The Premier of Western Australia, The Honourable Mark McGowan visited Japan for the first time since taking office. Mr McGowan became Premier in March of 2017 after the Western Australian state election which saw the Labor Party take government from the Liberal Party.
To reaffirm the strong relationship that exists between Japan and Western Australia in the areas of economy, education and culture, Premier McGowan visited Japan from the 14th of November. There was much media attention surrounding the issue of whether the Premier would discuss the re-establishment of direct flights between Japan and Western Australia. The Perth Express (PE) visited the Premier’s office and conducted an interview with Premier McGowan to discuss his visit.
－－I believe it was your 4th trip to Japan this time, how was your trip?
I had a great visit to Japan it went for 6 days, it is my 4th time I’ve been to Japan. The last time I was in Japan was 2013. I went in 2001, 2005, 2013 and this year. I’ve always enjoyed my time in Japan and it’s a marvellous and fantastic to visit, but also a great partner of Western Australia.
－－Did you enjoy the red leaves as it is autumn in Japan?
It was beautiful. The weather was beautiful. It was not too hot and not too cold and the trees with their orange leaves were everywhere. I did a few road trips out to the country side and saw a lot of the trees.
－－Did you try any traditional Japanese foods?
I had a lot of Japanese food. I’m very good at chopsticks and I ate a lot of traditional food. I like Japanese food a lot and it’s very healthy and tasty.
－－What was the main purpose of your visit to Japan this time?
I went to Japan because of the important trading relationship and sister state relationship that Western Australia has had. I wanted to show my support for the relationship and demonstrate that the new Western Australian government is very supportive of the long term relationship with Japan. So I had a set of meetings with business and political figures that demonstrated that support for the relationship.
－－Tourism Minister Mr. Paul Papalia visited Japan last October and he travelled with you to Japan again after a few weeks. Why has he been this busy?
He is fighting hard to get direct flights from Tokyo to Western Australia. He went up there 5 or 6 weeks ago in order to have meetings in preparation for my visit so he met with Japan Airlines Co., LTD. (JAL) and All Nippon Airways Co., Ltd. (ANA) about direct flights to start the process. He then came back with me and we had further discussions with the airlines. So it’s all about applying maximum pressure to the airlines to create direct flights between Tokyo and Western Australia.
－－You had good conversations with China Eastern Airlines in terms of a direct flight. Did you meet with JAL and ANA on your visit?
I met with JAL and Mr. Papalia met with JAL and ANA. I did not get the opportunity to meet ANA but I did meet with a range of government ministers and I met with a range of government officials and a range of other businesses in which I put the case for direct flights to Perth.
－－What do you expect if the direct flight comes back between Western Australia and Japan?
It would be fantastic. It would mean that Japanese tourists and business could get to Perth more easily and West Australian tourists could get to Japan more easily. What needs to be remembered is there is a big tourism trade between Western Australia and Japan, a lot of people want to go up there skiing and the like, but there is also an enormous trading relationship between Japan and Western Australia and direct flights would make it easier for Japanese business and therefore tourists to get to Western Australia. The number of Japanese tourists in Western Australia has dropped off significantly over the last ten years and direct flights would help reinvigorate that.
－－You used to be a councillor at City of Rockingham and dolphins are popular at Rockingham. Dolphins are also popular among Japanese tourists. Do you think more Japanese and Asian tourists will come to Perth if the direct flights begin again?
I very much hope that more Japanese tourists will come to Western Australia because we have a lot to offer and as we all know it’s a beautiful place. Direct flights will help create that. I went and met with Rockingham’s sister city Ako city. I went and had a meeting with the Ako city council and various representatives of Ako city. Ako city is a city about an hour and half away from Kobe, and has a sister city relationship with Rockingham. I, of course, am the member for Rockingham, so I have that connection. I had never visited Ako city in 20 years and for the first time ever I went to Ako city. It was terrific. I went and met with a lot of council and local people and had a bit of a look around. It was terrific.
－－With the direct flight you can not say a lot as Premier but do you think it is possible next year?
I’m hopeful for next year. It takes a while for them to be organised but maybe late next year we’re hopeful or the year after. If that happens that will be great for both Western Australia and Japan.
－－Will China Eastern Airlines come to Perth next year?
We’re hopeful for that as well. Chinese tourists are growing in affluence as well. The sad thing for me is that Japanese tourists loved coming to Western Australia for a long period of time but that has all dropped off. Certainly as you said there are dolphins, the beautiful city and lovely environment, great food, the hotels now are much cheaper. The cost of coming to Western Australia has come down a lot which I think we need to make sure that Japanese people understand and I think more will come here on holidays.
－－Again, do you think the direct flight will help to strengthen the relationship between Western Australia and Japan?
Yes, it would be if we get direct flights it will make it a lot easier to get there. Flying there and back it doesn’t bother me but I think it does bother a lot of people having to stop at Hong Kong for a few hours. It disrupts your flight. Japanese tourists have less holidays than we do so if you can remove those impediments then that’s a good thing.
－－You are the first Western Australia Premier to march at PRIDEFEST. The same sex marriage is still not friendly in Japan unfortunately as you might know. Do you think Western Australia is welcoming for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) people from Japan?
Western Australia and Perth is very accepting and very tolerant and very harmonious so obviously we welcome all Japanese tourists of any age or religion or sexual orientation. I think with the same sex marriage issue, the public does not have any difficulty with it in Western Australia any more. I suspect over time that’s all happened. That’s what will happen in places like Japan. It is one of those things that evolves over time.
－－I believe Japanese who live in Western Australia wish Western Australia and Japan become closer and have a stronger relationship which is the economy, education or sister city. What kind of plan do you have to go the next level for the two countries?
Between Western Australia and Japan is very close. We have reaffirmed the sister state relationship so I attended the 35th year anniversary event with Hyogo prefecture and I met with companies such as MITSUI & CO., LTD., Mitsubishi Corporation, JERA Co., Inc. and Tokyo Gas Co., Ltd.. And I met with three senior Ministers in the government. I went to the Prime Minister’s residence to meet with the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, Mr Yasutoshi Nishimura and two other Ministers, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Mr Ken Saito and the Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Iwao Hori. You can not get much closer than that and it is not possible for us to build a bridge between our two places.
－－With the economic side you had a meeting organised by the former Western Australian Premier, Richard Court. How was that?
It was terrific. I get on very well with Richard and he is a very good Ambassador. We had a dinner with a bunch of Japanese business people and we talked about various things that Western Australia can export. One issue that came up was actually avocados. Western Australian avocados are high quality and if we can export our avocados to Japan, Japan will be better off because there were a lot of complaints about the quality of avocados in Japan. If we can get our avocados to Japan that will be great for them.
－－On the education side you met with Tokyo City University and talked about 300 exchange students.
Tokyo City University has a strong relationship with Edith Cowan University and sends 300 students each year so I went to Tokyo City University and they presented me with an Honorary Doctorate and it was a very nice evening and I was very grateful. It’s all about making sure the relationship is strong so we can exchange students and that’s good for Western Australian jobs, but it is also good for developing understanding and relationships.
－－Could you please give a message for Japanese people in Western Australia?
The Japanese Australian community is very valued and plays an important role and it has a strong involvement in the local community whether it’s business, sport or cultural activities and I always enjoy my involvement with Japanese Western Australians.