Interview on ABC Breakfast with Virginia Trioli
VirginiaTrioli:SimonBirmingham good morning and thanks so much for joining us.
SimonBirmingham:Good morning, Virginia.
Virginia Trioli:Now there's a lot going on in therelationship between our two countries at the moment. And of course we have avisit impending now by the Foreign Affairs Minister andyour call of course in relation to trade between China and America. So let'slet's try and clarify our relationship this morning. How do you see it at themoment between Australia and China? Are we close friends? Are we wary friends?Are we just trading partners?
SimonBirmingham:Australia and China are friends we're friends who have a very strong economicrelationship. China is Australia's largest trading partner and we indeed areone of China's largest trading partners, but it's a friendship that has itschallenges and like any two mature countries, we won't always agree on everysingle aspect of foreign policy, but we shouldn't let that get in the way ofthings that we do agree on and where we can cooperate. And I'm here in Shanghaiat an event the China International Import Expo that is celebrating 40 years ofChina opening up their economy andwith that of course we've seenphenomenal economic growth, 800 million plus people lifted out of poverty andof course, significant economic benefits for our region and for Australia inparticular.
Virginia Trioli:So what's the case key focus of theForeign Minister Marise Payne's visit to China going to be?
SimonBirmingham:Well,this is for Minister Payne an opportunity to have the regular strategicdialogue that we have with China. That of course means that they'll be able tohave a a range of important issues that exists there in terms of therelationship. It will build on the economic parts of the relationship. How wecontinue to get the best out of the China Australia Free Trade Agreement for both nations to grow the economy across our region. AndI've got no doubt as well that those discussions will also look and how we canmost effectively and efficiently work to support other nations within ourregion whilst respecting their sovereignty.
Virginia Trioli:Will Australia raise concerns aboutChina's re-education camps for Muslims that the ABC reported on extensivelylast week.
SimonBirmingham:LookI'll leave, leave it for Minister Payne in terms of what will or won't bediscussed there and Minister Payne is going to come to China at a time wherewe've had a very good lead-in in terms of the economic parts of ourrelationship.As I said, we will always have differences as two nations,Australia has over the years raised human rights issues with China and no doubtwill do so again in the future. But we have a very broad relationship too and Iwould expect in terms of regional development, economic ties, other foreignpolicy matters, there are a range of topics to discuss. Yesterday President Xi gave a very encouraging speech in terms ofChina's commitment to engage me in multilateral fora like the World Trade Organization, to reforms that will open up new parts of their economyand education and health care services and to better protection of intellectualproperty, which is something that we welcome.
Virginia Trioli:Now it's interesting timing, isn't itgiven the constant criticism of China by Donald Trump and of course your call forthe two countries to sort of to get the trade relationship back on track. Chinasort of needs all the friends it can get right now, so is that explain thetiming now that it reaches out its hand back to us here in Australia?
SimonBirmingham:We certainlydue for this strategic dialogue to occur between….
Virginia Trioli:Overdue, overdue really, well overdue
SimonBirmingham:TheAustralian and Chinese Foreign Minister and I'm pleased that new MinisterMarise Payne has been able to get that within the first few months of Marisebeing in the job. That's a great step. Of course it comes on the back of mealready being in China this week. In terms of the US China trade issues we'vebeen consistent the whole way through that we don't believe that unilateralincreases in tariffs are the right way to go. And we've been critical of thatequally we acknowledge there are some genuine reasons that underpin the USconcerns.We're pleased that President Trump over thelast week has indicated that his discussions with President Xi indeed werepositive and hopefully that can lead to more dialogue at the G20. Hopefullythat can head off further increases in tariffs further protection of sentimentand they were certainly views that I discussed with Commerce Minister Zhong in my meetings with him earlier this week.
Virginia Trioli:Now just to some issues back homebefore we let you go, there's a drastic option being canvased within yourgovernment. According to reports today to gain a bit more time in order todefeat Labor. A May election, but also an early Senate election. A Senateelection early in the year and then going to a separate election for the Houseof Reps several months later. Is there a great deal of support for that withinyour government? Do you like that idea?
SimonBirmingham:I wouldfully expect that a normal election will be held in the normal course of eventsin the normal time, which is May next year.
Virginia Trioli:Now on the issue of the ScottMorrison bus, which is getting a lot of attention. It's being paid for out ofLiberal Party coffers, but the majority of the Prime Minister and his team'stravel in Queensland is nonetheless going to be on VIPs on jets, of course paidfor by the taxpayer. You do realise how ticked off a lot of voters are going tobe about that when this is clearly electioneering.
Simon Birmingham:Virginia, Ithink Australians expect the Prime Minister to get out and meet with them andengage and Scott Morrison's travel around the country is no differentto what any other Prime Minister does.
Virginia Trioli:In all the nine key seats inQueensland, the Coalition held seats with a margin of less than two percent.
SimonBirmingham:Gettingaround, getting around Australia visiting places in Queensland and that'sexactly what people would expect Prime Ministers to do and that's preciselywhat leaders of political parties do all of the time and there's no differenceto anything that is occurred in the past. No difference at all.
Virginia Trioli:The difference is that we wouldnormally see these buses during an election campaign. Not when an electionhasn't been called. So why not just call the election and be a bit honest aboutit.
SimonBirmingham:BecauseI don't think Australians like early elections Australians like governments torun their full term and we will do that we'll have the election in the ordinarycourse of events. Scott Morrison continues to get on with the job of governingin terms of support for our veterans, growing our economy a government as awhole we are busy active members of the government. I'm here with more than twohundred Australian companies in Shanghai promoting trade and investmentopportunities in Australia to thousands of potential Chinese customers. Aswe've been discussing. Foreign Minister Payne will be here later this week andthe members of the government are all getting on with their job. The job of thePrime Minister is in part to get out and connect with the electorate and thecommunity and that's precisely what he's doing.
Virginia Trioli:Good to talk to Simon Birmingham.Thanks so much.
SimonBirmingham:Thank you Virginia.
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