Interview on ABC Radio Canberra, AM, with Sabra Lane

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Brexit, Trade Deal with the UK; TPP; US-China Trade War; Gladys Liu.
18 September 2019

Sabra Lane: The British Trade Minister, Liz Truss is meeting with her Australian counterpart Simon Birmingham this morning, and Senator Birmingham joined me a little earlier.

[Excerpt]

Sabra Lane: Simon Birmingham, welcome to AM.

Simon Birmingham: Great to be back with you.

Sabra Lane: We’ll get to trade matters in a moment. First, to the Government’s response to the reporting from Iran overnight that one of the Australians detained, presumably Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert, has been accused of spying for a third country.

Simon Birmingham: The Government continues to seek information and clarity around these matters. We have been involved for some time now in relation to providing consular assistance and engagement with family and of course, we are concerned for the welfare of these individuals and work to make sure their treatment is as fair as possible.

Sabra Lane: How complicated does this task become for negotiating for all three with the attack in the Saudi oil facilities on the weekend and Iran’s alleged involvement there?

Simon Birmingham: Well those are separate matters in relation to the attack on the Saudi oil facilities. Of course, we monitor the implications of those. But in relation to the parties involved in the dispute who are detained, we have diplomatic relations in place with Iran, we continue to try to work through those channels to get the best possible outcome, the fairest possible outcome for those individuals.

Sabra Lane: There’s no room for quiet diplomacy though now.

Simon Birmingham: These obviously are matters in the public sphere, but as our Government has demonstrated time and again, we will show restraint when it comes to our public commentary around individual cases because often that is the best way to provide support for those individual circumstances when giving them consular assistance.

Sabra Lane: To trade – assuming that Brexit does happen on 30 October, you’d like a deal done quickly there afterwards. What guarantees can you give farmers and businesses that you’re not compromising their interests in trying to snap up a really quick deal?

Simon Birmingham: The guarantees I’d give them is to look at our track record. As a Government, we’ve managed to strike multiple trade agreements across the globe, and in doing so, we’ve driven Australian exports to record levels, our trade surplus to a record level and we’re going to bring those same skills and abilities to play in terms of negotiating with the United Kingdom and where we see real opportunities to be able to move forward by addressing some of the barriers to trade that exist for Australian farmers and businesses at present as part of their membership of the EU and by having a more liberalised trade arrangement that can give us far greater opportunity into the future.

Sabra Lane: So the British Minister is here today. How soon do you think that agreement will be in place given, if Brexit happens? And what’s likely to change for Australia? What benefits are we going to get out of this?

Simon Birmingham: What we would hope is to be able to settle a trade agreement swiftly with the UK, if it could be done within 12 months or indeed, within a matter of months, we would move as quickly as they are able to do so. Negotiations don’t commence until they formally leave the EU, but we have been having dialogue since 2016 to prepare for Brexit, to make sure support is in place for Australian business to keep trading, whilst of course at the same time we already have very active and positive negotiations underway with the European Union.

Sabra Lane: The UK is pretty keen to look at joining the Trans Pacific Partnership. If that happens, what signal does that send to the United States given that Mr Trump withdrew the US from being part of that agreement?

Simon Birmingham: Australia welcomes discussions with the UK in relation to their potential membership of the TPP. Now, all of these negotiations are important for the substance of what they can generate for our farmers and businesses. But also symbolically-

Sabra Lane: Sure. But what does that say to Mr Trump and-

Simon Birmingham: But also symbolically Sabra, they are important in demonstrating that this part of the world and other countries are getting on with trade liberalisation that has been demonstrated to grow exports, grow the economy, provide value to our farmers, to our businesses and that we are sticking with a proven method, despite some of the protectionist trends elsewhere.

Sabra Lane: Of course the Prime Minister is on his way to the US at the end of this week and you’ll be meeting Mr Trump. As a close ally and friend, will Australia be honest with the President about how much damage the US-China trade war is inflicting?

Simon Birmingham: Australia has been publically honest and privately honest all along that we understand some of the concerns and indeed, share some of the concerns about issues such as forced technology and the protection of intellectual property. But we don’t believe unilateral tariff hikes are a positive way to address these issues and that we would wish to see the type of dialogue that can resolve those disputes and restore confidence into the global economy.

Sabra Lane: How blunt is Australia with him?

Simon Birmingham: Well I think I was fairly direct just then in that we understand the concerns but we have our own concerns about the tactics in the sense that are deployed by the US in these negotiations. Now, ultimately, just as with Brexit, we can’t resolve the US-China trade dispute.

Sabra Lane: Mr Morrison did receive praise overnight from the Chinese media over his defense of MP Gladys Liu. How concerned are you by that?

Simon Birmingham: Well to speak the obvious, we obviously don’t control what is written in Chinese media. Sometimes it’s positive, sometimes it’s negative.

Sabra Lane: The Communist Party’s key mouthpiece saying-

Simon Birmingham: Of course, we don’t control what’s written in the Australian media either and sometimes that’s positive and sometimes it’s negative too. But in the trade space, we have a great story with one in five Australian jobs now trade related and trade at record levels.

Sabra Lane: Sure. But on that, isn’t it a little bit embarrassing that he’s got praise from this key mouthpiece for Beijing.

Simon Birmingham: We don’t make any decisions based on what media outlets say. In relation to Ms Liu, she is the rightly elected Member for Chisolm, chosen by the electorate of Chisolm and what we’ve seen by the Labor Party is quite a grubby attack upon her.

Sabra Lane: Minister, thanks for joining AM this morning.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you Sabra.

[End of excerpt]

Sabra Lane: Trade Minister Simon Birmingham.

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