Subject: Election 2016
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Simon Birmingham is a senior Liberal frontbencher from South Australia, he joins us now from Adelaide. Simon Birmingham, good to see you again after the election, we caught up of course before the election there in Adelaide, good morning.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Virginia. Good to be with you too and it is even wetter and colder than it was when we caught up.
TRIOLI: The harbinger of things that maybe came along. Is Peta Credlin right, did Malcolm Turnbull break the Liberal party’s heart?
BIRMINGHAM: No, the Liberal party together with the National party is still poised and certainly in the best position to form government and we are very confident that that will be the most likely outcome when the AEC concludes its counting. So ultimately, when we get to the end of this process and unfortunately the counting does take a little while, but when we get to the end of it we will still have a Liberal National party government in Canberra and that, of course, is the most important thing for the supporters of the Liberal party, but equally, most importantly, we will have stability, we will deliver that stability and we will get on with the task of effectively managing Australia’s economy in what are very difficult times.
TRIOLI: Let’s assume you’re right and you now have a working majority, is Cory Bernardi right, does someone have to take responsibility for the fact that you’ve lost this huge majority that you had and if you get it, you get it only on a knife edge; does someone have to account for that?
BIRMINGHAM: Well the quotes that I just heard you play from Cory do highlight what is a genuine issue that we have to confront and that is that a large number of Australians chose to vote for neither of the major parties and of course, that was particularly profound here in my home state of South Australia and we need to acknowledge that they have a level of dissatisfaction, we need to accept that and we need to work very hard firstly, with the people who they have voted to support if they have been elected to the parliament and secondly, to regain the trust of those voters between now and the next election, but that point does highlight that this is no great election victory for the Labor party. They ran an enormous scare campaign, they of course yes, have won a number of seats in the lower house, but their vote remains at historical lows. So, what we did see was that people who were scared, who were worried because of some of the lies that were being told, in large part, opted for other parties and we have to yes, acknowledge that, respect their decision at this election, but work to regain that trust and support through that next term of government.
TRIOLI: But if I’m reading correctly, Cory Bernardi was actually making a different point. It wasn’t that as a result of this so called scare campaign you lost supporters, but you’ve lost your base because the Liberal party, as it is constructed right now, has moved too far away from what it should be. Do you agree with that assessment philosophically about where your party is pitching itself and where it pitched itself during the campaign?
BIRMINGHAM: Well again, if I look here in South Australia, my home state, Cory’s home state as well and the rise of the Xenophon party, which is the minor party that of course, has been most successful of all at this election, I think they are overwhelmingly driven or those voters are overwhelmingly driven by more centrist concern and so, we need to be very mindful of that as we govern through the next few years.
TRIOLI: Sure, but maybe South Australia is a particular case in point and we’ll spend a bit of time on that. More broadly speaking, are those issues that other people are fleeing to, have they been abandoned by the Coalition, do you believe much more conservative values need to be re-embraced?
BIRMINGHAM: No, I think the Coalition will always need to be the broad-church that John Howard so often describes it as…
TRIOLI: Is it right now?
BIRMINGHAM: Yes, it is and it will continue to be. I have absolute confidence that Malcolm Turnbull who has sought to govern very much in a consultative style with his cabinet, will continue to do so, will continue to do so with the Coalition party room as well, but absolutely, that we need to make sure that while we are getting strength of economic leadership for the country that we so desperately need, we work cooperatively with whoever the Australian people have elected on to the crossbench, but we need them as well to make sure that they cooperate with the government. The crossbench Members and Senators can be part of the problem in Australian politics or they can be part of the solution and I hope that they will be part of the solution and that they will work cooperatively with us and that we will seek to work with them.
TRIOLI: Simon Birmingham, we are seeing in the papers today that Christopher Pyne has suggested in South Australia clearly as a result of the support that the Xenophon Team has received, that the government is interested in revisiting support for Arrium steel, do you believe now that the Coalition has to revisit the whole notion of manufacturing support in South Australia given the people have spoken and their support of the Xenophon philosophy on that?
BIRMINGHAM: Well the Coalition, in a sense, over the last 12 months really had revisited a number of those issues. At the heart of our election campaign was our defence industry plan about creating new advanced manufacturing opportunities here in South Australia and right around the rest of the country.
TRIOLI: Yes, but clearly voters very much liked what they heard from the Xenophon Team.
BIRMINGHAM: Well, they heard some rhetoric there, I’m not sure there were a lot of specifics. Now, we will work with Nick and I congratulate Nick on his success and we will work through their issues and concerns and in terms of Arrium in particular, we of course already have some strong plans that are in place to support Arrium, we gave certainty to Arrium and its workers during the course of the election campaign with the commitment of a $49 million loan facility to support some critical infrastructure upgrades for them and if there are other things we can do, we have said all along that we would look to do so and that is exactly what Christopher is talking about and doing.
TRIOLI: Just finally, how is the party? I mean, let’s talk spades really about what we just heard, those comments from high profile members within your own party; how is the party going to prevent itself from being ripped apart right now, how do you have a post-mortem about the situation you’re in without tearing yourselves apart?
BIRMINGHAM: I think by being adults, Virginia essentially. We will absolutely reflect up on the election outcome. Of course there are elements of disappointment when you lose seats, but we have held on to government, which it didn’t look like we would do 12 months ago and equally, on the other side of the ledger, we have Anthony Albanese simply having put on ice for a few weeks his challenge to Bill Shortens leadership. So, there is not a lot of joy in the Labor party whose vote is at historical lows, who face very immediate leadership pressures. We will work as adults, honestly working through the issues from this election, but also getting on with the job as the Australian voters expect us to of governing in the best interests of Australia, providing economic leadership and making this parliament work.
TRIOLI: Simon Birmingham, good to talk to you, thanks so much.
BIRMINGHAM: Thanks, Virginia.