Doorstop interview, Adelaide
December jobs data; Cabinet processes; Australia Day; Centrelink

Simon Birmingham: Thanks very much for coming along today. My colleague, the Employment Minister Michaelia Cash is on leave this week, so it’s my pleasure to speak on behalf of the Government regarding today’s labour force statistics. And of course, jobs and job creation are a top priority for the Turnbull Government and the responsibility of every single member of our Government. 

Employment statistics do of course bounce around from month to month, and should always be taken over a longer-term perspective. But it is notable today to see that we have continued jobs growth across the Australian economy, that our seasonally adjusted growth for employment has seen growth of 13,500, creating a record high level of employment around Australia of nearly 12 million Australians. We’ve seen growth of around 90,000 full-time jobs over the last few months, as well as total employment, total male employment, total female employment all reaching record highs. These are good, encouraging figures. Continued growth of jobs across Australia demonstrates our economy is showing resilience and that our plans are delivering more job opportunities for more Australians. This is particularly important as we continue our transition beyond the mining boom.

Creating more jobs, of course, is a key priority of our Government, but it is also the responsibility of the parliament and of the Opposition to support us in our efforts to create more jobs. The Turnbull Government has clear plans to support jobs growth around Australia. Our enterprise tax plans will provide, this year alone, tax cuts for around three million small Australian businesses. This is an opportunity to make Australian business more competitive, to spur more investment in Australian business, to create more jobs growth in the future. It’s coupled with our plans and our work to create more opportunities for export by Australian business, more markets, more places to sell our goods and services. And of course, those opportunities are cemented through the delivery of trade deals and trade opportunities, including opportunities like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. 

These types of plans, coupled with participation plans such as our Youth Pathways Program, all of them come together to create more opportunities and more support to get Australians into more jobs. While the Turnbull Government has clear plans for jobs creation, unfortunately Bill Shorten and the Labor Party stand for opposition alone: opposition to our tax cuts, opposition to trade deals, opposition to budget savings. This is not the way to support jobs growth in the Australian economy. To ensure that we continue to grow off of our record levels of nearly 12 million jobs around Australia, it is critical that the Labor Party support our efforts to make Australian business, Australian investment more competitive to create more jobs in the future.

Question: Unemployment has risen slightly nationally. What do you put that down to?

Simon Birmingham: Well we do see, as I said, slight variances from month to month. We’ve seen a 0.1 per cent increase in the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate; equally we’ve seen a 0.1 per cent increase in the participation rate. And so more Australians in December were of course engaged in the labour force, looking for work and participating in work. Importantly, as I said, jobs growth has continued and we do have that record level of nearly 12 million Australians in jobs now, a record level of total employment, a record level for male employment, a record level for female employment, and continued growth over the last few months, particularly in relation to full-time employment. So that’s all encouraging, but there’s a job to continue to be done and we’re very focussed on doing that.

Question: Were there no traditional cabinet processes under Tony Abbott’s leadership as Malcolm Turnbull has suggested?

Simon Birmingham: Well I wasn’t a member of the cabinet, but I do know that Malcolm Turnbull has – as a cabinet minister since I’ve been there in the Turnbull Government – Malcolm Turnbull has run a very traditional, effective cabinet process, consultative, engaging, and that is demonstrating that we can actually get on with the job while adhering to proper processes. 

Question: Did Arthur Sinodinos restore traditional cabinet processes that weren’t there previously when he was installed as Cabinet Secretary? 

Simon Birmingham: Arthur Sinodinos did a lot of great work as Cabinet Secretary to put in place cabinet processes very reflective of the Howard years, which of course ensure you can have good, stable, steady decision-making, which is essential to good running of Government. 

Question: Is Tony Abbott distracting from the Government’s agenda by lashing out at Turnbull over Twitter?

Simon Birmingham: Every member of the parliament, including every member of the government, should be focussed on what it is we can do to best advance Australia’s interests, to best ensure the creation of jobs in Australia, and that’s certainly the focus of Malcolm Turnbull and every member of his ministry.

Question: What do you make of the emergence of a splinter Green group that’s calling for people to burn the Australian flag in the lead up to Australia Day?

Simon Birmingham: Australia Day is a day where we should celebrate all that is great about Australia, all that we have accomplished as a nation, and all that we can continue to accomplish as a nation. I utterly condemn those who want to denigrate Australia Day, who want to talk down our country. We are one of the most successful nations on earth, enjoying one of the best standards of living, providing one of the most harmonious cultures and societies, and it is absolutely critical that as a nation we come together on Australia Day, we celebrate all that we’ve done well, and we recommit to do even better in the future.

Question: Australia lost 50,000 jobs last year. How is the Government going to claw those jobs back?

