Topics: Budget 2021    


Laura Jayes: Simon Birmingham joins us they’re in that glorious courtyard at Parliament House. You didn’t get a start to that meeting at Treasury this morning. Why not?


Simon Birmingham: Josh and I have been spending lots of time together, as you might imagine, and we’ll be continuing to do so over the next few days. But as Josh has extended his thanks to the hard working officials of Treasury, let me do the same to those in Finance. It’s been a mammoth effort, as it always is, going into budget preparation.


Laura Jayes: Indeed it is. Now, we keep on hearing about this very clear road map to reopening our borders and international travel, not immediately. But do you have this road map? We haven’t seen it. Is it a secret?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Laura we obviously have been taking all the possible steps to build the contingencies around how and when the Australian economy will reopen. None of it’s going to happen any earlier than it’s safe to do so because our border closures have been perhaps inarguably the single most important factor in keeping COVID out of Australia and in doing that, not just saving Australian lives, but also saving Australian jobs. And so we’re going to maintain those sorts of tough border control settings until it is clearly safe for us to do so. And where we take cautious steps, as we have done with New Zealand, it will be based on health advice. And of course, we continue to look at the advice from around the world. But right now, it’s a sadly a bit of a grim picture in many parts of the world. And we are seeing continued challenges with many nations increasing the daily reporting of COVID cases. And so that means it will be a very cautious approach.


Laura Jayes: If you are vaccinated. Can you travel overseas?


Simon Birmingham: No, not at this stage. And again, there’s health advice to consider in relation to vaccinations. Vaccinations do a fantastic job of ensuring that the individual who is vaccinated will not get on the odds sick as a result of catching COVID. But people can still catch COVID and they can still, in some circumstances, transmit it. And so that’s where we continue to seek further analysis and information as to how we might be able to use vaccinations over a period of time to help inform the way in which we open up in certain settings or to certain countries. But it’s got to all be informed first and foremost by that health advice.


Laura Jayes: Minister, as you’ve just demonstrated, the road map is anything but clear.


Simon Birmingham: Indeed, there are many uncertainties in relation to COVID anybody who pretends they can predict how a once in a century pandemic is going to unfold is kidding themselves, what we’ve managed to do is to keep Australians safe right back since February last year when we closed the borders to China. And then we did so to South Korea, to Italy, to Iran, and ultimately globally. We’ve managed to form the New Zealand bubble since to reopen travel there. But we’re not going to make bold predictions about what might be able to be achieved when, frankly, nobody saw the challenges coming in relation to a further wave and surge in India of the scale and magnitude that we’ve seen. We’ve seen some countries in terms of progressing their vaccine rollout still have further waves. You’ve got the eurozone economically going back into another recession. So I think Australians want us first and foremost to protect their health and the safety and security of the economy and their jobs. And that’s what we’re going to do. And border controls will remain an important part of that for a period of time.


Laura Jayes: All right. Will you let us in on the information, perhaps the modelling, perhaps what the government is thinking when it comes to this road map? No one expects you to open without that health advice, but it’d be nice to know, you know, the kind of thinking behind this strategy.


Simon Birmingham: When we have clear information that is going to assist Australians to plan and to prepare, then, of course, we will share that. But in the meantime, what we’re going to do is hand down a budget tomorrow that focuses on – against this backdrop of great global uncertainty, how we make sure we keep the economic recovery going. And we’ve got Australia to a point where we’ve got more people in work today than at any time in our history. Now, nobody really would have thought that was possible 12 months ago. The recovery in Australia has been amazing in terms of its strength. And we’re going to, against such great global uncertainty, continue to invest carefully, strategically in making sure that Australian businesses have the confidence to keep employing and to keep growing those job numbers for Australians.


Laura Jayes: You say more people in work than any other time in history, but you’d expect that, wouldn’t you, with population growth?


Simon Birmingham: But, Laura, you wouldn’t expect it, having just had a recession, the history of previous recessions around in Australia has been quite a lag in terms of the recovery of employment. And you wouldn’t expect it when you look at the fact that, as I just said before, other parts of the world like the eurozone, slipping back into recession. So Australia’s economy outperforming comparable economies around the world and most importantly, for Australian families and households, that outperformance is translating into more jobs for Australians. And that is certainly what we want to keep going because it is through having Australians in work and in jobs that we are able to then raise the revenue to pay for the services that Australians want, which again, an essential part of our investment that will outline tomorrow night in the budget how we deliver those services in aged care and disability services, as well as the productivity boosting infrastructure that we’re announcing today. A further ten billion dollars of additional infrastructure for every dollar that’s invested there research shows a further four dollars of economic dividend across the country. And all of that, of course, helping to not just get Australians home faster and improve living life, lifestyles and livelihoods, but also, of course, to improve productivity in Australian businesses by moving freight and goods faster and making business more efficient.


