27 May 2020

SUBJECTS: Al Kuwait live export vessel; Australia’s trading relationship with China; industrial relations reform; shadow trade portfolio; WA Day.



SUBJECTS: Al Kuwait live export vessel; Australia’s trading relationship with China; industrial relations reform; shadow trade portfolio; WA Day.

JENNA CLARKE, HOST: Joining me now is the Shadow Trade Minister, Madeleine King. Madeleine, in your opinion, could this have the impact, could this be our Ruby Princess over here in WA?

MADELEINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE: Hi Jenna. There’s not as many passengers, of course.

CLARKE: Four-legged ones.

KING: Yeah, well not yet. They’re in my electorate in Baldivis right now. But it’s a serious situation, it's obviously not a cruise liner with lots of people on but, as Keith just said, there are seafarers doing their work. It's hard work, it's not the most pleasant work. Maritime workers put a lot of hours in, a long time away from their family. So these are the people that will be affected directly by this health crisis. We have protocols in place that people didn't leave the ship. But the truth is, the process leaves an awful lot to be desired, and it's clearly not best practice. How the Minister can sort of handball off responsibility, Mr Littleproud, just beggars belief. And it might not be his department’s responsibility at the final call but it is Border Force’s responsibility and it looks to me from the documents I've seen that the only department that didn't go on board the ship at some point is Australia's Border Force. So what are they doing? Their job is in the name, right. Where are they? They are absent. I take the Minister’s point and I’ve heard his interviews on various platforms, and when he said the Agriculture Department aren’t medical doctors. Sure, I get that, no one expects them to be. But ministers and departments can talk to one another and talk to one another a bit better than what was, on the face of it, a pretty breezy email to a generic email account. It hasn’t helped alleviate anyone's concerns about how the federal government manages the importation of goods to this country.

CLARKE: Yeah, absolutely. I think the one thing that absolutely sort of blew my mind was the laissez faire sort of attitude. There was no mention of COVID or coronavirus in that email, and I guess that it's not the Agriculture Department’s responsibility and things like that, but surely in this time where every one of us in work has been asked to do more than our fair share in our jobs, surely they're going to have to review processes ASAP on this, right?

KING: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s kind of no excuse for not knowing about COVID and high temperatures are one of the signs, and we all know some people don't have high temperatures as well. So we've got to be really alert and alive. I mean, these departments are on the front line and it's a stressful time for their staff. But what did that email say – “Hi WA” – and what I understand is that they got notified two days before. How you can send an email to a generic email address four hours before a ship is meant to dock in Fremantle, a large population centre, and expected it all to quickly happen over here in four hours, I mean that’s a bit unbelievable as well. Again, I just don't know where Australia's Border Force is in all of this
CLARKE: I agree with you. I think a lot of people are either shaking their heads or pointing fingers, but I think the maritime unions have really done a great job with this - the fact that we spoke to Keith and he said we just kind of handled it calmly and let people know. Do you think that this will be when Christian Porter kicks off - we had the announcement that IR reform will be taking place and the union boss Sally McManus seems to be the golden-haired child at the moment, we're all going to work together – do you think that this is one example that they could use to say, look this is probably where we all need to work together for a greater good.

KING: Oh yeah, absolutely. I heard Keith speaking before and when this all started when the cruise ships were off the coast, one of my first calls was with the leader of the MUA, Christy Cain, just to have a chat to say how are the workers going. Because the unions are in touch with the seafarers on board ships, but also other workers and unions around the world to see what's going on and how that community is faring. So I think absolutely it's a chance for the Government, for the Liberal Government, to finally realise that the unions do great work in our community. You know what I really look forward to, is to not have to go to Parliament and have Liberals and Nationals yell over the chamber at me about how unionists run everything I ever do. They are representatives of workers and they are thoughtful people, they speak to their members, they speak to people who aren't their members, they work with business, they work with employers, and they work with visiting crews on ships like this. Your point is absolutely right.

CLARKE: In regards to what the Prime Minister said around industrial relations reform yesterday, he really came from the centre and I guess there was the highlight that they're hoping to kick off five working groups to focus on reform. Christian Porter, the Attorney-General, who's also the industrial relations minister, has come out today saying that Perth may be at the cornerstone of that, there could be some meetings held here. Is this something that you welcome?

KING: I always like a meeting in Perth. I mean, one of the bonuses of this crisis for me is that I haven't had to travel so much. But let's face it, meetings can be based anywhere right now, it's very difficult for these meetings to all be held in Perth for many reasons. One obviously is the social distancing, but also the flights are really hard to come by because there aren't any. But I'm glad Christian is running this, it is his job after all, he is the responsible minister. But it's a bit of a shame that it's taken a global health crisis to bring the Liberals and the Nationals to the table on this. I'm really proud of the work our former leaders have done – with Bill Kelty working with Bob Hawke and Paul Keating on the original Accord. That was hard work, and many people gave up many things to make sure it happened and that we were able to open up our economy. Best of luck to Christian and the Liberal Party and the Government to try and do this, but the main thing is to not leave workers in this country worse off and we've seen their record on this – their IR reform does leave workers worse off.

