Interview on RN Breakfast with Fran Kelly
Topics: Ann Sudmalis; Women in the Liberal Party; US-China Trade tensions;



Fran Kelly:                   Simon Birmingham is the Federal Trade Minister and he joins us is our Parliament House studios. Simon Birmingham, welcome back to Breakfast.

Simon Birmingham:     Good morning Fran, good to be with you.

Fran Kelly:                   Before we get to your portfolio matters which we will do, Ann Sudmalis is the latest female colleague to announce she will quit Parliament due to a culture of bullying and backstabbing in the Liberal Party. Is it now time for your Party to admit it does have a problem when it comes to the treatment of women?

Simon Birmingham:     I think Scott Morrison has shown leadership in acknowledging there are clearly issues in the organisational divisions of the Liberal Party. That’s why he has made it clear in communicating to each state and territory division that they must have in place independent and rigorous complaints handling processes to ensure that any issues raised by any person in terms of those internal workings are dealt with thoroughly and professionally as you would expect within any organisation.

Fran Kelly:                   Are you saying concerns about backstabbing and bullying and threatening behaviour are only within the organisational wing of the party, there are no concerns culturally within the parliamentary party?

Simon Birmingham:     Well that appears to be the case in terms of what Ann Sudmalis has alleged, now we also have of course clear processes in place which of course Scott Morrison has shown leadership in emphasising and highlighting to every single colleague that the Whips arrangements are there for every single member to take confidential complaints to, to ensure they are then dealt with and addressed sensibly and thoroughly, professionally and ultimately he of course expects that every single member of the parliamentary team in working for the Australian people acts with the type of professionalism that anybody would expect us to.

Fran Kelly:                   Can I just ask you a bit more about those processes, so the process is if you have a problem and we know for instance Linda Reynolds stood in the Senate and said there was a problem with bullying, threatening behaviour. Julia Banks is quitting as well because of threatening and bullying behaviour organisationally and you got the sense perhaps from some of parliamentary colleagues perhaps and others that they go to the Whip and then what happens?

Simon Birmingham:     Well those matters are then of course appropriately and confidently dealt with by the party Whips. If there are issues to be discussed with the leadership from there then I would expect them to be discussed and addressed.

Fran Kelly:                   So the Prime Minister has said nobody has named names to him yet so that means nobody is using these processes at the moment, is that right?

Simon Birmingham:     Well I can only go on what is reported there Fran.

Fran Kelly:                   Ok but if nobody is naming names, then nobody is being spoken to, so it’s not being addressed? Is that fair to say?

Simon Birmingham:     Fran, there is a pathway there, the Prime Minister has shown very clearly in terms of his new generational style of leadership, he wants to make sure everybody knows that if they have issues, they know can take those issues and have them dealt with confidentially, impartially, professionally as anybody would expect, and that is in the parliamentary wing or in the organisational divisions of the Liberal party.

Fran Kelly:                   Are you worried about this, not just in the nature and culture of your party but electorally when women make up less than a quarter of the party room just 21 female Liberal MPs and that number has been going backwards since 1993. Are you worried about this, why is it that your party is so bad at attracting and retaining female MPs.

Simon Birmingham:     I think it is incumbent upon every single one of us to do more, to attract and encourage highly capable women to engage themselves in the political process, to engage themselves in the Liberal party, to make sure  that as a party we are pre-selecting and we are supporting them through the…

Fran Kelly:       But why isn’t it happening Minister, we keep hearing this but why isn’t it happening?

Simon Birmingham:     Fran, I’m saying, we all clearly need to step up and clearly do more to e ensure we get more Marise Payne’s in the parliament, that we get more Julie Bishop’s in the parliament, that we get more Nicole Flint’s, that we get more women, more Kelly O’Dwyer’s  in the parliament, more people who have come through the processes and demonstrated how well they can represent their communities and we want to make sure we get more people to do so in the future and that is up to each and every one of us to get out there and get involved from the grassroots of the party and up.

Fran Kelly:       Was Wentworth a missed opportunity?

Simon Birmingham: Fran, ultimately our processes are about getting the best person selected for a local community. We have a grassroots process, 200 odd local party members in many cases, in the case of Wentworth get together and hear from each of the candidates, put them through their paces in speeches, in questions, in analysis of different issues that are important to those electorates and at the end of the day you expect the best person to emerge. That’s why it starts with encouraging the best high-quality capable women to come into the Parliament right at the grassroots level of the party, engage in those party processes so when it comes to a pre-selection you’ve got an outstanding high-calibre field available. 

