Topics: Tasmanian tragedy; MYEFO; grants programs


10:15AM AEST


Simon Royal: The Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham, is here with us to talk about these things. Simon Birmingham, good morning.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Simon. Great to be with you again.


Simon Royal: Good to have you with us. Can we go to Tasmania first of all, please? The people who have lost children, five children there yesterday killed on a jumping castle. What can the federal government offer those families who lost children?


Simon Birmingham: Simon, the Prime Minister spoke with the Tasmanian Premier yesterday, and we’ve continued to be in close contact and particularly the health ministers I know are in touch to ensure that all possible support and counselling and mental health assistance is there, not just for the immediate days of the aftermath of this terrible tragedy, but of course for the months and frankly years that will come and will leave the scarring on those immediate families of the first responders. And of course, potentially on other children and playmates of those who so sadly have lost their lives. And so we have a Headspace centre that the Federal Government has established to a full Headspace service in the last year or so in Devonport. They’ll be working closely in terms of that type of trauma informed counselling and support, and they’ll be there for the long haul. And we’re working with Tasmania about what additional support might be needed for that school and its community. I just struggle to think about the grief and trauma and the loss that they must all be feeling. As a dad of two young kids who spent plenty of plenty of hours standing around bouncy castles myself, it is just something that is hard to put into context or words what they must all be dealing with.


Simon Royal: But the support in order to work, as you’re saying, needs to be long term. It’s long haul stuff.


Simon Birmingham: It is, you know, whilst the news cycle will move on as it invariably does, and I do acknowledge that this is traumatic and difficult for reporters too, I frankly find it hard to find the words to talk about it. And so I know those on the ground there would really face issues that mean support needs to stretch out in the long term. And the other point that is so important to make, and again, I note that ABC news bulletins have carried warnings since last night about this, that of course, a tragedy like this will bring back difficult memories for so many people have lost children have lost loved ones of trauma or tragedy at this time of year, especially. And so everybody should know that the support is there to reach out to through government funded and supported agencies, be it Beyond Blue or many others that that provide that type of assistance and support when people find this type of news just all too overwhelming and too hard to deal with.


Simon Royal: Senator, I’m not sure how old your kids are, but would you let them onto a jumping castle again?


Simon Birmingham: Look, I would, Simon. I mean, they’re nine and 10, so I’m probably coming towards the tail end of the jumping castle part of parenting. But you, we all have to be able to have fun to take risks to live life. And you know, this is just such an extraordinary circumstance that that has caused this. I don’t think that we should overreact to it. I mean, it’s hard to fathom how something like it happens and when it happens, how it happens in a way that has such devastating and huge consequences and the loss of five little lives. But I know that in my years ahead, there will be sleepless nights that I have when the girls are going out and we’ve already started to have those conversations about that. When you’re older, mum and dad will always be there to come and pick you up and to make sure that you don’t get in the car with somebody who’s been drinking or any of those sorts of things. So there are many risks and many challenges that we all have in life. But, you know, bouncy castles themselves have brought many hours of joy to my girls, a little bit of sunburn to me along the way, standing alongside them at festivals and fairs and so on. But, you know, I think obviously there’ll be thorough investigations into this to try to ensure that precautions are taken in the future to try to stop this happening. But obviously, it was a very freakish weather event that that precipitated it.


Simon Royal: So onto the mid-year budget review, the numbers look positive, but do they mean anything in the face of Omicron?


