Interview on ABC News, Breakfast, with Madeleine Morris

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: COVID-19, New South Wales, China.
11 September 2020

Madeleine Morris: National’s Leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro announced his party would quit the Coalition yesterday, in opposition to a koala protection policy. But it’s unclear if that will happen after he told late night television he could now hit the pause button. We'll be speaking to our correspondent, Lily Mayers, at State Parliament very soon, but before we do that let's bring in the Federal Trade and Tourism Minister, Simon Birmingham — he joins us from Adelaide. Minister, you're joining us today to speak about some new funding that you’re announcing for tourism, but first of all I just have to ask you about the situation in New South Wales — can John Barilaro now continue even if he has backed down as the Deputy Premier of the state?

Simon Birmingham: Look, that's a matter very much for New South Wales. Gladys Berejiklian said very clearly yesterday that she is a strong coalitionist, and that she wants the Coalition to continue to work. And really, the priority in New South Wales needs to be backing Gladys in, because she has done a truly exceptional job of suppressing the threat from COVID-19. She's led the way around Australia, and frankly around the world, in demonstrating how effective contact tracing and isolating can manage to beat this thing, whilst keeping your economy largely open and functioning. And it's been a remarkable story of success there, and that’s got to be the number one, two, and three priority for the New South Wales Government.

Madeleine Morris: I mean, he's undermined the stability of the Government.

Simon Birmingham: Well as I say look, these are matters for the New South Wales Parliament and Government to resolve between themselves. But from South Australia, and as a member of the Federal Government, I can be- only be but full of praise for Gladys and her Government overall as to how it's managed the number one problem of our time, which is COVID-19.

Madeleine Morris: Okay. Let's- moving on, so you are today announcing some extra funding to try and boost tourism, particularly around conferences. It's a significant amount of money, but isn't the problem that the borders still remain closed? So how are people actually going to be able to travel?

Simon Birmingham: This is not for events that will happen next weekend, it's for events that will largely happen next year. And it's about trying to make sure we've got confidence for businesses to plan around these exhibitions, conferences, and events. This is a big part of our tourism industry and we saw a billion-dollar lift as state travel restrictions within borders opened up in the June month — that's great news for the industry. But we know that our cities, and particularly the business and conferences market which employs a couple of hundred thousand Australians, is doing it so very tough at present with no bookings, and that spills over — not just to the conference venues but to the people who build the exhibits, to the techies who do the audio visual work, to the caterers, to cleaners — there are a whole range of jobs that are dependent on this sector. And it’s why we want people to be able to start planning, with confidence, into next year to make those bookings and we're providing some financial support from the Government for them to do so.

Madeleine Morris: So, the Queensland Premier has now accused the Prime Minister of bullying her over his intervention in the case of a Canberra woman. It’s emerged that there are many- who wasn’t allowed to travel to Queensland — it’s emerged that there are a number of cases that the Federal Government’s tried to take up the baton on- with the Queensland Premier. I mean, is it time to change tack now? Because it doesn't seem to be working with the Queensland Premier.

Simon Birmingham: Well really, it's time for the Queensland Premier not to make it about her or her position, or the Prime Minister and the way he goes about his job, but to think about the individual cases. All you've got here is the Prime Minister, having asked the Queensland Premier to show compassion to a 26-year-old woman whose father had died and who wanted to attend his funeral — coming from the ACT, a region that has not had a positive COVID case for 62 days. Now, if exemptions can't be granted in those circumstances, somebody needs to look again at the exercise of their exemption power.

Madeleine Morris: Can I just take you to China, Minister, because within your trade portfolio, that is obviously something you're keeping a very close eye on. Now, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has accused Australia of interfering in a police investigation by allowing our journalist and the Fin’s journalist to shelter in the embassy. Is that a fair assessment? Did Australia interfere in a Chinese police investigation?

Simon Birmingham: Certainly not. What our embassy officials did was provide appropriate protection to those two journalists ensuring that they could safely leave China, but also engaging appropriately with Chinese authorities to negotiate an outcome that did provide the opportunity for those journalists to be interviewed by Chinese authorities before they left the country. This was respectful of China's processes, but also protected the safety of these two Australian journalists.

Madeleine Morris: But we’re now hearing that there was an ASIO, an AFP raid on Australian- on Chinese journalists here in Australia, some of their visas were withdrawn. I mean, did we in fact provoke this reaction which has now resulted in no Australian journalists being in China anymore?

Simon Birmingham: Well, certainly not. Our Government takes foreign interference matters very seriously/ We appropriately respond in relation to any foreign interference concerns that are raised in Australia. We go through actions, fully in accordance with our own laws, transparently so; our agencies are accountable for how they conduct their operations. But we undertake these matters in no way in response to actions of other countries, we do it purely in relation to the evidence that may be there, the concerns that our agencies have, and they act then on those individual cases and matters.

Madeleine Morris: We’ll press on despite the street sweeper. I've just got one more question for you Minister. Your Liberal colleague, Senator James Paterson, has now questioned whether Chinese journalists should be given access to Federal Parliament. Is that a concern that you share?

Simon Birmingham: Australia's a transparent, open parliamentary democracy. It's a striking feature of ours, as it is other countries around the world — but it's a point of difference to a country like China. Now, we accredit media to be able to operate in our Parliament, as long as they meet all of the standards that are necessary for operation it shouldn't matter which country they come from. These are separate questions to matters of foreign interference or the like — we, yes of course, we take those matters very, very seriously. But when it comes to our Parliament we should be open to any journalist who meets the standard to be able to be there.

Madeleine Morris: Okay. Thank you very much for that, Minister. Thanks for pressing on with that noise behind you. Thanks.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you. Sorry about that.

Madeleine Morris: No worries at all. Didn't they know who he was?

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