Fran Kelly:                   17 minutes to eight, our guest is the Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, Minister the trade war escalating between the US and China. President Trump is expected to announce any day now his new list, expanded list of Chinese goods to be hit by tariffs. A lot of people have been fearing for a while that this could trigger a full-scale trade war between two big trading nations, do you share that fear?

Simon Birmingham:     Fran, certainly Australia continues and my work as Trade Minister is about ensuring we do more to create broader market access for Australian farmers, Australian businesses, it’s precisely what the Liberal-National Government has had some much success doing over the last five years in terms of the agreements we have struck with China, with Japan, with South Korea, with Indonesia very recently, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, all of which are about providing for Australian farmers, businesses to be able to get the best possible terms for their goods and services to be exported to the world, all of which underpins the fact that around one in five Australian jobs is dependent on export related activities.

Fran Kelly:                   Ok but given that are you concerned about escalating trade tensions between our two biggest trading partners?

Simon Birmingham:     We are always concerned where people are not necessarily following the traditional rules-based order of international trade and we continue to consistently urge parties not to pursue distorting subsidies and not to pursue unilateral tariff actions, but ultimately we do what we can in the interests of Australian businesses and farmers first and foremost and that of course is to get out there and continue to support them to get the type of market access that they need and deserve.

Fran Kelly:                   I get it, you watch on as Australia’s Trade Minister, but meanwhile Donald Trump shows no signs of backing down. He has tweeted that quote “tariffs have put the US in a very strong bargaining position with billions of dollars and jobs if countries will not make fair deals with us they will be tariffed.” Given this aggressive language do you have any hopes that the President might step back here or do you think this could be caught up in the US political cycle ahead of the mid-terms, and that’s why the President is making such a thing about this.

Simon Birmingham:     Well tariffs ultimately result in consumers paying more and disruptive trade practices ultimately hurt economies rather than help them and that’s why we continue to urge everybody, whether they are those who engage in market distorting subsidies or whether they are those who might talk about or pursue multi-lateral tariff actions to think carefully about the consequences of doing so, to recognise that hurts their economies, has possible negative impacts on other economies. It means consumers end up paying more, taxpayers end up subsidising more, there not good things, what is far better is for consumers to be able to access the lowest cost goods, for goods to be produced as efficiently and productively as possible and Australia of course has an outstanding track record of success in producing high quality, not only food products, agricultural products and mineral products but also amazing [indistinct] services that are now sold internationally around the world and that’s why we continue as Scott Morrison and I did in our very first weeks in the job to go to Indonesia to finalise the work that Malcolm Turnbull and Steve Ciobo had so successfully championed around trade access into Indonesia and we’ll keep doing that sort of work in terms of ensuring our farmers, our businesses have the best access they can receive.

Fran Kelly:       But Australia works within the global trade rules, I mean if the US proceeds with the tariffs, likely to be 10 per cent, which might not make too much impact but President Trump is also considering moving them up to 25 per cent, China will almost certainly retaliate, how does the rest of the world including Australia, including all our farmers and others avoid getting sucked into this fight, especially if there is a flood of US and Chinese goods dropped on our doorstep as a result?

Simon Birmingham:     Well, again of course we have very clear anti-dumping practices that are in place and we as a government we will use those where we see a circumstance of people undertaking actions that involve the dumping of products at below production prices into markets such as ours. But we believe we are well placed to support our farmers and businesses to withstand this type of disruption because of the work we’ve done over the last 5 years and that we continue to do that ensures our businesses, our farmers do have preferential access into so many markets of the world. This is one of the great accomplishments of this Liberal-National Government over the last five years and we’re going to continue to work and build upon those legacy achievements of Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, to make sure that we actually do deliver increased trade access into the future as well that builds on what is already an incredible successful regime of ensuring that Australian goods and services providers have market access that is the envy of many countries around the world.

Fran Kelly:                   Simon Birmingham, thank you very much for joining us.

Simon Birmingham:     Thank you Fran.

Fran Kelly:                   Simon Birmingham is the Trade Minister and the Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate.