KIERAN GILBERT: I’m with the Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Senator Birmingham, thanks for your time, you’ve heard the response, the critique of both Cory Bernardi and Peta Credlin. First of all, Peta Credlin’s comment that the Prime Minister broke the Liberal party’s heart, what do you make of that?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Kieran. Well I think the Liberal party will be very relieved to know that we are by far and away the most likely party to form government out of this election and that we will continue to have a Liberal and National party government. That is not frankly where the party was 12 months ago and so thankfully we are in a position where we will move in to a second term. That is not to say that there aren’t lessons to be learned out of this election, there are lessons to learn out of every single election and we need to get on with heading them, learning them and working to regain the trust of those voters who have lost it this election, but I believe that we can do that, we will do that and we will do that under the strong leadership of Malcolm Turnbull.
GILBERT: Is Peta Credlin right in saying that it was a lack-luster campaign and her critique on that front?
BIRMINGHAM: I think Malcolm Turnbull ran a very solid campaign himself. He absolutely delivered strong and consistent messages throughout the campaign, but of course, as I said, there are lessons to be learned, there will be those that people want to debate about the campaign tactics, that’s really for the backroom operators to have reviews on. Then of course, there are those issues in relation to policy direction and some of the issues that were part of the campaign. Ultimately, we have to firstly, there will be a promise to the Australian people, provide stable government, strong economic leadership and then we also need to work very hard to make sure that we understand the reasons why some people chose to vote particularly for minor parties at this election. There was no strong endorsement of the Labor party at this election and their vote remains at historical lows and the crowing that’s going on from the Labor party right now really is quite hollow when you have a look at the outcome for them in terms of where people’s votes went. So, we need to work hard to understand why people have that dissatisfaction with the major parties and make sure that at the next election, they ideally come back to the Liberal and National parties.
GILBERT: So when you say that you’re in a position to form government, that’s obviously, you’re the favourite at this stage to do that and you weren’t in a position to go anywhere near that or be competitive 12 months ago; is that a reminder to Peta Credlin and you’re parliamentary colleagues who remain aggrieved at Tony Abbott being brought down, that he was not going to win this election in your view?
BIRMINGHAM: Look, I’ll let others conduct the historical analysis in that sense and I think it is simply a fairly obvious statement of fact, this has been a close run election, we always said it was going to be a close run election. Now, as much as we appealed for Australians to make a clear and decisive choice, they have returned a very closely balanced parliament, but we will get on and make that work. We will respect the decision of the voters, we will provide strong and stable government, we will work effectively and cooperatively with crossbench Members of the House of Representatives and crossbench Senators and I hope and trust that they will effectively with us. In a sense, those new or crossbench Members of the house or the Senate can either be part of the problem, in terms of continuing instability and not allowing us to effectively govern, or they can be part of the solution and we are absolutely putting the olive branch out to say that we will work to make sure this parliament is effective in giving good, strong, frim leadership and government to Australia and I hope that those sitting on the crossbenches, I even hope that those perhaps in the Labor party might work to make sure that we lift and restore the confidence of voters in our parliamentary system.
GILBERT: Now the Australian reports today that a number of conservative MPs are calling for a party room meeting even if they all pay their own way back to Canberra to conduct the meeting and take feedback on what is offered to the crossbench in part of any deal, that they might regret later, they don’t want the Prime Minister to be doing the negotiations without first consulting the various elements of your party, do you think that that is a fair enough proposition?
BIRMINGHAM: Nobody has raised that with me, but the point I would make is that we actually do, by convention, automatically have a party room meeting after each election to re-elect the leadership team, to resolve any other matters of discussion, so in a sense, anyone who is saying that is simply calling for normal practice to be adhered to, which it will be of course, but we need to make sure that the count in some of the uncertain seats continues so that those members who are in doubt have the opportunity to attend if they are likely to be re-elected.
GILBERT: One report on the ABC this morning from Eliza Borello, she’s tweeted saying that, from a conservative, if the Prime Minister does a deal selling us out, MPs saying if the Prime Minister does a deal selling us out for himself, we can change him at the first party room meeting; it sounds ominous.
