Topics: IA-CEPA; North South Road; Sturt pre-selection; efic legislation.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much for coming along to the magnificent hustle and bustle of the Adelaide Central Markets today. There are three three things that I wish to touch on first and foremost. Today of course is International Women’s Day. As the father of two young daughters I want them to grow up firstly believing there are no barriers to fulfilling their dreams and secondly, when they grow up, encountering no barriers to fulfilling their dreams. And if there’s one accomplishment of our government that I’m incredibly proud of it’s that female workforce participation in Australia stands at an all time high. That means more women, choosing and able to participate in our workforce as a proportion of the workforce than ever before in Australia. And that’s a good demonstration that we are succeeding in breaking down barriers. There are many more to go but it a great accomplishment and one we’re very proud. Can I also say that was one of the reasons we are creating more job opportunities is in relation to the opening up of trade right around the world that our government has managed to help Australia achieve. Export levels out of Australia are at an all time high. And in fact our exports are showing that we actually have. more exports and imports month after month after month. Last year was the first time since 1973 that we have actually seen exports outnumber imports each and every year, each and every month. Now of course, a key reason for that is because we have created new trade deals. Companies like Charlesworth Nuts behind me are taking advantage of those opportunities. Charlesworth Nuts is an 85 year old South Australian company, is exporting into Japan because of the Japan economic agreement and they now open to exploring exports into Indonesia because of the Indonesian economic agreement for which Australian nuts are going to get preferential access into the Indonesian economy, they’re the opportunities that we’ve created.
Lastly I note that Mr Shorten is in town today. Listening to Bill Shorten on 891 this morning, you’d be forgiven for thinking that he’s never driven along South Road. He was pretending like nothing’s happened along the South Road. Well I hope that when he visits South Road today he actually drives along the Torrens to Torrens Route that has been upgraded, that he heads down to the Darlington interchange and sees the opportunities that we are creating through massive infrastructure investment already. Our Government has committed an additional three billion dollars to the north south corridor whilst we’ve been in office and last year we made the announcement of one point two billion dollars for future priorities. It’s taken Mr Shorten nearly 12 months to match the announcement that we made last year. We’re committed to making sure. the north south corridor is fulfilled. We know that there will probably be additional support required to actually realise this. Mr Shorten doesn’t seem to be aware of that, because the final pieces are an enormous piece to be done. There are enormous complexities, we’re pleased to have a state Liberal Government now finally getting on with the job of doing the planning and the analysis and we know that they will put forward the projects specifically and in detail to be funded, when that analysis is complete. We’re already there, we’re already supporting, we have long been at the table and frankly it’s just Mr Shorten coming very late to the party when it comes to the north south corridor.
Journalist: Well at least, if there is a Federal Labor Government, it is committing at least.
Simon Birmingham: It’s taken Bill Shorten 12 months to make a commitment that we made in last year’s budget. South Australians should wonder if he’s that reluctant, it could take that long to come to the table, how enthusiastic will Bill Shorten be for the future. Where as we’ve demonstrated our commitment, you need only drive through the Darlington interchange and the enormous transformation of the road network that has occurred there, see the scale of investment in the. Liberal-National government has made and the difference it has made.
Journalist: I imagine Mr Shorten will today say well he’s got it in the forward estimates and so the money will come faster under his government than than yours. What would you say to that?
Simon Birmingham: Well Mr Shorten may say many things of course firstly South Australians should know that they’re going to be paying more taxes, retirees will be paying more taxes, homeowners will be paying more taxes, small businesses will be paying more taxes, just to pay for Bill Shorten’s promises. But secondly, you’ve got a question, there’s no planning behind this. He’s just throwing the money is out there, of course only playing catch up with a commitment, we have already made. Now when the South Australian Government puts through detailed plans for exactly what the next stages will be, you can be confident that we’ll be there because our track record demonstrates that. We’ve already committed to funding for the future, we’re already a partner in building today and we’ll be there in each and every one of the next stages.
Journalist: On another point what do you make of Malcolm Turnbull’s comments overnight? Are they bizarre?
Simon Birmingham: These are things that Malcolm has already said before there’s nothing new in those comments.
Journalist: Do you agree with him that perhaps the Liberal Party didn’t want him to win?
Simon Birmingham: Look Malcolm said these sorts of things before, there’s nothing to be gained by going over an analysis of them. The analysis that I’m going to focus on and the entire government team will focus on is absolutely about the future. And the future will be a contest at the next election between whether we can maintain policies that have created record levels of jobs growth, record female workforce participation or what the consequences of Bill Shorten’s higher taxes will be in terms of driving down job opportunities for young Australians, women, and everybody else.
