Interview on ABC News Breakfast with Michael Rowland
Topics: Malcolm Turnbull; US-China trade  




Michael Rowland:  The former prime minister not pulling any punches there speaking to Fran Kelly. Trade Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now from Canberra. Good morning to you.  


Simon Birmingham:  Good morning Michael.


Michael Rowland:  What do you think voters make of all of this?


Simon Birmingham:  I think that voters want us to do exactly what I’m doing with my day and that’s getting on with my job on their behalf. As Trade Minister, it is to focus on how it is that Australian farmers and businesses can sell more goods, more services, more exports into global markets and that’s where my attention will be today.


Michael Rowland:  But you’ve got the former prime minister, at war, now publicly at war with Scott Morrison?


Simon Birmingham:  Look, Malcolm is entitled to his opinions in relation to New South Wales preselection matters. He is a member of the New South Wales Liberal Party. That’s for him to say. Of course, the New South Wales party will, I’m sure, conduct its selections in accordance with its rules, its constitution, and that’s for them to work out. But for those of us who are still in Canberra, our job is to get on with serving the people of Australia, and that’s what I’ll be doing today and I trust that’s what each and every one of my colleagues will be doing.


Michael Rowland:  It’s not just the New South Wales party division, as you well know Minister. The former prime minister in that interview did not deny telling a New South Wales Liberal that Scott Morrison wants to keep his arse in the prime ministerial car as long as possible to avoid going to the people.


Simon Birmingham:  Well, the election, if that’s what you’re talking about, will be held in the normal course of events that’s due in the first-half of next year. We’ll have an election then and we’ll have an election, I would expect off the back of a budget that will be the first surplus budget in many, many years, and it will the result of a big effort in terms of repairing the budget, and it will be driven by our spending restraint we’ve shown while in Canberra, but also by the fact that we’ve managed to grow the economy faster than other G7 nations. Great record jobs growth youth jobs growth and we’ll be going to that election with a legacy of achievement from the last five and a half years.


Michael Rowland:  Again, some more free advice for Scott Morrison. Malcolm Turnbull told Fran Kelly that he believed that the Government should go to the polls in March thereby avoiding a clash with the New South Wales state election.


Simon Birmingham:  The election will be in the first half of next year. It’s due to be held around about May…


Michael Rowland:  Do you believe that it should be earlier than May? Should the Government go, as Malcolm Turnbull, very strongly argues, as soon as possible after the summer break?


Simon Birmingham:  The election will be held in the normal course of events. Now, exactly when that election date will be is a matter for the Prime Minister. That’s for him to determine. That’s our custom in Australia. That’s the way that our electoral laws, our constitution all work. So that will happen then. I expect that it will be in clear circumstances where the Australian people will be able to make a choice, but after five and a half years, they can see that when they voted for a Liberal and National Government to repair the budget, we’ve done it. When they voted for us to lower taxes, we’ve done it. We’ve done it with income taxes, we’ve done it with hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses. When they voted for us to apply tough national security laws to ensure that we had secure borders, we’ve done it, we doing it, Bill Shorten looks weak on it. He’s threatening indeed to vote against or oppose the advice of our national security agencies when it comes to tracking and intervening into encrypted transmissions and data. So there’s a range of things that at the next election, the Australian people will look at and say – five and a half years, these guys have got a lot done. A lot of the things that we voted for them to do are done and we ought to keep backing them and keep on track and we’ll stick with the plan.


Michael Rowland:  Five and a half years, you’ve also got three prime ministers. You’ve got Malcolm Turnbull again at war with Scott Morrison. And you’ve got, as you well know, the moderate.


Simon Birmingham:  They’re your words.


Michael Rowland:  As you well know, the moderate and conservative wings of the Liberal Party at war with each other. Voters are also seeing that too.


Simon Birmingham:  People don’t want to hear about the internals of political parties. That’s why I don’t want to talk about the internals of political parties because it feeds that whole cycle.


Michael Rowland:  Excuse the interruption, but you have people like Craig Kelly threatening to go to the crossbench.


Simon Birmingham:  Have you heard him make that threat Michael?


Michael Rowland:  He’s reported to have said that.


Simon Birmingham:  Right, “reported” to have said that. Even Malcolm Turnbull in the bit you played just before said that he doesn’t know whether that was true or not. I don’t know whether that is true or not. His pre-selection and all pre-selections will be determined in accordance with the constitution. But really, your viewers want us to get on with the job. We’ve just finished the G20 meeting in Argentina over the weekend, and as Trade Minister, we look at a circumstance where we’ve seen great breakthroughs in terms of discussions between the US and China. We’ve seen Scott Morrison provide real leadership at the G20 in terms of driving discussions for further trade and market access for Australian farmers and businesses into the EU and UK. There are plenty of things that we can be talking about that are actually about the achievements of government and policies that impact the lives of everyday Australians, not the pre-selection of one MP.


Michael Rowland:  I do want to ask you about the easing of trade tensions between the US and China, which is a good move, most people would agree. But what do you make of the New South Wales Liberal Party denying local Liberal Party members a right to pre-select their candidates in seats, including the seat of Hughes, Craig Kelly’s seat?


