19 October 2020

SUBJECTS: Trans-Tasman travel bubble; COVID-19 on international ships; international arrivals in WA; the Government’s failure to diversify Australia’s export markets; Australia’s relationship with China.



SUBJECTS: Trans-Tasman travel bubble; COVID-19 on international ships; international arrivals in WA; the Government’s failure to diversify Australia’s export markets; Australia’s relationship with China.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Madeleine King, welcome.


KARVELAS: Good. Is there any reason why New Zealanders coming from places where there aren’t coronavirus cases shouldn't be allowed into WA?

KING: The WA government, as we all know has set out a hard border policy, and the reason it's done that is to keep Western Australians safe, but also the backbone of the Australian economy, the mineral resources industry. So that hard border is in place for a reason. I don't think anyone particularly likes it, including me, including the WA government. It's a necessity of our times to protect our people and the economy from COVID. So whilst we would all like all our friends from around the world, including New Zealand, to be able to return home, and we have a lot of New Zealand, or former New Zealanders, in our electorates in Western Australia, it's just not something that the McGowan Government has agreed to, and that is something the Morrison Government should respect.

KARVELAS: Okay, but given the fact that New Zealand has basically, it looks like, almost eradicated this virus, it doesn't appear to be in the community now, why shouldn't they be allowed in?

KING: Well, they have to transit through other airports for a start, through Sydney and others. So that's one reason. We have a hard border in Western Australia that does require people from New South Wales to go through a process of quarantine or applying for the G2G pass. So the same goes for New Zealanders coming in because they've been through New South Wales, there's no direct flight. But more importantly, there's also no agreement of the West Australian government permitting New Zealand in because of the really strict border we put in place for the reasons O said earlier to keep Western Australians safe from COVID, but also to protect the economy, which will be really the backbone of this country's recovery from this COVID crisis.

KARVELAS: Should those New Zealanders be sent home or to states that are participating in the travel bubble?

KING: Look, that's going to be a matter for the state government. I know they're looking at that. People that have come before, not this group, but others have been sent back because they were actually seen saying to be flouting the hard border restrictions. I'm not going to make any judgment on that. That's something the state government I'm sure will look into and will decide what happens to these Kiwis.

KARVELAS: Is WA missing out on a tourism opportunity by not taking part in the travel bubble?

KING: Western Australians are pretty busy visiting Western Australia at the moment. I think people have rejuvenated their love of the state and dusted off some of the big four-wheel drives and taking them much further to travel around the state, and that's a really good thing for Western Australians to rediscover the beauty of our state. We would all like international tourism to restart tomorrow. That's what we would love to happen, but it can't happen because of the COVID pandemic and Western Australians have patience and they will wait this out. This is not good for the tourism industry. We all know that. They're being supported by the Western Australian government and when the time is right those international borders hopefully will be opened up and tourism will restart, and people will come to Western Australia as enthusiastically as they did before.

KARVELAS: Premier Mark McGowan wants the Commonwealth to do something about the number of cargo ships with COVID-19 positive crew coming from the Philippines. What should they be doing?

KING: This is a really difficult situation, and I do want to acknowledge the work that international seafarers are doing around the world to keep trade flows going. These seafarers are caught on ships for months at a time and it's distressing for them and their families and they are making enormous sacrifices so that global trade flows continue. So one thing Mark McGowan did suggest, and I think it's a good idea, is that the Government should speak to international forums, international maritime forums and seafarers forums, about how all countries can manage this flow of crew members that are needed to man these ships, to move these trade flows around, and how they can be protected from COVID or how we can ensure that the crews that go on these ships do not have it and therefore pose a risk to the ports that they enter.

KARVELAS: Would you like to see WA increase its cap on Australians returning from overseas so more people can be home in time for Christmas?

KING: The reason the cap is in place is limitations on the spaces for quarantine. So while I would love for all caps to be lifted, the reality is they can't because there is a restriction by virtue of the number of rooms for quarantine. So what we'd like and what we'd like to have is not necessarily what we can have in the midst of a global pandemic. So I do support the WA government. It's introduced a measure of quarantine that is keeping people safe in Western Australia. And it's identifying new cases from overseas travellers pretty regularly, like every other day. International travellers are arriving in Western Australia with COVID, so the quarantine is required. And there are just not enough quarantine hotels to go around, so we're restrained in so many ways, and one of them is literally the number of spaces and that's what influences the cap on arrivals?

