Interview with Tom Connell, Sky News

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s China visit, Australia-China relations, Interest rate rises, Daylesford pub car crash.

Tom Connell: Welcome back. A significant trip for Anthony Albanese, the first trip by an Australian Prime Minister to China in seven years. So, what has come out of it? Where to for the relationship now?

Joining me now is Foreign Affairs Assistant Minister Tim Watts. Thanks for your time. So, essentially, we don't have concrete outcomes. Does this mean there's nothing concrete out of the entire meeting, and we sort of need to judge in in a year or two?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, Tom, the outcome of this meeting is dialogue. This was the first visit from an Australian Prime Minister to China since 2016, and that hasn't been in the Australian national interest. We promised in opposition that we would stabilise the relationship with China without compromising any of our national interests, and that's what we've done. Our calm and consistent approach has given us this dialogue that we can use to find areas of cooperation, but also, it's a channel for us to raise concerns.

And when you look at the issues that Prime Minister Albanese discussed with President Xi, you can see the value of this dialogue. Not the least of which is on the trade front, where when we came into government, there were $20 billion of trade blockages on Australian goods imposed by the Chinese Government. That's now come down to around $1 billion. And when one in four Australian jobs relies on trade and one in three of our trading dollars goes to China, you can see that this dialogue delivers outcomes for the Australian people.

Tom Connell: Intriguing moment when Anthony Albanese was asked if he trusts the Chinese President and he wouldn't answer. That seems to indicate the answer is no.

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, Tom, Prime Minister Albanese said that he's developing a rapport with President Xi. They've been able to meet a number of times now. They met on the sidelines of the G20 at Bali. And he made the point that creating that dialogue, that's the foundation for building a relationship. He made the point that none of the things that President Xi had said to Prime Minister Albanese in those meetings that would happen, have not happened. So, that's a positive platform to build a relationship from.

Tom Connell: Do you think if that rapport lasts for a while and as you say that what China says it will do, it does do. In regards to Australia, do you think over time that the Australian Prime Minister could be in a position to trust his Chinese counterpart?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, Tom, we've been very clear in saying that there are big differences between the Australian system and the Chinese system. Differences in values, differences in outlook. The job for political leaders is to manage those differences wisely. There's a lot to gain for Australia and China engaging with each other. The trade front is one important one. But also we need to cooperate together on global issues that require a global solution, issues like climate change. We also need to calmly and consistently manage those areas of difference. And we've been very upfront about what those areas are. We've spoken about the trade blockages, we have issues on human rights, issues in Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang that I've raised, for example, at multilateral UN forums.

We have consular issues that we have had some successes in and continue to prosecute in other areas and we also have differences about the way that we want to see the Indo-Pacific operating. We've raised concerns about intimidation in the South China Sea and across the Taiwan Strait. So, you know, the mantra that you've heard many times now is holding up, we'll cooperate where we can, we'll disagree where we must, but we will always engage in the national interest.

Tom Connell: When you've got an all powerful leader such as Xi Jinping, who's made himself leader for life, is a pretty ruthless dictator, who, you know, freedom is anathema to him and has been quite capricious in his decision making, is it almost like trust would be a naive thing to do?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, Tom, as I say, there are big differences between Australia's system and the Chinese system. We are clear-eyed when it comes to that. The Australian - sorry, the Australia-China relationship, it's important, but it's also complex and it's going to remain complex. There's no going back to the world of 2016 where our economic interests and our security or our strategic interests were separated. Now we see Chinese statecraft very clearly integrating their economic policy with their strategic policy. So, the challenge for us is to navigate those differences widely, but also on our own part, to use all the tools of Australian statecraft, our defence, our diplomatic, our aid, our economic capabilities to advance our view of what we want the Indo-Pacific region to operate and to look like.

Tom Connell: Rate rise, looks like, the cliche goes is the only sure bet on Cup Day. The Treasurer actually said early this year inflation appeared to have peaked. Has this taken the government by surprise?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, Tom, look, just on the rate decision, we don't pre-empt or predict rate rises and the independent Reserve Bank Board will make that judgement, taking all the relevant factors into consideration. The Treasurer has been clear that inflation in Australia is moderating, but it's still higher than we want and it will be higher than we want for longer than we want. Since coming to government, this has been our number one focus getting that inflation rate down and providing targeted and responsible cost of living relief for Australians who we know are doing it tough at the moment; mortgage holders who are doing it tough with rate rises and all Australians who are doing it tough with these inflationary pressures.

Now a lot of these inflationary pressures are coming from the international events that I deal with in my day job, in my portfolio. So, the war in Ukraine is a really big one. There's a lot of uncertainty out there around the globe and that's feeding into a lot of these markets that flow through into the Australian economy. So, that's why we've done things like take action on cheaper medicines, cheaper childcare, billions of dollars and interventions into our energy markets to help reduce the upwards pressure on energy prices. But we've been very upfront about the scale of this challenge, but we think that our economic policy is working. The ABS has said that our policies have taken half a percentage point off inflation.

Tom Connell: Now, just finally, a pretty tough time for people in and around Daylesford. I understand you actually knew one of the victims of this car crash?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, tragically, Tom, you know, the families who've lost their lives in this horrific accident in Daylesford come from my community in Melbourne's west. So, a family of three from Point Cook and a father and son from Tarneit who were holidaying together in Daylesford. You know, Pratibha, the mother of the Point Cook family in particular is a very well-known figure in our community. She's a community activist, she was a very active charity worker through the Sikh community, helping deliver food to people in need, helping the broader community during COVID. You know, the Indian-Australian community is a really integrated one. It's one that really participates in our community life and we're feeling that loss really acutely in Melbourne's west at the moment. This is terrible tragedy at a time where families should be coming together and just enjoying life. So, it's going to take a long time for us to process and work through this trauma in Melbourne's west.

Tom Connell: Yep. Tim Watts, appreciate your time. Thank you.

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Thank you, Tom.

Media enquiries

  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555