SENATOR THE HON SIMON BIRMINGHAM
Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate Senator for South Australia
Interview on ABC Radio Adelaide, Breakfast, with David Bevan and Spence Denny.
Topics: Michael McCormack’s comments, Land tax in SA, Lorna Fawcett comments oil drilling, Hong Kong protests
David Bevan: And on the phone line, Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia and Minister for Trade. Good morning to you.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning.
David Bevan: Now yesterday on the program, Michael McCormack, the Acting Prime Minister, handed out some advice to our listeners about being older and being out of work. And basically, he was saying: have you considered moving?
Michael McCormack: Maybe they should also look to regional Australia. And I know I keep pushing this point, and I know it’s with the derision of some in the media, but the fact is there are jobs in regional Australia. And I appreciate senior Australians, sometimes, are set in their ways as far as they’ve got the family home, they’re living in the suburbs of Adelaide. I appreciate that’s not for everybody. But for some, there are job opportunities out there if they just look. And you know, regional Australia has some high paying- and they’re crying out for people, particularly people with life experience, which seniors have.
[End of excerpt]
David Bevan: Nick Champion, Labor Member for Spence, your electorate’s starting to move out into regional South Australia, but I think Mr McCormack was talking about far field. What do you say? What would the people in your electorate say to Mr McCormack?
Nick Champion: Well, I think it’s an easy thing to say on radio; it’s a harder thing to do in practice. Obviously, you need financial resources to go. Obviously, you’re moving away from friends and family. I did a fair bit of fruit picking and the like in my youth. It was always a pretty wild adventure, and sometimes you got to farms and it was all good. And sometimes, you got to farms and the sharer’s accommodation and stuff was pretty ordinary; sometimes, terrible. Sometimes, the people you’re working with wouldn’t pay you. So it’s all very well and good to say.
The other thing is, I was only talking to a lady yesterday, she was 62. The Government wanted to put her on Newstart. She’d just had two operations for arthritis. She was getting around in a moonboot. Is she really going to, at 62 with arthritis – and she’d been working at a chicken hatching farm just north of Gawler there, so she’d been working.
Spence Denny: But she was used to physical labour …
Nick Champion: She did- well, she’d ruined her body, I think, doing it. You know, saying to her at 62, go off to a farm for a second round of hard yakka, I just think it’s a bit insulting.
David Bevan: Sarah Hanson-Young, what should we do?
Sarah Hanson-Young: Well, I think- the first thing we should do is be investing in rural and regional health services if we expect people to move out there for work, particularly older Australians. We know at the last election, the Rural Doctors Association were dismayed at the lack of policies from both major parties, but particularly the Coalition in relation to the desperate need of investment of training, of skilled workers, of specialists in rural and regional Australia. And for Mr McCormack to just say: move out to the bush, everything will be okay. I think it’s a bit unrealistic. And it reminds me actually, when I was listening to it, it reminded me of when Barnaby Joyce said if South Australians are not happy that we don’t have any water, then just move to Queensland. And it kind of misses the point. It’s not a quick and easy fix.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham.
Spence Denny: So what’s your option Simon Birmingham?
Simon Birmingham: Well I think firstly, and thank you for playing the full extract there of Michael McCormack’s remarks, because it’s clear in that – he said it’s not for everyone, but it’s an option, and it’s an option that is a reality that there are jobs available in some parts of regional Australia and that people who are in a position where they can think about doing so may wish to think about doing so.
Spence Denny: What sort of jobs? What, jobs that are going to take away from local community people who want to keep their young people in town? Who don’t want their children to move out of town and go to the city? They want to play sport in the local community?
Simon Birmingham: In some parts of regional Australia, including parts of regional South Australia, unemployment rates are down to 2 and 3 per cent. So there are parts of regional Australia where we see very strong demand for individuals to fill a diverse range of jobs, and those jobs are sometimes professional jobs, not just the type of other jobs that the people have reflected upon this morning.
