Topics: Medivac bill; EU trade negotiations.
Kieran Gilbert: The core issue here of losing the vote in the House of Reps, shouldn’t the Prime Minister have tested confidence in the government in the wake of that? Precedent would suggest he should have.
Simon Birmingham: No nothing’s changed in relation to commitments for support for the Government in relation to supply and for confidence. This was one vote, it’s a significant vote in what it says about Bill Shorten and the Labor Party, it says that they are willing to surrender and outsource control of who comes to Australia and how people come to Australia.
Kieran Gilbert: Yeah a significant vote, so therefore substantial piece of legislation, you’ve lost it on the House of Representatives floor, why not then test confidence in the government?
Simon Birmingham: We don’t need to because we know that the support is there…
Kieran Gilbert: Go on the vibe?
Simon Birmingham: …based on the commitments that have been given. Commitments given by members of the crossbench to support the government. Those commitments haven’t gone away, they haven’t changed. The only thing that’s changed is the Australian people will now have a clear example that Bill Shorten will outsource border protection policy to the Greens, to the independents, to activist doctors, that Bill Shorten will ultimately not be able to take the strong decisions necessary to protect Australia’s borders. He’s instead weak when it comes to this, having had three different positions on this legislation in just two sitting days where first he voted for anything that was bowled up without any security advice, then the Labor Caucus formed a position which the Greens rejected, then he went negotiating a new deal with the Greens. It just shows that this was for them all about the tactics and they are too weak when it comes to standing up to the left wing flank.
Laura Jayes: But Senator given you’re so confident that you still do have the confidence of the independents in the house, in the wake of that vote yesterday have you, has the government’s sought reassurances from those individuals?
Simon Birmingham: The government’s in constant communication with various individuals on the crossbench about a whole range of different issues. There is nothing…
Laura Jayes: I would have thought it would be pretty important to be in contact with them after that vote though?
Simon Birmingham: There is nothing that gives us any doubt about the fact that their position remains the same and our intention is the government to keep governing to deliver a surplus budget in April, to have the election at the normal time in May, is resolute. Our intention is to get on with doing what the Australian people expect us to do but then of course as we get closer and closer to the election, the contrast with the opposition becomes ever more important and the contrast is now incredibly clear and strong for the Australian people.
Kieran Gilbert: Derryn Hinch is going to be the key vote this morning in the Senate. He wants security briefings before he makes his judgement on the revised bill. He voted somewhere…
Simon Birmingham: It’s a shame Bill Shorten didn’t think about that last December when he was voting for the bill without any security briefing.
Kieran Gilbert: Well Derryn Hinch did as well, but he voted for it last December but his focus then was on getting kids off Nauru, they’re all off now. He wants briefings to ascertain whether or not he’ll back it this time. It sounds like you might be able to have your way in the Senate after all?
Simon Birmingham: Well it is a pretty significant thing Kieran that we have managed to after all the hundreds of arrivals of children that occurred in Labor years, we’ve managed to deal with that backlog. That every child that is being moved off Nauru or is just about to go. That is a significant accomplishment of our government to have stopped the boats and also to have resettled children.
Kieran Gilbert: So are you confident you can win him over on this?
Simon Birmingham: Well I would urge Derryn Hinch and indeed every other Senate crossbencher and frankly Bill Shorten and the Labor Party, to think again about the consequences of this as well as the necessity of it. It’s not necessary legislation. Minister already has powers to be able to deal with cases in terms of medical treatment that’s been clear. But it is legislation that sends a signal that the alternative government of Australia is weak on border protection, that the Labor Party if elected, will start to unpick other things that, faced with pressure, they back down to the left wing flank and do unravel those border protection policies.
Laura Jayes: Will you acquiesce to those demands for a security briefing before that vote at 9.30am is it?
