Interview on Channel 7, The Latest, with Mel Doyle

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: …Reopening state borders to encourage tourism, opening international borders, China - Australian barley trade issues.
19 May 2020

Mel Doyle: For more on this I spoke with Federal Tourism and Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham, who I asked to respond to those state and territory leaders.

[Excerpt]

Simon Birmingham: To be talking about September rather than indicating that if all goes well, if we can work through the road map over the next few weeks, get things open and do so safely without any spikes or any surge of COVID-19 then we ought to be committing to the next step. And the next step is to open those state borders up so that the tourists can flow, and the jobs can be saved.

Mel Doyle: Is a blanket no — from a number of states, from a number of different tourism destinations — is that blanket no just really frustrating?

Simon Birmingham: Of course it is frustrating. Australian jobs depend upon this, and the livelihoods of Australians depend upon it, and I don't want to see them crippled unnecessarily so. But if we are successfully maintaining these tiny, tiny rates of new cases well then logically we want to get things back to normal as much as possible so that we actually save jobs and save the businesses that provide those jobs.

Mel Doyle: International travel, crystal ball question, what's the earliest you could see it happening?

Simon Birmingham: Well sadly, I don't think it's possible for this year. So much will depend in terms of the work around a vaccine though — its successful development and then manufacture and distribution.

Mel Doyle: Your Trade portfolio — China's imposed an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley. That could cost our farmers around $600 million over a five-year period. Is the government going to appeal China's decision?

Simon Birmingham: We are looking at all possible avenues to appeal this decision. First and foremost, we’re going to work thoroughly through it. The Agriculture Minister and I had a phone hook-up with grains industry representatives today to go through their understanding of the detail and to make sure we work together with the Australian industry who, in no way, dumped their product on world markets. They’re not subsidised by governments, they’re just the best farmers in the world who produce high quality grains, in premium ways, at affordable prices and that's why they are so competitive in markets like China — and we want to get them back in there as quick as we can.

Our new Indonesia free trade agreement comes on line on 5 July, that provides for 500,000 tonnes of feed grain to enter Indonesia without duty or tariff. And so they’re opportunities we want to make sure our farmers can truly seize and we are looking elsewhere for more for them too.

Mel Doyle: Okay. I can't imagine that would make China happy. Would they be concerned?

Simon Birmingham: Well, China's made the decision in relation to applying these duties on our tariff s. We don't think it’s without- we don’t think it has any foundation or basis, we think they’ve erred in this decision and we would warmly welcome any reversal of it by them.

But in the meantime if they are going to, potentially, price the Australian barley out of the market, well then our farmers have to find alternate places to sell that. And that's why we’ve sent the word out, right through our diplomatic network, to say: got to make sure we help ensure that barley finds a home somewhere around the world.

Mel Doyle: Good. Your response then tonight to China labelling our coronavirus enquiry success a joke?

Simon Birmingham: Just as we’re not going to engage in a tit for tat trade war or exchange with China over the difficulties, nor am I going to respond with any type of political whack or the like to China's Ambassador — who seems to have made a track record of late of provocative statements that are just unnecessary.

Mel Doyle: I understand your diplomacy totally. But let's be frank, it's offensive.

Simon Birmingham: It is- it’s quite inappropriate. In the end we want China to participate and cooperate with these inquiries as much as we want the rest of the world to. And frankly what the Chinese Ambassador has said in terms of its tone is quite at odds with what President Xi Jinping has said in addressing the World Health Assembly, and committing China's cooperation to these processes — that's a big step forward, it's one to be welcomed and we want to make sure this is a true thorough investigation that allows the world to learn the lessons and be better prepared in the future to avoid a repeat scenario.

Mel Doyle: Which makes sense to all of us, doesn’t it? Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time. We really appreciate it.

Simon Birmingham: I’m sure it does. Thanks Melissa, my pleasure.

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