Topics: New UK Prime Minister Liz Truss; Cost of living; RBA interest rate rise; Climate change bill;
Matthew Doran: There was also a big news breaking overnight from London with the U.K. getting yet another new prime minister, Liz Truss, defeating Rishi Sunak to get the keys to number ten Downing Street. To discuss this and more the Shadow Foreign Minister and Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Simon Birmingham, joins me now in the studio. Senator, welcome.
Simon Birmingham: Hello, Matt. Good to be with you.
Matthew Doran: Let’s start with that news of Liz Truss. You, of course, would have. I’m assuming you would have crossed paths with her in your time in government?
Simon Birmingham: I had the good fortune of working very closely with Liz. As trade ministers, we launched the negotiations for the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement and during that time Liz demonstrated what a good friend of Australia she is, how committed she was to achieving a comprehensive trade agreement that helped to ensure investment flows, trade flows, mobility of young Brits and young Australians between our countries, technology transfer were all encapsulated within that trade agreement. Subsequently, as Foreign Secretary, she was there for helping with the delivery of AUKUS and for all of the early stages of work around that, including visiting Australia earlier this year, which included visits to our shipyards in Adelaide and seeing the high collaboration that is occurring between Australia and the UK again in sharing technology knowledge and building our sovereign defence capabilities. And on the world stage we’ve seen that Liz takes a very strong, principled stance in defence of multilateral institutions, of rules based orders against the autocracies and others who have sought to disrupt those. And so I think Australia can have great confidence in Liz Truss that we will have a very strong friend working with us between our two nations and working with us with other nations of the world.
Matthew Doran: We’ll see how that relationship plays out because she’s got one almighty challenge on her plate trying to steer the UK through all the challenges it’s facing at the moment. Let’s come closer to home to some of the challenges we’re facing here in Australia. Your party leader, Peter Dutton, some of your colleagues very critical of the Albanese Government, saying that it has no plan to tackle the cost of living crisis that Australians are facing. If we look at interest rates, which we’re waiting to see how the RBA make its decision there, this was always going to happen, wasn’t it? Interest rates going up. I mean, even if the Coalition had been returned to government.
Simon Birmingham: There was always going to be a period of normalisation of interest rates. And Peter Dutton and our team have been very clear that when it comes to some of the global factors such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the impact that’s had on energy prices, we don’t blame Anthony Albanese or the Labor Government for those factors which are clearly beyond their control. But what is in their control is how they respond to them. When we were in government, we responded with the fuel price release at that time that oil prices were surging. We responded with targeted payments to pensioners and others on fixed incomes. We had the type of comprehensive response to help Australians with those cost of living pressures that we could see at the time of the March budget. Now since then things have only become more challenging in relation to areas of cost of living. Oil price spikes may have come off, but inflation has come up pressure in a range of other areas and this Government is not offering any clear plan to help Australians with those additional costs they’re facing right now.
Matthew Doran: Well, let’s pick up on the issue you’ve raised there about the fuel excise. That was a decision made by the former treasurer Josh Frydenberg ahead of the election, a temporary cut which is due to expire in the next couple of weeks. Do you think the government should be finding the money to extend it?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I think the government needs to, if they’re not doing that, be clear what the alternatives are. As I acknowledged before, the oil price spike seems to have come off. So when we put that in place, we did it as a temporary measure. Realising the real pressure point facing many Australian households at that time was the huge spike in oil prices flowing through to the petrol pump and giving them that relief for a six month period. That’s worked and it’s addressed that issue during this time. But other items have seen huge inflationary pressures applied to them and that’s where the government, if they’re going to let the oil price or the petrol excise cut expire, need to outline what the alternatives are that they’re going to do to help Australians with all of those other cost of living measures.
Matthew Doran: All things going by the usual cycle. I know an election is still two and a half years away, more than two and a half years away. But it seems like the position the Coalition is taking here is that the Government isn’t doing enough but not really presenting any alternative ideas as to what they could be doing.
Simon Birmingham: Well, they’re not even actually standing by some of the commitments they made at the last election. Anthony Albanese ran around pre-election, saying that Labor’s electricity policies would see Australians enjoy a $275 reduction in their household electricity bills. But he won’t repeat that statement anymore. He won’t stand by that promise anymore. So the promises that were made pre-election around easing cost of living around lowering electricity prices aren’t being lived up to or delivered upon at prison. The Government’s got obviously the next couple of weeks before the fuel excise cut comes to an end. They’ve got, of course, the time leading up to this budget, but they need to do something that demonstrates that they are actually honouring the commitments they made to the Australian people or else it will be right for people to accuse them of having broken promises and before the election created expectations that they are now failing to meet.
Matthew Doran: Just briefly, because we are vastly running out of time. The climate bill is in the Senate at the moment. The Government’s commitment to get 43% emissions reduction by 2030 enshrined into law. All of the attention on the Greens and the crossbench. No one’s talking about the Coalition here. Have you effectively dealt yourself out of climate discussions in Australia at the moment?
Simon Birmingham: Well, no, Matt. We’ll see when the Government brings forward tangible measures to actually reduce emissions. What discussions can occur around those. This bill is simply doing something that the Government’s already done. It’s already under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change committed Australia to a 43% reduction by 2030. That’s already been done. They’ve used executive powers to do it and that’s entirely their prerogative. I welcome higher ambition in reducing global emissions and Australia’s emissions as part of that effort. The legislation itself is not necessary to achieve that and the legislation itself also doesn’t do anything to actually reduce emissions, proposes no new policies or measures to reduce emissions. When the government does bring along those policies, then of course I trust that we will engage do so constructively seeking to see those emissions come down, but also again holding the government to account on its promises that reducing emissions will create more jobs, will help with the cost of living, will make Australian business stronger. They’re all things they said before the election when they were saying that they could achieve all of that together and that’s what we’ll be scrutinising their policies for.
Matthew Doran: Well, I guess the Government would argue that it is at least setting an investment parameter or sending a signal to the market about how climate policy is dealt with within this country. Would you concede that?
Simon Birmingham: Well as I said, the government’s already set the target, and not just in domestic policy. The government has set the target as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. They have lodged that higher target, done dusted, weeks if not months ago now without the need for this legislation. Which simply, in essence repeats what was done in terms of the actual formal setting of that target.
Matthew Doran: Simon Birmingham, we are out of time. Thank you for joining us.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Matt. My pleasure.