DAVID PENBERTHY: Four weeks down almost, another four weeks to go. Senator Simon Birmingham, thanks very much for coming in.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well good morning guys, gals, blokes, shells, cobbers, everybody out there!
DAVID PENBERTHY: You’ve just broken about five key rules of the new era of political correctness! It is a bit silly that thing, we worry too much about stuff like that these days don’t we?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: David Morrison is a great guy, he is also a really strong leader, he was a powerful leader of the army and of our defence forces who set a really great standard for making sure that women felt included in the military and he is championing that. At a broader scale, he is a good man as the Australian of the Year, he is delivering a really important message, but yes, it is comments like that that sometimes I think having people saying “this stuff's going a bit too far isn’t it?” that’s where obviously, everybody stands against domestic violence, everybody stands for maximum inclusion and respect of others and we want to make sure that’s what all Australians embrace and appreciate, but we’ve got to be able to still keep our character about us at the same time.
DAVID PENBERTHY: No, well said. Now, just in terms of all of the guys and girls within the Coalition at the moment, are you all singing from the same song sheet, Simon, on the question of superannuation? Because it sounds like there is a fairly spirited internal debate occurring at the moment, the sort of thing that would normally happen out of an election campaign where some Libs are saying internally that they’re uncomfortable with the idea of applying what is effectively a new tax on people for having saved too much superannuation. Is the Government going to review it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well the Cabinet is united, the Party Room, from what I can see is united, I’m not seeing any counter commentary of note coming out of the Party Room. Are there some supporters who aren’t necessarily in love with our superannuation changes? Yes. There are some supporters but, importantly these super changes are fair and we are committed to them. We will of course consult on the technical drafting of legislation, but that’s what Governments always do…[indistinct]
DAVID PENBERTHY: [Interrupting]…Does that mean technical drafting could include scaling back on…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: No. We’ve outlined reforms that are important for the fairness of the super system and I think, for your listeners who particularly the vast majority of people who aren’t affected by this or the people who perhaps might benefit from some of the low income offsets, it's important for them to hear again that the types of changes we are putting in place here are changes that affect Australians who have $1.6 million in their super accounts and that where they’ve got more than that, they might then, when they’re in the retirement phase, start to pay around 15 per cent tax on the additional earnings from the savings they’ve got above 1.6 million.
DAVID PENBERTHY: The thing that puzzles me though, is that hearing you say that, that sounds like something we would expect to come out of the mouth of a Labor Minister. You know, well they’ve got $1.6 million so we’re entitled to claw some of that back. That is why you know, I’m certainly not playing the violin on behalf of these people because they’re clearly sitting on a pretty sizeable nest egg for their autumn years, but the classic Liberal party ethos, wouldn’t you say well “why should you punish them at all? They’ve worked hard, it is their money”?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well you have to work out what the priority is and the priority for us is getting the budget back to balance, ensuring that is done as fairly and equitably as possible and when you look at superannuation, the purpose of super is, of course, to support Australians to build a nest egg that allows them to go into retirement off of the aged pension and enjoy a comfortable retirement. Now, with $1.6 million of savings, that is a comfortable retirement for individuals going in to the retirement phase. That is, of course, in addition to having a family home and those types of other assets that individuals may have. So, for the purpose test around superannuation, you’d say the tax concessions, if somebody has got to that point of having $1.6 million in their super nest egg, have met their purpose. Now, people still actually get further tax concessions even under our changes that additional earnings will be taxed only at 15 per cent for savings above $1.6 million. So, that’s actually still highly concessional treatment, but look, what we are really admitting here is that some of the concessions put in place in the past in times where we had more revenue flowing in to Government coffers and less expenses on the Government books, some of those concession measures in tax were too generous and we have to step back and scale back some of them. Some of them aren’t really in keeping with the purpose of super, so lets bring them back so they’re in keeping with the purpose of super so that they actually also help us to deal with the budget problems we have in a fair and equitable way.
DAVID PENBERTHY: You say that the Party Room is united, but it would seem that some members are more united than others. There are those that are supporters of the model that came out in the May 3 budget and those that, to use your language, are looking perhaps more forward to the technical drafting of the super plan following the election. Would you put yourself in the category of those that want to see it as stated in the Budget or that are looking forward to some refinement?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think overwhelmingly, all of the Party Room, from what I can see, stands by the measures as stated in the Budget. Any talk about the technical drafting is exactly the process we go through with any bit of legislation. That if there are unintended consequences, if there are drafting issues in legislation that we need to take account of, well fine, we can work through those but, ultimately this is about ensuring we get the budget back into balance, that we can invest these types of savings back into other tax reform measures that will be more productive for the economy overall, creating new jobs. So, the types of reforms here in superannuation are going to help pay for tax reductions for small and medium sized businesses here in South Australia to encourage them to reinvest and to create more jobs for people currently in the workforce. Again, getting that balance right between those who have been given tax concessions, so that they have got a good nest egg for their retirement, that it enables them to be able to live quite comfortably and shifting that so that once they’re at that position we’re making sure the tax system is equally geared to support those in the workforce or aspiring to be in the workforce where we really need job creation.
DAVID PENBERTHY: Senator, I just wonder if I can get you to pop your headphones on for just a moment. Invariably in this election campaign and when we’ve talked about its direction in South Australia, we’ve had to talk about South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon and his team and the disruptive force that he is over the course of the campaign. We did so with Chris Pyne and Anthony Albanese yesterday in our two tribes segment and I had this exchange with Chris Pyne.
