Interview on ABC AM with Kim Landers

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Brexit; TPP-11; Canadian facing death penalty; Rahaf Alqunun.
16 January 2019

Kim Landers: The Trade Minister is Simon Birmingham, he is also the acting Foreign Minister, and he joins me on the line now. Minister, good morning.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Kim.

Kim Landers: The UK is Australia's seventh largest trading partner. How much uncertainty is this Brexit chaos causing for Australian producers and exporters?

Simon Birmingham: Well, these are absolutely quite extraordinary and uncertain times, and it could lead in any number of directions it seems from here with just 73 days to go now until the scheduled date for Brexit to take effect.

We see a number of Australian businesses taken contingency actions, and they should also be reassured that the Australian Government is taking very much a belt and braces approach to Brexit, that we, of course, have free trade agreement negotiations underway with the EU, a trade working group set up with the UK. We've also been working very closely to ensure that existing agreements that are in place with the EU that could be replicated with the UK are ready to do so, such as wine access agreements, mutual recognition of qualifications agreements – those sorts of things that are important to keep the trade and market access arrangements as steady and stable as possible in these very uncertain times.

Kim Landers: I know Australia is also looking at the revised Trans Pacific trade deal. Is there any tangible indication that countries like the US, for example, might change its mind and re-join the agreement?

Simon Birmingham: Well, the TPP will have the first meeting of the conference of the party since it came into being this weekend in Tokyo. That will be a very significant occasion and it will, of course, provide the first opportunity for Australia, Japan, Canada, Mexico, our various partners in the TPP to discuss how, if and where new countries may be able to be admitted. The Trans Pacific Partnership is providing huge access to Australia to new markets, giving our producers, for the first time ever, our exporters trade access under a trade agreement into Canada, into Mexico, preferential access into those countries. And it's through deals like the TPP, our agreements with China, Korea, Japan, as well, that is helping to ensure that Australian exporters are able to get access to markets right around the world – and despite the uncertainties we see whether it's in Brexit with the UK and whether it's between the US and China, Australian exporters continue to export at record levels, and they're able to do so because of the fact that our Liberal National government has successfully negotiated and implemented so many of these agreements.

Kim Landers: As the acting Foreign Minister, if I could ask you about the diplomatic row between China and Canada after a Canadian man was sentenced to death for drug smuggling. Does Australia agree with the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who says that China is arbitrarily applying the death penalty?

Simon Birmingham: Well, Australia has a very consistent position in terms of our opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances and we are deeply concerned at this case, as we are in a consistent way wherever the death penalty is applied. Now, those principles in terms of are concerned that the death penalty equally extended to the fact that we expect as a nation and hope as a nation that we will always see the rule of law applied in a fair way and in a consistent way wherever…

Kim Landers: Do you think what's going on in China, is it a warning that if China has a dispute say, for example, with Australia that any Australians in China could be detained?

Simon Birmingham: Well, Australia makes sure that that we engage successfully with many nations around the world. Where Australians face consular troubles, we engage strongly with them as well. And, of course, as I said before, we expect at a level of principle that not only should the death penalty not be applied but also that wherever people are in trouble, the rule of law ought be applied fairly and consistently to all.

Kim Landers: Why was Australia taking so long to process the visa application for Saudi teen and refugee Rahaf Alqunun? Is it embarrassing that the UNHCR had to refer her case to Canada?

Simon Birmingham: Far from it. Australia was processing the application quite quickly. The matter was resolved in a very short period of time. We welcome the fact that she is successfully, we hope, resettling in Canada and wish her well for her life there. But Australian authorities were going through the usual checks and processes following a referral from the UNHCR or a decision from the UNHCR around her status and, of course, we undertake those in a standard, rigorous, thorough way, as Australians would expect for anybody potentially come to our country.

Kim Landers: Minister, thank you very much for joining AM.

Simon Birmingham: My pleasure, Kim.

Kim Landers: That is Simon Birmingham. He is the Trade Minister and the acting Foreign Minister.

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