David Bevan: But can you understand why some of our listeners were so angry yesterday, Simon Birmingham, that for people who already feel marginalised, used up, and spat out, they’re in their 60s, they’ve been unemployed for a long time, they may be qualified but they’re just being ignored because of their age. Maybe their bodies don’t work so much anymore and they’re not qualified yet for the pension and they’re being asked to go out on Newstart. They’ve got commitments in the suburbs, they just cannot get up and move. It’s totally impractical. They’re not professionals that can do some of these works – they’re not doctors, or engineers, or mechanics. They just feel comments like that are totally insulting.
Simon Birmingham: Well, David, I don’t think that we should be insulted because I thought Michael McCormick’s tone and comments there were perfectly reasonable. He said it’s not for everyone. He simply said it’s an option that some people may wish to consider. Now, Michael McCormack is from regional Australia. He was here in South Australia yesterday, visiting regional parts of South Australia, where he was committing investments that will create more industry, more jobs, such as the water recycling treatment down in McLaren Vale that will create more job opportunities and economic growth down there. And that provides opportunities for people of all ages to go and seek those jobs. But I thought his tone and his comments were very measured, and that they were very calm, and they were very respectful of the fact that this isn’t going to suit everybody, but it is one option that’s there. It’s why we also run other programs that provide job subsidies to employ older Australians and to help encourage employers to think about doing that. You know, there’s very easy solutions to these issues and that’s why we’ve got to run a range of different strategies. And the option of work where it’s available is clearly one of them. But moving will not suit everybody and he acknowledged that.
Spence Denny: 9.18 is the time. You’re listening to ABC Radio Adelaide. This is Super Wednesday. David, an interesting development locally, yesterday. A body called True Liberals has been registered. This is in the wake of proposed changes to land tax.
David Bevan: Now, we had a chap by the name of Richard Solomon. And it was Tom Richardson who broke the story in Daily. He’s a local lawyer and he’s been a Liberal voter all of his life. I spoke to him yesterday afternoon and he appeared on Peter Goers program yesterday. But what this guy has decided to do is register the name True Liberals. He’s upset because of the State Liberals’ campaign – decision – regarding land tax, and it’s going to affect a lot of people. He says it’s just unfair. Well, let’s hear what Richard Solomon said to Peter Goers last night.
Richard Solomon: My problem with the Liberal Party- have you been following the land tax aggregation saga, Peter?
Peter Goers: Yes, I have.
Richard Solomon: Well, there’s a huge problem out there because I think there’s an unprecedented public anger about what the Liberal Government is doing.
Peter Goers: You’ve called it political suicide?
Richard Solomon: Well, I call it political suicide, so do a lot of other people. And we don’t believe that Marshall and Lucas are listening to a lot of their supporters or to a public South Australia.
[End of excerpt]
David Bevan: Okay, so that’s a long time Liberal voter Richard Solomon talking to Peter Goers last night.
Simon Birmingham, it seems like your state colleagues are determined to alienate their base.
Simon Birmingham: No, I don’t agree with that, David. They’re working through a process in relation to these land tax reforms, and what they’re seeking to do with the land tax reform is ensure that the land tax applies fairly and evenly and consistently across the board. That people are not able in the future to use corporate structures to change the amount of land tax that they would pay. And in doing so, they’re also seeking to bring down the rate of land tax the top rate and to bring that down and to increase the threshold at which land tax starts to apply so that people don’t pay on smaller landholdings or ownership. So- and this is a full reform package. It’s not obviously completed in its detail yet and Rob Lucas is working through that detail, and I’m sure that when they finalise it, they’ll have listened to the concerns and they’ll strike the right balance that does reform it in a way where the tax is applied consistently across the board. People can’t evade or avoid it by setting up different structures, but that the rate comes down to make South Australia more competitive some.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, I’ve spoken to Liberals who’ve said Steven Marshall is our Malcolm Turnbull. And that wasn’t meant as a compliment.
Simon Birmingham: Steven Marshall is tackling an issue here where every other state, as I understand it, has aggregation laws in place for those who have lower land tax rates in place. And that’s the combination that we have to work towards and finish up with and I’m sure when all of the details are finalised, and Rob Lucas releases the draft legislation, then we’ll see at that point that we’ve got the lower rates that make South Australia more competitive, but the ability for people to use different corporate structures or entities to minimise the rate of tax they pay is eliminated so that it’s applied consistently to all land holders – not inconsistently depending on how much time you put in to structuring different entities to minimise the land tax.
