KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me now from Brisbane, Liberal frontbencher Senator Simon Birmingham. Senator Birmingham, thanks for your time. A lot to discuss this Tuesday morning… I want to start with the… one of the things that Brendan O’Connor referred to… it’s in The Daily Telegraph newspaper about a Liberal candidate’s off-colour website. He’s the candidate for Charlton, Greg Combet’s former seat. He’s apparently…this gentleman has removed, taken down, the personal website after it was revealed it had posted hundreds of lewd jokes about women and had links to pornography. Should Mr Abbott sack him?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Kieran, good morning. I haven’t seen the website in question. My understanding is the candidate has apologised; the website has been taken down – I’m sure that’s the appropriate course of action.
KIERAN GILBERT: Now, Kevin Rudd dumped one of his candidates in Melbourne, in the seat of Hotham. That was over comments made over a decade ago. This is a website shut down in recent times, apparently, according to The Tele. Should Mr Abbott act in this regard?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Kieran, as I said, my understanding is the candidate has apologised; the website’s been taken down – I’m sure that’s been the appropriate course of action to be taken.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, well, we’ll hear from Tony Abbott a bit more on that a bit later this morning. When it comes to the paid parental leave scheme, Senator Birmingham, it doesn’t look like it’s got a lot of friends. In the Coalition, the Nationals are threatening to vote against it… some are threatening to vote against it or use it as a bargaining chip to get more money for the bush when in government. They’re not big fans of it. Economists, as well, questioning its productivity impact.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Kieran, Barnaby Joyce has been out this morning making it very clear that he supports Coalition policy and this, of course, is a very positive Coalition policy. Tony Abbott is at his most persuasive and best in selling this policy because it is good for the working women of Australia, it’s good for small business, it’s good for all business and, of course, what we will see is an economic dividend from increased productivity; what we’ll see is that working women will be paid a real wage when they are having maternity leave.
KIERAN GILBERT: Isn’t it a regressive tax, as Brendan O’Connor argued?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Quite the opposite – this is a very progressive tax and, look, if you listen to Brendan O’Connor, what you would think is that he’s going back to arguing for the old-style Baby Bonus where everyone just gets a fixed payment and that’s the end of the equation. What we have here is a real, real paid parental leave scheme – one that actually pays people what their working wage is when they’re on parental leave. That’s how sick leave works; that’s how holiday leave works; that’s how parental leave should work…
KIERAN GILBERT: Colin Barnett’s not convinced… the WA Premier… he says he’s not going to chip in. Your scheme is going to rely on the states to for part of it with some employees moving from state systems to the federal system but Colin Barnett’s not buying it.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Colin Barnett’s office has been in touch overnight and got clarification in terms of the policy and my understanding is they’re completely supportive of the policy as it’s laid out and that is, of course, that it will support what they’re currently paying to state taxpayers in Western Australia towards, of course, the cost of this scheme. That’s exactly as it’s budgeted for, that’s why the Parliamentary Budget Office has ticked off on this – the independent Parliamentary Budget Office – fully costed, fully budgeted and a great leap forward and a great advance for the working women of Australia.
KIERAN GILBERT: It might be fully costed but we don’t have all of the detail out there. There were some headline numbers put out but not all of the detail. Why not release the full Parliamentary Budget Office costings?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Kieran, all of the costings will, of course, be duly released, in full time, during the course of this campaign. We have had this policy costed…
KIERAN GILBERT: But it raises doubt about the scheme, then, if you don’t have it out there.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We have had this policy costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office. It is fully funded in that regard. We have obviously gone through the difficult decision of saying you’ve got to put…
KIERAN GILBERT: Well, release it, then, because if it’s fully funded… you know you’re opening the opportunity for the other side… you heard Brendan O’Connor saying ‘Where are the cuts going to come from? Where will you find the money? It’s an expensive scheme.’
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Kieran, it’s amazing the way the Labor Party attacks these things. On the one hand, they attack us for saying there will be a levy on the top companies to actually fund this and then, on the other hand, they attack us and say it’s not funded. It is funded. We’ve made the difficult decision of saying there will have to be a levy on some companies to pay for this very progressive, very forward looking policy of Tony Abbott’s. That is, of course, us taking the responsible action. Where we’re committing to something, we’re taking the difficult decisions of how it will be funded. This whole debate of the Labor Party’s is quite remarkable. They claim that there is a lack of funding detail from the Opposition, on the one hand, but then, on the other hand, they attack us for announcing there’ll be reduced public service jobs and attack us for announcing that we won’t maintain the Schoolkids Bonus. The Labor Party can’t have this scare campaign both ways. The truth is: we are outlining, as we go through this campaign, difficult decisions to bring the Budget back under control and progressive policies to put Australia on the right track again and all of this is outlined in very clear terms for the Australian public to judge.
