Interview on 2GB, Breakfast, with Ben Fordham
Ben Fordham: Now, this is a good call. The Prime Minister is cracking down on foreign interference – he’s introducing new laws aimed at boosting Chinese influence out of Australia. The Federal Government will be able to rip up any deals done by states with foreign powers - at the top of the list the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, and the deal he did with China’s Belt and Road initiative. Live on the line Simon Birmingham, the Federal Trade Minister. Good morning to you Minister.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Ben. Great to be with you.
Ben Fordham: So, is Victoria’s Belt and Road deal with Beijing going in the shredder?
Simon Birmingham: Ben, we’re not prejudging any agreements but what we are doing is exerting, clearly, that Australia’s foreign policy is set by the National Government, set by the Commonwealth Government in Australia’s national interest. And we want to make sure that, where other governments in Australia are signing agreements with other countries around the world, they’re consistent with our foreign policy as I think all Australian’s would expect them to be.
Ben Fordham: There’s been far too much secrecy around these agreements, including deals done with universities. How will this impact universities?
Simon Birmingham: So, universities like state and territory governments, local governments, will have to ensure that if they are signing an agreement with an international government, with a foreign power, that they go through an approval process where, ultimately, Australia’s Foreign Minister gives a tick of approval that an agreement – which may well be for a very valid area of cooperation with a foreign power – is okay, and is in our national interests, and is consistent with our foreign policy. But, they will have to go through that approval process and existing agreements will also have to be submitted on to a register so they can be checked as well.
Ben Fordham: What’s the message to Beijing?
Simon Birmingham: Well, the message to Australian’s is that the National Government they elect to run Australia’s foreign policy consistent with our Constitution is going to make sure that what our governments do collectively is also consistent with our foreign policy. And that’s exactly- it’s not a message to the rest of the world, it’s a message really just to make sure that in Australia everything is done in our national interests, consistent with the one foreign policy setting – not any type of confusing multiple foreign policy settings run by other sub-national governments.
Ben Fordham: China sent a message to Australia when we started asking questions about the origins of coronavirus, they started punishing our beef and barley and wine industry. Was it any coincidence, when China’s Deputy Ambassador spoke at the National Press Club yesterday, he was served beef, barley and wine for lunch?
Simon Birmingham: Well, that’s, that’s a question for the Board at the National Press Club – but I thought it was, it was an exemplary menu that they did to lay out of the some of the finest of Australia produce.
Ben Fordham: Can we play a game of true or false? I want to play you something that the Deputy Ambassador said yesterday at the National Press Club.
Question: What’s the point of a strategic partnership if no Australian Minister can get a phone call returned?
Wang Xining: I don’t think we have received any requests for a phone call.
[End of excerpt]
Ben Fordham: True? Or False?
Simon Birmingham: There have been at least half a dozen requests for ministerial conversations since late April, including a request I made in writing as recently as last week.
Ben Fordham: Half a dozen requests. Why would the Deputy Ambassador be saying that he doesn’t think they’ve received any?
Simon Birmingham: I don’t know, Ben. But again as I’ve said many times before in terms of issues of trade disputes I want to, as Australia’s Minister, sit down and work through these issues in a mature way, and I stand ready to have a conversation no matter how difficult it may be about points of disagreement whenever my counterpart is willing to do so.
Ben Fordham: You’ve checked the area code? it’s +86 when you’re calling China.
Simon Birmingham: And it’s +61 to call me back.
Ben Fordham: Now listen, on another one – that logo that was release recently, the Golden Wattle logo. It copped a lot of flak. We’ve got the famous green and gold Kangaroo, and then you brought out the Golden Wattle and a lot of people said it looked a bit like the coronavirus symbol. It’s now officially been benched – is that right?
Simon Birmingham: So, the logo which copped a lot of attention was part of an overall branding exercise done by a business advisory group appointed a couple of years ago – they finished their work at the end of last year. It encompasses a whole range of different brand features, of which this logo that got the attention was part of it. Listeners should be reassured it was never, never intended to replace the Australian Made Kangaroo, in fact we put an extra five mill into the Roo earlier this year to increase its international recognition and awareness. But yes, obviously COVID means there’s a need to have a look at that piece of work – particularly the logo element – given some of the associations people were drawing. And so a careful look will be had before anything else is done with that in the future.
Ben Fordham: Okay. In other words, it’s on the bench. Nice to talk to you this morning, thanks for coming on bright and early.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Ben, my pleasure.
Ben Fordham: Simon Birmingham, the Federal Trade Minister.