Topics: Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement (A-HKFTA); One Nation.
Sabra Lane: Minister good morning and welcome to AM. What additional benefits will Australians stand to gain from this agreement?
Simon Birmingham: Well good morning Sabra. This is the 8th trade deal signed by our government and with Hong Kong, its sealing a trade deal with our sixth largest export market. So it’s a critical market, it’s going to lock in zero tariffs for Australian exporters going into Hong Kong. It’s got particular benefits for our services industry. So for those in professional services and other occupations who work in Hong Kong, who do business in Hong Kong, it will deliver extra rights for them and it’s going to ensure that we have mutual recognition of standards around labelling and information. So that for example, if you’re a boutique gin or whisky producer in Australia, you’re going to find it much easier to be able to export into the Hong Kong market in the future and it really is just building upon that network now of eight different agreements that our government has done that is underpinning I think record level of exports from Australia.
Sabra Lane: The Chamber of Commerce has published a trade survey today showing that a majority of businesses don’t understand or use these agreements. If these deals are so good why don’t businesses rate them highly?
Simon Birmingham: Well actually Sabra we’ve seen growth of 16 per cent in the number of Australian businesses who are exporting to the world during our time in government. So that’s strong growth in the number of businesses and what that’s resulted in is a record level…
Sabra Lane: But still you’ve got a large cohort there telling the Chamber of Commerce that they don’t use them, the majority of their members.
Simon Birmingham: And that’s why of course you have to continue to make sure that you go out and you advocate as I did the other day with 300 businesses in Sydney at a free trade seminar, where we actually talk them through in terms of the benefits of those agreements. Those benefits are being realised by businesses, 16 percent growth in the number of Australian businesses who are exporting whilst we’ve been in office. And (indistinct) that’s translated into a trade surplus last year, our largest ever trade surplus in Australian history, some $22.2 billion dollars’ worth of surplus in our trading relationship with the rest of the world last year, and that trade surplus is of course a big part of the reason for the record jobs growth that our government’s been able to deliver and the more opportunities that creates for Australians so really are integral part of our overall policy platform.
Sabra Lane: Are there any provisions in this deal, which could possibly harm Australia down the track like an investor state dispute settlement clause, put simply a mechanism to allow foreign companies to sue Australia?
Simon Birmingham: Well Australia already has an investment treaty with Hong Kong. This replaces and updates that investment treaty, and it does so by putting in place more protections.
Sabra Lane: Sorry, so do we have a clause in investor state dispute settlement clause?
Simon Birmingham: Absolutely Sabra and we have one with more protections for Australia’s rights in terms of legislating in relation to public health, the environment, and otherwise. So this has actually…
Sabra Lane: Why have something like that given that tobacco giant Philip Morris in recent years, when it used one of these provisions to take legal action against plain packaging of cigarettes here and that cost Australia $38 million dollars to defend.
Simon Birmingham: Well it didn’t actually cost Australia that much in the end because we did get some of that funding back…
Sabra Lane: Freedom of Information revealed that cost.
Simon Birmingham: But Sabra, importantly these provisions have never been used successfully against Australia. Australian companies, however in their investments in various investments overseas have been able to use these provisions to protect themselves. And if we did not have this new agreement with Hong Kong, then the old treaty arrangements that Philip Morris used, would stay in place. So, this is actually updating those to provide the type of protections that would clearly prevent such a case from going forward in the future. That’s one of the key reasons why the Labor Party should support this agreement, our agreements with Hong Kong, our agreement with Peru, our agreement with Indonesia, all of them have modern provisions in terms of investment support in them, and with those modern provisions they provide very clear blanket protections for health, for education, for the environment, ensuring that we can continue to protect ourselves as a country, but also provide certainty for Australian businesses who go out and invest in the rest of the world and in order to encourage our businesses to do that, not put in place barriers to them doing so.
Sabra Lane: Minister how should the Prime Minister deal with One Nation given the Al Jazeera revelations today that the organisation was hoping to gain millions from the gun lobby in the United States to help them win seats and the balance of power in Parliament?
Simon Birmingham: Pauline Hanson should clearly front the cameras today. She should explain whether or not she was truly seeking an amazing $20 million dollars in foreign donations to One Nation, to her political party. Whether or not she was again expecting to personally profit from an election campaign, whether or not she actually believes we should be weakening Australia’s gun laws which is a remarkable thing to even contemplate at this time of reflection upon the tragedy in Christchurch. There are many answers here for One Nation who are a risk to our trade policies or are a risk to our national harmony and integrity and indeed who appear to be a risk to our foreign donation law bans, to our gun laws as well.
Sabra Lane: On preferencing of One Nation, you have previously said that extremists should be put last. How do you think this group should be preferenced?
Simon Birmingham: Well I want to see everybody who nominates, but I am very clear in my views that Australians ought to reject extremism in all of its forms. They ought to reject the extremism of One Nation, the extremism of Fraser Anning in terms of the way in which they undermine the ability of us to build a stronger, more cohesive society, or to reject the extremism of their anti-trade policies. They ought to reject the extremism of the Greens anti-trade policies as well for that matter, or the Greens high-taxing policies. There’s a range of different things to contemplate when it comes to finally preferences, but extremism ought to be rejected by Australians in all of its forms.
Sabra Lane: Minister thanks for joining AM this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you Sabra.