30 November 2020

SUBJECTS: China’s tariffs on Australian wine; Australia’s relationship with China.



SUBJECTS: China’s tariffs on Australian wine; Australia’s relationship with China.

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Joining me now is the Shadow Minister for Trade, Madeleine King, for more on this. Thanks for your time. So the indication is we could go to the WTO over possibly barley and wine. Do you agree with this move?
MADELEINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE: Firstly, a pleasure to be here, Tom, and thanks for having me along. It’s important that Australia and China find common ground. And some of the established common grounds are the international rules of the WTO that Australia signed up to and China acceded to sometime after that, and I do support us going to the WTO. Meanwhile, exporters themselves need help. Many of them, and not all of them, agree with going to the WTO, because it could be taken the wrong way. It shouldn’t be, but it could be. And it will take a long time to resolve any disputes through the WTO. So I support the Government going there. We should return to these rules and it could be a case for a better consultation amongst both our nations. But meanwhile, producers and exporters are hurting and they need help now.
CONNELL: But when you say some producers are concerned it could be taken the wrong way. I mean, this sort of gentle urging from us, and quietly trying to make our case, for example on wine, is just not being heard, is it? I mean saying that we are dumping cheap wine when the price is going up in terms of our export value to China, that’s the price per litre if you like, is going up. This idea we are dumping cheap wine in China is just farcical, so hoping that they’ll come to their senses isn’t working is it? Yes, we get why exporters have concerns, but let’s just clarify that you have total support for the Government taking this path now the other path is not working.
KING: I totally support them taking this path, but you do have to acknowledge that that’s a path that’s going to take some time and in the meantime, what will the Government do to help these exporters and these wine producers as well as all the other industries affected? So we can return to those rules, we should, it is common ground and that’s where we should seek to work government to government, between China and Australia. But meanwhile, producers are hurting and they quite rightly are calling on the Government to do more to fix the underlying issues in the relationship.
CONNELL: So that they can try to do that on China, I mean right now the wine industry is saying China is not an option for us. What should the Government do? Are you talking about an underwriting package I mean they’re working on what they can and on the trade deals they’ve got. So are you saying this is cash support that’s needed?
KING: No, not necessarily, I think the Government needs to demonstrate its support more actively for exporters. What we have seen is, and what I have experienced when I speak to some of those wine producers, is they’re not able to get in touch with the Minister’s office. They aren’t getting responses. I just think there needs to be a more proactive and direct consultation with some of these producers.
CONNELL: But what does that actually mean? The Australian Government is doing everything it can to hope these tariffs won’t go ahead. They are going to. What else can they do?
KING: Well, they can improve the relationship, can’t they? They can make solid efforts to hammer home the point, as often as they can, that this is a mutually beneficial relationship that ...
CONNELL: We are hearing that again and again and again from the Government.
KING: Well I don’t think we have. We have recently, but this has been going for six months. This is a long-term problem that the Government has got itself into. This Government signed the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, which Labor supported, five years ago, nearly five years ago in December. And in that time we’ve seen the relationship go from perhaps the zenith of it, to what is nearly rock bottom. So my issue is, how has this been allowed to happen? So it’s like this slow drip effect and then suddenly we wake up six months ago and find there’s going to be a tariff on wine, and what’s happened in the meantime?
CONNELL: So the Minister, my understanding is, actually called the CEO of the wine makers half an hour after the ruling and there’s been a series of crisis meetings with various producers over the last week. That sounds like a reasonable amount of consultation, doesn’t it?
KING: Look, I’m glad the Minister’s consulting. I’m just saying I’ve had wine producers contact me and saying they’re not getting responses. And I will let the Minister’s office know who …
CONNELL: You don’t want to say what producers have …
KING: No I’m not, because it’s up to them, they’re private conversations and I respect that …
CONNELL: It’s easy to say that there are producers and then not name them
KING: Oh look, that’s a fair point, but it’s the truth, I’m not telling porkies. And I will let the Minister’s office know who’s been contacting me, just to make sure they are aware.
CONNELL: Wouldn’t you do that straight away? Why wait?
KING: Well, we will do it. We’ve got a few though, there’s a bit of a list. But I think what happens often in government circles there’s a tendency to rely on all the representative councils which is understandable too, but then individuals and individual wine producers can get kind of lost in the mix, and I think it’s important to pay attention …
CONNELL: You said the Australian Government’s allowed this to happen in terms of our relationship. China issued its 14-point set of issues as to why the relationship is suffering. Does Labor disagree with any of the Australian Government’s actions on that list?
KING: No, the list is hard to describe …
CONNELL: Well, how would you describe it?
KING: Well, it's a part of China’s more aggressive stance, there's no doubt about it. It's inflammatory clearly. Each of the issues in it, they’re not things that there can be compromises on, other than I might say, the point about racist attacks by people but also Government MPs and their over-blown language and anti-Chinese language. I think that’s a fair point.

