Ross Greenwood: Simon Birmingham is online, thanks for your time Simon.
Simon Birmingham: G’day Ross, great to be with you.
Ross Greenwood: Can you just explain one thing, you’ve been in these negotiations for a free trade agreement with the UK, does that presume the Brexit does occur. Is it pretty much how it’s gone?
Simon Birmingham: Well yes that is an essential prerequisite Ross that at present as a member of the EU, the UK’s trade access and market access is defined as the European Union. Now Australia has very active free trade agreement negotiations underway with the European Union, and we would hope to be able to seal that deal and build upon our success we’ve had China and Korea’s Trans-Pacific Partnership and other nations. But we also would hope that if Brexit does occur, and the UK leaves the EU, then of course we would seek and are eager to have a comprehensive free trade agreement with the United Kingdom as well.
Ross Greenwood: Okay because Australia could be a major beneficiary of all if a sudden if the UK is not wedded to the bureaucracy of Europe, if it could go to other parts of the world to pick up its butter, its dairy goods, it’s fresh fruit and vegetables, it’s meat then Australia clearly stands to be a significant beneficiary along with New Zealand. Is that the thinking of the negotiations from the Australian side as you as you go through these discussions?
Simon Birmingham: We certainly are looking at the best possible deal for our wine makers, for our dairy, our meat and other agricultural producers as well as for all of the other goods and services that Australia trades with the United Kingdom and could trade in far greater quantities in the future if we get a good comprehensive ambitious free trade agreement in play. Now Brexit itself if it happens without any type of deal between the UK and the European Union on a ‘no deal’ Brexit as it’s described by those in the United Kingdom. That would come with some disruption and that’s why as you indicated in your introduction that banks, the various traders that have historically based themselves out of the United Kingdom have been looking to how they might ensure that they have a base in Europe that they can work from there and that’s an important contingency move if you like that businesses are taking because of the uncertainty. But from the government’s perspective our responsibility is to ensure that Australian farmers, businesses, exporters, have the best possible access into the European Union and into the United Kingdom. That’s why we’ve got free trade agreement negotiations underway with an EU, a Trade Working Group that is a precursor to free trade agreement negotiations with the United Kingdom and have also been looking at any types of agreements we currently have with the European Union, we want to be in the best possible position to duplicate them with the UK in the event that do leave the EU. [00:02:48][87.7]
Ross Greenwood: Leave aside the jingoism and the patriotism in the UK about their justification for being independent and separate from Europe the economic justification was all about the fact that being wedded to Europe meant that the UK had lost significant opportunity especially in the Asia-Pacific and its enormous growth. Now Australia has been a very significant beneficiary from the growth in particular in China but the emergence of India and other parts of South-East Asia is one of the issues of a freed up UK that all of a sudden say for example I’ll give you our third largest export industry or export generator which is education. Now education we’re getting so many Chinese students and Indian students, we’ve got institutions and faculties now based in China and also in India. If you suddenly get a freed up UK that starts doing trade deals around the world could it be that some of our biggest export earners suddenly have competition where they had none previously?
Simon Birmingham: That’s possible but there’s also a flip side to that Ross. The UK has already been historically one of the largest employment providers of international education. People from around the world seek high quality, credible, English language education and unsurprisingly England and the UK has been well placed for that. But of course if movement between the UK or the European Union is not as easy as it used to be, then suddenly if you are in Europe in a non-English speaking country looking for an English language education perhaps the distance to travel to Australia may look like less of a burden if you’ve got to go through more cumbersome, these processes and the like and to go to the UK where previously you were able to just hop on the ferry or a plane land in London and off you went to university or the study program of your choice. So there may well be opportunities there, yes they would need to look at those opportunities where our quality international education providers could well be able to latch on to the European market and others who have historically gone to England and find that they can snaffle more of that market in the future.
Ross Greenwood: There’s also one other benefit to Australia potentially and though it’s been a recommendation to the Parliament via a white paper that visa restrictions especially on those who are citizens of Australia be eased up right now. If you wish to get into the UK on a skilled migrant visa you’ve got to be seen to be highly skilled in other words you got to have specialist skills. In the future it suggested that it maybe skilled visa holders or skilled workers who could pick up these visas. Now you’d certainly need to have a job, but it does mean as I understand it that people with pretty much a high school education. So we’re talking people who might be nurses, we’re talking people who might be tradies of all sorts. They could more easily find their visa into the UK so this is part of the UK trying to if you like tap into the skills of the world to bring more migrants skilled migrants into their country.
Simon Birmingham: That will be a matter for the United Kingdom as to how they facilitate people from all around the world including from traditional close partners, family members really like Australia. We would hope that Australians will have good easy ready access to be able to live and work in the UK, subject to meeting their conditions. But Of course these things may also be part of negotiations around our future free trade agreements and there’s always the question of reciprocity, what would we do in return and we of course are very careful in terms of ensuring that where we allow skilled workers from overseas to come and work in Australia that only occurs when it is clearly going to be in the interests of Australia where it is filling skills gaps that we may have in Australia and helping our businesses grow and create more opportunities for Australians as well as those who might be getting those very limited numbers of working visas.
Ross Greenwood: Just tell me as you try and work back into parliamentary sitting dates for 2019 clearly as it comes in ahead of the federal election and the budget will be coming in April also, just explain to me how as a party and as a government you’re going to manage the business of the day through the Houses given the fact right now you don’t have clear majorities in either of those houses is a workable was not workable?
Simon Birmingham: We have managed with the Senate to be able to get an awful lot of legislation through this Parliament to be able to cut taxes for hard working Australians, cut taxes for small and medium businesses while still balancing the budget and bringing it back into surplus creating the type of conditions that have seen record jobs growth. I think we’ve demonstrated that we can work with a challenging parliament, and it’s been challenging the whole way through with a narrow majority in the house and no majority in the Senate, yet we’ve still got a lot done and I’m confident that in the remaining two sitting weeks in particularly the budget that is to come, we will demonstrate to Australians that when they voted for a Liberal-National Government and they wanted strong economic management, a balanced budget, tax cuts, jobs growth, secure borders, they’re the sorts of things that we’ve delivered.
Ross Greenwood: Well you’ve still got four weeks to work on the numbers as well. Simon Birmingham is our Trade Minister and of course that is a significant issue in the UK with Brexit and of course there is an implication for us here in Australia as well. Simon, I appreciate your time on the program this evening.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much Ross.
Benn Ayre: +61 428 342 325
Kathryn McFarlane: +61 419 850 201
Authorised by Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, South Australia.