Laura Jayes: Well, let’s talk about aged care. 18 billion dollars is the amount of the package in tomorrow’s budget, according to all the newspapers this morning. Is that right?


Simon Birmingham: I’m not going to confirm what will be detailed in the budget around specific budget items and numbers there, but it will be a once in a generation investment into aged care. Responding comprehensively to the report of the royal commission that will see additional investments in relation to the quality of aged care, the safety of aged care, the workforce in the aged care sector, and the availability of aged care responding across both residential care settings and home care settings so that we’re giving Australians the choice to be able to choose to stay at home to access those home care settings, or the confidence to know that residential care settings will be of a high quality standard and safe when they go there.


Laura Jayes: All right. Are you going to hold some things back for the budget, even though we’ve seen a lot of leaks this year, as we have seen in recent years, too, but 18 billion dollars, if that is the entire package being handed down over the forward estimates, it falls well short, doesn’t it, because Treasury says it’s going to cost about 15 billion dollars a year to cover aged care costs. So by my rough calculations, if indeed that is the whole package, you’re about forty six dollars billion short.


Simon Birmingham: Well Laura, again, people will see the details tomorrow. We’re talking about significant additional investment above and beyond what is already projected into the budget. As a government, we’ve already created many tens of thousands of additional home care packages for Australians to be able to access. So we had already invested significantly in growing our aged care expenditure. And tomorrow night there will be an uplift further of that of a very significant magnitude. The biggest investment, a once in a generation investment in additional aged care settings. We won’t magically solve every challenge the aged care sector faces overnight, but it does comprehensively respond to the issues raised in the royal commission. And remember, the royal commissioners themselves had some divided points of opinion in their recommendations. We worked through all of that and people will see that it deals with safety, it deals with quality. It deals with care that people individually receive and making sure they get it from skilled staff members. It works through skills and training issues that are required, and it focuses on the availability of places and the sustainability of the aged care services right across the country.


Laura Jayes: Minister, I gotta say mean the word uplift seems like a euphemism and you’re managing expectations going into the budget tomorrow. So can we expect that not all those costs will be covered by government? You expect the private sector to pull their socks up too?


Simon Birmingham: What we expect in terms of economic growth. Our focus is very much on getting private sector economic growth to continue at the way in which it has grown. In terms of the aged care sector there are many partners that we work with in aged care across the not-for-profit sector, as well as some private providers. And we’re focussed on how we support their viability in terms of contributions. Australians already make certain contributions in relation to aged care. But I give this assurance to Australians and this is a budget where we stay true to what they would expect of a Liberal and National Party Government, which is that we deliver lower taxes. We keep those tax burdens and cost burdens on Australians as low as possible while seeking to grow the economy so that we can fund those essential service investments in areas like aged care.


Laura Jayes: Last year looked like a bit of a Labor budget. You’d expect that during a pandemic. And now you’ve got these perverse situations in politics where Labor at the moment is warning the government it can’t spend too much. What’s happened?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I’ll believe those claims from the Labor Party when I see them pursue more frugal policy settings in areas like childcare, for example, we have announced a targeted policy that is about ensuring we help those families who currently face a real cost burden in relation to making the choice to go and work a few extra days or a few extra hours because of the aged care policy settings. Labor’s is a much more expensive model that they’re proposing that provides far greater financial benefit to families for whom that isn’t that cost impediment in relation to childcare services.


Laura Jayes: Labor’s is more of a productivity measure though isn’t it?


Simon Birmingham: No, because ours is carefully targeted at the families where the cost of childcare is a barrier to choosing to work. Labor’s is simply providing more to families who can afford to make those choices already.


Laura Jayes: All right. We’ll it’s a debate for another time, and I’m happy to see that play out on this programme. Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time. We’ll be speaking to you a lot over the next couple of weeks, unpicking this budget, no doubt. Thanks.


Simon Birmingham: Absolutely. Thanks Laura. My pleasure.