Topics: International and State Borders; JobKeeper; Free Trade Agreement with the UK; Daniel Andrew comments.




Karl Stefanovic:           Well, Australia is on the cusp of new trade deals with the UK, which could supercharge our recovery from the pandemic. This, as our tourism industry is dealt another massive blow; international travel is off the cards until 2021. Minister for Trade and Tourism Simon Birmingham joins us now from Canberra. Simon, good morning to you.


Simon Birmingham:     Good day Karl, good to be with you.


Karl Stefanovic:           Quickly, Federal MP Anthony Byrne has unloaded texts on everyone. Should he go?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, it just shows how endemic the hatred and corruption is across the Australian Labor Party, if you look what’s happened in Victoria over the last week that’s been exposed, what happened in New South Wales last year that was very similar, and now we see this hatred on show. It’s for Anthony Albanese and Anthony Byrne to front up today and to be open and honest about who knew what, how this has all unfolded and what they’re going to do about it.


Karl Stefanovic:           Okay. Bad news for tourism operators today; the borders are still closed, as you know, and Qantas may not be flying overseas until October. Could it be longer than that, realistically?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, it could be, Karl. These are challenging times as everybody knows; having international border restrictions in place has probably been the most important decision we took to keep Australia safe from COVID-19 and to avoid the scenes of mass graves that we saw in New York or overflowing hospitals we saw in parts of Europe. And we’re just going to have to continue to live with those international border restrictions, because that is a key to keeping us safe as we look at new outbreaks occurring in Beijing, and other problem patches right around the world.


Karl Stefanovic:           Do you think it’ll be next year?


Simon Birmingham:     I think it is more likely next year. Look, we’re going to get on and try to do what we can, obviously with near neighbours like New Zealand, who are in a similar position to us of having successfully suppressed COVID. We’ll take a look how we can carefully readmit cohorts like international students, under strict quarantine arrangements that ensure they pose next to no threat to the Australian public. But in terms of letting tourism and travel just open up freely again, I think that’s quite some way off.


Karl Stefanovic:           I note with interest there was a release from the Victorian Chamber of Commerce over the last 24 hours, just outlining how serious things were for businesses. I also note in the papers today, they’re talking about some 5000 jobs that it’s costing the states with the borders still, obviously, closed down. Look, tourism operators obviously too, are struggling. I think you’re going to have to take this JobKeeper past September; there’s no choice.


Simon Birmingham:     We’re taking a long hard and close look at JobKeeper at present, the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and myself, other members of the government have firmly acknowledged the tourism industry

was the first into this crisis, and hit by the bushfires at the start of the year, and will probably be the last out. You know, Australians do spend $20 billion more usually leaving the country, than international visitors spend coming to Australia. So, that’s one of the reasons why we’re so keen to see state borders opened up and domestic travel facilitated, so that we can, not just have a look where government payments might get people through this, but also how we can actually get some normal commercial activity back into these businesses by getting Australians travelling back out across this country.


Karl Stefanovic:           But Simon, I think you’re going to have to – and look, everyone knows this largess can’t last forever – but you’re going to have to give these businesses a level of certainty, because some are going to close their doors before that happens.


Simon Birmingham:     And there will be a level of certainty there, Karl …


Karl Stefanovic:           Okay.


Simon Birmingham:     … That’s why we’re doing the review right now into JobKeeper. You know, we stood it all up remarkably quickly at the start of the crisis, we always said there’d be a review during this period of June, and we’ll come back and take a look at the evidence around that and make quick announcements, well before we get to that September timeline.


Karl Stefanovic:           Good. Your Chinese counterpart, have you heard from him?


Simon Birmingham:     No, mate, I haven’t. But as I’ve said to many people, Australia remains willing to sit down and have full and frank dialogue. The best way for us to deal with disagreements, is to talk about them and work through them.


Karl Stefanovic:           Simon, are you worried that he’s just not that into you?


Simon Birmingham:     I don’t care about the personality of these things; I care about the fact that China and Australia are stuck in the same geographic region, we’re going to be working together forever, one way or another. And we value the partnership, and we want to make sure we work successfully in the areas that are mutually beneficial, recognising that we have very different systems of government, different values and approaches to things. We’re not going to compromise on our values or policies in our national interest, but we do value the partnership and are willing to work through those areas that are good for us and good for China.


Karl Stefanovic:           Given what’s happening with China at the moment, how close are we to a free trade agreement with Great Britain?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, I hope we’re very close. So, last night we formally-


Karl Stefanovic:           Weeks?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, it may not quite be weeks, but I’m hoping months. Last night we formally launched negotiations with the UK; they hadn’t been able to do so while they were still part of the EU, this is now a chance for us to get our farmers, grain growers, winemakers, sheep graziers, businesses, be they in the healthcare services sector or in the financial services sector, access to a market of 67 million people, with whom we used to have much stronger trade ties, and we want to get some of those back again.


Karl Stefanovic:           Okay. And it’s a good thing if we can get it done, and expeditiously. Finally, Dan Andrews said yesterday: why would you go to South Australia? Why would you?


Simon Birmingham:     Many great reasons; wonderful wineries, amazing outback, Kangaroo Island. You can go- you know, Dan Andrews could go diving with the sharks at Port Lincoln. Because looking at the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party, he knows a thing or two about dealing with sharks.


Karl Stefanovic:           Nice, we like it. Simon, thank you so much. And we love South Australia. Good on you for being with us today.


Simon Birmingham:     Thanks guys, cheers.


Karl Stefanovic:           Good luck, a lot on your plate.