Topics: Vaccination rates and mandates; Protests in Victoria; Election campaigns


Laura Jayes: Let’s go live to the Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham. Simon Birmingham, what did you think of that? It seems like the relationship might be at an all-time low.


Simon Birmingham: Laura, I think that Australians are thoroughly jack of state Labor premiers who are more interested in grandstanding and picking phoney fights with Canberra, than they are in actually just holding and working through sensible policy positions in a calm way. You know, I thank god that I live in this state at present with a premier whose closed borders, who’s taken COVID restrictions, but who hasn’t sought to grandstand, who hasn’t undertaken all of the chest beating that we’ve seen from some of the others. He’s just got on calmly and quietly with the job. And you know what we’re seeing once more here is that sort of a conga line of Labor premiers that comes out and decides that in some sort of coordinated way, no doubt a WhatsApp group with Anthony Albanese, they’re all going to go out there and try to create another phoney fight with Canberra. Grandstand as much as they can, rather than actually just keep the calm focus on the sensible policy issues. We’re a country that has much to be thankful for and grateful for out of COVID-19, many of the states have done a good job. Federally, I think we’ve done a good job, overall the country has done an incredible job. Australians working together to keep each other safe, to get some of the best vaccination rates in the world, and that’s what’s going to keep us safe into the future and enable us all to be able to reopen in ways to reunify the country.


Laura Jayes: Are Palaszczuk and Andrews on a WhatsApp group with Anthony Albanese for this purpose, do you think?


Simon Birmingham: It wouldn’t surprise me one iota if this was all simply a coordinated federal Labor Party tactic and strategy that they, ping a little message out. Let’s line the premiers up, we’ll go out and try to create another phoney fight, to do a bit of a pile on against Scott Morrison. I mean, we saw in leaked Labor Party information yesterday that they’re even trying to use the Chinese Tik Tok app to be able to pay people to put negative personal attack messages against Scott Morrison on Tik Tok. That’s the type of depth the Labor Party’s operating to, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they were doing that sort of coordination with the state premiers as well.


Laura Jayes: But what about this accusation that the prime minister is double speaking to extremist protesters? Is there anything in that?


Simon Birmingham: No, there’s not. There’s not at all Laura. Now, we’ve got to be really careful in terms of the approach that’s taken to maintain maximum confidence in Australians to actually get vaccinated. And that’s not by exacerbating political fights, it’s not by exacerbating partisan differences. And crucially, we have overwhelmingly achieved one of the best vaccination rates in the world, particularly in some parts of the country. Some of the leading parts of the world have done so overwhelmingly with a voluntary vaccination program. And yes, there are places for mandates, there are definitely places for mandates that Scott Morrison has backed, and our government has backed in high risk settings like aged care, like hospitals. And of course, we’ve got to make sure that we work to protect those who are most vulnerable, and we don’t resile from that one iota in terms of that protection of individuals. But what you won’t achieve, and it’s long been clear in terms of the evidence of others, and it’s the reason why we didn’t in the early stages move to have wider mandates in place. You don’t achieve that maximum uptake by dividing Australians and by pitting people against one another. You achieve it best by ensuring that people understand the real reasons to get vaccinated, which is to protect yourself and your loved ones.


Laura Jayes: Minister it seems, though, that the prime minister is now, you know, he’s got this line going to the election. We want to get out of your lives. Government’s been in your lives too much. But he’s been more than happy to stand by knowing that all the states have the power during this pandemic and let them do the hard work on vaccine mandates. I didn’t hear this same criticism of Dominic Perrottet about a month ago when he delayed any freedom for the unvaccinated until mid-December.


Simon Birmingham: Laura, the individual states will make individual decisions in terms of their pathway through this. But we’ve got to make sure as well that it’s clear for Australians that the overwhelming, unifying reason to get vaccinated is about protection for yourself and your loved ones, not to not any other type of pressure points and certainly not the types of things that cause division and will cause some people to lock into more negative hard-line positions-


Laura Jayes: But if you’re accusing the premiers of trying to create division here in a phoney fight with the prime minister, there may have been something in those comments yesterday from the prime minister that was always also trying to do the same.


Simon Birmingham: Well, I think you can by all means line up the prime minister’s comments from yesterday against the type of reactions that we’ve seen from the state premiers and what you see are some calm, modest thoughts that go to the issues from the prime minister versus some headline grabbing, chest beating comments from state Labor premiers that are all about personalising the debate towards Scott Morrison. That’s the contrast between the remarks.


