13 May 2020

SUBJECT: Australia’s trade relationship with China



SUBJECT: Australia’s trade relationship with China

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Madeleine King is the Shadow Trade Minister and joins us tonight. Welcome.

MADELEINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE: Thanks Patricia, lovely to be here.

KARVELAS: Joel Fitzgibbon says Scott Morrison is using a faceoff with China to chase votes at home. Is that really what's happening here?

KING: There is a danger when backbenchers or anyone goes a bit rogue and starts using certain sentiments to attract votes in their electorates which goes against, quite frankly, the national interest of maintaining a productive working relationship with one of our largest trading partners. And any nation for that matter, these kind of remarkable comments we've seen from some backbenchers are not helpful, and not in Australia's interest

KARVELAS: They might not be helpful but it's a free country. In fact we pride ourselves on an open democracy. Why aren't people entitled to their views?

KING: I'm not saying that - they are entitled to their views. But I think it is the responsibility of Members of Parliament to think before they speak. I think some of them think much less than they should, before they speak

KARVELAS: The Victorian Treasurer, Tim Pallas, has warned against the vilification of China. Is China being vilified by the federal government?

KING: No, I would not say that, they're not being vilified by the federal government. I heard the grab from the foreign minister earlier, and I agree with much of what she and the Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham, are saying. It's a difficult time in the relationship, and we do, the government does, have to be measured, and equally Labor in opposition realises the importance of the relationship with China. The issue that the Treasurer from Victoria goes to is that words have been said that are less than thoughtful and a little bit inciteful and they are causing quite frankly racial incidents in the community which is not good for anyone.

KARVELAS: What words that have been said by parliamentarians are responsible for racial incidents in the community?

KING: I'm not going to repeat what people are saying but we know that there is a general whipping up of certain sentiment that should not go any further.

KARVELAS: Okay. But obviously, when people are criticising politicians, the Communist Party in China, which is what some of them are doing, that's fair isn't it?

KING: It is fair to criticise a regime that we do not always agree with that, that is undoubtedly the case. The Communist Party of China obviously doesn't oversee a democratic regime like ours, and some of the things they do we're not going to agree with either, in opposition or in government. And I do think we need to be very careful that we make a clear difference between the ruling Communist Party in China, and the Chinese people, and Chinese people in Australia that have came from China or their families have come to China and they've contributed such vast amount to our shared culture and our economy.

KARVELAS: Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells is calling for China to pay reparations … Does Australia need to decouple from China?

KING: No it doesn't. China is a significant trading partner and a neighbour in our region. Disengagement really isn't an option, and I heard these comments earlier. So I don't agree with them and I think there's no basis for them.

KARVELAS: China has stopped short of identifying the call for an investigation as the reason for the suspension of beef exports. They’ve said they’re arguing it’s technical issues, but the Chinese Ambassador has threatened the trade relationship. Do you think there's a link?

KING: I don't think there's a link, I sincerely hope there's not a link. I can't guess or speculate too far on what's in people's heads when they make these statements. Remembering also that English is not the first language of Chinese diplomats. But the thing is we, as a Labor opposition, we support the government in calling for the inquiry into the origin of COVID-19 and that's an important thing to have transparency in finding out what happened for the purposes of avoiding a pandemic in the future. And I think that’s for the benefit of the Chinese community as well in China. So we support that move. We need transparency and finding out exactly what's happened so that doesn't happen again.

KARVELAS: What would the impact on Western Australia be if China moved to target Australian commodities?
KING: It would be enormous, of course. Iron ore exports to China, which have been in process for many, many years., if they stopped that would have an enormous effect on the Western Australian economy and consequently an enormous effect on the Australian economy. The Western Australian government has a good relationship through China and of course you've seen the relationship of certain Western Australian-based business people. These are important relationships that underpin the overall relationship between the two countries, but stopping or ceasing of trade between Western Australia and China would have very bad effects.

KARVELAS: The Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has been trying to talk to his counterpart, he confirmed to not that long ago that he still hasn't been able to get that meeting. Is that alarming or would the same thing happen if Labor were in power

KING: I can’t really speculate what would happen if we were in power. The truth is that the relationship has been on a not-so-perfect footing for a number of years now, and arguably the effort hasn't been put in in the past to strengthen that relationship. There is a layer of resilience missing in it so that when we strike a dispute, which is what's happening now, there is less and less back0up and avenues for the minister or others to turn to. So I think that relationship is the repair job for whoever is in government, starting right now.

KARVELAS: Are you worried that this is the beginning of the trade war?

KING: I don’t think it is a trade war and I don't want it to be one or become one.

KARVELAS: So it just wishful thinking or do you think there's evidence?

KING: I guess you could say it might be wishful thinking but these are separate disputes and they have been going on for some time. To take the issue with barley, that's been in train for 18 months and investigations have been ongoing. This has to be worked through. Regrettably trade disputes do take a long time to resolve, so that's really hard on our farmers in Western Australia who produce most of that. We have to make sure in our own minds we keep them separate lest start punching at shadows here.

KARVELAS: Thank you so much for your time.

KING: No worries Patricia, it’s a pleasure.

KARVELAS: That's the Shadow Trade Minister, Madeleine King.