Topics: Stolen Medibank data leak; Labor Government behind the Eightball to fix energy crisis; Voice to Parliament; Labor’s political stunt in the House;

10:28AM AEDT
1 December 2022


Journalist: I just wanted to get your reaction to the latest Medibank information- well, the release of Medibank data?


Simon Birmingham: Many Australians will rightly be very concerned about the release of personal and private information. They should make sure that they work as closely as possible in terms of following the advice of cyber security experts and others as to how best to respond to these difficult circumstances.


Journalist: We’ve had more than one state speak out against the idea of capping coal and gas prices. Where do you think the right balance is and who should be paying the compensation? If there needs to be some?


Simon Birmingham: Well, firstly, the government’s got to bring it in to this internal division they’ve got and the endless debate. If they had an energy policy they should have released in the budget weeks ago instead of continuing this endless debate and division within their own ranks. So when are they going to say something and what is it is a fair question for everybody to have. In terms of how they approach it they shouldn’t be pursuing policies that will completely disrupt the investment market in terms of future gas supply and create a disincentive to future investment, because that’ll just make a bad situation even worse into the future. They should be making sure they work with energy companies to get more supply into the domestic market, to drive down prices in the short term.

But critically, those that also reverse the cuts to budget measures they made, that we’re all about lifting medium and long term supply because without that increase in gas supply, in particular over the medium to long term, this problem will either be repeated or Australia will have to choose between our export markets and our domestic market. And as an energy rich nation, we should be able to get the revenue from our export markets that fund our schools and hospitals and social services, as well as being able to supply the domestic market with affordable energy.


Journalist: From your time in the Treasury portfolios as Finance Minister, if you look at capping prices and what was the outcome of anything you mapped out of [indistinct]?


Simon Birmingham: Price caps, heavy handed market interventions are only going to act as a disincentive to invest in Australia, are only going to take and create medium and longer term problems. The government needs to work cooperatively, not walk in and basically act in ways that can only make problems worse in the long term.


Journalist: If they do go down the path of price caps though, so should the federal government compensate the states over loss?


Simon Birmingham: Well, the federal government is going to have to deal with states and territories, particularly those who are open to supply and understandably, therefore, have concerns about the actions of other states and territories around the country. So, this is a matter where the government is creating problems through its lack of decisiveness, its internal divisions, the delays that have been occurring in terms of finalising this policy. They’ve got to make sure that it is a policy that will deliver for consumers in the short term and the long run that won’t drive investment out of Australia and that actually doesn’t benefit one state over another.


Journalist: Senator, what does the Nationals decision on a Voice to Parliament mean for the Liberal Party? Does this now pave the way for the Liberal Party to also oppose the referendum? Do you see a conscience vote as the best way forward for your party, given the divisions internally?


Simon Birmingham: We shouldn’t be letting the government off the hook in terms of providing effective detail to Australians about the Voice and how it is going to operate, how it will be structured, the powers and other factors attached to it. They are the questions that the Government has to answer if it hopes to carry this referendum successfully. And we shouldn’t be prejudging it and we should be getting that information to ensure they are informed judgements.


Journalist: Given there is that division internally within your own party. Do you think a conscience vote is the best approach?


Simon Birmingham: We’ll have our discussions once we either have the information from the government or at least have a date and need to come to a position. But for now it’s the responsible thing to do to actually say, show us the detail so we can give detailed consideration and come to an informed conclusion rather than letting them off the hook by pre-judging the matter.


Journalist:  Did you read the report when Ken Wyatt brought it to cabinet? And do you think that the model that they’ve outlined in that is a sensible model?


Simon Birmingham: Look, I won’t pretend to have read cover to cover, but it was certainly briefed at the time and we were supporting a model that sought to ensure there was effective regional representation, effective localised voices around the country, recognising just as was the case with closing the gap, that you’ve got to ensure this isn’t just about a symbolic national approach, it’s got to deliver on the ground across different communities around the country too. And that with the Closing the Gap targets, having broad national targets was important and drove conversation. But the more granular approach that we took was about ensuring that in individual states, in local regions who were actually able to measure progress and similarly in terms of the construction of an effective voice, it’s got to be more than national symbolism, but actually have local effectiveness as well.


Journalist: Quickly, on the Medibank finally, what’s your message to those Russian criminals?


Simon Birmingham: To those who act as cyber criminals, they should know that countries like Australia are investing ever more that we want to come and we will come after you where we can, that this sort of action will not be tolerated. But to Australians who are concerned, take the advice of experts as to how to protect your data, your information and your welfare.


Journalist: Just on the back of a censure motion yesterday, is it time for Scott Morrison to leave the Parliament if he won’t apologise for what he did and he won’t take on board the criticisms that have been made on all sides of Parliament?


Simon Birmingham: It’s time for the Government to act on the recommendations of the Solicitor General and Virginia Bell. Recommendations they have had for months and months now to ensure that this issue is fixed. Scott Morrison made a mistake, I’ve been clear about that. It’s a mistake where there are clear fixes in terms of transparency that can be provided in the future. The Government’s got recommendations on it. They should stop playing games in the Parliament and actually just legislate the solution. Thanks, everybody.