Press conference, Adelaide

  • Joint transcript with:

Senator the Hon Don Farrell, Minister for Trade and Tourism, Special Minister of State

Subjects: Julian Leeser’s resignation from Shadow Cabinet to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament; Australian Government’s agreement with China on pathway towards lifting duties on Australian barley; duties on Australian wine; Julian Assange.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Before we turn to the announcement today, I want to first welcome the news that Julian Leeser will be campaigning for a yes vote at the referendum later this year. Let’s remember, the referendum is about two things, it's about recognition and it's about consultation, recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our Australian Constitution and consulting them about matters that affect their lives. That's what it's about. And Julian Leeser has shown real strength today. He's put his principles first. He's put his principles ahead of partisan politics and we welcome that. Can't of been easy for him to do. Can't of been easy for him to relinquish portfolios, which he demonstrably cares so deeply about. And he certainly knows as much about this issue as anyone. And he understands this is a once in a generation chance to make a real difference in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and to help close the gap.

Of course, he's not the first Liberal who we've seen do this. We've seen Bridget Archer make clear she'll be supporting a yes vote, the Tasmanian Premier, and Dominic Perrottet, amongst others. And, of course, we saw Ken Wyatt leave the Liberal Party. And I suspect these Liberals will not be the last to break from Mr Dutton's partisan narrow position. A narrow position which really flies in the face of the generosity and the decency of the Australian people. Mr Leeser reflected today that no great nation has ever been built by dividing it. That's why it's so disappointing that Mr Dutton has made the choice he's made. But the Australian Government, the Albanese Labor Government, we have hope and faith in the Australian people. We all know the Australian people are fundamentally generous, fair and decent. We've seen that most recently on national issues in the marriage equality debate and we look forward to working with all of you as this country moves to a moment of national unity when we vote on the referendum for the Voice.

On other matters, I'm here today with my colleague and friend Don Farrell, the Trade Minister, to make an announcement about the progress we are making towards stabilising the relationship with China. We're pleased that constructive dialogue has resumed. Obviously, stabilisation and the resolution of trade issues will take time, but we are pleased that constructive dialogue has resumed. We've had a number of discussions, obviously at Foreign Minister level, at Trade Minister, at Assistant Minister level, and also at leader level.

As a result of that dialogue today, Don and I announce that the Australian Government has reached an agreement with China that creates a pathway for the resolution of the dispute over Australian barley. We have made clear that we believe there is no justification for the measures that China introduced in relation to barley. We have also made clear that we believe it is in both countries' interests for these trade impediments to be removed. So today I can confirm that China has agreed to undertake an expedited review of the duties imposed on Australian barley over a three-month period, which may extend to a fourth if required. In return, we have agreed to temporarily suspend the World Trade Organization dispute for the agreed review period. Obviously, if the duties are not lifted at the end of the review period, we will resume our dispute in the WTO.

I want to make clear that if this agreement is successful in providing a pathway for the lifting of duties on barley, the Australian Government would expect a similar process to be followed in relation to the trade barriers which exist on Australian wine. And I know that is of particular interest here in South Australia. We still remain confident of a successful outcome for Australian wine at the WTO. I'll leave Minister Farrell to go through the detail. But I would make the point that we have been able to reach this point by seeking accountability in the WTO. That is why trade rules, transparent, predictable trade rules, remain very much in Australia's national interest. And we should remember, obviously, that the WTO trade dispute system encourages bilateral resolution where possible. Australia will continue to work within the WTO and other trade forums to protect and preserve the rights of Australian exporters as we seek to resolve disputes over trade. I'll turn now to Don Farrell and then we'll go to questions.

Don Farrell, Minister for Trade: It's great to be here with the Acting Prime Minister and welcome you all today. As the Acting Prime Minister said, we are seeking to resolve the dispute that is currently before the World Trade Organization in respect to the sale of Australian barley into the Chinese market. As we have talked about before, something like $20bn worth of Australian trade has been subject to impediments in terms of getting into the Chinese market. Now, that's obviously disadvantaged Australian food producers and wine producers, but it's also disadvantaged Chinese consumers because they don't have the benefit of our wonderful food and wine.