KIERAN GILBERT: Joe Hockey confirmed last night that the Coalition was quarantining Education and Health, along with Defence which we’ve known for some time, so you’re quarantining some of the biggest spending portfolios. Where does the money come from for the rest of your commitments, let alone the fact that you’re saying that the Budget bottom line will be better than it is under Labor?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Kieran, go back as far as Tony Abbott’s Budget Reply speech earlier this year where he outlined some $17 billion worth of budget savings – $17 billion and the Labor Party keeps running a scare campaign around some of those. They keep running a scare campaign on the one hand and then saying, in another scare campaign, ‘but it’s unbudgeted or uncosted’. Well, you can’t have it both ways. The truth is: the details are out there and they have been outlined and what, of course, we’re seeing, though, is just that Labor’s campaign is built on lies and false premises. I mean, Kevin Rudd is relying entirely on policies that are false; on promises that are false; on ads that are false – containing actors; he’s even had to bus in false bowlers to do a stunt at a lawn bowls club. I mean, it’s quite a remarkable campaign of lies and falsehoods from Mr Rudd.
KIERAN GILBERT: In Queensland, the big focus there this week – the People’s Forum, the debate tomorrow night… there were suggestions Labor were hopeful of picking up a handful of seats in Queensland. What’s your sense of the political equation where you’re spending some time right now, in Brisbane and further afield?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Kieran, I’m looking forward later today to getting into the electorate of Forde, where Labor parachuted in their high-profile, recycled recruit of Peter Beattie, who I understand’s gone missing in action in the electorate he’s meant to be contesting. He’s hundreds of kilometres away from an electorate that Kevin Rudd says is so important for him to win, so you do have to wonder what chaos is going on in the Labor campaign but that’s really a matter for the Labor Party. What we’re focused on is running a positive agenda in this election. That’s why we have policies like Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme; that’s why we’re focused on things that boost productivity, create jobs across the economy. It is a marked contrast to the falsehoods and lies and scare campaign that Kevin Rudd is running.
KIERAN GILBERT: In terms of the People’s Forum, though, it’s a head-to-head debate, questions from the floor, a hundred undecided voters… often takes the Leaders off the script a bit. It’s a risky moment as well as an opportunity for both Leaders, isn’t it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Kieran, Kevin Rudd had to be dragged effectively kicking and screaming to do this forum. Tony Abbott was the one who went out very early in this campaign and said ‘let’s do two of these people’s forums during the course of the campaign; let’s give the people the opportunity to ask questions, not just the Canberra press gallery journalists’, so I’m delighted that this is happening. I look forward to seeing Tony Abbott front the people’s forum in this campaign and I just find it hard to believe that Kevin Rudd was so reluctant to go and deal with real people but, then again, if he can’t even deal with real lawn bowlers, it’s little wonder that he’s unwilling to deal with real voters in such a format
KIERAN GILBERT: Now, he’s agreed to this, though, and what he was arguing is that he wanted Tony Abbott to do more, so it wasn’t a reticence; rather, a keenness to have more debates.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, no, what Kevin Rudd was arguing was he wanted more debates tightly controlled by the Canberra press gallery, run by TV networks. Tony Abbott was advocating the type of forum that is happening in Brisbane, where we actually will engage with real voters and this is the direct contrast here. Day in, day out in this campaign – whether it’s on factory floors talking about jobs and the economy, whether it’s in shopping malls, whether it’s talking to working mothers – Tony Abbott is engaging with real voters. Kevin Rudd is hiring fake actors to appear in his ads, running a fake scare campaign and turning up to lawn bowls clubs and not talking to the local lawn bowlers but bussing in bowlers from elsewhere who are paid up members of the Labor Party. I mean, this is a Prime Minister running scared from real Australians.
KIERAN GILBERT: They’re not really fake actors, are they? They’re just actors, but anyway… okay…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, they’re actors running paid lines on behalf of the Labor Party.
KIERAN GILBERT: Senator Birmingham, appreciate your time from Brisbane…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It’s not great acting, either, I’d have to say.
KIERAN GILBERT: Thanks very much for that.