Topics: Qld border reopening; international arrivals; economy; Gladys Berejiklian;

04:10PM AEST


Jim Wilson:  Minister, welcome back to drive.


Simon Birmingham: Hello, Jim. It’s great to be with you, as always.


Jim Wilson: We’ll get to Gladys Berejiklian very shortly. I just want to firstly, this big announcement that’s happened this afternoon as far as the domestic border between New South Wales and Queensland today and also Victoria’s impacted. It’s welcome news as we look at bringing life back to industries like tourism and travel. I’m sure as finance minister, you’ll be pleased to see more of these state border restrictions being ditched in time for Christmas.


Simon Birmingham: Absolutely, Jim, this is very welcome news we saw a couple of weeks ago now. South Australia, under Steven Marshall’s leadership there, the first state that was COVID free to say we’ve hit that 80 per cent double vaccination target. We’re going to open our borders to the states where COVID was in the community and SA has done that and they’ve held their nerve in that regard. Queensland had said they would do the same at 80 per cent double dose, and it’s fantastic to see that they’re hitting that 80 per cent double dose rate a little earlier than they had initially thought might be the case and that they’ve decided to bring forward their opening date to next Monday. That means we’re now going to have Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, ACT South Australia, all with free movement between those states. Yes, some conditions around getting tested for movement in advance in some of the cases, but very light touch restrictions and I trust Tasmania will join that group in the not too distant future as well. So we’re really getting to the point where for tourism operators, it’s going to be great for the travel industry, really important confidence boost. And of course, for so many Australians, just the first opportunity in a long time to reconnect with loved ones and to do that in time for Christmas.


Jim Wilson: The Prime Minister has hit pause on some of our international arrivals. I’m certainly not going to criticise a cautious approach to the Omicron variant, but are we doing our economy damage for every day that the return of students and, for example, visa holders is delayed by the federal government?


Simon Birmingham: Look, there’s, I think, time there for international students, it’s really the commencement of next year is obviously going to be a critical time in terms of when unis go back and studies begin again and the at the beginning of next year. That’s the timeline where right now all indications are there should still be a high degree of confidence from our education providers and from those students around the world wanting to come back to Australia or to get here the first time to start their studies that they’ll be able to do so. You know, we’re taking a careful, cautious approach with Omicron, but the evidence continues to show to date at least, that whilst it may be relatively transmissible, it may also be a little milder than previous strains of COVID in terms of the health impacts. And what we’re really looking for is just the evidence to back up that the vaccines still provide sufficient degrees of protection, and all of that comes together hopefully will be in a position to move ahead with that broader reopening. We’re taking the cautious approach for those students to make sure that we’ve got all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed before we tick off on it.


Jim Wilson: You’ve got the mid-year budget review coming up. We saw Australia’s economy shrink last week and the latest national accounts figures. I mean, have you’ve got some adjustments on the way to try and change that trajectory off the back of Delta and lockdowns,


Simon Birmingham: Certainly the lockdowns were a big disruption, locking down Sydney for essentially all of the September quarter. Melbourne, for much of it, you know, did impact significantly. But for the 12 months ending to the September quarter, we still saw the Australian economy grow 3.9 per cent. That’s in the top three amongst developed countries around the world. So our growth that come back is very strong, and since those lockdowns ended, we’ve seen more than 350,000 jobs come back. And in the monthly financial figures that I’ve released today, which track our performance as a country against the federal budget, we’re seeing that in fact, the deficit is running a little lower than we had expected, notwithstanding the fact we had to invest so much in terms of supporting individuals and businesses through those lockdowns. So that’s encouraging news. It shows that you get better budget outcomes from a stronger economy. And our focus well and truly now is on making sure that we through these uncertainties, keep the economy as strong as possible, keep getting Australians into jobs and make sure that there’s as much security around that as possible. And that’s where our economic recovery plan outlined in the budget this year was really all about backing businesses to invest, to grow. The tax cuts we’ve brought forward, which are putting $1.5 billion into the pockets of Australian families each and every month. That’s helping people to have a bit more confidence and that confidence is fuelling the recovery.


Jim Wilson: Okay, let’s move on to Gladys Berejiklian. You’re one of the senior Liberal Party powerbrokers, a senior minister in the cabinet who are in- or trying to convince Gladys Berejiklian to run for Warringah. Are you confident that she will?


Simon Birmingham: Look, Jim. I wouldn’t put it as trying to convince. I would love to see Gladys do so if she chooses. But I do think we do all need to make sure there’s a bit of breathing space there. Gladys has had one heck of a couple of years in terms of the challenges that she’s confronted with the people of New South Wales and for the people of New South Wales. She’s done that in an incredibly resilient way, showing great leadership and capacity to navigate very difficult times and circumstances across New South Wales. Obviously, she’s had these issues that caused her to step down as premier to deal with as well. But if she chose of her own volition in her own time to put her hand up, I think Gladys has skills and knowledge would be a great asset to our federal team and would very much welcome them.


Jim Wilson: And do you think that could happen even if ICAC haven’t released their findings?


Simon Birmingham: Jim, I trust Gladys and her judgement in terms of working through these sorts of issues herself. I’ve got no doubt that she will have the best of advice and far better knowledge around how those proceedings unfold than I could bring to bear. But you know, Gladys is well known for her tirelessness, her hard work, her diligence The fact that she is a person of, I think, you know, strong values and whilst these issues have trawled into her private life and issues related to that, for all that I hear from people in New South Wales and Sydney, they still hold her in very high regard and respect.


Jim Wilson: Well, she’s very popular, there’s no doubt about that, and I think she’d be a great candidate. But it’s that lingering doubt about ICAC, especially if the findings aren’t made public but you think you could still work that she could still run for federal, for the federal election, even if that hasn’t been resolved?


Simon Birmingham: Jim, as I said, it’s, you know, it is a matter for her. She knows the processes better than I could pretend to. And she knows, of course, the communities in New South Wales, particularly the seat you’re talking about in Warringah, it’s where Gladys lives. She knows those people, she knows those communities and I’ve got no doubt that she would have the best feel for whether this was the right thing for her and the right thing for the communities that she’s passionate about.


Jim Wilson: Okay, Minister, thank you for your time this afternoon.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much, Jim. My pleasure.