DAVID PENBERTHY: So if someone is dead set against voting for the Liberal party federally, would you rather their vote go to Labor than Nick Xenophon in South Australia?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I think now is not the time for us to risk instability in our economy, in our jobs message, so if people don’t want to vote Liberal I will be advocating that they vote Labor because we have to have a stable Government.
DAVID PENBERTHY: Are you in the same basket as Chris Pyne?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Essentially, yes. We do need stability in Australia. I think the last thing people want to see is another minority Government elected that is beholden to the Greens or other influences that are uncertain and we know that there is a lot of uncertainty from the Nick Xenophon party candidates.
DAVID PENBERTHY: Even in the Upper House, even in your house? You’d rather see a South Australian vote go to Labor ahead of Nick Xenophon?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well I would encourage people to vote Liberal first and foremost every single time! “Vote for me!” would be the key message I’d be like to get out there…and vote for Christopher Pyne! And vote for Matt Williams! And Nicole Flint and Jamie Briggs!…
DAVID PENBERTHY: But there will be a couple of people who don't, should they vote for Nick Xenophon or Labor if that is the decision?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, in the Senate people will exercise a bit more judgement. I would urge people still to think about the fact that the last few years we’ve been beset with problems in the Senate because of the type of individuals that have been elected who have proven to be incredibly unpredictable. The Jacqui Lambies, the Glen Lazaruses and for your listeners, they should ask themselves “Well I’ve heard Nick on the radio a lot of times, I like Nick” they might say “but have I heard any of his candidates? Have I listened to those people? Do I have a single idea what they’re like, what their views are, what they stand up for?” because I haven’t heard many of them on the radio.
DAVID PENBERTHY: Do you predict that there would be a similar unravelling in the event – we’ve seen it a few times now, in the Queensland state election in 1998 when there were 11 One Nation MPs who were elected, nobody knew anything about them, Clive Palmer, as you’ve said, some of those names initially they were linked to the Palmer United party and these sort of personality cult parties have a tendency to implode pretty fast don’t they?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well that seems to be the case. Certainly, the history Pembo as you've highlighted, is exactly that. The Hanson party, the Palmer party went through that trajectory that there was a surge of popularity that was entirely based around the leader themselves. Zero scrutiny of who the other candidates or individuals were and then when we saw other people elected under the name of that leader, it all fell apart. The thing that holds the Liberal party together or the Labor party together are a common set of values and principles and ideals and beliefs and that’s why we have stark differences at this election in the taxing and spending policies between the Coalition and Labor party…
DAVID PENBERTHY: Is it hard for you guys to get the tactics right in terms of dealing with Xenophon? Because one of his big draw cards is his likeability and the fact that he is a, almost a bit like Donald Trump in a way, he is an outsider where people can say “I’m going to send a signal to both the major parties by voting for this guy”…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Nick's been in Parliament since 1997, he’s not much of an outsider nowadays!
DAVID PENBERTHY: Well no, he’s almost establishment in terms of his longevity. By you and Christopher Pyne saying if you don’t vote Liberal you should vote Labor, do you risk making it sound like it’s the big guys teaming up on the little guy?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, people will make their own decisions about who they vote for. I think the message I’m giving and I think it’s the message Christopher is giving is that the country needs stability, the country needs Governments that can get on with the job of governing properly and effectively for the nation and that is only going to be achieved by having a Labor Government or a Liberal Government. If you make your choice as to whether you want Bill Shorten as Prime Minister or Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister, the Xenophon candidates won't tell us who they’d rather have. I know that I would much rather have Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister, creating the type of economic environment where we can grow business, grow industry, create new jobs in the future and deliver the funding and the revenue streams from that to be able to pay for the type of social services we want to have.
DAVID PENBERTHY: Can I just ask you quickly before you go, Senator yesterday we had some figures come out from the Australian Bureau of Statistics about growth in the economy. I think we’re growing faster in any quarter since 2012, four or five years ago. Does it undermine that message that we need company tax cuts, we need small business tax cuts, we need to offer some sort of relief to the business community to grow the economy when it is actually growing pretty quickly at the moment?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: No, quite the opposite because if you break down the figures that were there, yes we’ve got good economic growth and really leading many of the western nations in terms of economic growth and that’s a credit to the economic management we have at present, but, the big ‘but’ there, what went backwards yesterday was domestic investment and we’ve got a real challenge there in terms of maintaining investment in our businesses in Australia to be able to ensure we keep having that level of growth and that creation of jobs in the future. So yes, right now we’re sort of living to a certain degree off of the spoils of some of the previous investment that businesses had undertaken as well as having good low interest rates and the type of sound economic management the nation needs, but we cannot afford to take our foot of the pedal in terms of economic change because it is happening in the world around us. John Howard used to say that economic reform is an ever receding finishing line and of course it is in that sense and that’s why right now the challenge is that business investment is not as strong as it should be to sustain job growth in the future and that’s why Malcolm Turnbull’s economic plan is so focussed on driving that type of business investment that will ensure today’s school children have jobs tomorrow.
DAVID PENBERTHY: Good stuff. Senator Simon Birmingham thanks very much for making the trip in to the studio this morning and we’ll probably catch up with you later during this marathon election campaign.