Andrew Clennell, host: Well, let’s go live now to the Trade Minister, Don Farrell. Don Farrell, thanks for joining us. Bit of a left-field one here. I wanted to ask you, Donald Trump, the former US President, has put a message on social media suggesting he could be arrested Tuesday in relation to allegedly paying hush money. I believe it involves Stormy Daniels. Do you have a reaction to that?
Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Good to talk to you, Andrew. No, look, I’ll leave American politics to the Americans, and I’ll just be an interested bystander.
Andrew Clennell: Can I just ask is there any fear in the Australian government of the prospect of Donald Trump being re-elected?
Minister for Trade: None whatsoever, Andrew. As you know, there’s been a really strong relationship between Prime Minister Albanese and President Biden and we’d be very hopeful that that relationship would continue and we would look forward to another four years of the Biden administration if that’s what the American people want.
Andrew Clennell: Okay, let’s talk about the AUKUS deal now. You’re the Trade Minister, I wonder if this deal causes issues about potential visits by you and the Prime Minister to China and normalising trade relations?
Minister for Trade: Andrew, I’d be very hopeful that that’s not the case. We’ve been open about what we’re proposing to do in terms of our future defence arrangements. The most important thing that any Federal government can do is ensure the security of our country, and of course, that’s what the AUKUS announcement this week does. It looks into the future and works out what arrangements we need to ensure that our country is properly defended.
On the other hand, with China, I had a very good meeting, as you know, a few weeks ago with my Chinese counterpart, Minister Wang. It was a warm and friendly meeting. Since that time our officials have been busily working away on a range of issues. Those discussions will continue this week and I’m still very confident that – as far as I’m concerned – the offer to go to China is still there and that we’ll make some progress on those outstanding trade issues.
Andrew Clennell: Is that the offer to you or to the PM and when might you be going?
Minister for Trade: We haven’t nailed down a particular date, but as I just said, the discussions have been going well at the officials’ level. There hadn’t been any official-level discussion for years and years and years. We started that process and I’d be very confident that, the offer is still there to go, and I’ve accepted that offer. It’ll just be a matter of time. As far as the Prime Minister’s arrangements, well of course he’ll make his own arrangements in respect of when he might go to China.
Andrew Clennell: But you expect him potentially to go this year?
Minister for Trade: I’d be hopeful that based on all of the discussions. I mean what have we been trying to do since we came to government almost, almost twelve months ago? We’ve been trying to stabilise the relationship with China. That happened, of course, because our Prime Minister met the Chinese president, Minister Wong went up to China just before Christmas and, there’s been meetings between the two Defence Ministers for each country. I’ve also had discussions with my equivalent. Everything is pointing in the right direction, Andrew, for a stabilisation of the relationship, and I’d be very confident that that process will continue. We want a stable relationship with China and we want a mature relationship with China. Of course, at the same time, we want to make sure that everything we do is in our national interest and dealing with the issues of our national security.
Andrew Clennell: All right, well, Paul Keating said during the week that the trade sanctions by China were no big deal. What did you make of that?
Minister for Trade: I don’t think the $20 billion worth of trade that we lost as a result of the difficulties with China is a small amount of money with all due respect to the former Prime Minister. If you’re a wine producer and you were selling into China, it’s significantly affected your business. If you’re a barley producer selling into China, it’s had an effect on your income. All of the other products; cotton, timber, wheat – all of those other products have obviously been negatively affected. My job is to try and get the relationship back to a stable relationship so that we can have a mature relationship with China, and that the current disputes that we’ve got with China can be resolved in an amicable way through discussion.
Andrew Clennell: What did you make of Mr Keating’s comments generally?
Minister for Trade: Look, I have to say this, I did not agree with his criticism generally of the AUKUS arrangements. I think they are sensible arrangements, given that we’re in 2023 and the particular defence arrangements that we need to introduce to defend our country. I thought his criticism of Foreign Minister Wong was completely unfair. In my view, Minister Wong is turning out to be one of the finest Foreign Ministers that I’ve ever seen in this country in my lifetime. Of course, Defence Minister Marles doing a terrific job and our Prime Minister has been working very, very hard to restore relationships which were damaged with a range of countries over the period of the last few years.
Andrew Clennell: Do you think we’ll see TikTok banned from government devices, as has been speculated over the weekend?
Minister for Trade: That’s not in my portfolio, Andrew, so I’m happy to leave that to one of my colleagues to deal with and respond to you.
