Interview on ABC Eyre Peninsula and West Coast Breakfast with Emma Pedler
Emma Pedler: You are listening to ABC across the northwest and Eyre Peninsula; into the home country of Senator Simon Birmingham, our Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, who joins us in the studio in Port Lincoln this morning. Good morning.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning Emma, great to be with you.
Emma Pedler: Now, you’re a South Australian lad, aren’t you? Gawler, is it?
Simon Birmingham: Yes, indeed. Grew up around Gawler way. My folks are still there and of course, as a SA Senator, I try to get my way around the state as best I can. But now, as the Federal Trade and Tourism Minister, I find myself covering much broader fields than just getting across SA but it’s always great back to Lincoln.
Emma Pedler: Yeah. Great to breathe that local air of the countryside.
Simon Birmingham: You bet.
Emma Pedler: Now, I did want to ask you straight off the bat; in the news today, we’ve heard from Senator Anne Ruston and a comment that people are saying that she made at a forum at Murray Bridge in relation to something along the lines of if somebody had an alcohol addiction and giving them extra money as part of a Newstart increase, was more likely to result in that being spent at a hotel. What do you think about this particular story today?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Emma, I haven't seen the precise comments but the way you've just reflected them to me - in reality, we know - and one of the reasons why we want to deal with issues such as drug testing, trials to see whether we can manage to better help people who are on welfare and receiving support to be able to deal with addictions, if they have them, to give them the greatest chance then of going on and getting a job and getting ahead in life. They're dealing with the realities of the circumstances we face.
Now, the vast majority of people across Australia who might find themselves on Newstart firstly get off of Newstart reasonably quickly because they do get a job. Secondly, are doing their absolute best and are working very hard and we want to give the right support to them. But that doesn't mean that you don't acknowledge that there are a cohort where there are genuine problems and that's why we want to make sure that we help them with the additional assistance of identifying those problems and then giving them the support for the treatment of those problems too.
Emma Pedler: Yeah. Actually funding the rehabilitation beds and things like that.
Simon Birmingham: That's right. And so, our policy proposal for the program or the pilot to trial drug testing involves support for treatment as well. And that's really critical because it is about, as I say, identifying the problem, helping people with the problem. Yes, acknowledging that the vast majority of people on Newstart are there for a short time; we're supporting them to get a job. That's the biggest and best thing we can do is to keep creating those jobs but for the cohort who have an issue, let's be honest about the issues and then try to identify and help them with those issues.
Emma Pedler: And then of course, we see in Canberra, the ACT is kind of looking at the legalisation of marijuana. So will marijuana not be included in those drug tests?
Simon Birmingham: Well look, we'll see how that plays out. We're talking about a pilot program in relation to the drug tests and the ACT has generally lower levels of unemployment so it's probably not likely to be the jurisdiction where you kick off with that pilot anyway.
Emma Pedler: Now, you're here on Eyre Peninsula obviously at the moment. One thing that you've been talking about quite a bit and really kicking off today is looking at Export Market Development Grants Scheme which looks at firms with a turnover below $50 million. Just explain what's happening here and what you're looking at?
Simon Birmingham: So the Export Market Development Grants Program is a 40-year running grants program from the Federal Government. Over that time, it's supported about 50,000 Australian businesses to export and really does help small and medium sized businesses to go out and give them grants, financial support, to establish themselves in new export markets, to undertake marketing or promotional activities that will grow their business presence. And it's been a very valuable program, but it's also a very longstanding program.
And today, what I'm announcing is that we're going to have a look at how that program works. We spend around $160 million a year on it and I want to make sure that we're getting the best bang for taxpayers’ buck in terms of supporting small and medium businesses to continue to export. We've seen, since our government was elected, growth of around 18 per cent in terms of the number of small and medium businesses exporting. That's led us to record value of Australian exports, record trade surpluses for Australia. But our commitment is to try to keep growing those numbers of exporters because that's the way we can create even more jobs into the future and making sure this program is really targeted to get the best possible lift for exporters is one way that we can try to achieve that growth.
Emma Pedler: Now, when we look at exporters in country South Australia, obviously, we know the agricultural industry exports a lot of grain out, but locally, I know here on the Eyre Peninsula and through the Barossa Valley obviously the wine industry, the seafood industry, our aquaculture industry; there's probably quite a number of businesses who actually don't make more than $50 million, I would suggest, per year. So this review and looking into that, what- you know, what could be the things that come out of that that might impact them?
