Interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC Radio National

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: One year since Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine; additional military assistance to Ukraine; further sanctions on Russian individuals and organisations, Australia-China trade relationship.

Patricia Karvelas, Host: Over the last twelve months Australia has sent more than half a billion dollars of military aid to Ukraine. That's along with humanitarian assistance and sending troops to the UK to train Ukrainian soldiers. But the key question is what comes next? Don Farrell is the Trade Minister and joins us now. Welcome back to the program, Minister.

Don Farrell, Minister for Trade: Great to be with you, Patricia.

Karvelas: Today $33 million has been pledged to – for these uncrewed aerial systems and there's also a raft of sanctions on Russians. What practical difference could this make to the war effort?

Trade Minister: We are making sure we do our bit to support the people of Ukraine in what is a terrible, terrible war. We are increasing our military assistance and we are increasing political pressure on the Russian government in line with what all of the other countries around the world think, like us, that Putin should end this war. He should leave Ukraine and we should help rebuild Ukraine and continue to support their fight against this brutal regime of Russia and restore their integrity, and their ability to run their own affairs in the way that they wish to run them.

Karvelas: The Nine Fairfax papers are reporting that ASIO dismantled a highly active hive of Russian spies posing as diplomats in the embassy. The Russian Ambassador remains in Canberra. Why shouldn't he be expelled?

Trade Minister: Look, if you expel the Russian Ambassador then you have no mechanism of communicating our displeasure with the decisions that the Russian Government are taking. These are operational matters of course, and they're not the sort of matters that we discuss publicly. Obviously, there was a report earlier this week by ASIO about these matters. I'm very happy to leave it in the very capable hands of Mr Burgess.

Karvelas: Russia and China showcased their deepening ties this week and just a short time ago China abstained on a UN non-binding resolution calling for Russia to withdraw from Ukraine. Do you share the US' concern that Beijing could provide arms and ammunition to Moscow?

Trade Minister: We obviously would be very concerned if China was to do that. The international community is very much behind the people of Ukraine. That's where we want to be and that's where we think all other countries should be. The sooner this war ends then the sooner the terrible things that are going on and afflicting the people of Ukraine – as soon as that ends the better, as far as Australia is concerned. We're doing our bit to try and assist the people of Ukraine to defend themselves. We're in very constant contact with the Ukraine Ambassador to make sure we're up to date with everything that's going on there and we'll continue to offer our support for the people of Ukraine.

Karvelas: Staying with China. Officials from Beijing and Australia met yesterday. What did they discuss?

Trade Minister: One of the things they discussed was when I might head up to China and so we're continuing to have discussions about that. As you know, a couple of weeks ago, I met with my Chinese equivalent, Minister Wang. He very kindly invited me up to China to discuss all of the mutual issues between us. One of the things he said at that meeting was that the freeze is over and we're moving to a warm spring. I took that as a very positive sign. When I go to China, I want to make sure that we've got as much work done to make that a successful visit to ensure that we get things back to a stable working relationship.

Karvelas: So, you said that that meeting was about having a discussion about you going to China. Is it any closer after those discussions? Are you getting a date? How close is this likely to happen?

Trade Minister: I don't want to build up expectations too much, Patricia. It was a very good sign that the Chinese Minister invited me to China. I've not met him before face-to-face. In fact, he has never met an Australian Trade Minister before our discussions a couple of weeks ago. So, we have to take this a little bit at a time. Obviously, relations had deteriorated over the last few years. My job is to normalise those relations, explain to the Chinese why we believe that the trade impediments that affect about $20 billion worth of Australian goods should be lifted, should be resolved, and that we get back to that normalised trading relationship between our own countries.

Karvelas: No, go ahead. Sorry.

Trade Minister: We don't want to do that in a way that either affects our national interests or our national security. But we do believe that there's a way through this. The Prime Minister and, of course, the Foreign Minister have been working very hard to normalise that relationship. My job now is to build on the good work that both Prime Minister Albanese and Foreign Minister Wong have done and to get those trade impediments lifted so that Australian businesses have an opportunity to resume trade in the way that they previously did. And, of course, so Chinese consumers have an opportunity to get the great food and wine that Australia produces.

Karvelas: Yeah, I mean, you've just mentioned trade in detail, but have you gotten any closer to actually getting those trade sanctions on timber and wine and beef lifted?

Trade Minister: Look, there's a whole lot of positive signs in a whole range of products that indicate that bit by bit, these issues are going to be resolved. The problems didn't occur overnight, and they're not going to be resolved overnight.

Karvelas: When you say bit by bit, sorry to interrupt, you're saying, have you got an indication that it will be a phased approach on some of those sanctions, and do we know which might be put forward first?

Trade Minister: Let's look at some of the things that we do know. The day after we had our meeting, which was a virtual meeting, not a face-to-face meeting, for the first time, coal had been imported into China. Since then, there's been one or two other coal shipments that have arrived in China. I was at the Geraldton Lobster factory earlier this week, and they told me that for the first time in a number of years, when they submitted an application for an import permit, that that permit was not rejected. They've taken that as a very positive sign. The Bulla cheese - dairy company have started re-exporting some of their terrific dairy products into China. The [Chinese] Minister himself told me that the ban on timber products had been lifted. So right across a range of industries, I think there's positive signs there. We've got to go further. We want all of these impediments removed, and we want to get back to that normalised trading relationship that we had prior to the implementation of these impediments.

Karvelas: Minister, many thanks for joining us.

Trade Minister: Thanks, Patricia.

Karvelas: That's the Trade Minister, Don Farrell.

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