Topics: Prime Minister Sogavare visit; tax cuts; Essendon decision; Tina McQueen;

6 October 2022



Patricia Karvelas: The tiny country of the Solomons caused a diplomatic stir earlier this year that was felt as far as Washington, Beijing and Canberra. The cause of the alarm was the security pact that the Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, signed with China. It led to concerns that Beijing might establish a military outpost in the Pacific. Now the Solomons leader is on his way to Canberra and today will meet the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, the Foreign Minister Penny Wong and the Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles. Simon Birmingham is the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister and joins us this morning. Simon Birmingham, welcome.


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


Patricia Karvelas: Your government was criticised for dropping the ball when it came to the Solomons. The Solomons signed the security pact back in April when Scott Morrison was prime minister. Do you acknowledge that this meeting is a positive sign?


Simon Birmingham: Well certainly all dialogue is positive. Patricia. I don’t accept all of the premise in your question there. It’s worth pointing out that the very first international trip taken after the last election prior, by Scott Morrison, was indeed to the Solomon Islands, and that engagement there was constant. Nonetheless, this dialogue is welcome and I welcome Prime Minister Sogavare to Australia. It’s an important time. He has repeatedly emphasised that Australia is the preferred security partner of choice for the Solomon Islands. He said that the previous government, he says that to this Government as well, that is also welcome. And so, the opportunity for dialogue presented by this visit is a very welcome one.


Patricia Karvelas: Since that visit. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare criticised Australia for offering to help fund their national elections, which he has controversially delayed, describing it as an assault on the nation’s democracy. You raised some questions about the public nature of that offer. Do you think those issues have been resolved? And is this visit a sign that that sentiment has perhaps changed?


Simon Birmingham: Look, it’s a matter for Prime Minister Sogavare to discuss in terms of his feelings or attitudes on such matters. I’m pleased that he’s coming to Australia. This visit has been mooted for some time and it’s good that he has followed through with it. It comes off the back of his visit to the United States as part of the delegation of Pacific Island leaders who met with President Biden in the US. And so, this is a good range of international dialogue he’s engaging in. It’s very disappointing that the Solomon Islands chose to delay their elections and disappointing at the way in which Australia has offered to provide support for them to be held on time was not able to be executed in a successful manner. However, there are many issues to continue to work with the Prime Minister and the Solomon Islands on, and it’s only fit and proper that Australia seek to get on with all of those issues.


Patricia Karvelas: Were you invited to meet with Prime Minister Sogavare?


Simon Birmingham: Oh, look, not on this occasion. But that wouldn’t necessarily always be the case. This is a working visit, as I understand it. And that’s obviously what he will get down to business with, with the government of the day.


Patricia Karvelas: Just turning to another issue, the budget will be revealed later this month. We’re seeing a lot of back and forth on the future of the stage three tax cuts. And of course, economic conditions have changed. One of your colleagues, Bridget Archer, is raising concerns and says that if conditions change, governments need to look at that. Isn’t she right?


Simon Birmingham: The government always have to look at the budget of the day. But conditions haven’t changed that significantly since the election just a few months ago-


Patricia Karvelas: But hang on, I have to stop you on that one. They, actually, that’s not the case. We’re told that they have dramatically changed, in fact, and the world is on the cusp of a potential recession. So there has been a change.


Simon Birmingham: Patricia, you certainly don’t go hiking interest rates up if you say you’re on the cusp of a potential recession. But in Australia’s case, let’s be very clear. The government, now elected, went to the last election with Anthony Albanese and Jim Chalmers saying again and again that they would honour the legislated tax cuts. Now, in the time since we have seen in Australia interest rate rises, yes, but those were talked about prior to the election. You will remember that we see an Australian economy though that continues to perform very strongly. We saw the final budget outcome for last year. If you want to talk about changes that saw the budget deficit come in far, far lower than had been expected, it came in, in fact lower than all but one of the budget deficits from the Rudd-Gillard years at just 1.4% of GDP. So we’ve got a budget that’s in a much stronger position than had been previously forecast. We’ve got an economy that remains in Australia in a strong position and a government that had promised to deliver on these tax cuts and any erosion of that would be a clear breach of that promise by Anthony Albanese to the Australian people.


Patricia Karvelas: Is Essendon’s decision to force Andrew Thorburn to resign because of his leadership position in the city on the Hill Church, an example in your view of religious discrimination?


Simon Birmingham: I can’t say that I followed those issues too closely, Patricia. But from afar, the handling of it all looks look somewhat ham-fisted.


Patricia Karvelas: But does it look like religious discrimination?


Simon Birmingham: Patricia, as I said, I haven’t followed the issues closely. I think I think there appear to be many questions that I can understand people are asking about them. But I’m not an AFL commentator and I haven’t sat down to look closely at the issues.


Patricia Karvelas: No, no, but on the principles, because it is a really important story. I think on the principle-


Simon Birmingham: So is the amount of tax Australians pay, Patricia.


Patricia Karvelas: Both are.


Simon Birmingham: So is Prime Minister Sogavare visit to Australia.


Patricia Karvelas: All three are. Okay, we can go through this. But this is my question-


Simon Birmingham: And as Shadow Foreign Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. I follow those issues more closely than I do employment decisions of the AFL.


Patricia Karvelas: Okay. Let me ask you this then on another issue I know you’ve been following. You’ve called comments by New South Wales Liberal Party vice President Tina McQueen celebrating the defeat of moderates at the election offensive and disloyal. Should she resign?


Simon Birmingham: Yes, that would be a far better thing for her to do if she doesn’t want to support endorsed Liberal candidates, sitting Liberals MPs. Then she shouldn’t be sitting around the federal executive table of the Liberal Party.


Patricia Karvelas: If she doesn’t resign, what do you do?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I certainly won’t be supporting her re-election if she can contest the position again.


Patricia Karvelas: Well, you’re a moderate, so that makes sense. Like for anyone who knows the sort of factions and they do exist in your party, too. So, of course, you won’t be supporting her. But if she is successful again, how do you go forward with a vice president of your party who doesn’t actually believe that some of your MP should have, should have won actually wants them not to be in the parliament?


Simon Birmingham: Well that’s why I think she should reflect upon her position and that her position is untenable.


Patricia Karvelas: Have you talked to Peter Dutton about it?


Simon Birmingham: I won’t go into my private conversations there. But my position I’ve just made very clear and it is well known.


Patricia Karvelas: What problems does it cause you to have her there?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Patricia, I don’t think it causes any day-to-day issues. The problem, though, that the team has shown is, is of course, that she talks too widely about these sorts of views and obviously isn’t willing to support the broad church approach that, as John Howard has emphasised time and time again, is what has made the Liberal Party so successful over the years.


Patricia Karvelas: There are some that are saying that those seats, the so-called teal seats, are no longer winnable for the Liberal Party. Can you win government without those seats?


Simon Birmingham: But, Patricia, my view is that we’ve got to appeal to a broad base of voters to be able to win. That’s pretty clear based on how we’ve constructed majorities in the past. And so, I don’t look per say at Teal seats as such. There are seats like Bennelong that we lost, seats like Higgins, that we lost to the Labor Party, seats that we lost to the Greens in Brisbane. We have to make sure we’re in a position to win seats back off of Labor and the Greens as well as the Teals if we are to form a majority government in the future.


Patricia Karvelas: Simon Birmingham, thank you so much for joining us this morning.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Patricia. My pleasure.