ABC WEEKEND BREAKFAST
SATURDAY, 7 NOVEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: US Election; China-Australia relationship.
FAUZIAH IBRAHIM, HOST: Democratic candidate Joe Biden inching closer to victory as President Trump has sought to discredit the result by making baseless claims about illegal votes and forces trying to steal the election. Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier this week said that he has great confidence in the democracy of the United States.
KATHRYN ROBINSON, HOST: Let’s bring in a political panel. We are joined by Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman and also by Jason Clare who is the Shadow Minister of Housing, Homelessness and Regional Services. Good morning to you both. Thanks for joining us this morning.
TRENT ZIMMERMAN: Good morning. Thanks for having us.
HOST: If we can just start with a general assessment of what’s going on and playing out in the United States. Jason Clare, beginning with you, what is your assessment of what we’re seeing play out in the United States?
JASON CLARE: I think we’re seeing the system working. For all of the comments that Donald Trump made over the last 24-48 hours, the votes are being counted. That’s how it should work in a democracy. It’s slow, it’s frustratingly slow, but the votes are being counted. What Donald Trump said the other day about stopping counting the votes, that’s not how democracy works, and that’s why political leaders around the world should be speaking up and saying we need to make sure the process is completed, that’s happening. We also should be concerned I think about some of the language Donald Trump used yesterday, suggesting that the election was being stolen. In a country as divided and as angry as America, that’s like a match on a tinderbox. It threatens to have this not just being fought out in the courts but potentially moving on to the streets and no one wants to see that.
HOST: Trent Zimmerman, your take on what’s happening in the United States and indeed on what President Trump has said about the elections using the word stolen, using the words of voter fraud.
ZIMMERMAN: I think the most important element of a successful democracy is that the side that loses has to accept the verdict of its citizenry because that’s really what allows the democracy to move forward, and obviously we have a very unorthodox and unique president in the White House today and I suspect that there’s nothing that anyone can do to change the approach that he will take over the next couple of weeks. But I am equally convinced and confident that whoever wins this ballot, and it’s pointing pretty clearly in one direction at the moment, that whoever wins his ballot will be sitting in the White House on January 20 after they’re inaugurated, because I do think that the American democracy in all its institutions sometimes beguiling for those of us in Australia and sometimes we think, if only they had a national electoral commission like we do. But with all of their institutions, with all of their history, I am absolutely confident that the result will be reflected in what happens early next year.
HOST: Trent Zimmerman, do you think the government, our government, should weigh in here? Scott Morrison in particular as Labor suggested yesterday that he should contact Donald Trump to convey Australia’s strong view that democratic processes must be respected?
ZIMMERMAN: I have to say that that was a pretty puerile attempt to make the American election a domestic Australian issue by the Labor opposition. It’s clear to me that firstly, the real politic of it is that what Donald Trump does will be what Donald Trump does and I don’t think even the Republican leadership will have much influence over that, but secondly what Scott Morrison has said is basically what every other democratic world leader has seen from Jacinda Ardern to Justin Trudeau to Boris Johnson, and that is that we do have competence in the US as democratic institutions, we have confidence in their balloting procedures, and what will happen over the weeks ahead. We will need to be patient, I suspect as we’ve been hearing all morning and there are obviously the possibility of recounts but we will get there, America will get there and they will have a president duly elected and inaugurated next year.
HOST: Jason Clare, how do you see Australia US relations changing under a Biden presidency if that was to happen? Keeping in mind, too, that there have been some analysts that have said that Canberra has done the bidding of Washington in the last four years.
CLARE: The relationship doesn’t depend on who’s in the White House or for that matter who’s in the Lodge, it’s a strong relationship forged in the teeth of World War Two by John Curtin. It’s a relationship which is important in economic terms, as well as in strategic and security terms.
If Joe Biden is successful, I think you’ll see him take a much stronger position on climate change (audio interrupted). I think he’ll also join the World Health Organisation again, and in the midst of a global pandemic having the US in there will help and I’m pretty certain too that that robust relationship between United States and China will continue.
The other point I just make here is just picking up on what Trent said and what you said, this is a country that’s still chronically divided and will remain so. If Donald Trump does lose, it doesn’t mean he goes away. He might go off into exile on cable TV, but if he loses this election, he could very well run again in four years time. And so that’s a prospect that we should keep in mind as well.
HOST: Trent I’d like to get your take on if President, if Joe Biden was to take the White House in January, do you feel like Australia, the government here, would be under pressure on committing more greatly to climate change policies, given the fact that Joe Biden is likely to reengage back with Paris commitments?