Simon Birmingham: So there are many businesses that are eligible and yes, from South Australia we see exports in the seafood sector to the value of around $250 million overall but that is of course made up of many different businesses participating in that sector. And what we want to make sure is firstly, the program is targeted in a way where what people can claim – so is it for marketing costs, promotion costs, travel costs, those sorts of things about how you establish yourself in a new export market – are we encouraging the right type of expenditure? Is it at the right time of a business’s growth? We allow claims to run over, I think it's seven years. So we give people a long period of time. Is that the optimal period of time? Is it the right way in terms of a business that's trying to establish itself in multiple different export markets over a period of time? So a lot of different factors there. And as well is it just administratively simple for both the exporter, the small business and the government to make sure that we're not wasting money on compliance and bureaucracy? But of that $160 million, it is genuinely supporting businesses to get a foothold in there- in export markets so that they can keep growing.
Emma Pedler: Obviously, a lot of our seafood industry businesses and, you know, even wine industry and when we look at trade, China is a very important partner with Australia at the moment. I noticed that you were at an event the other day on your Twitter account at an event where, you know, celebrating Chinese culture here in Australia.
Simon Birmingham: Ah yes, yes. Indeed.
Emma Pedler: How important is that- keeping that relationship with China a happy one and a profitable one for Australia?
Simon Birmingham: Well the relationship with China is very important but it's one that we also have to be mature about as a country. It's important that we respect China's growth and celebrate China's growth. And yes, I joined around 1100 people across the Australian-Chinese community in Adelaide the other night which was a celebration of the phenomenal growth we've seen of China's economy which has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and been very good for our region economically. But of course, we want to see China not just as an economically prosperous country but also one that is a responsible participant in global affairs, in regional affairs, that respects the sovereignty of other nations and that continues to advance in ways that also respect human rights. And we’ll continue as a country to make sure that we stand up for our values, for our sovereignty, but also engage with China as a positively as we can because their growth is the best way to achieve those sorts of advances. And out of this region, we see big opportunities but it’s not just to China as a key market, if we look at the southern Bluefin tuna market, the vast majority of that, more than 90 per cent still goes into the Japanese market and our trade agreements with Japan have seen a halving of the tariffs on tuna into Japan as a result of those agreements that we struck. And ultimately, by 2024 those tariffs will be completely eliminated thanks to those agreements and that allows producers to either be more competitive in the market or to take a slightly greater margin in the market and they’re good things either way.
Emma Pedler: Yes, definitely good for our local tuna cowboys as we like to call them. Now here in South Australia as well, and I will reinforce we are speaking to Senator Simon Birmingham, the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment here on ABC across the north western Eyre Peninsula. The South Australian Government has just come out and said that you know they want to more than double the value of our international exports from the energy and mining sector here locally, as the Federal Trade Minister is that a double thumbs up to Steven Marshall?
Simon Birmingham: Oh look, absolutely. I think what we're seeing from Steven and the State Government is they're having to take difficult decisions in some areas but they are absolutely focused on growing the economy wherever they possibly can and on seizing the opportunities that technology, defence and space technologies can create. And it's just incredible to see and understand that these areas that perhaps historically been thought of as operating in the realm of the cities can actually provide enormous opportunities across regional South Australia too. And so I was very proud a couple of years ago to be able to announce that the Government would commit to establishing a national space agency.
Emma Pedler: Yeah that was two years ago, wasn’t it? Nearly to the day.
Simon Birmingham: That was two years ago now. Pretty much. And since that time Steven Marshall worked very hard to make sure that space agency was going to be based in South Australia. That's great news and now we're seeing some of the spin off benefits of that in terms of the potential for low orbital satellite launches happening in regions like this one. So today and tomorrow morning when I'm here, Rowan Ramsey has got a packed program for me that is talking of course to the seafood industry, to the grains sector, but also catching up with the local mayor in terms of talking about transport issues and amongst all of that I've got no doubt that some of these other exciting opportunities, in terms of how regions like this get the best out of emerging technologies and emerging industries will be a big part of what we talk about too.