David Bevan: Sarah Hanson-Young.
Sarah Hanson-Young: What Steven Marshall is trying to do is address a problem that does exist. There is a loophole that is exploited. And if you’re rich enough to be able to have several properties and use that corporate loophole, then you can pay less than the average homeowner. So I do think that it’s something that needs to be addressed.
Obviously what Steven Marshall has is a Liberal Party problem, not a policy problem. The policy is- in principle is right. We need to make the system fairer. But of course you can’t just lead from the front and not bring people with you. That’s what we saw with Malcolm Turnbull. Of course- I would say one thing. I think the comparison perhaps is a little bit unfair so far, in that history will show Malcolm Turnbull didn’t stand up for the principles that he was- that a lot of Australians wanted him to do. He actually curtailed too much to the far and the hard right and that was his ultimate undoing, whether that was on climate change, on other things. And, you know, I’d hate to see here in South Australia a situation where good, sound policy goes to the wayside because the Liberal Party can’t get their house in order.
David Bevan: Nick Champion – you don’t want to annoy your base. They’ll cop so much, but there’s a reason they’re your base.
Nick Champion: Well look, I think the Premier’s passed a sort of invisible sort of bridge into a sort of valley of death. He’s got privatisation, which is angering the labour movement and the general public are furious about it; he’s got land tax, which is angering his own party, mainly because they weren’t consulted. I mean, it came as a bit of a surprise to the Liberal-voting hordes. And the third thing is that the moderates have lost control of the party apparatus, which is a very big problem for the Premier, I think. No doubt caused by Simon’s soliloquies – they probably got sick of hearing them at conventions and the like.
David Bevan: Well, that’s very unkind.
Nick Champion: Oh yeah, cheap shot, cheap shot. But look, I think these are serious- they’re almost tectonic changes in South Australian politics and we should- you know, it’s not good for the Premier.
David Bevan: Now, Simon Birmingham, yesterday two people independently said to me: watch the Senate selection for the Liberal Party. David Fawcett may well resign before his term is up. Now, people are saying, well, we know Bernardi and he held originally a Liberal seat and then he left the party, but that was expected to return to the Liberal Party when he resigned, and he’s going to resign at the end of this term.
But two people said: well, Fawcett might go and that would allow Georgina Downer to step into his seat earlier than expected. What do you know? Because we’ve been contacted by Lorna Fawcett, Mr Fawcett’s wife, and she said: well, this is all news to me.
David Bevan: What do you know, Simon Birmingham?
Simon Birmingham: Well, David and Lorna are both lovely, decent and honest people and David is a very hard working Senator and Lorna works very hard as part of that family unit in support of David, so I’m delighted that she has sought to clarify matters there.
Look, people ought to just cool down – David’s just been re-elected for a new six year term, he is chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, which is pretty much the pre-eminent committee within the Parliament; he is a very savvy and important advisor to me as the Trade Minister, to Marise Payne in Foreign Affairs, to Linda Reynolds in Defence, across all of our portfolios in helping us with various issues that he handles at an important level and I’m sure David has a long contribution to make well into the future.
And can I just comment or reflect quickly to say that Nick Champion there with his comments about Steven Marshall, that sounded like the same cockiness I heard from Nick Champion before the federal election, and that certainly didn’t play out as Nick expected.
Nick Champion: I’m always cocky.
David Bevan: Ten to nine is the time; you are listening to ABC Radio Adelaide and this is Super Wednesday with Nick Champion, the Labor Member for the appropriately named Spence; Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for South Australia and spokesperson on the Environment; and Liberal Senator for South Australia, Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham.
Sarah Hanson-Young, what’s the latest as a result of your meetings with proponents of drilling in the Bight?
Sarah Hanson-Young: So, we’ve got a number of executives in South Australia over the last couple days from the Norwegian company Equinor – they’ve flown in to talk to people here about what’s going on. I met with them on Monday and I must say, they said to me that they were prepared to listen and to be talking with a cross section of the community. I am concerned, however, that that is not what’s going on.
