Interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC Radio National

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Tourism Australia campaign, Renewable energy supplies to Japan, Chinese ban on Australian exports.

Patricia Karelas, Host: Paul Hogan, Lara Bingle, Kylie Minogue and Chris Hemsworth have all had a turn selling Australia to the world. You'd have to say with mixed results. Now that task falls to a computer-generated kangaroo. Ruby the Roo, voiced by actress Rose Byrne, is the new face of Tourism Australia's latest campaign.

Don Farrell is the Minister for Trade and Tourism and joins us now from Japan, where he's been pushing to export renewables instead of fossil fuels. Minister, welcome.

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell:Nice to be with you this morning, Patricia.

Patricia Karelas: Australian tourism campaigns have had mixed success over the years. Why is a CGI kangaroo the thing we need to sell Australia to the world?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell:Well, Ruby the Roo is, if you like, the new Paul Hogan. We have in the past had very, very successful campaigns to attract overseas tourists to Australia. We now need to do that again, and I'm particularly in Japan this week because Japan is now opening to the world for the first time in a couple of years. We believe that there's a great deal of pent-up demand for Japanese tourists to come to Australia. But we want to give them a positive and, I might say, happy message about the opportunities to come to Australia.

The Australian tourism industry has been pretty hard hit by the lack of overseas tourists, particularly in Far North Queensland, the Gold Coast, our big capital cities. And we want to turn that around, and we think Ruby the Roo with the voice of Rose Byrne is the way to do it.

Patricia Karelas: There's fierce competition for tourism, particularly post pandemic. Real assessments being made by people about, you know, what to invest in, what to do. At the same time our airports are in chaos and flights here are pretty expensive. How do you plan to make Australia stand out?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Well, all of those things you've just said are correct, Patricia. But all the research that Tourism Australia has done suggests that there is still a great deal of interest by overseas consumers to come to Australia.

And sure, the prices are higher now than they were before the pandemic and there's fewer seats, but that will change as more and more airlines come to Australia, as Qantas puts on more and more – more and more jets. So, I think as time goes by a lot of those issues will subside. And, as I say, there's a great interest in Japan in coming to Australia. They want to get back to international travel. We have to make it as easy as possible.

And look, I appreciate that there's still a whole lot of problems to resolve, but I think certainly the sentiment in Japan is very positive towards Australia. I don't think relations between Australia and Japan have ever been better. The Prime Minister on the first day he was made Prime Minister came to Japan to show support and solidarity for security issues. He's been back again for the funeral of former Prime Minister Abe and, of course, we know that the Japanese Prime Minister himself is coming to Perth in a couple of weeks' time.

So, relationships have never been better. We think that that's filtering down to the community. And we want obviously Japanese tourists to come. But, of course, Ruby the Roo is jumping from billboards here in Tokyo to Singapore to London and then on to New York where next week we'll have our full official launch of the tourism project.

Patricia Karelas: What can you tell us about that? That's the G'day USA kind of launchpad. What can you tell us about what will be involved?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Look, we'll have a full launch of the project. There'll be a little video where Ruby the Roo visits lots of really interesting places in Australia. And one of the key markets that we've lost since the pandemic is the American markets. We used to get about a million American tourists every year. That's unfortunately dropped to a trickle. Again, that's a key market for Australia.

Patricia Karelas: Have we got to the bottom of why, Tourism Minister? Like, why is the US particularly a problem for us?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Look, I think a combination of issues – the price has been an issue to be perfectly frank. And, as I say, I'm hoping that as more flights become available there'll be downward pressure on the flights. The practical issue of availability – we are only back to about 50 per cent of pre-pandemic travel between Australia and the United States. And I guess there is a little bit of lack of confidence still about travel. The Americans consider it to be a long way to go. Australians don't think that way, but Americans do. We want the happy face of Ruby the Roo to be sending out a very positive message to Americans that it's now a good time to start travelling again and we can get those tourists back into Australia.

I mean, pre-pandemic, Patricia, the tourism industry was worth about $152 billion a year. One in 13 Australian jobs was connected to the tourism industry. It's a very important part of our economy. We're not going to resolve it overnight, but we have to start. Now's the time to do it. I'm here Japan, they're opening up this week, and now's the time to do it.

