Scott Emerson: Federal Minister for Finance and the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Simon Birmingham. Minister, good to have you back on 4BC Drive.
Simon Birmingham: Hey Scott, it’s always great to speak with you. Thanks for having me on.
Scott Emerson: Now, I saw the headline in The Australian today, it wasn’t ‘Cost of Living’ it said ‘Cost of Winning’. Was this Budget all about trying to win the Election in May?
Simon Birmingham: Absolutely not, Scott. This Budget shows that our long term economic plan is working, that the economy is growing more strongly than had previously been forecast, that more jobs are being created than previously forecast. As a result of that, we’ve got fewer people on welfare, we’ve got more people in the workforce and that means we’ve got more taxpayers in Australia and its delivering real dividends to the Budget bottom line. That we’ve been able to reduce deficits by more than $100 billion compared with what there had previously been forecast. To bring down projected rates of debt quite significantly, but also to respond to some of the pressures that we see, and we know that, just as you were saying in the intro, households around the country are really feeling it as a result of the tragic events that have happened following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For the globe, that’s seen a big spike in oil prices and it’s flowed through to the bowsers and so with the dividends of a strong economy, having used the majority of them to reduce projected deficits and reduce debt, and we also thought it was only appropriate to respond to these unforeseen crisis circumstances for Australians and do what we can to help with the cost of living by lowering the price of petrol by $0.22 a litre.
Scott Emerson: Simon Birmingham, I’m sure you pleased to know that some of our 4BC Drive listeners say they’re already seeing a drop in prices at the bowser. Now, that might just be the cycle coming down, but Viva Energy, as I mentioned, Coles Express, they’ve already cut by $0.10. They’ve said they’ve done it across their Coles Express service stations. So look, they’re giving you a bit of a tick there, but Labor’s come out today and said, look, we’re going to completely just pass through and agree to all these cost of living measures in the Budget last night. Will that neutralise the advantage the Coalition may have had? You say it’s not about politics, but clearly you were hoping it would make a difference to voters out there. Is that going to be neutralised by the fact Labor has said, yep, we accept all that and people won’t have a dollar less under a Labor Government?
Simon Birmingham: Commentators will make their own assessment about the political implications but what your listeners I hope, and Australians will see, is that as a government we’ve got us through the crisis of COVID 19. Our economy has recovered faster than other major advanced economies around the world. We’ve got employment at miraculous levels almost, that unemployment now headed below 4%, the best unemployment rates the country has seen in close to 50 years. This is the dividend of good, sound, careful economic management. Of course, that’s enabling us to respond to new pressures, new crises that come along and to do it with the same careful, targeted, responsible approach that we showed during COVID 19 and the contrast of the Election will still be a strong one. Just look at records during COVID, where Labor called for $80 billion more of additional spending at different points. They wanted to pay people to get vaccinated, even though we’ve achieved one of the highest vaccination rates in the world without having to splash that sort of money around. When we said that JobKeeper should come to an end, they said it should be continued and yet when we took it off, job numbers only increased further. So the contrast is strong and the test for Anthony Albanese will come on Thursday night when he gets to reply to this Budget. He and Jim Chalmers have said that they will have an alternative Budget that they deliver this year if they’re elected. Well, they need to be open and transparent with Australians. What will be in that alternate Budget? Where will the spending differences lie? Where will the tax differences lie? How much more will Australians pay?
Scott Emerson: Let’s talk about the halving of the fuel excise. People are saying they’re seeing some changes already. How will we know that all the $0.22 cut is passed on to motorists?
Simon Birmingham: We have already charged the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to make sure they are right across every cent of fuel price movements in the country. They’ve done plenty of work previously looking at fuel prices and so they have expertise and they have skills and they understand how movements in global oil prices shape the price at the bowser and they have multi-million dollar penalties that they can apply if this cut is not passed on. So I fully expect that we will see the $0.22 a litre passed on. The fact that a bit of competitive tension between fuel companies means that some are already passing it on even before they’ve seen the benefit themselves is great news. I expect the laws around this to pass through the Parliament tonight and to become law straight away. It takes effect from midnight of last night. But in terms of it actually showing up at the bowser, that may still take a week or two because fuel excise is not paid by the retailer at the point that you or I fill our car up. It’s paid much earlier in terms of when the refinery operations happen or the imports occur. So there’ll be a tiny delay factor but we will make sure that Australians see the benefit of this because we know just how important it is to work to help them get to work, get the kids to school, run around and do the things they need to, and particularly those in outer suburban areas or in regional Australia who clock up so many more k’s. This will really matter to them.
Scott Emerson: I’m talking to Simon Birmingham. He’s the Minister for Finance, but he’s also the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Now, Simon Birmingham, one of your colleagues in the Senate, Senator Fierravanti-Wells, last night in a speech in the Senate, she labelled Scott Morrison as a bully and not fit to be PM. Now that’s very damning comments from a long standing Liberal Senator there. Well, what do you say to that? A bully? Not fit to be PM?
Simon Birmingham: Look, it’s a long standing Liberal Senator, but one who did only just lose her Liberal Party endorsement and preselection on the weekend. Connie has had 17 years of opportunity to serve in the nation’s Parliament, thanks to the selection of the Liberal Party. I can understand her disappointment at the fact that her preselectors didn’t choose her to continue, 500 or so New South Wales Liberal Party members making that say and choosing instead to back the Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, and distinguished former General Jim Molan, to serve on our Senate ticket. I get the disappointment. Nobody likes losing, but that’s no reason to lash out and I would urge her instead to reflect more on the 17 years of opportunity that she has had.
Scott Emerson: Well, she’s described Scott Morrison as a bully. Now we had many Federal Liberal Ministers and MP’s coming out when we heard the revelations about Kimberley Kitching and calling for an inquiry into the bullying allegations. So should there now be an inquiry into these allegations by this Senator about Scott Morrison?
Simon Birmingham: Scott, I was very tempered in my remarks on those other matters.
Scott Emerson: Well, you might have been tempered but we know other people weren’t Simon Birmingham. We know other of your colleagues weren’t tempered at all. They called for an inquiry.
Simon Birmingham: And I think on these matters, there are often internal disputes that happen inside political parties. That’s not uncommon when there are competitive things at play such as preselections, which Connie has just happened to lose out on in the last few days. Now, they can invoke all sorts of emotions or reactions but what the next Election should be decided on is not this type of personality politics, whether it’s the Labor Party discussions and debates about mean girls or whether it’s disgruntled preselection candidates grumbles about the PM or others. The next Election should be focussed on the jobs of Australians, the livelihoods of Australians, the security of Australia – and that’s where we’ll make sure we put the focus, certainly where I’ll be arguing that Australia’s jobs are more secure under the Liberal and National Parties, that we’ve created 1.7 million more jobs since we’ve been in office. Taxes are lower under us and our nation is more secure as you can see in last night’s Budget, with further investment in our national security, growing investment in our defence forces, and now a real focus on the new threats of modern warfare being cyber warfare and cyber security. Making sure that our banking systems, our energy systems, our communications systems have the best possible protections for the future.
Scott Emerson: Simon Birmingham, good to have you back on 4BC Drive this afternoon.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Scott. My pleasure.