Interview on 3AW Mornings with Neil Mitchell

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Flying produce out of Australia.
01 April 2020

Neil Mitchell: One of the areas hard hit by this disaster that's unfolding is export - fresh produce, that sort of thing, seafood, has been stopped. But the government's sort of decides to relaunch flights to get product out - this is a good idea - you get the product out. So you get the seafood out and sell it wherever you're selling it and bring back medical equipment that's needed in this country. That flight, it's going to cost a lot of money. On the line is the Trade Minister. It was announced today. Simon Birmingham, good morning.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Neil.

Neil Mitchell: What's the bill?

Simon Birmingham: The bills is around $110 million, so it's a significant cost, but we estimate that it could see more than $500 million of Australian exports find their way back out into global marketplace and, of course, protect for our farmers, and fishermen, and producers those export markets for the future because once lost, sometimes they're quite hard to recover. And the reason we need to take this quite unprecedented action - as we did in the JobKeeper payments and so on earlier this week, were other unprecedented steps - is that the changed dynamics we're facing was that more than 90 per cent of Australia's airfreight usually leaves the country in the bellies of passenger aircraft. But now passenger aircraft aren’t flying anymore and so our farmers, fishermen, and producers are rapidly now finding that even where they still have customers for their product around the world, they're actually not able to physically get it to them.

Neil Mitchell: Okay. So if the government flies this stuff out and it's sold, who gets the money from the sale?

Simon Birmingham: Yep. So exporters of course are still selling their products commercially and we will still expect them to pay for freight, not just at the normal rate, but even at a premium rate ...

Neil Mitchell: Oh so you’re still costing a hundred and whatever million, $111 million, despite that?

Simon Birmingham: It will still cost that even while exporters still pick up the normal cost of freight. And look, hopefully we can do it cheaper than that, and it depends on the scale of demand. But we're putting a conservative budget there to see us through, we think, the next six months. And what we're going to do now is firstly go out to Australia's exporters and get them to register their interest in terms of seafood, high quality meat, premium horticultural produce - all the type of things from this country that generates enough food for 75 million people we seem to send out to the world. And at the same time we’ll be issuing a request for proposals from the aviation sector to make sure to get flights to China, to Japan, to Singapore, to Dubai - into those key export hubs or markets that ...

Neil Mitchell: And what would you bring back? What would you bring back?

Simon Birmingham: So the backhaul - the return flights - the priority will go firmly to protective equipment, medical supplies, pharmaceuticals - all those sorts of things that we need to make sure that Australia securely gets through this crisis.

I think it was Lucy, your caller on the phone before, and I’d urge her or her producers to get their details through to the office of Karen Andrews, Industry Minister, who has been working hard with many Australian manufacturers who are scaling up production of face masks and other protective equipment, and hand sanitisers, and the different things that we need at present. But they’re also the things that will give priority for the return flights.

Neil Mitchell: So who should she do? Who should she call?

Simon Birmingham: Contact the office of Karen Andrews, the Federal Industry Minister. Karen has been working, for example, I know that there are businesses in Northern Victoria where we sent the military in to help them expand their production of face masks and protective equipment. They've made that stuff previously, but we're putting on extra lines in that business to, to really scale up that production.

Neil Mitchell: Okay. Okay. Exports are going to be a problem once we get out of this, isn't? Or do you think it'll just take off again?

Simon Birmingham: It depends how quickly the global economy recovers, Neil. Clearly, we're taking huge steps in Australia to protect our domestic economy, but the tourism industry and many of our exporters have taken a real battering - some of them right from the start of this, well before we saw the impact in Australia. And of course as China went into complete shutdown during January and over that traditional Lunar New Year celebration, that really hurt a lot of tourism businesses, education businesses, and our exporters. And we're going to be working very hard over the coming weeks and months with the type of recovery strategies to help get them back up on their feet when we get past this crisis.

Neil Mitchell: Thank you so much for your time. Trade Minister Simon Birmingham.

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