Fitzgibbon slams Morrison for mishandling Australia-China trade relationship

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS: Joel Fitzgibbon firmly believes Australia's national interest and Australia's trade interest are one and the same thing.
JOBS, JOBS, JOBS: Joel Fitzgibbon firmly believes Australia's national interest and Australia's trade interest are one and the same thing.

This is advertiser content for Joel Fitzgibbon MP, Member for Hunter, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources

When former Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon recently appeared to break ranks on the question of Australia's relationship with China, many expressed surprise.

Those who have served in the Defence portfolio tend to be quite hawkish on Australia's big northern neighbour and stick like glue to the lines on Austalia's alliance with the United States of America.

But to be surprised by Fitzgibbon's criticism of Scott Morrison's handling of the Australia-China relationship is to misunderstand what's always driven him.

When first elected in 1996, Fitzgibbon said his top three priorities as an MP would be jobs, jobs and jobs. It's a formula he stands by today.

China is Australia's largest export customer and a significant investor in Australian businesses, which employ tens of thousands of Australians.

A big local example is the coalmining company Yancoal, which is now one of the biggest producers of coal in the Hunter Valley.

"Our economic relationship with China accounts for hundreds of thousands of Australian jobs," Mr Fitzgibbon said.

"The value of export earnings from China is around $130 billion each year. We use the foreign exchange we earn to buy all the imports we are so fond of, particularly electronic devices like smart phones and computers."

The Australia-China relationship has been under strain for the past three years and Mr Fitzgibbons says it became worse when Prime Minister Scott Morrison was first out of the block in the call for an inquiry into the origins and spread of COVID 19.

Along the way Mr Morrison suggested "weapons inspector-style" investigators should be sent into China.

China has since locked out Australia's barley and some red meat exports.

Speculation abounds that other commodities will be next, possibly even coal.

This has infuriated Mr Fitzgibbon, who argues there was always going to be an inquiry.

"The international community would not have had it any other way," he said.

"By running out ahead of the rest of the world, armed with provocative language, Mr Morrison served no purpose other than to unnecessarily poke our largest trading partner in the eye.

"Our relationship with China is complex and challenging enough.

"It's a relationship we need to manage, not damage. Too many Australian jobs are at stake."

More than two-thirds of Australia's agricultural production is exported, and up to 30 per cent of that goes to China.

China is an important market for Australian wool, red meat, cotton, dairy, wine, horticulture and seafood, and Australia's barley trade relationship with China goes back to the 1960s.

GROWING TOGETHER: Investing in long-term relationships with China is smart strategy and beneficial to the interests of all Australians.

GROWING TOGETHER: Investing in long-term relationships with China is smart strategy and beneficial to the interests of all Australians.

Australia's diplomatic tensions with China are quite concerning for farmers, according to Fiona Simson, president of the National Farmers Federation (NFF).

"The recent tariffs introduced by China are a massive blow to Australian grain growers, in particular, as China is Australia's largest barley market," she said.

"Almost 50 per cent of our barely, worth about $917 million, is exported to China each year."

Ms Simson said it was critical to remember that successful long-term trade relationships are built in the good times because that's what can be reverted to in the bad times.

"What farmers are telling me is they totally understand that our government needs to stand up for Australians, but they also really believe that the China relationship is a relationship worth investing in," she said.

"When it comes to global trade, Australia can't take anything for granted. Whilst Chinese consumers are very fond of Australian produce, most of the things we produce they can get elsewhere.

"Some of those exports will just not be regarded as important if the relationship is not good."

When it comes to trade relationships, with China, or any other nation for that matter, Ms Simson said relationships needs to be deep, multi-tiered and strong enough to withstand geopolitical shocks.

"Our trade with China is beneficial to both countries, it's a win-win relationship," she said.

"I think sometimes politics gets in the way of our shared outcomes, but it's worth it for both countries to keep working together.

"It is the NFF's strong hope that a resolution that is satisfactory to both parties can be reached sooner rather than later, to avoid unnecessary detriment to Australian farmers and Chinese consumers."

In arousing China's ire, Mr Fitzgibbon has accused the Prime Minister of chasing local votes at the expense of Australian jobs.

"There is a golden rule in politics: you never mix domestic politics with international interests, for local votes," he said.

"When people do so, we all lose.

"People shouldn't confuse beneficial and smart strategy, with capitulation.

"If we are smart, we can serve both the national interest and take the export income and jobs.

"In fact, our national interest and our trading interests are one and the same."

This is advertiser content for Joel Fitzgibbon MP, Member for Hunter, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources

This story Trade relations must be managed, not damaged first appeared on Newcastle Herald.