Interview on ABC AM with Kim Landers
Topics: Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement; Julia Banks
Kim Landers: Simon Birmingham has been the Trade Minister for less than a week. He’s in Jakarta and when I spoke to him, I began by asking: what exactly is in this Australia-Indonesia free trade deal?
Simon Birmingham: Well, this is a comprehensive, strategic partnership with Indonesia and between our two nations. And in the trade sense, it’s a great outcome and it’s a real tribute to Malcolm Turnbull, Steven Ciobo and the negotiating team from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia in terms of what they’ve done. What’s in it is good news: good news for Australian farmers, for Australian manufacturers and, indeed, for many service industries in terms of the increased opportunities of access into the Indonesian market for them.
Kim Landers: Sorry, give us an example of what that good news is because there has been speculation that what is actually being signed today is just a page long. Is that right?
Simon Birmingham: Well, what we’re acknowledging today is the conclusion of negotiations and from here we then go on to settle all of the final text. But the content of that text has now been agreed. We just have to get all of it in order for signature. In terms of examples: well, I can tell you that ultimately over 99 per cent of Australian goods exports by value to Indonesia will enter duty-free or under significantly improved arrangements compared to previous conditions. That’s a big improvement: up from 85 per cent under previous trade arrangements with Indonesia. Real live examples relate to frozen meats, to live cattle, to feed grains, to dairy, to citrus, to rolled steel coil, to copper cathodes; as well to industries in education, in key services as well such as aged care, healthcare, telecommunications; big opportunities for Australian investors and services exporters, as well as those primary producers.
Kim Landers: You mentioned universities there. Will this allow Australian universities to actually set up campuses in Indonesia?
Simon Birmingham: The significant opportunities are really for vocational education providers and for them to initially step in. However, it does lock in a pathway whereby, once Indonesia does liberalise opportunities for higher education providers, Australian universities will clearly be at the front of that pathway.
Kim Landers: When will the full details be released and the final agreement signed?
Simon Birmingham: We hope the final agreement will be signed this year. As I say, this is marking the conclusion of negotiations. And it really is good news if you’re a frozen beef producer from Queensland, a sheep meat producer from WA, a feed grains grower from New South Wales, a dairy farmer from Victoria, a citrus grower from South Australia or a vegetable grower in Tasmania. There really is something for very large parts of the Australian economy.
Kim Landers: The relationship with Indonesia is very important for Australia. Any concerns that Scott Morrison might be carrying a little bit of baggage in Indonesia from his days as immigration minister and the ‘turn back the boats’ policy, which wasn’t very popular in Jakarta?
Simon Birmingham: The fact that Scott Morrison is here, just one week into the job, is I think a sign that he comes to office focused on what’s in the best interests of Australia and focused on building on the good work of Malcolm Turnbull. This is about continuing business. The negotiations here over a trade deal will be a legacy achievement of the Turnbull government, but it is one that Scott Morrison gets on having been treasurer in that government, well-placed to be able to implement. And I know that he looks forward to meeting with President Widodo later today.
Kim Landers: This time last week, the Liberal Party was about to dump a prime minister and install a new one. In the wake of the bullying claims that have since emerged from your colleague, Julia Banks, do you think that there should be an internal panel where MPs could take these sorts of complaints?
Simon Birmingham: I’ve seen reports around that. Let me say firstly that these sorts of actions have no place in any workplace and certainly should have no place in the Parliament. And I trust that Julia’s claims will be thoroughly investigated within the Liberal Party system…
Kim Landers: But I guess I’m asking about: in what way?
Simon Birmingham: But of course, in a broader sense, the question you are asking is… in a broader sense you’re asking: should there be some sort of parliamentary or cross-party approach there? Obviously, there are parliamentary processes in places such as privileges committees, as well as the key role that presiding officers and whips play, but I would expect that the whips and the presiding officers would look at issues like this and consider whether anything can or ought be done to improve the way that people can come forward and have them addressed if they need to.
Kim Landers: The Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham.