Topics: Foreign investment laws; Voice to Parliament; un-Australian things;

08:05AM ACDT
6 January 2023


Graeme Goodings:  Well, Canada has banned foreigners from buying residential property. It’s an attempt to make more homes available to locals facing a housing crisis. And that’s exactly what we’re facing in this country at the moment. Not enough homes for the people. Plenty of homeless people and the prices just out of reach. We’ve tried to get the Treasurer on the line, Jim Chalmers and the Prime Minister, they’re unavailable. The Federal Opposition Leader in the Senate, Senator Simon Birmingham, is happy to have a chat with us. He joins me now. Senator, good morning to you.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Graeme. Good to be with you and happy New Year to you and all of your listeners.


Graeme Goodings: Thank you. Is there any merit in what Canada is doing? Could it work in Australia?


Simon Birmingham: Graeme, Australia already has a fairly tight foreign investment regime, particularly when it comes to residential purchases. When in government we previously tightened that significantly. Also increased penalties and other steps for those who don’t comply with it. And that requires in most cases, people to go through a fairly significant process of seeking approval to be able to undertake a purchase. And a good number of those who ultimately purchase do end up becoming permanent residents of Australia. So we certainly need to be mindful that without regulation, without controls, there would be potential risks in terms of extra pressure on the Australian housing market. But we have a pretty well regulated, pretty well controlled system here in Australia already, and the very small numbers of foreign purchasers of residential homes really are not probably significant in the grand scheme of the overall challenges in the housing market.


Graeme Goodings: I know I hear this anecdotally that people say that they’ve bought or sold a property, have been bought by someone from overseas and it has remained vacant and it has obviously been bought as an investment. Is there any control or watch over that sort of activity?


Simon Birmingham: Well, as I say, the checks there in terms of people having to get approval through the foreign investment regime, if you are not an Australian citizen, permanent resident, and to be able to make a purchase means that there are at least some checks or otherwise in that regard. But the total number of annual transactions is relatively small in a state like South Australia. So yes, there may anecdotally be some of those cases, just as indeed there are cases of Australian citizens buying residence for investment purposes and people within reporting on them sitting vacant from time to time. And I know that’s a separate issue sometimes in terms of those who might own multiple properties and whether they are all properly tenanted and available on the rental market.


Graeme Goodings: Senator, if we can move to another subject regarding the Voice to Parliament, the government seems to be moving as rapidly as it can to holding a referendum. What are your thoughts on the Voice to Parliament? Do you agree with it?


Simon Birmingham: Well, this debate started initially out of a pathway towards constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians as the first Australians, and that’s something that I do strongly support. I think that it’s appropriate to recognise the tens of thousands of years of history we have in Australia and that whilst our constitution serves as well as a guiding document for the country and the governance of the nation nowadays, it should reflect upon the fact that we did have a long period of settlement in this country by Indigenous Australians first and foremost. The Voice takes that a step further. It’s the request that came out of the so-called Uluru Statement from the Heart process. Now with that, I think it’s up to the Government to make sure that before Australians vote, everybody is very clear about what it is that will be established. How will the Voice be constituted? We know from the Government that the Parliament will select and appoint a process or a legislative process around the Voice. But the government hasn’t yet been clear as to what model it is they will seek to bring to the Parliament. And I think many Australians will want to know that detail before they cast their ballots.


Graeme Goodings: Do you have any feeling as to why they’re not giving us more information?


Simon Birmingham: Graeme, it does worry me. I think it would be bad for the country for this proposal to be put up and for it to be unsuccessful. And so I really do hope that the government can take an engaging approach in the way they talk to Australians to fill in the blanks in terms of addressing the questions and to be as bipartisan as possible in terms of talking to the relevant shadow ministers and others to really try to build as strong a support as possible to give it the best chance of success when Australians ultimately cast their ballot.


Graeme Goodings: Is the Liberal Party philosophically for or against a Voice to Parliament?


Simon Birmingham: It’s not really- I don’t see it Graeme as being a philosophical question. It’s a functional one I guess in some ways. It’s embedding a permanent form of consultation, if you like, and consultations very important. Certainly in my ministerial career where I touched on different policy matters, such as childcare reforms that related to especially services in Indigenous communities, I made sure that we spoke with people in those Indigenous communities and understood how those services are going to be impacted and that should be commonplace for any reforms as they impact upon Australians and to talk to the relevant groups. I think in terms of the voice it, if put in place, obviously will provide an embedded permanent form of consultation. And just how that works and what the scope of it is again goes to the type of questions the Government I think will need to answer for Australians so that they can make informed decision when they vote.


Graeme Goodings: Senator, just before you go, we’ve been asking people this morning what they consider as un-Australian. There’s a new campaign launched to promote lamb and they’re talking un-Australian. Do you have any anything to add to the conversation?


Simon Birmingham: [Laughs] Well, look, I think it’s pretty un-Australian to not play beach cricket by good backyard cricket rules. So having been down at the beach for a bit lately, the importance of abiding by the rules of one hand, one bounce and the like are all very critical.


Graeme Goodings: Beautiful. Thanks for your time today.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, mate. All the best.