Topics: Ministerial appoints; Solicitor-General report;


09:42AM AEST



Michael Rowland: Get back to our top story, that wide ranging inquiry to look into Scott Morrison’s multiple ministries. Simon Birmingham, the former finance minister in the Morrison government, now the Opposition Leader in the Senate, joins us from Canberra Airport. Simon Birmingham, good morning. Thanks for joining us.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Michael. Good to be with you.


Michael Rowland: It’s great to have you. Do you agree that the former prime minister undermined the principles of responsible government?


Simon Birmingham: Michael, I think Scott Morrison, like all of us, frankly, did some things right and some things wrong. Clearly here he made some mistakes in relation particularly to the secrecy around these administrative arrangements elsewhere when it came to saving jobs, securing businesses, saving lives, making our country more secure. He got many, many things right. And on the whole, I think his legacy deserves to be remembered for those things he got right. But on these administrative arrangements, yes, he made mistakes. He got them wrong. And clearly changes should be made in accordance with the advice from the Solicitor-General to prevent that from happening again.


Michael Rowland: And just on the Solicitor-General. Do you agree with the solicitor general’s finding that Scott Morrison undermined the principles of responsible government? Very strong words.


Simon Birmingham: They are strong words. I think the solicitor general’s done a fair and thorough job. I don’t dispute his findings. As I just said. I think that his ultimate recommendations, that there should be some provisions put in place in a legal way to ensure that such administrative arrangements in the future are always transparent and in public is something the government should act on and something that we should support them acting on.


Michael Rowland: The new government is setting up this inquiry into what went on. Should the former prime minister step up and take part in that inquiry, in your view?


Simon Birmingham: Well, as long as it’s a fair inquiry. Yes, of course he should. But what really matters here is that the issues raised are responded to in a way that prevents them from happening in a way in future that could cause harm. Let’s remember here that Scott Morrison, aside from one instance in relation to a gas licence approval, didn’t exercise any of the powers. What of course, would be a threat in future if somebody were to both take on these sorts of extended responsibilities and exercise them in ways that lacked transparency. So that’s why the government should first and foremost be acting on the advice it has now received from the Solicitor General, and I’d be calling on them to do so.


Michael Rowland: Okay. Do you agree with your colleague, Stuart Robert, that this inquiry or Labor is engaging in a witch hunt, his words, against Scott Morrison?


Simon Birmingham: Look, let’s see how far this goes in terms of the inquiry and the other pursuit by the government. Some of the language from the Government has been a little over the top in terms of the way in which they’ve sought to personalise or attack this. At times, Anthony Albanese sounded like he’s enjoying being the opposition leader again, and that’s not to underplay the important principles at stake here. There are important principles at stake and I’ve been clear in my language this morning that mistakes were made, it was wrong, and changes should be made to ensure it doesn’t happen again. But the government should be getting on with focusing on helping Australians with the cost of living, of ensuring that they respond to the many different challenges both domestically and internationally we face. And they certainly shouldn’t be distracted by continuing to try to drag over the former Prime Minister’s actions when there are many pressing issues that Australians face day to day at present.


Michael Rowland: Okay, when you say Scott Morrison did make mistakes. Should he apologise to the Australian public?


Simon Birmingham: Look, that’s a matter for him as to how he wants to conduct himself-


Michael Rowland: Would you like him to as a colleague, a former senior colleague of his?


Simon Birmingham: Look, I’m sure many people would welcome the same type of acknowledgement as I’ve just made in relation to the fact that it was a mistake. Now, I think when we go back and look, particularly at the time that he took on those administrative arrangements in relation to the health portfolio right at the start of COVID, many people would understand the extraordinary circumstances at the time, the extraordinary decisions being taken at the time to close our international borders, the restrictions that were being imposed across Australia and on Australians, and that of course other extraordinary arrangements such as this might have been justified at that time, but they should have been made transparent and public. And that’s the real crux of the findings from the Solicitor-General. That’s where the failings were found in relation to where he says there was a breakdown in relation to responsible and accountable government and that’s why the Government should act now on his recommendations.


Michael Rowland: Well the Government is. But I’ll ask that question again. Simon Birmingham You don’t think Scott Morrison should come out and say I’m sorry to Australians?


Simon Birmingham: I’m not going to give him gratuitous advice about how to behave. As I said, I think it would be welcomed by many, but that’s up to him.


Michael Rowland: Would it be welcomed by you?


Simon Birmingham: Sure. Sure. Indeed. But look, I’m not, as I say, about to go in the process of offering gratuitous advice about what he should or shouldn’t say. He’s done a detailed press conference. He’s made public statements. And as I said before, he deserves to be remembered for many things he got right in terms of saving Australian lives during the pandemic, protecting and growing Australian jobs, growing the number of Australian businesses, making our country more secure in a range of ways. Through the AUKUS agreement, through the strengthening of the Quad, elevating it to leadership dialogue level, through a range of different investments and approaches that were taken which have left Australia in a far stronger position coming out of the pandemic than many other nations. But with many of those challenges from around the globe, such as, of course, the inflationary pressures caused by the war in Ukraine and the like, and they’re the things the new government really needs to make sure its efforts are focused on.


Michael Rowland: Simon Birmingham, I really appreciate you enduring the Canberra chill to have a chat to us this morning.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Michael. Almost my pleasure, but definitely chilly.


Michael Rowland: Thanks for your time. You’re always welcome. Simon Birmingham. Thank you.