Topics: Christian Porter; Greg Hunt; National accounts; Omicron;



Oli Peterson:  GDP has dropped 1.9 per cent in the September quarter, largely thanks to those lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne. But it’s a very different story over here in Perth. The WA economy grew 0.6 per cent and since COVID struck. So over the last 21 months or so, six point three per cent on the line from Parliament House in Canberra is the Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham. Good afternoon.


Simon Birmingham: Hello, Oli. It’s good to be with you again.


Oli Peterson: Senator, I’ll come to the GDP figures in just a moment, but that breaking news in federal parliament today is WA Pearce MP Christian Porter is resigning. He won’t contest the next election. You wouldn’t probably be surprised by his decision, would you?


Simon Birmingham: Only I think many people will understand the decision. It’s been a very traumatic year for anybody who’s been involved with the issues that have been raised in that regard. And I wish Christian, as I do all others who have been affected by the trauma of the issues that have been raised and the debates that have been surrounded them nothing but the best for the future after these difficulties,


Oli Peterson: You mentioned those events, those allegations late last year. Did it make his position untenable in the parliament?


Simon Birmingham: No. Look, I know how hard he has worked in his community and has continued to do so. He is a great mind, a brilliant legal mind and continued to make a fierce and strong contribution. But as you said, I don’t think anybody would be surprised. And it’s a decision certainly that I respect


Oli Peterson: How much responsibility is Malcolm Turnbull has to take for Porter’s downfall.


Simon Birmingham: Oh, look, I don’t know. Don’t think anything will be added to in terms of helping everybody who’s been traumatised by those issues to get into a debate around that. Christians made his decision and you know, we will now get on the Liberal Party in WA will preselect, I’ve no doubt a great, outstanding local candidate for Pearce and we’ll make sure we work hard to remind them of the reasons why they need a Liberal MP and a liberal government to keep the WA and national economy strong and to keep Australia safe and secure in globally uncertain times.


Oli Peterson: Greg Hunt is also set to announce he’s on the way out. Your colleagues jumping off a sinking ship, Senator?


Simon Birmingham: There are always retirements at every election. I remember, you know, people asking me the same question at the last election when Michael Keenan was retiring in WA or when Christopher Pyne decided to retire, or ultimately people in this job are allowed to leave. And whilst Greg hasn’t made any announcement at this stage, to my knowledge, he has been in the parliament for more than 20 years. It’s a long time to represent your community and to do the jobs that he and the rest of us do. So if that’s his choice again, I think people should respect it for what it is, which is 20+ years of hard work of service and moving on to the next stage of life.


Oli Peterson: If the health portfolio comes up, would you be interested in shifting over there?


Simon Birmingham: [Laughs] Oli, I have had the great pleasure of being the education minister, the trade minister and now the finance minister. I don’t see me shifting anywhere anytime soon. The finance minister, it gives me great scope across all portfolios of government. As a member of the Expenditure Review Committee of the Cabinet and as a member of the National Security Committee of the Cabinet. And I’m certainly relishing this job and we have a big job ahead of us. We’ve managed to get the country through COVID-19 with a strong economy, but we’ve got to make sure it is as strong and growing as strongly as possible in the years to come to manage the debt and the things that we’ve had to incur to get through COVID.


Oli Peterson: Let’s talk about that because GDP numbers out today down almost two per cent. This is the doing of Delta, particularly for Sydney and Melbourne in lockdown for all, if not most, of that September quarter.


Simon Birmingham: It is you’re dead right there that it is the doing of Delta. That the lockdowns, we had the Sydney metro area in lockdown for pretty much the entirety of that quarter. We had the Melbourne metro area in lockdown for around two thirds of that quarter. And obviously when you’re in those sorts of lockdowns, you’ve then got a significant decline in consumer spending and that decline in consumer spending has flowed through in terms of the downturn for the quarter. But we’ve got to keep it in a slightly longer term perspective over the course of the last year. Australia remains in one of the top three countries in the developed world for our economic performance. We’ve grown at 3.9 per cent through the year, which is more than the UK or Canada or Germany or Italy or the Japanese economies. And that shows that from the depths of COVID when it hit right across the country in every state or territory last year through lockdowns nationwide, that had to occur. We’ve come back very, very strongly and far better than most,


Oli Peterson: And the results in WA up over six per cent since COVID, 0.6 per cent in the September quarter. How important is the West Australian economy been to these economic results?


Simon Birmingham: Oh, the West is an economic powerhouse for Australia, no doubt about that. You know, crucially, what we saw in this quarter was the strength of our trade relations a trade surplus of thirty eight point nine billion dollars. That’s the country exporting more than we import. And a lot of those exports come out of Western Australia. And as a government, we have known that it’s one of the reasons why we made sure that we got rid of Labour’s mining tax when we first came to office because that was about, you know, backing our resources industry. And it’s why we now continue to invest in the new energy and resources sectors for the future, critical minerals and rare earths that are necessary to provide the minerals and resources for batteries and new technologies, the hydrogen energy opportunities that we see of the future. You know, these are all about making sure that Australia’s resources sector and our energy sector remains a key part of our economic future.


Oli Peterson: So looking forward, you’re pretty confident. But what sort of a spanner does Omicron now throw into the mix?


Simon Birmingham: Omicron is certainly cause for just a little bit of caution right now, but we’ve got to keep it in perspective too. So what we’ve done is said we’re going to take a two week pause when it comes to the next stage of reopening the international borders. Now I know that’s a little way off for WA right now. But in New South Wales and Victoria, we had opened up and started to have Australians and permanent residents and their family members moving more freely in and out of the country again. We were going on the 1st of December today to take the step with international students and critical workers. We’ve deferred that decision by a couple of weeks just to give us breathing space to get the best available information around Omicron. What the health experts are telling us to date is that its transmissibility is probably somewhere on par of deltas or might be a little bit more, but its health impacts might be a bit less. And the vaccines are certainly showing that they work. Whether they work to the same degree is something that in two weeks’ time will know a lot more about than we do today.


Oli Peterson: I appreciate your time, Finance Minister. I’ll let you get back to the work in Parliament. Thank you.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Oli. My pleasure.