Simon Birmingham:  As I said already, the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party should conduct its pre-selections in accordance with its constitution and its rules. I’m a member of the South Australian division of the Liberal Party. That’s what we do. I’m sure that’s what New South Wales will do and I’m not seeing any suggestion that they’ll do otherwise.


Michael Rowland:  But we have the former prime minister, we’re not making this up. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull going on radio, tweeting his concern about what’s going on and his concern about various directions of the Morrison Government. For as long as that’s happening, that is where the conversation will go?


Simon Birmingham:  He has an opinion and he’s welcome to that opinion, as I’m sure that other members of the New South Wales Liberal Party division will do. My opinion is that my job as Trade Minister is to work on making sure that Australian farmers, Australian businesses, have more market access. Five and a half years ago when we were elected as a Government, only 20 odd per cent of goods and services could get preferential or tariff-free access into export markets. Now, that stands at around 70 per cent, and as a Government, if we keep doing our trade deals that we’ve done, get them done with the European Union and the UK as our next key targets, that’s going to nudge closer to 90 per cent of Australian goods and services being able to get preferential tariff-free access into markets. And they are great accomplishments and they’re some of the reasons as to why it is that the Australian economy is so much stronger after five and a half years of Liberal-National Government. As to why we’ve got more than a million additional jobs across our economy and as to why youth employment grew at a record level over the last 12 months. The fastest rate of youth employment growth ever seen in recorded history in Australia. And so, this is why we want to keep a focus on managing the economy, on economic growth, on doing the trade deals because they provide real, tangible benefits in terms of more jobs for more Australians.


Michael Rowland:  Just about out of time. Donald Trump, as we know, at best, has been an unpredictable US President, Simon Birmingham, so do you believe he’s good for his word when he says that he won’t, the US won’t impose those tariffs on Chinese goods from the start of next year?


Simon Birmingham:  We welcome the fact that there is at least a temporary truce and the discussions can continue in that time. That’s good for everybody with a superannuation account. Every investor out there, because the threat of ever escalating tariffs and trade tensions would have been bad for economic growth, globally. It would have had repercussions everywhere, and now we’ll wait to see the details of what is nutted out. But Scott Morrison and the Australian Government have been urging the two parties to talk. We welcome the fact that they are talking and that there has been this temporary truce laid out. We hope that that provides a permanent solution, and meanwhile, we’ll continue, as Scott Morrison did in Argentina, to aggressively pursue the interests of Australian farmers, Australian businesses, to sell more of their goods to the world.


Michael Rowland:  Does it trouble you that Donald Trump was asking Scott Morrison over the weekend what happened to Malcolm Turnbull?


Simon Birmingham:  Malcolm Turnbull was Australia’s representative at the G20 on three different occasions. In that time, the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Canada, a range of countries, all changed. Changing leaders at the G20 is nothing new, and indeed, we’ve seen many, many changes over the previous three years while Malcolm Turnbull was in the chair.


Michael Rowland:  But we also had the sight of Angela Merkel publicly looking at a briefing note with Scott Morrison’s picture, as if to remind her who the current Australian Prime Minister is during her one-on-one meeting with Scott Morrison over the weekend. This is embarrassing for Australia?


Simon Birmingham:  No, it’s not. It’s reality. Every time I meet a foreign Trade Minister, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade gives me a briefing note that has a picture and a biography of the foreign Trade Minister. That’s what foreign departments do. Angela Merkel’s department, no doubt, in terms of her work as chancellor, was simply ensuring that the Chancellor was properly briefed.


Michael Rowland:  Finally, I know that you’re a supporter of Malcolm Turnbull and you said that you supported him right to the end.


Simon Birmingham:  As did Scott Morrison.


Michael Rowland:  He told Fran Kelly that Australians are still appalled by the coup. Do you agree with that statement?


Simon Birmingham:  Look, I think that people remain a mix of emotions over these things. I would wish that it hadn’t happened. Scott Morrison didn’t want it to happen. He supported Malcolm Turnbull to the end. But when called upon, we’re all getting on with the job at hand. The issues and the policies matter far, far more than the people or the personalities, and that will well and truly be our message that we take into the election this year. Asking people to vote on our record of accomplishments, in fixing the budget, growing the economy, record jobs, securing our borders, tackling national security issues. People can back the Liberal and National Parties on a record of accomplishment and achievement, whereas at the end of the Rudd-Gillard years, they had record debt. They had a huge flow of people coming across our borders. We had serious problems in terms of not being able to enjoy the type of trade access that we have today because there had been no trade deals successfully started and concluded in their time in office. It’s a stark contrast in terms of the policy achievements when you take all of those political issues out of it, and just look at the policies of the day and the achievements and the things that matter to Australians. Can they, their kids, their grandkids, more easily get a job than they could five and a half years ago? The answer is yes. That’s why people should support our re-election.


Michael Rowland:  I’ll see how that plays out in the next election whenever it is. Simon Birmingham, thank you for coming on News Breakfast this morning.


Simon Birmingham:  Thank you, Michael.