Sky News Afternoon agenda with Tom Connell

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Trade with Southeast Asia, Qantas CEO departure, airline competition within Australia.

Tom Connell, host: For more on this let’s bring in the Trade Minister, Don Farrell. Thanks very much for your time. So, this strategy that’s being launched by the PM, but you’re a big part of it as well, is the plain talk in this it’s another part of the sort of China hedge, if you like.

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Look, it's all about diversification, Tom. We know that when you put all of your eggs in the one basket, that creates a long-term problem with your trading relationship. Here we are, we've got Southeast Asia on our doorstep and we're simply not doing enough trade with them. So, this is not about doing any less trade with China because, as you know, I'm trying to increase the amount of trade we do with China, but it's about having some options, some diversification.

This area is the fastest growing economic area in the world at the moment. Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, just to name a few, are growing very strongly. We're not doing enough trade with them. We have wonderful food and products, we have food and beverage, we have terrific minerals. We're simply not selling enough of those products into the -

Tom Connell: 'Fastest growing' it's a tagline I hear a lot. I'm not disputing it. But is there one thing you could quickly pluck out and go, ‘I can't believe how underdone our trade is with this country or in this area’, that sort of glares out to you.

Minister for Trade: Well, wine into Vietnam. Vietnam has got now a population in excess of 100 million people. It's a lot of young people, but more importantly, a growing middle class. This is a country that by 2045 says it wants to be a developed country. Now's an opportunity, given the problems that we're having in other parts of the world with our wine trade, to get into the Vietnamese economy with our wonderful wine products. There's one example.

Tom Connell: Yeah, okay. And about a third of our two-way trade is still with China. Is your job, I'm sure a bit more diplomatic than this, but you don't want to reduce Chinese trade, but actually lower that percentage through other trade, that's too high in terms of risk, eggs and so on.

Minister for Trade: You've nailed it in one sentence there, Tom. This is about expanding our trade opportunities because we know that the more trade we do, the more jobs we create in Australia. But more importantly, trade related jobs in Australia are higher paid jobs. So, there's two really good benefits. And if you have a look at these GDP figures over the last 24 hours, trade continues to be a very strong performer in the overall performance of our economy. And I want to expand that.

Tom Connell: And I'm sure beyond just a few more cases of The Godfather, I'm not even sure if you export that. Let's talk Qantas, the CEO going early, it was always going to happen. Some of your Labor colleagues are saying, what about the Board? And singling out Richard Goyder as well. Is it time for more change, do you think?

Minister for Trade: Look, I'm going to leave that to the Board itself of Qantas. That's their job. They have to run that company. It's no longer a Government owned airline, and they've of course got responsibilities to both their shareholders, but also their customers. And there's no doubt that the last week or two have been pretty tough weeks for Qantas.

Tom Connell: So, this is the big talk. You're Tourism Minister as well as trade. We need Qantas to be a viable company, but also competitive. What did you make of the Qatar Airways not getting more flights? Was this just a call from the Transport Minister? Were you asked to weigh in? How did this play out?

Minister for Trade: Look, the decision that relates to two-way air traffic between governments and it is a government-to-government issue - are in the purview of the Transport Minister and she's made this call. She's a very good Minister in a really tough portfolio. She's had to look at all of the interests, all of the national interests, and make a decision, some positives, some negatives. But can I say this? The former Liberal Government did exactly the same thing. Michael McCormack, when he had responsibility for this area, also rejected applications by Qatar. And of course, in the last 24 hours, he's explained some justifications for that, which includes ensuring that overseas airlines don't undercut Australian jobs. Now, having said that, my job as Trade Minister has been to try and boost the amount of airlines coming into Australia. I recently launched the VietJet flight from Ho Chi Minh to Brisbane. They’re now -

Tom Connell: Which will be a bit more of an affordable one?

Minister for Trade: Well, I had a look just before I came in today, Tom. $32 from Sydney to Ho Chi Minh. So, on a -

Tom Connell: $32?

Minister for Trade: $32.

