Interview with Andrew Clennell, Sunday Agenda, Sky News

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: ASEAN, Israel – Hamas conflict, China trade sanctions, nuclear.

Andrew Clennell, host: Joining me live now is Trade and Tourism Minister Don Farrell. Don Farrell, thanks for your time there in South Australia. Let's start with ASEAN. It seems like a productive gathering of leaders in Melbourne. But I guess it had its hiccups, didn't it? You had Paul Keating attacking the government on China and the Malaysian PM not seeing eye to eye with Australia or other countries on China. What did you make of it all?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Ah look, I thought it was a terrific few days. ASEAN is a very important ally to Australia and of course, it's been 50 years since the first link between Australia and ASEAN and we want to build on what has been a very successful partnership. ASEAN have the prospect of being a fantastic trading partner for Australia. We're underdone there, Andrew. We should be doing more trade with ASEAN. We tend to fly over ASEAN countries into East Asia. We want to do more business with our ASEAN colleagues. And the general sentiment of the week was they want to do that trade with us.

Andrew Clennell: Anwar Ibrahim said trying to contain China would only sow discord in the region. What's your reaction to that?

Minister for Trade: Look, I was actually at the meeting between Australia and Malaysia. Each of the countries in ASEAN have their own perspective on international relations. What I took away from the meeting that I attended with the Malaysian Prime Minister is that he wants what we want, which is a peaceful and prosperous Southeast Asia. And I'm sure that that is his belief, his sentiment, and it certainly is the sentiment of the Albanese Labor government. We want a peaceful and prosperous region and I think the events of this past week give us the best opportunity to build on that relationship and successfully build on that outcome.

Andrew Clennell: All right. The Malaysian PM also had this to say about the wars going on at the moment. He said, why has the west been so vociferous, vehement, and unequivocal in the condemnation of the Russia invasion of Ukraine while remaining utterly silent on the relentless bloodletting inflicted on innocent men, women and children of Gaza. What's your reaction to those comments?

Minister for Trade: Look, we don't step away at all from the policy positions that we have taken, whether it relates to the terrible war between Ukraine and Russia or the terrible events in the Middle East. We condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine and we call for Russia to cease and desist and withdraw its forces from Ukraine. We condemn the attack by Hamas on the 7th of October, on innocent men, women and children in Israel. And of course we've called for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. So, I think the position that Australia has adopted is a sensible position and we'll continue to support that proposition.

Andrew Clennell: Josh Frydenberg wants the PM to visit Israel. He's made comments in relation to that over the weekend. What do you make of that? Should he?

Minister for Trade: Well, of course, Josh isn't in parliament anymore, so I guess he's free to make any comment that he likes. But our Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, was recently in Israel, and of course, she's seen firsthand the events that are going on in the Middle East. I don't think you have to turn up there to understand what's happening in the Middle east. We'll continue to argue for a sensible resolution of the dispute between Israel and Gaza. It is terrible what's going on there at the moment, and we want to work with the rest of the world to try and bring about a sensible solution to the problems in the Middle East.

Andrew Clennell: Paul Keating had a crack at Penny Wong and you defended her during the week. So, in recent months you've defended both Ms. Wong, a former rival of yours in South Australian Labor politics, and you've had some nice things to say about Kevin Rudd, the ambassador to the US you helped overthrow as PM. Does this show what a pragmatic game politics is, Don Farrell?

Minister for Trade: Well, it shows that you've got to respond to the issues as they exist at the time. Penny's been an outstanding Foreign Minister. I simply don't understand what Paul Keating must be thinking of when he makes these criticisms of Penny. She's going to be one of the finest – when we look back on her term as Foreign Minister, she will be considered to be one of Australia's finest Foreign Ministers. She's working tirelessly, in fact, I don't know how she does it, to be honest with you, Andrew. She's visited every country in the pacific region. She's visited every country other than Myanmar in Southeast Asia. She's lifted the reputation and the status of Australia in the region. Why, last week, why did we find that every leader of ASEAN was here in Melbourne? Well, it was because of the good work that she's been doing over the last two years. I don't think anybody would dispute that. The previous ten years, we didn't do enough in our own region. We were focused on the United States, the United Kingdom. Penny, of course, has refocused us on our region. And of course, on any issue, I'd have to say that I think Penny understands Asia much better than Paul Keating ever will.

As for Kevin Rudd, Kevin's doing a terrific job in Washington. You've only got to see the work that he did to get the legislation through the American parliament on AUKUS. It was an amazing exercise. I caught up with him for dinner. We had a really good chat about the good old days when I was at APEC in San Francisco towards the end of last year. So, credit where credit is due, Andrew. Penny's doing a fantastic job and so is Kevin Rudd.

