• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: China’s tariffs on Australian barley; Reopening of interstate borders.
19 May 2020

Ali Clarke: Now though, it is time to talk borders, barley and beef, so we’ve got Senator- South Australian Senator Simon Birmingham who is the Minister for Tourism and Trade. Good morning.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning Ali. Some impressive alliteration there.

Ali Clarke: I’ll run with it. I’ll get you a t-shirt if you get through this.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you. I’ll hold you to it.

David Bevan: Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, is there any way you can repair the situation with China this year?

Simon Birmingham: David, China has it entirely within their power to decide to remove these duties that overnight they’ve determined to place on Australian barley imports into China. We would hope that they do, we will continue to argue that the decision they’ve made is based on errors of fact and misunderstanding and we will mount a strong case. That said, they’ve now finalised their processes. We’re going to have a look closely at the reasons they’ve given and the strongest pathway we can take to appeal or mount an alternate case to try to get this resolved for our barley producers. But it’s probably unlikely that that would happen this year in terms of any change of heart on their perspective or appeal type processes being finalised.

So in the interim, we’ll be working hard with our barley industry to make sure that that we find alternate markets for them. Our new free trade agreement with Indonesia kicks in on 5 July. That provides some 500,000 tonnes of feed grain to go to Indonesia. And it’s not the same as malting barley and so on. So we’ll be using that but also looking for other possibilities through our other agreements and arrangements.

David Bevan: Was this the right time when we know that our economy- or economies around the world is suffering. That we’re going into a recession because of the COVID-19 case and we don’t know how long this is going to last. Was this the right time to annoy our strongest trading partner?

Simon Birmingham: David, there’s never a time to step away from your values. You’ve always got to be true to your values as a country, as individuals as well. And we certainly hold true to Australian values. We are firm in the policy positions we take in the national interest whether it’s on matters of national security or matters of public health. Our Government acts in the national interest firm to those policies. We see that there should be no connection and no relationship between those sorts of policies and anti-dumping disputes or trading arrangements.

Ali Clarke: But isn’t it the art of- the ultimate art of politics to actually pick your time on this one? Seeing and forecasting where the economy would be heading, seeing what would be happening right around the world, was this not the ultimate time to play the politics and actually work out and look after our own backyard first and then push forward when we felt that we had these things in place?

Simon Birmingham: We never got to pick the time of COVID-19 and if we cast back some weeks, there were plenty of questions being asked of the Prime Minister as there were others around the world about what the response to COVID-19 should be in terms of investigations, handling inquiries, et cetera.

David Bevan: But seriously, what have you achieved? I mean you can have an investigation into COVID-19 and if China doesn’t cooperate- China doesn’t cooperate, you can still have your investigation. What have you achieved, except you’ve cost barley growers in Australia hundreds of millions of dollars?

Simon Birmingham: Well I don’t accept that there is a direct link there, David. That’s an allegation that can be made and it’s one for China to defend. They are very clear in their arguments that this has been an 18-month running anti-dumping dispute.

Last night, what did we achieve? Agreement at the World Health Assembly from the nations of the world, do a thorough investigation so that perhaps we can get to the bottom of how it occurred, how it’s been handled around the world when it comes to COVID-19 and making sure that we’re better placed in the future so that we can minimise the threat of another circumstance coming along that causes such massive devastation and loss of life and economic damage around the world. That’s- I think all Australians and as we’ve seen now, right around the world, people have agreed that an investigation into this is the bare minimum response there should be.

Ali Clarke: You’re also Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham and South Australia is holding the firm on not opening their borders and you’ve said whoever holds out will have to provide additional support for that industry. I put that to Premier Steven Marshall earlier this morning and he said we will still run our own race in the state and do whatever we need to do to keep us here in SA healthy. So then what’s going to be the answer for tourism providers in South Australia?

Simon Birmingham: Well I just gave those comments in response to Premier Palaszczuk in Queensland yesterday saying that state border restrictions might still be in place come September. Now, if we continue to see the success of suppressing COVID-19 right across the country over the next few weeks and months as all the parts of the economy steadily reopen under the road map that’s been outlined, there is no reason as to why we need to wait until September to see those state border restrictions come down …

Ali Clarke: Well the Premier said on this show this morning though, Senator, the Premier said on this show this morning that he hopes and thinks he might see the borders open this year. That didn’t sound very hopeful of it being a shorter timeline.

Simon Birmingham: And Ali, I think if we continue to see success across the country as we’re having in slowing and managing the spread of COVID-19, there’s no reason why borders need to stay closed as late as September. The decision to close the borders was one that certain states took at a time when we had a large number of cases of COVID-19 around the country, and it was a sensible decision in the case of SA. I fully back it. Steven Marshall has done an incredible job so far but all of the states need to also be mindful that one in 13 jobs in Australia is related to the tourism industry. And whilst it’s absolutely right to have whatever restrictions are necessary to keep us safe, they shouldn’t be there a day longer than necessary.

David Bevan: Would you like them open now?

Simon Birmingham: No. Because right now we’re still standing up again parts of the domestic economy within South Australia. There’s no point jumping to this before we’ve dealt with the reopening of pubs and the reopening of restaurants properly. All of it necessary with social distancing practices and so on in place. But once those next steps have been safely taken just as the state government here led the way in safely getting kids back to school, then we ought to be making sure the final steps are taken which is to reopen those interstate borders.

Ali Clarke: Okay. South Australian Senator Simon Birmingham we have to leave it there. Thank you very much.

Simon Birmingham: My pleasure. Thanks guys.