ABC Radio Sydney with Richard Glover
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Glover: Monday Political Forum. Tim Ayres is with us, the New South Wales Labor Senator, Elena Katrakis, who's the CEO of Carers New South Wales and Ben Franklin, who's the New South Wales Nationals MLC and Minister for the Arts, among other things. We'll check the Sydney traffic in just a tick. But the PM says he's more than willing to meet President Xi and just in the last fifteen minutes, it's been confirmed that they two will indeed meet tomorrow in Bali. It will be the first meeting between an Australian leader and a Chinese leader for about six years.
There is this sense that maybe the relationship is normalising. Is there a real chance of a thaw and, if so, is it proof that it's worthwhile standing your ground in the way Australia has done under both Labor and the Coalition? Tim, you particularly know about trade and one of the interesting things, in standing our ground – and plays to both sides of politics for this - we do seem to have managed, I know at great difficulty and some cost, to find markets for our products in the meantime.
Ayres: Yeah. Well, I ‑ I think that the first ‑ the first point I want to make is that what you say about both, you know, the government both under the Liberals and now under Labor taking a consistent position. That is a really important national asset for Australia. Like, it really stands us in good stead for the future. And while there was bit of wear and tear on that bipartisanship in the lead‑up to the election and people said a few silly things, it is very important that we maintain that. And there is ‑ it is welcome news that President Xi has ‑ has agreed to schedule a meeting with Prime Minister Albanese.
We have ‑ you know, dialogue is always a good thing, respectful dialogue, constructive dialogue. But there are some things, of course, that ‑ that ‑ that are not negotiable for Australia in the relationship. And, of course, China's economic coercion, the banning of imports in, you know, completely without ‑ without rationale, the banning of imports from wheat, beef, lobsters, wine, you know, this has had a big impact on Australian business.
You're right as well: diversification is the key here. Number one, diversification in terms of our trade markets, not having all of our eggs in one basket but also critically for the future of the country. Critically for our economic capacity is diversifying our product offering to the world, going up the value chain, rebuilding Australian manufacturing.
Glover: I mean, in a sense, it was a kind of ‑ I'm not saying it wasn't without enormous pain, but it was a kind of useful wake‑up call, wasn't it, to a country which was ‑ so much of it was just pitched to one market.
Ayres: Yeah, well, the Trade Minister, Don Farrell, did a significant speech today that set out our response. And it has been, I think, a wake‑up call, that together with COVID, taken together with the fact that, you know, Australia ‑ for example, manufacturing has shrunk to less than seven per cent of Australian GDP. Our position in what the ‑ this is slight ‘nerdery’, Richard ‑ but the Harvard Index of Economic Complexity, of Export Complexity, Australia has fallen ten more spots down that over the last few years.
So, we are becoming less complex, less manufactured exports. That means less good jobs, less economic resilience. And so core to Labor's message for our approach to trade over the coming years is big effort in the region in particular, and with the EU-FTA in diversifying our trading destinations, diversifying our trading partners, but also through our commitment for a future made in Australia through the National Reconstruction Fund, a commitment to start the work of rebuilding Australian manufacturing, and that means more exports but it also means good jobs in our outer suburbs and in our regions in particular.
Glover: Okay. More diversity both of product and of marketers, as you were saying. Just quickly, how much chance do you think there is of thaw ‑ that the thaw is really on, not in terms of, you know, Defence and all that, but just in terms of maybe allowing us to recommence that trade in something like barley?
Ayres: Well, we have ‑ we have undertaken to calmly and consistently advocate for our interest in the region and globally. And you've seen the full court press from ‑ from the Prime Minister in the first couple of days of the new government through ‑ through to many of us engaging in a catch‑up and patch‑up exercise across the region and across the world. The meeting is a good thing. It's not the only meeting that's happened. There, of course, have been meetings with the Defence Minister and with the Foreign Minister.
Dialogue is a good thing. Not all the issues will be resolved in one meeting. It's important that we recognise that there are ‑ you know, that China has changed, the region has changed. We have a ‑ we have responsibility to, as I said, calmly and consistently advocate our national interest, including ‑ including to China. But I think it's a very constructive development that the meeting's occurring.
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