Topics:   UK FTA; G7 Summit; Australia-China relationship; Liveable cities


Scott Emerson:  Well, we’re joined now by the Federal Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham. Now, Simon Birmingham. You were heavily involved in the negotiations of this trade deal when you were the trade minister.


Simon Birmingham: Hello, Scott. It’s great to be with you. Yes, indeed. I launched the discussions between Australia and the United Kingdom as trade minister, and we made good progress at that stage. And I’m thrilled to see that we are hopefully getting very close to an in principle agreement between Australia and the UK for a free trade agreement that provides the potential to take us back to the type of closer economic relationship that we had before the UK entered the European Union some four decades ago, and in doing so, provide new opportunities for Australian exporters and particularly our agricultural exporters to access a premium market, a high value market. And I know that’s where our farmers would really want to focus their efforts if we can get this deal done.


Scott Emerson: Well, we do better out of this in terms of our trade with the UK compared to, say, if the UK was still in the EU?


Simon Birmingham: Well, if we’re getting this deal done, it will have happened in faster time than our negotiations for a similar trade agreement with the EU. And so I think that will be a credit to the UK if they have come to an agreement with us. Australia is only going to agree the Boston government is only going to agree to a trade deal that is in Australia’s interests. That really does give our farmers, our businesses improved access into the UK market that achieves as much elimination of taxes, tariffs, quotas on Australian produced and goods and services going into the UK – it is possible. And if the deal is done, we obviously also want to see that deal with the EU done, but it will certainly provide a more attractive market into the UK if our deal is in place with them ahead of any agreement with the EU.


Scott Emerson: Are you expecting that announcement of a deal with the Prime Minister over there with Boris Johnson?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I know the Prime Minister and my successor in the trade portfolio, Dan Tehan, have been working incredibly hard and closely with UK counterparts to try to reach this in principle agreement ahead of our Prime Minister and the UK prime minister meeting at this G7 conference. Look, it really is often useful to have a deadline to drive everybody towards in these spaces, to make people consider the concessions that have to be made in a trade agreement. Now Australia is already a very open economy to the UK. We’re wanting the UK to step back from some of the protectionism they had as a member of the European Union and similarly open themselves up to Australia and particularly to our farmers, our good and our businesses.


Scott Emerson: Now, let’s talk about the G7 meeting. Now, Australia is not part of the G7, but we’ve been a regular invitee to it over the last couple. How important is for Australia to be there at the G7 meeting?


Simon Birmingham: So the G7 brings together the world’s largest democratic economies. It’s a very important gathering. To give some context. This, I believe, is the first international meeting that Joe Biden is attending since taking the reins as US president at the start of the year. Now COVID has curtailed his travel, as it has everybody else. But anybody who’s wondering, well, gee why is Scott Morrison going to this meeting? And they should think about the fact that President Biden has put the priority on this as the singular most important one for his first overseas trip. And so the fact that Australia has been invited as the 13th largest economy in the world and therefore only just outside of those G7 nations in terms of advanced democratic economies, to join the US, UK, France and other crucial partners, as well as the additional invitees, which include India and Korea, as well as Japan as a regular member, really does provide an opportunity for us to tackle the economic issues that we face in this time of recovery from COVID-19, the continued challenges posed by COVID-19. Other strategic challenges faced by the world, including some of the coercive action that we’ve seen by China in relation to trade relations and to work with like-minded partners in response to those and other very important issues such as climate change and how we work cooperatively to develop the new technologies necessary for the future.


Scott Emerson: As you said, the G7 is made up of the big seven democratic economies. China clearly would be an issue amongst those discussions in those discussions. Australia has been seen as kind of leading the way in terms of standing up to China, and we’ve obviously taken a few hits from China in terms of the trade war. Will Scott Morrison be looking for a support from, say, the other G7 countries like the UK, like the US in terms of backing us in this battle with China?


Simon Birmingham: Even before this meeting takes place. We’ve seen some very positive and encouraging statements made by the United Kingdom and especially by the US as well. President Biden made a point in his first summit, a virtual summit it was with President Xi Jinping of China of raising concerns, including concerns about the use of coercive practises, the likes of which Australian faced. We’ve seen very much as the US making clear their concerns about this seemingly targeting of Australia. Now we’re not alone in that regard. Other countries have faced different measures as well. But the nature of our geography and place in the world does mean that we are acutely sensitive to the challenges posed by a more assertive China. Be they challenges of access within our region, such as the dispute over the South China Sea or be they of course, some of these economic and trade practises, or indeed very serious concerns about human rights and democratic principles being undermined in the region such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong, respectively. So we see strong engagement from many of those partners already. And I would anticipate that in the background of many of the conversations had amongst those world leaders, it will be a topic.


Scott Emerson: We don’t see some sort of clear communique from the G7 meeting regarding China. Will that be a lost opportunity?


Simon Birmingham: No, not necessarily, Scott. I mean, I think it will frame many of the discussions, but there’s plenty on the G7 agenda as well. And I know that leaders will equally be wanting to pursue a positive agenda from it. And you can see that already in some of the announcements about the support that the developed economies, big developed economies want to provide in terms of vaccines to the rest of the world. The recognition that if we are to tackle COVID-19, we don’t just have to do it in our own countries. We’ve got to show the leadership across the world in helping those who will face greater challenges. Australia has already been doing that in terms of our work with Papua New Guinea, with Timor-Leste and with many of the Pacific Island nations too.


Scott Emerson: Now, Simon Birmingham, you’re a Senator from South Australia, and I know you love your state the same ways that we love Queensland up here. But I want to ask you about this issue. The Economist came out this week and named Adelaide as the most liveable city in Australia. Now, I make the point here you are third, Brisbane, Brisbane was 10th. Now I want to play a song for you. Have a listen to.


[Excerpt] Well it’s one more boring Thursday night in Adelaide. And it looks like everybody must have died. [End Excerpt]


Scott Emerson: Now, Simon Birmingham, that’s Redgum, they come from Adelaide. They’re telling the truth. How can Adelaide be more liveable than Brisbane?


Simon Birmingham: I’m trying to remember whether it was the late 1970s or the early 1980s that Redgum recorded that song.


Scott Emerson: Yeah but it’s still true now. It’s still true now Simon Birmingham.


Simon Birmingham: That is grossly offensive, Scott. It is a long way from the truth. And I have just come from opening a magnificent little eco villa tourism retreat called CABN to give them a bit of a free plug in the McLaren Vale wine region that they need a beautiful location to have some of the best wines in the world and the best natural setting. And I’d encourage people whether they want to come for that or indeed, tonight in Adelaide, Cabaret Festival is having its opening night and will be attended by many people with leading entertainers from across the country and around the world. So a bit of a free plug thank you for SA tourism. I love Queensland, too. I think we can all live happily alongside one another with a complementary tourism products and encourage people to get across both our great state.


Scott Emerson: Well I’m just looking at the BOM at the moment, Simon Birmingham. Looks like a lot of rain for the rest of the week and low temperatures, blue skies here in Brisbane in the low 20s today. I can tell you Brisbane, I can’t believe it, but thank you for being on 4BC Drive this afternoon, Simon Birmingham.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Scott. My pleasure.