GILLIAN BRADFORD: Simon Birmingham, Mike Kelly, thank you very much for joining us…
GILLIAN BRADFORD: Simon Birmingham, do you think this is just ‘dodge a bullet’, that it’s inevitable rates will go up next month?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well Gillian, of course everybody is grateful to see interest rates kept on hold. We would hope that the banks will do their part and also keep interest rates at least on hold, but you do have to look into the detail of the RBA’s advice, they are warning that there are real interest rate pressures there, and they, along with Treasury and Finance, along with the IMF, along with so many economists and commentators, are highlighting the Government’s spending as a real pressure on interest rates into the future. Mike can talk about savings but the reality is that this Government will deliver the largest deficit in Australia’s history in this financial year. That’s a genuine pressure on interest rates and it’s one that the RBA, Treasury, Finance and others have highlighted, and the only way to address it is for the Government to tackle their reckless spending.
GILLIAN BRADFORD: Now of course both your Leaders are overseas at the moment. Simon Birmingham, was Tony Abbott right to cite jetlag in refusing Julia Gillard’s offer to accompany her on a trip to Afghanistan?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Gillian, there are a few facts that need to be better understood in relation to this story. I’m seeing some exaggerated media commentary around at present. Tony has a commitment to go to Afghanistan… plans are in place, the Prime Minister and the Government are aware that he has those plans. For reasons of his own schedule he chose not to go with the Prime Minister on her trip, but he will be going there very, very soon, the Government knows all about that, of course for security reasons those exact details aren’t released in advance, but the Coalition’s commitment, not only to Afghanistan but more importantly to our troops on the ground in Afghanistan, is beyond question and Tony will be there in the near future talking to those troops on the ground to make sure that he’s hearing firsthand their concerns, and indeed the Coalition of course has highlighted some of those concerns that we get from feedback from our personnel only in the last couple of weeks to make sure that those types of issues are addressed for the benefit of all personnel serving overseas.
GILLIAN BRADFORD: Simon Birmingham, do you see a point where we might be moving away from bipartisan support for Australia being in Afghanistan?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, I would certainly hope not, Gillian. The mission is important, it’s been critically important from day one, it’s important that we see it to a conclusion and a conclusion where we can leave Afghan forces in as strong a position as possible to secure their country, and most importantly of course to secure the rest of the world from the threat of terrorism that was emanating from Afghanistan when this mission began several years ago. It is important, though, that we see the right equipment delivered, the right troops deployed, and these are reasonable things for us to question along the way. Nobody wants to bring into a political debate the role of either the mission or especially our troops on the ground but I think it’s reasonable for people who get feedback… we saw it come into the public spotlight recently through newspapers… feedback from personnel on the ground who have concerns, that those issues are adequately addressed so that all Australians can be confident that our troops on the ground are getting everything they need to get the job done satisfactorily and, most importantly, safely.
GILLIAN BRADFORD: Simon Birmingham, both Tony Abbott and the Opposition Defence spokesman David Johnston have both this year talked about sending more troops to Afghanistan, is that a broad view within the Coalition, that we should in fact be increasing numbers there?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well it’s certainly a strongly held view within the Coalition that we should deploy the resources necessary to ensure that all of our troops are safe and that they have as many resources as are necessary to ideally get the job done in Afghanistan and within the area of operations that they’re working within. Now, obviously we’ll all be informed by the best advice from the senior levels of Defence and from the troops on the ground, and one of the benefits of Tony’s visit there, and obviously from the Prime Minister’s visit, is that they’ll all come away with direct commentary from those troops on the ground, and certainly I know that’s what Tony’s looking forward to from his visit, to be able to have the private conversations as well as the official briefings, to hear about the conditions and to make sure that in future commentary we are as well informed as possible to contribute constructively to the debate.
GILLIAN BRADFORD: Now the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to be released on Friday, you both have portfolio responsibilities in that area…
GILLIAN BRADFORD: Simon Birmingham, are you hearing regional communities are very worried about what’s going to happen on Friday?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Gillian, look, communities right throughout the Murray-Darling Basin have been doing it tough for not just months but years of course during the course of this drought and they are worried, genuinely worried, about what the Basin Plan will entail and what impact it will have on those communities and I understand those concerns. The uncertainty of what is in this Plan is driving lots of them and hopefully the opportunity to see the Authority’s thinking, the logic and what they’ve been working on, on Friday and the opportunity to comment on that and know the consultation process that is to come, will help the communities in starting to plan for their future under the new water management structure that is coming, but certainly we on the Coalition are fearful that the Government has not put the type of effort into considering the social and economic aspects of this Plan, that we envisaged back in 2007 when we started this process back in Government by passing the Water Act through the Parliament. Now hopefully, hopefully we’re wrong in that regard, we’ve heard some noises in the last couple of weeks from Ministers Crean and Burke, and we hope of course that social and economic factors have been considered in drafting the Plan, but only time will tell on Friday and obviously we’ll be taking a long, hard look at it, we’ll be holding the Government to account if they haven’t given the environment, the economy and the social factors for communities strong weighting throughout it and we’ll be encouraging of course all of those communities throughout the Basin to have their say and to ensure that all of their views are appropriately considered as this Plan is finalised over coming months.
GILLIAN BRADFORD: Simon Birmingham, Mike Kelly, thank you very much for joining us.
MIKE KELLY: Thanks Gillian, cheers Simon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Always a pleasure, thanks. Cheers Mike.