Interview with Andrew Clennell, Sky News

  • Transcript, E&OE
Tourism relationship with New Zealand, Australia-China relationship, Prime Minister’s overseas travel, EU trade agreement, Balance of power in the senate.

Andrew Clennell, Host: Joining me now is Trade Minister Don Farrell at Sydney airport, and he joins us with Foreign Minister Penny Wong due to speak later on this afternoon. She’s in Singapore meeting with her Chinese counterpart there. After that she’ll fly to Bali for a G20 meeting.

Don Farrell, thanks for joining us, and you’ve been busy, too. You’ve been talking to the New Zealand Prime Minister as I understand it. What occurred there this afternoon?

Don Farrell, Minister for Trade: Look, we had a meeting with the New Zealand Prime Minister and her Tourism Minister, Minister Nash. We talked about the advantages of tourism between Australia and New Zealand. We’re obviously great friends as countries. Both of us have been suffering during the pandemic, but now that the borders are open it’s important that the tourism relationships get back to normal.

We spent the morning both discussing privately about how we might get things moving again in that direction, and we also had a panel with the Tourism Minister and our own head of Tourism Australia, where we discussed some of the issues that have gone on in the past. Some of the issues like labour shortages and how we might progress into the future.

Andrew Clennell: I guess maybe we’re hoping for some New Zealand workers over here. It seems a bit slow, the movement back in once the borders have opened.

Minister for Trade: Yes, look, things have been slow. But I’m hopeful that the problems of the past can be corrected. There’s a lot of goodwill with the Prime Minister. As you know, she recently met our Prime Minister, and there’s a lot of goodwill between the two countries. I think we have to build on that, and we just have to get not only labour mobility moving, but we also need to get New Zealand tourists back spending money in Australia. And, of course, the New Zealanders will want something reciprocal. They’ll want us to send Australian tourists over there.

In fact, what I’m told is because it’s a school holiday on the east coast of Australia there’s lots and lots of Australians going to Queenstown to take advantage of their very high snow dump this year.

Andrew Clennell: Oh, in Queenstown, fair enough. What are you expecting from the Foreign Minister’s talks with her Chinese counterpart in the next day or two? We’ve obviously had Richard Marles able to speak to his counterpart. You were unsuccessful in getting a meeting with your Chinese counterpart. But there seems to be a bit of a thawing of relations with China even as the Prime Minister talks about concerns about China.

Minister for Trade: Look, I won’t steal Minister Wong’s thunder here. I’m sure she’ll be able to speak for herself, as she always does so very well, on her discussions with our international counterparts.

Andrew Clennell: To what do you attribute, though, this increased engagement with Chinese authorities?

Minister for Trade: Look, it was a sensible thing to do. I think under the previous government there’d been a very bellicose attitude not just to the Chinese but to a whole range of people who might otherwise be considered our friends. We saw the interaction between President Macron and Australian journalists, and we saw his expressions of concerns about how he thought he was being treated by the previous government.

We want good relationships with all the countries that we trade with. We want long-term arrangements with them, and we want sensible, mature arrangements. And I think all of the things that the Prime Minister has done, the Deputy Prime Minister and now Foreign Minister are doing are all pointed in that direction.

We’ve got to repair the damage that was done by the previous government, and we’ve set about doing that, and we’ve set about doing that in a sensible and mature fashion.

Andrew Clennell: And you’re at the centre of this, aren’t you Don Farrell. Because, you know, trade - it’s the trade sanctions that China has imposed on Australia that the PM’s made clear is holding up the relationship at the moment. I know you weren’t able to get that meeting. Does the government, as yet anyway, have some strategies on how it can convince China to change its mind on this front? The Chinese government, of course, says “We’re doing nothing wrong.”

Minister for Trade: Well, we don’t agree with them. We very strongly disagree with them, Andrew. They’ve imposed a range of quite unfair and unreasonable tariffs on Australian goods. Can I just give you one example?

Andrew Clennell: Sure.

Minister for Trade: I’ve got a little vineyard in the beautiful Clare Valley in South Australia. Both of my neighbours used to export fantastic Clare Valley wines to China. Both of them have left their Shiraz grapes on the vine this year. So it’s having a direct impact on Australian prosperity and on Australian standards of living.

