12 April 2022


Subjects: Our plan for a stronger economy; Anthony Albanese unemployment stuff up 



Patricia Karvelas: Simon Birmingham joins me now. Good morning, Minister.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Patricia. Great to be with you.


Patricia Karvelas: Is it really a hanging offence when a politician has a momentary brain freeze, as John Howard said no less? He said. So what?


Simon Birmingham: Patricia, we can all make mistakes and forget a figure here or there, that is true. Australians will make their own assessment of competence. Perhaps what worries me more in terms of coverage over the last 24 hours is the front page story on the Financial Review, which shows that Mr Albanese has repeatedly made statements around the nature of the Australian labour market that are just wrong and have been assessed to be wrong by the University of Melbourne’s analysis of Australian Bureau of Stats figures. And so that’s just a deeper demonstration that this is a Labor leader who doesn’t really understand the economy and who doesn’t have a clear plan for managing the economy.


Patricia Karvelas: On that I address that very specifically and clearly Labor’s arguing that actually it’s a narrow understanding of what casualisation is. That’s what Labor’s arguing. So actually, perhaps the figures you’re referring to are different.


Simon Birmingham: Well, they’re not our figures. The figures that have been undertaken by the ABS and then analysed by the University of Melbourne, so this is not a coalition or a government story, it’s a story running in the Financial Review using that Uni of Melbourne, ABS analysis and data. And ultimately, two thirds of the 1.7 million jobs roughly that we’ve created have been full time jobs during our term in office. And what we have managed to do is provide more job opportunities and more job certainty and security for many Australians as a result of that.


Patricia Karvelas: A few months ago, the prime minister couldn’t answer how much a litre of petrol and a loaf of bread both cost. Your side of politics has been making much of what Anthony Albanese did in his brain freeze yesterday. Do you apply the same measure to the prime minister that he’s unfit to manage the economy because he didn’t know those things?


Simon Birmingham: That’s it, Patricia, Australians will make their own judgement around competence and indeed the way in which you handle issues like this and how you respond when you don’t necessarily remember a figure or have that data. But more importantly, Australians should form their assessment based on the competing plans for Australia, and our plan is one that has delivered an unemployment rate down from 5.7 per cent when we were elected to 4 per cent now, we’re close to 50 year low. And we are demonstrating today our plans for a further 1.3 million jobs to be created over the next five years. And that’s building on our investments through our modern manufacturing strategy. Through our Digital Economy Strategy, through Agriculture 2030 strategy, all of them with clear investments in areas from skills to technology, to infrastructure that are there to help support continued growth of jobs, of full time jobs and driving wages growth across the Australian economy.


Patricia Karvelas: This jobs pledge you’re making today it’s similar to your January 2019 pledge to create one point twenty five million jobs over five years. I understand that actual promise is having difficulty being fulfilled. Employment is only up by 513,000 jobs since May 2019. So what jobs are you referring to then?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Patricia, since May 2019, we’ve, of course, lived through a global pandemic, and what we managed to do there was avert the loss of some 700,000 jobs and through policies like JobKeeper. And in fact, we’ve come back with 370,000 more jobs following COVID than we had before October across the Australian economy. And that’s one of very few countries in the world that have been able to come out the other side of COVID with a stronger economy, faster rates of growth and more people in work than we had beforehand. So our performance there is one where once again, we’ve demonstrated an ability to navigate these circumstances. And we’ve also done so showing discipline during it. During the course of COVID-19 we had a Labor Party who called for us to keep JobKeeper in place to keep rates of JobKeeper higher. We had the discipline to turn that spending off. And in this election campaign, the choice is also framed by a Labor Party and with a bunch of vague spending promises who’d add a further $320 billion of government spending over the next decade. And with that-


Patricia Karvelas: Let me get in here we are short on time and I really want to ask this question. You’ve put $300 billion price tag on a number of Labor policies, such as better paid parental leave and childcare. Jim Chalmers literally laughed when I put that to him. How have you come up with such an astronomical figure when a number of the policies, such as Labor saying everyone on JobSeeker should be above the poverty line are simply aspirational?


Simon Birmingham: Well, this is part we’re seeing it the way the Labor Party is running this campaign. They go out there and make these vague commitments call them aspirational, but then won’t actually put costed policies towards them. So are these Labor policies and promises or are they not? That’s Mr Albanese, Mr Chalmers and the rest of their team to answer. They’re the ones who put these promises into their party platform. They’re the ones who cite them when they run around the country and their rhetoric and interviews. So they’re trying to lead Australians into thinking that this is what they will deliver. If their policies, then they should cost them, which on our analysis comes up to greater than $300 billion-.


Patricia Karvelas: Which they contest.


Simon Birmingham: -and you have to wonder if they’re refusing. Well, then let them put a figure to it. Patricia, let them clarify whether or not these are their policies. Last weekend and over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen Mr Chalmers and Mr Albanese refuse to commit to the Coalition’s cap on the level of taxation if they want to have higher levels of taxation coming into government. Presumably, that’s because they’re intending to spend a lot more money as well.