Emma Pedler: I think there's a definitely a lot of people quite excited, some a little nervous maybe about the future of the space program and Eyre Peninsula's role in particular that we might play with the overall launch complex that's just been given major development status out at Whalers Way and of course the agreements that was signed with the South Korean company Perigee Aerospace on Monday. So exciting stuff for a lot of people there and I guess that kind of wow factor of the fact that we're getting our fingers in the space pie, so to speak, here in South Australia.
Simon Birmingham: Yeah it is. And look I think one of the things that I'll sort of take away from here I suspect is I'll try to encourage Megan Clark who is the head of the Australian Space Agency to perhaps make a bit of a trip over to this part of the world where she can talk to you Emma and talk to your listeners and to the region generally about some of the benefits and explain how these things work and how it will flow through. Because Megan as a former head of the CSIRO is an incredibly passionate speaker and of course what she can do as well is to translate how those benefits aren't just about the operation of the space technology, but then what that means for farmers and fishers and other industries and actually utilising and harnessing that technology to get greater productivity in the future by being able to identify pests or problems, be more precise in the application.
Emma Pedler: Using those satellite technologies.
Simon Birmingham: That's right and will they will provide a real step change in terms of not just communications but then the applications that you can use to be more efficient, more productive, to identify problems faster, to better understand weather patterns and so on in the future. All of which are so critical for regions like this.
Emma Pedler: And obviously for terrorism as well because you're also Federal Minister for Tourism so you know, looking at the tourism industry and the spin offs that having a local space launch- rocket launching system might have for region as well.
Simon Birmingham: It's- we used to talk about train spotters and there are still plenty of train buffs around the world and there are those who are committed to the aviation sector. But of course there are those who are absolutely fascinated by space technology and will travel around the world to- some of them to star gaze, some of them to follow the space age in its development. And so niche opportunities, you've got to continue to build upon and of course from that, just using that profiling that comes as well to highlight all of the other wonderful attributes that said that we have here. And this afternoon I'm looking forward to getting out to Pristine Oysters at Coffin Bay and Rowan assures me - because I've not made it there before - that these guys are an absolute pinup for the tourism industry but also the innovation they're doing in terms of developing new breeds that can really target some of the export markets as well is something to behold.
Emma Pedler: Coffin Bay will wow you as well as the Oysterfest which is on this weekend in Ceduna. If you had the time in your busy schedule to head up to the west coast.
Simon Birmingham: I know. I'm going to have to definitely get back here and that won't take too much convincing for my wife to come with me I’m sure.
Emma Pedler: Ah there you go. Pencil it in for next year Oysterfest 2020, has a good ring to it.
Simon Birmingham: When I told her that I was going to Pristine Oysters today when we were chatting last night, I said yes it is a scoping trip for a future a family holiday as well.
Emma Pedler: Yeah there you go. I think Cory Bernardi has a holiday house in in Coffin Bay so maybe you can ask him if you can maybe use it if he Airbnb’s it, you might be able to do that.
Simon Birmingham: He has mentioned that once or twice.
Emma Pedler: There you go. Now just quickly the Australian Government is looking into rollover protection for quad bikes. I'm not sure- is this something that your office is looking into at the moment?
Simon Birmingham: Well it's not directly in the realm of my office; I'm aware of the ongoing work in terms of the safety standards there and the advocacy from the National Farmers Federation elsewhere in terms of policy positions there. But the lead work in that space is I'm pretty sure being handled by the Transport Minister Michael McCormack.
Emma Pedler: Alright, I'll leave you with that one then we won’t go into that one. Thank you so much for coming in today, enjoy your visit around Eyre Peninsula. It is one of the best parts of the world, country South Australia as you know, is the best part of the world that we live in.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks. I like nothing more in terms of being a Senator for SA and getting out of Adelaide and visiting the amazing parts of our state and I can't wait to be back here again in the not too distant future.
Emma Pedler: Thank you. Enjoy your time and I believe you've got a Liberal Party meeting on tonight. So you're catching out with some of the local supporters?
Simon Birmingham: We’re catching up across the board in the time here as a local government across all of the different key industry groups and of course, catching up with a few party figures as well.
Emma Pedler: Excellent. Thank you so much for coming
Simon Birmingham: Thank you Emma, my pleasure.
Emma Pedler: Senator Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment and also Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, visiting Eyre Peninsula at the moment. You are listening to ABC across the North West and Eyre Peninsula.