Interview on AM Program with Sabra Lane

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement (A-HKFTA); One Nation.
26 March 2019

Sabra Lane: Ministergood morning and welcome to AM. What additional benefits will Australians standto gain from this agreement?

SimonBirmingham: Wellgood morning Sabra. This is the 8th trade deal signed by our government andwith Hong Kong, its sealing a trade deal with our sixth largest export market.So it's a critical market, it's going to lock in zero tariffs for Australianexporters going into Hong Kong. It's got particular benefits for our servicesindustry. So for those in professional services and other occupations who workin Hong Kong, who do business in Hong Kong, it will deliver extra rights forthem and it's going to ensure that we have mutual recognition of standardsaround labelling and information. So that for example, if you're a boutique ginor whisky producer in Australia, you're going to find it much easier to be ableto export into the Hong Kong market in the future and it really is justbuilding upon that network now of eight different agreements that ourgovernment has done that is underpinning I think record level of exports fromAustralia.

Sabra Lane: TheChamber of Commerce has published a trade survey today showing that a majorityof businesses don't understand or use these agreements. If these deals are sogood why don't businesses rate them highly?

SimonBirmingham: Wellactually Sabra we've seen growth of 16 per cent in the number of Australianbusinesses who are exporting to the world during our time in government. Sothat's strong growth in the number of businesses and what that's resulted in isa record level...

Sabra Lane: Butstill you've got a large cohort there telling the Chamber of Commerce that theydon't use them, the majority of their members.

SimonBirmingham: Andthat's why of course you have to continue to make sure that you go out and youadvocate as I did the other day with 300 businesses in Sydney at a free tradeseminar, where we actually talk them through in terms of the benefits of thoseagreements. Those benefits are being realised by businesses, 16 percent growthin the number of Australian businesses who are exporting whilst we've been inoffice. And (indistinct) that's translated into a trade surplus last year, ourlargest ever trade surplus in Australian history, some $22.2 billion dollars'worth of surplus in our trading relationship with the rest of the world lastyear, and that trade surplus is of course a big part of the reason for therecord jobs growth that our government's been able to deliver and the moreopportunities that creates for Australians so really are integral part of ouroverall policy platform.

Sabra Lane: Arethere any provisions in this deal, which could possibly harm Australia down thetrack like an investor state dispute settlement clause, put simply a mechanismto allow foreign companies to sue Australia?

SimonBirmingham: WellAustralia already has an investment treaty with Hong Kong. This replaces andupdates that investment treaty, and it does so by putting in place moreprotections.

Sabra Lane: Sorry,so do we have a clause in investor state dispute settlement clause?

SimonBirmingham: AbsolutelySabra and we have one with more protections for Australia's rights in terms oflegislating in relation to public health, the environment, and otherwise. Sothis has actually...

Sabra Lane: Whyhave something like that given that tobacco giant Philip Morris in recentyears, when it used one of these provisions to take legal action against plainpackaging of cigarettes here and that cost Australia $38 million dollars todefend.

SimonBirmingham: Wellit didn't actually cost Australia that much in the end because we did get someof that funding back...

Sabra Lane: Freedomof Information revealed that cost.

SimonBirmingham: ButSabra, importantly these provisions have never been used successfully againstAustralia. Australian companies, however in their investments in variousinvestments overseas have been able to use these provisions to protectthemselves. And if we did not have this new agreement with Hong Kong, then theold treaty arrangements that Philip Morris used, would stay in place. So, thisis actually updating those to provide the type of protections that would clearlyprevent such a case from going forward in the future. That's one of the keyreasons why the Labor Party should support this agreement, our agreements withHong Kong, our agreement with Peru, our agreement with Indonesia, all of themhave modern provisions in terms of investment support in them, and with thosemodern provisions they provide very clear blanket protections for health, foreducation, for the environment, ensuring that we can continue to protectourselves as a country, but also provide certainty for Australian businesseswho go out and invest in the rest of the world and in order to encourage ourbusinesses to do that, not put in place barriers to them doing so.

Sabra Lane: Ministerhow should the Prime Minister deal with One Nation given the Al Jazeerarevelations today that the organisation was hoping to gain millions from thegun lobby in the United States to help them win seats and the balance of powerin Parliament?

SimonBirmingham: PaulineHanson should clearly front the cameras today. She should explain whether ornot she was truly seeking an amazing $20 million dollars in foreign donationsto One Nation, to her political party. Whether or not she was again expectingto personally profit from an election campaign, whether or not she actuallybelieves we should be weakening Australia's gun laws which is a remarkablething to even contemplate at this time of reflection upon the tragedy inChristchurch. There are many answers here for One Nation who are a risk to ourtrade policies or are a risk to our national harmony and integrity and indeedwho appear to be a risk to our foreign donation law bans, to our gun laws aswell.

Sabra Lane: Onpreferencing of One Nation, you have previously said that extremists should beput last. How do you think this group should be preferenced?

SimonBirmingham: WellI want to see everybody who nominates, but I am very clear in my views thatAustralians ought to reject extremism in all of its forms. They ought to rejectthe extremism of One Nation, the extremism of Fraser Anning in terms of the wayin which they undermine the ability of us to build a stronger, more cohesivesociety, or to reject the extremism of their anti-trade policies. They ought toreject the extremism of the Greens anti-trade policies as well for that matter,or the Greens high-taxing policies. There's a range of different things tocontemplate when it comes to finally preferences, but extremism ought to berejected by Australians in all of its forms.

Sabra Lane: Ministerthanks for joining AM this morning.

SimonBirmingham: Thankyou Sabra.

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