Topics: Launch of the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence in global trade; Brexit; coal exports to China.
Simon Birmingham: I’m thrilled today to be here at the University of Adelaide for the launch of the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence in global trade. This is an exciting initiative to increase the capacity of Australian academic institutions and to look at Australia European Union relations, how we seal the best deal in terms of a future free trade agreement and deliver benefits to both our economies. Australia and the EU are critical partners, the European Union is Australia’s second largest trading partner and we want to ensure that our future relations are rich in strong trade and commerce. Strong exchange in terms of culture knowledge, as well as enhanced diplomatic political and security relations, which are already all so very very strong. This centre’s going to play a great role particularly in advancing knowledge around trade and comes at a very opportune moment in time with the decisions that have been made to launch and to proceed with the Australia EU free trade agreement negotiations. These negotiations are proceeding well but we want to see as ambitious and comprehensive a Free Trade Agreement as possible between Australia and the EU and I’m sure that this academic work will help to enhance those deliberations.
Journalist: Just how important is it that we quickly find a free trade agreement deal between Australia and the EU?
Simon Birmingham: The EU is Australia’s second largest trading partner and it will be with or without the UK as part of the EU. So it’s a huge market for us and it’s important in terms of our continued drive to diversify and enhance the opportunities for Australian farmers, small businesses, and investors to be able to work and sell Australian goods and services in as many markets around the world as possible.
Journalist: Why is it significant South Australia?
Simon Birmingham: South Australia has a rich history in terms of selling produce like our world class wines into the EU. Of course we can sometimes think that the EU being the home of many of the old traditional winemaking nations is self-sufficient. But indeed Australian winemakers, South Australian winemakers, have a great base there along with many other agricultural products, increasingly export and educational ties that we can enhance into the future.
Journalist: Just on some other matters if you don’t mind Minister…
Simon Birmingham: I should also add, sorry just of course our defence industry investment is going to be a very strong connection between Australia and the EU with significant contracts in France, in Germany, and our desire to make sure that Australian businesses are part of the global supply chains for those manufacturers into the future.
Journalist: I’m following on from the Prime Minister’s announcement this morning. What’s the difference between the ‘Climate Solution Fund’ and the ‘Emissions Reduction Fund’ announced by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott?
Simon Birmingham: Well it’s a three and a half billion dollar investment that Scott Morrison has outlined, at its heart, a range of investments including investments in emissions reduction that will leverage off of our skills and knowledge from recent years as well as investments through Snowy Hydro, through continued support for the work in the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Overall, it’s taking what we’ve learnt in the past and building on it for our 2030 targets. What we’ve learned is that Australia can meet and exceed our 2020 targets as we will without the need for carbon taxes that Labor proposed and it delivers a model for how we can do that for our 2030 targets to again meet and hopefully exceed those 2030 targets again without the type of job wrecking, economy destroying, carbon tax the Labor Party proposes.
Journalist: In former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s final press conference he said that the Coalition is bitterly divided on climate change with entrenched views. Are those views still entrenched and will Mr Morrison be able to unite the party on this issue?
Simon Birmingham: There are individuals where it’s public knowledge and well on the public record for a long time where there may be a difference of opinion. But the Government’s policy commitment is to meet our Paris targets 26 to 28 per cent reduction, to meet them by 2030 and Scott Morrison has outlined a comprehensive three and a half billion dollar plan today to guarantee that we will do so.
Journalist: So any update with Aussie coal imports will be allowed into China?
Simon Birmingham: Well Australian coal imports are allowed into China. China has been very clear that there is no ban, there is no country discrimination. There are some time delays at some ports and we continue to work with China and to try and understand reasons for those time delays and hopefully to see them cleared up.
Journalist: So there is no clearer indication about what motivations were behind last week?
Simon Birmingham: We’ve seen these sorts of time delays before, we saw them late last year and then again the ports cleared processes through. We take the word of the Chinese Government at face value that they’re undertaking assessments in terms of import approvals, environmental assessments, and that we will see these shipments processed in a timely way.
Journalist: If we saw them late last year does that mean they’re increasing?
Simon Birmingham: Well everything was cleared up late last year and indeed the final quarter of last year we saw significant growth in the value and volume of Australian coal into China. We’ve got no reason to believe that these are anything other than administrative delays that China is dealing with and we hope they will be dealt with swiftly.
Journalist: How harmful is it to the Australian economy when we have a delay like this?
Simon Birmingham: Well last year when we had delays we ended up with record levels of exports growth in terms of coal exports to China in volume and value industry our companies are very good at dealing with this. I’ve not only been speaking with our ambassador in Beijing, Beijing’s ambassador in Canberra but also with some of the heads of our global mining companies and they all have confidence that they have the systems to manage this. They deal with these sorts of uncertainties all of the time and of course they’re grateful for any additional certainty or information that we can gather through diplomatic channels. But ultimately at a business level they’re confident that they’re able to just get on with business successfully.
Journalist: Minister the latest Newspoll is out, I’d just highlight how big a challenge the Coalition has over coming weeks and months to sell its message ahead of the election?
Simon Birmingham: We have a big mountain to climb but Australians face a big threat and risk if Bill Shorten is elected. Our strength of economic management has delivered record jobs growth and tax cuts and a budget surplus. All of that is on the line from 200 billion dollars plus in higher taxes under a
Labor government. Thank you.