Transcript, E&OE

Topics: JobMaker plan; State border restrictions; Trans-Tasman bubble.
26 May 2020

Karl Stefanovic: Prime Minister Scott Morrison will today unveil his five-year JobMaker plan to coronavirus recovery, designed to boost skills and training and claw the country back from pandemic induced pain. Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now from Adelaide. Simon, good morning to you.

Simon Birmingham: Good day, Karl. Great to be with you.

Karl Stefanovic: Five years is a long time. How will the plan work?

Simon Birmingham: Five years is a long time but you know, these are extraordinary times. The toughest global economic conditions the Government’s faced since World War II, but what we are determined to do is to repeat our successes of the past. We grew 1.5 million jobs over the last six years. We brought the budget back to a state of balance. We’ve done the hard yards before; we’re going to do them again. The PM today outlining a plan where he starts with the focus on vocational education and training, how we make sure that system works more effectively, and how we make sure that the workplace relations and industrial relation systems actually function better for both employees and employers.

Karl Stefanovic: It’s a big pile of debt, isn’t it?

Simon Birmingham: We absolutely start with a big challenge. But as I say, we’ve been there before in terms of dealing with the debt. The Howard Government did it. We’ve done it over the last six years. We’ll now just get on with that steady task again. The PM very clear in the remarks he’s going to make today that this is about also ensuring we don’t leave unsustainable burdens for future generations and so we’ve got to be careful with the money as we go forward.

Karl Stefanovic: Okay. We learned this morning there could be two constitutional appeals to states keeping their border’s closed. One from Clive, maybe one from Pauline as well, as tourism officers warn they are in imminent danger of collapse. How likely do you think these appeals could be?

Simon Birmingham: Well it’s a matter for the High Court. This is a hotly contested part of the constitution and so I’ve got no doubt that if it gets to that point, it will be a strong debate before the court and a tough judgment for the High Court justices. But I hope that the states and territories can come up with clear pathways to remove their border restrictions. Our tourism industry employs around one in 13 Australians. And now obviously, there are in no international visitors coming in at present and if we continue to have the situation where interstate travel is limited as well, then it has a crippling effect on those small businesses and the jobs they generate.

Karl Stefanovic: Well they are bleeding and some will not make it out of this.

Simon Birmingham: We’ve always known that, you know, we wouldn’t be able to save every single job or every single business and that’s why a rebuild strategy is necessary. But we don’t want it to go get any worse than it otherwise needs to be. And in a state like Queensland, it is so heavily tourism dependent, it’s crucial that they give their businesses a chance to survive through this.

Karl Stefanovic: Have you had any real conversation with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern abouts a Trans-Tasman bubble?

Simon Birmingham: There have been discussions between Prime Minister Morrison and Prime Minister Ardern about that. I think there’s general enthusiasm for the fact that for each country, it’s logical to first and foremost open up with the other one but it will still take a little while and of course we’ll be guided by the health advice on each side. But again, it’s about getting back to normality, getting back to the point where people can move freely, so that jobs can be sustained and New Zealand, like Australia, has done a cracking job suppressing the spread of COVID-19. And so I trust that health advice will ultimately give green light to that sort of movement, hopefully pretty soon.

Karl Stefanovic: It won’t work without Queensland though.

Simon Birmingham: Well, this is the battle. I mean one state shouldn’t hold up the progress of other states. But I could understand why if you were New Zealand, you’d be sitting there going if the Australian states can’t work it out amongst themselves, why would we start to allow travel to occur? That is a real concern for me that we could end up with a situation where New Zealand delays such an agreement and therefore some Australian states who are ready miss out because of the difficulties being imposed …

Karl Stefanovic: Well it’s akin to opening up businesses between the countries of one state holding the whole deal to ransom.

Simon Birmingham: It becomes the risk, Karl. And that’s why I hope the state premiers can see that they’re opening up their economies right now and they’re doing it safely. We’ve got kids back at school, we’ve got pubs reopening. We’ve got progress and this has been positive and so the next thing is not to wait until September or some point in the never never. If it’s safe to do so over the coming few weeks, as the next phases of domestic restrictions are eased, then hopefully we can get down the track before September those state restrictions eased as well.

Karl Stefanovic: One final question before we go. Under any circumstances, do you see Australia signing a deal with China’s Belt and Road initiative?

Simon Birmingham: Karl, I think we’ve dealt with that before. I don’t see us changing our position there. We are open absolutely to working with China on matters of infrastructure and so on, where it respects sovereignty and where it’s in national interest for ourselves, for China, and for participating third countries.

Karl Stefanovic: Okay, Simon. Thank you. Appreciate it.