Simon Birmingham: The numbers are positive and show that if you think back, we handed down the 2021 Budget in May of this year, people were only just starting to talk about Delta at the time we handed it down. It’s a little analogous in that sense to the timing of Omicron for this budget update now. Delta caused far more severe impacts than we had predicted. We had to spend an additional 25 billion dollars in support for the health systems, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria, in support for economic assistance for families, for small businesses and others during those prolonged lockdowns across those jurisdictions and Canberra. So it had a big impact, but still because of the way in which we’ve structured the policies around Australia’s economic recovery and support to get us through this, we’ve actually recorded an improved budget position where growth is stronger than expected. The tracking forward, where employment numbers are far stronger than expected and we’ve now got 180,000 more Australians employed than we had pre-COVID-19 coming along, and there aren’t many countries who are in that position and where the debt projections are also lower than we had expected. So that shows that with the right policy, we can see through these uncertain times and the big difference between entering Delta as we were at that time of the May budget and entering Omicron as we are now, are vaccinations, and we have 90 per cent plus double dose across Australia now it’s one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, more than New Zealand or the United Kingdom, Finland, Norway or so many other developed nations. We’ve now had more than one million booster doses administered, with record days of booster doses now occurring and urge everyone to get that as it comes due at the five month mark, because that is what can enable us to handle the fact that, yes, there’s going to be a rise in COVID cases. But as long as people aren’t getting sick, as long as they aren’t being hospitalised, then this is all entirely manageable.


Simon Royal: Can we talk about what The Sydney Morning Herald spoke of earlier this week? And it’s been touched on throughout the week by media, and that is the grants program as it’s run various grants programs as it’s run by the federal government. You’re the Finance Minister. But I just wondered as a Senator elected by everyone across the State, do you govern for everyone or do you govern for the people who elected you?


Simon Birmingham: No, I see certainly my role as senator for South Australia, governing or representing the state in its entirety and of course as a minister in the Government or governing for the nation in its entirety now.


Simon Royal: So how then do you explain not one Labor seat in South Australia got more money than a Liberal seat? Nine seats, not one of them got as much money as a Liberal seat. And indeed, the difference between the smallest, which was spent, just over a million dollars, and Grey, was a factor of 60.


Simon Birmingham: Well, the analysis that the nine newspapers did was quite selective, focussed on 11 grants programs out of around 1,700 that the government runs. Those grants programs included programs that are focussed on supporting regional communities or drought affected communities. So Grey, which is close to 90 per cent of South Australia and includes all of our remote regions, of course, is a far bigger recipient of regional funding and drought funding. In other programs, particularly those focussed on community support services, on disability support services and the like. I would be highly confident that we would find far more funding for an electorate like Spence across the northern suburbs of Adelaide than we might find in eastern suburban seats, for example, because it follows need in that regard.


Simon Royal: Whatever way you cut it, of the grant programs that were analysed, 1.9 billion dollars went to LNP seats and 530 million dollars went to Labor seats. You’ve mentioned the drought. South Australia very rarely ever does an entire drought declaration. The state needs to do that in order to trigger federal funding. But let’s look at metropolitan seats. 1.51 million for Spence. $14 million for Boothby.


Simon Birmingham: And, Simon, so I mean, again, you’ve got to drill down in terms of what the individual elements of that are and still recognise that different things can skew these numbers. In the next round of reporting that will come along, the seat of Hindmarsh will show the 15 million dollar funding announced for the Port Adelaide Football Club. Port Adelaide, where the Liberal Party has never held that seat, and that will see a significant bump in terms of support that that electorate is going to receive?


Simon Royal: What thing drilling down drove this to look like it does, so that every Labor seat in South Australia received less than a Liberal seat?


Simon Birmingham: Simon, the other reality of these things is that given the programs that were focussed on, some of them are about delivering election commitments the government made. Now, we go to an election just like the Labor Party does, promising things in local communities, in areas that we’re campaigning in intensively. And of course, we have to go and get on and deliver those promises, which we do. Anthony Albanese has been doing exactly the same thing. He’s already promised a couple of aquatic centres and swimming pools in parts of Melbourne that are either in Labor held seats or seats that he is clearly targeting and hoping to win. It is a function of the fact that when we go to an election and make those commitments, then we have to go and deliver upon those commitments afterwards. And again, that’s sort of the somewhat more narrow scope, perhaps of the programs that are focussed on against the very broad breadth of more than 1,700 other grants programs for which I think if we similarly handpicked some of them, we could probably show disproportionate support in the favour of Labor seats.


Simon Royal: Senator, thank you very much for your time this morning. Good to talk with you.


Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Simon, and to you and best wishes for Christmas to you and all your listeners.