ZIMMERMAN: I think that one of the pluses of a Biden administration would be seeing United States back in the Paris Agreement process. Joe Biden would be if he’s elected would obviously have to negotiate the Senate to achieve that, but I think it is very important that the United States is a active and positive contributor to the global effort to reduce emissions and I actually see opportunities for Australia in that we have, through a different scale inevitably, but we have seen as Joe Biden has said that we want to develop a technology roadmap to ensure that we are playing our role in emissions reductions and I actually see the opportunity for us to be working with the United States on many of those areas, just as we are today for example on hydrogen with countries like Germany and Japan and Korea. I think that the closest of our relationship with the United States means that there will be considerable new economic opportunities as we explore some of those natural strengths that Australia has in areas like renewable energy.
HOST: Trent Zimmerman, you know that there is no denying that the United States is a close ally of Australia and it has been said that in the last four years or so, that close relationship has pushed Australia to the brink of having to choose between the traditional ally, political ally, the United States, and their traditional trading partner, China. Now that if Joe Biden wants to get into the White House, would that policy then be reversed?
ZIMMERMAN: That’s a very good question and a very deep one in some ways. I actually, like Jason suspected, there won’t be much change in the approach of the US administration in relations and trade issues with China. Because we’re seeing statements obviously from Joe Biden and the Democrats that in some ways reflect the type of concerns that Donald Trump’s been raising. Australia I have to say I think has quite masterfully been able to negotiate our close friendship and alliance with the United States with the strategic importance of China and I suspect that will continue. Obviously, we have our own challenges with China and it is very important that we maintain our own relationship with China based on our own values, and that will continue as well.
HOST: And we are seeing some of those challenges with China playing out just this week with the potential of bans being slapped on up to seven sectors of the export economy costing up to $6 billion. Jason Clare, if we can just finish with you on that. What would Labor be doing to negotiate their way out of this if these bans were to come into place?
CLARE: This is what I thought the China Free Trade Agreement was all about. It’s got clauses in there to sort these things out. Obviously, that’s not working at the moment and we’re more exposed to China in terms of exports, than any other country in the world. And so when you have bans threatened to be imposed like this on Australian exports it’s a threat to Tasmanian seafood producers, to wine makers in South Australia, beef producers all around the country. One of the obvious things to do here is to pick up the phone. It’s not good enough after being in power for seven years for the government to say no one’s going to answer the phone in Beijing.
When we had a problem like this with Donald Trump a couple of years ago when it came to steel and the threat to put tariffs on Aussie steel, the Prime Minister picked up the phone and spoke to Donald Trump. Premiers spoke to Governors, the Business Council spoke to business leaders, and we were able to sort it out. Now after seven years when problems like this emerge you have got the government saying sorry, we’re just getting dial tone in Beijing. That’s not good enough. This relationship is important. And it depends on an ability to be able to pick up the phone and talk to people to sort things out when things like this happen.
HOST: It is indeed a very significant relationship. Trent Zimmerman, if I could give you the final say here. I want to quote something that Acting Consul General Jin Qian had said, calling on Canberra to stop the, and I’m quoting here, “Cold War mentality towards Beijing”. Would you agree that that is an apt description of the Sino-Australian relationships right now?
ZIMMERMAN: No, we want a strong trading relationship with China and ironically despite all of the troubles that we’ve seen over the last few months now, trading goods to China has actually grown this year in terms of its dollar value so that relationship has remained strong, but has to be quite clear that Australia is not going to sacrifice its own values in its relationship with China, or any other country and I think that’s what Australians would expect and obviously we would like ministers and senior officials in China to be taking our calls. There is obviously negotiations that are happening between officials and our two countries to try and resolve the issues that we have. But I really wonder what Labor thinks that we should have done differently in relation to some of the calls that were made in relation to China. Should we not have supported international independent inquiry in relation to the pandemic, for example? These are decisions that we have taken in our own interests as a nation but also, I would argue in the global interest as well.
HOST: Jason Clare, a quick reply.
CLARE: I’m not second guessing that. We support everything the government’s done. The first responsibility of government is to keep Australians safe, we shouldn’t resolve from that. I’m not saying we should pander at China, we should have a professional relationship though, which is deep enough so that when there’s a problem and it looks like China hasn’t acted properly, you can pick up the phone and someone will answer it and you can sort it out. We were able to do that with the Yanks on steel, we should be able to do that with China when it comes to these threatened export bans.
HOST: On that note, gentlemen, we thank you so much for joining us on Weekend Breakfast. Jason Clare and Trent Zimmerman, thank you so much.
ZIMMERMAN: Thanks for having us.
CLARE: Thanks Trent.
ZIMMERMAN: Thanks, Jason.
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