We have to get the Chinese to lift those bans. The bans now constitute about $20 billion worth of trade. So that’s how much is being affected, and it’s not just wine – it’s barley, it’s meat, it’s crayfish – a whole range of products where there are now unfair and unreasonable Chinese bans.

We are taking action through the World Trade Organisation. I was over there a few weeks ago. I was hoping for the opportunity to meet my Chinese counterpart. We put out the olive branch. So far we haven’t been able to get that organised, but I’m hopeful that in the future we will be able to meet.

It wasn’t an absolute rejection. It wasn’t saying, “Look, we won’t meet.” They simply said, “On this occasion, we can’t meet.” So for the moment, we are taking proceedings in the World Trade Organisation because that’s the only way we can get these unfair trade bans lifted.

Andrew Clennell: Anthony Albanese you would have heard copped some flak for travelling overseas. I guess both he and his ministers have travelled an awful lot in six weeks. He said it was childish criticism by Angus Taylor this morning. What do you say?

Minister for Trade: I don’t think there was a single meeting that the Prime Minister had overseas that you would not have wanted him to be at – whether it was NATO, whether it was repairing relations with the French by meeting the French President, whether it was being are our allies in Asia at the Quad meeting.

As soon as he got back into Australia, what was the first thing he did? And that was to go and visit the flood victims. I think Anthony is doing a terrific job on the international stage and he’s doing an even better job in Australia. I think he’s just doing a terrific job. There’s nothing that he’s done that I don’t think was justified in the circumstances, and, as I said, the first thing he did when he got back into Australia was to go and visit the very unfortunate circumstances of all those people who’ve been flooded.

Andrew Clennell: Sure, but I guess one of the reasons he rushed to do that is because the government’s quite sensitive on this and conscious of it, after Scott Morrison, aren’t they?

Minister for Trade: No. No Andrew, he would have done it anyway. He would have done it anyway. This is a bloke - I have to say, I’ve just been amazed at the amount of stuff he’s managed to do since he’s become Prime Minister a few weeks ago. I’m very proud to call him my Prime Minister. I think most Australians are in that category. And I think everything he’s done both internationally and domestically have been absolutely the right things to do.

Andrew Clennell: What would a trade agreement with the EU mean for Australia practically?

Minister for Trade: Well, let’s understand this: the European economy has got a $17 trillion economy. It’s got a population of 450 million people. The New Zealanders have recently reached a trade agreement. We got a setback because of the issues that related to France, and I guess more significantly to the issues of climate change. Certainly, from the discussions I have had with my counterparts overseas they’ve indicated that they’re two obstacles that are no longer there, and that we should be able to proceed comfortably with the negotiations.

I’m very confident, particularly since the Prime Minister met with the Spanish and the French Presidents, that we are on track for a sensible and responsible free trade agreement with the Europeans. I can’t overestimate just how important this is going to be to the Australian economy if we can pull that off.

Like ourselves, the Europeans now realise they probably had too many eggs in the China basket. They’re looking for alternative markets. We’re looking for alternative markets. I think it’s a very good time to be negotiating with the Europeans right now.

Andrew Clennell: Sure, and just finally, Deputy Senate Labor Leader is one of your many jobs. How are you imagining things will work in the Senate with the Greens and David Pocock having the balance of power? You’d think some policy might veer to the left under those circumstances, or it might be difficult to get things through?

Minister for Trade: Look, I’m hopeful that that isn’t going to be the case. I’m reasonably confident that it isn’t going to be the case, Andrew. We went to the last election with a range of policies where we set them out clearly and concisely. We’ve got a majority of seats in the lower house. We believe we’ve got a mandate for the implementation of all of those programs. We’re going to set about implementing those, and we expect support from the Greens, from Senator Pocock and from the other Senators on the crossbench.

But I believe we’ve got a mandate. We went to the election very clearly stating what we intended to do. There was no ifs or buts about what we were going to do, and we now intend to proceed with that legislation, to implement it in the lower house but, more importantly, to get it quickly through the Senate.

Andrew Clennell: Don Farrell, thanks so much for your time this afternoon.

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