Topics:  Newspoll; Katie Hopkins; National Cabinet


David Penberthy: Our next guest is Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia and the Federal Finance Minister. Birmo thanks so much for your time. What do you make of this shift in sentiment? Because it’s undeniable. It’s born out in today’s Newspoll.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, guys. Sorry about that, I heard you loud and clear and heard the intro and the question too Penbo. No doubt people are tired and frustrated of COVID after we’ve all been living with this for 18 months now. And you can see that even in parts of the world, that might have had a faster vaccine rollout than us that have had a huge loss of life. Like the UK, they’re now dealing with enormous uncertainties as they seek to reopen, the case numbers spike and hospitalisation seem to be growing and those in isolation are increasing. So people do need to accept that there’s going to be a way of living with COVID for a little while to come yet as we across the globe grapple with vaccine rollout, continued uncertainty of new strains and how we achieve the best possible outcomes. In Australia despite the frustration and we’ve still managed across this country to save lives. An estimated 30,000 compared with the comparable results in other countries, saved jobs and businesses. And although there is pressures abound at present, we’re putting in place the policies to keep doing so. And in terms of the vaccine rollout, well, we’ve passed 10 million doses administered to date. We’ve received another shipment and a further one million Pfizer doses this week. And we’re expecting to see that sort of rate of delivery hopefully continue.


David Penberthy: It was a mistake for the Prime Minister to say that it wasn’t a race, though, wasn’t it?


Simon Birmingham: Look, it’s important to get the job done, we never wanted it to be a race in terms of jeopardising public health, and that’s why we put the vaccine through the normal processes of our health regulators checking and testing and didn’t do what other countries did, which was give them emergency approvals. Now, if we’d simply rushed them through emergency approvals, we might have been further down the track. More Australians probably would have had AstraZeneca in in those circumstances. And people can debate the merits or otherwise of if we had done that. But we thought it was appropriate to make sure that we gave Australians confidence that just like every other drug we asked people to take in this country, these went through the same checks and processes.


Will Goodings: Why were Katie Hopkins and Caitlyn Jenner granted exemptions to come in and appear on Big Brother when so many Australians can’t get back into the country and have their exemption applications rejected?


Simon Birmingham: I’m looking forward to getting and hearing some good explanations from officials as to how those exemptions were granted. And there are exemptions given for businesses who manage to mount a sufficiently strong case as to why they need to get somebody into the country for business purposes. But frankly, I don’t think they’d pass any type of reasonable test. Now, I understand that a different state government had asked for the exemptions to be given. And so they had that request from business, that request from a state government, and they were approved. The controversial woman in question is, is having her visa cancelled and sent home. But clearly, that was a failure somewhere in the system there. And I think we all want to hear answers on that, And I’ll be asking for them when we are meeting with the Cabinet.


David Penberthy: But does this case suggest that there should be a broader rethink about it? I mean, Katie Hopkins aside, I mean, the fact that Caitlyn Jenner can be here, why are so many other Australians I mean, I know a friend of mine, her father died in England last year and she couldn’t get over to say goodbye to him, like it would seem profoundly more important than a TV show.


Simon Birmingham: I’m not disagreeing with that, there are cases that businesses validly make about the need to get a highly skilled individual into the country to help them in terms of protecting their business, protecting other Australian jobs, that might depend upon the skills or nature of those cases. But I don’t think in this instance, these individuals and the idea of celebrity Big Brother passes the test. Clearly, somebody who processed those applications, had a failure there. And we’ve got to make sure that those systems don’t have a repeat at all. Action was taken over the weekend in relation to the controversial figure to cancel her visa and send her on her way as soon as we possibly can.


David Penberthy: Birmo, I’m not sure if you caught up with it, but the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, over the weekend in a Liberal Party podcast has described the National Cabinet model as, quote, ‘a dog’s breakfast’ and said that it ‘creates uncertainty about who’s in charge’. I was mentioning before the texts that we get, a lot of them currently seem to go to the sense that the Prime Minister himself seems kind of emasculated and that Cabinet can do one thing and then the Premiers go off and do whatever they want anyway. Do you agree with Mr Abbott’s criticisms?


Simon Birmingham: No, National Cabinet has never been a vehicle through which, you know, a single decision for the whole country is made in the states and territories have always retained their constitutional rights. Each of them has done their management of COVID slightly different ways around the approaches that they’ve taken to their own border controls, to their own approaches to downs and what’s in or out of those lockdown arrangements. Each of them, of course, have their own laws in terms of how they go about it, in SA, as we well know, the Police Commissioner invested with those powers, but in other states, it’s health officials or indeed their different politicians. So we’ve had to respond using the constitutional and legal structures that we have as a nation. We have a federation of states in the Commonwealth. Each of them have their own different powers. Each of them have their own legal structures. National Cabinet provides a vehicle for sharing of information, for trying to coordinate where it’s possible. But it doesn’t provide any capacity to override those legal or constitutional structures.


David Penberthy: Federal Finance Minister and Senator for South Australia, Simon Birmingham, thanks very much for joining us this morning on FiveAA.