11 May 2020

SUBJECTS: China’s threat to impose tariffs on Australian barley; Australia’s trading relationship with China; Anthony Albanese’s vision statement


MONDAY, 11 MAY 2020

SUBJECTS: China’s threat to impose tariffs on Australian barley; Australia’s trading relationship with China; Anthony Albanese’s vision statement

ANNELISE NIELSEN, HOST: Madeleine King, thanks for your time. This barley story is quite concerning for grain growers right across the country. This isn't new though, the allegations of the heart of this. Do you think it is politically charged that China is threatening tariffs now?

MADELEINE KING, SHADOW TRADE MINISTER: Hi Annelise and thanks very much for having me on the program. It is an 18-month dispute. The barley dispute has been going on for some time and grain growers across the country and their representative organisations have been working very diligently and also spending a lot of money, I might add, to defend themselves against the claims from China. And that's important work they're doing and they're doing that in concert with the department and the Government, and we support that in Labor. It's a difficult time for the barley growers now - many of them have already sowed their crops and now they've got this hanging over their heads, this ongoing dispute. So we hope there'll be a resolution in favour of the barley growers so that they're not slapped with these tariffs which are unproductive for open trading systems.

NIELSEN: What do you think that resolution looks like? What do you think the government should be doing now? Do you support the move to say that they would go to the World Trade Organisation if those tariffs come through?

KING: I support the efforts the Government is putting in into defending the claims made by the Chinese. I know they're working hard and the Trade Minister has been in touch with me in regard to this. What we need to do is keep presenting our case within those international rules. And this is exactly the purpose of the World Trade Organisation and why we need to support its work and respect that institution because when countries do have a dispute like Australia and China is having now, we have an umpire that can adjudicate on the dispute so that we can return and abide by those international rules.

NIELSEN: There is a broader question about what our relationship with China should look like going forward, trade being at the heart of that relationship. Do you think that the government should be revisiting what we do with China in light of how they've handled the coronavirus pandemic?

KING: Well, China remains our largest trading partner. And while we should all seek to diversify our export markets, just like in our personal lives we might seek to diversify where we keep our savings, wishing for extra markets and diversified markets doesn't make it happen. So in the meantime, this relationship with China and our trading relationship with China is very important to the entire economy and is particularly important to the Western Australian economy where I'm from. So we need to make sure we are balanced, we have our eyes open and are very aware of what China does and says around the world. And I think we are. But economic recovery from the coronavirus shutdown and the restrictions that have clearly affected our economy in such a massive way, the way we will climb out of this is through continuing trade with the world, but in particular with our region and with China.

NIELSEN: One of the ways this has really come to a head in the last few weeks was Andrew Forrest saying that he had secured this deal for more testing kits from China and were supposed to be grateful for that opportunity and it cost taxpayers millions of dollars in the meantime. Are we compromising our international standing by going into deals like that at the same time as China has been hesitant to share accurate information on the coronavirus pandemic but they do remain a major trading partner.

KING: You’ve brought together two very important issues. Firstly on the origins of the virus, I mean it's very important for the world that we know the origins of this virus and its spread. And that's from a very objective and important goal of making sure we can avoid pandemics in the future. And I do hope that investigation takes place and China openly engages with it. The other question is to Andrew Forrest’s work and the Minderoo Foundation's work on sourcing protective equipment. That was an initiative that Mr Forrest took on and he was able to do it because he does have corporate relationships with many Chinese companies and that is the basis of his company FMG’s export capacity into China. So he's well within his rights to turn to those relationships to help the government source that equipment. The arrangements between both the WA state government and the federal government as to how they would pay for that was a matter for them. But nonetheless, Mr Forrest did source equipment that is being used now in the country.

NIELSEN: So just to be clear, you do support Australia pursuing an inquiry into the origins of this virus, even if it does compromise Australia's trade relationship with China?

KING: I support transparency. I support the transparency that China needs to show as to how this virus came to be. But equally the government, our government, needs to be transparent for the Ruby princess debacle. So while Australians want transparency on what's happened here, equally the Chinese people want transparency on what happened there. So I don't think this is anything unusual that the people of the world want to know what goes wrong in their own countries or how things have happened. So we will urge that transparency, we support the investigation, as it happens. And I'm quite certain it will happen. It's just how the world works to cooperate on that. And that cooperation is very important. As it affects our trade relationship? Well if it did, I guess that's something we'll have to work through. But you know, at the moment, exports with China are actually on the rise. The resources sector is exporting more iron ore to China at the moment. So I don't think the two things that are conflating right at this stage.

NIELSEN: And just finally we've got Anthony Albanese making a vision statement in Caucus this morning about what he thinks a post-coronavirus Australia should look like. What are you hoping will be the big focus for Labor?

KING: Well, I think the focus for Labor is there must be a fairness in our economy, a fairness for average everyday working Australians that want job security and affordable housing, adequate health care as well as access to education and vocational training. But you know, at the heart of it, it's a matter of fairness for Labor and I really look forward to hearing from our leader Anthony later today.

NIELSEN: Madeleine King, shadow trade minister, thank you for your time.

KING: Thanks very much, Annelise. Great to talk.