Topics: Legislating tax cuts; Cubbie station; new banking code of practice; Alek Sigley.



Simon Birmingham: The verbal gymnastics required for the Labor Party to sustain their completely unclear, uncertain position in relation to the government’s tax relief agenda were on display this morning as Senator Katy Gallagher struggled to be able to outline exactly when it is that Labor will make a final decision on a matter that the Australian people made a final decision on, all the way back on May 18. Our government’s plans for tax relief, they are about helping more than 10 million Australians hardworking Australians to be able to keep more of their hard earned money. Why is it that the Labor Party think that Australians should pay more tax into the future? Why is it that Labor are incapable of giving a clear straight answer on how it is that they will approach this agenda for tax relief? Our policies were clear at the election and they were endorsed at the election. All we seek to do now is implement, to every single cent, every single dollar what we promised Australians, the promises that we made them at that election.


Labor ought to come clear, come clean tomorrow and make sure they declare that ultimately they will pass this tax relief agenda because the failure to deliver tax relief for hardworking Australians will be a stain that will haunt Labor and Anthony Albanese all the way to the next election if they block this agenda. Now I heard they might even wait to see what the position of the crossbench are until Labor makes up their mind about whether or not they’ll support our tax cuts. Well come on let’s be real. The Australian people may have decided that Labor weren’t fit for government but now they’re showing they’re not even fit to be the opposition. If they’re outsourcing their decision making to the crossbench senators rather than actually making their own decisions themselves. Do they stand and accept the message of the Australian people in support of lower taxes or his labor under Anthony Albanese still the higher taxing party of Bill Shorten that people rejected back at the election?


Journalist: How are talks going with crossbenchers?


Simon Birmingham: Well we’re having great and constructive talks across the crossbench and we’ll keep doing that as we do on every single issue. But the important thing here is that the crossbench shouldn’t be put in this position. The Labor Party should accept that the election debate was a really clear one between lower taxes from Scott Morrison or higher taxes under Labor. And the people chose lower taxes under Scott Morrison and that’s what Labor ought to respect.


Journalist: So in these talks, how can the crossbenches trust Mathias Cormann after he reneged on his support for Malcolm Turnbull in the leadership spill? He’s got a poor track record in.


Simon Birmingham: The Senate crossbench have got long experience of constructive honest dealings with Mathias Cormann and with the entire Senate team and the government, and they’ll no doubt approach that in the same good faith that they’ve always shown to us as we seek to show good faith to them.


Journalist: Can we move on to another topic?


Journalist: Sorry just before you do, are you hoping to pass the tax cuts by Thursday night?


Simon Birmingham: Our plan is to see this policy that we took to the election implemented as quickly as possible so that we can make sure that for Australians many of whom on low and middle incomes, are going to get $1080 back on their tax return this year as low and middle income tax relief that that is locked in legislation as quickly as possible by the end of this sitting week.


Journalist: Cubbie station’s owners have had seven years to sell its part of, it’s stake in the farm. Why should they be given more time to sell?


Simon Birmingham: These matters of course, they’re assessed as part of the foreign investment process. Now we don’t tend to comment on individual cases and where there needs to be a response to those individual cases I will refer people to the Treasurer. But ultimately foreign investment is important for Australia. What I know is particularly important as well when it comes to assets like Cubbie Station is that they comply in terms of water management requirements and water licences. And certainly we’ve made sure that the regimes to effectively manage water in Australia have been toughened up and we’ll continue to make sure compliance in those areas.


Journalist: Banking code of practice is out today, shouldn’t the provisions of that be legally binding? 


Simon Birmingham: Well indeed, the banking code of practice developed in response to the Royal Commission is one of many responses to the Royal Commission that are being applied, has been developed in conjunction with ASIC. And I understand that breaches can ultimately be pursued by ASIC if required and everybody including the government is looking very clearly to a higher standard of conduct from the banks in the future. That’s why we’re implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission and that’s why they will be held to account against this new code of conduct.


Journalist: Could they be trusted to look after themselves?


Simon Birmingham: Well we’ve had a Royal Commission, it exposed a number of failures in terms of banking conduct and our expectation is that the banks hear that message as government has, we’re acting on the recommendations of the Royal Commission as outlined in our government response. We expect the banks to live up to a higher standard of conduct in the future and they will be held to account for it.


Journalist: Can you really trust them to clean up their act?


Simon Birmingham: Well we have to make sure that we implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission and we hold them to a higher standard of conduct and we will do that. And we will make sure that the scrutiny is there by the regulators to ensure they do stand up against that higher levels of conduct that Australians rightly expect of their banks.


Journalist: Alek Sigley is still missing in North Korea. Donald Trump is going to the DMZ today. Is he taking a message from Australia with him?


Simon Birmingham: Look we’ll see exactly how President Trump’s engagement plays out today. There are clearly many issues at stake in terms of North Korea and relations that the United States may have there. Prime Minister Morrison has spoken to Alek Sigley’s family on a number of occasions. We’re making sure that we engage with other governments, they understand our concerns to ensure his safety and that is something we will continue to do. It is not in Alek’s interests for us to play out these issues with lots of public commentary or tough rhetoric. It’s about making sure that we deploy the best diplomatic channels to get the best possible outcome for him.


Journalist: But has Scott Morrison asked Donald Trump to pass on a message?


Simon Birmingham: Well as I say we don’t yet know exactly what the nature of engagement will be. This is a matter that’s been of discussion between the Australian Government and a number of other governments.


Journalist: He’s been missing for a week now. Does the government have any idea where he is?


Simon Birmingham: As I say we are trying to ascertain all of the details around his circumstances, whereabouts and safety and we’re going to keep doing that, but it is best done through diplomatic channels rather than elevating this in a way that could be detrimental to his safety.


Journalist: What sort of conversations have been had?


Simon Birmingham: Well the conversations we’ve had are with other nations in terms of their expressions of, offers of support where they can in their engagements with North Korea to try to help to ascertain as I say his whereabouts and ensure his safety. Thanks guys.