Topics: Australian lobster exports into China; Australia-China relationship; Travel advice to the US, support payments, major South Australian events



Simon Birmingham:     Thanks very much for coming today. I just want to comment firstly in relation to the live lobster trade with China. I’ve noted industry reports and have been in touch with the Australian seafood industry about reports of delays of shipments in terms of processing times through customs in China. We do understand that a number of shipments through a particular port of entry have faced delays as additional testing is undertaken for metal content levels within that seafood. Australia prides ourself on being a high quality, safe exporter of premium product, and we have absolute confidence that our industry meets the type of safety standards that are necessary into whatever market is that they are exporting. We understand the concerns of industry in this regard, because of course this type of product is high value, but also has short time frames in terms of safely delivering the product from the Australian oceans to ultimately the marketplace in which they’re sold. And so, it’s crucial that timelines are kept to an absolute minimum when it comes to processing, and that the trade has certainty around the type of conditions that are being applied.


It’s important today that people don’t jump to conclusions about what these delays mean, but enable our seafood industry working together with our diplomats and agricultural representatives to ascertain exactly what the facts are and whether we will be able to resume that trade with confidence that customs processing happens in a timely way. That’s what we hope can occur as a government, and we will deploy the necessary resources through diplomatic channels to work alongside the industry to help them resolve these issues in a satisfactory way. And we welcome the fact that there is to be a good degree of cooperation and engagement with Chinese authorities and Australian industry on these matters.


On a broader sense, there had been a number of disruptions to Australia’s trade with China this year. They’ve been well reported and well acknowledged, and we must recognise and Australian industry does recognise the risk factor appears to have changed as a result of some of the unpredictable administrative decisions that have been made at the Chinese end. Australia values our trading relationship with China. It is mutually beneficial to both nations, and we would urge that all of these issues be resolved through appropriate dialogue and recognition of the benefits to Chinese businesses and consumers, to Australian businesses and consumers, and indeed to the broader region and our economic recovery that come through a maintenance of that relationship in a respectful way that is predictable and lowers the risk for businesses, rather than enhance those risks.


Question:         Minister, when did you first become aware that shipments were not getting through? And what do you estimate the cost to be of the disruption to the trade?


Simon Birmingham:     We had industry reports coming through late last week, and those heightened over the weekend as we came to understand the nature of a number of shipments facing these delays. In terms of the value in those impacts, I’ll leave that for industry who are better placed. Clearly, the cost of delays, particularly in our industry, is withholding some shipments from departure until they have certainty in place, depends very much on how long it takes to resolve the issue and to achieve that certainty.


Question:         And on trade, will you take China to the World Trade Organization over the barley tariffs?


Simon Birmingham:     We continue to assess that closely and reserve our rights. We had pursued through China a domestic processes of appeals in relation to their anti-dumping decision on Australian barley, and regrettably, those domestic processes of appeal have been unsuccessful. And now we consider what next steps we take, and we are consulting and engaging with the Australian grain sector and other industry partners as to what they want to see as the most appropriate step forward. We remain resolute in our view that Australia’s grain sector operates free of subsidy in an entirely commercial manner, and sends its goods to China in a manner that is completely consistent with normal market practices, free of dumping, free of subsidy. We defend the integrity of our producers, we’ll continue to do so, including potentially through a WTO challenge.


Question:         Do you think this lobster- the timing of this lobster hold up has anything to do with the US election?


Simon Birmingham:     No. Look, I would doubt that, and I think it is important that people not jump to conclusions in relation to the seafood trade, that we do recognise there are clearly issues. We need to try to work through those issues, but by jumping to conclusions quickly and trying to draw linkages to other matters would only be unhelpful for our seafood industry in terms of seeking to resolve what at present appear to be technical barriers that are causing delays that should be able to be easily rectified with the cooperation of Chinese authorities. That’s what we’re seeking and that’s what we’re asking for.


Question:         When will you make a decision on WTO appeal and would it set a precedent for red meat, wine, cotton, and all the other trades that were affected this year?