Since I took over this job almost eleven months ago, I made it very clear that although we've got these disputes with the World Trade Organization, our preferred method of resolving these sorts of trade disputes is to discuss and to negotiate with our trading partners. And on this occasion we have sought dialogue with our Chinese counterparts to see if there is any possibility of resolving these impediments through sensible dialogue. And I'm happy to say today that as a result of meetings that were initiated following my virtual meeting with my Chinese trade counterpart that we have indicated to the Chinese Government that we will temporarily suspend our World Trade Organization dispute over Australian barley for the next three and possibly four months while China undertakes an investigation into those tariffs which currently run at about 80 per cent, which makes Australian barley very difficult to sell into the Chinese market. So we've suspended that World Trade Organization dispute while China undertakes a review of their policies in this area.

We are hopeful that at the end of that review process, that the impediments that currently exist will be suspended and removed and that we can get back to normal trade with China. China remains our largest trading partner. Last year, we did almost $300bn worth of trade with China. That's more than all of our trade with the United States, with the United Kingdom, with Japan, with Korea and with France. So it's an extremely big market, but we have had these trade impediments. The Acting Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister has been deeply engaged in trying to stabilise the relationship with China. And as a sign of goodwill, we have decided to suspend our World Trade Organization dispute so that we can, through discussion, resolve our outstanding issues with China. As the Acting Prime Minister said, we hope that this will be a template for then moving on to the other areas of dispute, and in particular in respect of Australian wine, which is also subject to very high tariffs. So thank you very much for coming along today and I'll invite any questions.

Foreign Minister: Can I just make one point, just so we are clear. The three month suspension and the expedited review that China is engaging in over three months represents a significantly shorter time frame for resolution of this dispute than if we continued at this stage at the WTO. So the government is seeking to expedite the resolution of this matter. Obviously, we retained our rights in the WTO if we're not able to get agreement, but this would potentially deliver a result in a shorter time frame than if we simply proceeded through the WTO. Happy to take questions on this or any other question of the day.

Journalist: What guarantees are China offering Australia, seeing as the WTO report could have been in Australia's favour?

Foreign Minister: Look, we are pleased that China has engaged in dialogue and we were prepared to suspend the WTO process on the basis of an expedited review. Obviously, we would continue to assert that these trade impediments are not justified and that it is in both countries interest for them to be removed.

Journalist: So could this be a longer process, then, if China doesn't agree to what Australia's asking for?

Foreign Minister: The intention of entering this process is to look to a shorter time frame for resolution.

Journalist: What would be the next step if the review doesn't go in Australia's favour?

Foreign Minister: Well, we can continue our WTO action, just as we have not suspended any WTO action on wine.

Journalist: Do you have any updates on Julian Assange?

Foreign Minister: Well, I was pleased that my High Commissioner met with Mr Assange after the request for a meeting was conveyed to the government and confirmed with Mr Assange. I would again make clear, the Prime Minister, myself and many Australians have made clear to both the United States and the United Kingdom governments that we believe this matter has dragged on too long. We think it should be resolved and we will continue to advocate for it. But I'm pleased that Mr Assange was met by my High Commissioner. Obviously, he hasn't had a meeting with an Australian consular official for some time because he's not sought any consular representation and we would continue to encourage him to engage with us.

Journalist: And if the review works in Australia's favour, when will we see some action around the wine?

Foreign Minister: There's an if, but obviously the reason we are going down this path is because the Australian Government wants to see these impediments, these trade, these tariffs lifted as soon as possible. That's the intention, and we believe it's in China's interest to do.

Journalist: Sure, so will we see some action on the wine tariffs as well?

Foreign Minister: As the Trade Minister said, we think this is a template, if this is successful, this is a template for the resolution for wine that we would be advocating to the Chinese Government.

Anything else? Thank you.


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