KARVELAS: What are your concerns about how cotton growers could be affected if China instructs mills to stop buying Australian cotton?

KING: My concern is that it's an industry that employs people that has a reputation globally, that exports to China. It's a large buyer of great Australian cotton. My concern is that it's one more commodity added to the list of things that are going to be impacted by these declining trade relations with our most important trading partner. So we've got barley and wine, and we’ll soon find out I guess if the tariffs will come in on some of our best wines. Coal imports have been stopped to a certain extent. So this is a really difficult time for trade relationships with China, but cotton's just the last in a long line of commodities that have been affected by this poor relationship between our two countries.

KARVELAS: Are there other markets that Australia should be trying to expand to?

KING: There certainly is. There’s always other markets and they've always been there, and I would say that this government has not put its shoulder to the wheel in seeking to diversify our exposure to those markets. There have been free trade agreements and Labor has supported them, but you can't just have a set-and-forget type attitude to open and fair trade agreements. You've really got to put your shoulder to the wheel and work on that diversification. It takes decades. The Government’s dropped the ball on our relationship, our trading relationship, with India. Peter Varghese did a very extensive report and it’s been sitting on a shelf gathering dust for over two-and-a-half years. So India is where our next big market can be. But this government has failed to do anything more than talk about curries, cricket and Commonwealth. We've got to take this relationship seriously and get into that market. But it takes a lot of work. And in the meantime, the trade portfolio is downgraded with Simon Birmingham, very competent, but now he's the Minister for Everything in this government responsible for trade, tourism, investment, finance and Special Minister of State. It's no wonder this government's not able to actually diversify our export markets.

KARVELAS: How would a Labor government fix the relationship with China? How would you repair that relationship?

KING: Look, we're not in government. So we need to be clear on this. It really is up to the current Liberal government to repair the relationship that it has been looking after, supposedly, for the last seven years. It really is up to them. This is a government that signed the economic strategic partnership and have failed to maintain it, so it really is up to them. But I could give them a tip, and that is perhaps it’s time to start talking more with great Australian companies that form the backbone of our corporate relationship with China. They export massive amounts of commodities to China and they are gravely concerned about this relationship. So perhaps the government could call a forum of these groups to ask them what they think the government can do to repair it.

KARVELAS: Banning Huawei from the 5G network and our positions on Hong Kong and the South China Sea have all obviously angered Beijing. Would Labor have done any of those differently?

KING: It is really important that Australia always sticks to its values and principles, no matter who we're dealing with. So those decisions were not for us, but we have supported them. So the thing is you have to have a clear view of what you want to achieve and the values you want to stick by, and Australians do, and no-one is suggesting that Australia trade away these values. I know that language is used, but no-one's actually ever suggested that. So it's a matter of being really clear about us as a country and what we need to do in our values and sticking to that, while we also pursue an economic relationship. This is a balance successive governments have managed for many, many years. Growing trade with China took a lot of effort. Bob Hawke was the driver behind the Channar Rio Tinto iron ore investment, China's largest investment in iron ore at the time.

KARVELAS: They can put their shoulder to the wheel as much as they want. How do you fix the relationship if it's the simple fact of Australia standing up for those interests that's actually angered Beijing?

KING: Well, we have to keep standing up for those interests …

KARVELAS: We can keep standing up for them but if it clearly risks that trade relationship should we be prepared for that to happen?

KING: We should be prepared but we need other plans too. I’m going to come back to this because we can maintain and stick up for those interests and maintain our trade as well. I mean, we always have. It is the last few years, there is a different leadership in China, they have changed their approach. There's no doubt about it. The Australian government's aware of that, us in opposition are aware of that. So we do need to stick to those values, but we need to work really hard at this trading relationship. We can't just presume it is always going to continue as it has, and the evidence is showing that it's starting to crumble. So these forums can be had, a government could seek advice from the corporations that are trying to keep these relationships on track, to make sure this trading relationship is on track, because it’s very true to say it's mutually beneficial. The Chinese people have benefited from our relationship just as much as the Australian people have, and this will continue to be the case for many years to come. So we really do need to find a way to fix it. I'm not saying it's easy. I really am not. But something has to happen. Somewhere in Australia we have to shift the dial to improve this relationship for the future.

KARVELAS: Madeleine King, thanks for coming on.

KING: Thank you very much Patricia. Good to chat.