Lisa Millar: Well, let’s bring in the Finance Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham, who is in Brisbane and was watching that debate very closely, that group. Good morning. Good morning, Senator.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Lisa.
Lisa Millar: That group of undecided voters who were in the room came away and said Anthony Albanese had won it. Is that going to give him the momentum he needs now in this campaign?
Simon Birmingham: Oh, look, I don’t think so, Lisa. I think it was a hard fought debate. I think the expectations of Anthony Albanese were so low after the disastrous start he’s had to the campaign and the multiple stumbles and mistakes he’s made that people weren’t looking for or expecting much. Scott Morrison demonstrated a comprehensive grasp of the policies and the details. He showed clearly that we have an economic management plan for the country, that it’s delivering results, that we have detailed policies across areas as diverse as supporting first home owners through our support for the NDIS and dealt with difficult issues. And Anthony Albanese, as you said in your intro, stumbled over border protection policies once more and appeared to really get his boat turnbacks confused with his offshore processing and was all at sea once more on those issues.
Lisa Millar: All right. Well, let’s unpack a few of those things, because you’ve rattled through a few of the ideas that people and certainly the Labor Party would reject pretty quickly as to how it rolled last night. The first thing I want to ask you, though, is the fact that 25% of that room came away still undecided, given that the Prime Minister is campaigning on his record. Why have you still got people who are like, yeah, I don’t know?
Simon Birmingham: Lisa, no election in Australia is easy to win and this one is a clear choice like they all are. And Australians will determine it. They will determine it as they usually do by a fairly narrow margin, I expect. It’s unusual to get more than a couple of percentage points involved in any election outcome in Australia. And so every single vote matters and for Australians, every single choice they make between the parties will matter in terms of whether their jobs are secure, whether their taxes are higher or lower. Whether we’re in a world and an environment where they can have confidence in the Australian Government to manage difficult national security issues and to invest in our defence forces. We’ve outlined the plans to be able to keep our economy strong, which enables us to invest record sums in hospitals, in aged care and mental health, in schools, in support for essential services. You’ve got to have the strong economy to keep doing that, and that’s what we’ve delivered and that’s what our plans will keep delivering.
Lisa Millar: Yeah. Okay. Just on the national security, do you believe that labor is on the side of China?
Simon Birmingham: I think we have seen a Labor Party who when China were making decisions to apply trade sanctions and tariffs against Australia, Labor seemed to want us to reach a compromise with China rather than to stand up for Australia. That when Anthony Albanese spoke at the National Press Club not that long ago, he actually suggested that we should negotiate or settle some of the points with China. Well, ultimately we have to stand up for Australian interests. We’re not going to trade away beef producers in Queensland or wine makers in South Australia or fresh seafood exporters from Tasmania. We’re going to stand up for all of those industries and for Australia’s interests in terms of having a peaceful and prosperous and secure region.
Lisa Millar: But Senator, I do want to take you up on that, because this was the debate we were having in the last dying days of the parliament. And all of the national security experts and veterans in the field said it was absolutely unhealthy and there was no evidence that the ALP was anything other than supportive of Australia’s foreign policy. So why are you continuing with this line of attack?
Simon Birmingham: Because the Labor Party are the ones who have created those points of difference in the way in which they’ve expressed themselves and the language they’ve used. They’re also the ones who, when they were last in office, let our investment in our defence forces whittle away to the lowest levels as a share of the economy since 1938. And now we’ve restored that significantly, brought it back up to more than 2% of GDP. And having that credible level of investment in our defence forces is what’s enabled us to strike new defence pacts and partnerships with countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, making us a credible partner for defence and strategic investment in areas of artificial intelligence, in missile equipment and investment, as well as in nuclear powered submarines.
Lisa Millar: And Senator Birmingham, were you concerned about the language the Prime Minister used when he was responding to a question on the NDIS, when he said that he and his wife had been blessed with having children who weren’t, who didn’t have a disability. A lot of people upset by those that kind of language.
Simon Birmingham: Lisa, the PM actually in that context was talking about the not having to deal with the many challenges of systems that you have to work through to get the support that whilst we’ve grown the NDIS from being just a few thousand recipients to now supporting around 500,000 Australian families, we know there are still many challenges for individuals. And the Prime Minister, as soon as the debate finished, went to speak to the young mum who was in the audience last night who had expressed some of her concerns about operational elements of the NDIS, to make sure he got the details and to make sure that he and his office are able to follow up with the National Disability Insurance Agency to ensure that she is getting the type of support for her family in their circumstances as the NDIS is designed to provide for-
Lisa Millar: He could have chosen better language though-
Simon Birmingham: I think he was-
Lisa Millar: Sorry, I’m competing with a street sweeper, Senator, here.
Simon Birmingham: I had a train in the background just before too. I think he was expressing the type of sentiment many Australians would understand in terms of the circumstances where we all want to see. And it’s why Australians support the NDIS and the record investment we’re making, which has grown its funding to now be greater in totality than that of Medicare. And Australians support it because we all know that families facing those difficult circumstances deserve the type of support that the NDIS provides, and that’s why we want to make sure that it works effectively for them. It’s a vast and complicated system now supporting around 500,000 different Australians in different circumstances. It won’t get every single case right in terms of how it engages, but that’s why the PM took the time out afterwards to sit down with that mum and to make sure that he was able to get the details and go back to the agency, as I’m sure he will today, to ensure they get in touch with her.
Lisa Millar: Yes, but I’m talking about the language, Senator Birmingham. It’s the language we’re discussing, the idea that he and Jenny have been blessed by not having a child with a disability. People from within your own party have said it’s not right, that people with a disability are continuing portrayed as having as being a burden on those around them.
Simon Birmingham: So it’s certainly not that, Lisa. It is simply the case that as a country, all Australians, I think, understand the need for us to provide additional support. And we understand as well that the circumstances for family members and for others helping people living with disabilities are not always easy circumstances and that for many of us we are fortunate not to have to deal with some of the challenges that are faced in those cases. And that’s why as a country, we’re fortunate to have a strong economic position to be able to invest in support for people that many other countries can’t do. We can we can afford to provide that support, and we’ve got to make sure that it gets to people as is necessary. And that’s why we have supported the NDIS, fully funded it as we promised to do, enabled it to grow in the demand driven way in which it has. And from that we’ve now got a program, as I say, larger than Medicare in terms of its cost supporting around 500,000 Australians. And it’s one that we remain committed to fully funding and to fully supporting the delivery of those services.
Lisa Millar: Yes. Well, given that Labor says it needs a sweeping review, there are plenty of people who disagree with that assessment. Just finally, though, I want to touch on Julian Assange, because the order has now been given to formally extradite him from the UK. 25 human rights organisations are saying that extradition order can’t go ahead. Is the Australian Government one of those saying that this should not happen?
Simon Birmingham: No, Lisa. They said we have confidence in the independence and integrity of the British justice system. This is a process that we’ll be able to continue to work through that system. There remain appeal rights for Mr. Assange, depending on decisions that are made. And we will, of course, continue to provide where it is taken up appropriate consular assistance.
Lisa Millar: All right, Senator Birmingham, thanks for persevering through all the extra extraneous noise that both of us have dealt with this morning. Thank you.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Lisa. My pleasure.