Laura Jayes: I guess it is a bit rich from a federal government that literally band its own citizens from coming home.


Simon Birmingham: And, Laura, you know, we still have international border controls. We do, and as I said, we recognise there are absolutely reasons to have restrictions. The national plan recognises that in terms of the national plan is clear that maintaining certain international border controls on unvaccinated people makes sense once you pass that 80 per cent threshold still as you work through the different stages of reopening. And indeed, it acknowledges that there may be need for the states to maintain state border controls for unvaccinated people in certain circumstances. It acknowledges there’s need for and maybe cases where it’s valid to have targeted restrictions in place across the states and territories as they deal with outbreaks in different circumstances. That’s all part of the national plan, which we 100 per cent back in terms of its application by the different states and territories, and we’ll support them through those different decisions, as we’ve always done so. But just not this type of phoney warfare that seems to be being engaged in by the premiers through that clip you showed earlier.


Laura Jayes: Democracy is I mean, protests are such an important part of our democracy. Do you think there are legitimate concerns from some of these protesters that we’re seeing that should be acknowledged?


Simon Birmingham: I’ve got no doubt that there are legitimate concerns and that some of the protesters will have legitimate concerns, and the right to protest is a very valid right in Australia as it should be in any free and democratic country. The behaviour of some of the protesters has been deplorable, reprehensible and deserves condemnation. And so we should be able again to be mature enough as a country to acknowledge that there are people who have concerns. I may not agree with all of their concerns, I may not even agree with any of their concerns, but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t heartfelt concerns that they have a right to express. How you express them matters. And some of the behaviour we’ve seen in the expression of those concerns has been reprehensible.


Laura Jayes: Some of the comments from the premiers about these protests, they’re kind of treating them all as a homogenous group. Do you think that has a bit of a chilling effect on democracy?


Simon Birmingham: Again, I don’t think that type of cranking it up in those ways is it all helpful. Because what you want to do is make sure that everybody understands you’re listening. Listening to even the concerns that, as I say, you may not agree with, but listening and trying to calmly and rationally explain the response to them. And that for the ratbag protests taking an extremist stance. There will be people who may share concerns. They might have read misleading information on social media, and they may just not be hearing from the right voices. And you want to make sure you try to get the reassuring messages to those people, not drive them further into the camp of the radical extreme elements.


Laura Jayes: We are in this unofficial election campaign. It would seem at the moment we’re seeing campaign from both Anthony Albanese and the Prime Minister. Labor really is running with this, you know, these truth line about the prime minister. He is a problem with liars and the truth, and it seems to be working. Are you worried about that?


Simon Birmingham: Well, it again goes to the personalisation of the campaign and I think I’ve already said to you on previous occasions…


Laura Jayes: Every campaign is personal isn’t it?


Simon Birmingham:… that we will see one of the most bitter and nasty election campaigns coming around at the next election. That’s perfectly clear from where the Labor Party’s positioning already. They don’t want to have their own policy agenda. They are seeking to be a smaller target themselves as humanly possible. They’re very careful about Anthony Albanese being out there, doing any hard interviews or subjecting himself to much media scrutiny at all. All they want to do is have a constant pile on against the prime minister and not make it a choice between the two different leaders and the two different governments. Well, when it does come to the election, it is a choice. It’s a choice between our side of politics who has managed to deliver economic strength through some of the most trying times we’ve seen and indeed continuing to deliver strength in the face of many global uncertainties. It’s not just COVID we face uncertainties of, it is the challenges of the more assertive position that China is taking, the challenges in relation to global economic uncertainties and pressures. None of that can be taken for granted. And if people want to see continued economic policies that have delivered record jobs numbers in this country, very strong economic outcomes relative to everywhere else around the world, then they will have a clear choice and contrast against a Labor Party who has shown time and time again their addiction to higher taxes, and that under them, electricity prices went up, whereas they’ve gone down under the Liberal and National governments. The contrast will be a strong one, no matter how much they try to keep Anthony Albanese and their policies in a secret, locked away box somewhere.


Laura Jayes: As if to confirm that we are in an election campaign without saying it in name. That was quite a pitch, Simon Birmingham. Thanks so much for your time. We’ll speak next week.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Laura. My pleasure.