11:05AM AEDT
Wednesday, 5 April 2023



Tom Elliot: Well, Simon Birmingham is the Leader of the Liberal Party in the Federal Senate. Mr Birmingham, good morning.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Tom. Good to be with you again.


Tom Elliot: Well according to Joe [caller], you need to ditch Peter Dutton to get back into power. What do you think?


Simon Birmingham: I think if people take out of the Aston by-election a message about leadership, then that’s the same mistake that perhaps some took out of the 2022 federal election, where there was a view that once Scott Morrison was gone, things might be different. We’ve got to take a much broader view and actually focus on how we share and sell our values, how we campaign, what policies we campaign on, and most fundamentally within that, how we ensure we present the most positive, compelling liberal values based campaign and policy options to the Australian people to make sure we can get a much broader spectrum of people re-engaging with us and voting for us.


Tom Elliot: Well, the other day I spoke to political consultant Kos Samaras from Redbridge, and he identified three groups that the Liberals are on the nose with. He said women, migrants, particularly migrants from China and younger voters. And you’ve listed those three groups in your in your article today.


Simon Birmingham: The challenge we have there, Tom, is that the fastest growing part of the Australian workforce are professional women. We’ve seen an escalation of urbanisation as a result of increased migration in recent years and from particularly places such as China and India. And so we really do need to focus in on how we appeal to those different voter categories that frankly didn’t exist a couple of decades ago. And the way to make sure we do that is not to step away from liberal values, but to ensure that we apply liberal values in the modern context. We can still stand for families, but we have to recognise that they come in many different constructs nowadays. We should still fight absolutely for small businesses and entrepreneurialism, but we should really use that as a means to engage deeply with many of those migrant communities, for example, who are often some of the most entrepreneurial types setting up small businesses right across the suburbs and towns of Australia.


Tom Elliot: What about younger voters? I mean, they’re all very left winged and woke and they regard the Labor Party as right winged and the Greens the only, you know, true source of or at least the true destination for their vote. What do you do to attract younger voters?


Simon Birmingham: Tom, in particular there I think we need to work hard at how we tackle housing and opportunity for those younger voters. Younger voters become younger families and younger families still have the same concerns about whether there will be job security, whether they can afford to get a house, and the types of things that are very true to liberal values. Now, what we need to make sure there is that the jobs and employment and opportunity side we sell are strengths. When we lost office last year, indeed when the Howard government lost office too, unemployment was at essentially all-time lows or recent lows at both those times. We have an incredible track record, job creation and we should make sure we maintain that equity and sell it. When it comes to home ownership, though, we’ve seen throughout governments of all persuasions a decline in trend lines for recent decades. And that presents a real challenge to a Liberal Party that wants to make sure people are focused on their economic well-being. And so we really do need to double down on the types of policies that can help Australians not just to access housing. I mean, that’s important, but critically from our perspective, to become homeowners and then to have assets that they need to conserve and that will ensure that they really are thinking very closely about the economic conditions that will help them to be able to pay off that home and set themselves up for the future.


Tom Elliot: Well, I mean, life’s difficult for homeowners right now. I mean, you’ve got rising interest rates. You’ve got home building companies like Porter Davies collapsing. What I mean, it’s fine to say we want more Australians to own their own home, and that’s a very noble goal. But what would you actually do to achieve that?


Simon Birmingham: Indeed. So, we have some policies that are already out there and that Peter Dutton has announced in terms of ensuring that people can put part of their home into their superannuation so they’re able to use that to secure themselves for their retirement. But there’s more that certainly can be considered in terms of encouraging the supply, ensuring efficiency in the building of homes. And for that we need to have a look at the type of impact that the CFMEU and others have in driving up the costs of building across the country. There are also no doubt ways in terms of looking at the tax and transfer system and models from overseas, Singapore and elsewhere, as to how governments in those places have set policy frameworks in the tax system, in the support for the construction of homes that don’t just increase the stock of social housing, but critically increase the proportion of owner occupiers.


Tom Elliot: Right. Well, I mean, that all sounds great in theory, but I think people want to hear about like, you know, will there be support for first home buyers or whatever. Now, you mentioned taxes a lot there. You know, the Liberal Party traditionally was the party of lower taxes and smaller governments. Now under the last decade or so of government I mean debt has exploded, and that’s occurred under both Labor and Liberal governments. Can you possibly cut taxes when eventually you’re going to have to repay all that debt?


