WEDNESDAY, 6 JUNE 2018
SUBJECTS: Australian wine exports to China, Robert Kennedy
LAURA JAYES: Jason Clare thanks so much for your time. Australian wine is getting into China but it's taking two months to clear it has improved in recent weeks. Other countries by comparison though are only taking two weeks. Why do you think this is happening?
JASON CLARE: Well that's right. Wine coming in from America to China or wine coming in from Europe or New Zealand only takes two weeks from the time it hits the port to be at a restaurant or on a shopper's dining room table. It takes two months and that's new. It didn't used to be like that. Australian wine used to go through within two weeks. This all started in April and what wine companies are telling me, what beef companies are telling me, they're experiencing the same problem as well, is that this is political. It's all got to do with some of the clumsy and stupid things that the Prime Minister in particular but other members of the government have said over the last few months.
JAYES: Like what? Because Steve Ciobo was just at the Press Club he says there are irritants in the relationship but would not expand on that. Will you?
CLARE: I will give you a couple of examples. Last year the Prime Minister quoted Mao Zedong, he talked about the Chinese people standing up in 1949 and he described the foreign interference laws as Australia standing up.
Now those laws aren't designed to target any particular country. The problem is Malcolm Turnbull did target one particular country in that press conference. He targeted China, they noticed and we’re seeing the impact of that now.
Another example is Barnaby Joyce when he was Deputy Prime Minister he said that China was a bigger threat to the world than ISIS. Well when you say those sorts of things there are impacts, there are consequences, and we're seeing it now for Australian wine and Australian beef.
JAYES: Jason Clare aren’t you just giving us the easy examples? Tony Battaglene just told me that he is hearing from his customers that yes you're right it is political but he points to our comments on the South China Sea. He points to, what is now bipartisan, is the foreign interference legislation.
CLARE: You're right our position on that legislation is bipartisan. Our position on the South China Sea is the same. We have a different position in Australia, both political parties have the same position, we've got a different position to the Chinese there. Same with the militarization of those islands in the South China Sea. The point I'd make here Laura is that we're always going to disagree with China on some things, that's not unusual. But you deal with those issues in a professional way and you try to avoid saying silly or stupid or provocative things.
That's what happened last year and the only way that this is going to get sorted out is not through anything that the Trade Minister does. I've got some sympathy for Steve Ciobo because this is not a problem of his making. What the wine companies and the beef companies are telling me is this will only get sorted out if Malcolm Turnbull steps in, and unfortunately it seems the wine companies are ringing the Prime Minister and he won't even take their call. He's fobbing them off to Anne Rushton who's holding a crisis meeting with wine companies about this today.
JAYES: Well actually we just heard from Tony Battaglene and he says since the visit from Minister Ciobo to Shanghai last month there has been a change in the way and the timeframe for wines getting through Chinese ports. But I just want to go back to this issue of where you and the government seem to differ as to why this deep freeze is on. You’re on the one hand saying it's the comments and it's the frivolous comments around two issues that are bipartisan rather than the issues themselves. Is that correct?
CLARE: That's right. It's not the substance of the issue it's the tone. It's the way in which the government has talked about these issues which has had a ricocheting effect on Australian exporters. And just to go back to what's happening with wine at the moment - wine that was exported to China, to Shanghai, two months ago is now starting to get through the system. But Australian wine is still being treated differently to wine from America or Europe.
JAYES: That paints a very unflattering picture of China that they're uber sensitive to comments on the sidelines that they're I guess a bit vain in a sense.
CLARE: Well China is going to react differently than other countries to issues like this and I'm not saying for a second that we should be pandering to China because of this. All I'm saying is that you've got to take a professional approach to this and avoid saying stupid, inflammatory things where you can and where there are issues where we disagree sit down and work them out.
The best example I can provide you of this is what John Howard did in 1996. He had a problem with China, it had to do with Taiwan at the time. He sat down with Chinese leaders and he sorted it out and he was saying the same thing on the front page of The Australian last Friday. The way to fix this issue is for Malcolm Turnbull to pick up the phone or get on a plane and sort this issue out. Until he does that, until he takes it seriously, this won't be properly resolved.
JAYES: All right so John Howard, I take your point with that, but we now have a free trade agreement with China, it's been in effect for a number of years. Could China be in breach of our free trade agreement with these go slow at the border?
