• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: … China dumping inquiry on Australian barley, Port Adelaide Football Club sponsorship deal with China, uptake of tourism in regional South Australia, AFL imposes further restrictions on team training.
11 May 2020

David Penberthy: But with the Trade Minister who joins now, Simon Birmingham, it’s a real practical question because here and now China have issued a — not challenge — but they’ve given a please explain to Canberra to say why should we not impose tariffs on Australian barley? The accusation comes after an 18-month investigation that says, effectively, that Australian Barley exporters were dumping the stock in China at a reduced rate to undermine local industry. We’re familiar with these terms because usually it’s us doing these investigations.

So the Trade Minister is on the line now. Minister, good morning to you.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, guys, good to be with you.

David Penberthy: So just on this matter. To get to the absolute heart of the matter, do you accept that this is a legitimate finding at the end of this 18-month investigation? So the investigation predates all this coronavirus silliness that’s gone on. Or is it your view that this is simply again China leveraging its power as a trade partner to try and affect Australian domestic policy? And the actual heart of it, the truth of this investigation now, is- has entirely been sidetracked?

Simon Birmingham: Will, we don’t accept the indicative findings of this investigation. We didn’t accept right at the outset close to 18 months ago that there was even a prima facie case to answer in relation to Australian barley exports to China being subsidised or being dumped on the China market. And after close to 18 months of inquiry we don’t think there is any compelling evidence to find a case that that our barley produces, all of our grain producers, all of our farmers across Australia operate in anything other than a competitive global marketplace and they do so without any direct or undue government subsidies. They just happen to be some of the most productive and efficient in the world who, of course, because they’re productive and efficient price their grains competitively and produce an outstanding volume.

David Penberthy: So just to clarify, has Australia been found guilty of doing anything wrong by any kind of independent organisation like the WTO? Or is it China just saying we’re guilty?

Simon Birmingham: No. So this is the China’s equivalent of Australia’s Anti-Dumping Commission.

David Penberthy: Right.

Simon Birmingham: We have an Anti-Dumping Commission that, when we think a country is dropping product into Australia at below market prices, that it’s subsidised or it’s just offloading surplus at a discount, we undertake investigations and we can impose duties or tariffs on that product to ensure that it doesn’t kill off Australian industry through- as a result of essentially inappropriate practices of another country.

So their equivalent kicked off this inquiry close to 18 months ago and they did so on the basis of a complaint in China alleging that there were these practices by the Australian barley industry. We just don’t believe that there is any clear evidence to support those claims. And look, it’s not a final determination. We have a little over a week to be able to mount a case back and we will do so, together with our grains industry, as strongly as we possibly can. From SA back in 2018 we sent around $165 million worth of barley to China so it’s big business, an important export market for us and we want to make sure that this is concluded based on the evidence rather than clouded by any other issues.

David Penberthy: Well talking about those other issues I mean, you just came in Minister on the tail end of the discussion Will and I we’re having about the Port Adelaide Football Club and its economic relationship with China over the of the Shanghai game. Your friend and colleague, Chris Pyne, has written a really good column today, a very thoughtful column in The Tiser talking about how we balance our instinct for justified outrage about things like human rights, democratic freedoms, the treatment of minorities, belligerent in a sort of regional militaristic sense versus the fact that in an economic sense we have a hugely important relationship with China, accounting for something like 30 per cent of Australia’s exports. How do we balance that relationship?

Simon Birmingham: Well even beyond the economic, Penbo, let’s look at it from a very long term perspective, as we should when it comes to our global relationships. China is the most populous country in our region; it’s a great power in the world; it’s, yes, the biggest consumer market in our region who is also going to have an enormous influence for a very long period of time to come. And that’s why we need to make sure that we hold firm in terms of our positions around Australia’s national interests, our national security, protect our sovereignty, ensure that we stand firm for Australian values and principles.

We also need to engage with all of the countries in our region to make sure that we can all operate as peacefully and in advance of prosperity as we possibly can. And that means that, yes, you won’t always agree at a government-to-government level, but where we can we should encourage people-to-people activity.

So if Port Adelaide can find a way to keep its China’s strategy going as a footy club, that’s a good thing. Because the more we actually engage at a people-to-people level, the more we actually come to better understand one another. It helps to facilitate trade and commerce and that’s all good, but it actually also helps to reduce the risk of tension, or threat, or security problems in the future if we have these better understandings at a cultural and a people-to-people level.

David Penberthy: Minister, with the other hat on talking tourism. Have you had an opportunity to crunch the numbers on what the tourism industry in Australia is going to look like with it being entirely reliant on intrastate state travel now? Because we’re great travelers in this country but typically that’s at the detriment of our own local industry — we go overseas to South-East Asia and all manner of other places. If South Australians all go and spend the same amount of money they would on international travel on travelling this own state, how well can that sustain the industry?

Simon Birmingham: I don’t quite have the exact figures to hand, Will. But you’re right that- and that we do spend an awful lot of money as consumers on international travel, and holidays, and cruise ships, and all those sorts of things. And if we now turn around and make those same investments then in getting over to KI, or getting out to the wine regions, or heading up to the Flinders and The Outback, or together with some mates. We’ve been planning a bit of a October school holidays trip over the Eyre Peninsula too so, you know, to spend a few days over there. And, you know, that’s what we’ve all got to do — to actually get out there. There are some amazing sights to see, experiences to be had.

And if you’re fortunate enough to be able to afford to do so, to take that break. well you’re also probably going to be helping to save a local small business and save a fellow South Australian’s job.

David Penberthy: Hey, Birmo, just before we let you go, I know that you’re a passionate Crows man and that you, and your wife, and kids are frequent attendees at the games — those games that used to have crowds and so forth. You got any thoughts on the AFL’s training inquiry?

Simon Birmingham: Mate, I’ve got to say the obsessive control freak nature of the AFL’s coming out pretty strongly here. If the Crows, or any footy club does anything wrong in breach of a state governments health restriction, well they ought to have the book thrown at them — no doubt about that. But this idea that the AFL imposed it from on high, some type of restriction that has to apply across when teams can train and how they can train I think, please. Let the boys get out there and train, and train as well and as thoroughly as they can as long as it’s in accordance with the state health requirements. And, you know, I fear that we’re seeing the Melbourne sentry control hand of the AFL just reach far too deep at present.

David Penberthy: There you go, got there.

Will Goodings: Cop it, Phil McLaughlin.

David Penberthy: Yeah. Yeah. The Commonwealth Governments put the Vics on notice. That is- I love that answer, that was terrific.

Will Gooding: Yeah, it is. That’s why we have, that’s why we have Senators. That’s the whole reason of the upper house right there. Thank you very much.

David Penberthy: Exactly.

Simon Birmingham: Exactly and demonstrated right there.

David Penberthy: Yeah exactly. Senator appreciate your time.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks, guys, cheers.