Topics: IA-CEPA; MP retirements.

Paul Kennedy: We’ve heard from a few producers on this already the same citrus growers among other farmers are happy with the pending deal, how significant is it going to be for our farmers to have tariffs lifted?

Simon Birmingham: Well good morning Paul, great to be with you. This is a real win for indeed our farmers if you’re a farmer growing citrus as you mentioned, or producing beef or elsewhere in horticulture with potatoes or carrots, or if you’re a grain grower, in all of those areas we’re going to see quotas lifted dramatically which means more goods can flow from Australia into Indonesia and tariffs reduced or eliminated, which means they’ll be much cheaper when they’re sold here in Indonesia. Equally if you work in manufacturing producing steel coils or producing copper cathode, it’s great news as well. You know we’ll be able to send the equivalent of five Sydney Harbour Bridges of steel to Indonesia each and every year under this deal. So it really does increase access in the services sector as well, those working and running businesses in education, in health care and financial services, in communications. Again, new opportunities and they’re big opportunities, Indonesia is currently the 16th largest economy in the world but it’s forecast to grow into the fourth biggest economy in the world and this is giving Australia entry at the ground level to be able to get better market access, better opportunities for our businesses.

Paul Kennedy: I just want to ask you about the education opportunities, what are they exactly of course you were previously Education Minister, what’s in it for the unis?

Simon Birmingham: Well there is particular opportunities in the vocational education space, Indonesia is really focused on upskilling their population to help fuel and drive that economic growth and we want to see and support that growth and development in Indonesia, and so the opportunity for Australian vocational education providers, and to be able to operate here in Indonesia, provide training services to businesses here, and in doing so of course, provide real win win outcomes. It’s a business opportunity for those training providers but it’s also a developmental opportunity for Indonesia and upskilling their workforce for the future.

Paul Kennedy: I just want to ask you about some politics behind this, why isn’t the Prime Minister Scott Morrison with you to sign the deal?  

Simon Birmingham: There’s nothing unusual about that, the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the Peru Australia Free Trade Agreement was signed by trade ministers without leaders present. In the end, Indonesia is in its election campaign period already President Widodo is out campaigning and Scott Morrison is running the country in Australia. This is business as normal.

Paul Kennedy: How much is the lingering resentment, how much have you had to overcome from the Australian Government’s decision to float the idea of moving the Israeli embassy? That controversy that followed that like last year?  

Simon Birmingham: This agreement is one that has been on track to be signed all along. My conversations over recent months with Indonesian officials have always been about when we will find the right time to sign it, never if. And I think it’s because they’ve always recognised this is broadly a win win agreement, it provides great opportunities for Australian farmers, businesses, and to deepen the ties between our two nations. But it also will help to lift investment and development here in Indonesia and that’s why they’re committed to this agreement, we’re committed to it. You know our trade deals over recent years have really seen a boom in terms of the Australian economy as we’ve done deals with China, Japan, Korea. What we’ve done is also create one point two million jobs across the Australian economy, grown our economy faster than most other comparable nations and indeed we are now routinely as a nation exporting more than we import, in fact each and every month last year Australia exported more than we imported and that’s because of these types of trade deals.

Paul Kennedy: Simon Birmingham this deal will need to be ratified by both countries in their parliaments. Both countries have elections looming, is it wise to sign it at this point in time?

Simon Birmingham: It’s important to get it signed, it’s been the subject of a long negotiating period and I hope and trust that everybody will recognise the benefits to this for both countries and the people won’t play politics with it. The Indonesian relationship is a very important one to Australia. This economic strengthing of it will not just lead to closer trade and business ties but ultimately stronger people-to-people ties, cultural and diplomatic understanding between our nations and I hope the Labor Party in Australia recognise that and that they will support the implementation of this agreement as negotiated, to deliver those benefits to our farmers, to our businesses, but also to the overall relationship and to the growth and development of Indonesia.

 Paul Kennedy: Labor said it will support it in principle but might have to work through some details so we will wait and see on that front. So just a couple of other questions while we have you, Steven Ciobo and also Christopher Pyne are leaving parliament, are you expecting any more of your colleagues to quit before the election?

Simon Birmingham: Well I’m not but in the end that’s a decision for each and every MP or senator. Eight members of the Labor Party caucus are retiring at this election so we have a whole bunch of people from the Labor side, a bunch of people from the Coalition side and that’s really as you would expect it to be.

Paul Kennedy: So no other rumours of any of your other colleagues… You’re not hearing word of anyone else?

Simon Birmingham: I’m not expecting others, I don’t believe so. People like Christopher Pyne have been in the Parliament for 26 years, you can’t begrudge somebody calling it a day after they’ve served their nation for 26 years in the Parliament. I don’t begrudge any of Bill Shorten’s eight Labor caucus members deciding to call it a day either. In the end everybody at some stage decides it’s time to move on.  

Paul Kennedy: And just one final one Julie Bishop was quoted over the weekend saying that she could have beaten Bill Shorten and I understand that you said that you thought she could too and anyone could beat Bill Shorten, you’ve said that this morning. I just wonder are you concerned or how concerned are you about the divisions with your party coming up over and over again before the election?

Simon Birmingham: I’m confident that as we head to the election, we will be clear and focused in terms of the choice that exists at that election and when people understand that choice between our government, record economic growth, jobs growth, tax cuts, balanced budget, border security, versus Bill Shorten undoing all of those things, I’m confident yes indeed that many people could potentially beat Bill Shorten in the next election year. But Scott Morrison is the right person to do so and he will be able to do so because we will put that strong compelling case of how well our policies are delivering for the Australian people and how much stronger Australia is as a result of that, versus how much weaker Australia would be with 200 billion dollars of higher taxes, with policies that undo border security as Bill Shorten is promising and would implement.

Paul Kennedy: Minister Birmingham, thanks so much for being available this morning we appreciate it on a big day here in the signing of that document.

Simon Birmingham: My pleasure. Thanks Paul.