CONNELL: What are you referring to there?

KING: I'm referring to Senator Abetz’s behaviour in the Senate committee in that inquiry and also George Christensen's language.

CONNELL: Just while we have it up on the screen so we can see there. This is part of the list - blocking foreign investment, barring Huawei from 5G, media reporting on China, you know, a free press perish the thought - funding so-called anti-China research, pointing the finger at ASPI there, No issue there? I mean, some exporters for example have questioned whether the Australian Government should have been a key part of trying to lead and make sure an inquiry into COVID-19, the origins and handling of that, should have been pursued. You're backing the Australian Government's approach on that?

KING: We back an inquiry into the origins of COVID, that's sensible for everyone, literally the whole world…

CONNELL: Backing the way Australian government approached that?

KING: No I'm not backing the way the Australian Government approached that.
CONNELL: What did they do wrong?
KING: Well they stepped out and the Minister made an announcement on a television program. So there was no foundational work done in multilateral forums so that we were part of an agreed group of nations that would call this inquiry. We just stepped out on our own. And that's not the way you do diplomacy

CONNELL: But this was multilateral. Australia was working behind the scenes all through this period of time.
KING: It was the first to come out and announce it on a television program.
CONNELL: The multilateral work was happening; you're saying we shouldn't have gone public?

KING: I don't know why we went first. I just don't understand why Australia had to step out and be the first party to do this when there was a multilateral process that was going on.

CONNELL: Perhaps no one else was going to and we had to be the lead.
KING: Why?
CONNELL: Well someone has to.
KING:  Why us though?
CONNELL: Why not?

KING: But why? This is our most important economic relationship that we have.
CONNELL: It is for a lot of countries though, China.
KING: Yeah, true. But we have more to lose than most, don’t we? As a smaller trading nation with an extraordinarily complementary economy with China. And there are other countries that can do it.
CONNELL: You mentioned MP’s talking out, if you like. There is a group actually known as the Wolverines, that has members on both sides, including Labor, Is it a mistake for Labor members to be a part of the Wolverines?

KING: I'm not going to pass judgment on my colleagues taking part in those groups. I don’t support that group. I think it's a bit childish, but people make their choices.

CONNELL: It's childish, so the Labor MP’s being a member of this group is being a bit childish? 

KING: I think the group is, I think it’s childish.
CONNELL: Does it hurt the relationship?

KING: I’m not sure how much the Chinese government is reflecting on groups like the Wolverines who put stickers on their windows in the Parliament.

CONNELL: They do more than that, they talk out pretty strongly against China.

KING: Well not so much recently, I think you'll find. But that's up to them. Individual members of parliament make decisions, but I think they should be more moderate …

CONNELL: You are saying individual Members of Parliament make decisions, but you are also criticising what individual Members of Parliaments also making decisions talking out, I mean surely.

KING: Well, I just told you what I think about the Wolverine group, I don't support it and I don't agree with it. I think it's childish. They have other thoughts and they can do that. But I do think all MPs, all MPs and Senators, need to moderate their language sometimes.

CONNELL: Madeleine King, appreciate your time today.
KING: Pleasure Tom, thanks so much.