Interview on Radio National, AM, with Sabra Lane
Sabra Lane: The Federal Government’s launching an advertising campaign to encourage Kiwi’s across the ditch to come here and pick fruit and vege crops, and work in our tourism industry. There are slogans like ‘enjoy the fruits of your labour’, ‘pick your way to paradise by working on an Aussie fruit farm’. Just last week on AM we heard the horticulture industry warn they needed 26,000 new workers asap and if they couldn’t find them crops wouldn’t be picked and the cost of food would go up.
The Trade and Tourism Minister joined me earlier.
Sabra Lane: Simon Birmingham, good morning and welcome. How many Kiwi’s did the Government believe would come here to help?
Simon Birmingham: …We hope that we attract thousands of Kiwi’s across. Ordinarily at this time of year we would have around 135,000 working holiday makers in Australia, but as a result of COVID that’s down to about 52,000. Now, working holiday makers come, they usually spend every dollar they earn, they usually spend some they brought with them, they sometimes go back and ask mum or dad for more to spend while they’re here. So they obviously contribute to the economy, but they also tend to do a lot of important work in seasonal sectors like agriculture and tourism.
And so Kiwis, where most states have got the borders open for quarantine free travel, is an obvious market where we hope that young people can choose to take a gap year, and take a punt on the fact they'll be able to return back to New Zealand afterwards quarantine free too.
Sabra Lane: Many New Zealand farmers are actually struggling to get local labor themselves at the moment. They've been asking their own Government to allow more foreign workers in. So, if the Kiwis won't work on their own farms, why would they work on ours?
Simon Birmingham: Well ours, of course, offer the opportunity for travel around Australia — a holiday experience, and that is what working holiday makers are — and not necessarily people who are choosing a career or a job pathway in a particular sector. They’re people who are undertaking a short term travel experience, where they do some work as they go around. Now, we hope that we can get some of those New Zealanders here. We equally hope that it becomes a two-way travel bubble, and it may well be that when that occurs some young Australians decide to do likewise in terms of travelling around New Zealand and doing a bit of work while they're there.
Sabra Lane: The Government announced in the budget just two months ago that it would reimburse Australian workers $2000 each to move to areas to pick crops, and as of last week I think only 148 people had taken it up. Your colleague, David Littleproud, thinks that Australians are too lazy to get off the couch. Why do you think Australians don't want these jobs?
Simon Birmingham: Well indeed, the relocation allowances or incentives available to Australians are up to $6000, and there are only a couple of hundred that have taken advantage of that so far. And so, use the opportunity of this is a bit of a free ad, particularly for young Australians who similarly may have been thinking about taking a gap year, which isn't so easy to do in the COVID world. You could take your gap year by travelling around Australia and you could actually get out there, undertake some of these jobs, and travel and tour our great country instead.
Sabra Lane: Mr Littleproud says they're too lazy to get off the couch. Do you think so too?
Simon Birmingham: Well look, I think we have- the vast majority of Australians are very, very hard working, but clearly we do need to encourage more to get out there and do some of these jobs. There are jobs available in Australia right now. Yes, people may need to relocate, that's not easy, or possible even for everybody — but for some it is, and that's why we've put incentives in place.
Sabra Lane: Exploitation, too. We reported just last week people earning $3 an hour to pick blueberries in New South Wales. Do you think people are put off by stories like that?
Simon Birmingham: Well, stories like that don't help, and obviously we want to make it-
Sabra Lane: That means farmers should be doing the right thing.
Simon Birmingham: Absolutely. And, and the support that we have provided through the Workplace Ombudsman, additional funding, additional policing powers, and information that we give to those who come under working holiday maker visas to make sure they are well informed in terms of their rights and where they can go when things go wrong. And we clearly would expect that many Kiwis who come across, if they encounter poor practice, they should call it out, they should report it, and we will throw the book at people.
Sabra Lane: Throwing the book at people, and China’s certainly throwing more than the book at us — that market is now largely closed to Australia, it seems. Should Australian businesses give up on trying to export there full stop?
Simon Birmingham: For all Australian businesses, any export proposition, any business proposition for that matter, is one of balancing risk versus reward. And through the course of this year, unfortunately, the risk of trade with China has heightened considerably. It's still an individual business decision and some will continue, no doubt. And in many market sectors, we do still have significant flows that have seen still record breaking levels of trade occur with China despite some of the difficulties.
But for others, the risk has clearly grown, the barriers have been imposed. And, and our Government has expressed deep dissatisfaction and concern with that directly to China, publicly here in Australia through the bodies of the World Trade Organization, and we will pursue every possible remedy we can on behalf of fair, honest, hardworking Australian industries.
Sabra Lane: The ABC reported last month that cotton would be hit, there are fresh reports out this morning about that — wheat, that honey, and pharmaceuticals could also be in line. Is it the case that China is just now going to pick off our export markets one by one and make an example of us?
Simon Birmingham: Well, that's really a question for China. But we have seen a pattern of behaviour this year, and it's an unacceptable pattern of behavior — it does not appear to be consistent with either the letter or the spirit of the undertakings that China made in the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, or their commitments to the whole world through the World Trade Organization.
Australia is not the only country that has seen these types of punitive measures applied that don't appear to be consistent, and I expect that the rest of the world will be watching quite closely what is happening in Australia. And that this is damaging, not just in terms of the business or trade relationship, but it is damaging in terms of heightening the level of risk and concern that businesses right around the world will have in terms of dealing with China. And it doesn't just increase that risk profile I was talking about before for Australian businesses, it does so for everyone.
Sabra Lane: Minister, thanks for talking to AM this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Sabra. My pleasure.