Interview on Sky AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert and Laura Jayes
Topics: Wentworth; Saudi Arabia; NZ refugee resettlement




Kieran Gilbert: Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, on Wentworth.


Simon Birmingham: You have to say this result was not unexpected, clearly voter anger over Malcolm Turnbull’s removal as Prime Minister was profound, especially in his electorate of Wentworth, we have to acknowledge that. We have to work very hard between now and the next election to convince people to support us on the basis of our policy accomplishments and to overlook in a sense those political failings that clearly angered them.

Kieran Gilbert: Specifically climate change, was climate change a factor of the weekend poll?


Simon Birmingham: I think the politics of Malcolm’s removal played a far greater role than any particular issue or policy did in this campaign, and when it comes to the next election obviously we will be asking voters to focus on our policy accomplishments, on the choice for the future that they have to make and that will be a very different scenario and climate to the one that we faced in Wentworth. But clearly across every policy area we have to make sure we have a good strong story to tell and that we do in terms of our work to meet and exceed the 2020 climate targets and we need to make sure voters understand that just as a Liberal-National Government has implemented policies to help ensure we do that, we’ll do the same in relation to our 2030 targets too.


Laura Jayes: Minister, after the Longman by-election we saw the Prime Minister at the time, Malcolm Turnbull, change tack on corporate tax cuts, do you think we will see a big shift after this result in Wentworth? Is it sending the same kind of message to the now Prime Minister that maybe there needs to be something dramatic in one of these policy areas?


Simon Birmingham: Laura, we are of course always looking at our policies that we will take to the next election. But first and foremost, this was a by-election where voter anger was centred around Malcolm’s removal as Prime Minister and those circumstances, but we have to now get on with the job. As I say, of getting voters to think about the policy accomplishments of the Government, rather than some of those internal political failings. The policy accomplishments are strong, we’ve done what people expect a Liberal-National Government to do in balancing the budget and growing the economy, record jobs growth and securing our borders, in delivering tax relief for small and medium-sized businesses, and on personal income tax cuts. These are all solid achievements for a Liberal-National Government, it’s why people vote for the Liberal and National parties. We do need to work very hard to ensure people look as those policy accomplishments.  


Kieran Gilbert: You can only get accomplishments focused on when you have unity on some of the difficult ones, and there’s not unity at this point on a settled climate policy or even a settled agreement that you need to deal with that as an issue. So that’s obviously something you need to resolve.


Simon Birmingham: Kieran, I think we have to, again, leverage our accomplishments in that policy area, as the accomplishment of delivering policies such as the emissions reduction fund, that help to ensure Australia will meet and exceed our 2020 climate targets and reassuring Australians that we will similarly, in the period right through to 2030, which is of course still 12 years away, be able and will implement policies that also ensure we meet and ideally exceed our 2030 reductions.


Laura Jayes: Minister, is the emissions reductions fund the sum total of your climate change policy, which [indistinct], sorry, that happened under the Abbott Government?


 Simon Birmingham: Well, no it’s not, Laura. Of course we continue to work across the whole suite of different areas. The investment is undertaken by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Energy Finance Corporation’s work in terms of emission standards that apply in a range of different areas continuing work on sound land use practices. There are a number of different areas that, through the environment portfolio, indeed other parts of government, we continue to work on to see emissions driven down. We’ve already seen in the energy sector that the energy emissions projections essentially are, for that 26 per cent reduction, to be met and based on existing policy settings we will continue to work across all of the other areas of emissions policy to make sure we see similar reductions.


Kieran Gilbert: On another matter, you’ve announced the boycott of the Saudi Summit after the death of Jamal Khashoggi. Can you explain exactly the Government’s thinking on that?


Simon Birmingham: Well, the Government has for some time been terribly concerned about the circumstances around Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance. The reality is that we’ve worked very hard, the Government, in terms of our engagement to understand what was happening with this issue. Foreign Minister Payne met with the Saudi Ambassador last week to express her concerns. We took advice in that. We of course then saw the information that 18 Saudi nationals have been arrested in relation to his disappearance. That is a very serious step and I think it’s appropriate for Australia to send a strong signal, that strong signal is that no Australian officials will be attending this investment event in Saudi Arabia and we continue to urge Saudi Arabia to cooperate thoroughly with Turkish authorities in relation to the disappearance.


Laura Jayes: Minister, are you considering further sanctions, or are does it just stop as these strong messages, as you put it, at this point?


Simon Birmingham: Look, we will continue to review all settings, but right now the Government has sent a strong signal and of course we do urge Saudi Arabia to fully cooperate with the investigation that Turkish authorities are undertaking so that there is transparency around these circumstances and as much clarity around his disappearance as possible.


Kieran Gilbert: Finally, there looks like there is a compromise looming potentially in terms of the 150 offer of asylum seekers to resettle in New Zealand. Tony Burke indicating that Labor might compromise on that front. What’s your sense of where this is at in terms of the electorate? It seems various indications that people are losing patience here, in terms of five years on and many children still on Nauru.


Simon Birmingham: Well it’s up to the Labor Party. We’ve of course had legislation that’s been before the Parliament for two years now, or thereabouts, that the Labor Party has said they would not support, which would have provided greater certainty around the circumstances where if any asylum seeker settled in New Zealand they would not be able to simply transfer themselves back into Australia. Labor has blocked that, if Labor is changing its policy, to come closer to the Government, well we’ll have to have a look at what it is they are saying. We are committed to getting children off of Nauru. We have of course resettled thousands of people in our time in office and we have closed many facilities across Australia and others. We are determined to ensure that everybody is ultimately resettled and the best way to keep people out of detention is to make sure that you have no new arrivals, and that’s also the most critical part of our policy which has been a success of securing our borders and having no new boat arrivals over that time.


Laura Jayes: Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time.