Interview on 5RM Breakfast with Anthony Milich

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Trade and tourism issues
21 August 2020

Anthony Milich: A couple of very special guests this morning. Tim Whetstone, Member of Chaffey. Good morning to you.

Tim Whetstone: Morning, Anthony.

Anthony Milich: And you brought a friend along to work this morning.

Tim Whetstone: I have, and quite an influential one too I might add.

Anthony Milich: We got the other big guns today. Good morning to the Honorable Simon Birmingham. How are you? Welcome to the Riverland.

Simon Birmingham: Great to be here again. Thank you very much.

Anthony Milich: And has Tim been showing you around, showing you all the sights?

Simon Birmingham: Tim has made sure that we haven't stopped moving in terms of getting around across the many amazing exporting businesses and tourism businesses here in the Riverland.

Anthony Milich: So for those who don't know, you are the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment - three ticks for the Riverland of Mallee really, because we're big on all of those.

Simon Birmingham: Very much. A big part of South Australia's economy, a real export powerhouse out of SA coming here from the Riverland and just so many businesses across a number of different sectors that make a big, big contribution.

Anthony Milich: Now you're a South Australian boy originally, aren't you?

Simon Birmingham: Absolutely. Still am.

Anthony Milich: Alright. Yep, still am.

Simon Birmingham: Just having to go to Canberra a bit too often.

Anthony Milich: Okay. And having a look at your political resume, I must say it's very impressive for a young bloke.

Simon Birmingham: Oh thank you. Thanks for calling me a young bloke. I'll take that one and bank it.

Anthony Milich: Now, one thing I did come across, I just want to touch on it. Obviously we've got a guest coming into the studio so we always do the old Google search, and it come up that you were the author of a couple of books. Now are these book books? Or is this something political? I mean, there's one here that caught my eye was The Effectiveness of Current Regulatory Arrangements in Dealing with Radio Simulcast. But it refers to it as a book - it's a PDF thing.

Simon Birmingham: I'm not sure what's what Dr Google's turned up there

Anthony Milich: It's got you as a recognised author of books.

Simon Birmingham: There we go. This is something I've learned about myself this morning it seems. They might be sort of obscure Senate committee reports [indistinct]…

Anthony Milich: Okay. That's what I thought I'd get to the bottom of, because Tim's been working on a book which is the effectiveness of ginger in the of making of award winning jam. [Laughs] So you might be able to help him out that. So you worked on a lot of projects over the years, you've have held a couple of different portfolios, and it's never been a dull moment for you really, has it?

Simon Birmingham: Well it certainly hasn't, and this year is just a remarkable one in terms of all of the disruption that's happened to so many tourism businesses around the country. And that's why we stepped up with programs like JobKeeper at the federal government level, to help keep businesses afloat and people employed during what's been a pretty crazy time. And equally in the trade portfolio on the export side we've had to put in place multi-million dollar program to get planes flying with freight out of the country, because much of our premium produce - not so much for this region. But last week I was over in the west coast talking to many the fishing industry guys, and to get live seafood and fresh chilled seafood out of the country it's got to get to market in a timely way. And more than 90 per cent of Australia's airfreight usually goes out of the belly of passenger aircraft. And so they're not flying right now.

Anthony Milich: Yeah, I see. Yep.

Simon Birmingham: And so we've now supported more than a billion dollars' worth of exports out of Australia to keep flying even though those passenger planes aren't in the sky.

Anthony Milich: As I said, a very vast political career on your resume there. What's the most important thing- if a problem arises – look, we're go through the COVID-19 thing at the moment - is it feet on the ground meeting the constituents, I guess, and getting their feedback. Where do you problem solve?

Simon Birmingham: Listening to people does count a whole lot at a time like this, because you actually need to whittle down where the problem really lies. And so right now we're seeing plenty of people coming from Adelaide and undertaking regional trips, and that's fantastic and it's been a real fillip to the tourism operators right across regional South Australia.

But because Tim, Steven Marshall and the State Government have done a great job in managing the COVID risk here in SA we've been able to open up, people can get out and about, and the dividend of that is really flowing into regions like this. But there are still those operators, particularly of multi day tours and experiences who aren't seeing that sort of business because they usually rely on interstate or international visitors to kind of go into those deeper tours that explore things that South Australians don't think so much they need to do in their own backyard.

So when you get out and talk to the tourism operators you can see that it's a little bit of a mixed bag. Many are now doing it much better than they were and are seeing a lift from that local business. But there's still a cohort that we've got to really think about, well, how do we encourage - particularly as hopefully interstate borders open up over time when New South Wales are doing a great job, and Victoria who is still struggling - get to a point where we can open up. How do we make sure that visitors from Sydney and Melbourne are taking a deeper dive in terms of the experiences around the Riverland and across regional SA?

