Sky News with Kieran Gilbert

08 March 2024


Kieran Gilbert: Let's bring in the Assistant Trade Minister, Tim Ayres. What do you make of those comments by the Malaysian Prime Minister on UNRWA, for example, the UN Refugee Agency? I guess it reflects a broader view within the Muslim world about the double standards they see when it comes to Gaza.


Tim Ayres, Assistant Trade Minister: Well, it's not surprising that there's a divergence of views within ASEAN about a range of these questions. I don't think there's a divergence of views on many of the questions that are engaged in this terrible conflict. So, it's not a surprise. It's really important for Australia to listen. There's a divergence of views in Australia as well, of course. I think Anthony Albanese, as Prime Minister, would have listened carefully to that. Australia's charted a course here that is about Australia's national interest, informed by Australia's values, led by the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Penny Wong. But I'm not surprised that there's different views across the ASEAN countries.


Kieran Gilbert: And with the Malaysian Prime Minister sounding supportive in his comments to Olivia about the search for MH370, that must be encouraging to the government that that search can be reopened, because obviously, while it wouldn't bring loved ones back, it would be important for closure to finally find that thing.


Assistant Minister: Well, it's ten years, of course, since MH370 disappeared. It's an awfully long time, awfully long time for all of the families of passengers here in Australia and around the world. Both the Malaysian Prime Minister and you've seen the statement from the Transport Minister and Foreign Minister, if there's any practical search options available there, Australia stands ready, as we did in the search that continued for a very long time after the aircraft disappeared. We've got some technical capacity that we can provide to assist a search. We are certainly keen to provide that support. And I was pleased to hear that the Malaysian Prime Minister's comments reflected basically a disposition, if there's a practical path forward, he's inclined to support it. I think that's good. It would be wonderful if we could locate this aircraft. It's a shocking thing to have an aircraft disappear and then just nothing. That is hard for families of passengers and flight crew.


Kieran Gilbert: On another matter, as we discussed earlier as well with Olivia, the different views within ASEAN and from the Malaysians themselves when it comes to China. I know that you've been there alongside Don Farrell and the trade talks and trying to get the trade flowing again, but it is a very nuanced sort of approach you've got to take, isn't it, when you deal with a series of countries with very different views relating to China.


Assistant Minister: Well, number one, we've made progress with China on the trade questions. $20 billion worth of impediments placed in front of Australian exports. We have a remaining $2 billion that needs to be resolved. So, that is substantial progress and that matters for our resources sector, our agriculture sector and our other exporters. We are working steadily through those. I expect to see more progress on wine in particular over the coming period.

In terms of ASEAN itself, let's not lose sight of what the summit was about. It was about the ASEAN nations meeting in Australia at the 50th anniversary of Australia as a key partner of ASEAN in our region. And the economic dimension of that, the trade dimension of that. ASEAN is our largest trading partner. You put all those countries together, our largest trading partner. Larger than the United States or the EU, of course, smaller than China. As the Prime Minister keeps saying, the repetition is deliberate. It is the fastest growing region of the world in human history. It will be taken together the world's fourth largest economy soon. Our trade relationship is deep and long lasting, but it could be stronger.

ASEAN only takes 2.7 per cent of Australia's foreign direct investment. That's a challenge for Australia and the Australian investment community, and that's why the government's been so focused on the Southeast Asia economic strategy. It's a strategy that, in a really careful way, is designed to make sure that we take advantage of the fact that Australia is in this region. It's about creating good jobs, investment in Australia, two way investment and two way trade, and that's going to matter for jobs right across the Australian economy.


Kieran Gilbert: Tim Ayres Assistant Trade Minister. Appreciate it. We'll talk to you soon.


Assistant Minister: Good on you. Thanks, Kieran. Thanks, Olivia.