RN Drive with Andy Park

30 May 2024


ANDY PARK, HOST: Tim Ayres is the Assistant Minister for Trade and joins me now. Welcome to you.

SENATOR TIM AYRES: G'day, Andy. Good to be on the show.

PARK: Relief for beef producers and processers here. Certainly. Can you give me a bit of an insight into what negotiations have been like behind the scenes?

SENATOR AYRES: Well, it's been the work of this government since we were elected to stabilise the relationship with China and to do that in an effective and calm and considered way. And that has included, of course, dealing with the impediments that China put in place, put in the way of about $20 billion worth of Australian exports to China. Now, we've worked through those at all levels. It’s been raised at Ministerial level, consistently, led, of course, by Trade Minister Don Farrell. These issues have been raised by all of us in our engagement with our counterparts from China. There's also been a vast team of officials, highly skilled, experienced officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, all engaged in this task. We've worked our way through most of those trade impediments. It's had a big impact in terms of barley, in terms of the wine exports, oat and hay, coal – a whole range of products. Today's announcement, or last night's announcement, in relation to beef, these five beef establishments, is very welcome indeed. There is still more work to be done, of course.

PARK: Yeah, on that, two beef processing and export businesses continue to be subject to suspension. Why?

SENATOR AYRES: Well, we will continue to make representations about both of those facilities. They're both Southern Queensland operations. So, while, as you said in your introduction, three facilities went online a few months ago, this announcement in relation to five, one of those in northern NSW, Northern Meats, and four Queensland facilities, there are still two to go. There is more work to do for the Australian government on those questions, as there is, Andy, in relation to the rock lobster industry. So, while this is an important moment and it's important for those facilities themselves, you know, as a kid who grew up on a beef cattle farm and, in fact, my dad used to deliver beef cattle to the Northern Meats in Casino, I know how much that investment matters for not just the people of Casino, but for the cattle industry in the Northern Rivers. So, I know how much each of those facilities matter, but there is more work to do, and the government is going to keep focused on that.

PARK: I recall speaking to the Australian wine industry when Chinese wine exports to China were lifted, or the bans were lifted, so to speak. And I remember them saying how much it spurred them on to find other markets for their produce, particularly India in that case. Was that the same with beef? Did beef producers find other markets in this time?

SENATOR AYRES: Well, can I just say a couple of things about that, Andy. The first is that the government very much appreciates the disciplined way that industry has worked with the government on these questions. There has been such a high level of cooperation and trust and a team approach to advocating for these industries and an understanding that progress is made one step at a time. So, I'm very grateful, the government's very grateful for the way that industry has worked with us on these questions. Secondly, of course, diversification is absolutely critical. Firstly, in diversification of the markets in which we sell into. That's a lesson learned. But secondly, of course, for Australia, our strategy, the Albanese government strategy, is not just about diversification of markets, as important as that is, it's about diversification of product, about expanding the range of products and services that Australia is offering and trading with the world. That's why our Future Made in Australia agenda is so important. Lifting Australia up the value chain, increasing the number of exports and number of manufactured exports, where we've got key advantages to make sure our economy is more resilient and that we're building a platform for prosperity in the future.

PARK: Beijing always maintained the suspensions were down to technicalities, things like Covid regulations or labelling errors in the case of beef. Was that the case or was it more blame game over things like the origins of COVID because, you know, there was this perception that it was potentially a bit of political payback for Australia's call for China to be investigated over the origins of the COVID pandemic?

SENATOR AYRES: Well, we, of course, have made sure we've worked through these in a careful kind of way, where we're using the language of ‘impediments to trade’ which captures, of course, decisions made by the government of China. And there was a large trench of $20 billion worth of impediments. We have engaged in dialogue that has been largely successful. It is a relationship between Australia and China that I think the Foreign Minister has, in a characteristically careful way, characterised this way: that there will be challenges in the relationship, that we will cooperate where we can and disagree where we must, and will always act in the national interest.

PARK: How do you assess the timing of this when China's premier Li Qiang is set to visit Australia next month? Is it merely kind of smoothing the waters in that kind of exercise so that he's not confronted with any tricky questions from the press in that case?

SENATOR AYRES: Well, all I'd say, Andy, is it's a very welcome development. I'll leave others to make the commentary about the timing. We have been, as a government, as a whole-of-government effort, working assiduously on these questions. This is not the first good development. Progress was made early on in relation to coal and barley, in relation to oat and hay, in relation to a series of other product categories. There is still a few areas to go in. We're not a government that runs the victory flag up the pole. This is a good outcome for Australia last night. It's part of a progression of hard work that's been put into delivering in the national interest. There is still more work to go into, as you say, two more beef facilities and, of course, our rock lobster industries is getting the government's full attention and support.

PARK: Just lastly, it's been a difficult week for your government with the Immigration Minister, Andrew Giles, under intense pressure over his handling of the immigration detainee issue. Does he still enjoy the confidence of the Prime Minister?

SENATOR AYRES: Oh, this has been a noisy and nasty campaign, characteristically of Peter Dutton that has blown up in his face over the last couple of days. That the yawning chasm between what Mr. Dutton says as he carries on in the parliament about these questions and what he actually did when he had the responsibility of being the Home Affairs Minister in charge of immigration where 1298 hardened criminals, including people who were convicted of offences of sexual violence, murderers, domestic violence offenders. Mr. Dutton has pressed a noisy and nasty campaign all week, but when it's revealed that his record in government on these questions, let alone the smoking ruin that he left in immigration, which it’s the job of this government to fix, that hypocrisy has been laid bare this week. And I expect that, while it won't cause much self-reflection for him, it's not a new development that there's a big gap between what Peter Dutton says and what he has done.

PARK: We'll have to leave it there. Senator Tim Ayres is the Assistant Minister for Trade. Good afternoon to you.