Simon Birmingham:     Look, every WTO case we take on its own merits, and it’s important around WTO cases to acknowledge they take some time and they are lengthy, expensive processes and we don’t enter into them lightly. And even when we do enter into them, we always keep the door open for the issues to be resolved in an alternative way through dialogue. And that is what I would urge in terms of Chinese authorities. Australia is open to dialogue. We urge you to equally come to the table on issues like the barley dispute and let’s find a positive pathway forward rather than having to go through the long process of the World Trade Organization dispute. Australia uses the independent umpire where we have to. We’ve done so with friends, such as India and Canada. But equally, in the case of the Canada wine dispute, we negotiated and we got to a point settlement between the two parties without having to see that dispute right through to the end. We’d like the same approach in relation to all of our disputes, whether it’s with India, China or elsewhere around the world, to be able to sit down at the table and have those discussions to reach a satisfactory outcome that can be achieved faster or efficiently than is the case through the lengthy WTO processes.


Question:         Minister, just on another matter, is it disturbing that Australia’s travel advice and warnings around the US now includes the fact that there’s a presidential election?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, our travel advice is provided based on the facts. The US goes to the polls, as everybody knows, on Tuesday their time, Wednesday ours. And what we hope to see is, of course, a peaceful democratic election in one of the world’s great democracies, and ultimately, the decision is one for the American people.


Question:         In Defence, a leaked internal report suggests Defence may have to terminate a multi-million-dollar contract to do with submarine escape and rescue capabilities. Are you concerned taxpayers may foot the bill?


Simon Birmingham:     Look, I haven’t seen the report and don’t have details on that one, sorry.


Question:         New research shows men will now be worse off due to the pandemic. What is being done to support them?


Simon Birmingham:     We’ve got- all of our economic support measures are about supporting all Australians in need. JobKeeper, JobSeeker, bonus payments have all been structured to flow to those who need it most. That’s why we see some 60 per cent of JobKeeper payments now flowing into Victoria, because Victorians have needed the support the most, where there are more men or more women facing the challenges that are associated with the pandemic. Then in all of those cases, their eligibility for JobKeeper, JobSeeker or other parts of our support packages is entirely equal for everyone.


Question:         Is there a need to focus more attention on male-dominated industries like construction and manufacturing?


Simon Birmingham:     Our focus is on dealing with every issue we face in the pandemic, case by case, in a way, consistent with our principles that makes sure support is targeted to where it’s needed most, is proportionate to that need. Our support measures like JobKeeper don’t discriminate between men or women. They just flow on the basis of need. And our support in terms of building up the economic recovery has included measures from the arts sector to the construction sector, as well as huge stimulus to encourage investment by Australian businesses of whatever nature over the next couple of years to support the jobs of women, men, young Australians, old Australians alike.


Question:         Can I ask your reaction on- general reaction about the Tour Down Under and the 500 Race?


Simon Birmingham:     We have to deal with the reality of the times we live in, and the fact is that bringing in people from overseas is a trying condition. And I think decisions around investment in major events are rightly economic decisions that the State Government makes. Of course, we all want to see major events go ahead, but they shouldn’t be run for emotive purposes. They should be run for economic purposes, and State Government is clearly determined that in the face of COVID, it’s impossible to be able to run next year’s Tour Down Under as they normally would have, but I’m delighted there is a firm commitment there for the TDU to continue from 2022 onwards. It’s a great event for South Australia and as soon as we can welcome internationals easily back into the country, we want to see that event back up on its own two feet.


In terms of the car racing decisions that have been taken, there’s an understandable expectation there that if visitor numbers are declining, the economic return is declining, but the cost is going up, at some point, you face a tipping stage or a tipping point where it no longer becomes viable to keep running those events. That’s obviously an analysis the State Government has made. It’s for them to have a look at how to reinvest back into other areas of tourism and major events to get the type of benefits that Superloop or Clipsal used to provide but apparently is no longer providing.


Question:         What about WOMAD and the Fringe?


Simon Birmingham:     I imagine each of these events is assessed on a case by case, dependent on getting the artists, the entertainers, the performers, the cyclists, the racers, whoever they are, to be able to be here to present those events. And clearly, an assessment of how it can be done in a COVID-safe way. None of these are easy things for organisers to manage their way through. In some cases, events will clearly be able to proceed based on the talent that exists within Australia or the willingness and ability to get people here, who go through proper quarantine processes. In other cases, as with the Tour Down Under, getting teams from Europe to Australia, coming from COVID hotspots as they would be, is just too great a risk, too difficult for the teams themselves in terms of their training schedules, and it’s understandable why it can’t go ahead.


Thanks, guys.