Topics: Prime Minister Sogavare visit; tax cuts; Essendon decision;


Laura Jayes:  Australia and the Solomons have endured a rocky relationship this year, including accusations of interference from PM Sogavare after the Albanese government offered to fund the nation’s elections, despite the ongoing tension over the Solomons shift to China. The Solomons PM’s messaging out of the meeting sought to reassure Australia that a Chinese naval base in the region was not on the cards.


Prime Minister Sogavare: Prime Minister, I reiterate again that Solomon Islands will never be used for foreign military installations or institutions of a foreign countries because this will not be in the interest of a of Solomon Islands and its people.



Laura Jayes: Let’s go live to the Shadow Foreign Minister now, Senator Simon Birmingham. Senator Birmingham, good to see you. Are you reassured?


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Laura. Good to be with you. It was very welcome to see Prime Minister Sogavare visit Australia and to build on the relationship between our two countries. It’s welcome to hear him repeat some of the commitments that he’s been making for some period of time to the current government and to the previous government in relation to the fact that the Solomon Islands will not be housing foreign military bases or Chinese military establishments within their territory. In relation to a Pacific first approach to security cooperation with the region. And it will be very important that we continue to work closely with the Solomon Islands and with all Pacific Island partners to build on the expanded diplomatic network. The previous government put in place the expanded climate financing and infrastructure financing that the previous government put in place, and to make sure that with the new government initiatives, we continue to work as cooperatively as possible with all these nations.


Laura Jayes: What do you think about Australia offering to pay for the Solomons elections? Does that sit well with you?


Simon Birmingham: Well, we have previously provided financial assistance. We did so for the last lot of Solomon Islands elections under the Coalition. And so the offer of financial assistance for the conduct of democratic elections and often the provision as well of supervision and particularly of observer missions for elections, is commonplace across many nations. In fact, we will have observers travelling to Vanuatu just next week from Australia as part of the election process that’s being conducted there. So that’s common. I was concerned that the way in which the Labor Government handled the offer appeared to backfire and was at the time roundly criticised by Prime Minister Sogavare as an interference in their processes. I’m pleased they’ve been able to work through those difficulties because it’s important that we do all we can to uphold the conduct of elections. It’s disappointing. The Solomon Islands have delayed their elections by 12 months, but it’s important that we do what we can to make sure they uphold those democratic principles and processes.


Laura Jayes: Yeah, indeed. Let’s talk statutory tax cuts now, Senator, because we’re going to hear from Jim Chalmers this afternoon. What do you get the sense of here? Because yesterday we spoke to Brendan O’Connor. His line was Labor’s position hasn’t changed. The position was, I assume, that they took to the election that they were going to maintain these. Why then are we reading between the lines that they might actually tweak these? And is there justification before for that?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Laura, the first question is where in earth is Anthony Albanese at present? Why hasn’t he come out and repeated today what he said before the election, which is that Labor is committed to these tax cuts and delivery of them. Instead, we have Jim Chalmers delivering a speech that attempts to be a rewrite of history. He’s pretending that spending pressures on the NDIS, aged care defence are new news. Whereas in fact all of those spending pressures were public, well known and accounted for in budget papers pre-election. He’s pretending that global inflationary pressures are new news, whereas in fact we were talking about global inflationary pressures pre-election. So we’ve got this rewriting of history happening by Jim Chalmers, which appears to be a softening up for some type of stepping back on the tax cuts which Labor explicitly said they would support. And so all Australians who earn more than $45,000 have at present something to worry about in terms of what the Labor Government will do in terms of tax cuts that are currently legislated and were part of a comprehensive reform plan to deal with bracket creep to create more incentive for people earning middle incomes to be able to keep a bit more of what they earn. And with the pressures that are across different parts of household budgets at present, those tax cuts are now more necessary than ever.


