Ben Fordham: Well the Chinese government is ramping up its threats to our economy. First they hit our beef industry with import bans, then they whacked a tariff on our barely. And then they encouraged tourists to stay away from our shores. Now they are going after our third largest export industry and that is education. China’s Ministry of Education has told its students to reconsider studying in Australia. They say there’s been an increase in racist attacks against Chinese students and our Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham, wants to try and smooth the waters with his Chinese counterpart, but his Chinese counterpart still won’t pick up the phone. The Minister for Trade, Simon Birmingham, joins us live. Minister, good morning.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Ben. Great to be with you.
Ben Fordham: Great to be with you. Is there an increase in racist attacks against Chinese students in Australia?
Simon Birmingham: No Ben, we don’t believe that there is. Australia is country that holds ourself to an incredibly high standard. Far higher standard than most other nations and where racism occurs, it’s condemned. Where there are incidents, we encourage it to be reported. Where there is any violence that occurs in our community, racist or otherwise, we encourage it to be not only reported, but insist that it be investigated and that people be brought to justice wherever possible. But also we widely report on statistics that are collected around these matters. Now, students in Australia from overseas continue to report that they choose Australia as a study destination, not only because of our high quality education standards, but also because of the safety and security that Australia offers them.
Ben Fordham: If the Ministry of Education in China follows through with his threat and encourages people to stay away from Down Under, this is going to be a big loss to our economy. Because you’ve got, I think already, about $12 billion being lost to Chinese students this year in Australia; there are 40,000 students with a visa to study here who are still in China. What could the ramifications be if this advice is followed?
Simon Birmingham: Well this would be a loss to both nations, certainly to Australia. We would feel the effect – our universities would, if we saw a downturn in international student numbers. That would be, not only an economic effect, but also impact the diversity of learning that occurs on those campuses and the different perspectives that brings. It would also be a loss to those Chinese students who would lose out on getting a high quality English language education in one of the safest countries on Earth. And for the long term, it would do nothing to help further the mutual understanding between our two nations as well. And that’s one of the reasons why, as a government, we introduced the New Colombo Plan that helps Australian students to study in different universities and institutions across the region, particularly throughout Southeast Asia, so that we actually do enhance all of those cultural understandings that are so important to doing business and trade and engaging with countries around the region, not just today but well into the future.
Ben Fordham: In 25 words or less what’s your message to China?
Simon Birmingham: Australia and China won’t agree on everything and we don’t agree on everything but we want and have a constructive partnership. We are going to be tied in this region forever and therefore, we’re open to continuing to work through difficult issues and we ought to continue to encourage engagement with our businesses, students and others. And sorry, that was a lot more than 25 words.
Ben Fordham: No, no, you’ve done all right. I hope they finally pick up the phone and we’ll talk to you soon.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks Ben. My pleasure.
Ben Fordham: Simon Birmingham, the Minister for Trade.