Interview with Greg Jennett, ABC Afternoon Briefing

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Death of Lalzawmi ‘Zomi’ Frankcom, Australia’s new Governor-General, trade with China, electoral reform.

Greg Jennett, host: Accountability is the baseline demand Australia makes of the Israeli government as it delves into the strike in Gaza. What form that accountability might take is unclear, at least until official investigations are completed. We discussed that and more with Trade Minister Don Farrell when he joined us here earlier today. Don Farrell, welcome back to the studio, always good to have you with us on Afternoon Briefing. Now, Israeli Defence Force's act of killing seven aid workers, including Zomi Frankcom, is, of course, a worldwide point of discussion at the moment. Joe Biden says he's, quote, "outraged and heartbroken". The Prime Minister has made clear he wants full accountability and transparency. What actions does Australia reserve the right to impose on Israel if that accountability and transparency is not delivered? What sanctions?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: We want accountability, and, of course, overnight, the Foreign Minister Penny Wong, contacted her counterpart to express our outrage about what has happened to innocent aid workers in Gaza. And, of course, earlier this morning, the Prime Minister contacted Prime Minister Netanyahu to make it just as clear that Australia is outraged about what has occurred here. We do want full accountability.

Greg Jennett: What does that mean? Does that mean the pressing of charges if and when the actions of individuals are identified?

Minister for Trade: What it means is we want full accountability for what has gone on here, an innocent, young, Australian aid worker who was, putting herself in a situation where she was helping other people has been killed here. We want full accountability from the Israeli government about what's happened here.

Greg Jennett: Australia has previously expelled an Israeli diplomat over the forged passport incident back in 2010. Does it reserve the right to expel, again, a diplomatic representative of Israel over this incident?

Minister for Trade: Look, I'll be leaving this to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, but I don't think we could have expressed more strongly our condemnation of what's gone on here. As I said, an innocent young Australian has been killed in terrible circumstances, and we will continue to press the Israeli government for a satisfactory outcome of this situation.

Greg Jennett: All right. Don, you've been a Cabinet Minister to the selection and naming of Australia's 28th Governor-General in Sam Mostyn, Governor-General Designate as we speak right now. It's a very important choice that any Prime Minister has to make. And the word "modern" seemed to come up very frequently in Sam Mostyn's presentation in the Prime Minister's courtyard today. How will that translate? She's not a judge, she's not a military figure. She is a different appointee to this important role. What do you think she'll do to transform it?

Minister for Trade: Well, I think one of her greatest achievements has been on the board of the AFL and, of course, the fact that she was one of the great protagonists for women's football, which has been such a fabulous success. And, of course, we all know about how well the Adelaide Crows, for instance, have done in women's football. From my point of view, I would be focusing on that. She's got strong links, obviously, with the Sydney Swans, but -

Greg Jennett: More in touch with the people, do you think, than unnamed predecessors who filled that role in the past?

Minister for Trade: I think she'll be a fabulous choice. I think the Prime Minister's hit the nail on the head here with this appointment and I think she'll do a terrific job and Australians will be very proud of our Governor-General.

Greg Jennett: All right, let's move into your trade portfolio. Of course, the China wine tariffs are gone. You've expressed great confidence that the remaining $700 million worth of blockages on lobster and some beef abattoirs will be removed by year's end. But what specific timelines are you holding Chinese officials to on this? Certainly, you did on wine and you did on barley. What are you applying in these cases?

Minister for Trade: Well, as I've spoken about many times Greg, our objective over the last 18 months was to stabilise our relationship with China. I've now met with my Chinese counterpart on six occasions, and on each occasion I've raised with him the lifting of these trade impediments. As we saw over the weekend, we got the good news about wine. That's very important for Australian wine industry, but particularly the South Australian wine industry, because, of course, South Australia was more seriously affected by the impediments than anyone else. 
I continue to advocate for the removal of these bans on lobster and the few remaining abattoirs. I'm confident that the good working relationship that we've now established with my counterpart will result in the lifting of these impediments very soon.

Greg Jennett: More of a goodwill, interpersonal relationship behind that strategy. Let's move on to electoral reform, which is your other hat as Special Minister of State. We had the Voice referendum donation expenditures published yesterday, highlighting the very high thresholds we have for declarations in this country. It's now been five months since the electoral committee reported. When will your reform package hit the parliament?

Minister for Trade: As soon as I can get it agreed, Greg.

Greg Jennett: With whom, though? The Opposition or members of the cross bench?

Minister for Trade: I want as broad a support for electoral reform in this country as I can get. One of the reasons it's taken longer than I would have liked is that I'm continuing to talk with all of the groups across Parliament to see if we can get consensus about reform.

Greg Jennett: Is that emerging?

Minister for Trade: We're getting closer. I think it's fair to say my door is always open and if anybody comes up with any good ideas, I'm prepared to sit down and talk to them. But we do have a report that details all of the really important things that we should do to strengthen democracy, to make it more transparent in the current environment. I want to see if it's possible to get broad agreement.

Greg Jennett: There's a lot in there and you may not get all of it, but a couple of quick thoughts. Enlarging the Senate, particularly the seats for the two territories. A definite on your list?

Minister for Trade: It's not a definite, but it's one of the issues, one of the many issues that we've agreed to talk to the other parties about. Things like reducing the disclosure levels or donations. Real time declaration of donations, expenditure caps, all of these things are important issues, and I want to see if we can get as broad a support across the Parliament to improve the accountability, and transparency of the Australian electoral system.

Greg Jennett: Sure. You didn't mention in that brief list of dot points, truth in electoral advertising. I think the Electoral Commission has some reservations about it playing a role, arbitrating in the middle of disputes here. Is that going to have to be parked?

Minister for Trade: Not necessarily. That is one of the other topics that is a more controversial issue than all of the others that I mentioned, simply because who do you give the job to determine these things? The Australian Electoral Commission is not keen to do it, they told me that directly.

Greg Jennett: So, do you have alternatives in mind to work around that?

Minister for Trade: Look, we're still working on it, and I certainly haven't dismissed it as one of the items which we may bring forward, but until I've got agreement - I haven't got an agreement - I'm still working with goodwill. Anybody who wants to meet with me, I meet with them and look, we will get significant electoral reform in this country.

Greg Jennett: In this Parliament, though? Because time's ticking away, isn't it? It's not the sort of thing you'd embark on in calendar year 2025. So, it really does need to be done this year.

Minister for Trade: I'm moving as fast as I can, but I can only bring the parties with me and my objective is to get a consensus package, if that's possible. If it's not, well, we'll proceed anyway. But I think Australian politics works best when we've got broad support in the system. I'm a great believer in the Westminster system, and I want to improve it and strengthen it in this country.

Greg Jennett: Well, you'll proceed anyway, even if you can't find that consensus. You have full credit to you, Don Farrell, some success as a negotiator so far. So, we'll see if you can land this one in the current Parliament and we'll talk about it again in the near future, I'm sure.

Minister for Trade: Thanks, Greg.

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