Interview on ABC News Breakfast
Topics:  Leadership; Live exports; Peter Dutton; Women representation in the Liberal Party




Virginia Trioli:  As Parliament resumed yesterday, Scott Morrison endured his first question time as Prime Minister, batting away several questions about just why Malcolm Turnbull was replaced, but elsewhere new legislation on live exports was debated, and Peter Dutton is still facing big and serious questions over the au pair. Well newly-appointed trade minister, Simon Birmingham joins me now. Good to talk to you.


Simon Birmingham:     Good morning.


Virginia Trioli:  I’m accustomed to talking to you as Education Minister but that changed.


Simon Birmingham:     It did indeed, look I was Australia’s longest serving Education Minister since Brendan Nelson, loved the job. I give my thanks to the many schools, teachers and universities and others I had the pleasure to engage with.


Virginia Trioli:  The reason I jump in, you didn’t want to lose education, did you?


Simon Birmingham:     I’m excited to be the trade minister.


Virginia Trioli:  That’s not answering my question.        


Simon Birmingham:     Well, you don’t want to say you want to lose a portfolio.


Virginia Trioli: I’m remembering you clearly saying at the time, saying you love this portfolio, I would like to hang on to this portfolio.                


Simon Birmingham:     I said I loved this portfolio…


Virginia Trioli: The implication.


Simon Birmingham:     No, you can love a job, but love a new job. I’m absolutely thrilled to work on behalf of Australia’s exporters and industries who underpin our prosperity, underpin the capacity for us as a nation, to have high-performing schools and universities because they generate income and wealth for our country.


Virginia Trioli: Let me ask you this – you didn’t, really, want to lose it, or you were happy to hang on to it. Were you happy to lose the Prime Minister?          


Simon Birmingham:     Look, I supported Malcolm Turnbull, as did Scott Morrison, that’s all on the public record, but the party room made a decision to change the leader. In the end, once they decided to spill the leadership and Malcolm indicated he would not be a candidate and Scott stepped forward. Now I think Scott is doing a fabulous job connecting with the Australian people and building a rapport with the Australian people and demonstrating that he really has a strong connection and understanding of their beliefs, their priorities and that’s why he is focused so hard on how we keep our economy strong and keep Australians safe and secure.


Virginia Trioli: The first polls don’t show that connection, do they?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, I think you can see that there is absolutely a positive regard for Scott Morrison and I have been out on the ground with him. He is getting a great reception from people. And what we have to do, as the rest of the team, is lock in with him, in terms of demonstrating to people that we are working, day and night for them, on their behalf. That’s what people want from their government, from their Members of Parliament. I know that’s what Scott is absolutely doing, focusing on how to keep growing jobs, how to keep repairing the budget, things he did so successfully as Treasurer, and for the rest of us, I have a new job to make sure I focus on how to make sure I help our exporters get better and stronger market access. We have already done that in terms of Scott Morrison and I travelling to Indonesia, and securing agreement around a Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement which has been widely welcomed by Australia’s industry, it’s just another example of how we can keep creating more job opportunities and greater prosperity for Australians, which then underpins things like our school system our health system, all of the things people expect a government to invest in.


Virginia Trioli: In your portfolio, the Senate Bill that was supported by Labor and Greens to ban live sheep exports, after a 5-year transitional period, that stalled in the lower house but the issue is live and this has divided the community. It was an issue even brought forward by some Liberal members. How do you address it? 


Simon Birmingham:     We are addressing it and we have taken very strong action which has seen companies basically now put out of business of live exports because those who have done the wrong thing, have had their licences withdrawn.


Virginia Trioli: Excuse me for jumping in, because the issue I’m asking you about, to be more precise, is not about stopping certain companies, it is about live exports altogether. And that is still causing so much disquiet that these bills come forward. Is it something you need to directly face, that that nature of exporting is a problem for many Australians?                       


Simon Birmingham:     I understand there are strong community opinions on this issue but we do believe that with very strong safe guards in place, thoroughly enforced you can absolutely have a situation where the live export industry can operate humanely, responsibly and safely. There are many farmers who depend upon this industry. What we have done, as I said, is to take action that has seen those exporters doing the wrong thing lose their licence to do so. We are also, of course, proposing other legislation to further tighten the penalties that exist in this space and the Labor Party really ought to come on board and support that legislation and allow us to do that work. And, also make sure there are other reforms that are going to ensure that the number of sheep per head that can be on a ship, is reduced, in terms of the space and availability of space there. Again, these are important changes to make sure that we have a clearer, safer, better process. They will be thoroughly supervised, in terms of expert veterinary supervision, that is going to be part of these mandatory requirements. All of this is about making sure we have a much better environment. That doesn’t just cut off an income stream for Australian farmers, but does ensure that it is done with the type of standards that Australians expect.


Virginia Trioli: More stories about today around Peter Dutton that as Home Affairs minister, he pressed the then Custom’s chief, Roman Quaedvlieg to help two Queensland policeman to get jobs in the then new Border Force agency. Is Peter Dutton becoming too big a liability right now?       


Simon Birmingham:     Well, Peter Dutton as Home Affairs Minister has been securing our borders…


Virginia Trioli: That’s not my question. There are a number of…


Simon Birmingham:     [Indistinct] if I can speak without being interrupted.


Virginia Trioli: Answer the question, Sir.


Simon Birmingham:     We are seeing a lot of mud throwing, I sat there in the Senate yesterday and was asked questions as the former child care minister, about businesses run by Peter Dutton’s wife that receive no more and no less support than the families sending children to child care services in those businesses than any other Australian family does for any other child care service. What on earth is the Labor Party doing, dragging up mud like that, dragging in basically, the families who send children to child care services and questioning whether they should be entitled to the same type of child care benefit or child care rebate as any other Australian family just because Peter Dutton’s wife happens to run the service. This is mud raking at an extreme level and the Labor Party ought to be embarrassed and frankly step away from it. We as a government will actually keep focusing on the policy issues that matter to the Australian people, not this type of muck raking, and that’s why we are getting on in the parliament with our work on legislating terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.


Virginia Trioli: So you are handcuffed with him?            


Simon Birmingham:     We are going to hang tough with the Australian people, focusing on issues that matter to them, like growing our economy…


Virginia Trioli: We got all that. Our time is short…


Simon Birmingham:     …Things that are important [indistinct].


Virginia Trioli: …We’ve had long speeches for you Minister, I think we’ve got a fair bit from you… Quotas to allow women in the party, yes or no?     


Simon Birmingham:     No, I don’t think we need quotas but we do need an absolute determination to increase the numbers, we have a clear target. We’ve seen some good success recently in terms of pre-selection, Kate Ashmor in the seat of Macnamara recently and two women on the weekend for two of the three winnable spots on the Tasmania Liberal Senate preselection and I hope we will see a Liberal woman preselected in Wentworth as well.


Virginia Trioli: Good to talk to you this morning Minister. Thank you.


Simon Birmingham:     Thank you.