Journalist: But Senator they are hardly helpful in the lead up to a federal election are they?
Simon Birmingham: Well they’re not new either.
Journalist: No but they are not helpful clearly?
Simon Birmingham: They are not new so I am not sure what the news value is?
Journalist: Senator, noting that you’re a leading moderate in the state, noting the ribbon on your chest, candidate nominations for your Liberal Party candidate for Sturt close today, are we looking at a case where you want a woman to run for Sturt but you won’t vote for one?
Simon Birmingham: I want as many people who are interested in putting themselves forward to run for Sturt. I see the Labor Party has announced their candidate Sturt today. What was the process in selecting Labor’s candidate? A few factional bosses sat in a closed room and decided who it was going to be. Whereas, the Liberal candidate will be chosen by hundreds of Liberal Party members who on the 23rd March will gather in the Sturt electorate, they’ll hear from the candidates, they’ll choose the best person for the job.
Journalist: It really does feel like a a one candidate is the clear frontrunner at this point and there are rumblings in your party that other people talented women aren’t getting a look in though?
Simon Birmingham: Well I’ve been through many Liberal Party preselections and I know how much each and every individual Liberal Party member values their say, their choice and they will make that choice. And unlike the Labor Party where it’s done in the backroom, we have no idea what process is used to actually select a candidate like Labor’s candidate for Sturt. Whereas I can tell you if you live in the Sturt electorate, if you live in the Sturt electorate and you’ve been a member for 12 months, then of course you’re going to get a say in the Liberal Party preselection, who the Liberal candidate is.
Journalist: Are you worried you might lose Sturt, now that you don’t have Christopher Pyne there?
Simon Birmingham: No, look we don’t take any seat forgranted but I am absolutely confident that we will preselect a candidate who has the skills and capabilities to work alongside me and Anne Ruston and Nicole Flint, Rowan Ramsey and David Fawcett, in making sure that we continue to fight for South Australia, get outcomes for South Australia such as investment in the north south corridor, which we have been doing well ahead of Bill Shorten and the Labor Party.
Journalist: Minister do you think Bill Shorten is just doing pre-election pork barrelling to win votes (indistinct)?
Simon Birmingham: I think Bill Shorten is 12 months late to the party. We made this promise in last year’s election and when the detailed plans come through we’ll be making sure the money flows.
Journalist: Minister on the Government’s plan to give efic more capital for infrastructure projects in the Pacific the aid sector has been pretty concerned that the national (indistinct) there is a bit too broad. How do you ensure efic is only funding commercially viable and financially sustainable projects there?
Simon Birmingham: Well efic has a long history and a very successful history of making the judgment about whether a project is commercially viable. Ensuring that it funds projects that are paid back and also only funding projects that are in the interest of both Australia and where it involves another country, that country as well. In relation to Pacific countries I can say with complete confidence efic will only be funding projects that those Pacific countries want and that will advance their development.
Journalist: There are also concerns that expansion is being rushed. Why set such urgent deadlines on that expansion and is there a risk that you introduce flawed processes in that?
Simon Birmingham: The efic legislation is off at a parliamentary inquiry, it will come back from that inquiry and go through the normal parliamentary processes. This is really very standard in terms of the timelines that are being applied. It’s a key part of our government’s Pacific step-up. We want to make sure that we have funds available for Pacific nations to be able to invest in their infrastructure, grow their economies and be stronger economic partners with Australia.
Journalist: And finally there have been some concerns that this fund could be used to fund coal fired power stations in PNG, is that a very realistic or reasonable prospect?
Simon Birmingham: We’ll only be seeing money flow where Pacific Island nations actually want those projects.
Journalist: But does that mean then that Australia could be funding coal fired power stations in PNG through this fund?
Simon Birmingham: The terms of the legislation is quite clear. They’ve got to be projects in Australia’s national interest, they have to be in our region and ultimately the proponents, i.e. the Pacific Island nations themselves, have to actually want those projects. Now in PNG, there are a range of energy sources not least of which being Hydro that are available to the PNG economy for them to be able to grow into the future. Of course we are working already with other international partners to deliver enormous extra investment to help with the rollout of electricity availability across Papua New Guinea.
Journalist: There is a PNG company Oil Search that wants fossil fuel projects funded through this, financed through this scheme. Is that a possibility?
Simon Birmingham: I’m saying that the PNG government or any Pacific Island government has to actually want a project for it to actually be able to be funded. So what we’re doing here is making sure we have the funds available, decisions will be taken in the national interest but ultimately projects will only actually come through if they are projects that Pacific Island nations themselves want to have happen.