Interview on RN Drive with Patricia Karvelas
Topics: Malcolm Turnbull; US-China Trade; Religious Freedoms




Patricia Karvelas:         Simon Birmingham is the Trade Minister. He joins us on RN Drive. Welcome.


Simon Birmingham:     Hello Patricia, good to be with you


Patricia Karvelas:         We will come to your portfolio soon but first of all, Malcolm Turnbull is a friend of yours and a fellow moderate, did he do more harm than good by trying to blast Craig Kelly out of Hughes?


Simon Birmingham:     Well I don’t think that was what Malcolm Turnbull was trying to do. In the end he expressed a view as a party member, about how a preselection should be conducted.  It was a matter for the NSW division to determine its preselection to do so in according to its rules, its constitution.


Patricia Karvelas:         That’s exactly what he was trying to do. He was lobbying for Craig Kelly to be able to be challenged?


Simon Birmingham:     Well look, that’s for Malcolm to explain precisely what he was doing. In the end, the party has, the NSW division, the constitution rules that set out the different ways in which the preselection can be conducted – they’ve chosen to exercise one of those pathways.


Patricia Karvelas:         Does Malcolm Turnbull have the right to be lobbying and talking about this?


Simon Birmingham:     Well every party member has a right.


Patricia Karvelas:         Should he be doing it?


Simon Birmingham:     I’d urge every party member ideally to do it privately.


Patricia Karvelas:         But he did didn’t he?


Simon Birmingham:     Well if he did, he was doing it privately.


Patricia Karvelas:         And then it was leaked and he says that’s why he had to go public. Do you think that’s a good justification?


Simon Birmingham:     These really are matters for others. I’m not going to run a commentary on these things. I would prefer days where we focus entirely on policy rather than inside the beltway, political party machinations and I think the vast majority of Australians prefer those days too. My focus is entirely on policies and how we get good outcomes for those Australian families and businesses.


Patricia Karvelas:         Do you think it’s helpful when Malcolm Turnbull speaks?


Simon Birmingham:     Look it’s up for every member whether they are serving or otherwise.


Patricia Karvelas:         Do you think it’s helpful when Malcolm Turnbull speaks?


Simon Birmingham:     It’s up for everybody to think about what they are saying is helpful or not. In the end I would urge everybody as a party member whether they are a parliamentarian or otherwise to focus on selling the achievements of our Government. Malcolm’s achievements, all of our Government’s achievements – this is a five and a half year Government that is not about any one person it’s about the fact that as a Government we have managed to build a solid record for those people who voted for us in 2013 and 2016 – and they did so because they wanted the budget to be repaired, because they wanted jobs to grow, they wanted the economy to be strengthened, because they wanted secure borders. We’ve delivered all those things plus tax relief for families, for businesses. They’re the things that drive people to vote for Liberal and National parties and we are delivering them and that’s where we ought to focus all of our energies.


Patricia Karvelas:         OK.  But doesn’t saving Craig Kelly create a huge problem for the Government because the Government didn’t’ step in and do the same thing for the two women MP’s Ann Sudmalis and James Prentice?


Simon Birmingham:     Well Ann Sudmalis is a member in NSW.  She decided not to recontest her preselection.


Patricia Karvelas:         Because she said she was subjected to a campaign against her…


Simon Birmingham:     Look, I’ll try again to explain the circumstances. She decided not to contest her preselection. I can but only assume that if she had gone ahead and nominated that perhaps the same outcome and the same provisions might have been used in NSW.


Patricia Karvelas:         Jane Prentice?


Simon Birmingham:     The Queensland party – again the Liberal Party is a federation of different states and territories, they each have their own rules as to how they run their pre-selections within the context of their constitutions.


Patricia Karvelas:         Ok, but I’m talking. This is a bigger question Simon Birmingham.  This is the look. Government intervenes to save a backbencher who’s threatening to sit on the crossbench but doesn’t do the same kind of thing, to save two women when the numbers of women in your party are abysmal?


