Interview on FIVEaa Breakfast with David Penberthy and Will Goodings 
Cory Bernardi

Will Goodings:             Good morning to you. You’re waking up with David and Will on what looms just a massive day in Australian politics. And in the parlance of our times, David as they say, it is on.

David Penberthy:                      It’s on. It’s on for young and old, Will.

Will Goodings:             It’s being now reported by the Guardian Australia that Cory Bernardi spoke with Malcolm Turnbull a half hour ago and confirmed that at midday today in the Senate he will make clear his intentions with regard to starting the Australian Conservative Party. We just had a look at Senator Bernardi’s Twitter bio, it has been deleted. It just says now: An Australian conservative and South Australian Senator. All of his tweets have been deleted, it does feel like he’s clearing the decks for that announcement at midday.

It’s going to be a story that dominates politics today and indeed tomorrow when we will be joined by Senator Cory Bernardi, he’ll be on the program, as will Christopher Pyne, Anthony Albanese with Two Tribes. You’re going to want to be listening tomorrow morning. It’s the biggest story in Australian politics and all the big players will be here on the program.

David Penberthy:                      There will be more than 250,000 South Australians who will be scratching their heads because it’s only six months ago – a bit over six months ago – that we had a federal election in this country at which Cory Bernardi ran in the number two position on the state Liberal Senate ticket. He was re-elected for a six year term and only six months into that term he has decided to turn his back on the Liberals to set up his own party.

Well the man who held the number one spot on the SA Liberal Senate ticket is the Senator Simon Birmingham who is also the Minister for Education and Child Care in the Turnbull Government. Senator Birmingham joins us now.

Minister, good morning and thanks so much for your time.

Simon Birmingham:     Good morning, Penbo and Will.

David Penberthy:                      Cory Bernardi, today, is depicted on the front page of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph as a rat, with the headline: the Cory party; with him with little rat ears, rat teeth and whiskers. Do you think that Cory is a rat?

Simon Birmingham:     Well I’ll let others undertake the colourful caricatures or descriptions, but you were right – although you slightly short-changed it – that at the last election the Liberal Senate voted, South Australia grew by more than 5 per cent and more than 345,000 South Australians chose to vote for the Liberal Party. They chose the Liberal Party ahead of the Labor Party, or the Greens, Nick Xenophon or One Nation. They had plenty of choices the left and the right of the Liberal Party and those more than 345,000 South Australians chose the Liberal Party, electing four Liberal senators and I’m sure that they expected to have four Liberal senators serve out their terms and they will rightly be disappointed.

Will Goodings:             Because he has a contract with those people, doesn’t he?

Simon Birmingham:     Well I think there is effectively a contract that all of us undertake when we offer ourselves at election. We go to that election on the ballot paper, with not just our names, but also our party affiliation attached to that and that is an enormous guide. I don’t kid myself into thinking that there are hundreds of thousands of South Australians who know and like Simon Birmingham and choose to vote just for me. I think that most of them choose to vote for the Liberal Party, the Liberal values that for more than 70 years have been an amalgam of both liberal and conservative views and that they, rightly, expect that we will honour the bonds that we take to the election when we put our name on the ballot paper and indicate that we are standing as Liberals.

David Penberthy:                      Senator, setting that to one side, does Cory Bernardi have a point? There’s evidence in the last Newspoll that the vast majority of Liberal National voters would like to see a Trump-style ban on immigration. That’s clearly not party policy. Have you forsaken the conservative base?

Simon Birmingham:     Well the Liberal Party policy is to have, to use a Trump-style word, extreme vetting in terms of the way in which we assess who comes to Australia whether they are coming as refugees, whether they are coming via other means, and of course the Liberal Party policy is to have secure borders. And we’ve seen only over the last week or so the continued success that the coalition of the Liberal and National parties is having in fixing the mess that Labor left in terms of our insecure borders that saw thousands of people arrive into Australia illegally. We of course have stopped those arrivals, zero boats for a long period of time now, zero arrivals, got all children out of detention. And are working through the types of deals that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull secured with President Obama and re-confirmed just last week with President Trump, despite President Trump’s misgivings to actually re-settle some of those people who arrived in the Rudd-Gillard years in the United States.

And so we’re getting on with the job, I think, of protecting Australia, securing our borders, fighting for hard-working Australian families through fairer child care, fighting for hard-working Australian small business people through our enterprise tax plan. Don’t let Cory Bernardi, if he chooses to go out there today and say we’re not fighting for lower taxes or smaller government. Every single member of the Liberal and National party is starting for reforms to taxes that will ensure wineries like Seppeltsfield in the Barossa Valley, or businesses like Haigh’s or Coopers, good South Australian businesses get a tax break that allows them to invest more in SA and create more jobs. They’re the things we’re fighting for.

Will Goodings:             Birmo, do you think that, perversely, the most likely result of Cory Bernardi’s sort of hairy-chested brand of conservatism is that it makes it much easier for Labor to win government? Because it splits your vote? Not just at the federal election, but more importantly for the South Australian Liberals at the next state election next year.

Simon Birmingham:     Well I’ll make a couple of points there. You know, firstly to again emphasise that South Australian voters had a choice of One Nation and libertarian parties and, indeed, anti-Muslim parties at the last election and they chose, more than 345,000 of them, chose to vote for the Liberal Party and the Liberal Party’s values. So first point is that many of those choices already exist and we’ve confronted them and dealt with them at the ballot box before. And go back to 1998 when Pauline Hanson got more than 8 per cent of the nationwide vote at that election when John Howard was the Liberal leader. We’ve seen the ups and downs of it and we’ve dealt with those issues before. 

I’m confident that Steven Marshall and his team is the most united, I think, I can ever recall, and I suspect most fair-minded commentators would say they could ever recall, the South Australian Liberal Party being. And I’m sure that they will present an incredibly strong and united front at the next election with plans to address the electricity crisis in South Australia, with plans to deal with the child protection crisis where Jay Weatherill is unable to keep South Australian children safe, with plans to lift the South Australian economy. Other states over the last couple of years have managed to see job growth, in the case of Victoria, of more than 100,000 jobs last year and yet South Australia of course is stagnating. So I mean, there’s a clear choice for South Australians at the next election and I don’t think it’s a choice between players on the fringe, it will be a choice between Jay Weatherill who’s failed to keep children safe, failed to keep the lights on, failed to create jobs, and …

David Penberth:                       [Interrupts] Alright, Senator Simon Birmingham, thank you for your time.

Simon Birmingham:     A pleasure guys.

Will Goodings:             Thanks very much for that, Birmo. We had intended also to get to some child care legislation, very important cost of living stuff, that’s before the Parliament this week. We’ll save that for another day.