Patricia Karelas: Just on some other issues, Japan and the Republic of Korea are dependent on Australian energy and Australia supplies two-thirds of Japan's coal. But you're looking to change that mix to include more renewables. Is there much interest, and what are you specifically talking about?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Look, yes, there is, Patricia. There's two aspects of this. I'm currently looking out in Tokyo from my hotel room. Every day the first eight hours of energy in Tokyo is supplied by Australian gas and coal. I want to reassure the Japanese that we are a safe and reliable supplier of coal and gas into their economy.

But like Australia, like just about every other country in the world, we are moving to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. And so that means there's got to be a change in the mix of energy. And there's a couple of aspects of that where Australia is going to be really crucial.

One is the issue of critical minerals. So critical minerals are essential to the creation of electric batteries. And Australia generally speaking is either the largest or the second largest reserves of critical minerals. And, of course, the Japanese want to be involved in ensuring that they get access to those critical minerals, particularly for their car industry.

Secondly, as we move away from gas, or transition away from gas, one of the substitute sources of energy is hydrogen either in the form of liquified hydrogen or ammonia. And, again, Australia has the potential to be a renewable superpower in that space.

So, the Japanese companies are very, very keen to talk to us about how they get involved in the process of producing that hydrogen. Already we've started sending liquified hydrogen that's been made in Victoria to Japan. And that offers great opportunities for the future, Patricia.

Patricia Karelas: Minister, in 2020 China placed restrictions and total bans on Australian products like rock lobster and barley and wine and coal. You've met – rather, you're yet to meet with your Chinese counterpart. But you have said that Beijing could be willing to come back to the table and lift some of those restrictions. How optimistic are you that that could actually happen soon?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Look, I'm an optimistic sort of person, Patricia.

Patricia Karelas: Is it just random optimism, though? Like just hoping? Or do you have some evidence for it?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: No, it's more than that. When I first took over the job of Trade Minister for Australia, I issued the olive branch to my Chinese equivalent. We weren't able to meet in Geneva, but on my return, I got a very warm letter from the Chinese Trade Minister, and I replied to him that we were willing to meet at any stage.

There had been some hope that we might have been able to do that on the edges of the G20 meeting in Bali a couple of weeks ago, but unfortunately my schedule changed because of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, and we had to reschedule parliament. And so, there wasn't an opportunity to do that.

But you might note that the Chinese Ambassador to Australia gave a speech to the Press Club a couple of weeks ago where he indicated I think quite positively that China is willing to sort out some of these issues by discussion.

Patricia Karelas: He also listed a whole bunch of demands that we are not prepared to meet, Minister. So how does that line up?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Look, I think in fairness it was the previous ambassador that had the long list of items. I don't think they were repeated by the current ambassador.

Patricia Karelas: They were. They were. He may have a different tone, but the same ideas are being reiterated. I don't think there's been a substantial difference.

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Yeah, look, Patricia, we're not going to do anything that prejudices our national interests or our national security in any discussion with China. We're up here talking to the Japanese. Of course, the Japanese are members of the Quad, a security alliance that includes the United States and India. So, our first priority is national security, and nothing that we do will seek to prejudice that.

But, at the same time, I remain open to have discussions with my Chinese counterparts. We've got actions in the World Trade Organisation to try and get these bans and trade restrictions by China lifted. But our preferred course of action would be to sit down face to face and explain to the Chinese Government that a resumption of – the full resumption of Australian exports would be in the benefit of both countries.

Patricia Karelas: So just to go back to that speech and how you interpreted it, you're saying you saw that as different to the previous ambassador and, therefore, significant in terms of your work?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Since that time Foreign Minister Wong has again met with her counterpart. These problems aren't going to be solved overnight and there's certainly differences of opinion between the two countries. But I guess the other point I'd make in the current circumstance, is that China continues to be our largest trading partner. And not only are they our largest trading partner but the value of the products that we sell into China has, in fact, been increasing. So, it's not all bad news on the China front.

But look, we've got those problems with wine, with crayfish, as you've said, with meat and with barley. We want to solve those problems. We'd much prefer to solve them by discussion rather than disputation at the World Trade Organisation, and we'll keep working on that.

Patricia Karelas: Minister, many thanks for joining us this morning.

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Thanks Patricia. Have a great day.

Patricia Karelas: You too. Trade and Tourism Minister Don Farrell joining us.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: 02 6277 7420
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555