Interview with Deborah Knight, 2GB

12 November 2020

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Another Australian export has been blocked by China. Shipments of timber logs from Victoria have been targeted, and it comes just a couple of weeks now after authorities banned timber from Queensland. They claim it’s because they found live bark beetles, but you can’t be sure, really, with China, especially given the rumoured ban on a wide range of Australian exports last week.

David Littleproud is the Agriculture Minister, he’s on the line for us now. Minister, what’s going on?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, Deb, we’ve had notification that they have suspended imports from Victoria now on top of the Chinese- the Queensland logs going into China. There is some credence to their claim, and we've been monitoring this for some months and trying to work through. But we suspect the reason is, is that the fumigation that's used on these logs hasn't been effective because the majority of the logs that have been going over were burnt ones out of the black summer event this year. So, we're trying to work, obviously, with industry and our biosecurity specialists just to work through the scientific basis around this fumigation and increasing our inspections. But they did notify us in June that there were some issues and then we continued to ramp up our fumigation. And we work with industry proactively to try and detect them. But we suspect that they're coming through on these burnt logs…

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Because it's easy to understand why there’s suspicions, because they've been targeting us with so many industries and then state media saying that seven of our key industries were going to be blocked from coming in. You sort of think, is it really fumigation or is it something else?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, no. In this case, we're quite confident on that. And that's why we've always said that we'll take this case by case, commodity by commodity, and work through. There were a lot of salacious rumours going around about what they were going to do to us, but they didn't materialise because we have to deal, in fact. And what we- if we go down the rumour track, what that does is it creates an artificial market mechanism and force that isn't productive and in fact, does more damage because then you have speculators making decisions about importing Australian product predicated on rumour rather than fact. And that's why we need to just be calm and work through each one of these. We're now making a representation back to Beijing about this matter and how we can address it…

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Because China is one of our biggest markets for timber exports. Where does it leave the industry?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, this is the concern. So other states within Australia can still export. And that's why we're working with them to work with industry to make sure that we get a national wide approach to this so that there is no other reason, and for China to suspend any further exports to them of our timber. So, we're working through to make sure that we can provide them with a protocol that would give them comfort and give us comfort. This is Brand Australia we're trying to protect, and this is really the consequence of the black summer event, and one that I think- where we only came to light as a result of bushfires. It's never been seen before. So, it's obviously new science that we're having to try and scramble to try and understand and to work with, and then work with what fumigation methods might need to change and what we're previously doing before the bushfires.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Have you had any luck with getting a phone call back from your Chinese counterpart yet?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Not yet, no, Deb.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Phone’s still waiting to ring, alright.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: It’s still on the hook, though. It can ring.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, yes. But they need to bloody well ring, that’s the thing. They’re not doing it.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: And we're not going to throw our toys out of the cot. We're going to be there maturely and ready to take any dialogue to resolve any issue because trade’s mutually beneficial to both of us. And we just need some leadership and we're prepared to show it.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Alright. Good on you, Minister. Thanks for joining us.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks Deb.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.