Interview with Andrew Clennell, Sky News Afternoon Agenda


SUBJECTS: Trade relationship with India; China trade; National Anti-Corruption Commission; Fadden by-election; the Voice; cost of living

ANDREW CLENNELL, HOST: Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is meeting with his Indonesian counterpart, Joko Widodo, this afternoon. Australia is also strengthening its ties with another regional ally, India. Agriculture Minister Murray Watt is leading a delegation to the nation. He joined me a short time ago and I started by asking him how that relationship stands compared to another key trading partner, China.

MURRAY WATT, MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY: From the Prime Minister down, our Government has been putting a very strong emphasis on building that relationship with India. India actually, just this year became the world's most populous country, overtaking China. And to give you one little sense of how big a market it is and growing, there are as many 17-year-olds in India as the entire Australian population, so it's a young population as well and growing very fast. So that's why so many of us are putting effort into this relationship. Of course, there's a massive Indian diaspora within Australia as well. They're an important part of our community. But making sure that we do have much more diverse markets than what we've had in the past is incredibly important for our trade policy going forward.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Well talk us through the various trade agreements now in operation and in negotiation with the Indian Government.

MURRAY WATT: Yeah so late last year, both Australia and India ratified the first round - an interim trade agreement - between our two countries. And we are one of the few developed economies in the world now to have a free trade agreement with India. And what that has meant is that it's significantly brought down tariffs for Australian products being sent to India and likewise, opening the door to more Indian imports to Australia as well. We're now in the middle of negotiations to seek us an extended trade agreement with India, which we hope to wrap up by the end of the year. But as you mentioned, I'm currently in India leading a delegation of twelve different Australian agribusiness leaders, and that covers industries from nuts to horticulture, to meat and livestock. We've had dairy representatives in India recently as well. There was a wine delegation from Australia come to India as well. So it's a very comprehensive relationship and we're already starting to see some great returns from that agreement. Australian avocados - Hass avocados - have now been approved for export to India, so they're one of the first cabs off the rank. And I know there's a lot of excitement amongst our delegation about the opportunities that lie ahead in India as the years roll on.

ANDREW CLENNELL: And how are you feeling about the potential of China lifting some of their sanctions?

MURRAY WATT: Well, as you may have seen, Andrew, I spent a couple of days in Rome before coming to India at the Food and Agriculture Organisation conference of the UN. And while I was there, I had a number of different meetings with Ministers, including the Chinese Agriculture Minister. That's the first time that the Australian and Chinese Agriculture Ministers have even met for four years. So merely having a meeting in its own right, I think is a positive step forward and I was very encouraged by what I heard from the Chinese Minister during that meeting. The way the Chinese system is structured, their equivalent to our Trade Minister Don Farrell, is actually responsible for the trade impediments, but I certainly took the opportunity to lobby their Agriculture Minister about the need to remove all of those remaining impediments. You will have seen we've already made some progress with China now bringing down the impediments it had in place for things like cotton and timber. We're obviously now well advanced in negotiations about the removal of tariffs for barley and we hope to use that then as a template for dealing with some of the other issues that remain in relation to wine and beef and a few other products as well. So very positive signals. Obviously, it takes time to resolve these things, but very positive signals. And the Chinese Agriculture Minister actually recognised that there is high demand for good quality Australian produce in China and I took that as a positive sign that they're keen to get things back on an even keel.

ANDREW CLENNELL: I just wanted to ask about a few domestic issues now while I've got you. How are you feeling about the National Anti-Corruption Commission opening yesterday?

MURRAY WATT: Look, I think that's a really positive development for the country. I think it has been a gap in our system that we haven't had a National Anti-Corruption Commission in place. And given some of the allegations that are now swirling around about conduct involving Ministers in the former government, I think it is important that politicians be held to account. I saw, even though I've been overseas, I saw that there has been a very large number of referrals from the beginning and I think it does- it is important that all politicians and all players in politics recognise that it is an independent body and that it shouldn't be used for weaponization of allegations. But look, I think it's really important that we have that National Anticorruption Commission to ensure that not just politicians but the entire Australian Public Service is held to a high standard of accountability.

ANDREW CLENNELL: And you're from Queensland, give us your best prediction on the Fadden by-election in a week and a half.

MURRAY WATT: Yeah well, I've been staying in touch with people in the campaign while I've been overseas and look, we've said from the outset that there is zero chance that Labor is going to win this by-election. It's one of the safest LNP seats in Queensland - rolled gold LNP territory. But we still thought it was important to put up a fight. And I think it's been really good for our local campaigners to have an opportunity to talk with people about some of the great things that Labor is doing to keep cost of living pressures down on people and to really put a spotlight on Peter Dutton's record as the Health Minister in the former government and the kind of leadership that he would offer. So I don't think we'll be attending a victory party in the Fadden by-election on Saturday night in a week's time, but it looks like people are having a red hot go and hopefully we'll get some decent returns out of it.

ANDREW CLENNELL: And how are you feeling about the campaign for the Voice to Parliament? A recent Newspoll showed your home state had a 54 percent ‘No’ vote coming.

MURRAY WATT: Yeah look, I still think there's a long way to go in the Voice campaign. I've seen some of the advertising is really just starting from the Yes! Campaign and I think there still is a real well of support for reconciliation in our country. And once you boil it down to what the Voice is really about, being recognition of our First Peoples and listening to them about things that matter to them to solve the practical issues that our Indigenous people still face, I find that a lot of people are very open to that. There's obviously a big scare campaign being run based on incorrect and untrue information, and once you have an opportunity to talk with people about what it really involves, I think all Australians want to see some practical differences to the lives of Indigenous people. I don't think anyone's happy about the rates of incarceration, the poor health outcomes, the many other negative features that Indigenous people face. And I think it just makes good common sense to listen to people about how you fix those sort of problems. So I think we can still get there yet and there's a lot of campaigning to be done.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Despite all the cost of living pain Australians are feeling through rate hikes and inflation, the Government is still in a good position in the polls. What do you attribute that to?

MURRAY WATT: Yeah look, I mean, obviously I don't take a huge comfort from any polls until we get to the election day, but I think it is true that Australians can see that the Albanese Government is really working hard on the things that matter to them. And they can see that we have taken action on cost of living pressure, usually, despite the opposition of the Coalition. The energy price relief that we've provided to people, it isn't perfect, but it's a big help to people - was voted against by the Coalition. Cheaper childcare - it's Labor that's brought that in, not the Coalition.