Andrew Clennell: Not sure he'd see them as the good old days, Don Farrell. Let me ask you for an update on trade sanctions with China. The one we've been waiting for lately is wine being lifted. The sanctions China has on Australia, is there a hold up to that? Can you give us a progress report, if you like, on wine, lobster et cetera.

Minister for Trade: Thanks, Andrew. No, there's no hold up. You might recall towards the end of last year, we agreed with the Chinese authorities to suspend our World Trade Organization dispute over wine with China in exchange for an expedited review of their tariffs. The tariffs on wine, Australian wine go up to 220 per cent. That process is coming to an end now and by the end of March that process will be completed. The Chinese trade minister confirmed that to me the week before last in the United Arab Emirates. So, we're now simply waiting for China to complete its processes. I'm hopeful that at the end of that process, China will lift all of its tariffs on Australian wine. But if they don't, then we will continue with our World Trade Organization dispute and we will win that dispute. But this is the easiest way of getting our fantastic Australian wine – I have a little vineyard right behind me at the moment – our wonderful Australian wine back on the kitchen tables of Chinese consumers. As far as lobster is concerned, I also raised that issue and again I got an understanding from the Chinese authorities that they are reviewing the issue of our lobster coming into China. So, everything's heading in the right direction. We're just waiting for some outcomes now, Andrew, and I'm hopeful, based on the good relations. I've now met with my Chinese counterpart six times in the last 18 months. We've built up a strong relationship and I'm hoping that that will deliver for Australian producers, whether it be wine or whether it be lobster.

Andrew Clennell: Will we see a visit by Xi Jinping or Premier Li to Australia this year?

Minister for Trade: Look, you'd have to ask the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister that question, Andrew. We've obviously built good relations. I invited my counterpart Weng Wentao to Australia for, I think, about the fourth time, and he again indicated that he wants to come to Australia. It's just a question of time. But for the other Chinese officials, of course, they'll be in contact with the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and we'll wait and see what happens there.

Andrew Clennell: These comments by the ASIO boss Mike Burgess in recent weeks. Is that unhelpful to a trip occurring?

Minister for Trade: Look, I don't think any comments by Mr. Burgess will have any impact on the timing of visits by Chinese authorities. For the last 18 months, we've determined to stabilise our relationship with China. It was in a terrible state under the former government. We've stabilised the relationship. We always defend our national interest in any of these discussions, but China is our largest trading partner. Last year, two-way trade between Australia and China was almost $300 billion. We have to have a sensible arrangement and a sensible understanding with China going into the future. That's what we want to do. And I think day to day internal Australian political comments don't have much impact on that. It's all about the long-term, high-level relationship between Australia and China and we'll continue to do what we've been doing over the last almost two years now, and that is stabilising our relationship with China. Sensible discussions, discussions that always ensure that we protect our national interest, and we'll continue to do that.

Andrew Clennell: All right, nearly out of time. Don Farrell, just a couple of quick questions. We saw some GDP numbers during the week which caused alarm but seem in line with the government's budget forecast. Does this mean there could be extra cost of living relief in the budget?

Minister for Trade: Oh, look, we've got a fantastic Treasurer in Jim Chalmers. I let him deal with all of those sorts of issues and he lets me do what I need to do in the trade space. I reckon that's a pretty good arrangement, and I'll leave it to him. He's doing a fantastic job there.

Andrew Clennell: Okay wasting my time there. On aged care, it seems, as I reported at the top of the program, the government's close to releasing a report on the future of the sector. Can we expect more user pays in terms of how the system is funded?

Minister for Trade: Again, we've got a terrific Aged Care Minister in Anika Wells and she's doing a fantastic job. I'll leave aged care to her and she can leave trade to me.

Andrew Clennell: Let me ask you one final question I'm sure you will answer. The opposition's nuclear policy. What do you make of it? And can you confirm the government will be running a big campaign on this one, focusing on attacking it in terms of safety, risk, cost, et cetera?

Minister for Trade: I don't think we need to run a campaign. I just listened to your introduction on that nuclear report. I think the reality, unfortunately, the reality is that we've missed the vote on nuclear power. To wait 20 or 30 or 40 years to build a nuclear reactor is simply out of the question. And of course, it's the costs. Under the Albanese government, we want to be a renewable superpower. We've got endless amounts of sunshine, lots of wind. We're developing hydro, and pretty soon we'll have hydrogen in the mix. All of those renewable energy sources will be available well before any opportunity to ever introduce nuclear. So, in terms of cost, in terms of time, renewables are the way to go. Mr. Dutton is simply looking for a reason not to support the net zero project because of internal problems within the Coalition. So, we're going to continue to do what we're doing. Again, Chris Bowen's doing a terrific job in this space. We're going to move to renewable, and that's going to be a long time before anybody ever gets to any consideration of nuclear energy.

Andrew Clennell: Trade Minister Don Farrell, thanks so much for your time this Sunday morning.

Minister for Trade: Thank you, Andrew.

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