Topics: Nationals leadership; Vaccine roll-out



Peter Stefanovic: Well, let’s bring in the Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham now joins me live here in the studio. Minister, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning.


Simon Birmingham: Great to be with you.


Peter Stefanovic: So fun and games with the national parties. We’ve got to start there. Are you expecting a spill today?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Barnaby Joyce, I gather this morning, said there’s no prospect of a spill happening. That’s welcome because their focus, just as the Prime Minister’s focus, my focus, Michael McCormack’s focus is all on, and needs to be on, the jobs of Australians, the safety of Australians. And we have big challenges that we continue to confront. Great success in terms of keeping Australians safe to date, enormous success in getting Australians back to work, world-leading in that regard, and it’s those jobs that matter most.


Peter Stefanovic: He was still vague, though. So that’s a no for you?


Simon Birmingham: Oh, Pete, I’m taking it as he says. There’s no prospect of it happening, and it’s a good thing because everybody’s got to focus first and foremost on the jobs of Australians.


Peter Stefanovic: If it does happen, would you prefer or do you have a preference on whether it is Michael McCormack or Barnaby Joyce or even David Littleproud?


Simon Birmingham: The leadership of the National Party is a matter for the National Party. It’s not going to distract me or the Prime Minister or the Treasurer or any of the Liberal ministers from ensuring that we continue a relentless focus on the well-being of Australians, on implementing our economic recovery plan, which is centred on providing lower taxes for Australian families, tax incentives for businesses to invest. And those things are working. In our last national accounts figures, we saw a huge spike in businesses investing in new plant, new machinery, new equipment that is driving unemployment, as we saw last week, down to lows like five point one per cent. And it’s our intention to continue to focus on those policies that keep Australians in jobs and economically secure and safe.


Peter Stefanovic: This is potentially, though, the second stoush in two years. Would you just be encouraging them to sort it out?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I encourage everybody to focus on our jobs as ministers and parliamentarians, which are about the roles and livelihoods of Australians and their well-being. And so that should be where everyone’s focus is at. It’s where mine’s at, it’s where the Prime Minister’s at and nothing is going to distract us.


Peter Stefanovic: So that is a distraction, but it doesn’t need to be.


Simon Birmingham: Well, as I said, Barnaby Joyce has said it’s not happening. I don’t know where the speculation has come from. But if it amounts to nothing, then the speculation will have equally been proven to be pretty discredited. And everybody should just get on with focusing on the challenges we have at hand and the opportunities we have as Australians, which is to sell to the rest of the world the enormous success our country has had in keeping its citizens safe, in getting them back to work. Our economy is the first advanced economy in the world to be bigger than it was pre-covid. That’s the strength of our comeback relative to other nations.


Peter Stefanovic: So you are expecting it, leading into the election, it to be MickMac and Big Mo?


Simon Birmingham: Look, the leader for the Nats is a matter for them, but I have full expectation that we will continue. Certainly Scott Morrison is going to be the first Prime Minister since John Howard to lead to consecutive elections and I think that’s the type of stability that Australians want to see and it’s where our Liberal Party room is at.


Peter Stefanovic: If it is Barnaby Joyce who takes out the leadership, does that mean the end to a net zero commitment by 2050?


Simon Birmingham: No, look, the importance of continuing to strive and work to achieve net zero emissions is crucial. It’s crucial not just in terms of tackling climate change, but in terms of positioning Australia’s economy for the future. The Prime Minister has talked about the fact that we have succeeded so much as a country by playing a big role in the traditional energy space, and he wants to see us succeed in playing a big role in the new energy space. It’s why on his recent overseas trip, he signed hydrogen agreements with Germany and Singapore to make sure that we cooperate in driving the investment to ensure Australia can deliver hydrogen hubs around the country, that we can meet our stretch goal of getting hydrogen production down to two dollars per kilo and from there, not just be a generator of new fuels and energy for our country using our abundance of renewable resources, but an exporter for other nations.


Peter Stefanovic: You’re not going to be able to take preferable, the word ‘preferable’, to Glasgow, are you?


Simon Birmingham: Look, we’ll see in terms of the lead up to Glasgow. What is crucial is that we continue to invest as we are as a government and strive towards achieving net zero. We’ve made it very clear that we would like to see that achieved by 2050. Our focus as a government and a country is on how you get there, and that’s what we’re working so extensively, not just with countries like Germany and Singapore, but equally the Prime Minister side, a decarbonisation agreement with Japan, who are already an investor in hydrogen technologies in Australia and whose investment we want to continue to encourage in those areas.


Peter Stefanovic: You might not have to lock it in if there’s an election before Glasgow.


Simon Birmingham: Look, I think the Prime Minister’s been pretty clear the election will be next year. That’s what I still continue to expect.


Peter Stefanovic: Well actually before Glasgow. Okay, just on to the vaccine roll-out. You’re taking some fire at the moment from the states. James Merlino, he calls the roll out a ‘shambles’. Gladys Berejiklian has said the problem is supply. So that’s on the federal government. Why are there still problems?


Simon Birmingham: Well nobody could foresee the changed health advice that we’ve had to confront. The advice a couple of months ago that saw AstraZeneca limited to over 50s, then changed again last week to limit it to over 60s. This clearly has an impact in terms of how you effectively get the vaccine out there. But the successes are mounting in that regard. We’ve seen now 6.5 million doses of vaccine administered across Australia. 65 per cent of those over 70 have had their first dose, and I encourage all those who’ve had their first dose to make sure they go and follow through with bookings to get their second dose. We’ve got around 2.3 million doses of Pfizer being administered across the country in June, around 3.4 million doses of Pfizer that will be available for administration in July. And our focus is on making sure we see all of the 195 million doses we’ve contracted delivered for supply across our country, giving Australians the chance to get that first dose by the end of the year.


Peter Stefanovic: Have you actually got much stock that hasn’t been pushed out to the states and territories?


Simon Birmingham: No, look, we continue to make sure that we push supply through. There’s around 2.3 million doses in the pipeline through administration during the course of this month. Now, that’s a crucial volume that is there and is seeing people accessing those Pfizer stocks at present. In addition still, those eligible and receiving the AstraZeneca, who I encourage particularly to make sure they follow through, get those second doses, which is so important to add on to the 80 per cent rate of immunity and protection that it’s estimated to provide just from the first dose alone.


Peter Stefanovic: Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, appreciate your time.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks Pete, a pleasure.


Peter Stefanovic: Good to chat in person.


Simon Birmingham: Absolutely. Cheers mate.