Topics: PM trip to China; CPTPP; Infrastructure projects at risk under Labor;

07:50AM AEDT
Monday, 6 November 2023


Peter Stefanovic:  Well, an historic meeting between the Prime Minister and China’s President Xi Jinping will take place tonight in Beijing as optimism grows that the remaining trade sanctions against Australia will be dropped. Let’s go to Canberra. Joining us is the Shadow Foreign minister, Simon Birmingham. Simon, good to see you. As trade minister, you know you famously couldn’t get your counterpart on the phone. So how are you feeling this morning about all these trade breakthroughs? We’ve almost, according to Don Farrell, wiped them all.


Simon Birmingham: Well, we’ve welcomed the fact that China has removed its ban on having any type of ministerial level dialogue with Australia that was counterproductive by China to act in that way, it was their decision not to, not ours. It was, of course, done in an attempt to coerce Australia alongside the economic sanctions, the trade sanctions put in place into changing policy positions. Now, it’s a good thing that we have held our line as a country and not changed positions that might undermine critical infrastructure, national security or our democratic foundations. They were all important protections put in place by the former coalition government. It’s important they be maintained and are being maintained by the current government. The dialogue is welcome. The removal of some of these trade sanctions that have been counterproductive is welcome, but the test is getting them all off as quickly as possible. We shouldn’t be thankful they’re being removed. We should expect them to be removed because they are clear breaches of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, and they should be removed forthwith, not with some five-month review process or the like.


Peter Stefanovic: Yes. As you know, Simon, China does what’s best for China. So, would you be urging in these negotiations for our government to tread carefully, knowing that China can just turn the tap off whenever it likes?


Simon Birmingham: Well, firstly, I think it’s important that the Government not lose sight of the need for diversification. As China put these sanctions in place against Australia the previous Coalition government went and secured further new trade deals with the United Kingdom and with India and we were in pursuit of one with the European Union, which sadly, the Albanese government is now looking unable to conclude. So, they need to pursue diversification so that we don’t have too many eggs in one basket. But we also need to be aware that China presents many challenges and risks, as has been demonstrated, and it’s concerning to potentially see the government giving any type of easy green light around the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, the CPTPP trade pact. They should be very clear, both in the short term, that China has not acted in good faith on trade agreements with us to date, and that is a problem-


Peter Stefanovic: Okay, so they shouldn’t just on that. So, China should not be able to join the Trans Pacific trade pact. Is that your view?


Simon Birmingham: There are both short term and longer-term barriers to that. The short term one is that China has not acted in good faith with Australia on trade terms recently. So, we would need to see a good period of good faith engagement before considering membership. And the second longer term problem is that China really has systemic barriers to being able to meet the high standards of the TPP, which include strong rules around how state-owned enterprises work in their economy. So, you would need to see reform in China ahead of any membership being entered into.


Peter Stefanovic: Okay. Just finally here, Simon, before we go, local story here, this is all ahead of a potential rate rise tomorrow. And this debate over infrastructure at the moment that’s got the Treasurer up against state premiers, state governments. Question is to build or not to build. Is it inflationary when it comes to large infrastructure projects?


Simon Birmingham: Well, the problem is it’s just a chaotic policy by the Government. They’ve got a review that was meant to be over now months ago that hasn’t yet reported. They don’t have a plan to tackle inflation and they appear to be grasping at straws here. Whilst we have population growing at its fastest ever rate and real infrastructure crunch points in Australia’s major cities. And so, this government has got clearly a real lack of planning. They’ve had two budgets now, and yet Australians are feeling cost of living pressures worse than ever and feeling the pressure of a potential further interest rate increase. So, it’s little wonder that there are real concerns coming from many, many Australians about the policy approach of the Albanese Labor Government.


Peter Stefanovic: Simon Birmingham, thank you.