Laura Jayes: Yeah, sure. But we are in an inflationary situation at the moment. I don’t mean politically, I mean economically. So I know the tax cuts are two years away, but if we found ourselves in the same situation that far down the track, would you see an argument to tinker with them?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Laura in fact, as I said before, inflationary pressures were known about and talked about pre-election. So there’s not new news here. If Labor thought those inflationary pressures meant we couldn’t proceed with the tax cuts, then they should have been honest with voters before the election. We were very clear in standing by them. And let’s also be clear that in an inflationary environment where we expect to see and certainly the current government is promising and has been promising stronger wage growth, well that’s going to only enhance and increase bracket creep. So when I say the case for these tax cuts is made even stronger, it’s made stronger partly by virtue of the fact that you’ve got greater bracket creep that will happen, more people being pushed into higher tax brackets faster, which is why delivering upon this final stage of the tax reform plan the Coalition legislated is so essential. We should also be clear that the final budget outcome released just last week showed that in fact the deficit for Australia, the budget position was the fourth lowest in about the last 14 years, lower than all but one of the deficits in the Rudd-Gillard years coming in at just 1.4% of GDP. The budget position is in fact better than expected pre-election.


Laura Jayes: Sure, but Jim Chalmers is arguing that that’s not going to last. That’s prudent, isn’t it?


Simon Birmingham: Well, whether or not it can last will depend on whether or not Labor can contain their spending and how much they want to go out with new expansionist, higher spending policies. And that really is the rub of the argument. I suspect that’s happening behind the scenes in the Labor government right now. Those pushing for higher spending and Jim Chalmers being scared at the fact that the budget could blow out under higher Labor spending promises in the years to come and therefore looking for any tax grabs he can seize now to deal with those higher spending pressures, they should be looking to restrain spending where they can and honouring the commitment of the tax cuts that are already legislated and that they said they would honour when Australians voted just a few months ago.


Laura Jayes: Yeah, we should get an answer on that soon and we’ll see in the budget. We will see. Let’s let me ask you about Essendon and what’s gone on there over the last couple of days. How have you seen this? Thorburn lasting all of 30 hours as the as the CEO of Essendon, he says his religious views are not tolerated. Is that your view?


Simon Birmingham: Laura, there’s no doubt that this has been a pretty ham-fisted handling by Essendon in terms of the approach that’s taken. I don’t want to go into the details of the individual case, but I think the principles are pretty clear. First principle is that any entity or organisation, be it a footy club, a business or any other, should be able to ensure that its leadership will uphold the values of that organisation, the approaches they take to issues of inclusion and of course inclusion should include people of diverse faiths. The second approach is that people should not be judged in relation to their capability to do a job on the attribute of their faith or on any other attribute, be it their sexuality, their age, their gender or the like. Now, of course, that’s how the law should work. There are laws in place in Victoria at present that may be open to Mr. Thorburn. That’s a matter for him as to whether he wishes to pursue those. But that’s how we should look at these matters. Organisations should be free to ensure their leadership uphold their values, but they certainly shouldn’t be judging people just on the basis of their faith or any other individual attribute.


Laura Jayes: So what should have happened in this case should Andrew Thorburn has have stayed as CEO. Do you think that was a tenable position?


Simon Birmingham: Well, what I don’t know is, is what process the Essendon Football Club went through in terms of assessing on that first test I set, whether indeed Mr. Thorburn was willing to uphold the values and the principles and approaches of the Essendon Football Club. Certainly I’ve seen commentary from others highlighting his work at the NAB indicating that he led a very inclusive policy agenda there. So that would suggest that he would have been willing to do so at Essendon, but that really is a matter between him and Essendon. There are a range of other factors that present questions around this decision by Essendon to do with the banking Royal Commission, the findings that were made there and so forth. And that’s really a matter for the commentators and others dealing with these matters to look at. I think from a policy perspective it’s really about the broader principles that I outlined at the start and that is organisations should be free to hire people who will uphold their values, but they certainly should not be discriminating purely on the basis of a faith or any other attribute that an individual has.


Laura Jayes: Yeah, I reckon this is an issue that has broader implications. Probably not going to go away any time soon either. Senator, thanks so much for your time as always.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks Laura, my pleasure.