Date: Tuesday, 15 March 2022

MH17; Fuel excise; Cost of living; Labor marginal seat spending;

Lisa Millar:  Senator Birmingham, the Finance Minister thanks for joining us.


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


Lisa Millar: Look, there’s a couple of issues kicking around. We have been talking about the cost of living. I’ll get to that in a second. I do want to touch on the MH17 decision. Given that Russia is showing no signs of abiding by international law on so many different levels, especially with this invasion of Ukraine. Why now with this action and what is it possibly going to achieve?


Simon Birmingham: Well, we have worked tirelessly with the Netherlands in particular and with other nations to build the strongest possible case against both individuals and Russia as a country in relation to their role in the downing of MH17. Now, through the Dutch courts, you’ve got proceedings that have been running against individuals. We had engaged in 2018 with the process following findings against Russia in terms of their involvement of negotiations. They walked away from those negotiations in 2020, and so we’ve been working with the Netherlands about where we take it from here. By going through this process of action in the International Civil Aviation Organisation, we are able to pursue a pathway where ultimately, if our case is upheld, Russia, if they don’t come to the table and negotiate a potential compensation for families and victims, could find that their voting rights, their participation in this organisation is suspended. That basically means they’re no longer able to influence the international laws and rules that are set in relation to aviation. And so it is important in terms of the pursuit of justice, the pursuit of the truth, in terms of the outcomes here and showing a willingness to hold those who are committed this atrocity to account.


Lisa Millar: All right. Simon Birmingham on the cost of living issue, which is front of mind for so many Australians, we’ve learnt that New Zealand is cutting its fuel excise, halving public transport costs for the next three months. Is that a good idea?


Simon Birmingham: Lisa, we have a federal budget we’re handing down two weeks today. Now, in framing that federal budget, we’re working very carefully in terms of making sure we manage all of the different issues there. Those issues are, of course, a complex global environment. The war in Europe, as we were just discussing, the continued challenges of recovering from COVID-19, the inflationary pressures right around the world. When it comes to fuel prices Australians, I think, understand and know that it’s been driven by Russia’s horrific actions against Ukraine and the disruptions that’s caused globally. It’s not a factor caused here in Australia. But in terms of the priorities for Australia, it’s about keeping our economic growth going, keeping jobs growth going, not adding to any pressures that inflation is causing on interest rates. And we will, of course, continue to look at how we help Australians with cost of living as we have done in terms of energy and electricity price reforms that have driven electricity prices down by 8 per cent-


Lisa Millar: But you’re going to have to come up with something else. Aren’t you in the budget? I mean, people are really feeling the pressure. They’re really hurting now. It’s only going to get worse. So what are the options?


Simon Birmingham: As a Liberal National Government, we look in every budget to see how we can reduce pressures on Australians by cutting taxes, which we’ve done, we’ve cut taxes for small business-


Lisa Millar: So that’s a possibility? Tax relief options-


Simon Birmingham: We’ve cut income taxes. We assess all of these things in every budget, Lisa. Now, I’m not going to give speculation to any particular measure because we have to carefully weigh a very complex global environment. We want to make sure we do nothing that jeopardises that continue jobs growth we’ve had in Australia. 1.7 million extra jobs that have been created under our Government. We don’t want to do anything that further adds to the pressure in relation to interest rates and the inflationary environment, either. But we will, of course, always look carefully at how we can help Australians. Our income tax cuts are currently putting about $1.5 billion a month extra into the pockets of Australian households that means for someone earning about-


Lisa Millar: Well that’s been eaten up though hasn’t it by inflation? And the cost of fuel going up. You talk about those tax cuts, but they have been eaten up.


Simon Birmingham: Lisa, I’m pretty sure that every Australian family would rather have that if you’re earning about $90,000 a year, extra $50 a week to deal with those cost of living pressures than have not had that. So the fact that we delivered those income tax cuts and this is one of the hallmark differences between a Liberal government and a Labor government, we will always look for those opportunities to cut taxes and to put more back into the pockets of Australians against a Labor Party who historically and certainly at the last election, went with a much higher taxing agenda that would have made this environment so much harder for Australians.


Lisa Millar: The latest Newspoll this morning shows that voters trust Scott Morrison less than they did a few months ago, and in fact, he’s the least trusted prime minister since they started asking that question of people in this survey in 2008. That wouldn’t make happy reading for you and your coalition colleagues this morning.


Simon Birmingham: Well, if people are reading the newspapers today, I’d encourage them to have a look at the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald, where they’ll see that Anthony Albanese has actually been on a spending binge across marginal electorates around Australia. This is the exact opposite of what he and the Labor Party have been saying for the last two to three years. They’ve been out there saying that grants shouldn’t be determined on whether or not a seat is a marginal electorate. He’s clearly been lying when he’s been saying that. Anthony Albanese has been speaking with a forked tongue. And what we can see in terms of that $750 million plus spending binge by Labor in marginal seats is rank hypocrisy of the highest order.


Lisa Millar: Well, Catherine King has said, Labour’s Catherine King has said that all those promises are going to go to the Infrastructure Department for review for the merits. Given the scathing audits that the Coalition has faced, you face scathing audits of your own grants and promises. Shouldn’t you have offered to do the same?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Lisa, that is earth shattering news, I suspect, to communities who have had Anthony Albanese stand in their electorate in the last couple of months and say a Labor government will deliver this new swimming pool or a Labor government will deliver this new piece of community infrastructure. He hasn’t put an asterisk next to it and said subject to a review. So I think the Labor Party needs to clarify are these local promises real local promises they will deliver to communities? Or are they just trying to lead local communities and voters in marginal seats up the garden path with promises that they don’t actually intend to deliver?


Lisa Millar: Simon Birmingham. We are in for quite an election campaign I suspect. Thanks for making yourself available this morning.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Lisa. My pleasure.