Topics: COVID-19 child vaccination; Budget financials; Gladys Berejiklian; Commonwealth integrity commission;




Michael Rowland:  Finance Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now from Adelaide. Minister, good morning to you.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Michael, good to be with you again.


Michael Rowland: How important is it that parents or guardians vaccinate their young kids when the Pfizer jabs get the final approval?


Simon Birmingham: We’ll encourage every Australian to go out and get a vaccine where they’re eligible, and particularly now for parents to do that with five to 11 year olds, it’s a conversation I’ve already had over the weekend with my kids and that we’ve been having for a little while and everybody should have that chat with their children, make sure they’re ready for it. But with 88 per cent of the 16 plus population now double dose vaccinated across Australia, with the really strong turnout in the 70s of the 12 to 15 year olds, we’re now at a point where we are one of the most highly vaccinated countries in the world, we’ve got one of the first nationwide booster programs in the world and it will be really great to be able to bring the rest of those school aged kids on board and have them all vaccinated, pretty much for the very start of term one or close to it.


Michael Rowland: We’re seeing new cases of all Omicron slowly, but certainly pop up in various parts of Australia and around the world. How concerned is the federal government about this new variants?


Simon Birmingham: We’re being cautious in our approach to it, Michael, it’s why we made the decision to defer the next stage of opening the international borders by a couple of weeks just so that we could get that extra bit of information from our health experts. However, it seems that that plenty of advisers are indicating that vaccines continue to provide strong levels of protection, and it’s why people should keep getting vaccinated if they haven’t done so already. Have that confidence in the program, particularly as it moves into a school age children and to keep those rates very high because that will remain our best possible protection.


Michael Rowland: Okay, wearing your finance minister’s hat, we have figures out today showing the budget as of October was $8 billion ahead of where it was forecast to be, or the deficit was forecast to be back in the May budget. What is that down to? Mainly due to what’s greater tax takings by the federal government?


Simon Birmingham: Look, it is mainly down to stronger revenue and that stronger revenue comes from a stronger economy. Remember, this is the period of time where we had the Delta lockdowns across Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, so we were spending billions of dollars in unexpected economic support for those jurisdictions. It comes at a time where we’ve got the tax cuts that had been rolled out early for Australians and are providing around $1.5 billion a month back into the pockets of hardworking Australian families, but still because of a stronger economic activity overall. And we’ve seen a lift in revenue across income and company taxes coming in, and that’s providing a stronger budget bottom line, and that’s very, very welcome. Obviously, there’s lots of work to be done to still ensure that we can stabilise the budget in the years to come. But it’s great to see the strong economy flowing through in strong employment outcomes and therefore stronger budget outcomes.


Michael Rowland:  Budget deficits will be still large for many years to come. You’ll tell a Finance Summit Today Minister, that if the coalition is re-elected, it’ll be time for potentially tough budget measures, including spending cuts to wind that deficit back. How tough will you have to be?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Michael, it’s really the message I’m delivering is that spending restraint will be what’s essential in the years to come to meet our budget strategy, which is to ensure that the national economy grows faster than debt in the future so that we can reduce the share of debt to the size of the national economy. Relative to other countries around the world we are in a good position. And that’s because we entered the pandemic in a good position with a budget broadly in balance. And what we want to do now is make sure we hold as strong a position in the future and that will require restraint. We have big spending pressures to meet promises in terms of delivery in aged care and disability services in meeting the nation’s security and defence needs for the future. All of that will require a government focussed on maximising economic growth and also showing restraint in all of the other pressures that can build up to be able to meet the pressures and the demands that Australians really care about.


Michael Rowland: Would you support Gladys Berejiklian running as the Liberal candidate in the Sydney seat of Warringah?


Simon Birmingham: Look, I’d love to see Gladys do so, but that is entirely a matter for her. Gladys has been a friend of mine for decades and I know she has immense and incredible talent, but that’s entirely her call.


Michael Rowland: You don’t think there’s an integrity question mark over a head?


Simon Birmingham:  I think Gladys has shown exceptional leadership in in public office. She’s shown a real ability to make difficult and tough decisions when required and she has shown that she is a person of great integrity. And look, I realise the issues she’s handling at present. She’ll keep working through if she has other decisions to make about her future. I’m sure she’ll make them and say them when she’s ready.


Michael Rowland: Okay, well, do you agree with the prime minister that, in his words, she was done over by the Commission Against Corruption?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I think it’s pretty sad when ICAC’s go out and destroy reputations, do so in pretty murky ways, looking into relationships and other things. You know, there’s was-


Michael Rowland: It was more of a relationship we’re talking about in Australia, excuse me. It was more than her relationship that was brought up at those hearings and-


Simon Birmingham: Michael, the nature of the way in which the New South Wales ICAC works, it’s one of the reasons why we’ve presented a very detailed model for a Commonwealth Integrity Commission that absolutely has the power to tackle criminal corruption and to address serious issues, but doesn’t go and destroy reputations first and then look at the details later.


Michael Rowland: Are we going to see that next year?


Simon Birmingham:  Well, we’ve got the legislation, it’s there, we’ve done the work on it, there’s several hundred pages of it.


Michael Rowland: Okay, we’ll leave it there. Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, we appreciate your time. Thank you.