Interview on Channel 7 Sunrise with Samantha Armytage
Samantha Armytage: Australian cotton and wheat farmers are likely to be next in the firing line, taking the total value of banned agricultural goods past $7 billion. Joining us now is Tourism and Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham. Minister, good morning to you. I was just reading this morning that the Chinese are now accusing us of having pests in our timber from Tasmania. How concerned are you by these developments?
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Sam. Well it is very concerning. The pattern of behaviour and decisions we have seen from Beijing throughout the duration of 2020, and indeed dating back earlier than that. That’s why we have been clear in supporting every Australian industry to defend their integrity. We know that Australian produces high quality, clean and safe produce. We know that Australia produces produce in a market economy where they go out to the world and compete fair and square without subsidy, without distortions to those markets and certainly not dumping in other markets.
And so the different claims that have been made by China just don’t stand up to the evidence test, that’s why we will continue to defend, to appeal, and of course to call this behaviour out, not only publicly but more importantly directly with China, in the first instance, but also in the World Trade Organization where we will use all the appeal avenues that we possibly can to try to make sure we get the right outcomes for Australian businesses.
Samantha Armytage: Have you had advice on how to respond best to China culturally? You know, you and the Prime Minister — obviously, all Australians applaud you for defending our country — but you know, for instance, these cartoons that the Chinese are doing, they’re so ridiculous, they’re insulting, of course. But is it better to ignore the Chinese, ignore a bully? I know you’re looking for alternative markets for our exports but is it better to just put all our focus into that and ignore the Chinese publicly?
Simon Birmingham: Well look, we will maintain a calm and consistent posture. Our view, as the Prime Minister and I and other Government ministers have emphasised right throughout the year is that we value our relationship with China. We welcome the fact that China is a more economically prosperous country today than it was decades ago — that has lifted hundreds of millions of people across our region out of poverty. It’s one of the greatest accomplishments of the modern era. And it’s come about by China being a more open economy, by China trading in a market principled way with other nations. And what China's behaviour at present is doing is not just a heightening risk or disrupting trade for individual Australian businesses, it is heightening the risk profile for businesses around the world when they look at the type of actions China may take.
So you know, our approach is certainly one of emphasising the value that we place on the relationship, our willingness to come to the table and engage in dialogue. But yes, in terms of diversification, we also have opened up lots of other doors for Australian businesses through our trade agreements that include Japan, Korea, Canada, Mexico, Vietnam and Indonesia, and we really want to encourage them to seize those opportunities too.
Samantha Armytage: Yes. That free trade agreement with China seems to have gone out the window, doesn’t it?
Now, into your other portfolio while we’ve got you this morning. Tourism Australia is calling on Kiwis, young Kiwis to take a working holiday here this summer in a bid to fill our hospitality, tourism and agricultural jobs. Obviously, very hard time for those industries particularly farmers trying to pick fruit, et cetera. How many jobs need filling? What sort of roles are we talking about?
Simon Birmingham: Well usually, this time of year, we’d have around 135,000 backpackers in Australia from all over the world, particularly from places like Europe and the UK. We’ve only got about 50,000 now as most have gone home during the course of the year and others have been unable to come.
But thankfully, most Australian states are open to travelers from New Zealand without the need to quarantine. And so, our appeal to Kiwis is to say: look, if you’re a young New Zealander who is thinking about taking a gap year or wants to get away for a few months, you can come to Australia, have an incredible holiday, experience the wonders of our country and also work your way around it. And we know those working holidaymakers usually spend every dollar they earn; they spend some savings they bring with them; they often go back and ask mum or dad for more that they can spend while they’re here.
Simon Birmingham: So it’s good news for our economy, but it also fills some pretty crucial jobs in, in parts of our agriculture and regional economies.
Samantha Armytage: Yeah. Oh to be young; spending everything you earn. You know that Jacinda Ardern is telling all these young Kiwis to stay home and fill jobs there — so we might be fighting an uphill battle here.
Simon Birmingham: Look, I know that, and New Zealand has similar pressures. But I hope that New Zealand will open up in a two-way sense for travel from Australia back in there. We’re doing this because we’re open to New Zealand. And of course, I would expect if they do that that there will be some young Australians who will take the opportunity to do exactly this in return. We are simply doing as our tourism industry, as our agricultural sectors would want us to do.
Samantha Armytage: Yes. Alright. Simon Birmingham, great to chat. Thank you for your time.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Sam. My pleasure.