Patricia Karvelas: OK. They say they don’t want new taxes. Let’s park that. I want to talk about some other issues. There’s this issue with Alan Tudge. Can you confirm that your department is negotiating more than $500,000 in a pay out to his former staffer, Rachelle Miller?


Simon Birmingham: I would like to be able to give you a straight answer on that, Patricia.


Patricia Karvelas: Because you need to.


Simon Birmingham: But I genuinely do not get briefed or provided with information on what are confidential employee settlements between ComCover and the relevant entities of government negotiating with former employees across government [inaudible] at arm’s length from ministers.


Patricia Karvelas: This is public money and it relates to cabinet ministers. Will it be public?


Simon Birmingham: I understand, Patricia, that is not a matter within my control. It is a matter that indeed individuals party to such negotiations or discussions may wish to make their own discussions or statements. But I do not receive briefings on that. I do not-


Patricia Karvelas: Who does?


Simon Birmingham: -involved in any of those negotiations. The agencies handle those independent of ministers or politicians. And I suspect many people would say it would be terribly inappropriate if I was brought to the table to have a say in those sorts of negotiations or settlements.


Patricia Karvelas: Is this? You must know some elements of this minister, given it is, you’re the finance minister. I know she had multiple employers. Does this pertain to Michaelia Cash or Alan Tudge?


Simon Birmingham: Again, Patricia, I don’t get provided with details of the claim, the nature of the claims or the negotiated settlements. These are matters obviously, if it was a Labor staffer, for example, and we do get claims against staffers from all political parties, if it was a Labor staffer, for example, people would think it was particularly inappropriate for a Liberal minister to be briefed on it. And so this is why these matters are handled. Confidentiality is important for the individuals involved.


Patricia Karvelas: That really convenient, though, isn’t?


Simon Birmingham: It would be much easier in these interviews- well, you can say that, Patricia. I find it actually inconvenient.


Patricia Karvelas: Well, it’s how it feels and the public thinks- that’s half a million dollars. Public money.


Simon Birmingham: And Patricia, I think you know that I prefer to be able to provide direct answers to questions wherever I can. But in this instance, no matter how much I might ask my department the principals and protocols are in place there. If the Labor party wants those changed then they can call for those to be changed but that’s not the way it works-


Patricia Karvelas: Let me ask this if the pay out for Rachelle Miller does relate to the Tudge employment in his office, should he remain in cabinet?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Patricia, in terms of his role in cabinet, that matter has been the subject of two clear review processes now they have found no known breaches there of the ministerial standards. And so it’s on that basis that the prime minister’s formed his judgement.


Patricia Karvelas: Finally, the prime minister has backed a campaign by a Liberal candidate to ban transgender people from playing female sports. Do you do you want trans women excluded?


Simon Birmingham: No Patricia, and I don’t think that’s what anybody is calling for, these are sensitive issues.


Patricia Karvelas: That’s exactly what the prime minister called for.


Simon Birmingham: What we have is that there are some sporting bodies, women’s sporting bodies who are keen to ensure the safety or integrity of their competitions. That should be respected as a genuine consideration on their part. It’s equally important to ensure that the rights of individuals and the rights of individuals of different gender identities are also respected and considered. That’s why I say these are sensitive issues, and if there is to be any exploration of them further through parliamentary committees, enquiries or legislation, I trust it will have full and proper consideration of them and be very sensitive and considerate-


Patricia Karvelas: So you won’t support laws that try to ban transgender women from playing female sport?


Simon Birmingham: I would expect that that any such laws would be the subject of a proper parliamentary consideration through committee processes and the like and that we would all benefit from ensuring that we looked carefully at the evidence and information as to how they could be considered.


Patricia Karvelas: So you don’t share the views that you need new laws here?


Simon Birmingham: Patricia, I’m saying that there are issues raised that I can understand the concerns of women’s sporting bodies in relation to the safety and integrity-


Patricia Karvelas: We have federal laws. Andrew Bragg has said he’s a Liberal senator today. There are federal laws in the Sex Discrimination Act which protect sport. Why do we need new laws, minister?


Simon Birmingham: Patricia, I’m not advocating for or against. And these are sensitive matters, and if they are to be explored, they should be explored properly with sensitivity through parliamentary committee processes-


Patricia Karvelas: So why is the PM mentioning it in the election campaign?


Simon Birmingham: Because he got asked about it, Patricia.


Patricia Karvelas: He said he supports it.


Simon Birmingham: He got asked about it, Patricia.


Patricia Karvelas: But, he said he supports it.


Simon Birmingham: I think again, if you look, he’s indicated support in terms of consideration of these sorts of issues. Any type of legislation or proposal would have to go through all of those proper processes.


Patricia Karvelas: All right, we’re out of time. Thanks for joining us.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks Patricia. My pleasure.