• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: International Freight Assistance Mechanism; South Australian Exports; Adelaide University; Naval Group pay rises.
06 May 2020

Simon Birmingham: Thanks very much for coming over today. It’s great to be here with the Premier, with Minister Ridgway, and with the team from Pak Fresh, Singapore Airlines, and Darren Thomas from the Thomas Foods.

This is an incredibly exciting day to see yet again premium South Aussie produce headed to international markets. Our exporters work incredibly hard to manage to secure export contracts, and the last thing we can afford is for them to lose their export contract because there aren’t planes able to get to their produce to market. And that’s the conundrum that we face as a result of the issues of COVID-19. Everybody knows that to keep Australians safe, we’ve shut down passenger travel. By shutting down passenger travel, it had a crippling effect on parts of the freight industry, because more than 90 per cent of air freight that leaves Australia traditionally leaves in the belly of a passenger airplane. And that’s meant that so many of our premium exports — fishing, farming, horticulture, seafood, the meat industry, fresh produce have all been struggling to get their goods to market because there just hasn’t been planes to put those goods on. That’s why the Federal Government stepped up and we have provided $110 million to operate the International Freight Assistance Mechanism. We’re supporting now more than 200 flights from around Australia to hit a number of overseas markets.

Importantly, we’re aggregating freight from around the country so that it can get to the key markets. So that if South Australian freight needs to get to the Middle East, we can get it shipped from Adelaide to those places around the country where we’ve got planes headed to the Middle East. But here, we’re flying straight from Adelaide to Singapore, and from Singapore — one of the great, great hubs of the world — we can have confidence that the freight will head on to other parts of Asia as well. This is getting South Australian produce back onto the plates consumers right across Asia. With six Singapore Airlines flights that are initially contracted are going to each be carrying around 30 tonnes or so of outstanding seafood, meat, horticultural produce — all of it bound to ensure that consumers get the amazing things they want. And what’s most important about it is it’s saving South Australian businesses and jobs. COVID-19 is having an enormous consequence in terms of impact on the economy. We don’t want those consequences to hit areas where it’s unnecessary. There are still consumers around the world who want to buy Australian seafood, Australian meat, Australian produce. And that’s why we’ve got to make sure the planes are flying and get that produce on to their plates so that it saves the jobs of our farmers, fishers and Aussie business people who are working so hard to produce such premium produce. Premier, over to you.

Steven Marshall: Well thanks, Minister. And thank you very much to the Federal Government. This is now the next step in our road back to a COVID-safe economy in Australia. We are extraordinarily happy today. There are a lot of smiles on the faces of people across regional South Australia as we now open up an opportunity for air freight out of Adelaide to the rest of the world — 40 tonnes going out on Singapore Airlines. They first started flying out of Adelaide 36 years ago. It would have been heartbreaking for the people at Singapore Airlines to no longer have their planes flying out of our state with passengers, with important freight. Today, we’re restarting that line, we’re going out with South Aussie produce. We’re going to be taking it to Singapore. This is the first step in South Australia to normalise our economy, normalise our exports out of South Australia. So a massive thank you to the Federal Government, and of course, this is going to create more employment.

We’ve had some really, really, tough weeks. We know that there have been tens of thousands of South Australians who’ve lost their jobs during this period of time, but we’ve done really well in tackling this disease. And so now we’re going to reap the rewards, and slowly and carefully, we’re going to be opening up and normalising our economy. The National Cabinet meets again on Friday; this is an opportunity for us to finalise the framework for a road back to a COVID-safe economy. We’re hoping that by the middle of this year, we’ll substantially open up our economy here in Australia, and I think South Australia can do really well because we can, if you like, go slightly in front of the rest of the country because we have done so well at tackling this disease. But again, a very happy day for Singapore Airlines, a very happy day for primary producers right across our state as we get exports flying out of Adelaide.

Darren Thomas: Thank you, Premier. First of all I’d like to thank the Prime Minister and our Premier for their leadership during this crisis, and in particular, state and federal governments led by Minister Birmingham and Minister Ridgway for this opportunity. Singapore in particular, it’s a bit like going back to the future for me. It’s a country that we’ve been doing business with for 30 years. It’s an incredibly important country because it handles some of our high value premium products that South Australia is so good at producing. So this announcement and the cooperation between the state and federal governments to allow this market to continue for us is incredibly important. Not only important for our business, but also the producers of South Australia. The produce of the seafood producers, and the producers of our fine beef and lamb. And on today’s flight, we had about 6 to 7 tonne of our premium retail ready lamb going into that market, which was under some jeopardy. So I’m really pleased to be here today and our friends at Pak Fresh that make it all happen. Another great South Australian business here.

So for me it’s been a great, rewarding time today and, again, I’d like to thank the state and federal government for having this initiative and assisting our commerce to continue because, in some of our businesses around the world we don’t have this opportunity. So today’s been a great, a great start to the road to recovery. Thank you.

Question: Darren, just while you’re there, what’s the feedback been like from the local suppliers.

