Scott Emerson: Simon Birmingham is the Minister for Finance and leader of the Coalition in the Senate, and he joins me on the line now. Minister, thanks for being on the show again.
Simon Birmingham: Hello, Scott. It’s always good to be with you. Thank you.
Scott Emerson: Now this partnership announced today by the prime minister along with Joe Biden and Boris Johnson. Why is it so important for Australia?
Simon Birmingham: This is one of the most consequential decisions taken in terms of our security and strategic alliances in decades, and it’s important because it’s not just about new submarines, although that is a very crucial part of the arrangement, but it’s about ongoing security technology sharing cooperation that will enable our three nations to ensure that our defence forces, which are some of the most advanced in the world, maintain that, they maintain their interoperability in the most effective and efficient ways possible, which can enable us to work together with other partners across our region to create the type of stable, balanced environment that we want to ensure the peaceful environment we want in many years to come.
Scott Emerson: Have we seen a deterioration in our security here in the Indo-Pacific? And that’s why we do need nuclear subs.
Simon Birmingham: We’ve seen increased militarisation of our region, a more contested region in that sense that for much of Australia’s modern day history, we have perhaps been a long way away from the action the action of world wars, the action of the Cold War era. But now we are firmly in a region that has seen increased militarisation, increased competition. Now we have nothing but peaceful objectives in terms of our defence investment. But it is important as one of the biggest economies in the world, the 13th largest global economy that we protect, our interests, that we work to protect the peace and stability of our region, and that we keep that balance across our region in terms of defence, posture and naval capabilities are essential to that as very much a maritime nation and island continent.
Scott Emerson: Well, I listened to the speech first by Scott Morrison and then Boris Johnson, then Joe Biden. I didn’t hear the C-word being mentioned, China. Isn’t this all about China?
Simon Birmingham: Well, the investment by China in its military capabilities is a matter for China. We’re making decisions about Australia’s interests and those for us in working with our long term allies and friends in the United States and the United Kingdom, but also in positioning ourselves to continue to work right across our region, be it with the ASEAN nations of South East Asia, with our friends in Quad, which the prime minister will attend with President Biden and the leaders of Japan and India next week, or indeed partnerships right around the globe that are so important. And we hope that China sees this investment as Australia doing nothing more and nothing less than what China does in terms of its own decisions about military investment. And that is to pursue investment in the ways that we think are best appropriate to ensure the safety and security of our nation and hopefully the peace and stability of our region.
Scott Emerson: So what kind of response do you think you will get from China? Because when you say that, you expect they’ll see it as a sensible approach to their, well, look, given what we’ve seen from China in the last couple of years with trade blocks, threats, issues about cyber security, you really can’t be thinking that China’s is going to lay down and accept this as a good decision.
Simon Birmingham: It’s not what I said is I should see it as nothing more than Australia doing what any sovereign nation should do. And that is equip itself in ways to ensure that our interests are protected and secured as best as possible. And that’s the type of decision we make. We respect the sovereign decisions of other nations, including China, and we ask nothing more than reciprocal respect in relation to us. These actions are about ensuring that we can continue to have a world class military capability and naval capability that can operate right across our region, but also ensuring that we contribute in ways that we hope underscores and underpins ongoing peace and stability in our region through maintaining balance and influence across it.
Scott Emerson: I’m talking to Simon Birmingham, the Minister for Finance, now Minister, You, along with Josh Frydenberg in charge of our finances, there but be of a concern for you, of course, that China reacts to this by further trying to attack our trade like they’ve done over the last year and a half.
Simon Birmingham: So there would be no justification for that. And I would obviously think that such attempts at coercion or retaliation would be thoroughly inappropriate. But equally, those parts of Australia’s export market who have seen some impacts from Chinese decisions that were unwarranted over the last couple of years have also shown enormous resilience in terms of pivoting. We’ve seen our first shipment ever of barley off to Mexico as part of part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. We’ve seen an increase in barley exports going into parts of the Middle East, and we’ve shown an ability to be able to pivot and we’ll continue to back our exporters to do that because having a strong economy and supporting those exporters is crucial not only to maintaining jobs and standard of living here in Australia, but also for being able to pay for these sorts of defence investments in the long run.
Scott Emerson: Well, let’s turn to the economy now. The latest labour force figures came out today. Now, a slight tick down in terms of the unemployment rate 4.6 to four point five here and here in Queensland slightly went up to five point three. But the ABS has admitted that these figures aren’t really reflecting at this stage the impacts of the lockdowns in New South Wales in Victoria. We even had, during this period, a slight lockdown here in Queensland.
Simon Birmingham: Look, it’s an unusual period of time where we’re although we were seeing prior to these lockdowns, workforce participation in Australia, reaching record levels and growing very strongly. Obviously, when you put a lockdown, it’s very hard for people to participate in the workforce. So you get that that temporary decline. We are confident of and you can see it in commentary from the OECD and others globally. Is that Australia’s economy, just as we came back strongly from setbacks last year, should come back strongly from the current setbacks that the lockdowns in New South Wales and Victoria are creating. That’s because the economic levers we’ve got in place in terms of support for individuals in in those states, for businesses, including the $600 million business support package that we are delivering into Queensland businesses, but also then the budget measures to encourage investment by businesses to support the carry back of losses against past year profits. These are all important measures to make sure that we come out of this, this latest round of COVID crisis as strongly as possible and of course, the ongoing vaccination rate. We are now just ever so shy of seeing 70 per cent of all Australians having had their first dose, sixty nine point eight per cent, twenty three point seven million doses administered across our country. And we just want to see that rate continue and particularly to see states like Queensland and pick up and reach those 70 and 80 per cent targets.
Scott Emerson: Simon Birmingham, appreciate you being on the show today.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Scott. My pleasure.