CLARE: I think the answer to that is no. We asked this question at Estimates last week and the advice from DFAT was that it wouldn't be a breach of the free trade agreement but that's a good question because it tells you that free trade agreements aren't the solution to everything. As free trade agreements get signed around the world you see a number of countries set up non-trade barriers and this is a good example of it. So whilst we're trying to sign up new free trade agreements around the world we also have to put our focus on trying to deal with these non-trade barriers or non-tariff barriers. And where this is most needed is in Asia.
JAYES: Ok. What do you say to China, or about China, putting pressure on Qantas to formally recognize its one China policy via Taiwan?
CLARE: Well I'm not surprised by it. A couple of points. What Labor has said is the same as what the Coalition has said which is that these are ultimately decisions for individual businesses. But the decision that Qantas has made here is consistent with what is longstanding Australian foreign policy to recognise one China. So none of that is a surprise. I think the bigger issue today, the bigger worry, is that Australian exporters are being affected by a go slow in China that initiated because of comments from the Prime Minister.
JAYES: But there are more examples though. I mean China's just refused to issue visas to journalists travelling on a study tour to China with Bob Carr. Does that concern you?
CLARE: It does and it's not just journalists. Remember the Finance Minister couldn't get a visa to China earlier this year for the Boao Conference. So we're seeing, we're seeing lots of impacts of some silly stupid clumsy provocative comments by this government over the last few months. They need to get their act together and they need to do that quickly.
JAYES: Is there evidence that the Chinese Communist Party has worked covertly to interfere with media, universities and even our political debate here in Australia? Are you concerned at all about that?
CLARE: Well I don't have that evidence but you’re probably better talking to somebody that's on the Joint Intelligence Committee or someone with portfolio responsibility.
JAYES: Yes but as someone who could be the Trade Minister in a couple of months’ time, depending on when the election is, is this something that you are actively concerned about and you’re actively looking into it?
CLARE: Well let me say if that is happening of course I would be concerned about it. But when we set up legislation to make sure that that doesn't happen, it needs to be built as legislation that doesn't target one individual country because any country could do this and the legislation that's been developed now in a bipartisan form by both parties is intended to do that. The problem here isn't the substance of the legislation which is designed to make sure this doesn't happen. The problem is that the Prime Minister in talking about the legislation talked about one country and we're seeing the consequences of that now.
JAYES: Do you feel a little bit unsettled about where this debate is at the moment because on the face of it, it looks like our government is scared of voicing any opinion, even if they are frivolous remarks, because there would be retribution from China. I think China is shown through their actions that they have the economic might to bring companies like Qantas or even governments like Australia to their knees.
CLARE: Well you saw that on David Speer's program last week when Steve Ciobo was asked a question by David Speers about the South China Sea and he refused to answer the question.
JAYES: But on the one hand Jason Clare you’re criticizing the government for making impertinent remarks and on the other hand you’re criticising Steve Ciobo for refusing to do that.
CLARE: No I'm saying you can answer all of these questions and you can do it in a professional, sensible articulate way. You don't need to make incendiary comments which are designed to get a response. One that hurts Australian business.
JAYES: Okay fair enough. Now before I let you go I've got to ask you about Bobby Kennedy because I know he is a political hero of yours. It’s 50 years, can you believe it, since his death. Why is he such a political hero?
CLARE: Well I think he's one of the great what ifs of history. Lots of people ask the question would he have become the Democrat candidate in 1968? Would he have won the presidency? Would he have been any good? I'm part of that romantic camp that thinks that he would have won the presidency and he would have been a transforming President but we'll never know.
He was a tough guy. But he was also a guy with a big heart. He cared about people and causes that not a lot of other politicians at the time did.
If anybody thinking about Bobby Kennedy today has time to go on to YouTube, have a look at the speech he made in Indianapolis the night that Martin Luther King died and the words he said then. That night 60 cities across America were on fire with riots. Indianapolis the place where Bobby Kennedy made that speech wasn't one of them. I think that gives you an idea of the measure of the man and the potential that was lost that night 50 years ago.
JAYES: I don't know many people who have enjoyed a 13 minute standing ovation either. Jason Clare we shall discuss Bobby Kennedy another time we've run out of time today. Speak to you soon.
CLARE: Thanks Laura.
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