Interview on 5AA, Breakfast with Will Goodings and David Penberthy

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Australia-China trade relations, Kiwi’s invited to assist horticulture, agriculture and tourism industries in Australia.
10 December 2020

Will Goodings: The Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham, joins us on 5AA Breakfast. Minister, good morning to you. Simon Birmingham, have we got you?

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, guys. Excellent, good to talk and thanks for what sounds like an awesome job you're doing in providing a bit of SA tourism this week.

David Penberthy: Well, it's certainly a labour of love.

Simon Birmingham: And that's real hard work you've got there.

David Penberthy: That's right. Yeah. No, exactly. So, Minister, can you just give us a bit of sense as to where things are currently at with China? Because it feels like this story is evolving almost on an hourly basis with new industries being targeted every day. What is the latest?

Simon Birmingham: Well look, we continue to see a real pattern of behaviour through the course, especially this year, but dating back a little earlier in some ways. And that is deeply concerning, it's why we have called it out in terms of this pattern - the fact that ongoing individual actions ultimately have a cumulative effect, and that effect is to heighten the risk, sadly, for all businesses in terms of trade in China. And not just businesses from Australia, but frankly, around the world we see these types of disruptive actions have occurred in relation to other countries, and that will mean that many have second thoughts about the risk of trading with China. And of course, that is, that is bad news, not only for those businesses in terms of their export opportunities there, but frankly, for China, too.

David Penberthy: I was thinking back to the late 80s where we had a regime in South Africa that did not share any of our values, and it was decided then that one of the greatest ways to put pressure on that country, to make it address and also its conduct was through trade and where the civilised nations of the world got together and formed a coalition not to trade at all with South Africa. Is there any point, do you think- do you think the relationship now is so toxic between Australia and China, that instead of us sort of trying to be polite and hope that they pick up the phone, and hope that they, they change their behaviour, that we just say, let's just forget about them and let's talk to England and let's talk the US and let's talk Germany and France and all the other civilised nations of the world? And say: we're just not going to deal with China anymore, and isolate them?

Simon Birmingham: Penbo, it's a little bit of both of the points you make there. You're right; that through opening up markets, and from trade, you to get a transformative effect. And in the case of China, it has helped lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in China across our region. It's led to, by opening up their economy and their markets, it's led to longer lives, better education outcomes, better standards for a range of people. And that is good for humanity, and it's something that Australia welcomes and wishes to see continue in terms of improved living standards across the region.

But, is also important that that it is done in a way that is respectful of the sovereignty of other countries. And the challenges we're seeing at present through this type of behavior, of consistent trade actions, and interruptions, is that, that China is undermining the type of rules and approaches that countries are meant to engage with one another under - that it is not being consistent in terms of its approaches, that it's given in relation to the World Trade Organization or our FTA.

And so, other countries are watching closely what's happening in this regard. They're working, and looking at what's occurring with Australia and other instances around the world, and we do need to make sure that we continue to engage others to make sure they understand what's occurring too.

David Penberthy: Would you like to hear from some of our allies and friends globally to speak up a little, a little more loudly when it comes to China's treatment of Australia?

Simon Birmingham: Look, there is, there is significant interest. We raised in Geneva at the World Trade Organization, the concerns we have across a range of different sectors that have been targeted, it seems, for these actions by China, and many other countries have engaged in discussions at the informal level. I guess we've seen other countries come out with Buy-Australian campaigns, people have been encouraging people to purchase more Aussie wine, and all of us from South Australia would encourage that.

But, but at the policy and political level, there's certainly a high degree of awareness. And I think also for businesses around the world, they will be saying that this doesn't just change the risk profile for Australian businesses, it creates as great a- creates greater uncertainty for businesses right around the world and their engagement with China.

Will Goodings: Another issue that you're facing on a domestic front at the moment is seasonal workers - the sorts of people that come in on tourist visas to do fruit picking jobs. We've spoke to people who are relying on that workforce that have been in various situations; some of the people that have stayed on for longer, others are facing some real challenges in the, in the mid-term. The plan to attract New Zealand workers over to do and fill these sorts of jobs is something you're going to be launching over the next 24 hours. How hopeful are you that Kiwis will decide to come over and do this sort of work?

Simon Birmingham: So, we're hopeful we can see some thousands of young Kiwis decide to do a backpacking trip around Australia and to fill some working holiday makers in terms of visas. But importantly, jobs that are needing to be filled in seasonal Australian industries - the agriculture sector, horticulture industry and even parts of the tourism sector. Usually at this time of year Australia would have about 130,000 backpackers around the country. Because of COVID that's only about 50,000 who have stayed since the start of the pandemic, so, that's a big deficit.

And the beauty of these types of travelers is they do jobs that need to be filled, but easily spend every dollar they earn while they're here. They bring the savings with them they spend while they're here, they often go back and ask mum and dad to send them some more money to spend while they're here. So, they are very good workers to have, very good travelers to have, and it's a big part of our tourism industry.

And here in most states, including SA, is open to Kiwi travelers coming with zero need to quarantine because of their successful management of COVID. It's a logical market for us to encourage some of them to come.

David Penberthy: Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham, thank you for joining us. And special thanks also for your patience and perseverance. Good on you.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks guys, have a good one. Cheers.

David Penberthy: You too. Happy with Christmas too, Birmo. Thanks for chatting to us throughout the year, it's been great.

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