Topics: Newspoll; Emissions reductions targets; COVID-19; Economy;


Peter Stefanovic: The latest round of Newspoll, Labor is leading as the favourite amongst voters to win the next election. Joining us live now is the finance minister, Simon Birmingham. Minister, good morning to you. Thanks for your time as always. So what do you put that down to? Is it Morrison’s trust issues, problems with women or just plain old coalition fatigue?


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Pete, it’s good to be with you. Look, I’ve seen plenty of polls come and go and we’ve seen just how wrong polls can be before. You know, the next election is going to be a stark choice, though, and it’s going to be a choice between Liberal and National parties. Led by Scott Morrison, who’s shown strength through the pandemic. The ability to be able to keep Australians safe and secure in their jobs, the ability to make difficult decisions be it in terms of our defence and our national security, or of course, the difficult decisions to close our borders during the pandemic versus Anthony Albanese, who’s flip flopped around on many different policy settings over the years. And we continue to see that and he’s now rolling out billions of dollars of spending promises without the faintest idea how they’re going to pay for them.


Peter Stefanovic: Is Labor favourite to win?


Simon Birmingham: Pete, I’m not going to get into to that speculation, what we’re going to do is fight an election campaign next year when that comes around. In the meantime, we’re going to keep focussing on Australians, their jobs, their livelihoods, ensuring that they are as secure and safe as possible. As a country, we have managed to save under Scott Morrison more than 30,000 lives, having one of the lowest fatality rates during this pandemic anywhere in the world. We now have one of the highest vaccination rates anywhere in the world, and it’s great news we’re about to get started on kids. And of course, we’ve had one of the top three global economic outcome during the pandemic. That’s pretty strong record to go on.


Peter Stefanovic: Now you did reference these some of these announcements from Labor over the last couple of days. There was the announcement yesterday on TAFE, and there is the much more ambitious climate target than yours that was announced on Friday. Are you worried about how voters may respond to those policies?


Simon Birmingham: We welcome the fact that there’s an opportunity for some scrutiny and you can see today that former ACTU president and Labor Party MP Jennie George has described Labor’s climate policy and its analysis as unbelievable. Now, I think there’s a fair bit in that it seems to be a policy that is promising by 2030 to generate all of these magical new jobs. Do so with all of these magical savings doesn’t seem to come with any cost, and yet it’s targeting in more than 200 big employing companies around Australia. And those companies are the ones that are going to feel the pressure, and that’s going to put pressure on the jobs of the employees in those businesses.


Peter Stefanovic: It’s got the backing of business, though big business with the BCA, it’s underneath what states are doing. So doesn’t this just show that your climate policies are undercooked?


Simon Birmingham: No, our policies, show a pathway to 2050. Labor’s or only a pathway to 2030. We’re committed to achieving net zero and we’ve already got emissions trending down more than 20 per cent since 2005 levels. We’re on track to hit a 30 to 35 per cent reduction by 2030. We are beating countries like Canada or New Zealand or Japan or the United States in terms of the rates of emissions reduction and all that is happening under the Coalition government’s policies.


Peter Stefanovic: Okay, you’ve got a speech today and you’re going to be outlining the economic path forward. I’ve read parts of it, and part of that will allege that Labor will increase taxes and induce a vicious spiral of higher debt costs. But to pay down the budget, can you rule out tax increases in some areas if you stay in government?


Simon Birmingham: We can absolutely rule out tax increases because we stand on a record of tax reduction and what we’re seeing at present in the budget outcome is that even with tax cuts that we have made, they’ve done as we said they would do. They’ve strengthened the economy and in strengthening the economy, they’re providing now a revenue boost to the government that we’re actually seeing stronger revenue flows into government from income tax and from company tax as a result of having stronger economic conditions. Even though Australians themselves are getting around $1.5 billion a month extra into their pockets from the tax cuts that we brought forward and legislated to make sure we have a fairer tax system and in the next term of government under our tax reform plans, we’re going to completely eliminate the 37 cents in the dollar tax bracket, meaning around 95 per cent of all Australians will only be paying or paying no more than 30 cents in the dollar. That’s significant tax reform, and it’s going to make Australians much, much better off.


Peter Stefanovic: You can’t rule out, though, moving forward. More lockdowns, right? Or are you?


Simon Birmingham: Pete, we’ve got now 88 per cent of the six plus population double dose vaccinated. We’re seeing really strong vaccination results in the 12 to 16 year old age group. And from the 10th of January, we’re now going to be able to move forward with the five to 11 year old age group getting vaccinated as well. We are one of the most protected countries in the world when it comes to our vaccine rates, and we’re one of the first in the world to move forward with a population scale booster program. So with that level of protection, we should be very confident to keep opening up and to keep on the track of getting everyone back to business and safe and secure in their lives.


Peter Stefanovic: What was the overall cost of Delta on the budget bottom line?


Simon Birmingham: We’ll finally watch that out in in the MYEFO, the mid-year budget update towards the end of the year. But the economic supports in terms of additional support for individuals and for small businesses totals around $20 billion or so. And now, of course, there’s the lost economic activity as well, which is going to be quite significant for that period of time. We saw that in the September quarter. Quarterly accounts that came out the other day. But what we can see is that since then, we know more than 350,000 jobs have come back and that there’s been a real lift in consumer confidence, business confidence, retail trade activity and the like, all of which shows just how quickly we’re bouncing back from those lockdowns.


Peter Stefanovic: Well, just on the question of lockdowns, you must be encouraged then, that Victoria and New South Wales at the moment are not at all interested in living with- on taking on an Omicron Zero approach. Perhaps Queensland will open up its border early today. That is all seemingly very positive.


Simon Birmingham: I think we’re really saying that that Australia is demonstrating how if you turn out, as we have in this country and get really high levels of vaccination, you can safely open and safely live with the virus and make sure you manage it as carefully as you have to. But without the type of huge impacts of lockdowns and with the reduction in terms of border closures that have disrupted so many businesses and so many lives across Australia. And so I’m very pleased that South Australia has kept its borders open. I welcome the encouraging comments in Queensland of their commitment to reopening their borders, and that is the dividend we should be seeing that all Australians get to benefit from with high vaccination rates.


Peter Stefanovic: Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Pete. My pleasure.