• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Some states reopening travel, China possibly place 80 per cent tariff on Australian exports of barley.
10 May 2020

Chris Smith: Senator Simon Birmingham is the Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment and he’s on the line. Senator, good morning to you.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Chris. Good to be with you.

Chris Smith: Yeah. Are you disappointed the New South Wales Government didn’t go as far as the Queensland Government did on Friday by allowing some regional travel?

Simon Birmingham: Chris, I think a week or two here or there is something perfectly for reasonable states and territories to form their judgments on based on the health advice they’re receiving and the caseload that exist in their states, and indeed the confidence levels within regions.

It is important to appreciate that many regional communities have really been dead set against having visitors during the health concerns that we’ve faced but I know many of them are now shifting their views, and are eager to welcome people back.

And I really look forward to us gradually seeing Australians in whichever capital city they’re in, in particularly out in New South Wales, in Sydney and the broader metropolis there, to be able to get back out into the regions and support so many small struggling tourism businesses and hospitality businesses who are doing it very tough at present.

Chris Smith: Which is why you’d be pleased about what Queensland had decided to do.

Simon Birmingham: I certainly welcome the fact that are some states — Queensland, South Australia — are urging people to get back out into regional areas. South Australia has given the green light, caravan parks and camping facilities reopening, and that’s really to be encouraged. And we want to make sure that as long as it’s consistent with the health advice, and our ability to keep the incidence of new cases as low as we can, then we ought to get people back out, moving around again. Because it’s not just about going and having a holiday, this is about supporting the small businesses and jobs and the livelihoods of many fellow Australians.

Chris Smith: How many businesses related to tourism have had to close? And how many staff have been laid off? Have you got those figures?

Simon Birmingham: Chris, I don’t and that’s, that would be a real challenge for us to measure at present. There will be, sort of, a time where the ABS stats catch up a little bit to all that’s happened and give us a bit of a picture at different points in time.

But clearly many tourism and hospitality businesses have closed in terms of operations at present. But the JobKeeper payments and the small and medium business payments that the governments making should be sustaining the bulk of them through, through these tough times. And the reason we made those sorts of payments is so that when the restrictions are eased we’ve actually still got productive businesses able to open their doors again and that’s been the crucial part about many of the payments we’ve made — supporting individuals, households, families who may not have work at present but; also ensuring that businesses survive through these tough times and reopen so we’ve got that productive capacity in our economy — people to re-employ people afterwards.

Chris Smith: What’s the expectation of domestic travel resuming? Is it July 1 as well?

Simon Birmingham: Domestic travel is a little trickier and that really falls on the states outside of New South Wales and Victoria, because they’re the ones that have put in place restrictions on travel in and out of their states.

Now, in some cases that’s enabling South Australia in Western Australia, who have next to no cases of COVID-19 in their states at present, to open up intrastate activities just much faster and more strongly at present — and so they’re sort of being more forward leaning there. But they see the interstate travel bans as being sort of their big protective barrier against facing the consequence of the spike of cases, for example that Victoria has seen recently.

So it’s very hard to put a date on interstate travel. I would love to think that by the time we get to those July school holidays there is a bit of extra room for movement so that people can plan trips, not just within their state but across state borders — have the same effect of getting more people moving, more people spending. I know not everybody’s going to be able to do so and I’m very conscious when we’re having these discussions that people who have lost their jobs at present, faced a downturn and their income, had to use all of their holiday leave right now — at the idea of taking a travel oriented trip is- or holiday is, is a far-fetched dream for them.

But for those who can afford to, and are lucky enough to do so I say again — you’ll get out, you’ve be able to have the time of your life that the Australian tourism industry always provides visitors, but you’ll also be helping to save the small businesses and jobs of fellow Australians.

Chris Smith: Ironically, we could have a year in which domestic tourism suffers its worst hit ever and then it could be the year that domestic tourism sustains the biggest impetus ever at the same time. So it’s quite ironic.

One last question before — I know you’ve got to go and get on a plane — but if you could put on your other hat for a moment as Minister for Trade. I can see a Tweet from Chris Uhlmann, the Channel 9 political reporter. He says: in what will be seen as a direct shot across the Morrison government’s bough, China is about to impose an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley. He says: it’s a long running WTO dispute but its genesis was political. Do you know about this? Is that confirmed? And secondly, are you disappointed?

Simon Birmingham: I do know about it and I am deeply disappointed. The Government is deeply disappointed by the indications that China, in resolving this near 18-month long investigation in which they’ve alleged that Australian barley producers have been dumping Australian barley on the Chinese market at below market prices, may conclude with a negative finding; and that the indications are it may see a significant tariff in the order of 70 to 80 per cent levied on top of the Australian barley imports into China.

The Government rejects the fact that there is any case in this regard. Our view is that our barley producers operate in an entirely commercial way, free of any undue government subsidy or support, and that there is not the evidence to sustain this finding.

It’s not a final finding, the tariff or duty doesn’t take effect immediately, and we will be using the remaining 10 days or thereabouts that we have to argue our case…

Chris Smith: Gee, it sounds awfully like some kind of counter attack against our insistence on having an independent inquiry into the coronavirus.

Simon Birmingham: Look, I’d note that it is an investigation that’s been running, as I say, for nearly 18 months and it was always due to conclude in the space of the next, the next 10 days — so we had a deadline that we knew was coming up. But we certainly don’t, in any way, accept the validity of the arguments that have been put.

We have confidence that and know full well that our farmers operate in a commercial way without government subsidy, and we will keep mounting that argument, and we reserve all rights to take any decision that is not recognising the facts of the situation, we will those decisions through further appeals through WTO process if need be.

Chris Smith: Thank you so much for your time this afternoon- this morning. Thank you.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Chris. Cheers

Chris Smith: Simon Birmingham Senator Simon Birmingham, Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment.