Topics: Eden-Monaro by-election; Mathias Cormann stepping down;
Graeme Goodings: Joining me now on the line, is Senator, Simon Birmingham. Federal trade Minister, Senator, good morning to you.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Graeme. Great to be with you.
Graeme Goodings: What do you make of Eden-Monaro? Labor looked like winning it, but it’s still too close to call, from some areas?
Simon Birmingham: It is still too close to call. It’s a close run race. The Labor Party have their nose in front; but, they’ve also seen the Labor votes decline by more than three per cent. The Liberal vote is up and so, this is quite extraordinary for a by-election where, traditionally, they swing against governments and towards Opposition, this one appears to have done the opposite. And if, Anthony Albanese, and the Labor Party do get home in that seat, it will be through some bizarre combination of preferences from the Shooters Party and the Greens. That just shows the extent to which, they’re being dragged in all sorts of strange directions, at present.
Graeme Goodings: It’s been said that both major parties put up pretty strong candidates, although the Liberal candidate looks like losing? Can you see a future for her, within the party?
Simon Birmingham: There could be. Fiona Kotvojs did an exceptional job, as the local candidate, she’d been the candidate at the previous federal election and she backed it up in this by-election. She’s clearly, a very thoughtful, capable woman, a very credible local community advocate. And the Labor Party candidate, indeed, equally appeared to be well regarded in [indistinct] and I acknowledge that if she wins, I congratulate her on that outcome. I don’t think the swings are a reflection on the local Labor candidate and her capabilities. If anything, she’s probably mitigated against an even bigger swing against Anthony Albanese and the overall Labor Party.
Graeme Goodings: What do you make of Mathias Cormann’s decision to step down?
Simon Birmingham: Mathias has been an incredible servant for Australia and for the Liberal Party and over his parliamentary career. Particularly, over the period since 2013, as Australia’s Finance Minister and in more recent years, as our Leader of the Government in the Senate. He’s overseen the nation’s finances through some tumultuous times, bringing us to the point where at the start of this COVID-19 crisis, we were in a position of the balanced budget that was moving into surplus. And that gave us the economic capacity to be able to respond to COVID, in a way that we have, in a far more comprehensive manner of support for businesses, households and our health system than other countries have been. So, Mathias leaves with a significant legacy. But, I equally understand [inaudible] time that we all have limits on our time in politics and public life. More than six years, as the Finance Minister, is a long innings. In fact, he’s Australia’s longest serving finance minister and is to be congratulated for all he’s achieved.
Graeme Goodings: Senator, the smart money says that Simon Birmingham will be the next Trade Minister or Finance Minister.
Simon Birmingham: Well, Simon Birmingham, I’m a very happy Trade Minister right now. We all serve at the pleasure of the Prime Minister. And right now, the Prime Minister wants me to be 100 per cent focused on my job as Trade Minister; Mathias to stay 100 per cent focused on his job as Finance Minister, until the end of the year and that’s what we’ll all keep doing. And I know that, Mathis, has the discipline and drive to see it through working 110 per cent capacity for Australians each and every day in his job and I’ll keep doing the same in mine.
Graeme Goodings: Spoken like a true politician. But you must see that role as one that you would – I was going to say covet – but you’re perfectly primed for and it would be great news for South Australia to see you step up into that portfolio.
Simon Birmingham: Well Graeme, it is honestly a matter for the PM to decide how he deploys the troops and where he wants each of us to serve in that regard. As Trade and Tourism Minister, there’s never been a more challenging time to hold these portfolios, facing the crisis our tourism industry confronts with COVID-19. The challenges our exporters confront with a shutdown of international aviation, the geopolitical tensions that are feeding into trade as well. So, I know that I’ve got a very big, challenging task that I’m doing right now and if that’s where the PM chooses to keep me, I’ll be happy to do so and know that I can continue to deliver for South Australia from this role as well. So, it really – as I say, there’s no point spending the next six months in reshuffle speculation. The PM will make his mind up. He’ll put us into jobs he wants to and my message to all of my colleagues, which I’m sure they’ll apply to, is the best thing any of us can do right now is keep our focus on the jobs we’ve got and delivering for the Australian people through what are very tough and challenging economic times.
Graeme Goodings: Speculation is the business we’re in Senator.
Simon Birmingham: Well, I know that I know that the media will have a job to do in that regard. But, we haven’t- these are the most challenging economic circumstances the world has seen in peacetime, and certainly since the Great Depression. And so, there’s no time or room in government for us to be distracted or to be sentimental about people and changes that are happening. It is it’s just a case of get on with the job and I know that’s what we’ll all do and I certainly know that’s what the listeners would expect us to do.
Graeme Goodings: Senator, thanks for your time this morning.
Simon Birmingham: My pleasure. Thanks Graham.
Graeme Goodings: Senator Simon Birmingham, Federal Trade Minister. Would make a very capable Minister for Finance.