Topics: Morrison ministries; NACC; Senate legislation agenda;
25 November 2022
Journalist: Simon, Josh Frydenberg has vented his feelings about the many Morrison ministries. He says it amounted to extreme overreach taking over Treasury. Do you agree with him?
Simon Birmingham: I think the latter decisions were a form of overreach. There’s not necessarily a clear explanation, but what matters now is how action is taken in the future to ensure transparency about any such decisions in the administration of departments, and we will give full support to any legislation to ensure transparency in the future.
Journalist: What in particular do you think was overreach?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I think people can understand the initial decisions as it relates to health and even possibly finance taken at the absolute height of concern around the COVID pandemic. It’s less clear as to why the other decisions were taken.
Journalist: Have you saw any explanation from Mr. Morrison personally, given you sat in Cabinet as well about why he did the final three portfolios?
Simon Birmingham: Oh, look, we’ve spoken, but I’m not going to go into personal conversations. Scott remains a friend and I think in the end we need to also keep a sense of perspective here. Firstly, aside from one instance, powers were not used to my knowledge. Secondly, overall, Australia came out of the most challenging global times in terms of the COVID19 pandemic with some of the strongest health outcomes and strongest economic performance of any nation in the world.
Journalist: He didn’t show much contrition in his personal conversations with Josh. Should he have at least apologised?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I’m not going to get into argy bargy there. These are matters between Scott and Josh.
Journalist: How do other people within the former Cabinet about this?
Simon Birmingham: You can ask other people their opinions if you like. Ultimately, these are matters of the past. We’re here now focused on holding a new government to account. Proud of our record in government. This is one set of issues that ultimately, aside from one decision, haven’t changed any Australians lives or had an impact. Whereas overwhelmingly what as a government did was to save Australian lives and save Australian jobs and businesses, and we’re very proud of that.
Journalist: Do you believe that’s a bad precedent and do you think that there will need to be changes to the law to prevent this happening again?
Simon Birmingham: I’ve been very clear since the Solicitor-General’s report was handed down that there should be changes to the legal framework to ensure transparency in the future. The Government could have done that, acting off of the basis of the Solicitor-General’s report. They decided for their own political purposes to have a second round of inquiry. That’s their choice. But I hope now they will just get on and act on the recommendations rather than continuing to politicise them.
Journalist: And the opposition will cooperate on that front?
Simon Birmingham: We’ve been clear we support changes to ensure transparency and we will back that.
Journalist: Just quickly, Mr. Morrison got told to stop leaking national security information given what’s in the book Plagued. Have you raised any concerns about the amount of security information in the public sphere and should that be something that might be investigated by the NACC?
Simon Birmingham: But I’ll as to what the NACC is empowered to investigate, that will be up to an independent commissioner to determine.
Journalist: Should Mr. Morrison have spoken to Virginia Bell as part of her inquiry?
Simon Birmingham: I’m not sure of the detail of engagement that occurred there and the scale of that. Let’s see what the report she hands down actually says.
Journalist: Just quickly on the Senate’s Black Friday clear-out of legislation today [laughs] are you gearing up next week for a big IR fight. Have you spoken to Senator Pocock or Senator Lambie who hold crucial votes about delaying the bill into next year?
Simon Birmingham: [Laughs] There’s a lot of chaos and confusion in the Government Senate management at present. We’re having a sitting day today for legislation that frankly a few extra hours tacked on to each of the previous days this week could have dealt with without the need to have this sort of strange extra half day sitting. Of course, next week we expect the government will seek to ram through their extreme industrial relations reforms, reforms that they did not take to the election, that they were not transparent about, that they have rushed and that now they will seek to try to push through the Senate. I would urge Senator Pocock, all crossbenchers, to recognise the fact that the Government is acting without a mandate in ways that are being rushed and in ways that will risk more strike action, more inflationary pressures, lower productivity and ultimately fewer jobs for Australians. Thanks, guys.