Topics: …Labor Party corruption, trade deal with UK, international and domestic travel, extending quarantine pilot for international students




Peter Stefanovic:          Well joining me live now is Trade and Tourism Minister, Simon Birmingham. Minister, good morning to you, thanks so much for joining us.


Simon Birmingham:     Morning, Peter.


Peter Stefanovic:          We may as well start there. What do you make of those text messages?


Simon Birmingham:     Well the endemic corruption that is rife in the Victorian branch of the Labor Party, and it comes less than a year after very similar allegations about the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party, shows very clearly that this is a national problem for the Australian Labor Party and Anthony Albanese has got to be clear and transparent about what he knew, what his colleagues knew, how involved federal MPs were. And make sure that this type of corruption is rooted out of the Australian Labor Party.


Peter Stefanovic:          Should Anthony Byrne’s stay in his position as deputy chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, we need transparency first from Anthony Byrne, from Anthony Albanese and from the Australian Labor Party. And let’s hear from them exactly what all of them knew, exactly how involved they were. I mean, you look at those comments about Dan Andrews, the Labor Premier of Victoria, and you’ve got a Federal Labor MP wishing upon Dan Andrews his political death. Now, obviously this shows a toxic, toxic culture, but it also is part of a bigger picture of corruption within the Labor Party.


Peter Stefanovic:          Should he stay in that position, though? On that committee?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, I want some transparency and some answers first and foremost before I form a judgment. But, I think it is very clear that we have real problems at the heart of the Labor Party, and that there needs to be more than the sort of fobbing off of answers that we’ve seen today.


Peter Stefanovic:          Okay. Trade deal with the UK – things are moving in the right direction no doubt, Minister. But what does this mean for the ordinary folks out there in Australia? Does it mean cheaper whiskey and cheese?


Simon Birmingham:     Well it will mean that that some British goods coming to Australia will be cheaper, absolutely. But it also, importantly, means that for Australian exporters they can they can head into the UK – a market of 67 million people – and in going there those farmers – be they grain growers, sheep graziers winemakers, our key services providers in areas like health care and financial services – we want all of them to be able to get better easier access into the UK market. And because trade underpins one in five Australian jobs we want to make sure we keep giving our exporters more choices.


Peter Stefanovic:          Boris Johnson said that he’d like to send Marmite here, so does this mean it’s cheaper for us to send it right back?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, he did say he wants Marmite coming to Australia and Vegemite going to the UK – look, we welcome that. As a country we have now recorded 28 consecutive monthly trade surpluses. That means that, under our Government, Australia is routinely exporting more than we import – the trade deals we’ve done with a number of countries have been a key part of that and the UK is part of that.


The next wave, and we hope it is a trade deal we can do quickly and efficiently because ultimately we have a common rule of law and legal systems and structures, shared democratic values, common language. This is a trade deal we should be able to get on and get done.


Peter Stefanovic:          He also mentioned that boomerangs are made in the UK and sent here? Why is that? And are you surprised?


Simon Birmingham:     I was surprised. I have since been told that these are not indigenous artifacts, but in fact it’s apparently some toy that is called a boomerang. So I haven’t quite found one yet. I’ll have to go and take a look, but I think we should be clear there.


Peter Stefanovic:          Okay. All right. Minister, onto travel. When might Australians be able to travel overseas?


Simon Birmingham:     For holiday purposes, not for some time. And nor are we going to see international visitors coming to Australia for holiday purposes for some time. And that’s a devastating blow, I know, for much of our tourism industry but we need to encourage Australians to travel at home – that’s what can best support tourism businesses and tourism jobs across Australia. Particularly, when you look at the fact that Australians spend $20 billion more leaving the country each year than international visitors coming to Australia usually spend here. So, there’s a lot of surplus that can be spent and invested by Australians in our tourism industry which one of the reasons why we need to see states open up their borders to let people travel.


Peter Stefanovic:        When you say some time though, what does that mean? Next year? And what part of next year?


Simon Birmingham:     I think it is more likely to be next year – it’s impossible to put a fixed timeframe on it as yet. Having those international border restrictions has been a core pillar, quite possibly the most important part of keeping Australia safe in the handling of coronavirus. And so, we cannot risk exposing ourselves to a massive outbreak that would cause the need for another shutdown of domestic economic activity and would then decimate jobs and businesses even further.


So, I know this is a tough time for tourism businesses and we’re going to do the best we can to get Australians to fuel that tourism activity across Australia. And I know it’s a tough time for those who want to go overseas to visit loved ones and to undertake those sorts of trips. We’re going to work carefully through all of those issues, but I can’t raise false hope that there’s going to be some sort of open border arrangement for free travel again during the course of this year. I think that’s highly unlikely.


Peter Stefanovic:          Sure. There’s no doubt. I mean you’ve got another outbreak in Beijing, you’ve got these 15 cases in Melbourne yesterday from overseas travelers. So, would that be the same for travelers coming here? I mean, how long will travelers be in hotel quarantine for? 


Simon Birmingham:     So, I think, our 14-day quarantine remains a very important protection for Australia. We can have a look and we’ll have a look under targeted pilots how we can extend application of that to international students. And so we can potentially run pilots that get international students coming back here, going into that same fixed mandatory quarantine where they pose next to no risk to the Australian public. Then, we can actually maintain that part of our economy – it’s a big part of our export industry.


We’re looking carefully at how we can do those sorts of things where it’s viable. And obviously; if somebody is going to be here for one, two, three years then it is clearly viable for them to potentially spend 14 days in quarantine first. But, if you’re coming for a three or four-week holiday, you’re not going to spend- do it if you’ve got to spend 14 days locked in a hotel room to start with.


Peter Stefanovic:          Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham, appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining us.


Simon Birmingham:     Thanks, Peter. My pleasure.