Topics: Opening of Queensland border; Domestic Tourism; Trade dispute with China; International students returning to Australia.
Simon Birmingham: Can I firstly welcome the news that the Queensland border is going to open to visitors from New South Wales and Victoria. Queensland tourism operators have done it incredibly tough this year; it is a state with the greatest number of individuals whose jobs and businesses depended upon the tourism industry, but it’s a state that has been closed to essentially all tourists for most of this year. New South Wales and Victoria are worth $8 billion to Queensland tourism industry and so the reopening of these borders will see billions of dollars’ flow back into Queensland businesses, supporting those tourism operators, supporting the jobs in those industries and is going to be crucial lifeline to so many people there. So, my message to people across New South Wales and Victoria is to book a holiday, plan your trip to Queensland, get out there and support those local businesses. They’re fellow Australians. They’ve been doing it tough, you can have a great time in having a holiday, but also help to save the job of the fellow Aussie.
Question: Given the China situation, is it an awkward time to be handing over the trade portfolio?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I think we do face challenging times, in relation to China. Ultimately, we have in Government, of course, a Cabinet system of Government and that means that in terms of those responsibilities, I have doubt that whatever the Prime Minister chooses will be able to continue a steady course and ensure that the approaches we’re taking to helping Australian businesses to diversify, to access other markets and our responses to China will be able to continue and continue in a steady way, whatever those decisions will be.
Question: Minister, yesterday you refused to call what China is doing, economic coercion, why won’t you call out their behaviour?
Simon Birmingham: It’s not my job to escalate things, it’s my job to try to help Australian industry through these challenging times. What we want are solutions; not name calling, not anything else, we want outcomes that enable Australian businesses and their Chinese counterparts, to be able to get on with business-to-business relationships with trade that they have built over many years. Let’s be really clear in understanding that it’s not just Australian businesses suffering right now. Their Chinese customers are facing disruption; the businesses they work with in China are facing disruption. There are costs to all parties and ultimately, this is bad for the global economy. China behaving in a way that results in greater risk, greater uncertainty for international businesses, does dampen global confidence and that’s bad for everybody.
Question: Minister, have you decided what you will do next? Given the situation at the moment, I mean, what is your next step as Trade Minister?
Simon Birmingham: What we continue to do is, firstly, to tackle each of the individual issues that we face on their merits and to follow the processes we can, in relation to those issues. So, there are a range of different processes there, dependent on the issue of working through Chinese agricultural officials, Chinese customs officials or the World Trade Organization. These are all iterative steps that we take. But we have also acknowledged that there is a cumulative effect of what’s been with China, that series of individual actions that China has taken against Australian business throughout the course of this year is of concern. We’ve raised that in the assemblies and fora of the World Trade Organization, to make sure that the world is informed of what is happening in this regard. But, we continue to be ready to sit down and have dialogue with China to try to resolve this issue. Australia is willing to come to the table. Australia has not changed in our approach to our perspective and we urge China to have the same attitude.
Question: Just on international students that fly into Darwin today, the first lot of students coming back. How important is that and what do you say to the tens of thousands of Australians overseas whose positions or places in quarantine are fundamentally being filled by those students?
Simon Birmingham: Look, we would love to be able to take many more international students. But, the reason we are not doing so is absolute priority goes to Australians who are returning home, first and foremost. It’s why indeed, pilot programs that other jurisdictions have sought to get off the ground haven’t been able to actually welcome students back so far. I wish we could do more, in terms of international students, but our priority is there on those returning Australians. We’ve seen, of course, great gains made in terms of the number of quarantine places that are available for returning Australians and we’ve grown that in recent times to about 5600 quarantine places available, through the opening of Howard Springs, the cooperation of other states and territories. And when Victoria finally starts to retake returning Australians next week, and that will grow to some 6700 or so places providing an additional fill up that could help to get more people home faster.
Question: You’re saying that your priority is to bring Australians home, but how can you say that when those 17 students are arguably taking the places of Australians potentially returning home?
Simon Birmingham: Look, the Northern Territory Government has worked through those issues, in terms of the additional arrangements they’ve put in place to deal with the students. Our priority, very clearly, is on returning Australians. It’s why we’ve created hundreds of extra places, through the places that we created in the Northern Territory. It’s why we’ve got hundreds of extra places through cooperation with the states and territories. And it’s why we’re going to see even more come on stream once Victoria comes back.
Question: Do you think that the NT has done the wrong thing here by taking in international students rather than Australians?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I can acknowledge and I want to see international students come back, but it’s not going to be at the expense of returning Australians. That’s the policy approach that we have taken and it’s why, sadly, some of the pilots of far greater numbers that we’ve sought to get off the ground, with other states and territories haven’t been able to happen yet because of that insistence that returning Australians come first.