have the opportunity to have a relationship with Indonesia and other countries to our north, for instance, Singapore, where we can supply them with energy.

I suppose the most promising part of that equation is hydrogen. One of the things that you need to produce green hydrogen is crystal clear water, and there is no place in Australia that has more crystal clear water than the Northern Territory. So that's a great opportunity. I know already the Territory Government is already giving consideration to how they might do that.

And of course, there's critical minerals. Critical minerals are going to go into the electric batteries of the future. The Northern Territory is blessed with critical minerals. That's another aspect where I think we can grow our relationship with Indonesia.

Liz Trevaskis: A couple of interesting points that I want to pick up from that. Years ago, the focus on growing tourism in the Northern Territory was around that growing middle class of China. Is tourism a target market - is Indonesia a target market, I should say, for growing tourism in Australia?

Minister for Trade: Yes, it is. Of course, lots of Australians go to Bali. In fact, if you have a look at the figures, we're almost back to pre-pandemic levels with the number of Australians going back.

Liz Trevaskis: Very quickly, I think.

Minister for Trade: Very quickly, we had to get out of here. But, yes, we want Indonesians to be coming the other way. We think there are great opportunities to build that tourism relationship and of course, the Northern Territory has so much to offer in terms of a tourist offering. So as that middle class grows, we think that there's a great opportunity there to increase that tourism link. We go over there for their beautiful beaches, and they come here for a range of terrific experiences that they can't get anywhere else in the world.

Liz Trevaskis: You are the Trade and Tourism Minister. I wonder if there is ever a bit of a tension between those two portfolios. I just want to ask you about an ABC report today that a Melbourne company has lodged an application to explore for uranium, lithium and rare earths right on the border with Litchfield National Park. Now, these are probably some of the minerals that you're talking about for export potential, but tourism operators have expressed their concern about the impact that this will have on their business. Do you support mining on border of one of the Top End's most popular tourist destinations?

Minister for Trade:  Look, you're right, Litchfield is a really special place and it's a special tourism place not only for interstate tourists, but of course, for the local tourism industry. These issues in the first instance are going to be dealt with by the Territory Government. In fact, I caught up with the Minister, Nicole Manison, a bit earlier today and I know she'll give proper considerations to all of the issues that might arise in respect of this development.

Liz Trevaskis: Can they coexist, mining and tourism, that close?

Minister for Trade: Well of course, you had Jabiru in the middle of Kakadu National Park for a very long period of time. But look, I don't want to prejudge these issues. As I said in the first instance, it's an issue for the Northern Territory Government and I'm sure that they'll look at all of the various issues. There won't just be tourism issues, there'll be other issues that will arise. I'm very confident that she'll give a very significant consideration and come up with the right answer.

Liz Trevaskis: Don Farrell on ABC Radio Darwin, the Federal Minister for Tourism and Trade in Darwin for a big Indonesia-Australia business conference. It’s on over the next couple of days and the Minister will be delivering the keynote address tomorrow. With that focus on Indonesia and that relationship between the NT and Indonesia, obviously the live cattle trade has been so significant. Interesting to note that the export value of Indonesia right now, is the best it's been in ten years. That does seem to coincide with the time since we had the industry shut down following the Four Corners exposé. Has it taken this long, do you think, for the NT cattle industry to recover from that Four Corners episode and the export ban that resulted?

Minister for Trade: I think there's a range of reasons why it's perhaps taken so long to get back to that level. Of course, one of the issues, is that we're simply rebuilding our stocks. The interesting thing right across Australia at the moment is just how much rain there is out there. My prediction would be that because we have had such a wet winter that our stocks will continue to increase, and I think that obviously gives us the opportunity to, in the longer term, sell more beef to Indonesia. As I say, they've got two things there - they've got a rising living standard, but they've also got a rising population - and I think both should work to our advantage. We do it well, and I think we can continue to do it into the future. That's one of the areas where I think we can boost trade.

Liz Trevaskis: I mentioned the export figure for Indonesia for the last twelve months, $556 million. China, a much more significant trade partner for the Northern Territory two-point-something billion dollars. $2.4 billion in exports in the last financial year, mostly around minerals. This week, Four Corners once again revealed that the US plans to park six B52 bombers with nuclear capability at the Tyndall Air Base just outside of Katherine. China has responded to this. China has been critical of this development. How should the US defence build-up in the north of Australia be managed so as not to impact those really significant trade relations?

Minister for Trade: From the Federal Government's point of view, national security is the most important issue that a Federal Government has to deal with. My dad was here in 1943 for two years during the Pacific War, and of course we've had American bombers coming in and out of Darwin ever since that time. We have a very strong defence relationship with the United States. In fact, that relationship was started by the Australian Labor Prime Minister, John Curtin and President Roosevelt in the early 1940s. I don't think there's anything to get too excited about here. We've had a very long relationship with the United States in terms of it sending ships, sending planes, sending troops to the Northern Territory. That's a good thing, I think the world's becoming a more unstable place. America has been a great friend to Australia. Perhaps I might reflect the words of the Deputy Prime Minister, who is also the Defence Minister, and let's tone all this down.

Liz Trevaskis: And that might be the case, and it may be the case that this doesn't change whether we have a target on our back here in the Territory or not. But certainly if China responds to news like this critically, does that not suggest that trade relations might need to be smooth? You don't get on the phone to China off the back of a story like this and say look, nothing to worry about, let's keep going as we're going?

Minister for Trade:  I'm sure the Foreign Minister regularly speaks with her counterparts in China. One of the great paradoxes - there's no doubt we have had some problems with our trading relationship with China. There's some trade blockages in the area of wine which I'm familiar with in South Australia, and wheat, meat and crayfish of all things. But the paradox of that relationship, Liz, is that our level of trade with China has increased over the last twelve months, both in terms of volume and in terms of value. Now there's a couple of reasons for that. The war in Ukraine and Russia has pushed up the value of all of the sorts of things that we export to China. But we want a stable relationship.

Liz Trevaskis: And you don’t think there's any risk to trade with this latest US development?

Minister for Trade:  Look, in all honesty Liz, I don't believe so. The Chinese understand full well our relationship with the United States. We've had a very long and successful partnership, defence partnership with the United States in an increasingly unstable world. We have to make sure that the number one priority of the Federal Government is securing our national security, and that's what an Albanese-Labor Government will do.

Liz Trevaskis: I'm so sad that I've run out of time to get a proper answer on this, but I know you've been campaigning for an increase to the number of Senators for the Northern Territory. Is this something that you are still working on, in a word?

Minister for Trade:  Yes.

Liz Trevaskis: Great. Good to hear. That's all we have time for. The Senator Don Farrell, Minister for Trade and Tourism. Thank you for dropping in this afternoon.

Minister for Trade:  Thanks.

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