Topics: Digital payment system reforms; Cryptocurrency; Winter Olympics;



Scott Emerson:  Simon Birmingham is the Finance Minister and leader of the government in the Senate and joins us on the line now. Minister, thanks for being on the show.


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


Scott Emerson: Now, as I said, look, it’s amazing to see the change to the financial digital landscape over the last couple of years. And as I just said, you know, these reforms would be the biggest in 25 years. Is it just something the government had to address because of the rapid changes?


Simon Birmingham: Well Scott, it’s driven indeed both by change and by opportunity. And so if people think about, if listeners think about their day to day lives and so many people will have changed the way in which they purchase the advent of tap and go, which hardly anybody used years ago, and now is so commonplace. The use of digital wallets on people’s phones and devices, which has grown so dramatically. And yes, these other platforms and the use of cryptocurrencies and the like, you know, reaching further into people’s financial behaviours and activities, but also presenting both some risks in terms of the way in which those platforms trade and are operated. And we’ve seen some of those risks realised in recent times, but also potentially like so many of these evolutions, immense opportunities for greater efficiency for smart businesses to get ahead. And we want to make sure that we’re possible Australian businesses and consumers are on the winning side of that equation.


Scott Emerson: So what kind of changes are you looking at making?


Simon Birmingham: So we’re really looking to make sure that we overhaul the rules where necessary governing how we transact. So obviously, there’s lots of rules that sit in the banking sector, the financial sector that flowed through in terms of impacts on businesses of all different sizes. And when you’ve got now so many 55 million non-cash payments being made across Australia every single day, we have to make sure that those sorts of banking and financial sector rules are flexible enough and up to date to manage that huge range of transactions do so in an effective and efficient way. So we will be working very closely with the banking and financial system sectors around how we modernise what’s known as the payment systems frameworks to ensure that we are continuously promoting competition and innovation across those sectors.


Scott Emerson: I’m talking to Finance Minister Simon Birmingham. Minister, cryptocurrency we’ve just seen in the last, well, last couple of days, but really for its history, it’s a very volatile area of finance there. Do you ever sometimes look at it and think I don’t quite understand why it’s going up and down so rapidly and that raises concerns in your mind?


Simon Birmingham: Well, look it, it does to a degree. But of course, many people, if they think back to the change of the millennia and the way markets were behaving around, some of the gig tech booms at the time will think that they’ve seen this before. But there is also only one trajectory that occurs in these things, and that is that technology becomes ever more pervasive, that it interacts ever more so with all of that, all of our lives. And in this sense, you know, cryptocurrencies at their heart are designed to provide for more secure payment systems to be made online for more secure transfers to occur online using blockchain type technologies to provide that high level of security. So that is a type of technological platform that we can expect businesses and enterprises to use ever more into the future. How do we ensure, though, that consumers and individuals engaging in that and have the same types of protections around stable regulatory environments that the people expect in other trading and financial platforms? How do we ensure that we are providing the maximum benefits from using such platforms? And indeed, how do we ensure that they aren’t used for massive levels of tax evasion? Particularly by, you know, large corporate entities or others who can shift to transactions more easily than perhaps individuals. So again, they’re all issues that these reviews and processes the Treasurer has announced today we’ll dig into.


Scott Emerson: Now let me just turn to the announcement today that Australia will be having a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing early next year, something I call for yesterday on my show. I think it’s a great decision. But obviously there will be concerns out there that there will be some form of retaliation by China over this decision. Does that worry you at all?


Simon Birmingham: Well, look, we’re always conscious in terms of the breadth and depth of Australia’s relationship with China, and many Australian people have strong people to people links with China, and many Australian businesses have strong business links with China and they are good things that we continue to encourage as a government where we continue to be open and willing to talk to China about the points of difference we have and to try to resolve those. And one of those points of difference that we’ve long held concerns about and have been quite open about our human rights abuses in China and in particular groups such as the treatment of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang province. In China, where there have been many reported and systemic, seemingly acts of abuse and concern. And so we continue to be open to dialogue there. But it shouldn’t be a surprise to listeners, given the actions of a number of other countries that they’ve taken, that we are pursuing this action consistent with what New Zealand’s already determined to do, consistent with what the US is doing and that we would expect others to look likewise. We’re backing our athletes to still go, to still compete, to do all that they ought to do as part of the Olympic movement, but it will be more reserved in terms of participation of government officials.


Scott Emerson: Simon Birmingham, thanks for being on 4BC Drive today.


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