Interview on FIVEaa Breakfast with Will Goodings and David Penberthy
Will Goodings: That was Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull before challenging the leadership of then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott. And here we are, 30 Newspolls later. David Penberthy, he has the same record.
David Penberthy: That’s right, and the key word that the- well, then, he’s a minister, not the leader of the Liberal Party, but the key word that Malcolm Turnbull used then to justify moving on Tony Abbott was trajectory. Well, after 30 negative Newspolls of his own, you could argue that the trajectory hasn’t changed. Only the personnel has. Simon Birmingham is the Liberal Senator for South Australia and also the Education Minister in the Turnbull Government, and he’s kindly joined us in the studio this morning. Senator, good morning and thanks for your time.
Simon Birmingham: G’day, guys.
Will Goodings: Do you think the situation is now irretrievable and do you think that the party room will move against Malcolm Turnbull in the same way that it moved against Tony Abbott?
Simon Birmingham: To tackle both of those questions directly, the answer’s no and no. Look, we’ve seen governments, John Howard’s government come back from poll positions that were far more challenging than what’s reported. Just over the weekend, we saw one significant poll in the Fairfax Media showing a 50-50 contest. The next election is a contest. South Australians well know that you can’t take polls months out from an election and simply bank them, otherwise Nick Xenophon would be the Premier today. So these things absolutely can change. Our battle is between now and the next election to make sure people understand the choice, and it’s a significant choice they have to make. We have a strong track record. Malcolm Turnbull, when he took the leadership of the Liberal Party, spoke very strongly about the need for strong economic leadership, and he’s delivered on that. We saw just last year more than 420,000 jobs grown across the Australian economy. We are enjoying the longest consecutive run of monthly employment growth in Australia’s history…
David Penberthy: But all these points, they go to the core problem, don’t they? Because if things are going so well, why don’t people regard him more highly?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we have to make sure, as I say, we frame that choice and the choice is made on Election Day. Polls come and go in between, but on Election Day, people make that decision and they’ll be deciding between a continuance of that strong, economic management, continued jobs growth and a continued focus on making sure we put more money back in the hip pockets of Australians. In my own portfolio, thousands of dollars going to hardworking Australian families come July this year, to help them with their childcare costs. Because we’re getting the Budget under control, because we’re focusing on the reform for the necessary versus what will be a choice of Bill Shorten, who is offering an alternative of higher taxes on people’s wages, on people’s retirement savings, on people’s houses, on electricity. That’s the choice.
David Penberthy: Senator, if all these things were true and all of these things of political truisms, then why wasn’t Tony Abbott afforded the same time? Why wasn’t he afforded an election?
Simon Birmingham: Well, there were many different factors that were at play at the time. There were factors around the way in which the government ran and operated, there were factors around the economic direction of the country and making sure that there was a strong trajectory of growth in that sense. So…
David Penberthy: So this is a 30 Newspolls unlike the 30 before them? This is a different scenario?
Simon Birmingham: Well, you can’t just look at one isolated factor. You played one grab out of a very long press conference of Malcolm Turnbull’s on that day. Now, I understand why there’s interest in that one grab today, but equally, there were numerous other factors that he cited around the style of leadership, around the focus of policies and reform. And on those fronts, he has delivered. He has delivered the Cabinet-style government that he promised, very much in the mould of John Howard. He has delivered economic leadership and he’s delivering as record jobs growth. He’s delivered economic leadership that seen us achieved billions of dollars in budget repair, and has the trajectory back to our budget balance on track, and that’s very important for us to be able to then put more money back in the hip pockets of the hardest working Australian families.
Will Goodings: You mentioned John Howard and certainly there were times, particularly in the lead-up to the 1998 election when he was going to the polls after just one term with what he called the lead and the saddlebags of the goods and services tax, and a lot of people thought he was crazy-brave to go to an election so soon, trying to pull that off, and in the end, he did. But from…
Simon Birmingham: I can remember as a marginal seat candidate in 2004 polls that suggested Mark Latham was going to be Prime Minister as well. Thank God that never happened.
David Penberthy: But isn’t- the thing that’s changed between the Howard-era and now – and you can probably wind it back to the fateful night when Labor decided to knock off Kevin Rudd in 2010 – it almost feels to me like all of you guys, be you Labor or Liberal, have somehow collectively lost your nerve and that you now jump at shadows too readily. With the leadership merry-go-round on the Labor side and now on the Liberal side, that it’s- the politicians, fuelled too by us in the press, that – even though you all say the only poll that matters is the one on polling day – your behaviour suggests otherwise. The skittish nature in which the country’s been governed for a decade now suggests that all you guys are spending far too much time reading Newspoll too.
Simon Birmingham: Well, Penbo, perhaps the one thing to take out of all of that is indeed the lesson of the last South Australian election campaign, where Steven Marshall and the state Liberals absolutely held their nerve. They didn’t waver at all in the face of all manner of stories and claims that they were going to need to do lots of different things to be able to win a majority government. Instead, they stuck to their message, they stuck to their policies, they stuck to the focus and they won a strong majority. So our battle is to make sure between now and the next election, firstly, that we keep governing. And the next election is still a little over a year away, and the Australian people expect us not to be distracted by this stuff, but to focus on delivering the childcare reforms we promised and making sure they work in July of this year, by on continuing to grow the job numbers across the country, on making sure that in a globally uncertain environment, we actually keep getting the trade outcomes that are necessary, and you’ve seen Malcolm Turnbull win significant trade concessions from Donald Trump because of his leadership…
David Penberthy: But can you…
Simon Birmingham: … but also, then, to work towards the next election and determine and decisively frame that choice at that election, just as the state Liberals did without losing focus or being rattled by anything that happens between now and then.
David Penberthy: But the difference for you guys versus Steven Marshall – and I totally take your point about him holding his nerve and indeed the party holding its nerve – there’s a big difference between being in opposition and hoping that you’re going to get in, and being a marginal seat MP in a government, knowing that you’re going to lose. How do you keep the nervous nellies in the tent over the coming six to twelve months?
Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s up to every single member of the team to realise that without unity, without purpose, without absolute focus on framing that choice at the next election, then there will be challenges at that election. But if you do show that unity, purpose and direction and frame that choice effectively, then there is every reason to expect success, and we will frame that choice, and it is a very stark contrast. We’ve not seen an opposition leader go to an election as Bill Shorten promises to do, with such a range of tax increases and spending promises in Australia’s history. It’s more than $200 billion of increased taxes across a whole range of areas of economic activity. Not just business and companies, but also absolutely, savings, retirement savings, houses – in terms of the way in which housing is taxed. Wages, ultimately – he has policies for higher income taxes already. So we can see there will be a very strong contrast and that will only sharpen, as we work through the next Budget where we will seek to deliver to the Australian people some of the benefits of the hard yards we’ve made in terms of budget savings, by looking as to where can we further reduce the tax burden on Australians. That’s what people expect a Coalition government to get in and do. Spend the first few years dealing with Labor’s debt and deficit, work our way through that pathway of paying that down, and then get to a point where you can return the dividend back to people through lower taxation, and that’s exactly what we will be doing.
David Penberthy: Education Minister Simon Birmingham, thanks very much for joining us in the studio this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks guys.