Topics: Ministerial visit to China; Huawei; Malcolm Turnbull; Iran sanctions; Child care costs
Simon Birmingham: Thanks very much for coming along today. I’m pleased that tonight I will be leaving Australia and heading to China, to Shanghai, to attend the China International Import Expo. I thank Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong for the invitation to attend and to represent Australia at this important event. This is an opportunity to celebrate China’s economic success over the last 40 years since they began the process of opening and reform. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge the fact that China is now a significant economic power, and in doing so, has lifted hundreds of millions of people in their country and elsewhere out of poverty and has provided enormous economic opportunities across our region, including for Australia. China is Australia’s largest trading partner and a critical economic partner for us. And we want to make sure that in the future we build off of the strength of the last few years, particularly the strength enabled through the China Australia Free Trade Agreement to create even more opportunities for two-way exchanges. Many thousands of people travel backwards and forwards between Australia and China each and every year now – on study exchanges, tourism exchanges, business exchanges, and it’s a partnership that goes beyond the pure exchange of investment dollars or trade dollars, and is indeed an important cultural and personal exchange for many Australians and for many Chinese. This is a significant event that President Xi has brought together to be able to acknowledge and celebrate China’s economic success. Australia will be well represented with more than 200 brands attending the Expo, a delegation that includes both sides of politics covers the geographical spread of Australia and will ensure that those who attend and participate in the Expo see the absolute best that Australian trade, goods, and services have to offer. I’m sure as a nation that we’ll be putting our best foot forward. I’m sure that China will be putting her best foot forward. And I’m sure that together this will be an opportunity for us to strengthen what are already very sound economic ties for the future.
Journalist: Does this trip signify a thawing in the relationship with China and has changing prime ministers helped that switch, helped that reset?
Simon Birmingham: This is an important opportunity for Australia to be able to engage constructively with China. I look forward tomorrow night to be attending President Xi’s significant event where he will launch the CIIE. I hope to be able to engage with Chinese government officials while I’m there. But of course, it’s an event that will be attended by delegations from all around the world. It does signify that our government is able to engage constructively, cooperatively, productively, with China while still putting Australia’s best interests at the forefront, just as we would expect China to put their best interests at the forefront of their domestic policy settings.
Journalist: What are you wanting to get out of this mission?
Simon Birmingham: Well ultimately this is a Expo which is going to highlight Australian trade in goods and services, 200 plus Australian brands and companies to be there, highlighting the wine, food, the education services, the financial services, the range of different trading activities that occur with China. So first and foremost it’s an opportunity for Australian businesses and enterprises to highlight the quality value of their products to the Chinese market and that means it’s an opportunity to take what is already the largest exporter partner and grow it to something even bigger into the future.
Journalist: [indistinct] does that make your job as Trade Minister easier?
Simon Birmingham: Well as a government we’re determined to make sure that our economic relationship with China, which is strong and sound, is one that grows into the future. Now we acknowledge, and Scott Morrison has acknowledged, there will be strategic challenges that come from a stronger China and we will address those, and we’ll address them always with Australia’s best interests at the forefront of the approach we take. We’ll urge China to make sure that they continue to be a constructive player in global trade, and in engagement with the World Trade Organisation and modernisation and reform of the WTO, but in the region they ensure their infrastructure investments are sustainable and support the sustainable development of other regional partners and that together we work to ensure the continued growth in prosperity across our region in a peaceful way that respects not only each other’s sovereignty, but the sovereignty of each and every other nation within our region.
Journalist: But Minister, does the new Prime Minister mean a change in approach to China?
Simon Birmingham: The Government’s policy is a continuous one in terms of strong economic engagement, standing up for Australia’s interests, to be clear-eyed about the strategic challenges. But of course we want to put our best foot forward. I’m a new Trade Minister. I want to make sure this is a positive visit to China within which we strengthen what is already a great economic relationship and make sure that it’s even stronger for the future.
Journalist: Okay, there’s reports today that Huawei helped the Chinese intelligence hack a foreign network. How credible are those reports, and are you worried?
