Topics: Jenkins Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces; Senate conduct; privileges committee; National Cabinet; Omicron variant; Future Fund bill;
Kieran Gilbert: In the studios, the finance minister, Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time and big day today. With the Jenkins review released, 28 recommendations, why didn’t you and the government, the prime minister, say you’ll adopt them off the bat, straight off the bat?
Kieran Gilbert: Kieran, it’s a very important review. It’s a landmark review and it’s got to be a driver for change and indeed the roadmap for change in the culture and practises across this parliament. We’ve delivered this review in a very collaborative approach with the Labor Party, minor parties, crossbenchers across the Parliament. I consulted with all of them in choosing the reviewer, in choosing the terms of reference and choosing the timeline for the review, and indeed consulted more broadly with staff and former staff. Crucially, what we now want to do is make sure that in responding to it and seeing all of these recommendations successfully responded to that, we engage in the same spirit of collaboration.
Kieran Gilbert: So it’s not because it’s not because you don’t or it’s not because you have any doubts about the recommendations. It’s more that you want to bring the other parties with you. Is that right?
Simon Birmingham: Our desire is absolutely successfully worked through all of the recommendations and to ensure that action is taken in relation to all of them. But we know that to do that when many of these recommendations aren’t specific to the party of government or to the government itself, they require action across the parliament.
Kieran Gilbert: When will you have that consultation process completed by?
Simon Birmingham: We will start working through them and we’ll see the reforms and recommendations implemented as they are envisaged in the report itself iteratively. Kate Jenkins herself has identified there are some things that might be able to happen prior to an election where other things that will be important to be happening immediately afterwards. Crucially, we haven’t just sat on our hands during the course of this year as well. Whilst Commissioner Jenkins was undertaking the review, we did put in place a new support service for staff, former staff and others, a new training mechanism for employees and a new complaints process that is completely independent and has strong accountability and transparency measures there. And many of Commissioner Jenkin’s recommendations build upon those things that we have already done well.
Kieran Gilbert: Some of the some of the elements, though, goes to culture. And today, a couple of hours after the report’s release, we hear, you know, the allegation of the Senate, your chamber that one of your colleagues growled while Jacqui Lambie was speaking. Did that happen? And if so, what will you do about it?
Simon Birmingham: I didn’t hear it, Kieran. So I can’t say for sure that it did happen, but others suggest that it did. I’ve asked the Senate whether to see if it’s possible to identify if that occurred and if so I’d seek to expect the person, if I did that, to apologise. And to reflect on their behaviour and make sure that they hold themselves to a higher standard in the future. I mean, at the same time in the House of Reps Anthony Albanese’s initiating ‘boofhead’ across the chamber and so on to government ministers-
Kieran Gilbert: Prime Minister was also muckraking about Ian MacDonald and Craig Thomson, so it wasn’t one way. It’s pretty ugly question time to be frank.
Simon Birmingham: And I think conduct standards, we all have to make sure that we do our best and we live in a robust parliamentary democracy. And the debate occurs is an important debate but the way you conduct that debate matters.
Kieran Gilbert: Finally, on Omicron this latest variant of COVID, how is that going to damage the economic rebound which we’re seeing? I spoke to a few members of the tourism sector there saying this huge appetite that this uncertainty is another spanner in the works.
Simon Birmingham: The crucial thing for us to avoid is a return to lockdowns, a return to tighter domestic restrictions. They’re the things that will truly damage our economic recovery. We have the national accounts coming out for the quarter most impacted by the lockdowns and restrictions, and they will show the difficulty of that. But we’ve seen since then the strength of the rebound, the growth in jobs through the payroll data that we’re getting. And it’s remarkable to see the Australian economy come back so strongly-
Kieran Gilbert: So you would urge the state to not [inaudible]?
Simon Birmingham: We would absolutely, it’s one of the reasons why we’ve taken cautious, prudent step of pausing the next stage of reopening internationally by two weeks, to make sure we can all have the best available information and evidence. National Cabinet meeting today, will be sharing that health advice and evidence that we have to date with the states and territories and the processes that are underway here and globally to ensure that we can all have the confidence to keep moving forward, including in a couple of weeks’ time, hopefully with that next step into action.
Kieran Gilbert: Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks Kieran, my pleasure.