Interview on 5AA, Weekends with Paul Richards

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: …moving the economy through post COVID-19 recovery, travel within South Australia, concerns about crowded shopping malls, query about Cedar Meats.
10 May 2020

Paul Richards: Simon Birmingham, is the Federal Tourism Minister. It’s my pleasure to welcome him to the program on another day when South Australia has registered no new coronavirus cases. Mr Birmingham, lovely to have you on the show.

Simon Birmingham: Hello, Paul. Great to be with you.

Paul Richards: From one South Aussie to another, happy Mother’s Day. Sir, how’s life in your seat at the moment? Like, when you’re looking at the country and you see that we’re getting out of this, how’s it feeling?

Simon Birmingham: Look, its — and indeed, happy Mother’s Day to all the South Aussie mums there — I at least got to speak with my mum this morning, before hopping on a plane to Canberra today for the resumption of parliament next week.

Yeah, South Australia is tracking remarkably well. And, you know, it all goes back to some of the fundamentals at the outset. As a country; Australia applied tougher border restrictions on China initially, and then other countries, and ultimately the rest of the world — faster and harder than anywhere else — and we did so, at the time against World Health Organization advice that slowed the spread into Australia of the virus. And then across the country, with South Australia leading the way well and truly, we had testing rights above pretty much the rest of the world and that enabled early identification of where there was a case and early quarantining of people around it. And that's yielded enormous dividends in terms of providing a safe, optimal health outcome for Australia and now we've got to focus on maintaining, but also saving the jobs of Australians. And we're spending billions of dollars as a federal government, propping up small businesses, providing wage subsidies to keep people with money going into their accounts. But, that can't go on forever and we need to get people back to work.

Paul Richards: No. Sure. And it's been a remarkable sort of exercise to watch, really, because there has been no playbook for this. And so the work has been done has been very impressive to my eye and to a lot of our listeners, I think we're all very impressed. And the element of safety we feel, and security is sort of a bit of evidence of that. For the Government now, what are the biggest challenges? Is it the economy? The worry that people won’t have the jobs? We're talking about a million unemployed at the moment.

Simon Birmingham: Look, the economy is a real concern for us — that has been a consideration from day one. And that's why we put such stimulus into the economy, it's why we created the JobKeeper payment that acts as a wage subsidy — to really put a floor, not only on the incomes of many households and businesses — millions and millions across Australia and many hundreds of thousands of people across South Australia — but also to make sure that we ensure the viability of business going forward.

If they've had to make redundant their staff, that would have come at extreme cost of paying out leave entitlements and everything else by businesses and that may well have tipped many of those businesses over the edge. And then when the restrictions were lifted, they might not have been there to reopen or if they had still survived as a business they would have lost that that direct employment connection with their staff. So, they’ve now we've got to the point where we've, sort of, put in place the survival mechanism of the business through the shutdown, but we need the shut down to be coming off in a safe way, consistent with health advice, so that we do actually get businesses open again.

Paul Richards: Mr. Birmingham, as Tourism Minister your job has changed drastically and will for the foreseeable future with Australia not able to attract, except for New Zealanders, overseas visitors. And you know, with the border shut and hopefully opening in Australia in the next few months, how's it changed for you? What sort of- how have you moved your focus? What are you looking at there?

Simon Birmingham: Look, I mean, it’s been quite dramatic. As Trade Minister we now find that we've had to run programs to subsidise airfreight capacity out of Australia, and we're doing so in more than 200 different flights at present so that our fresh seafood, fresh meat, fresh produce can still get to export markets around the world — because our farmers worked so hard to win those export contracts and we don't want them lost just because planes aren't flying — so we've had to give it in great; whole new programs there. And yes, the Tourism Minister, as you rightly identify, I never thought that my pre-Easter press conferences as Tourism Minister would be urging people to stay home and not go anywhere.

Paul Richards: Amazing. You’re the only Tourism Minister whose probably ever done that.

Simon Birmingham: Well, I joked at the time, I felt like it was a Monty Python skit, you know, the Tourism Minister against tourism? But, now we know that international travel; both by Australians heading out but also by international visitors coming here more importantly in terms of the economy and jobs is still a long way off. Those border restrictions, as I said at the outset, have been a big part of what’s kept us safe and so, as the restrictions domestically get eased we need to encourage Australians to get out and tick items off their bucket list — to experience things that they've never thought about before in terms of seeing parts of Australia and the wonderful experiences that are there.

And so, now we're still a bit more of the dreaming and planning phase, where things aren't all quite open yet, but I hope that over the coming couple of months, as we see this roadmap and enacted to reopening the economy people will be able to start travelling. And where they're fortunate enough to be able to afford to do so they should do so knowing they're not only going to have the time of their lives and a wonderful experience, with Australian tourism operators, they're also going to be helping to prop up small businesses across regional Australia and possibly save the job of a fellow Australian.

Paul Richards: We might go back to book them out again, the hashtag. You know, after the fires we did that to. So, and will we see this state versus state sort of thing as well? You know, South Australia is the best place to come, I would think there'd be a bit of competition internally now.

Simon Birmingham: Well, you’ll see a bit of- there'll be a bit of competition between the states. But, equally there's also a fair degree that everyone is in this together. So you know, the desire to mobilise people to holiday here in Australia this year, once the restrictions are lifted, will be a desire that all states share. The competition between the states to get people to come to KI, or McLaren Vale, or the Barossa, or head up to the Flinders, or over to the Eyre Peninsula, you know, that's going to be a battle for they SA to lure those visitors from New South Wales or Queensland there when the state border restrictions are eased.