Simon Birmingham: Well the Government doesn’t comment on security analysis or reports in that sense. These of course are matters that we handle seriously. We take all matters of foreign investment seriously. We’re a country that welcomes widespread foreign investment, including from China. But where it comes to significant infrastructure that is critical to the nation’s future, we take a careful and cautious approach as Australians would expect, as any other nation does, in regard to their circumstances too.
Journalist: How cautious does the Australian Government need to be when it comes to Chinese authorities and Chinese companies?
Simon Birmingham: Well we welcome the fact that we have significant investment in Australia from China, and indeed from Australia into China. This is a two-way exchange and overwhelmingly our economic engagement with China, and our engagement with Chinese businesses, is a positive one. But of course where there are areas of critical national infrastructure and assets we take a cautious approach. We do that in relation to any country, in any country’s engagement, not just China.
Journalist: Will you be discussing the Huawei reports with Chinese authorities on your trip?
Simon Birmingham: My hope and my focus as Trade Minister is in relation to our economic relationship. I’ll be making sure that I talk about how it is we can build upon the China Australia Free Trade Agreement, how we can cooperate in terms of improvement and reform to the World Trade Organization, how we can help to create economic growth across our region.
Journalist: So you won’t be raising the Huawei issue with China?
Simon Birmingham: My focus, my focus is going to be on the trade and economic aspects that are relevant to my portfolio. That is of course what the China International Import Expo is all about – celebrating and recognising the economic strength of China, how it can constructively contribute to our region and to the world, and that will be my focus.
Journalist: How distracting has the rift between Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison been?
Simon Birmingham: Look I think in terms of the government, you see that we continue day-in, day-out to get on with the work of government, to improve our relationship with China, to build on it, as I’ll be doing through this mission – to focus on supporting our veterans as Scott Morrison has done this week. Nothing will distract Scott Morrison, me, or any other member of the government from getting on with the job that is doing the best thing in the interests of Australian people.
Journalist: Tony Abbott has about a big a megaphone as anyone in the country. Should former PM’s stay quiet?
Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s for each former PM to consider whether their actions contribute positively to the country. Ultimately, those of us who are members of the government in the ministry, the Prime Minister, myself and others focus day-in, day-out on how we help the Australian people put our best foot forward in the interests of them. That’s why Scott Morrison has been so focused on getting electricity prices down, on helping veterans, on addressing the crisis in aged care, and of course continuing to deliver on the economic pillars of our government – balancing the budget, delivering tax cuts for small business, delivering tax cuts for individuals, growing our trade arrangements with other countries so we can export more goods and services.
Journalist: Just briefly on Iran if I can. Donald Trump has restored sanctions on Iran’s oil industry. Does the Federal Government support that decision?
Simon Birmingham: Well as the Prime Minister indicated recently, there is a process in terms of the arrangements with Iran and the assessments in terms of removing and ensuring no nuclear capabilities in Iran. That review is underway and I’d leave commentary about that to the Foreign Minister.
Journalist: Does that though have a global trade impact on the global economy?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we always have to be mindful that in an economic sense we as a nation stand for lower tariffs, trade liberalisation, because that’s helped our economy to grow and prosper and has helped many others to do so. But there are times and places for sanctions, for tariffs, when you are dealing with very difficult security issues. I’m not going to comment specifically on President Trump’s actions in relation to Iran aside from to note that we have a very clear process in Australia to look at the way in which that arrangement with Iran operates and, of course, that will run through a very thorough, proper process.
Journalist: And, child care costs?
Simon Birmingham: This week we saw proof-positive that the Liberal National Government’s child care reforms have driven-down out-of-pocket for Australian families in relation to child care. That families are paying less out of their pockets on average today than they were before the second of July, thanks to our comprehensive reforms to the child care system, means people are getting more cash back, more support for out more hours they use, that best aligns with the number of hours they work. This is about helping Australian families ease the cost of living, making childcare more affordable, and we’re very pleased that the ABS assessment this week has demonstrated that the out-of-pocket costs for child care have gone down as a result of our reforms.