Interview on Sky News, Paul Murray with Paul Murray

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: UK-Australia trade, India-Australia trade, China-Australia relationship, Border restrictions.
18 June 2020

Paul Murray: Simon Birmingham is the Trade Minister. We had a chance to talk a bit earlier today because the free trade deal discussions have started with the UK and we’re starting to open up trade when it comes to India — all of this matters because we need to diversify from China. We spoke in Canberra.

[Excerpt]

Simon Birmingham: UK is a good market for us now, but it used to be a great market. Back in the early 1970s when they went into the European Economic Zone, at that stage they were our third largest goods trading partner — they're now our 12th. We saw significant declines particularly in a number of agricultural commodities — areas like sheep, meat, and grains — went down over that time, and we would really hope to be able to rebuild in some of those spaces. Our wine industry had a great foothold in the UK, in fact, one in five bottles of wine that is sold in the UK is Australian wine. But you know what they've done, that having a tax and a tariff applied to Australian wine while it's not applied to their competitors from France, Italy or Spain — so if we can get that tax eliminated for them, that means they’ll be even more competitive and can hopefully continue to grow that market further. And so we really do see the UK — 67 million people — a market that is really quite prospective for growth for Australian industry.

Paul Murray: And over there in India, more than a billion people. What is the best trade we can be doing with a place like India?

Simon Birmingham: So India is a complex market, it's of course a very fast moving economy — lots of different pieces with lots of different states in a country like India. And that's why we commissioned an India Economic Strategy that has many recommendations to it, and we're getting on and we’re progressively implementing those recommendations so that we can deepen our ties in areas like education, build new opportunities in areas such as agriculture. Pursue — especially in the resources sector — not just the sale of critical minerals and rare earths to India but also, increasingly, mining and engineering services going into India using Australian skills and Australian knowhow as part of the business operation there with India.

Paul Murray: Has there been any communication between Australia and China of recent weeks, now that things are not as vocal as they used to be? Have you been able to get a phone call answered?

Simon Birmingham: At the ministerial level, no — and look, that is disappointing. We take the approach that we have differences of opinion, we have different systems of government, and we bring different values to the table at times. But just because we have those differences, and just because we won't compromise on our values or policies that are in our national interest, we should still be able to sit down, like grownups, and work through it in a thorough and considered way — and particularly the issues of mutual benefit and advantage.

Now, sadly that's not happening at a ministerial level. We've put forward strong cases previously in relation to our barley industry, and we're working through them in terms of the types of appeal avenues that are available to try to get these sorts of decisions overturned.

Paul Murray: I can't believe that, almost two weeks after those protests, that there are still big parts of Australia that are definite about not bringing down their borders. We saw today what the unemployment rate has been, and it's been really bad in places like South Australia — your home state — Western Australia. Been bad in Queensland, Northern Territory as well, where surprise, surprise, all of these state based borders have been up and remain up, in some cases, for way too long. Today, state premiers are still trading barbs about why would you want to go to South Australia, we’ll build a wall. I mean, it’s all crap, right?

As a Tourism Minister, do you believe that we need to get Australia travelling to all parts of Australia from as early as possible — be it 1 July, the second week of school holidays, but no more buggerising around. Australians should be able to freely move around our own country.

Simon Birmingham: Emphatically so, Paul. Let's look at where we're at as a country and that is, several months ago we set about a mission of suppressing the spread of COVID-19. Now, every single state and territory has exceeded expectations in that regard.

When we set the policy direction months ago it was about making sure that our hospitals weren't overwhelmed, make sure we didn't have the types of scenes that we saw in Europe of overflowing hospitals, or in the US of mass graves and disaster. Now we have well and truly exceeded those expectations; that's fantastic, and that's why we're able to get on with re-opening parts of our economy faster than expected. And we want to see that happen, happen in a safe way, and that's why all of the practices around COVID safe work practices and so on are being put in place.

But tourism is a huge part of our country's employment base — one in 13 Australian jobs is dependent on the tourism industry in one way shape or form. We can't have international visitors at present — I don't hear anybody arguing that we should be reopening the international borders. Because Scott Morrison's decision to defy World Health Organization advice and to shut the international borders early, was perhaps the most important decision taken to keep Australia safe. So our only hope is domestic tourism in terms of those one in 13 Australian jobs, and there's plenty of tourism spending that should be able to go round.

[End of Excerpt]

Paul Murray: I agree. Simon Birmingham the Tourism and the Trade Minister, plenty of things in all of that.

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