Release type: Transcript

Date:

Interview - Sky News Live Afternoon Agenda with Kieran Gilbert

Ministers:

The Hon Stuart Robert MP
Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business


E&OE-------------------------------------

KIERAN GILBERT:

Australia has struck an in principle free-trade agreement with the UK. The deal will make it easier for Australians to work in Britain and relax rules for working holiday visas both ways.

Bringing in now, in the studio, the Employment Minister Stuart Robert. Thanks very much for your time. Why are those- the relaxing of those rules important? How will it benefit both countries?

MINISTER ROBERT:

If you think about free trade agreements or preferential trade agreements - I think this is our 16th - our 15 existing agreements cover over 70 per cent of our two-way trade, which gives us preferential treatment. And that's the great thing about them. It's about opening markets, giving our products tariff free entry to markets, greater volumes into markets, and allowing a freer movement of skills coming through.

KIERAN GILBERT:

And the working visa, easing those restrictions, lifting the age to 35, going from two to three years. Why is that a win?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It allows more people to come through on a backpacker visa. Now, I'm not too sure from a backpacker point of view if you want to be backpacking in your mid-30s. But it seems that that's a thing that the Brits like to do. So increasing the age-

KIERAN GILBERT:

[Talks over] But not much happening at the moment of course.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well no, right around the world there's a whole range of problems. Israel's just been or just welcomed its first American tourists back. But if we can give greater access for backpackers to come to Australia, in this case, raising the age to [35], getting more of them here, so more of them can work, and that's all about working in areas that are difficult to find staff.

KIERAN GILBERT:

It's going to be a year, though, before the FTA- the benefits are seen isn’t it?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It will be. 1 July next year is a slated start point. You've always got to dot your I's and cross your T’s and work through some of the finer detail and then get it through, in our case, through the [indistinct] committee and then through the House of Representatives. So there is a process both parliaments will have to go through.

KIERAN GILBERT:

It's a bit of a back to the future moment. Do you think it's a good thing in terms of diversifying our- where our exports go?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It’s a superb thing.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Essentially, we've relied a lot on China. We know that that's been a bit of a rocky relationship. Is it good we're going back to the old reliable allies?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, if you think of our two-way trade, so China now give or take from 19-20 financial year, $250 billion in two-way trade. The US number two, circa $80 billion. We then come down to Japan, South Korea at sort of $38 billion and the UK at $36 billion. So everything we can do to widen our two-way trade and get as much of our trade diversified across the world is always in Australia's interest.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Listening to those numbers, though, it's also a reminder to try and get things back on an even keel with China.

MINISTER ROBERT:

It's important. China's circa 28 to 30 per cent of our two-way trade. It's a really important relationship for us in terms of our trades while we have a comprehensive free trade agreement with our friends to the north. But we want to get as many comprehensive agreements as we possibly can, as well as lift the status of those agreements. And here we are, 50 years after the UK and Australia, not so much parted ways, but the UK looked more towards Europe. The UK is now looking more towards the rest of the world.

KIERAN GILBERT:

It's a bit of a gradual process in terms of that agricultural access that you point to in terms of our beef and lamb.

MINISTER ROBERT:

It is so-

KIERAN GILBERT:

[Talks over] It’s not going to go down too well, you would have thought, with the agricultural lobby there.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Everyone wants to get instant market access. Now 99 per cent of our exports into Great Britain now will be instant access, no tariffs. And then, of course, beef will be reducing over ten years, sheep over ten years, sugar over eight years and dairy over five years. At the same time the quotas in terms of how much product we can move into market will increase. And I think that's just a reflection of Great Britain's got its stakeholders, it's got its farmers it wants to deal with. But this is about taking a long term view. And I'd rather we took a view now that said in ten years, you know what, there'll be no tariff on beef. Excellent. It's better than where we are right now.

KIERAN GILBERT:

How soon would you like to see the broader labour market freed up? I know there's been some complaints about the easing of the working holiday visa programme, but quite frankly, we've got labour shortages in this country. We need the Brits plus many, many more, don't we? To fill the jobs.

MINISTER ROBERT: 

We do. We need a lot more people. Probably the only really instrumental thing that Prime Minister Rudd did post GFC was to increase skilled migration to over 300,000 for two years. Normally we'd have a net overseas migration to Australia above 200,000. And that sort of came to a grinding halt beginning of last year, which means, as at now we’re almost 400,000 skilled migrants short of where we wouldn't be. Now, a great opportunity to employ Australians but unemployment's coming down hard and fast. We're seeing some skill shortages across many areas. So this continues to be a real focus for the Government. 

KIERAN GILBERT:

You've got to get the migration rate back up to where it was.

MINISTER ROBERT: 

We have to get skilled migrants back into Australia in areas of critical need. Now, whether that's systems engineers for weapons, whether that's through to industrial engineers, chemical engineers. Right the way through to registered nurses, welders and chefs are the top three skills in demand right now that we're struggling to get.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Stuart Robert, appreciate your time. Thanks.

MINISTER ROBERT: 

Great to talk to you.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Talk to you soon.

[ENDS]