Topics: Brexit; Australia Day.
Steve Price: Minister thanks for your time.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning Steve, good to be with you.
Steve Price: What gives you confidence that we can sail through the middle of this chaos?
Simon Birmingham: Well Australia has done all of the preparatory work that we possibly can in terms of this. We have made sure that we have free trade negotiations underway with the Europe Union, we’ve established a trade working group with the United Kingdom that will transition to handle free trade agreement negotiations with them the minute they have resolved the uncertainty they are in a position to do so. We’ve got a range of different agreements that currently exist with the EU which we have ready for immediate duplication with the UK such as how our wine industry accesses the markets there, mutual recognition of qualifications and the like. So we’ve done all we can as a government to make sure that we’re prepared because I am very proud of our government’s trade track record in terms of opening up market access for Australian farmers and exporters and that’s why we’re seeing record numbers of exports going out of the country at present.
Steve Price: Just on the specifics, for example if you were exporting Australian wine to that side of the world you’d probably I would imagine use Britain as your staging post to get your product into Europe. If there is a hard exit from Brexit, are there not fears that if you are operating through Britain you’d have to move your operations onto the European, Western Europe to do your business as you have been?
Simon Birmingham: So for individual businesses, those are some of the concerns and that’s why we know that some wine businesses (indistinct) for example have been putting increased stockpiles of wine into European cities to make sure that they’re able to continue to service their markets. Some financial services businesses have been looking at how they might base staff out of European cities to ensure they can continue to freely work through Europe should there be greater restrictions on the movement of people. So they’re genuine concerns that individual businesses have, that of course is all part of the uncertainty that everybody is dealing with around Brexit. It’s one of the reasons why the UK government has been working to try to have a structured Brexit where there’s a transition period and in that couple of years they will negotiate some of these terms with Europe for the long term. However, that structured Brexit appears to look less likely at present given the vote that took place yesterday in which case everybody is obviously stepping up their preparations including government as to how we support Australian businesses and make sure that our farmers and others get and maintain the best possible access to those markets.
Steve Price: Looking on the sunny side of things, if Britain does ultimately get out of the European Union as it appears it will, do we have extra trade opportunities for things like agricultural products, meat, dairy, things like wine that perhaps it’s going to be easier for us to compete and get those products into the UK than it has been in the past?
Simon Birmingham: We would certainly hope so, we would be looking for the UK to work with us to conclude a free trade agreement with them as quickly as possible. There is no reason why Australia and the United Kingdom can’t manage to collaborate on terms that are very open, very ambitious in terms of ensuring the trade in goods and services is a strong one. I would certainly back Australian exporters to do well out of that. That’s what we’ve seen from the trade agreements our governments negotiated with China, Japan, with Korea, for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and elsewhere that we’re now seeing records of export volumes going out of the country. We are on a monthly basis, now more often than not exporting more than we are importing as a nation, that’s part of our economic success story right now and it’s something that we want to be determined to continue to build upon.
Steve Price: Just before you go, I’ve just had a tortured conversation with Richard Di Natale the Greens leader about Australia Day. What do you make of his threat to allow Greens MPs to bestow citizenship on people in defiance of what the PM Scott Morrison and your government has said?
Simon Birmingham: Nobody should be politicising either Australia Day or citizenship ceremonies. The reality is we ought to be looking at Australia Day as an opportunity to celebrate every single aspect of Australia’s history and culture from our indigenous peoples through our successful waves of migration and citizenship ceremonies ought to be a part of that, and they ought to also be a time for celebration not the time for politicisation that we see from the Greens at present.
Steve Price: You and I come from Adelaide where casual dress there, is there anything wrong with wearing boardies and thongs to the citizenship ceremony? I imagine Senator Birmingham spent the whole summer in boardies and thongs.
Simon Birmingham: Well it’s still early morning in Adelaide, it’s already over 30 degrees…
Steve Price: Exactly.
Simon Birmingham: So I’m wearing them right now.
Steve Price: Why am I not surprised?
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