Interview on Sky AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert
Topics: Newspoll; Energy policy; US-China trade tensions




Kieran Gilbert: Trade Minister, thanks very much for your time. In relation to the Newspoll first of all, not really too surprising that the Coalition is still really in the cellar when you look at the polling?


Simon Birmingham:     Well there’s nothing that is really a surprise there, and our job is to make sure we demonstrate to the Australian people that day and night we are working for them on their behalf in terms of ensuring that we keep them safe, that we keep our economy strong, that we keep Australians together, that we continue to build upon what is a very good track record that Scott Morrison had as Treasurer, of economic growth, some 3.4 per cent we saw in the last national accounts, the strongest rate of growth since the mining boom, a higher level of growth than any G7 country. A real demonstration there that as a Government we have been delivering and we can take and Scott can take a very strong track record to the election as Treasurer that he will now build upon as Prime Minister.


Kieran Gilbert: But you would think the electorate looks at the GDP numbers last week and this is showing in the Newspoll and they’re thinking why the tumultuous coup of a couple of weeks ago given the broader parameters look quite good?


Simon Birmingham:     At the time of the next election we’ll be asking the electorate to look forwards. To judge us on our track record in terms of economic growth, jobs growth, balancing the budget, delivering investment in services, opening up market access to the world in terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the new Indonesia free trade agreement in my portfolio. They will be the things that will stand as our record but also say look to the future, and it’s a future where there will be a sharp contrast.


Kieran Gilbert: Do you think the electorate will give you another chance, because it’s a big if?


Simon Birmingham:     My sense and I was out with Scott Morrison in Albury the other day is that people are engaging well with him, they’re perceiving him well, they recognise that he is a good family man, he has strong values, he has a desire to make sure Australia stands tall on the world-stage as demonstrated in the way he conducted himself in Indonesia. But ultimately he is somebody who is happy to roll his sleeves up, get on with the job of working for the Australian people and that’s what they’re going to what to see and ultimately I think people will judge Scott on his merits, on the fact that there will be a choice at the next election..


Kieran Gilbert: Well he’s hit the ground running in terms of his approval rating, a couple of weeks in and he’s already preferred prime minister. So at a personal level we know that he’s doing well but that doesn’t really amount to much if your primary vote is still in the low 30’s?


Simon Birmingham:     That’s why he and every single member of the team must work day and night to make sure that we build off of that fact that people are engaging well with Scott Morrison and make sure they also understand the sharp contrast of choice they will face at the next election. It will be a choice between paying higher taxes under Bill Shorten, or lower taxes under Scott Morrison. Higher electricity prices under Bill Shorten or lower electricity prices under Scott Morrison. A balanced budget, careful economic management under Scott Morrison or indeed all of the risks that come with a Labor party that will be beholden to the union movement.


Kieran Gilbert: But when you look at one of those issues that you touched on, energy prices. This has been at the centre of the fight within the Liberal party, the National Energy Guarantee. Are you at least reassured as trade minister that the government and the Prime Minister said this the other day that will remain in the Paris framework because if you were to pull out it would have dire consequences in terms of our trade prospects, at least with the EU for example?


Simon Birmingham:     Well the Prime Minister has said that very clearly. I’ve said it very clearly, and that is the position of the Government.


Kieran Gilbert: When you look at the commitment though in terms of emission reduction, that’s not going to be legislated so we might be within Paris by name only?


Simon Birmingham:     Nor were any other times Kieran. Let’s understand this, the reality is Australia met and exceeded its first Kyoto targets, we’re on track to meet and exceed our second Kyoto targets and we are well and truly in a position where we can see a pathway to meet now the Paris commitment targets. And just yesterday I looked at some of the commentary in my own state around new proposed investment in battery storage technologies that are a further demonstration of the fact that new technology, new activity is going to continue to drive transformation.


Kieran Gilbert: Do you feel like that the British billionaire who is running the Whyalla at the moment, the business community is going well ahead of much of these debates by investing in some of these new technologies themselves?


Simon Birmingham:     And that of course is exactly where you expect to see changes in transformation. That technology and innovation isn’t done by government, it’s done by business. It’s the job of government to create the right economy and the right economic circumstances, for people to invest, for change to happen and of course what we’ve done is create those circumstances where we have the highest level of economic growth since the mining booming, where we have record numbers of jobs growth, where we have people investing in new jobs, in job creation but also in innovation and that innovation is going to transform things like our emissions profile as well.


Kieran Gilbert: We’re seeing our markets rattled in recent days and various impacts in terms of exchange rates and so on from the trade war between China and the United States. Now Donald Trump threatening to basically put tariffs on every single thing that China exports to the United States. That would be a dire step would it not?


Simon Birmingham:     Well these are very concerning comments and we would certainly urge all parties to abide by the long standing practices in terms of long-standing trade rules and law. To exercise calm and recognise that actions that might be taken now could have negative impacts on the economies of those nations as well as other economies around the world. It’s certainly why as a government we continue to be focused on how it is we can maximise the access for Australian businesses to global markets. That’s why Scott Morrison signed the deal with Indonesia in his first week in office. It’s why we have in the lower house of Parliament this week the legislation to progress the Trans-Pacific Partnership. These are all about agreements that will improve access for Australian farmers, for Australian businesses to other markets in the face of what are very uncertain global times.


Kieran Gilbert: So Australia has to push ahead with trying to break down barriers with other like- minded nations while Donald Trump is putting up the trade barriers?


Simon Birmingham:     Australia will push ahead with making sure that our businesses and farmers have maximum access to as many markets as they possibly can, whilst still continuing to urge and I’ll be doing this at the meeting of G20 trade ministers later this week, continuing to urge all economies to stick by the long-standing international practices, to respect the fact that open markets, free trade, do deliver economic benefits for everybody and the corollary of that is that if you undermine those principles and those activities you then threaten the economies of those nations but also potentially have negative economic impacts elsewhere.


Kieran Gilbert: Trade Minister, thanks very much for you time, appreciate it.


Simon Birmingham:     Thank you Kieran.