Tom Connell: Well, isn't that going to undercut Qantas? How can they compete with that? Why is that a good idea, and Qatar flights are not?

Minister for Trade: Well, we're trying to bring in a range of airlines, trying to expand the number of airlines that are flying into Australia. We recently made headway with China. China used to be one of our biggest markets. 1.5 million tourists, that dropped to a trickle over the COVID period. We've managed to get back on their preferred list for bulk travel. That's obviously another good market for us.

Tom Connell: Yeah. So, when people keep saying, what's the explanation? We get different reasons. Is that the clearest one you alluded to there, that it's not undercutting Qantas? Is that why? Because everyone's sort of out there hearing these multiple explanations, seems a bit unclear.

Minister for Trade: I don't think it's a case of multiple explanations. The issue is the national interest. What is the national interest? And -

Tom Connell: And it's multiple things. So, Qantas needs to be somewhat viable. We want Australian citizens to be safe, there's Doha incidents been alluded to and then we want airfares to be a bit lower, because is the biggest difference between now and Michael McCormack that airfares internationally are really, really high. Wasn't this the time to let Qatar in?

Minister for Trade: Look, look, airfares are high and they're too high. And of course, we haven't got the volume back that we need to get pre-COVID. But the national interest is exactly what it says it is. It's looking at all of those issues, the pluses and the minuses about any individual decision, and they're not easy decisions to make.

Tom Connell: It just seems curious now to be worried about Qantas' viability, which seems to be a big plank of it when it's posted this record profit. And when airfares are so high, surely you as Tourism Minister are thinking, not sure about that.

Minister for Trade: No. I have great faith in Minister King. She's got a tough job to do.

Tom Connell: Did she brief you or talk to you about it? Were you concerned?

Minister for Trade: I don't go into all the discussions that I have with my Cabinet.

Tom Connell: But did you have input, I guess?

Minister for Trade: I don't go into all the discussions that I have with my Cabinet.

Tom Connell: But very broadly. But did you get input sort of as the tourism side of things?

Minister for Trade: It's her job to make this decision. It's her job to decide what issues she will take into consideration.

Tom Connell: Okay.

Minister for Trade: It's not an easy decision to make. And I've got -

Tom Connell: So, it was a line ball one. Is that what we're alluding to out of there?

Minister for Trade: No, she can explain for herself what the considerations were -

Tom Connell: I'm just asking what you mean by that.

Minister for Trade: But you're asking me what's the national interest? The national interest is a whole lot of issues, pluses and minuses about what is the best thing in a particular case to do.

Tom Connell: Penny Wong spoken to the Qatar government. Is that a sign that maybe this decision could be changed down the track? Is it open that we could let Qatar Airways with some more flights in the near future?

Minister for Trade: Look, I don't think that was an issue that was discussed, to be honest with you.

Tom Connell: Is it your understanding at all that this is an ongoing consideration. We might change in six months, or we might go, look at the airfares?

Minister for Trade: I think, you know, companies can always put in a further application for consideration, and Qatar is welcome to do that. Can I say this? Qatar can fly more flights into Adelaide tomorrow if they want to. There's no shortage of airports for Qatar to fly into.

Tom Connell: Canberra as well, but they want the more profitable routes. Look, as an individual, get them into Canberra, I hate flying to Sydney. But the airlines want the routes that get more traffic, that's their businesses.

Minister for Trade: Yeah, but, you know, Canberra, Adelaide, Gold Coast, Avalon, Cairns, there's a whole lot of places where -

Tom Connell: Just finally, what about the competition review, not including aviation? We need to have a look at competition here, don't we?

Minister for Trade: Look, I think there'll be a range of issues that the competition policy will look at.

Tom Connell: Look, but the specific review is not looking at this.

Minister for Trade: Well, look, there's a green paper coming out on this topic, and I think it'll look at a whole range of competition issues.

Tom Connell: Tourism and Trade Minister Don Farrell, appreciate your time on this busy sitting day. Thank you.

Media enquiries

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