JOURNALIST: Well one man who was in that room among those who were applauding the return of the Turnbull Government was South Australia’s own Simon Birmingham who, in yesterday’s reshuffle, has retained the Education portfolio, one of the key portfolios and even had that position enhanced. Simon, good morning and firstly congratulations on being re-elected. As the Prime Minister said yesterday it’s the first a government has been re-elected with a majority since 2004 which says a lot about the last decade or so of politics in this country but given the nature of the result you did take a bit of – you lost a bit of skin, didn’t you? It was pretty tight.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well good morning guys and thanks for the congratulations. Yes, we are the first government to be re-elected since 2004 in its own right with a majority. We will govern with at least 76 seats to no more than 69 for the Labor Party. We secured around 960,000 more votes as the Liberal and National Parties than the Labor Party did so it was a strong election outcome in the end. Of course, as your listeners would be well-aware, it was close on election night, it took a couple of weeks to resolve. We’ve lost a few seats along the way and a few very valued colleagues so there are absolutely lessons to learn as there always are from elections. But I think the first and most important lesson is that Australians want the government to get on with the job with providing strong economic leadership, of doing the things we said we would do during the election campaign and of working with the Parliament that we’ve been given and doing the best we can to make sure that functions for the nation’s future.
JOURNALIST: Just on the South Australian landscape, Minister, the two most prominent losses here were Matt Williams lost Hindmarsh by a very narrow margin in the end – Steve Georganas just fell over the line to be returned there as the Labor MP, but the biggest one was Jamie Briggs losing Mayo to the Nick Xenophon Team. What are the – what do you think the causes were of the losses in both of those results?
BIRMINGHAM: Look Hindmarsh was an incredibly close result, as you said, and Matt Williams deserves enormous credit. The swing against him was below the average swing for the Government so Matt not only got a bigger swing to him in 2013 but then a smaller swing against him in 2016 so he has outperformed the Liberal Party on two occasions and it’s tragic that despite doing that he’s been unable to, it seems, hold on to Hindmarsh. I think, obviously, a number of factors.
That Hindmarsh is an older electorate – what the researchers and party directors who came and spoke to us in the Party Room yesterday indicated was that older people in particular were vulnerable to the ‘Mediscare’ message, that the targeted phone calls that were being made into people’s homes were an issue in some of those demographics and unfortunately, when the result is that close, those types of issues and those types of dirty tactics can tip a result and we clearly have to learn a lesson there. We have to make sure that in no way, shape or form come the next election can we be seen to be vulnerable in our commitment to Medicare and to the services that Australians value from their federal government.
We still have to run a tight budget, make sure that we get the books back into shape but we also have to make sure that we don’t leave the slightest scintilla of light there for an unscrupulous Labor Party to run that type of scare campaign again.
JOURNALIST: Senator, historically – and I think it sort of makes sense, we’ve had a Defence Minister, the person in charge of our defence force also in charge of much of the procurement of the equipment required to defend the nation. Now that’s been split, Chris Pyne will take responsibility for Defence Industry whilst Marise Payne will remain in charge of the Defence portfolio proper. Can you explain to our listeners why that’s of benefits to Australians?
BIRMINGHAM: Yeah sure, well I think what Malcolm Turnbull’s seized the opportunity to do with this reshuffle, which is fairly modest compared with the changes he made when he became Prime Minister, is to finesse a few areas where he saw opportunities for better management of the responsibilities of government and in the Defence space, obviously the commitments that we’ve made since Malcolm became Prime Minister around naval shipbuilding, the building of the submarines, the commitments to do so in Australia to establish a new Defence Industry Capability Centre in Adelaide which will be really trying to drive the growth of the defence industry – which was one of the pillars of our plan which we took to the election campaign – is one of the largest procurement exercises ever undertaken by the Australian Government and to give that a chance to achieve what Malcolm wants, which is the greatest number of contracts for every possible component going to Australian businesses, creating Australian jobs in a value-for-money way. He wanted to give a dedicated set of eyes to that, in no way is it a reflection on Marise Payne who did an incredibly good job…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…but in the eastern states they see it as not Australian jobs, they see it as creating South Australian jobs and now it’s a South Australian minister suddenly taking responsibility of all of that money. How do [indistinct] outside of this…
BIRMINGHAM: Well that will be up to Christopher to allay those concerns and I know he is very conscious of that and ensuring that people understand that jobs spread far beyond South Australia that when it comes to the contracting out of individual components that go into the ships and submarines that will be built in South Australia there will be many contracts to go around and they will absolutely spread across the nation. When it comes, of course, to the building of the final number of the Offshore Patrol Vessels, they will actually be done in Perth, there are service contracts in Cairns. So a lot of the actual defence industry work spreads beyond SA and that’s just when you’re talking about the naval shipbuilding components, there are of course other procurement activities that drive the defence industry around the country that are essential as well from Darwin to Townsville to even operations in Tasmania.
JOURNALIST: Minister, just on Tony Abbott’s continuing absence from the Ministry, do you think it’s the case that as long as Malcolm Turnbull remains the leader of the Liberal Party there will be no role for Mister Abbott on the front bench and that it would be best for him to just concentrate on his backbench duties?
BIRMINGHAM: Well Tony Abbott as a former Prime Minister has a unique place in the Parliament and I think his duties, public roles and activities [indistinct] beyond that of any normal backbencher because of that position and we absolutely ought to all respect that – he is an elder statesman, if you like, of Australian politics as all our former Prime Minister become in one way, shape or form so Tony will make a valued contribution I’ve got no doubt. He adds wise counsel to many things during the Parliament but Malcolm took a very conscious step when he became Prime Minister of refreshing the Ministry, it was a significant renewal, it brought in lots of younger or newer faces – myself included and what he made clear during the election campaign was having taken that step of renewal he didn’t want to take a step backwards.
JOURNALIST: Senator just before we do let you go, the hot topic on the program this morning certainly among our listeners has been Sonia Kruger’s comments on Channel 9 breakfast television program yesterday calling for a ban on Muslim immigration, you were on a panel on Q and A last night in fact alongside Pauline Hanson and the subject matter came up.
BIRMINGHAM: It was a pleasure.
JOURNALIST: What was your take on the views? They’re probably in unison on that point.
BIRMINGHAM: Yeah look I think I understand, frankly, the concerns that a lot of Australians have and we can’t ignore the fact that around 500,000 people voted for Pauline Hanson and the Hanson Party, some of them out of economic concerns and a range of other reasons not necessarily just racial issues but the fears people have around Islamic terrorism are real and of course they are reinforced every time we see an atrocity like the one that happened in Nice but the types of solutions that are proposed such as just bans on one group of individuals or one religion in this case are counter-productive, they would of course simply incite further hatred intention amongst people already living in Australia. We have to make sure that we have – which we do – the strongest possible laws and plans and intelligence operations in place to ensure we disrupt any type of assault in Australia. We have to make sure that our immigration as they are scrutinise those who seek to move to Australia and especially in the humanitarian areas that we actually go through all the proper processes using all of the intelligence powers not just of Australia but of the United States and elsewhere to biometrically scan individuals who might be under consideration if there’s the slightest risk that we flick them into the ‘no’ pile. So there’s a lot of steps that we undertake but to simply try to put the smear across an entire population as occurs when you say you’re going to ban one group of people, will only lead to counter-productive outcomes and ultimately risk greater hatred and from greater hatred comes greater violence and that of course is the last thing we want for any citizen in Australia.
JOURNALIST: Senator Simon Birmingham, thank you very much for your time.