Andrew Clennell: There’s obviously a real fill up to your hometown of Adelaide with this AUKUS announcement, but already there’s some scrapping amongst the States over where a nuclear waste depository would go. Do you see that facility in your home state?
Minister for Trade: There was some discussion already about a low scale nuclear facility in Kimba. I saw during last week that there was some suggestion that Western Australia is moving in that direction with a private company. These are issues that are for the future. I’ve got no doubt that we will resolve the issue. They’re not easy issues, but I’ve got no doubt that they will be resolved and that they’ll be resolved in an amicable sort of way between the states.
Andrew Clennell: Now, turning to the Senate, you’ve been negotiating with Jane Hume on this Voice Referendum Machinery Bill. Could the government be forced to hold the referendum with this Bill not getting up the way things stand at the moment?
Minister for Trade: I sincerely hope that’s not the case, Andrew. As you say, I have been negotiating with Jane and, for that matter, the Greens and the crossbench. I am hopeful that in the next two days, the machinery changes that we are proposing will pass the Senate.
Andrew Clennell: With whose support?
Minister for Trade: This is not an issue about – sorry, beg your pardon?
Andrew Clennell: With whose support? The Coalitions or the Greens and the crossbench?
Minister for Trade: I’m talking to all of them, and I hope that all of them understand just how important this piece of legislation is. This is not a debate about whether you support yes or no in the referendum, this is about ensuring that the experience that the people get when they go to the referendum is as close to the experience they get at a general election. We haven’t had a referendum in this country, Andrew, since the late 1990s. A whole lot has changed in terms of how we conduct elections. What this Bill does is modernise the way in which a referendum would be held in this country. It’s a sensible change, and I’d be hopeful that all of my colleagues in the Senate, from the Coalition to the Greens to the crossbench, understand that and support the changes.
Andrew Clennell: Because neither you nor the Coalition seems prepared to move on the issue. Anthony Albanese says he doesn’t want to provide money to the yes and no campaigns. Peter Dutton insists there should be money provided to the no and yes campaigns, and there just doesn’t seem to be any compromise there. So has anything moved on that front, or do you think that will be a reason the Coalition would oppose the Bill?
Minister for Trade: I hope that isn’t a reason, Andrew, and I’ll tell you why. I had some discussions with the Coalition, they requested that we have the pamphlet go out and as an act of goodwill on the part of the Government, we agreed to do that. I think that was the significant issue that was different between the government and the Coalition. So we’ve moved on that we’ve shown some goodwill, and I personally think it’s time for the Coalition to show some goodwill. We want an experience at the referendum that matches the experience that people get at a general election. This Bill achieves that and so we’d like their support, but if they choose not to support it, well, we hope that the Greens and the crossbench will support the legislation.
Andrew Clennell: I just wonder if that weakens the vote, though. That weakens the prospect of the Voice getting up. If you can’t even get the Coalition over the line on the Bill to set up the referendum itself.
Minister for Trade: Yeah, look, I agree with you, Andrew. That would be very disappointing. I still personally believe that the Voice will get up. I think it’s got majority support amongst the Australian population at the moment, and I think that’s where it’ll end whenever we conduct the referendum. I think – I’d love to see the Coalition get on board with it. What we’re talking here about is recognising an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. It’s a significant reform, it’s an overdue reform, and I’d love to see the Coalition on board, and lots of them tell me they support it, so I’m hoping that translates to support in the referendum itself.
Andrew Clennell: Just finally, and briefly, what hope do you give the Safeguards Mechanism legislation of getting through the Senate at this point, with the Greens and Coalition both looking to oppose it as things stand?
Minister for Trade: Oh, Andrew, I’m an optimist these days. I used to be a pessimist, but I’m an optimist now. And we’ve been very successful. I mean, we took a set of proposals to the last election, we formed government and bit by bit, we are bringing these proposals forward. I think, well, I’d be hopeful that I’m not the one involved in those negotiations, but I’d be hopeful that common sense prevails. There’s a recognition that we’re the government, we took a set of policies to the last election. We’re seeking to implement those policies with the support of the Australian people and I think we should be optimistic that these changes will get through and we’ll deal with these issues of safeguards.
Andrew Clennell: Trade Minister Don Farrell, thanks so much for your time this morning.
Minister for Trade: Nice talking with you, Andrew.