29 April 2020

Interview with Allison Langdon and Karl Stefanovic, The Today Show

Note

Subjects: Economic impact of the coronavirus; Chinese Ambassador’s remarks; investigation into the causes of COVID-19

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Treasurer, good morning to you. Thank you for your time. That is a huge number, a disturbing number, $60 billion. Do you think that’s about right?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

We’ve never seen an economic shock the scale of the coronavirus and it’s affected countries right around the world including us here at home. But as you know, we’ve responded very quickly, comprehensively, spending and committing around $320 billion, around 16 per cent of GDP, and we’re confident that Australia will get through the coronavirus and come out stronger on the other side.

ALLISON LANGDON:

So hearing reports this morning, that I mean China knew about this or doctors first reported it late December, but they didn’t say it was infectious until January 20. If we had had that additional time, to say that we would’ve been able to stop 95 per cent of the spread we’d be looking at a very different global economy right now wouldn’t we?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well this is the reason why we do need to have an independent, transparent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus. We’re always going to defend Australia’s national interest, we’re always going to speak up about what is in Australia’s national interest. We’re not going to trade health outcomes for trade outcomes. We are going to speak up for what we think is really important and that is an independent, transparent, and open investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Ok so the Communist Party’s daily bugle, the People’s Daily, published a comment yesterday according to the Fin Review, which has led the way on this story this week, accusing Australian politicians of pandering to the United States, and said the push for a global investigation would fail. How do you respond?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well we reject such comments. The reality is that the coronavirus has killed thousands and thousands of people right around the world. It’s disrupted economies in a way that we’ve never seen before and that is why we need this independent and open investigation. Our economic partnership with China is very important to both countries. Around 60 per cent of China’s iron ore comes from Australia. I mean last year alone Karl, that was enough iron ore to create enough steel to build 10,000 Sydney Harbour Bridges. And as you know, Australia’s agriculture is the freshest in the world, our universities are among the best in the world, and that’s of great advantage to China. So to our export markets with China create thousands of jobs here in Australia and we want that economic partnership to continue. But we will speak up for our national interests, we will be clear and consistent and we won’t bow to economic coercion.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

This is, I think in my memory one of the most significant I guess, breaking of the relationship that we’ve seen in the last couple of years. This is a very significant escalation of diplomatic language and of a breakdown of our relationship. Are you concerned that will then fold into concerns about our economy, about them pulling out, about tourists not coming here in any way shape or form, threats that were mentioned by the ambassador in the last couple of days?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well the two-way trading relationship with China is worth over $200 billion, about a third of our exports go to China. Chinese students are the greatest source of international students to Australia. Chinese tourists are the greatest source of international tourists to Australia. So there is a very important partnership there which I believe is mutually beneficial and I believe will continue to be the case. But when it comes to Australia’s economic and strategic interests, we’ve got to continue to speak up as the Australian people would expect us to do and that’s what the Prime Minister and my colleagues have done and I continue to do. I mean China is not going anywhere, it’s a country of more than a billion people. Henry Kissinger had some wise words when he wrote this really excellent book on China and he said basically if you look back over the last 2000 years Karl, China’s been the number one economy in the world for 1800 of those years. It was only with the industrial revolution that their economy got overtaken by the West. So it’s of course understandable that China wants to resume it’s economic position in the world, but at the same time there are global rules and we expect all players to comply with those and when they don’t, then we’ll speak up about it. 

ALLISON LANGDON:

Well let’s focus on what’s happening here now, I mean the economic impact of this is outpacing the Great Depression. How much trouble are we in right now and do you expect it to get worse before it gets better?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well there’s two points for your viewers to note. The first is we have approached this crisis from a position of economic strength. Growth was rising prior to this crisis. Unemployment was falling and the Budget was in balance for the first time in 11 years.  This gave us the financial firepower to respond as we have. We’ve spent more money than many other comparable nations. That, I think, puts us in a good position to bounce back stronger on the other side. Of course, we’ve had great success in flattening the curve and reducing the daily number of increases in coronavirus cases. With the flattening of the curve comes the easing of the restrictions. We’ve already made announcements around elective surgery. We want kids to get back to school, some states are already doing that. The quicker they get back to school, I think the better we will all be.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

The quicker they’ll all have money in their pocket.

ALLISON LANGDON:

Treasurer, thank you for your time this morning. Appreciate it.