BIRMINGHAM: Well look, unnamed sources will run whatever comments they want to run. I am confident that we will be rock solid in our support behind Malcolm Turnbull, that we will provide stable leadership and government to Australia, that Malcolm will convene the party room meeting in the usual course of events as would occur after an election of any outcome and that, of course, every member of the party room, as is always the case, will get to have their say and that we will deliver a government that upholds our election commitment to provide strong economic leadership for Australia, but also works cooperatively with the different voices we now find within the parliament and frankly, I look to the other side of politics at present and I see Anthony Albanese having said that now is extra time in the election and that he won’t challenge Bill Shorten during extra time. Well, extra time ends, of course, when the government is sworn back in, as I expect that it will be and so it looks like Anthony Albanese is effectively saying that he will be challenging Bill Shorten, just not for another few weeks.
GILBERT: In terms of the challenge here for the Prime Minister, first and foremost, should he offer the olive branch to the conservatives in the party and bring Tony Abbott, for example, back to the Ministry, back to Cabinet even?
BIRMINGHAM: Look, they are really matters entirely for the Prime Minister and you wouldn’t expect that I would go out there speculating on how he should construct the Cabinet or the Ministry. He will have to work through those issues and I’ve no doubt that he will speak with Tony Abbott as he will speak with any other people over coming days and weeks.
GILBERT: Now, is your fear here that some of your colleagues within the party would rather lose office rather than cooperate in this situation with Prime Minister Turnbull? Is that your fear here?
BIRMINGHAM: Emphatically no, I don’t believe that there is a single Liberal or National party member or supporter in the country who would want to see that, I think everybody wants to see us get on with the job of governing effectively. Look, we’ve been through close results before as a party, of course, John Howard came incredibly close to losing in 1998 at the end of the first term of the Coalition government, but he rebuilt, he rebuilt in to a position of strength and, of course, went on to win election after election thereafter with increased majorities. So, we can absolutely make this work for the future, we owe it to our supporters to make it work for the future, we owe it to the country to of course give the strong and stable government and economic leadership that people expect of us, that people who voted for us wanted and frankly, that other voters wanted, whilst acknowledging that there of course was dissatisfaction in some quarters and working hard to address that level of dissatisfaction and regain that trust.
GILBERT: So you think that this actually could be workable, that the Prime Minister can survive the three years making, as it is put in various comments this morning, putting a premium on making sure the legislation that is done is, I guess, sufficient to not just get through the parliament, but a good enough standard to win enough support to do that?
BIRMINGHAM: I am entirely confident that Malcolm Turnbull is the right Prime Minister and the Liberal and National parties are the right parties to govern Australia at this time, that he is the right leader and we are the right parties to work with the parliament that has been elected and that we will emphatically do everything possible to make this parliament work. My plea is to those occupying the crossbench, be it in the house or in the Senate, if they hold the balance of power, to make sure that they work cooperatively with us as the government to be part of the solution, to demonstrate to the Australian people that our parliamentary democracy can, and does, work effectively in the future.
GILBERT: My final question to you is in relation to One Nation, has this double dissolution election been a debacle in that sense that it has opened up the way for 2 possibly 3 even maybe one more than that One Nation Senators entering the parliament, one from the NSW candidates, I want to read a quote, this person that looks like they’re going to be a Senator alongside you in the red chamber he says “Islam is an infringement on our culture, we’re a Christian country, I know we have some Jews as well, but the Muslims, they kneel five times a day and it is not how we are in this country” that is the level of knowledge that we are hearing in terms of religious analysis from the incoming Senator.
BIRMINGHAM: Well we have had Senators of different views and outlooks before and we’ve of course had to work with them, we’ll work with the choice of the Australian people. What I’d say about the Senate we’ve got now and that we’ll have after this election is that at least all of those Senators who will be elected have been elected with a decent share of the vote. That means that they reflect the views of certain parts of the Australian community. If we have to work hard to make sure that some people better understand certain issues, then work hard we will to ensure that we get across the right views and the right messages of tolerance and understanding and what it is that is necessary to make sure that Australia succeeds as a nation in future. There is no point ignoring the fact that some people hold concerns, what we have to do is make sure that they understand what it is governments do already to ensure that our country is, has been and remains in future a most successful nation including in terms of that cooperation from people who have come here from all walks of life from all around the world.
GILBERT: Minister, I appreciate your time this morning, thank you.