Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: ASEAN Summit, former Prime Minister Paul Keating’s comments, Trade relations with Southeast Asia

Kieran Gilbert, Host: As the ASEAN leaders continue their talks in Melbourne, the former Prime Minister Paul Keating's had a crack at the government. Earlier, for reaction I spoke to the Trade Minister, Don Farrell.

Trade Minister, Don Farrell, thanks for your time. The former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, has accused your colleague Penny Wong of rattling the China can at ASEAN. And he says that top Australian security officials will do anything to try and destabilise a meaningful rapprochement with China. What do you say to that?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Well, I say this, Kieran, that Penny Wong is turning out to be one of the finest Foreign Ministers that this country has ever had. I saw her last night in the room with all of the ASEAN foreign ministers, trade ministers, and she worked the room magnificently. Everybody wanted to talk to her. Everybody wanted to get her views. This is a woman who, over the last two years, has made up for years and years of neglect both in the Pacific and in Southeast Asia. She's been to virtually every country in the Pacific, every country in ASEAN. She's doing a fantastic job. So, when it comes to a difference of opinion between Paul and Penny, I go for Penny any day.

Kieran Gilbert: The former PM also said that Australian policy is at odds with the general tenor of ASEAN's perceived strategic interests. As Trade Minister, as someone who's been to China now a number of times and has built up a rapport with your Chinese counterpart, what's your analysis of that assessment by Mr Keating?

Minister for Trade: Well, I'd say two things about that, Kieran. Firstly, we had a series of bilateral meetings with almost all of the ASEAN countries and I certainly didn't detect any differences of opinion between our approach and those in the region. I think we are on all fours with the countries in our region. But secondly, we have been a government that has stabilised our relationship with China. How have we managed to claw back almost $20 billion worth of trade relations? Well, that's because we have been sitting down, not fighting, but negotiating, talking, resolving our problems with China in a mature and sensible way. That's the Albanese way of doing business. And I think it's delivering. It's delivering for Australia. We've got all of that extra trade. Of course, we can do more. We want to try and diversify our trading relationship and that's the importance of this meeting of ASEAN this week. We think we're underdone in Southeast Asia in terms of a trading relationship. We believe we can do a lot more and we're looking to significantly increase our trading relationship with our Southeast Asian neighbours.

Kieran Gilbert: Yeah, I want to ask you about some of those measures specifically the $2 billion investment facility. I'll get to that in a moment. Just before we move on from China, we see a difference of opinion, say, from the Malaysian leader versus the Filipino leader. And for obvious reasons. Yesterday the Filipino Coast Guard had another clash with Chinese Coast Guard and other militia boats, effectively. Four Filipinos were injured. But it's a nuance, it's a difference of opinion within ASEAN, isn't there, that Australia's got to try and navigate that diplomatic tightrope?

Minister for Trade: Look, I think we can work with all of our ASEAN partners. Australia believes in a freedom of navigation. And that's of course the issue that the Philippines is defending. I attended a speech by President Marcos where he addressed those issues very directly. And of course, Australia is supporting that right of freedom of navigation. We'll continue to do that. I think the ASEAN region is working pretty well together to be honest with you, Kieran. That's certainly the impression I got over all of my discussions over the last couple of days. And I think they'll continue to work together. We want to build a stronger relationship with ASEAN. As I said, it's been underdone and I think we can do a lot more.

Kieran Gilbert: Yeah. This $2 billion investment financing facility, it's to provide loans, guarantees, equity, about boosting trade with the region. Why have we been, as you put it, underdone with dealing with Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines for so long?

Minister for Trade: Look, I think it's been too easy to fly over the region and head to East Asia. But of course, this government's policy is a diversification policy. We're not saying that we should trade any less with China, Japan or Korea. But what we should be doing is trading a whole lot more with those neighbours who are even closer to us, namely Southeast Asia. What we know from all the evidence is that trade is good for jobs, but more particularly, it's good for high paying jobs. So, those people who work in trade related industries invariably get a higher income. And of course, this government wants workers to earn more and, of course, pay less tax.

Kieran Gilbert: Don Farrell, Trade Minister. Thanks. I know it's a busy week for you at ASEAN. Appreciate you making the time.

Minister for Trade: Thanks, Kieran.

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