Simon Birmingham:     This is the thing you and some talk want to talk about Patricia, but I tell you what, most people out there don’t give two hoots about the preselection of individual MP’s.


Patricia Karvelas:         I reckon they do give two hoots about the representation of women in parliament….


Simon Birmingham:     They care about whether we are fighting for them and their issues. And we’ve been in this interview now for several minutes and you want to spend it talking about internal party processes and machinations for pre-selections – I would rather talk about the policies that make a difference to the lives of Australians.


Patricia Karvelas:         Do you accept though that the Liberal party has a problem with the way it looks?


Simon Birmingham:     That’s what I’m focused on….


Patricia Karvelas:         In relation to women and pre-selection and helping women stay in parliament?


Simon Birmingham:     I absolutely want to see more women in the Parliament, in the Liberal party ranks, and continue to work hard to encourage people to seek preselection, to join the party, to help shape the party in the type of mould that I think it ought to have – to ensure that we are a party that focusses on delivering the types of things that people vote the Liberal and National parties for and now I think we have done a great job already as a Government delivering those policy outcomes – it gets all too lost on days like today talking about these sorts of issues…


Patricia Karvelas:         That’s not journalists fault though. Well that’s not the fault of journalists?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, it’s an accumulative factor, it’s an accumulative factor. You guys choose which questions you ask and you…


Patricia Karvelas:                     You guys give us the stories, Minister….


Simon Birmingham:                 And you get happily side tracked by internal machinations.  If there is somebody who wants to talk about internal politics – you’ll take it up. I of course agreed to do this interview over the weekend to talk about the G20, to talk about trade policy.


Patricia Karvelas:                     And we’re going to get there but just a final question, which will. If you can answer it, we will get there. What about Malcolm Turnbull’s advice that an election should be called on March the second? Should it be taken?


Simon Birmingham:                 The Prime Minister of the day gets to choose when the election date is.


Patricia Karvelas:                     And, but do you think it should be taken to help the Berejiklian Government?


Simon Birmingham:                 The Prime Minister of the day should choose when the election date is and it will be held in the normal context of things and of course we will go to the election as a Government having delivered, I expect a budget that shows we have brought it back to surplus after years of hard work and toil despite all that political chatter. Have actually delivered the outcome we promised – budget repair, coupled with tax relief, coupled with economic growth, coupled with record employment growth – especially important in record growth in youth job numbers –these are the exciting things we have delivered – that we have to make sure people are focussed on day in day out.


Patricia Karvelas:         Labor made this point today that Angela Merkel is on her sixth Australian Prime Minister and had to refer to her briefing notes to identify Scott Morrison at the G20 meeting. As trade minister that you are, do you think Australia’s reputation overseas is being damaged by all of the turbulence?


Simon Birmingham:     I think this is a bit of a cheap shot. In the three different G20 meetings that Malcolm Turnbull attended, there were changes of leadership in the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, a range of different countries saw a leadership change. It’s not unusual out of democracy to see those changes in leadership and just in the three years Malcolm Turnbull was sitting around that table you saw multiple new faces appear. Every G20 leader is used to it. In relation to the fact she was looking at a briefing note. Every time I go to a meeting, The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade gives me a brief, it includes a picture of the person and includes their biography. It is to make sure you’re well-prepared for that meeting and it’s not a surprise that Angela Merkel would have one of those briefing notes too.


Patricia Karvelas:         So on what came out of the G20, there has really be a pivot away from that escalating trade war. Is Australia concerned that’s not going to last? It’s obviously welcome news but are you worried about how sustainable that positon will be?


Simon Birmingham:     I’m hopeful that now we have more open dialogue occurring between China and the United States, the fact that there has been this truce called at least for now. Gives scope for the two countries to be able to address some of those serious issues. Australia has been critical of the unilateral tariff measures, the Trump administration has applied, whilst equally indicating that we share some of their concerns about the way in which protection of intellectual property and the like occurs within China. So we really do urge both parties to work constructively on solutions. The G20 saw Australia and pretty much every other nation deliver a unified consistent message to China and the US that we want them to work within the World Trade Organization framework, and the rules-based order restored that has stood very well for decades which has seen enormous economic growth and lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, and we want to make sure that type of activity continues in the future.


