David Speers:  But first let’s hear from the leading liberal moderate, the Liberal Senate leader, Simon Birmingham. I spoke to him just a short time ago. Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for joining us, particularly at last minute doing this before you jump on your flight home. Look, you’ve had a little bit of time to sleep on it. I hope you got a little bit of sleep after last night’s coverage. Tell us, how do you feel this morning? Where did the liberals get it so terribly wrong in this election?


Simon Birmingham: Well, good morning, David. Yes. A little bit of sleep, but only a little. Look, there are many interesting factors out of this election. And let me start by again congratulating Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party on winning and being in a position to form government. However, you can see from the state of their primary vote that fewer than one in three Australians voted for the Labor Party. And so this is perhaps the weakest mandate for an incoming government in Australia’s history. It presents a challenging set of circumstances because obviously we’ve lost and we’ve been delivered a comprehensive message from parts of the community. But we also have held on to what you would usually think would be the types of seats that precipitated a change of government seats like Bass and Braddon, Lindsay or Longman appear to have been held by the Liberal Party. And so it’s quite a challenging set of circumstances when you then look at where we have lost and particularly traditionally heartland seats, and that is perhaps the loudest message to the Liberal Party and it’s the one that we are going to have to heed most strongly if we are to ensure that we’re in a position to be able to come back in three years’ time, which given the state of the Labor vote, we absolutely can if we listen, unite and get our response right.


David Speers: Well, let me ask you about that. I mean, you lost ground to Labor, particularly in WA, but other parts as well. But let me ask you about the losses to these independents when it comes to the Liberals contest against the so-called teal independents. Was there a particular turning point, in your view, that saw the liberals lose so comprehensively all of these heartland seats?


Simon Birmingham: David. I think there have been a number of points over time. You could go back to the same sex marriage debate which dragged out unnecessarily long and which was ultimately resolved but should have been resolved by a simple conscience vote at a much earlier point in time. I think a real turning point was the failure in relation to the National Energy Guarantee that at that point there was an opportunity for the Liberal Party to lock into a policy in relation to energy markets and climate emissions reductions in the energy sector, and to lock into it in a way that could have achieved a degree of bipartisanship and put some of these matters behind us. And the failure to be able to do so at that time has caused a significant price down the track. The last election, we saw perhaps both a message and a masking, if you like. The message came in the seat of Warringah and the result that Tony faced there, and we should have acknowledged that had broader implications than just as it related to Tony. The masking was, of course, that the very high taxing policies Labor was honest about at the last election meant that we were able to hold on in seats that perhaps had the same sentiment as Warringah, but didn’t quite go there last time. And now we’re paying the price for that.


David Speers: I think that’s a really interesting analysis you’ve just given us of historically what’s led to this point for the Liberal Party. You note there the National Energy Guarantee crafted by Josh Frydenberg and Malcolm Turnbull as a real turning point. Where do the Liberals now need to go on this key issue of climate change?


Simon Birmingham: Well, David, I think in terms of our response overall, we’ve got to look at the what, the why and the who, if you like, and the what and the why issues such as climate change, where we still have to ensure that we are responsible custodians of Australia’s total national interests, and that involves ensuring that we don’t simply sell away Australian jobs and industry in a hurry that causes pain to our country. But we need to make sure Australians understand we acknowledge the science of climate change. Some of us always have, but all of us must. We acknowledge the need for Australia to play a leading role in action around the world and that we get our language as well as our policies right in that space-


David Speers: Should you support a higher 2030 target?


Simon Birmingham: -it’s equally crucial though-


David Speers: Should you now back what Labor’s taken to this election and not to mention the independence with an even more ambitious 2030 target, how they’ve been elected. Should you now shift on your 2030 position?


Simon Birmingham: David, given the fact that we are looking like we will exceed that 2030 position of 26 to 28%, of course we should commit to being able to go further. We obviously are a country who has shown great leadership actually in terms of the development of renewable resources. As I’ve said many times before, and it does remain a fact. Our rate of emissions reduction exceeds many others around the rest of the world. We should be proud of that as a country, and it shouldn’t be a point of partisan debate. It should be a point of national celebration and where we can exceed our existing targets, then we should make sure that we do stretch to exceed those targets. Mindful as always, though, of the communities who we have to bring with us and the jobs that we need to protect or replace as part of that journey.


David Speers: Okay.