Simon Birmingham: We’ll certainly talk to Derryn, and I’m sure that we will be open to providing whatever security information can be provided to him. But importantly, we would urge Derryn and every crossbench member to think long and hard about the necessity of this legislation versus the consequences of this legislation. Bill Shorten failed that test. He failed the test in terms of realising this legislation was not necessary but the consequences are quite acute in terms of what happens if the boats start coming again. I don’t want to see people drowning at sea again. I don’t want to see a circumstance where our humanitarian intake is eaten up by those on a first come first serve basis, rather than what we’ve been able to achieve as a government which is to give 7000 plus places to women at risk as part of that….
Kieran Gilbert: So you don’t believe, you don’t accept Labor’s argument and it’s been said repeatedly over the last 48 hours by Mr Shorten and others that we can be tough on people smugglers and border protection but still be compassionate to those that have been in limbo now for five and a half years?
Simon Birmingham: We can be compassionate as we are already in terms of ensuring that we give the support of medical services, treatment, and care, on Nauru, on Manus, providing the assistance that is necessary, but we can’t unravel a policy that has worked. What Bill Shorten has done is to unravel the principles around border protection.
Kieran Gilbert: If this is your strong suit, the economy is softening, the budget might not be that great by the timing of April 2, just go now?
Simon Birmingham: We have made the commitment that we will deliver the budget in April, that it will be a surplus budget and highlighting that, making sure people understand that what’s been achieved over our six years in office is to bring the budget back to balance, is to stop the boats, is to reduce taxes, is to be able to provide the type of changes that people expected of the Liberal-National government and so we’ll go to the election with that very strong contrast. A Labor Party who will restart the boats because they’re weak on border protection, who will increase taxes by 200 billion dollars, who will threaten the balance of the budget and the strength of our economy. We’re going to make sure that we run a full term and in running a full term, have the sharpest possible, sharpest possible choice for the Australian people between Schott Morrison’s government that’s made Australia stronger and more secure or Bill Shorten and the Labor party that is going to do exactly the opposite, a weaker Australia, a weaker position in terms of our economy, weaker position in terms of border protection.
Laura Jayes: Do you think our electoral fortunes have just done a 180?
Simon Birmingham: I’ll let the commentators do the commentating but I think Bill Shorten has certainly made an error in terms of the policy positioning for Australia by going down a path of weakening our border protection laws. Whether he’s made a tactical error for the Labor Party in terms of highlighting to Australia that they are weak when it comes to border protection. That’s for voters to decide.
Kieran Gilbert: Okay let’s look at quickly some other matters now and I want to ask you about some EU trade issues particularly off the back of the ongoing Brexit dramas. You’ve got some update on that as Trade Minister?
Simon Birmingham: We have the Agriculture Commissioner in Australia at present from the EU. I will be meeting with him along with our Agriculture Minister David Littleproud later today to try to progress aspects of our free trade agreement discussions with the EU. One of the reasons we’ve got a strong economy in Australia at present is because our export performance is the best it’s been in 45 years. Last year every single month Australia exported more than we imported. It’s the first time in 45 years we’ve achieved that and we’ve done that because we’ve managed to post the new market access to China, Japan, Korea, through the Trans-Pacific Partnership and doing so with the EU and other partners, is part of our plan for the future in terms of keeping our economy strong, by keeping our exports strong.
Laura Jayes: There could be a big boom for farmers coming couldn’t there, in the wake of Brexit, if the UK finally does get there, it could be a huge market opening for Australian farmers to export into the UK?
Simon Birmingham: Both the EU and the UK are important markets to us and we have a Trade Working Group in place with the UK. We will kick start free trade negotiations with the UK the minute that they finalise their Brexit decisions and we hope that that will be able to be a quick, swift, agreement by two countries who share similar legal systems, and share a similar publicly stated ambition for a comprehensive free trade agreement.
Laura Jayes: Well there has been nothing swift about Brexit negotiations so you are very optimistic Minister.
Simon Birmingham: Always optimistic.
Laura Jayes: Thanks so much for your time appreciate it.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you.