Darren Thomas: Look, talking to some farmers as early as this morning are great, you can understand they are worried about their futures and their incomes, and, you know, rural commodity prices are at an all time high — so this is only going to be a real support base. So, I know they’re very, very, very happy because they were concerned about there being a massive disruption to supply chain. So it’s a big tick of approval from the farmers.

Question: As on this morning’s flight is meat and seafood?

Darren Thomas: Meat and seafood produce, great tuna, beef and lamb — and it’ll only increase. I mean, this was pulled together very quickly and I can tell you, speaking to our customers last night from Singapore, they’ve got a large supermarket chain there, you know, they’re very, very- they’ve welcome this.

Steven Marshall: Nathan Beven is here from Pak Fresh if you want get a little bit of information just on the diversity of things that are on the flight.

Nathan Beven: Yeah. First and foremost, I’d like to reach out to reach out to everyone who joined us in this effort to make this happen. It was on Sunday afternoon when Minister Ridgeway was at my house and he certainly intimated there was something big. It’s a very humbling experience being here today with the support of Singapore Airlines, in particular Alan Chugg, the State Manager here who put this all together. We were fortunate enough, along with Darren’s wonderful products to bring together tuna, oysters, mussels – a lot of stuff from the Fleurieu Peninsula, Eyre Peninsula and right throughout regional South Australia. I can’t stress enough how important this flight is for South Australia. I want to thank those, including the state and federal parliaments for getting this far. This is a tremendous amount of work at this stage and we’re seeing a lot of support from for it moving forward and we’re coming right. So we’re really excited today for the industry, so thank you.

Question: Premier, you have been in touch with local producers as well? What the- are they just as, you know, excited – is this just an overwhelming sign of relief?

Steven Marshall: Look, this is this is the first step of the road back. Primary producers across the, across country have, they’ve been really worried as some of their markets have been taken away. When we look at some of the early statistics it’s agriculture and fishing that has really suffered because their overseas markets have been taken away. Hospitality in South Australia has been smashed- they’ve had very, very tough times. So if you like, this is the turning point for many of these people who’ve been doing it extraordinarily tough. So, we’re celebrating regional South Australia.

Question: Is this a one off flight? Or something you want to see weekly? Or?

Steven Marshall: No. This is one of six initial flights with Singapore Airlines. We’re going to be taking up to 40 tonne of fresh produce out of South Australia on each of these flights and then we’re hoping to be able to normalise as we get closer to the middle of the year.

Question: Just on another matter. Premier. Do you have any idea of what the situation is that’s unfolding at Adelaide University?

Steven Marshall:: No. Look, we haven’t had an update on what’s happening at Adelaide Uni, that might make itself clearer over the course of the day, but I don’t have anything to add over what happened- what I said yesterday. So we know that we have the Deputy Chancellor now assuming that role, they will move towards appointing a new Chancellor in the coming weeks. And we know that the Vice-Chancellor is on leave at the moment, but no further details.

Question: Will the State Government step in if required?

Steven Marshall: Look, I have now spoken to the Deputy Chancellor and offered any support, but at this stage we are continuing to work with Professor Mike Brooks, who’s the Acting Vice-Chancellor. We’ve got a lot of work that we’ve got to do with the university sector in South Australia and how we respond to the COVID-19 crisis. We want to make sure that we can get our university and our TAFE students back to face to face learning as quickly but as safely as we possibly can — so we’ll continue those discussions. And obviously we also have the issue of international students, it’s our largest export out of South Australia. Now, we’ve had enormously good success with bringing, or repatriating Australians citizens at the Pullman and Playford Hotel. We’ve been looking at that model and when it’s safe to do so, we’re thinking of a pilot to bring back international students using that same two week supervised quarantine and isolation. It’s our biggest export market. And so these are some of the discussion is not for immediate resolution but we would like to be able to sit down with the universities soon to make sure that we plan find out that road map back.

Question: Minister, the uni obviously receives federal funding as well, will the federal government be willing to step in if required?

Simon Birmingham: We’ll engage universities as and where required. The federal government is the major funder of most universities in terms of subsidies, it provided the student places, the upfront payment that we provide in terms of students’ income loans. The Adelaide University is an esteemed institution in South Australia, it’s an important part of our economy and a crucial part of the training of future of South Australians. But it’s also I’m sure in good hands. Professor Mike Brookes, being the Acting Vice-Chancellor is incredibly experienced and incredibly capable. I’m sure he will provide the leadership necessary to deal, in conjunction with the Acting Chancellor, with whatever circumstances they’re facing at present.

Question: Are pay rises appropriate for Naval Group employees during a pandemic?

Simon Birmingham: These really are matters for Naval Group to explain. The investment in our defence industries remains something that should give South Australian’s enormous confidence about the over $90 billion flowing through in naval infrastructure investment is not only providing crucial capability for Australia’s national security in the future but it is building the type of industry, sovereign industry capability that it is so important to our economy in the future and its essential that we do get that right.

Question: But some people getting pay rises probably won’t sit right with a lot of people during a pandemic?

Simon Birmingham: I understand many, many people are doing it very tough at present. What Naval Group structures future arrangement with its employees though is a matter for Naval Group.