Interview on Sky News Live AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert
Topics: Leadership; Ipsos Poll; National Energy Guarantee
Kieran Gilbert: Is the Prime Minister’s leadership safe?
Simon Birmingham: Look Kieran absolutely. The key point here is that as a Government as long as we get on and focus on the things that we are doing for Australians, providing them with tax relief, easing the cost of living by driving down power prices, creating record numbers of jobs and there is no reason why we cannot get on and win the next election.
Kieran Gilbert: So the Prime Minister is not facing a challenge from Peter Dutton this week?
Simon Birmingham: No Kieran and we will get on with focusing on what Australian’s care about and Australians care about us making sure that we address concerns that matter to them. Get down their power prices.
Kieran Gilbert: That’s what you need to do but if you look at the Ipsos poll it shows division is death. We know that. Bitter recent memory of the next decade but when you say no are you certain of that because Peter Dutton from all indications is weighing this up right now?
Simon Birmingham: Peter made a very clear public statement of support for the Prime Minister and the policies of the Government. I take that at its word. Now polls, yes absolutely, you have to recognise that when a handful of individuals decide to go out and argue against the majority, the overwhelming majority opinion of the party room, that’s going to have some negative consequences. That’s why we have to make sure that the whole team gets back on the page of fighting for the issues that the Government has had great success in, great success in, in terms of easing cost of living pressures, already by turning the corner on energy prices, we’ve got plans to do more in relation to energy prices. We’ve legislated sweeping tax relief for Australian families for the future, we’ve implemented sweeping reforms to improve cost of living in other areas like child care services. These are big strong achievements of the Turnbull Government and as a team everyone must stand up and support them.
Kieran Gilbert: One of your colleagues said to me this morning, the debate about energy is just a proxy for those that want to bring down the Prime Minister. Do you agree with that?
Simon Birmingham: Well I don’t think so and my sense is that there is overwhelming support as we saw last week for the energy policies of the Government, overwhelming support for the Prime Minister, overwhelming support from the team to get on with the job. Which is certainly what I know the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are doing and I would urge everybody else, the handful of individuals who have caused trouble to think about the consequences of continuing to cause that trouble and to instead to recognise that this is a Government that has achieved a great deal, that has created record jobs growth, bringing the budget back to balance next financial year, providing and legislated for record levels of tax relief for working Australians, that has brought down energy prices and has plans to do more in the future. These are significant achievements upon which to stand and this Government should be able to be re-elected upon the basis of those achievements.
Kieran Gilbert: You can’t prosecute that, while there is this talk of a leadership challenge. Front page of the Sydney Morning Herald–‘Dutton set to Strike’–The Australian–‘Prime Minister leadership on a knife edge’– The Telegraph – ‘Don’t dump me, the Prime Minister please’. I mean those headlines when people grab the newspapers this morning, they tune into Sky News, whatever else. You hear this, it’s devastating for you. You recognise that?
Simon Birmingham: That’s why I acknowledge that indeed, a handful of individuals who decide to go publicly and cause [indistinct] into a division, obviously creates a consequence. And the consequence of that is seen in terms of the newspapers…
Kieran Gilbert: Do you think it’s just a handful, do you generally think that because the feeling within the Coalition is it’s much broader?
Simon Birmingham: Kieran, I sat in the Coalition party room last week and I heard overwhelming support for the policies that were being put forward. Overwhelming support and literally only a handful of individuals who decided to try and derail those policies, now if we’re to actually going to get on and win the next election, we have to put all of that behind us, make sure that we work as a team and highlight what is an incredibly strong track record for this Government of delivering..
Kieran Gilbert: Does he have the majority support still?
Simon Birmingham: Yes.
Kieran Gilbert: Within the party? Within the Cabinet?
Simon Birmingham: Kieran you just heard my answer about…
Kieran Gilbert: Are you saying, are you sure he’s got the majority of support for his leadership right now?
Simon Birmingham: You just heard my answer Kieran, I sat in the party room last week..
Kieran Gilbert: That’s about the energy policy.