Simon Birmingham: Look, Tom, we should certainly ensure that we maintain ourselves as a party of government being no bigger than it need be, and that we argue strongly for smaller government where we possibly can. And we should remember that we did bring the budget back to the point of balance before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and that took great discipline from the treasurers and prime ministers who got us to that point. And that is an equity again, that we shouldn’t let up on. And we’re also- were the government that legislated for reforms to income tax regime. But as long as Labor don’t back away from them, and this is a big fight that we’ve got to be willing to have and stay focused on over the next couple of years. Those changes will abolish an income tax bracket for all hardworking middle-income Australians. And so that will be the most fundamental change to ensure that around 90%, 95% potentially even of hardworking Australians pay no more than $0.30 in the dollar as their top marginal tax rate. And that is a fundamental reform we legislated. Labor says they’re still going to deliver on it and we’ve got to make sure we hold them to account and own that reform and remind people that it was a Liberal government that had the priority on ensuring they get to keep more of what they earn.


Tom Elliot: Now, what about the biggie in your article today, and I’m calling it a manifesto for the Liberal Party. You talk about the various things like government size and taxes and free enterprise and so forth, and then you say there is a need for Australia to play its role, a leading role in conserving our planet by reducing global emissions. So I mean, are you essentially saying the Liberal Party has to embrace the doctrine of climate change and do something about it?


Simon Birmingham: We went to the last election saying we had a commitment for net zero emissions by 2050 and that was hard fought. But the process to come to that commitment, because it was so hard fought, played out publicly, looked messy and divisive, I think undermined the extent of that commitment. But when I travel around the country, particularly with some of the voter demographics that you asked me about earlier, especially that fast growing group of professional women across the Australian workforce, they are deeply concerned about climate change. They want to see Australia play a role. We should in no way seek to out green the Greens, but we should really strive in this area to try to achieve as much policy consensus as possible because emissions reduction won’t occur dramatically in one term of Parliament and it’s bad for the country if we keep having a flip flopping or seesawing of policy approaches in that space.


Tom Elliot: But is there a problem here that you obviously won’t out green the Greens? You probably won’t even out green Labor. But if people say, well, I’m concerned about the environment, they’ll vote Green or Labor, they’ll never vote for you.


Simon Birmingham: Well, what we’ve got to look at there is whether we can stop them, at least from voting against us and get them thinking about some of the other issues we’ve just been discussing. So, this is an area where a strive for as much long-term policy consensus between the parties of government that recognises achieving net zero by 2050 is going to involve Labor and Coalition governments on that journey. Each will come and go and if we can achieve as much consensus around the approach and trajectory to that as we do on other critical long term issues such as national security, then that ensures that there is less reason for people to vote against it and more opportunity to be having the debate about taxation, cost of living, housing affordability, many of the other issues we’ve just been discussing.


Tom Elliot: And finally, and very quickly, a poll on the front page of The Australian newspaper today suggests that a majority of Australians and a majority of Australian states support the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. Has the Liberal Party formed a party view on this yet?


Simon Birmingham: Well, those discussions are happening today and so I’ll enable the Leader and others to make that announcement when they come to a point of conclusion. It’s a challenging issue, Tom, because it doesn’t fit neatly within the philosophical paradigms of liberalism or the like. And by that, I mean there are arguments to say that entrenching racial differences within the Constitution are not helpful and are illiberal in some ways. But of course, there are also practical arguments to say that First Australians do have a special place in this country. They are also one of the most disadvantaged groups in this country. And is there a more effective way to hear their voices and to consider the impact of policies upon them? And so that’s what we’re working through. It’s unfortunate that I think the Albanese Government has mishandled this in the way they’ve approached it and the way they’ve designed the wording for the constitutional amendment. I hope that they perhaps remain open to changing that on the journey through the parliamentary committee that is now looking at their proposal. But it is a difficult and challenging issue. One, ultimately, though, which Australians are going to get to decide, not any one political party.


Tom Elliot: All right. In other words, watch this space. Thank you for your time. Simon Birmingham





Julia Ebbs:  +61 498 778 269

Office:  02 6277 3059 (CBR)  08 8354 1644 (ADL)