Topics: India, Agriculture Department finances, The Voice, power bills
08:00AM AEDT
9 March 2023


Simon Birmingham: I am very pleased to see the Prime Minister in India, building upon the strong Australia-India relationship. Australia’s relationship with India is at a real high point, having been driven by our signing of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement; of a new Trade Agreement, all of which has given this Government a really strong relationship with India off of which to be able to springboard. We took major trade delegations, including the education sector, to India which has helped to get to the point now where we are seeing the type of education partnerships delivered between Australia and India and the establishment of university campuses there. And critically, we built and strengthened our cooperative role in the regional relationship between Australia and India working together as members of QUAD. And all of that helps to then better inform the role that India will be playing, crucially, as Chair of the G20 this year, and with that lead as Chair of the G20 very important deliberations to help to underpin the global economy in challenging times and to help to try to drive and send as clear and strong a message as possible to Russia to cease and desist its illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine because of the huge human toll being taken, but also because of the big economic consequences being faced by all G20 nations.


Reporter: Mr. Birmingham how much of the PM’s visit to India and Oz-India relationship is really about China?


Senator Birmingham: The PM’s visit to India comes at a time of the strongest possible Australia-India relations driven by years of work and cooperation to solidify deeper trade ties, deeper economic ties, deeper security ties and deeper people-to-people ties. It’s a comprehensive relationship underpinned by a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership that we signed with India; it’s about many things and critically, it’s about our future economic and security wellbeing as partners in this region.


Reporter: Senator, there’s been a lot of talk about electric vehicles as an opportunity for Australia and India’s goal of 30 per cent EVs by 2030. What trade opportunities do you see for Australia out of this visit?


Senator Birmingham: As a Coalition Government we sought to really put Australia’s rare earths and critical minerals on the map and to drive forward plans to secure greater investment in the development of those sectors. We did so in part because of the big opportunities they can play in a cleaner energy environment and in technologies such as electric vehicles. So, there are real synergies between Australia and India in areas such as E-vehicles for Australia to play a bigger role as a rare earth’s supplier; as a potential value-added processor of those rare earths working in sync with countries like India, or Indonesia, who are pursuing strong electric vehicle strategies.


Reporter: As a former Finance Minister, were you aware that the Federal Agriculture Department was in debt to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars?


Senator Birmingham: I can’t say that I’ve seen those reports. Of course, each department needs to make sure that it manages its affairs, its budgets responsibly, according to the budget of the day that is laid down by the Government.


Reporter: How unusual would a financial bailout for a federal department be?


Senator Birmingham: There are departments that, I can recall a long time ago the Department of Defence had to have qualified audit records at one stage and had to work through processes in terms of dealing with those qualifications. It’s critical though that any, particularly department of state, meets the highest possible standards for itself and for any agencies that it’s responsible for.


Reporter: Senator just lastly on The Voice, the referendum working group’s meeting today; members of that group have previously accused your leader, Peter Dutton, of being disingenuous about the debate. What is the Coalition doing to remedy that perception?


Senator Birmingham: Well, as you know, there’ve been various meetings that Peter Dutton has had with the Referendum Working Group and we will continue to have constructive engagements where we can. I look forward to seeing the Government provide further certainty and it must provide further detail to give greater momentum and confidence around this debate. I hope that we can see a proposal put forward that ensures what Australians are voting on delivers on constitutional recognition, but is as constitutionally as conservative as possible to give it the greatest chance of success. It is crucial that Australians see detailed answers to questions about how The Voice will operate, but they’re also going to want to see that there is real confidence that any change to our constitution is as bulletproof as possible from legal and constitutional challenges in years to come and that’s why I hope the working group, I hope the Government, are pursuing an approach that can give people maximum confidence by having a model that is as careful and conservative in its wording as possible.


Reporter: Senator, can families and businesses afford another increase in power bills?


Senator Birmingham: Well what families and businesses would rightly want to see is that Labor’s promise of power bills going down by $275 is delivered. Instead, they’re facing increase after increase and that is devastating for so many families and businesses.


Reporter: Do you think there should be…need to be relief in the Budget to power bills do you think?


Senator Birmingham: Well, what’s notable is that the Government, at the end of last year, was promising relief for Australians and it still hasn’t hit their bank balances. So, Australians would be fair in questioning and doubting any promises that might come from the Government when they promised power bills would be cut by $275 – instead they’re going up. They promised relief payments to some Australians and they haven’t seen them yet.