I understand they were in Port Lincoln yesterday and didn’t meet with members of the Tuna Association, a big interest group in relation to this. I’m concerned that they haven’t really thought through about consulting properly with Traditional Owners. But I did say very directly to them that if they do a cross section consultation, they’ll hear very clearly that people don’t want this. They’re not prepared to put at risk the Great Australian Bight, our fishing, our tourism industries, for something that is just not going to deliver economic benefit to South Australia with the risk it puts up there.
The idea that we would risk 10,000 jobs in our fishing and tourism industry for a company that’s going to take its profits back home, offshore – we’re not even going to see the fuel refined in Australia. It’s just not worth it.
David Bevan: But Nick Champion, Labor’s quite happy for this to go ahead, provided it gets past the independent regulator?
Nick Champion: Well, I think we said during the election campaign that we wanted NOPSEMA to look at it and we were going to have, I think, another review. I think the Government ended up committing to the CSIRO looking into it. And look, it’s obviously a very deep drill – we’ve had a succession now of companies come through on it. Oil and gas exploration is necessary; it’s part of our national endowment. But obviously there are- you know, if you go to Port Lincoln and don’t see the tuna fishermen, you’re probably not doing your community consultation right.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham?
Simon Birmingham: I can’t believe that Sarah Hanson-Young is criticising Equinor for not engaging or meeting with people when they met with her. I mean-
Sarah Hanson-Young: Well, I asked for the meeting, Birmo, that- I asked for it.
Simon Birmingham: Sarah, there’s as much chance of you being convinced to support an oil drilling project as there is of my 8-year-old being convinced to eat Brussels sprouts.
Sarah Hanson-Young: See, you should only speak to people you agree with?
Simon Birmingham: You’re never going to change your mind.
Sarah Hanson-Young: It wasn’t about changing…
Simon Birmingham: You’re against all of these projects.
Sarah Hanson-Young: But Simon, we live in a democracy.
Simon Birmingham: … wasting their time talking to you.
Sarah Hanson-Young: But, well you’re either serious about consultation with the community or you’re not. You don’t get to pick and choose just because you meet with people who agree with you. I mean, that is not consultation.
Simon Birmingham: Well, no, sure, but you are clearly never going to agree with them and they’re going to the lengths of even sitting down and talking to you.
Sarah Hanson-Young: Well, I did request the meeting, and they did sit down with me. My concern is they’re not …
Simon Birmingham: Well, good on them. Congratulations for that.
Sarah Hanson-Young: My concern is they’re not meeting with a broad section of the community that they should be.
David Bevan: Okay.
Simon Birmingham: Yep. And what we’ve done is we’ve asked Australia’s Chief Scientist to look over the independent regulator process so that there’s a double checking in place there and to make sure that if it gets up and gets approved, it has jumped through every possible hoop to do so, and will be as safe as the drilling that we’ve had in the Bass Strait for decades and decades.
Sarah Hanson-Young: Anger in this project is growing and growing, it’s not going to go away
David Bevan: At seven minutes to nine. Simon Birmingham, you’re the Trade Minister, the Australian Council of Trade Unions have urged the Parliament to reject Australia’s free trade deal with Hong Kong amid escalation in hostilities. I’m reading from The Australian today. Do you think it’s a good idea to reject the free trade deal as a way of supporting these protesters?
Simon Birmingham: No, in fact quite the opposite. So our trade agreement with Hong Kong is rooted and based upon support for the idea of one country, two systems, and we have a trade agreement with China. We have a trade agreement that’s proposed with Hong Kong that we’ve negotiated successfully, and that ought to be brought into effect. It helps to strengthen and underpin the very values and system that people are seeking to defend in Hong Kong.
Sarah Hanson-Young: I think the situation in Hong Kong is … well, anyone who’s watching the news- I was there about a month and a half ago and I saw some of the protests myself. It is just horrendous. It’s getting worse and worse and Australia has to start standing up and doing something. Simply kowtowing or thinking that our trade relationship with China is the premium as opposed to what’s going on with democratic stability and the region and human rights, not to mention this writer who is now detained – I mean, we’ve got to get him out of there.
David Bevan: Sarah Hanson-Young from the Greens, thanks for your time; Nick Champion, Labor Member for Spence, thank you for yours; and on the phone line Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia and Minister for Trade, thank you for yours.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you.