Interview on ABC Breakfast with Virginia Trioli
Topics: Upcoming Foreign Minister visit; China International Import Expo; Timing of election
Virginia Trioli: Simon Birmingham good morning and thanks so much for joining us.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Virginia.
Virginia Trioli: Now there’s a lot going on in the relationship between our two countries at the moment. And of course we have a visit impending now by the Foreign Affairs Minister and your call of course in relation to trade between China and America. So let’s let’s try and clarify our relationship this morning. How do you see it at the moment between Australia and China? Are we close friends? Are we wary friends? Are we just trading partners?
Simon Birmingham: Australia and China are friends we’re friends who have a very strong economic relationship. China is Australia’s largest trading partner and we indeed are one of China’s largest trading partners, but it’s a friendship that has its challenges and like any two mature countries, we won’t always agree on every single aspect of foreign policy, but we shouldn’t let that get in the way of things that we do agree on and where we can cooperate. And I’m here in Shanghai at an event the China International Import Expo that is celebrating 40 years of China opening up their economy and with that of course we’ve seen phenomenal economic growth, 800 million plus people lifted out of poverty and of course, significant economic benefits for our region and for Australia in particular.
Virginia Trioli: So what’s the case key focus of the Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s visit to China going to be?
Simon Birmingham: Well, this is for Minister Payne an opportunity to have the regular strategic dialogue that we have with China. That of course means that they’ll be able to have a a range of important issues that exists there in terms of the relationship. It will build on the economic parts of the relationship. How we continue to get the best out of the China Australia Free Trade Agreement for both nations to grow the economy across our region. And I’ve got no doubt as well that those discussions will also look and how we can most effectively and efficiently work to support other nations within our region whilst respecting their sovereignty.
Virginia Trioli: Will Australia raise concerns about China’s re-education camps for Muslims that the ABC reported on extensively last week.
Simon Birmingham: Look I’ll leave, leave it for Minister Payne in terms of what will or won’t be discussed there and Minister Payne is going to come to China at a time where we’ve had a very good lead-in in terms of the economic parts of our relationship. As I said, we will always have differences as two nations, Australia has over the years raised human rights issues with China and no doubt will do so again in the future. But we have a very broad relationship too and I would expect in terms of regional development, economic ties, other foreign policy matters, there are a range of topics to discuss. Yesterday President Xi gave a very encouraging speech in terms of China’s commitment to engage me in multilateral fora like the World Trade Organization, to reforms that will open up new parts of their economy and education and health care services and to better protection of intellectual property, which is something that we welcome.
Virginia Trioli: Now it’s interesting timing, isn’t it given the constant criticism of China by Donald Trump and of course your call for the two countries to sort of to get the trade relationship back on track. China sort of needs all the friends it can get right now, so is that explain the timing now that it reaches out its hand back to us here in Australia?
Simon Birmingham: We certainly due for this strategic dialogue to occur between….
Virginia Trioli: Overdue, overdue really, well overdue
Simon Birmingham: The Australian and Chinese Foreign Minister and I’m pleased that new Minister Marise Payne has been able to get that within the first few months of Marise being in the job. That’s a great step. Of course it comes on the back of me already being in China this week. In terms of the US China trade issues we’ve been consistent the whole way through that we don’t believe that unilateral increases in tariffs are the right way to go. And we’ve been critical of that equally we acknowledge there are some genuine reasons that underpin the US concerns. We’re pleased that President Trump over the last week has indicated that his discussions with President Xi indeed were positive and hopefully that can lead to more dialogue at the G20. Hopefully that can head off further increases in tariffs further protection of sentiment and they were certainly views that I discussed with Commerce Minister Zhong in my meetings with him earlier this week.
Virginia Trioli: Now just to some issues back home before we let you go, there’s a drastic option being canvased within your government. According to reports today to gain a bit more time in order to defeat Labor. A May election, but also an early Senate election. A Senate election early in the year and then going to a separate election for the House of Reps several months later. Is there a great deal of support for that within your government? Do you like that idea?
Simon Birmingham: I would fully expect that a normal election will be held in the normal course of events in the normal time, which is May next year.
Virginia Trioli: Now on the issue of the Scott Morrison bus, which is getting a lot of attention. It’s being paid for out of Liberal Party coffers, but the majority of the Prime Minister and his team’s travel in Queensland is nonetheless going to be on VIPs on jets, of course paid for by the taxpayer. You do realise how ticked off a lot of voters are going to be about that when this is clearly electioneering.
Simon Birmingham: Virginia, I think Australians expect the Prime Minister to get out and meet with them and engage and Scott Morrison’s travel around the country is no different to what any other Prime Minister does.
Virginia Trioli: In all the nine key seats in Queensland, the Coalition held seats with a margin of less than two percent.
Simon Birmingham: Getting around, getting around Australia visiting places in Queensland and that’s exactly what people would expect Prime Ministers to do and that’s precisely what leaders of political parties do all of the time and there’s no difference to anything that is occurred in the past. No difference at all.
Virginia Trioli: The difference is that we would normally see these buses during an election campaign. Not when an election hasn’t been called. So why not just call the election and be a bit honest about it.
Simon Birmingham: Because I don’t think Australians like early elections Australians like governments to run their full term and we will do that we’ll have the election in the ordinary course of events. Scott Morrison continues to get on with the job of governing in terms of support for our veterans, growing our economy a government as a whole we are busy active members of the government. I’m here with more than two hundred Australian companies in Shanghai promoting trade and investment opportunities in Australia to thousands of potential Chinese customers. As we’ve been discussing. Foreign Minister Payne will be here later this week and the members of the government are all getting on with their job. The job of the Prime Minister is in part to get out and connect with the electorate and the community and that’s precisely what he’s doing.
Virginia Trioli: Good to talk to Simon Birmingham. Thanks so much.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you Virginia.