Interview on ABC News Breakfast with Lisa Millar

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Free trade deal with Britain; Victorian Labor Party corruption, pilot for international students.
18 June 2020

Disclaimer: This transcript contains political content. A full version of the transcript can be found at https://www.senatorbirmingham.com.au/news/interview-transcripts/


Lisa Millar: Let's get more on the free trade negotiations between Australia and the UK. The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, got together with his counterpart, Boris Johnson, for a virtual announcement last night with some interesting comments about some of the items traded between the two countries.

[Excerpt]

Boris Johnson: We export all kinds of things including — I was amazed to discover — boomerangs made in the UK exported to Australia. I don't think they come back, but we send them to Australia.

[End of excerpt]

Lisa Millar: Well, Australia's Trade and Tourism Minister, Simon Birmingham, joins us now from Canberra. Minister, good morning. He wasn't the only one amazed, we're all a bit curious about this, do we really import boomerangs?

Simon Birmingham: Lisa what I'm told, and I haven't been able to see one yet, is they're not Indigenous artefacts but they're actually some toy that's called a boomerang. So it's not what people may think when they see the video and I'll certainly be trying to go out and try to see if I can find out just to check it out.

Lisa Millar: Yeah. Please do, let us know. Now look, we know that they very much like our wine, the British Prime Minister is also a bit excited about Tim Tams, but clearly a Free Trade Agreement is going to be much more than that?

Simon Birmingham: Well it certainly is. You know, the opportunities for Australia are immense. The UK is a market of 67 million people. We want to see for farmers that they get a fair crack at this. So for grain growers, sheep graziers, wine-makers, horticultural producers, we see real opportunities for them. But also, in the services sector — huge potential there. We already have large healthcare providers operating in the UK, we want to enhance their ability through working at regulatory harmonisation, making sure we got mutual recognition of standards and qualifications where we can. That can help us in financial services, FinTech, a whole range of other areas.

Lisa Millar: Yeah. And look, when this first started and I was reporting in the UK when it was first touted that lots of talk about the free movement of people — people were hoping that there would be this visa-less travel between the UK and Australia. But at the moment it appears all that's been talked about is a bit of a tinkering with the youth mobility visa.

Simon Birmingham: Look, it's a trade deal first and foremost — it’s not some open borders arrangement and it won't be an open borders arrangement. There will absolutely be opportunity for us to look at how we can, as I say, harmonise mutual recognition of qualifications in areas where we have similar high standards that enable Australians and Brits to travel, hopefully more freely with more ease, in terms of working in the professions, working in different fields. And facilitating that rite of passage that so many young Australians and young Brits undertake in terms of travelling to each other's countries and working in each other countries…

Lisa Millar: So you want to make it easier? You want to make it easier?

Simon Birmingham: We definitely see opportunities to make that easier. But first and foremost, it's an agreement about jobs and creating more job opportunities to the mutual benefit of both countries by enhancing trade in areas of our expertise.

Lisa Millar: You gave the bad news yesterday that most people were expecting anyway — overseas travel off the agenda until 2021. But what is going to be the decider when those international borders can reopen? Because the tourism industry is bleeding every day.

Simon Birmingham: My heart breaks for so many tourism operators around Australia at present. And we know that they were in many ways the first into this crisis and faced the bushfires at the start of the year. And yes, the international border restrictions have been so incredibly important in Australia avoiding the scenes of mass graves in New York, or overflowing hospitals in Europe that we have seen around the rest of the world. And that's why they're going to have to stay in place for some period of time to keep protecting us from the spread of COVID, and to ensure we don't have-

Lisa Millar: So what’s the decider then to reopen them? Is it waiting for a vaccine?

Simon Birmingham: Well a vaccine would be an amazing breakthrough and that could be the game-changer in terms of timing. Otherwise, we're just going to work very, very carefully through our discussions with New Zealand, through work to see how we can bring international students or long-stay visitors back to Australia under terms where they have to do the mandatory quarantine for 14 days to keep Australians safe.

Now, these are difficult decisions and it's also why we want to really see states and territories take down their state borders. Because Australians, historically, spend $20 billion more on travel outside of Australia than international visitors coming to Australia do spend. So it's a huge opportunity for us to back fill support into our tourism industry if Australians who can afford to do so, get out there and enjoy some of the remarkable experiences our country has to offer.

Lisa Millar: We're learning today the cost of quarantine in New South Wales alone has been $50 million putting people up in hotels. Epidemiologist, Mary Louise McCall, says Australia needs a long-term plan. If we're going to start opening those international borders at some stage, we need to be able to quarantine people. What is the plan?

Simon Birmingham: So that's why we're working through a pilot program in relation to international students. Now, it won't be taxpayers picking up the bill for those students in terms of their quarantine period. But we're going to prove that up. It's not just complications of how you run quarantine, it's also questions if you look at a green lane or an open bubble with New Zealand — how do we make sure that those flights coming in and out of international airports from New Zealand aren't, if you like, crossing over with flights coming from other parts of the world where COVID is more prevalent? We want to make sure we protect those travellers going to and from New Zealand.

So there are a lot of things we are working on in the background as to how we run the logistics to keep Australians safe, but reopen our economic activity wherever we can to be able to save jobs across the economy.

Lisa Millar: Minister, the text messages that have been released today from- alleging to be from Anthony Byrne. Lots of people online this morning saying that any other, any other workplace that would be a sackable offence. Do we hold politicians to a lower standard?

Simon Birmingham: [Political Content]

Lisa Millar: Your own party hasn't been short of it though over the years yourself, you’ve got to admit. So-

Simon Birmingham: [Political Content]

Lisa Millar: We'll be putting all those allegations to members of the Labor Party later. So, Minister, thank you.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, my pleasure.

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