Simon Birmingham: And saw overwhelming support…
Kieran Gilbert: About his leadership?
Simon Birmingham: Overwhelming support Kieran. All you can do is work on the issues as they arise. That’s certainly what Malcolm Turnbull has done and he has shown enormous success and resilience and principle in doing so, in terms of sticking to Coalition principles of delivering and pursuing lower taxes, making sure we actually achieve wins for the Australian people. Bringing the Budget back to balance, a very difficult task, but he has shown perseverance and commitment to doing so.
Kieran Gilbert: Do you recognise and do your colleagues that you have been speaking to recognise the transactional cost of any such move, because we haven’t seen a Prime Minister serve a full term since John Howard?
Simon Birmingham: Kieran I think I’ve acknowledged that there are absolutely costs in relation to the perceptions of disunity, perceptions the Government is not focused on the things that people care about. That’s why the whole team needs to do what the Prime Minister is doing, what the Cabinet is doing, what I believe the vast majority of the party room is doing and that is focusing on the things that matter to Australian people.
Kieran Gilbert: How do you win back Queensland though because that’s obviously a big concern, a few concerns, Queensland and your Liberal party base. There the two areas, Prime Minister’s critics say there the things he can’t do?
Simon Birmingham: I’ll tell you how, we make sure that Queenslanders understand at the next election that Bill Shorten will apply $200 billion plus of higher taxes, while the Turnbull Government is bringing down their taxes.
Kieran Gilbert: But how do you?
Simon Birmingham: That Bill Shorten’s energy policy…
Kieran Gilbert: But what about the argument.
Simon Birmingham: Let me finish.
Kieran Gilbert: That Queenslanders don’t like Malcolm Turnbull.
Simon Birmingham: Bill Shorten’s 45 per cent emissions reduction target, will see much higher energy prices in relation to Queensland, while Malcolm Turnbull’s policies are driving down energy prices. We win Queensland like we win every other state by framing the election contest and framing that contest very clearly as one between Coalition policies of lower taxes, lower electricity prices, a balanced budget, record jobs growth and Bill Shorten’s policies of higher taxes on people houses, their wages, their businesses, their investments, their savings.
Kieran Gilbert: How do you win the base back? Because that’s the view that under Malcolm Turnbull you’ve lost the Liberal party base.
Simon Birmingham: I’ve just explained. We win the election by focusing on the Government’s success and the policy points of difference with the Labor party.
Kieran Gilbert: Liberal party base as well?
Simon Birmingham: And we have, a Liberal base on the same basis care about lower taxes–tick to the Turnbull Government–balancing the budget–tick to the Turnbull Government–lower electricity prices–tick to the Turnbull Government–Bill Shorten–cross–cross–cross.
Kieran Gilbert: And with your dinner last night, was there agreement that you’ve got the energy plan now signed off, that there is unity on that?
Simon Birmingham: We’ve been very clear for a long time that we’ve done a number of things in relation to energy policy, that Malcolm Turnbull, our interventions in terms of the transmissions market, in terms of the retail markets to date, but also that there would be more to come. The ACCC report that we got just a few weeks ago, is a very important document, and we’ve indicated there will be more to come in that regard to make sure that we do everything we possibly can to lower energy prices…
Kieran Gilbert: So there is unity in Cabinet now after last night’s discussion?
Simon Birmingham: The Cabinet has always been very strong in its support for each step we’ve taken to date, to bring down electricity prices and the steps we will take over the coming days, weeks or months in relation to that.
Kieran Gilbert: There’s not anger about it being cobbled together by the Prime Minister as a captains call as described by one report this morning?
Simon Birmingham: We’re getting on with addressing that ACCC report, building on what is a track record of success in terms of driving down those energy prices to date. We’ve seen gas prices come down dramatically under the Prime Minister because of his intervention in the gas market. We’ve seen around one million Australians switch their energy retail accounts because of his intervention in the retail market and we’ll get on and act on those ACCC recommendations as well.
Kieran Gilbert: Minister, I appreciate your time. Thank you.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Kieran.