Patricia Karvelas:         Would you describe Donald Trump’s policies as protectionist?    


Simon Birmingham:     In a short-term sense of course applying higher tariffs are protectionist measures. In terms of what the long-term ambition is, I don’t think that’s where he wants the US to be.


Patricia Karvelas:         You don’t achieve trade liberalisation by introducing tariffs though right, so it is protectionism even in the long-term. How can you possibly win based…


Simon Birmingham:     What the White House has indicated in relation to the discussions that occurred between President Trump and President Xi is that they’re not going to proceed with the next round of tariff increases and that subject to progress being made, the tariff increases that have been applied to date may be withdrawn. So, that’s encouraging, if we can get back to the point where tariffs were previously, then of course that’s positive, and from there you’d hope to still see further opening up. That’s what our government has achieved by proceeding and persevering with the Trans-Pacific Partnership where Bill Shorten said we should give up because Donald Trump walked away from it. We persevered as a government, we did so alongside Japan and others and we’ll be bringing it into force on December 30 this year, providing yet more access for Australian farmers, small businesses, to sell their goods and services to even more markets with lower impost, lower tariffs and taxes applied to.


Patricia Karvelas:         Back home, were you disappointed that in the Senate today the Bill to protect LBGTI kids from discrimination was sent off to committee which means it won’t be dealt with by the end of the year. It was meant to be an emergency. That emergency seems to be gone?


Simon Birmingham:     I’m disappointed that the Labor Party has sought through this process to deny very small protection for faith-based schools to be able to apply basic rules within their schools. The Government is clear that we want to see this provision repealed, we want to see it repealed in a way though that means if the school has basic rules around uniform policy, chapel attendance for a faith-based school or the like, they ought to be able to work within those rules. That’s not an unreasonable provision and it’s concerning that the Labor Party has [indistinct] resisted to create this kind of stalemate where the crossbenchers in the Senate have said we’re uncertain around the technicalities of the amendments that are proposed, therefore we want more time to look at it.


Patricia Karvelas:         But you did promise during the Wentworth by-election to settle this by the end of the year and you’ve failed that promise right?


Simon Birmingham:     Well we thought it would be a fairly simple proposition with the Labor Party. We thought we would be able to bowl up a Bill that dealt with this in a sensible way, remove this old provision that the Labor Government had brought into place. Ensure there is still basic protections for faith-based schools to operate according to their mission but without the ability to be able to discriminate against any child on the basis of their sexuality, or any other aspect of that child’s life or circumstances. Unfortunately that agreement has not been forthcoming which means now we’ve got to go through this Senate process of getting the crossbench to understand the amendments and be in a position to make an informed decision on that..


Patricia Karvelas:         When will it be settled?


Simon Birmingham:     The Government’s intention is to make it a short, sharp Senate inquiry and the Bill would come back to the Senate in the very first sitting week of next year.


Patricia Karvelas:         Kerryn Phelps told me last night on National Wrap that she was concerned that this was the time that teachers were getting hired, it’s a difficult time and it’s a time where these kind of discriminations can happen. Do you accept that those does put some people in a vulnerable position?


Simon Birmingham:     One of the interesting things about this provision is that this piece of the act that we’re seeking to repeal, is that nobody has really held up any examples to say here is how it is being abused or misused. So we’re doing this in many respects out of principle. Good sound principle that we stand against discrimination and want to see it removed, but…


Patricia Karvelas:         Do you think teachers should be discriminated against though?  


Simon Birmingham:     I think we ought to address that provision of the Act. It comes with slightly greater complexities and we’ll do that in our response I’m sure to the Ruddock review when all those different factors are weighed and considered.


Patricia Karvelas:         Simon Birmingham. Thanks for coming in.         


Simon Birmingham:     Thank you Patricia.