ABC NEWS RADIO
WEDNESDAY, 16 JUNE 2021
SUBJECTS: Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement; Biloela family.
THOMAS ORITI, HOST: Australia and the UK are hailing what's been called a new dawn in relations after the countries reached the first post Brexit free trade agreements overnight. Scott Morrison and his British counterpart Boris Johnson unveiled the new deal in London, which would see the age limits for working holiday visas increased to 35. That's for both countries. The UK would also loosen restrictions on the import of Australian lamb, beef and sugar. But farmers here won't gain unfettered access to British markets for 15 years. With tariffs slowly phased out over that time. The British leader says he hopes boosting the trade relationship will shift the balance from what's currently Australia's biggest trading partner, and that is, of course, China. For more, I'm joined now by Madeleine King, the Shadow Trade Minister.
MADELEINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE AND RESOURCES: Good to speak with you.
ORITI: What's your reaction to this agreement then?
KING: Well, I mean, I think it's a bit overstated to call it a new dawn in our relationship. The UK has been the second biggest foreign investor in Australia for some time, and obviously, we've got lots of migrants over many years that have come from Britain to Australia, as well as young workers that come and visit from time to time. Nonetheless, it's an important step. It's a good opportunity for not only our agricultural industry, but our services industry, to trade with a large market just off the coast of Europe.
ORITI: A bit of concern about the 15-year lag before Australian beef and lamb producers get the full benefits of this. Do you have thoughts on that? Obviously, the idea is those tariffs will be slowly phased out over that time. It can't all happen overnight.
KING: Yeah, absolutely. And it is a concern. All Australian agriculturalists and farmers have for a long time adopted tariff-free trade, and they've been enthusiastic adopters of it because it opens up more markets for us. But for this to be transitioned over between 10 and 15 years is a significant lag for those farmers. There's a long way to go in Britain for the ratification of this deal, and I note that the UK government has had to set up an independent commission to scrutinise this free trade agreement. And that was the requirement of British farmers. So I think there's still a fair bit of doubt around how that tariff-free position will come to be with the UK Australia Free Trade Agreement. I hope it comes to be, most certainly, but you couldn't say it's a terrifically done deal for Australian farmers right now.
ORITI: When I look at some of the language here, shifting the balance from what's currently Australia's biggest trading partner, China. Do you think there are aspects of this deal that could go some way to providing a boost for Australian producers that have suffered from the trade war with China. There is a big difference between our trade relationship with the UK and traditionally with China.
KING: This will not go very far to repair any of the trade decline with China. The thing about trade between China and Australia, is that we're very complementary economies, and right now, we know that iron ore is propping up that trade relationship and doing very, very well. Meanwhile, those agricultural industries like red wine producers and cray fisheries, right across Western Australia to Tasmania, are really losing out and literally collapsing. Now, there's no way the British market is going to replace the Chinese market for crayfish, for example. I mean, they might go some way on red wine, but certainly not very close.
ORITI: Yeah, so what do you do about that then? Both sides aren't going to back down, and if this relationship with China continues to deteriorate, how do you solve the problem?
KING: Well, I think we need a bit more well-crafted and careful diplomacy. Australia and some elected representatives need to drop some of their pretty inflammatory rhetoric on this. But I also think it's very important that as a nation and a parliament, we do listen to the people that still have those relationships with China and Chinese companies. That's our export industries that continue to be able to export. Also, we need to be really aware of the effects on those mostly agricultural producers that have built up relationships over 20 years with China, that now look like those relationships will be gone. They're doing their best to keep them going, and we need to encourage that, but also try and support it, and listen to them, and maybe take on some constructive feedback on what a government might do better to restore this relationship.
ORITI: This doesn't just come down to aggressive rhetoric, though. Surely it wouldn't be as simple as just changing the language to fix it.
KING: Obviously. I totally agree that it is really complex. I admit, and Labor admits that China has changed too. They're more assertive, more aggressive, themselves. We're seeing the wolf warrior diplomacy, and there is no disagreement on the national security issues, and there never has been. For anyone to say that, it's just not true. It was Labor that first initiated the ban on Huawei for the rollout of the NBN. So governments have been consistent, wary and open-eyed. So your right, it's not just about the language, and it will take time to repair. It's not an overnight proposition. But we have to start somewhere, and it's about engaging more with businesses that have those relationships. If it is about dialling down some of our language, then surely that's where we have to start.
ORITI: We're almost out of time, but I just want to ask you about another topic though. The Tamil asylum seeker family has been reunited in Perth. They've been allowed to temporarily stay there under community detention. Still a lot of questions about their long-term future. Do you have an opinion on what should happen here?
KING: Yeah, well, I'm grateful that they're off Christmas Island and back in Perth and being cared for at the Perth Children's Hospital. I'm from Perth, so I would endorse it as a place to live, but I accept that they belong in the community of Biloela. That's where they spend a lot of time, that's the community that loves and appreciates them, and I hope they get to go back there.
ORITI: Okay, Madeleine King, thank you very much for joining us.
KING: Thank you, Thomas.
ORITI: That's Madeleine King, the Shadow Trade Minister.