LEIGH SALES: And joining me now is the Coalition’s Deputy Leader in the Senate, Senator Simon Birmingham.
Thanks very much for being with us, Senator.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Hello, Leigh. Good to be with you.
LEIGH SALES: Can I ask firstly, has the Government reached a deal yet with Senator Lambie on the medivac repeal bill?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Leigh, the medivac repeal bill will be put to a vote in the Senate this week, and it will be up to each of the 76 senators to determine whether or not they support the repeal of this unnecessary piece of legislation that has weakened the ability of the Government to be able to control our borders and determine whether or not people are of sufficient good character to come to Australia and to stop those of bad character from being transferred.
LEIGH SALES: And to get that through, you need Senator Lambie’s vote. So I ask again, have you reached a deal with her yet?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, to get that through, we need a majority of the 76 votes. The Labor Party could put it through instantly. They’re the ones who created this mess but …
LEIGH SALES: Have you reached a deal with Senator Lambie?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, we continue discussions with crossbenchers and will do so with anybody in terms of the efforts necessary to be able to pass this repeal legislation.
Because importantly, that will strengthen, again, the ability of the government of the day to be able to determine whether people are of sufficiently good character, that they ought to be transferred here, or if they are of bad character that they ought not to be transferred here.
LEIGH SALES: Senator Lambie says her support is conditional on the Government agreeing to something that she wants, but she won’t make public what that is.
Will all members of the Senate be made aware of what that quid pro quo is before they vote so they know exactly what they’re signing up to?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Leigh, senators, when they vote on a piece of legislation, are signing up to that piece of legislation. That is what is before the Senate.
LEIGH SALES: But if a deal’s been done and she’s been promised something in return for that, shouldn’t the public and the members of the Senate be aware of that?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Let’s deal firstly with your question about members of the Senate because you seem to have just told me that there’s not another single vote that’s in doubt in the Senate.
Now that may be the case but if it’s not going to change another vote, well, then you have to question what the relevancy is.
Ultimately, the Government will only agree to a proposal from a crossbench senator if it aligns with what we assess to be in the national interest in accordance with our values, our policies, our approaches.
LEIGH SALES: And will you be transparent about what a deal with Senator Lambie would be?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We’ll make sure that we handle, if we come to understandings with crossbench senators, goes through all of the normal, proper processes of government.
If it involves legislation, it will come to the Parliament. If it involves a budget decision, it will be reflected in budget processes.
We ought not have to be in this position, Leigh because firstly, the Labor Party should never have passed this legislation in the first place.
And you have to understand there’s more than 160 individuals, as I understand it, who’ve been transferred to Australia under these laws – less than five of them are currently in a hospital.
It has weakened the ability of the minister of the day to determine whether people are of bad character and indeed, we’re facing a circumstance where an individual alleged of undertaking numerous misdeeds and incidents whilst on Manus Island is likely to be transferred here under these rules.
LEIGH SALES: There’s been a substantial distraction from the Government’s agenda thanks to Angus Taylor. Who authored the document with the false figures?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Leigh, Mr Taylor has been very clear in his answers to the Parliament and publicly in his statements that his office downloaded this document from the City of Sydney website.
LEIGH SALES: But in correspondence between Mr Taylor’s office and the Lord Mayor’s office, he says the erroneous document was downloaded in September 2019. But the council has provided metadata evidence that shows the document was never altered from the accurate numbers that were posted in November 2018.
So that would indicate that we are not yet at the bottom of how the Minister’s office came to be in possession of that erroneous document that it then distributed.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Leigh, you’re correct that Minister Taylor wrote to the Lord Mayor of Sydney, apologising for the inaccuracies in the information.
He has been very clear, as I said before, that the document was downloaded from the City of Sydney website.
LEIGH SALES: But you must agree we’re not at the bottom of the story?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Leigh, as you’re well aware there is an investigation into the issues surrounding these documents.
Let’s let the investigation run its course.
LEIGH SALES: Laura Tingle ran through the historical examples of integrity and accountability. A document with doctored numbers was circulated by the Minister’s office for political gain.
Regardless of how that happened and whether it was an innocent mistake or not, how does that not constitute an offence for which somebody should stand aside given the damage to the Government’s credibility?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Leigh, I don’t accept the premise of the doctored-numbers claim you make there.
A document with incorrect information certainly was circulated. The minister has been…
LEIGH SALES: Even so, the Minister circulated a document with incorrect information for political gain. How is that not an offence that should require him to stand aside?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Leigh, I don’t think if the information was downloaded, as the Minister says, from the City of Sydney website, that is then clearly an innocent mistake that was made.
LEIGH SALES: You don’t think it’s an issue of credibility for your Government? Because how does the public now trust any information that comes out of your Government?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Leigh, I think the public form their judgements based on the merits of arguments that are put forward.
We went to the last election putting forward plans to make sure we deliver for the Australian people in terms of providing safety, security, certainty for them and their families, that we will work as hard as we can in growing the economy, in repairing the budget, in lowering taxes for them.
And they’re the things that mums and dads, grandparents and others worry about day-in, day-out – whether there will be jobs for them, and that’s why we’re so focused on continuing to build on our record.
One and a half million jobs, building on our economic policies of bringing the budget back to surplus, whilst delivering record investment into services Australians care about and delivering record levels of tax cuts legislated through this Parliament after the election, as we promised we would do.
LEIGH SALES: Senator, we’re out of time, unfortunately. Thank you.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thank you, Leigh.