Interview with Sunday Agenda, Sky News

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Premier Li visit to Australia, Australia China trade relations, climate targets, John Setka.

Andrew Clennell, host: Joining me now is Trade and Tourism Minister, Don Farrell. Don Farrell, thanks for your time. What does it say that the Chinese Premier is here about the current state of Australia and China relations, and what can we expect in terms of his visit today and in coming days?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Thank you, Andrew, and nice to be with you this morning. The process that the Labor Government started two years ago was to stabilise our relationship with China.

China is our largest trading partner, and last year two‑way trade between Australia and China was $327 billion. That's higher than our next five trading partners. So, the relationship between Australia and China is very important, and of course overwhelmingly, that trading relationship is in Australia's favour, more than $100 billion more of sales from Australia to China than China to Australia.

So. it's a very important contributor to our economy, and let's face it, there were problems between the former government and the Chinese Government. Our objective over that two‑year period has been to stabilise our relationship, have a mature relationship between our largest trading partners, and to continue to trade with the Chinese.

Today will be my eighth meeting with my counterpart, Wang Wentao, he's travelling with the Chinese Premier. Over the period of that two years, we have managed now to remove all of the trade impediments resulting in about $19 billion worth of more trade with the Chinese, and there's one remaining product outstanding, and that's lobsters, and I will again raise that issue with my Chinese counterpart with a view to seeking to ‑ yes, Andrew.

Andrew Clennell: Are you expecting an announcement on that in this trip, or that's not how it works, you'll raise it, and it might come later.

Minister for Trade: Look, on each of these occasions I've raised issues, and they've subsequently been resolved. I'm very hopeful that that will be the case with lobster. I'm not expecting an announcement today, but I think the progression and the way in which these discussions have gone over the last two years leads me to be very confident that in the near future we will remove all of the remaining trading impediments between our two countries, and we will have stabilised that relationship with our largest trading partner.

Andrew Clennell: You've got academic experts and commentators out there saying we shouldn't kowtow to China to get their trade back, that that's a wrong approach by the Australian Government, that we shouldn't bend too much for them, perhaps not say things we want to say, for example. What do you make of that?

Minister for Trade: Well, I think that's a complete misreading of the relationship that we now have with China. We haven't kowtowed at all. We've continued to represent our national interest and our national security. But what we have done, Andrew, is to stabilise the relationship with our largest trading partner, and that has resulted in, as I said, almost $20 billion of resumed trade with the Chinese Government.

In the last month, since the bans on wine were removed, we've sold $86 million worth of new wine into China. 350, predominantly South Australian, winemakers have now got their wonderful products back into the Chinese market. If that continues, Andrew, then our wine trade with China will be back to where it was, which is over $1 billion. So, we've managed to get all of these things without kowtowing to the Chinese Government. We've got a mature, respectful relationship, and that's what I think Australians would want with our largest trading partner.

Andrew Clennell: Is giving Peter Dutton a meeting with the Premier partly about seeking to shut him up on the China issue?

Minister for Trade: Look, it's not about shutting him up, and just listening to the interview before, I'm not sure that he would shut up. I think the bloke would talk under wet cement.

But, no, look, that's a standard practice when foreign dignitaries come to Australia, we always invite the Leader of the Opposition to meet with them, and on this occasion of course the Chinese Government has accepted the offer of the meeting. We're about a stable, mature relationship with China. That means that you still have to have a relationship with the Opposition, because we're a Westminster system, we're a democratic system. I think it's just a sign of maturity of the Albanese Government that we are happy for discussions to take place between the Chinese Government and Mr Dutton. I see it as a very positive sign. It's not about affecting the way in which Mr Dutton might approach the relationship with China. I think it's simply a respectful way in which we conduct international negotiations.

I think what we should find out from Mr Dutton, and I think winemakers in this state, barley growers, miners, all want to know is, will the Dutton Government, if they were to come to power, would they go back to where the relationship was with China or will they support this stabilised relationship that the Albanese Government has established with China? I think that's the more important question, to be honest, Andrew, because if you're a wine maker, you've just got back into China, it's a profitable part of your business, you want to know whether this stabilised relationship will continue.

Andrew Clennell: Most unlike a politician to be able to talk under wet cement, by the way, Don Farrell. Now how do you view a visit by Premier Li as opposed to one from President Xi? I mean it's been reported Premier Li could be compared to a senior bureaucrat, head of Prime Minister and Cabinet here. Is that fair? Could we see President Xi here in coming years?

Minister for Trade: Well, that would be up to Prime Minister Albanese and President Xi as to what might be the schedule. But Premier Li is number two in the Chinese system; more importantly, he is the equivalent of our Prime Minister. So, this is a very senior member of the Chinese Government, and of course the appropriate person in the Chinese Government for Prime Minister Albanese to be meeting. So, I think it's a perfectly reasonable proposition that our Prime Minister meets with his equivalent, Premier Li. Under the Chinese system, of course, their President is the equivalent of our Governor‑General. That's the relationship. So, no, it's important, it's important for our relationship and our ongoing relationship with China that we do these meetings with Premier Li. Last year it was Premier Li who greeted us in Shanghai when Prime Minister Albanese and myself went up there to discuss trade issues, so it's an appropriate relationship and it's an important relationship.

Andrew Clennell: All right. Peter Dutton has said he won't commit to the Government's climate change 2030 target. How could that affect Australia's international relations, and what do you make of his comments in relation to that, particularly where he says the Government's causing pensioners to freeze at the moment because of power bills.

Minister for Trade: Yeah, yeah. Outrageous, outrageous stuff to be perfectly honest, Andrew, and frightening pensioners with arguments like that is ‑ well, it's beyond the pale to be perfectly honest.

We went to the last election committing to a 2030 target, and despite what Mr Dutton might say, we're on track to reach that target. Chris Bowen is doing a terrific job in ensuring that we make all of the policy decisions that allow us to get to that 2030 target, and I think we will. We're back in the game internationally because we are committed to doing our bit to reach net zero. Everywhere I go around the world countries congratulate us for making our contribution to getting down to net zero. I think it would seriously damage our international relationships if the rest of the world suddenly see that we are not committed to making that contribution. So, I think it does damage us internationally when the Leader of the Opposition fails to understand just how important our commitment to net zero is and to the targets of 2030.

Australia is the lucky country, and we are lucky once again, Andrew, because we've got either the most or the second most critical minerals in the world. We are developing a critical minerals industry in this country which will enable Australia to become a renewable superpower. That's what we're doing, and that's highly regarded and highly valued by the rest of the world. We want to continue down the track of decarbonising our economy we want to do it in a sensible way, and we'll continue to do that.

Andrew Clennell: Mr Farrell. Just finally and briefly, on John Setka, Peter Dutton's accused Anthony Albanese of not being strong enough in criticising him for his threats in relation to the AFL because the head of umpiring used to work at the ABCC commission. How do you respond to that criticism and what's your view of Mr Setka?

Minister for Trade: Well, let's understand this, Andrew. Anthony Albanese, one of his first actions as the leader of the government, kicked John Setka out of the Labor Party. I'm an ambassador for the Adelaide Crows. I want to see the new headquarters of the Adelaide Crows built, and I'll certainly be pushing to make sure that that goes ahead, and that there's nothing John Setka does to stop the construction of the Adelaide Crows' new headquarters down here in Thebarton.

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

Minister for Trade: Thank you Andrew.

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