Interview on ABC Insiders with Barrie Cassidy
Topics: Leadership changes; School funding
Barrie Cassidy: Simon Birmingham, good morning, welcome.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Barrie.
Barrie Cassidy: How big a loss would Julie Bishop be?
Simon Birmingham: Julie Bishop is the most significant woman in the history of the Liberal Party and she has been an outstanding Foreign Minister. Julie deserves the time to make her decision and her call about her future. We will all respect that. We have a new generation of leaders in Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg. But of course we would love to see Julie continue. But that really is up to Julie, we will all respect whatever decision she makes.
Barrie Cassidy: So if she is the most outstanding woman in the Liberal Party’s history, why then do you think she got 11 votes?
Simon Birmingham: The party room opted for a new generation of leadership in Scott and Josh, and I hope a generation of leadership that will see us through the next decade. And what we’ve seen already from Scott Morrison is that he is able to make sure that he expresses a conviction around how it is that he will work to keep Australians safe and secure and together. And I think we will see in Scott a leader who unites not only the Liberal Party but hopefully the people of Australia too.
Barrie Cassidy: Your name was on that WhatsApp thread. Were you persuaded by that tactic that the idea was to frustrate Mathias Cormann and Peter Dutton so that Scott Morrison would get through to the second round?
Simon Birmingham: Look I ultimately, first and foremost, I voted against there being a spill. I didn’t want the events of this week to happen. I supported Malcolm Turnbull right to the end, as did Scott Morrison. But I ultimately then chose to vote for Scott. I did so knowing that we would get a fresh generation of leadership from Scott. I spoke during the contest to Scott, I spoke to Julie. But this is no doubt a week of events that the Australian people didn’t want to have happen, I didn’t want to have happen, Scott Morrison didn’t want to have happen, but Scott is the right person to be able to now heal those wounds, bring us together and, I think, be the type of leader who, as I say, will bring the people of Australia together with him too.
Barrie Cassidy: You know in recent times, not just this time but in other times, the public have been left wondering: why? Can you explain now why, why did the Liberal Party cut down a broadly popular leader?
Simon Birmingham: We certainly saw a handful of individuals who decided to wreak havoc. We had Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership confirmed and re-endorsed just last Tuesday with a clear majority, and yet those who wanted to wreak havoc continued to do so during the week. Now, that was terribly destructive and every single man and woman in the Liberal Party room needs to put that type of behaviour behind us and make sure that we do unify for the future. The Australian people expect us to care about them and their interests, and Scott Morrison has made it abundantly clear that their jobs, their families, their homes, their futures are his priority and they must be the priority for each and every one of us too.
Barrie Cassidy: Well, perhaps you can explain then why a small group of people, a handful of people who want to wreak havoc ended up getting rid of the Prime Minister. How does that work?
Simon Birmingham: Sadly, that worked by just sheer perseverance, I think, Barrie, is the honest answer there. They continued to chip, chip, chip away in a destructive way. But that’s in the past. The future is now in Scott Morrison’s hands and I do have great optimism. He is an optimistic person. I have great optimism that he will be able to unite us and unite the country behind him. I think we will see somebody who has a great common touch and somebody who will build on his achievements as Malcolm Turnbull’s Treasurer and as Tony Abbott’s Border Security Minister, to be able to demonstrate that he can bring together that economic security in leadership, that national security in leadership, as well as the type of societal leadership that we expect in our Prime Ministers too.
Barrie Cassidy: Should you have taken on this group of wreckers a little earlier?
Simon Birmingham: Barrie, look, the history books will be written by, perhaps, you, or many others, and people will be able to reflect backwards. My job as a member of the now-Morrison Government is to look forwards. And look forwards we must because that’s what the Australian people expect us to do. The next election isn’t for another six to nine months and we have a job to do as a Government to build on Malcolm Turnbull’s legacy, which is an outstanding legacy. As a Liberal Prime Minister he has brought the budget back to the point where it is projected to be in balance next year. He delivered record jobs growth, he delivered tax cuts for Australians and for small businesses, he took on difficult issues such as GST reform, he invested in our Defence assets and our national security like no peacetime Prime Minister before. They’re great achievements for a Liberal Prime Minister. Scott Morrison has been central to that, and I know that he will enjoy Malcolm’s quiet support and counsel to go forward, as he does that of John Howard, and that he will work hard to make sure he builds on that. And I hope that Scott will be our leader for the next decade and beyond and to be able to replicate the type of achievements that John Howard had in doing so.
Barrie Cassidy: Well, you talk about your job. Will you stay on as Education Minister?
Simon Birmingham: All the Ministerial portfolios are the gift of the Prime Minister and I’ll leave that in his hands.
Barrie Cassidy: Are you keen to stay on as Education Minister?
Simon Birmingham: I love the education portfolio. I have two young daughters who are both in their early years of school, just like the PM has two young daughters who are approaching their secondary school years in the not too distant future. It’s a portfolio that is transformative in Australians’ lives, but it is up to the Prime Minister as to who serves in this portfolio or any other.
Barrie Cassidy: I read this morning that one of the first tasks for the new Prime Minister is to fix this difficulty you have with the Catholic sector. How close are you to a resolution on that?
Simon Birmingham: We’ve been having really productive discussions. I think we have to firstly acknowledge that Malcolm Turnbull and I made sure that no more in Australia will we have school funding decided on different deals between different states or different deals between different parts of the non-government schooling sector, but instead it is decided based on the need of Australia’s school children and those individual circumstances in those schools.
Now, Catholic Ed raised some legitimate concerns about the way some of the methodology behind that works and we’ve been working through, having got an independent report back just last month, how we respond to that report and act on it. And I’m confident that the Government will act on it and I’ll certainly, if it’s not me, be working with whomever the new Education Minister is to make sure the principles of fairness and school funding based on need are delivered, but also that we make sure we rectify and resolve any of those residual issues. So that the record and growing funding – you know, we put an extra $24.5 billion into school funding under Malcolm Turnbull – we want to make sure that money is used well. The fastest rates of growth go into needy Government schools, but we also see strong rates of growth elsewhere and we have to make sure that is fair, balanced and delivered consistently.
Barrie Cassidy: Can it be consistent, though? Can you put together a solution that has some consistency with all non-government schools?
Simon Birmingham: I believe you can. From my discussions with those in Catholic Ed and those in the independent schools sector, they all want to see a fair model that is reasonably applied across the board based on need. The only issues we’re really working through now are issues around how it is that socioeconomic status of a school is actually calculated, the methodology behind that, and some transition arrangements as to how that impacts on schools as they adjust over a six to 10 year period to a new model. Otherwise, I think people are committed to the principles that we applied last year when Malcolm Turnbull and I put through legislation to provide for consistency, not different arrangements but a single formula based on the need of those school sectors to make sure that each school is funded according to the needs of those individual students. More funds for students with a disability, for Indigenous students, for students from a non-English speaking backgrounds, those types of individual students and families who need extra support under a legitimate needs-based model, which we have legislated for, and which I am sure will endure for many years to come and will ultimately be one of the lasting achievements of the Turnbull Government.
Barrie Cassidy: All right. Just a final question, you talk about the new generation of leadership. Given that, there’d be no place for Tony Abbott in the new Ministry would there?
Simon Birmingham: Well again, all Ministerial appointments are for the Prime Minister to make, for Scott Morrison to make, and I will leave all commentary on those to him.
Barrie Cassidy: You don’t have a strong view either way?
Simon Birmingham: I have my own views but I will leave the comments to the Prime Minister and certainly the decisions are his to make.
Barrie Cassidy: All right, thanks for your time this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Barrie.