Monte Irvine: I’ve been joined on the phone now by New South Wales Labor Senator Mr Tim Ayres. Good morning, Senator. How are you this morning?
Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and NSW Senator: G’day, Monte. Good morning to your listeners.
Monte Irvine: It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve had a catch-up. You’ve been a very, very busy senator. You’ve actually been over to the UK very recently, and from what I understand you had a tour of a couple of meat markets.
Assistant Minister: Yeah, that’s right. I’ve been doing some travel in the trade portfolio. There was a series of meetings, Commonwealth Trade Ministers, and meetings with the United Kingdom following the UK Free Trade Agreement coming into force. And I was very keen to promote Australian beef and Australian lamb, which we’ve got a very significant increase in market access. I met with retailers and wholesalers at the ancient Smithfield meat markets. You know, it’s been selling meat there in the middle of London for a thousand years.
Monte Irvine: A thousand years?
Assistant Minister: A thousand years.
Monte Irvine: Wow.
Assistant Minister: An amazing place. And I met with one of the lead retailers there and he told me that on the back of that agreement that we’ve worked really hard to ensure that it’s adopted and ratified in the United Kingdom, he will be importing every week an additional 44-foot container load of Australian beef and lamb.
Monte Irvine: Wow.
Assistant Minister: So, there are really strong signs that focusing on the implementation of that agreement is going to lead to good outcomes for the Australian agriculture sector but more broadly our services and goods exports. This is a good step forward.
Of course, then I was straight back over to the continent working with Trade Minister Don Farrell on two things really: the lead-up to the next World Trade Organization decision-making forum, which will be in February next year, working on establishing as much consensus as we can to take steps forward there in Australia’s interests. But also, of course, working with Don Farrell, the Trade Minister, as we’re building the case for the EU Free Trade Agreement. [A] much larger market, 450 million people. There are very significant opportunities and challenges in that agreement. So, that week was pretty – pretty hectic, pretty busy. But a very useful trip.
Monte Irvine: Absolutely. I’m just thinking, one retailer importing a 44-foot container of Aussie beef and lamb, and that’s only one; there’s many, many meat retailers within the UK.
Assistant Minister: Well, it’s certainly a significant uptick in the first year and in these different product categories spread out over a number of years increases in the quota for Australian beef and lamb. We’re still don’t have open access for Australian products into these markets. I mean, in the European market at the moment, 450 million people, we import, the quota on Australian beef is so low that you would have to wait, each citizen of the European Union would have to wait for 60 years to accumulate enough beef for one steak.
Monte Irvine: Wow.
Assistant Minister: There’s real limits, a real culture and economy of protectionism around agriculture. And that’s what we are working hard to get, you know, a commercially meaningful uplift in the access for Australian agricultural products. That’s a priority of the government at the moment. These negotiations always have the hard part left until the end, and there is a real focus now on achieving, as I say, a commercially meaningful uplift that makes a difference for the Australian ag sector.
Monte Irvine: Moving closer to home, last week we basically had, well, it was a one-story week, wasn’t it, realistically. We had one senator accusing another senator using parliamentary privilege of sexual assault. Now, not wanting to necessarily go into the story itself, but the use of parliamentary privilege, this is something I spoke to Barnaby Joyce about last week, on parliamentary privilege and the rules around parliamentary privilege and whether they should be reviewed and looked at and updated, I suppose, for the modern era.
Parliamentary privilege in the past, it would take a couple of days maybe for a story to be written or an opportunity for the comments to be retracted by the senator, which has happened, had happened in this case. But in the light of instantaneous news like we have now where you’ve got video coverage of a Senate or the parliamentary chambers, should we be looking at updating and reviewing what can be said and used for parliamentary privilege?
Assistant Minister: Well, the short answer to that, Monte, from my perspective, is no. You know, parliamentary privilege is an ancient right that Members of Parliament and Senators have. It’s crucial to the operating of the Westminster system of government and the role of parliament within that. Altering the way that our – that these really central constitutional arrangements and parliamentary arrangements work would have a real impact on the functioning of our democracy. It’s a pretty important right that gives the parliament the capacity to debate issues, to deal with issues, to deal with challenges and confronting issues in a way that people who haven’t been elected to the parliament are constrained from doing.
Now, of course, it’s important here to recognise what happened. Senator Thorpe in the context of what had been a pretty ugly week where one side of politics had been really pursuing Senator Katy Gallagher in a pretty - trying to politicise all of the issues around the Brittany Higgins allegations, that Senator Thorpe levelled in the parliament in response to Senator Van making a contribution about that.
Now, you’re right; she withdrew that, the unparliamentary terms that she had used, but did that and then subsequently came back with a statement that set out from her perspective exactly what had happened. And that, of course, was backed in in very short order by another former senator and it appears another unnamed former Liberal MP.
Now, all of these allegations should be tested, of course, but it seemed to me that that was an appropriate use of parliamentary privilege. And I understand Mr Joyce has made that assertion, but it’s not something that’s supported across the parliament or, indeed, across his own party.
Monte Irvine: Do you see that the fallout from this story, for the want of a better word, do you see some of the things changing around Parliament House. Will we possibly have an Australian parliamentary MeToo movement form in some ways?
Assistant Minister: Well, the thing is things have changed. Last week was a pretty ugly week and pretty dispiriting for those of us who have been supporting change in the parliament. I think Katy Gallagher said that herself on Thursday afternoon. You know, this has been pretty dispiriting for those of us who are arguing that women should speak up, that we need to deal with the culture of silence that there is around sexual violence and around violence against women, that that culture of silence is what fosters more violence.
We live in a community where one in five women over the age of 15 experience sexual violence in their lives. It is an unacceptable, unacceptable statistic and we’ve got to deal with that across our community. No workplace, no community is immune from that statistic. And the parliament in the wake of, you know, Brittany Higgins coming forward has made significant changes. There was the Respect@Work report prior to the Higgins allegations being made, which had 55 recommendations. It gathered dust under the previous government. It is now being implemented in full. In the wake of the allegations that Brittany Higgins made about what she alleged happened to her in the parliament, the Jenkins Report has been delivered and implemented in full and there are now new processes, services available for everybody who works in the parliament.
You know, so there is change being made. It is supported by the government. The government is on the side of change here. And none of that would have occurred had people not spoken up. In the absence of Brittany Higgins speaking up, in the absence of those issues around how the government responded to that being pursued in the parliament, had women not rallied around the parliament, then nothing would have changed. We would have all gone back to the status quo, and the status quo is unacceptable.
So, you know, I’m on the side of people speaking up here, people having their say and individuals and organisations and all of the institutions in society working in the interests of protecting women against violence in the workplace and violence in the community.
Monte Irvine: All right. Thank you, Senator. I have to leave it there. Thank you so much for your time this morning. I really appreciate it. We’ll talk to you next Monday.
Assistant Minister: Thanks, Monte. Catch you next week.