Anthony Milich: Now- well, both of you guys - Tim, you as well, you've got a very vast career over the years. Has it changed the way that the Liberal Party do business with what's going on at the moment? Is there more connection between – well, obviously you're the Federal Minister and we've got Tim, our State Minister – are you guys talking more? Is there more connection with federal and local?

Tim Whetstone: Well I can, I guess, answer that pretty simply, and that's yes. I think what we see is the collaboration between the Commonwealth Government and the State Government has reaped the benefits. We're seeing large amounts of investment, particularly into regional South Australia like we've never seen before - you know, our road maintenance program, road builds, the support that we're putting into the economy.

And as Simon has said, we are working together to better understand what the needs are of, particularly South Australia but more importantly for me regional South Australia here in the Riverland, and that's why I've been lucky enough to have Simon come up and visit so he can better understand what the Riverland means - not only to the state's economy - but what it provides to the world as far as trade, as far as experiences in the regions. And these- over this- yesterday and today, it'll give the Minister a much better understanding of when I go to him for some level of assistance, he can understand why I'm asking for it and then it can be considered.

Anthony Milich: He can actually picture what you're talking about. Well, what have you seen so far around the Riverland and Mallee, Simon? Where- what tours has he taken you on?

Simon Birmingham: So we've- I mean, I've seen some of the amazing tourism product in terms of Twenty Third Street Distillery and…

Anthony Milich: Of course, that'll be one of the best stops.

Simon Birmingham: … of course, naturally. And the award winning The Frames. But talking also to Tony Sharley about his walking tours business and how that's going, and meeting with Destination Riverland and their leadership.

But also on the trade side we've been through Almondco and Costa Group, and we're catching up later today with Nippy's, with Kingston Estate Wines - so all of the big exporters, but also those smaller tourism operators, getting quite a mix there in terms of hearing from different people, different sized businesses, different roles they play in the local economy. But obviously, exporting of almonds, of citrus, of wine; very big things for this region, very important to the state economy, to our national economy.

Australia, for the last 30 months in a row has run a trade surplus - exporting more than we import - and we're proud of that as a government and that's because of the work of us to open up trade agreements, it's the work of state governments in helping the growth of their exporters – and Steven Marshall's been very focused on that, and Tim's done some great work with many agricultural exporters to get into different markets. And of course, ultimately, it comes down to those businesses who've shown the real capacity to go out, risk some of their business - it's not always straightforward doing business internationally, but people in this region have been doing it for a long time and doing it very successfully.

Anthony Milich: Now, Tim, are you going to wander past, say, the Big Orange and just pull over on the side of the road and go, well, what do you think we can do with this, Simon? Any ideas?

Tim Whetstone: [Laughter] Well, there's been a lot of ideas, you know, they say we could roll it down the road to a more appropriate spot. Or they say we could paint it purple and make it the big grape.

Anthony Milich: That hasn't- I've heard of the big lemon – well, [indistinct] currently. But the grape idea's not bad.

Tim Whetstone: Look, it's an iconic centrepiece to the Riverland and it has been for many decades.

Anthony Milich: It's just a shame at the moment, isn't it, that it's really going to waste.

Tim Whetstone: Yeah, it is going to waste. But, you know, the owners will do what they do with it. And I think the Riverland have, in some way, moved past the Big Orange now, and we're getting on with providing a service to our visitors, and I think that's really important that we are maturing as a region to host and show tourism and having tourism drawcards - and what we're seeing now is the influx of people exploring their own backyard. And it's a perfect opportunity for the Riverland to really put themself on the map, because people are coming up here going, gee, I didn't know that was here, gee.

Anthony Milich: Yeah, didn't know it was such a good place so close to home.

Tim Whetstone: Indeed, indeed. So, very, very proud, and that's why it's so important that Minister Birmingham is here to witness firsthand exactly what the Riverland offers, just like he has previously not long ago brought his family up and had a great time and thought, I need to come back and have a better look here. So, here he is.

Anthony Milich: Here he is.

Simon Birmingham: My nine-year-old wants to come back for her 10th birthday party, she loved the caravan parks so much when we were up here last year.

Anthony Milich: It's so much fun when you're nine, isn't it? Everything's an adventure. Alright guys, thanks for coming in this morning, been a pleasure to have you. The Honourable Simon Birmingham, thank you for your time, and Tim Whetstone Member for Chaffey. Have an enjoyable day around the Riverland and hope to chat soon.

Simon Birmingham: You bet, thanks so much for having us.

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