• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Exporting fresh produce, importing medical supplies.
01 April 2020

Deborah Knight: And yeah, the agriculture and seafood industries, they’ve been thrown this multimillion lifeline, and they, like a lot of industries, they’re hurting. The key Asian markets, they’ve ground to a halt. But today, the Federal Government is funding 200 planes packed with Aussie produce and they’re heading off to markets all around the world. So lobster, fish, meat, fruit and veg — it’s not going to go to waste and some more jobs will be saved to boot. And even better, after the lobsters arrive, the planes, when they’re empty, will bring back vital medical supplies, medicine and equipment. So it’s a win-win really.

On the line is Trade and Tourism Minister, Simon Birmingham. Minister, great idea.

Simon Birmingham: Hi Deb. Thanks very much. Look, this is really important for our farmers and our fishermen that they’re able to still export the fish they catch, the farm produce that they make, because that’s how they generate their income. We produce enough food in this country to feed around 75 million people and of course, much of our export earnings come from agriculture. But the problem at present is that around 95- around 90 odd per cent of our freight that normally leaves Australia in planes goes in passenger planes, in the bellies of those planes. Now, of course, those passenger planes aren’t flying anymore and that is crippling the freight opportunities for our farmers and fishermen, which is why we’ve stepped up to create a program where farmers and fishermen will still have to pay for freight but government is going to step in and find an opportunity to make sure that we get the planes, get the freight and cargo aircraft moving again across these routes so that they can manage to get their produce to our key markets.

Deborah Knight: Yeah. And we’ve seen shortages here in Australia though of certain items on supermarket shelves. There have been concerns about whether or not we can actually feed ourselves. Will this be impacting at all on supplies in Australia?

Simon Birmingham: This will certainly help in terms of using the backhaul, the flights back to Australia, to be able to get medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, medicines, all of those sort of key things that are high value imports into Australia, back in using these services as well. So, it’s important to look indeed at the flights from both directions. We’ve been doing plenty to scale up manufacturing and production in Australia and many of our manufacturers have pivoted from making drinks, to making hand sanitiser or from making fast food packaging, to making face masks, and there’s some really good stories of innovation in Australian manufacturing. But we also want to make sure that where we have placed orders overseas for more protective equipment, more face masks and more testing equipment or the like, that we actually get that into Australia as well, and we’ll use this new government-coordinated freight mechanism to help do that.

Deborah Knight: But sending our seafood, our fruit and veg to those export markets, that won’t impact price here in Australia, will it, or supplies here in Australia?

Simon Birmingham: Not at all. As I said before, we produce enough food in Australia to feed 75 million people, three times essentially our national population. Our farmers and our fishermen rely on exports for their earnings in normal times. The problem they’re facing at present is they just can’t get their produce to those markets because of the collapse in international aviation. So, that’s the gap that government is stepping in to fill.

Just as earlier this week, we made the decision to create the JobKeeper allowance to provide direct wage subsidies for hundreds of thousands, indeed, potentially six million Australians and hundreds of thousands of businesses across Australia. This is about making sure that those businesses, who do still have customers but those customers are in other countries, can still sell their goods to those customers so that we don’t see even more pressure on the economy, more pressure, more job losses when they are entirely avoidable if we can get these goods into those markets.

Deborah Knight: Yeah, it’s a great move. And if it can save some jobs and ensure that our industry, like seafood, can stay on its feet, it’s definitely welcome. And bring that medical supplies — we need them — back to Australia too.

Good on you, Minister. Thanks for joining us.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much Deb. My pleasure.

Deborah Knight: Simon Birmingham there, the Minister for Trade and Tourism.