CLARKE: Yeah. I guess the one light on the hill and the one vibe that you got from the speech yesterday and what we’re hearing from Canberra is that collaboration is going to be king when it comes to getting us out, getting Australia out of coronavirus and moving forward to ensure that we set us up for the future. Speaking of the future, you've been doing some great editorial work for The West Australian in regards to our relationship with China, specifically from WA from a trade point of view. What's your latest on this news overnight that there are some WA wine exporters being told that China will not be taking our wine? I see that the Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham, has hosed that down as rumour, but is this just more rumblings that we really have a long way to go in our relationship with them?

KING: We have to work hard on all our international relationships, so I wouldn't want to single out China. Obviously we're in a bit of a different space than what we might have been a few years back, with our political and trading relationship with China. Ultimately when these disputes emerge and there's tariffs and these kinds of rumours, it's the producers here, but importantly the consumer of China that misses out. If this is indeed true, and I don't think it is to be honest, but if it is, it's the consumer of China that misses out on some great Western Australian wines. But we do have to work hard at these things and China will remain a principal trading partner of Western Australia, and therefore Australia, for many years to come. And we should always remember that. A lot of people worked very hard to have that relationship working well. There's been a lot of talk about diversification to other markets, but that's really hard work and it takes decades. It takes years and years and we have to be really serious about it, just like people that went before us were really serious about engaging with China and making sure that relationship works so now we can prosper on the back of our exports of iron ore and many other products to that market. But we need to take the prospect of an emerging India and Indonesia very seriously and not just pay lip service to it by talking about cricket and curries and trips to Bali and that kind of thing. We have to work hard at trade, and keeping this as an open exporting nation and making sure we've got people around the world to share our produce with.

CLARKE: You recently came into the shadow portfolio of trade. What's been some of the highlights and what have your big learnings been since the election?

KING: Well, it's a pretty diverse amount of work to be honest Jenna. Everyone’s got an interest in trade, and you might know before I was elected I worked at the Perth USAsia Centre so I’d done a think a lot of thinking on this with Gordon Flake and others, about Australia's place in the world - especially Perth’s place in the world as we sit in this time zone where the greatest growth in the world will happen. Obviously, COVID has put a bit of a dent in that progress but this is where the emerging markets of the world are and Perth is in the perfect spot. So trying to turn the conversation a bit more west has always been a passion of mine and I try to do that a bit in the trade portfolio, and you've seen it in the editorial work. It’s convincing my colleagues on the east coast to think about it as well, so that's been interesting. We spoke earlier about IR reforms and the sudden dawning on the Government that they should consult with unions. That’s another group that I've been working with a lot. We talk about comprehensive economic partnerships and trade agreements - the union movement has a very open participation in that because a lot of the union movement are in trade-exposed industries and they want to have the best possible arrangements for our trading prosperity but also for Australian workers. And I really respect their views and put a lot of time and effort into talking with them about the future of the trade policy for the Labor Party.

CLARKE: Yeah, absolutely. Just back to the Al Kuwait. Do you think that there's any concern to the public from this ship debacle?

KING: Oh, yeah. I mean, not from the immediate health concerns. I don't think there's going to be any spread of the virus to anyone because of the protocols we've got in place and the seamen have been able to get medical attention and go into quarantine. But the greatest concern is that you've got an opaque kind of process that no one understands and clearly isn't working. And there’ll be a few allegations thrown around about who got an email and who didn't, but for God’s sake can someone please pick up the phone and let someone know when they think there's a problem. You know how people get phone denial or phone aversion - well now is not the time when there’s this kind of problem going on. So you had Keith earlier saying about 9800 ships go through here, pick things up and drop things off. If this process isn't in place and doesn't work properly, there has to be concern about the bigger export industries such as iron ore and LNG in the north. So everyone's got a vested interest in making sure this process works and works efficiently and with open communication, and not this kind of passing the buck around so that everyone gets involved except for the people whose job it is, which is Border Force.

CLARKE: Yeah, absolutely. Now I guess on a lighter note, we've got a public holiday coming up on Monday, WA Day, you're a proud West Aussie down in Kwinana- Rockingham way. What are you getting up to?

KING: I guess it depends on the weather a bit, right? I might go for a long walk maybe around the salt lakes down in Baldivis. And if it's raining, I might spend the afternoon reading a book or putting in … I've discovered the joys of the slow-roasted lamb shoulder, a 10-hour cook. It's amazing. You throw it in the oven and walk away for six or seven hours, it's an eye opener.

CLARKE: That is a very big humble brag but you may have like 56,000 to choose from in your backyard in Baldivis.

KING: [Laughter] That’s true. So, I might do that and I might tune into the State of the Art concert that sadly can't be on live, but it's going to be live streamed, so I’ll pop that on in the background. Listen to a bit of that and have a nice, relaxing day really.

CLARKE: Good on you. Well, Shadow Minister for Trade Madeleine King and a proud West Australian down in Rocko and Kwinana way, thank you so very much for joining us on The West Live, and we hope to chat to you again soon.

KING: A pleasure Jenna, I’d love to.