Simon Birmingham: But that’s only one issue that that we need to heed. And as I said before, the what extends into other issues more broadly of equality and gender. And from there, the who in particular extends into ensuring that as a party, we go back and regroup around all of those who Menzies spoke about as the forgotten people. And in particular, we’ve lost the professionals out of the Menzien script and we need to make sure we win back many more of those professionals, and especially Australian women who are much more highly educated today, thanks to wonderful opportunities provided by successive governments. And it’s a cohort that clearly we have failed to have represent us in sufficient numbers and we need to make sure we turn that around as well as the types of policies necessary to appeal to them.


David Speers: I’ll come to the who in just a moment. And who should be leading the Liberal Party to do all of the things you’ve just outlined. But just on climate, one of the reasons why you’ve been unable to embrace the higher 2030 target that you’ve now suggested the Liberals do need to do. Is the National Party. The coalition you have with the National Party. Given this election result, now you’re in opposition. Should you stick with the coalition in opposition or break apart?


Simon Birmingham: Look, the Coalition has served Australia very well through our history and it has served the Liberal and National Party very well. I would hope that we can continue to work together. But obviously the National Party need to need to look at where the Liberal Party has felt this pain and reflect upon how it is that we together can manage to form majority government in the future and what will be necessary for us to do so-


David Speers: And if they don’t shift, if the Nats won’t budge?


Simon Birmingham: Well, David, let’s not get too many steps ahead of ourselves right now.


David Speers: Well, okay. But are you suggesting that if they- ask you again, if they don’t budge, should you stick together or break apart in opposition?


Simon Birmingham: Well, the Liberal Party needs to always stand for Liberal values and we need to make sure that we win back voters who should hold those liberal values. Who do I think hold those liberal values. Who hold the values of enterprise. Again, I reflected on the last election that where the Labor Party was open with a set of policies that were higher taxing, more interventionist. Those voters stuck with us because clearly they do believe in a smaller government. They do believe in a lower taxing environment. But there are a set of other issues where this election without the Labor posing at least up front, that same threat. They deserted us. We have to make sure that we appeal to them and that’s got to be our first priority.


David Speers: So let’s turn to the who. You are now the leader of a diminished moderate wing of the Liberal Party. Who will you be supporting to lead the Liberal Party now?


Simon Birmingham: David, to be perfectly honest, I don’t know. I will talk to my colleagues over the coming days and talk to them about the types of issues we have just discussed and what I think is necessary for us to rebuild and to re-establish the party in the places where we have lost support. And I will be looking to make sure that whomever takes on that role understands the task ahead and hopefully has a clear enough picture of how to go about that task, and particularly how to ensure that we bring into the Liberal fold more Australian women and ensure they are preselected in far greater numbers so that we can ensure our party better reflects the reality of modern Australia within our ranks.


David Speers: Can Peter Dutton do that? Can he take on that task you’ve outlined this morning?


Simon Birmingham: Look, I’ve worked closely with Peter for a number of years and whilst we haven’t always agreed, I suspect it would be a surprise to many that we’ve agreed more often than people might expect. And Peter’s public perception is not always an accurate reflection of where Peter’s true standing is, so-


David Speers: Is he the only option? Is there any other option for the Liberal Party?


Simon Birmingham: No. Look, I’m not sure, David. It depends on who’s willing to put their hand up and who’s interested and then we can assess abilities from there. So we will see. I’ll talk to Peter for sure, but I’ll be talking to some other colleagues, too.


David Speers: Let me ask you this. Josh Frydenberg, his loss in Kooyong is a real loss for the Liberal Party. Should another seat be found for Josh Frydenberg, should someone be willing to make way for him to come back into the Parliament?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Josh is a huge loss and it’s a devastating blow and a loss of some enormous talent there with Josh. But that’s really a matter for Josh to contemplate, whether he wants to come back. And I don’t think he would expect anybody just to step aside or to cause that sort of disruption. I’m sure Josh will have more to give to public life in one way, shape or form. And I welcome that. It’s been an absolute pleasure and honour to work with him as finance minister and in his role as treasurer as it has been to work with Scott and before that Malcolm and Tony in their ministries.


David Speers: Simon Birmingham I know it’s a difficult day for the Liberal Party. I appreciate you joining us both last night in the coverage and backing up again this morning. Thank you.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Speersy. My pleasure.