Interview on Sky News with Tom Connell
TPP-11; Indonesia Trade Deal; Religious freedoms




Tom Connell: Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment on the TPP-11 ratification.


Simon Birmingham: We got confirmation from states and territories, that government procurement processes would be consistent with the TPP. There were some regulatory matters we had to handle. But ultimately, we have completed all of those domestic processes in time and we have lodged our notice in Wellington this morning to say that Australia is now fully compliant with the TPP, and we are now the sixth country.


And it took six, which means the TPP would come into force in 60 days time from today that’s going to deliver improved market access, lower tariff rates for a bunch of Australian exporters, and it’s really great news for our farmers and small businesses.


Tom Connell: So the big winners, those trying to get beef to Japan, steel to Mexico, what are we talking about in terms of boost to the economy?


Simon Birmingham: So the national lift to Australia’s national income is estimated to be more than $15 billion per annum by 2030. And what we’re going to see there is year on year multibillion dollar increase in our national income. And companies like this one, I’m standing here at Pasture Genetics in South Australia, a family owned business in Australia exporting seed to markets like Mexico were at present, they face a 15% tariff that’s going to be eliminated under the TPP, which means this business will be 15% more competitive in the Mexican market. In Canada we’re going to see tariffs on Australian wine eliminated giving, of course, Australian wine makers great access. TPP is the first ever free trade agreement we’ve had with markets like Canada and Mexico so it’s great news for those types of producers and many, many more.


Tom Connell: You mention the wine in Canada, an interesting story there at the moment in terms of imported wine, state laws prohibit it either been stocked in grocery stores or they have to put it up the back. So this deal isn’t going to bridge that gap, are you a close to a deal there?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I hope that we are, there are a number of Canadian provinces who we believe were in breach of existing World Trade Organization arrangements and rules and those provinces are indeed doing the types of things that you’ve just outlined there. Australia lodged a WTO complaint against Canada in that regard. Last week in Ottawa I discussed that with my Canadian counterpart and we’ve agreed to see whether we can find a more expeditious way to fix that. Canada has recently agreed with the US to adjust some of those arrangements and so we want to get the same deal for Australian winemakers so that yes they can get into every Canadian province with fair access to be on the shelves as well as the lower tariff rates under the TPP.


Tom Connell: Now Labor came on board with this agreement in the end, they’ve flagged a different approach in the future including they want more protections for Australian workers. Why is that a bad idea?


Simon Birmingham: We have very strong protections for Australian workers. Your viewers need to be reassured that in terms of skilled trades people coming to Australia they still going to have to go through all of the same types of qualification checks. The types of provisions we have in terms of these agreements are not dissimilar to ones that have been in other trade agreements for many, many years. They are used on a very limited basis in terms of people coming to work in Australia and ultimately what we’ve seen is that these trade agreements have improved our exports, grown our businesses, created more jobs and that overwhelmingly they are Australian jobs here in Australia, fuelled by Australians. It’s one of the reasons why we have more than 150,000 fewer people on welfare today than when our government was elected, which is in stark contrast to the fact that while Labor was in power you saw 250,000 plus people go in the welfare queue.


Tom Connell: But you’re critical of Labor’s approach, can you say there is anything wrong with them actually wanting to toughen up those protections, I accept your saying they are there, but they want to make sure for example that advertising for locals is done more stringently. Is there anything wrong with ramping up that approach?


Simon Birmingham: Well, the issue becomes whether these types of things that frankly haven’t made any difference in terms of the type of access to Australia we’ve seen under existing trade deals, whether insisting on all those things impedes your ability to actually complete trade deals. We know that when Labor was last in power they couldn’t manage to get a trade deal with China, they didn’t do one with Japan or Korea and they said we should walk away from the TPP. My government our Liberal-National Government has been able to get on with the job of delivering all of those different deals. We have ensured that Australians have improved market access because we’ve been able to complete negotiations and seal the deal. Now labour is frankly, tying Australia’s hands behind its back in negotiations by insisting on things that frankly may not be necessary. And the risk there is that in the future we won’t see improved market access because once again the labour party will be unable to be able to complete a trade agreement because they have buckled to the trade union movement to their demands rather than kept to a negotiating position that maximises Australia’s position to get the best possible deal for our farmers and businesses which creates frankly more jobs for Australians.


Tom Connell: But if a country doesn’t want to do that deal based on ramping up protections for local workers, doesn’t that imply that they do want to be able to bring them in with a certain amount of ease from overseas?


Simon Birmingham: Well Tom the problem here as I say is one of constraining your ability to freely and fairly negotiate and to recognise that in the end if you can get a really good deal in net terms that provides the biggest advantage for Australian businesses and farmers to grow and to create more jobs then you should get on and do that deal. Of course these agreements are all about negotiation and trade-offs on the way through and what we want to ensure is that as a government we’ve got a free hand to go on with the European Union, Hong Kong, and ultimately with the UK, potentially with other TPP partners in the future and get better market access for Australian farmers and businesses and Labor’s constraining approach that is putting limits on their ability if they were to come to Government is going to make it that much harder for them to seal the deal.


Tom Connell: The other trade deal in the offing is Indonesia, have you had any communication at all from any Indonesian official that our consideration of moving our embassy in Israel could hurt this deal?


Simon Birmingham: No I have not. I’m told by trade negotiators that work is continuing in a very positive way to scrub the text to finalize the terms that we settled largely in terms of negotiations concluding a couple of months ago now and I am confident we’re still on track to see this agreement signed by the end of this year.


Tom Connell: We’ve hear Scott Morrison say in terms of moving that embassy the decision is all about Australia’s national interests, so essentially we won’t be influenced, but is there a possibility that that trade deal be affected, that be factored in. After all a trade deal is in the national interest as well?


Simon Birmingham:. Well indeed, Scott Morrison’s right we will consider the national interest in of course all of our decisions. Now we’re confident that this deal with Indonesia will be in Australia’s national interest. We take the word of Indonesian Trade Minister who’s publicly said it’s on track, we agree that it’s on track in terms of what our trade officials are saying and we’re going to keep working to get it signed by the end of the year. In terms of the embassy decision that will be a full and thorough and proper and considered process and that’s exactly what the government’s undertaking.


Tom Connell: The embassy decision should that factor in possible fall out, including this trade deal?


Simon Birmingham: It will be made in the national interest and of course we take a comprehensive approach and definition to the national interest as you would expect in all of our decisions in Government.


Tom Connell: I just want to ask you about religious protections. This letter today from school principals, urging any action against in particular for hiring teachers for example. What’s your view on what sort pf discriminations schools should be allowed to do?


Simon Birmingham: I’ve always said we should tread carefully in this space. I welcome that the Prime Minister has been very clear that we will repeal any provisions and in relation to discrimination against children on the basis of their sexuality for their enrolment in schools. In relation to employment practices around teachers it’s not unreasonable that faith based schools ought to be able have confidence that they can hire people of that faith where that is relevant or necessary to that individual’s work in a school where they are teaching doctrine or faith matters for example, that why you have go to work carefully through those issues and that’s precisely what we’ll do in response to the religious freedoms report.


Tom Connell: As to what you’ve said just then, for example a science teacher, that wouldn’t be something that schools could discriminate on when they’re hiring teachers?


Simon Birmingham: Well lets go through the detail of the religious freedoms report, how that interacts with the existing provisions that are already in law that do give schools already a capacity to be able to employ on the basis of faith and you’d want to make sure that we don’t get to a point where there’s some reverse discrimination that prohibits a school from employing on the basis of faith if that is relevant to the work that a teacher or somebody in that school is doing.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks very much Tom.