Simon Birmingham: Well Australia actually saw jobs growth over the last year. We see continued growth in jobs, and employment levels in Australia stand at nearly 12 million jobs around Australia – a record level in total, a record level for male employment, a record level for female employment.

Question: Is the Government expecting job losses in the back half of this year?

Simon Birmingham: The Government is absolutely focussed on how we continue to create new jobs right around Australia, and that’s why we have clear policies to do so, unlike our political opponents in the Labor Party. That’s why we urge the parliament, and particularly the Labor Party, to get on board with our company tax plans that will deliver tax breaks this year to around three million Australian small businesses. I mean, Bill Shorten is an embarrassment to the Labor Party and Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, all of whom saw the merit in making Australia as competitive as possible. The Turnbull Government has plans to make Australia more competitive, and we urge the Labor Party to support us because that’s how we can continue to grow more jobs and create them even faster in the future.

Question: South Australia’s unemployment level is still one of the highest in the nation. As a South Australian MP, what do you make of that and what do you see as the way forward for us?

Simon Birmingham: Well I see today, with Mike Baird making the announcement of his resignation, the success that the Coalition governments of Barry O’Farrell and Mike Baird have had in New South Wales, where they’ve managed to generate and sustain the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. And yet, Jay Weatherill, who has been a member of the cabinet since 2002 with the Labor Government here in South Australia and the Premier for five years now, sits the nation atop the list of unemployment statistics. That’s disappointing. 

We’re working hard to try to create the right environment across Australia for jobs growth, and as a Federal Government, of course through our defence industry plans; we’re investing significantly here in South Australia to create the opportunities for more jobs growth in the future. But we do need to see a state government far more focussed on creating the best possible environment for jobs generation, far more akin to what we’ve seen the success of under Barry O’Farrell and Mike Baird in New South Wales than sadly has been the case here under Labor since 2002.

Question: Speaking of Mike Baird, what legacy do you think he leaves behind?

Simon Birmingham: Well Mike Baird leaves a much stronger New South Wales economy, a state that is delivering vast levels of investment in infrastructure that is positioning to set itself up well for the future. I wish Mike every success. It takes a lot of courage to decide to go at a time of your own choosing, and Mike Baird of course now stands as one of those politicians who has been able to do that, to call it a day himself. And he, together with Barry O’Farrell, have a good strong legacy in place for New South Wales that I’m confident, with the depth of talent that exists in the Liberal Party in New South Wales, will continue for many years into the future.

Question: What’s needed to pick up the pace of jobs growth?

Simon Birmingham: Well what we want to see is of course our enterprise tax plan implemented. We have policies and plans there that we need to get through the parliament, and the best thing for the nation would be for the Labor Party to go back to the ways of Hawke and Keating, and to say we support making Australia a more competitive place to invest. We want to lower tax here in this country and make it a better place, especially for small and medium-sized businesses, and if the Labor Party came on board, gave that certainty that the Turnbull Government’s tax plans would pass the parliament, that would be a real shot in the arm for Australian business.

Question: Is Australia at risk of more low jobs growth if Labor doesn’t help pass these measures?

Simon Birmingham: Well we hope that we can get the measures passed through the parliament, and of course we’ll work with any parties in the parliament to see our policies implemented. But the best possible thing would be for Bill Shorten to stop being a man of the last century and start being a man for 2017 and actually adopt the type of attitudes, looking to the future that Bob Hawke and Paul Keating had when they were in power, of making Australia more competitive, a better place in which to invest. The Turnbull Government’s outlined those plans, we’ll be bringing them to the parliament and we want to see the support from Labor, which could be a real shot in the arm for Australian business to have that certainty knowing that our tax plans will be put in place.

Question: Just a question on the Centrelink robo-debt issue. Why is the Government trying to stop whistle-blowers? Are they trying to stop the truth from coming out?

Simon Birmingham: Well there’s no attempt to stop whistle-blowers. We in fact have quite strong protections in place for whistle-blowers. But the issue here is one of making sure that every government dollar provided is provided in the right, legitimate circumstances. We have in place a proper process that ensures if there appears to be a discrepancy in data reported by the Tax Office to what individuals are reporting to Centrelink, they’re asked to clarify that discrepancy. It’s a simple process, and debts of course are only then raised if they’re unable to explain and clarify that, and if there appears to be a real issue in terms of overpayments.

Question: When will the Government admit that the robo-debt scheme is faulty?

Simon Birmingham: Well what we actually have is a proper process in place where people are asked to clarify if there are doubts in relation to the authenticity of what they have claimed. And clarification is a pretty simple thing, and of course if you’re in receipt of government payments then it’s not an unreasonable thing to expect to be asked to demonstrate that you are entitled to those payments.
Thanks everybody.