Topic:  New Zealand hostel fire; Trade Minister visit to China needed to deliver results; NAB interest rate rise forecast; Housing policy; Labor happy to break election promises;

07:10AM AEST
Tuesday, 16 May 2023


Pete Stefanovic: Joining us live now to talk about some of the day’s top stories, Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham. Simon, appreciate your time this morning. I do want to start off with this unfolding tragedy in New Zealand. At least six dead in a hostel fire that we know of so far. Police saying possibly as many as ten could have been killed in this. I just want to get your response to that.


Simon Birmingham: Pete this is a terrible tragedy and one that will be felt particularly right across New Zealand, but especially so in the small community of Wellington. It is one where I’m sure all Australians would join in sending our condolences and thoughts to the people of New Zealand and understand the bravery of their firefighters, the work that emergency services would have provided, but that it’s a big task of recovery when we see a loss of life of such scale and there will be so many families, so many people affected, particularly across that Wellington community.


Pete Stefanovic: Yep. I think everyone will agree with you on that point. Simon, Appreciate that. We’ll stay overseas now. Don Farrell has come back from China. He’s got no firm commitments re wine and barley, just a promise that it will be expedited. Is that good enough?


Simon Birmingham: Well, not really, particularly not for those Australian producers and businesses who are feeling the pain in relation to China’s attempts at economic coercion against Australia. We’ve now seen over the last year multiple meetings of Australia’s Prime Minister, our Deputy Prime Minister, our Foreign Minister and the Trade Minister with their Chinese counterparts. Now at some stage all of that talk has to result in outcome, in action. And in this case, many people would have hoped that with that visit by Don Farrell, the first trade minister, to visit since myself back in 2019, that we would see actual outcomes from that. And sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case and the Government needs to make sure it is applying as much pressure as possible through this dialogue, but through all possible means to the Chinese government to understand that they should remove these unjustified tariffs, these sanctions that have been put on Australian business without due cause.


Pete Stefanovic: So the fact that the new government still can’t get a firm commitment from China, I mean, you famously couldn’t even get your counterparts on the phone. So in that sense, I mean, there’s been a little more progress since then, but it’s another example of how prickly they can be.


Simon Birmingham: Pete, indeed. As I’ve long said, it was counterproductive of China to cease dialogue and indeed counterproductive of China to put these tariffs and sanctions in place. It’s been welcome, and we have given full bipartisan support to the Government’s efforts to have the dialogue and discussions they’ve been having. It’s welcome that China reversed their policy and agreed to at least engage in this dialogue. But we do need to see outcomes from it and the people who need to see outcomes from it, most of all are Australia’s wine producers. Australia’s barley producers. Australia’s live seafood exporters. Those who have been targeted quite unfairly and unjustly by China and they deserve to see these sanctions removed. We would hope that the Government will continue to be applying every possible lever it can in that regard, as of course it needs to quite seriously in relation to those detained Australians too.


Pete Stefanovic: Yeah, no true. And if those trade sanctions aren’t removed, if there is no change on this in the immediate future, should the case to the WTO be returned after it was dropped?


Simon Birmingham: Well, indeed. So, the suspension of Australia’s WTO case on barley was done on the basis that China was reconsidering these tariffs. Unless they remove them completely, then Australia should seek that ruling from the international independent umpire because we should also be making sure that what China has done unfairly and unjustly is made clear through that formal process to the world. So of course if we can get a faster outcome that helps Australia’s farmers, then we should seize that and get that. But that should involve China completely removing those tariffs on Australian barley, as they should, also on Australian wine, to make sure that those sectors get back on with terms of trade that are simply what China agreed to under the China-Australia free trade agreement. This is not a case of Australia asking for anything more than what China themselves signed up to.


Pete Stefanovic: Okay. Just a final one on local issues, Simon. It relates to housing and as well as rates, the NAB expects another two rate rises this year. How do you reconcile that with last week’s budget?


Simon Birmingham: This will be very alarming for so many Australian homeowners, small business operators and others to see yet another bank forecasting interest rates will go even higher. And of course, this comes off the back of a federal budget that so many economists called expansionary said would put upward pressure on interest rates and certainly isn’t acting consistent with what the Reserve Bank is trying to do, which is to rein in inflation and to make sure that we get back within that 2 to 3% target band. So I know that this will be bad news for so many Australian home owners, so many Australian small businesses, and the Government has to take its share of responsibility for not managing the budget in a way to put downward pressure on interest rates.


Pete Stefanovic: Okay. And just a final one here. There are calls by the Labor left to take a more ambitious housing policy to the next election, which would include a limit on negative gearing to just one investment property. Would you support that at all?


Simon Birmingham: Well, the first thing that alarms me about these sorts of things is we’ve now learnt from Mr. Albanese that he’s happy to go to an election in areas like superannuation and say no changes and then apply new taxes afterwards. So Australians will need to look very dubiously at any commitments given about no new taxes from Labor, whether it’s in areas of housing, housing investment, superannuation or elsewhere seeing as we’ve seen these promises broken. What the Government needs to do is actually stop putting harm into the housing market. It’s getting more expensive for people to buy a new home because interest rates are going up. It’s more expensive to build it because of their industrial relations reform changes. These are the types of negatives they’re applying and if they want to actually help the housing market stop doing harm in the first place.


Pete Stefanovic: Simon Birmingham, we’re out of time. Appreciate your time, though. Thank you.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Pete. My pleasure.