Interview on Sky First Edition with Kieran Gilbert and Laura Jayes
Topics: US-China trade; Malcolm Turnbull; Encryption laws




Kieran Gilbert: We’ll turn out attention now to Simon Birmingham thanks so much for joining us. Let’s get your reaction first of all to this cease fire between the US and China. That’s obviously good news.


Simon Birmingham: Well good morning Kieran, and yes, it is good news. It’s good news in the sense that it does calm global markets and we know that a prolonged trade war and escalation of tariffs between the US and China would have dampened global economic growth and that would have been bad not only for consumers and businesses in the US and China but ultimately for all nations in terms of that slower rate of economic growth. So the fact that these talks have been positive, that there will be ongoing discussions, that there has been at least a temporary truce in terms of an escalation of further tariffs; that’s all welcome news. We encourage the two nations to continue their dialogue and ultimately to back an opening of economies and to stand against protectionism.

Laura Jayes: Scott Morrison says the biggest breakthrough for Australia at the G20 was actually a breakthrough with the EU – is it unrealistic that an EU-Australia free trade agreement could be done by May?


Simon Birmingham: Look, I think we can absolutely get all of the fundamentals done in a very short period of time. We have very similar approaches in a number of areas. There are difficulties, but we can work through them. I’m positive and hopeful that on the back of the enthusiasm that Scott Morrison generated from his discussions with the EU as well as with the UK that we can get a trade deal with the EU and with the UK when they’re in a position to do so. This is important because it’s about continuing to open up market access. You know, when our government was elected just over five – five-and-a-half years ago we were in a circumstance where Australian goods and services only had preferential or tariff-free access to 20-odd per cent of markets around the world. That’s now close to 70 per cent and if we can get our trade deals done and dusted with the EU and others, that’s going to drive closer to 80 to 90 per cent. So this is about ensuring that our farmers, our businesses have access to the greatest number of markets in the world at the most cost competitive rates.


Kieran Gilbert: Malcolm Turnbull’s latest intervention, he’s said some further comments this morning on radio and he’s quoted in The Australian today as well along the lines of saying that people should not be capitulating to threats from MPs, i.e. Craig Kelly to quit the Liberal Party if he loses preselection, that they need to abide by the decision essentially of the party, the branch in Craig Kelly’s seat. This is Malcolm Turnbull’s latest intervention; is he being destructive in these comments?


Simon Birmingham: Well look, firstly to the issue at hand. I’m not aware of any threats that have been made and ultimately Craig Kelly’s pre-selection, who the Liberal candidate is in Hughes is a matter for the New South Wales division of the party to be settled in accordance with their rules, with their constitution. Obviously I’d always rather not be talking about internal matters whatever those internal matters may be. Pre-selections are a function of party processes and that’s something that all political parties go through in terms of who gets pre-selected as a candidate…


Kieran Gilbert: But Malcolm Turnbull says he’s just like any other member, he’s not is he? I’m a member of the Liberal Party and I can make my representations…He’s not just any other member?


Simon Birmingham: Well he can do that, like any other Liberal Party member. Of course he does have a slightly larger megaphone.


Kieran Gilbert: And would you urge him to put it the way, that megaphone?


Simon Birmingham: Well I’d rather all of these matters by all members were conducted in private where they can be.


Laura Jayes: Well how important is the democratic process Senator Birmingham? Should the democratic process go ahead as some of the conservative members have argued for, or is it right and proper for the Prime Minister Scott Morrison to intervene and save Craig Kelly?


Simon Birmingham: Well the preselection should occur in accordance with the Constitution of the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party. That’s it. It’s up to the New South Wales division to manage their affairs. I’m a member of the South Australian division of the Liberal Party. We have our rules and our Constitution in SA. They have theirs in New South Wales. They should conduct their pre-selections in accordance with their rules and I see nothing to suggest that they’re going to do anything but that.


Kieran Gilbert: Mr Morrison says that Labor is quite happy for terrorists to use WhatsApp, leaving the security agencies in the dark. That’s a bit rich, isn’t it, given how strong Labor has been in bipartisanship when it comes to national security. Penny Wong just yesterday said they are happy to come up with some legislation by Christmas, by the end of this week, that would afford the national security agencies the powers they need. They just want some negotiations, some discussion. If Mr Morrison is creating some sense that Labor wants to allow the terrorists to operate, it’s actually quite rich for him to be making such a…


Simon Birmingham: No, not at all. We are now approaching the final six months of this parliamentary term and as we enter this six-month period, you’re seeing from the Labor Party that they are willing to reject the advice of the Australian Federal Police, reject the advice that ASIO and our security agencies who have said very clearly that these powers are important in terms of being able to deal with encrypted communications and that it’s important to get them in place quickly. Now the Labor Party is turning their back on that advice of our security agencies. That’s what’s happening here and that’s why this is a real problem and of course what people are seeing now as we get into that final six months of the election cycle, is that previously Labor’s just followed the Coalition when it has come to our leadership on national security matters. But now as they think that they’ve a chance of winning – we all know that Bill Shorten is very cocky about his chances at the next election – they’re not now willing to take the advice of those national security agencies.


Laura Jayes: Well Senator, Malcolm Turnbull says- has just said on radio that the Government should be going to an early election. Is that some helpful advice for you?


Simon Birmingham: Well the Government will have an election in the normal course of events. As I just said, we’re entering the final six-month period, so from here on in we’re in the normal timeframe for elections. But what we want to see is an election held next year in the normal course of events and of course we’ll be making sure that Australians understand that it’s going to be held off the back of a government that has balanced the budget, delivered strong economic growth, delivered record jobs growth. We actually will be going to the next election, standing on a record that Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison all have played a huge, huge role in building and achieving. Our Government is not about any one person: it’s about the policy achievements of the last five-and-a-half years: national security, stopping the boats, balancing the budget, record jobs growth, record youth jobs growth, ensuring that we lower taxes to households, income taxpayers, small and medium sized businesses – there’s a lot for us to take to the next election and we’ll be doing that next year.


Kieran Gilbert: Trade Minister, thanks so much for your time, appreciate it.


Simon Birmingham: Thank you.