But first and foremost, the green light is there just for South Australians to get out travelling now, if they can, around the regions. And so I'd be encouraging Adelaide listeners to think about if they can afford to do so, you know, planning a long weekend trip coming up, planning that next school holiday trip. And I know that I've already done so with- with another couple of families being- looking towards the future school holidays where we’ll head over to the west coast and enjoy some of those magnificent small businesses over there that have been doing it pretty tough.

Paul Richards: Sure. My guest for the next couple of minutes hopefully from Canberra, is the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Mr Simon Birmingham, who- you said you got on a plane this morning. So you were in Adelaide, I want to ask you one last question, you were in Adelaide yesterday, yes?

Simon Birmingham: Yes.

Paul Richards: Okay. So you'll be most probably aware that Rundle Mall and Marion Westfield were shoulder to shoulder shopping?

Simon Birmingham: Oh it’s- I’ve even acknowledged that I was in Rundle Mall yesterday doing a little bit of Mother's Day shopping with my- with my daughters.

Paul Richards: Did you feel safe?

Simon Birmingham: Yes, it absolutely felt safe. I didn't think that, that the mall was too busy, you know. We were in and out pretty quickly; we knew exactly what we wanted to buy, we weren’t sort of dawdling around and sort of making it a social outing. We were there for the purpose of picking up Mother’s Day presents. The- I think South Australians are in a very fortunate position where they should move about according to the rules but with confidence. So we only now have two known active cases in the state and that is with some of the best testing rates and regimes in the world.

Paul Richards: Sure. Sure.

Simon Birmingham: So the likelihood that there are big clusters of unidentified cases in SA is low and people yes, still making sure that me, and when the kids are with me, we’ve used the hand sanitiser that are there to go in and out of shops, and you follow the guidelines, you know, standing in the queue with that one and a half metre distance from the person in front of — so you do all those sorts of things. But don't- don't fear getting out and about either.

Paul Richards: Carmel is one of our listeners from beautiful Victor Harbour — it’d be nice down there today — she'd like to ask you a question, is that possible?

Simon Birmingham: Yeah sure.

Paul Richards: Yeah. Sure. I'll just get Carmel on. Hi Carmel, how are you? You're on the air.

Caller Carmel: I'm good thanks.

Simon Birmingham: Hi Carmel.

Paul Richards: Mr Birmingham can hear you.

Caller Carmel: Right. What I'm curious about with, is this food that's coming into South Australia, this Cedar Meat factory in Melbourne. Is that- is any of that meat coming into South Australia?

Simon Birmingham: Carmel, I would say yeah, I don't know offhand. I'll be very surprised if it was. But regardless of where it's going, there's been very strict checks around- around that abattoir. Some of the product may well have gone beyond Victoria. There've been no evidence anywhere around the world that food products themselves transmit COVID-19.

So first point of safety there is none of the evidence suggests that eating a product that- that, you know, might have been somewhere where somebody had it is likely to transmit it. There's- all the evidence would seem to suggest that in terms of it living on packaging or anything that anybody has touched that that has a very finite timeline. And so there'd be no real prospect that by the time that leaves an abattoir and finally hits the supermarket shelf anywhere, that they any remnants of somebody's fingerprints on it would still carry the virus. The virus is pretty much only transmitted human-to-human.

And so whilst there are absolutely additional safeguards and checks that have been undertaken in relation to that abattoir, people shouldn't fear that that would have contaminated the food supply in any way.

Paul Richards: Alright thank you, Carmel. Happy Mother's Day to you. Ta ta.

Caller Carmel: Thank you very much. Thanks. Bye.

Paul Richards: Alright. The Adelaide Central Markets — last question, Mr Birmingham — the Adelaide Central Markets were packed today. Have you've got any concerns at all around social distancing in these places? Is that- does it need to be another push? Because we've seen this sort of thing, you know, create second waves. I'm just wondering whether the Government will say: hang on Australia, you’re going too fast here? Because I — It is a concern to me.

Simon Birmingham: Yeah. Look, I think- I think there is a need for people to exercise a bit of commonsense including a willingness to get somewhere and decide, actually I should move on to somewhere else. I probably shouldn't go into the Central Market, or shouldn't go into the shops at this point in time because it looks quite crowded. You know, as we- as we open more and more things up, we should appreciate that plenty of parts of- of shops and places we go aren't going to be able to be like the big supermarket and stores who have somebody standing at the front door counting the number of people going in and out — that's just not practical for a small business, it's not practical for the Central Market with so many entrances and exits and so on that are there. And so people have to apply some common sense and that includes just looking at it and going, you know, that looks too busy. And the only way that we can make it less busy is if people say: I'll come back later for I'll go somewhere else today.

Paul Richards: Yeah. Simon Birmingham, the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment has been my guest. Simon, it's very nice of you to spend some time with me today. Thank you for letting South Australia know about this.

Simon Birmingham: My pleasure, Paul. Thanks very much. And best wishes to everyone.

Paul Richards: Stay well.

Simon Birmingham: You too. Cheers.

Paul Richards: Good on you. Ta ta. There he is, Simon Birmingham over in Canberra for the reboot.

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