Interview on Sky News Live with David Speers
Topics: Roman Quaedvlieg; SA election; Catholic school funding; Labor’s changes to imputation

David Speers: Returning here to South Australia, and with me now, another well-known South Australian figure, the Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Thanks for your time this afternoon.

Simon Birmingham: Great to be with you, David.

David Speers: Just on Roman Quaedvlieg – I’m not sure if there is much you can say, I’m not sure if you were aware this was coming today, but the confirmation now that he has been terminated from the position. He’s considering his options, but the Government presumably believes there are some strong grounds here for this action?

Simon Birmingham: Well, David, let’s go with the, there’s not much I can say. In the end, this has been an exhaustive and extensive investigation. It’s been very thorough and of course the conclusion has been reached and that’s led to this action.

David Speers: Alright. Look, I’ll leave that there, because no doubt there’s a fair bit of legality tied up in all of this as well. To the South Australian election contest: Labor Party’s been in power 16 years. There’s a redistribution that’s given the Liberals a big help as well in this election. Surely, Steven Marshall must win on Saturday.

Simon Birmingham: Well, I think Steven Marshall will win, and I think he will win because the South Australian public believe well and truly that not only is it time for a change, but also that Steven Marshall has outlined clear plans: clear plans to create more jobs across the South Australian economy by making it a more competitive place in which to do business; to lower costs for South Australian households, particularly Government charges and levies, like the Emergency Services Levy that applies; and to deliver better services, particularly into communities like the one we’re sitting in, where the Labor Party has ripped services out of local hospitals, out of suburban health services, and where Marshall has committed, and the Liberal team have committed, to reinstate a number of those key and critical…

David Speers: Given all that, surely he should be streets ahead in the polling. He’s not.

Simon Birmingham: Well look, people can speculate about the polls. We’ll see …

David Speers: We’ll find out Saturday.

Simon Birmingham: … come Saturday night what the results actually are. I believe that he will win, he will form a Government, and that he’ll do so because people see out of around 150 positive policies that he’s released over not just the course of the last four or five weeks, but really right throughout the last four years, he has led an Opposition that has been very aggressive in their release of policies and in highlighting the differences between them and [Indistinct] failed Labor Government.

David Speers: One of the big concerns is the power price issue, and it came up last night at the People’s Forum we did, the hip pocket pain this is causing. The Liberals’ answer here is to build a new interconnector from South Australia to New South Wales, although I’m still a little unclear who pays for that – would the Federal Government kick in any of the money?

Simon Birmingham: Well, the State Liberal Party has budgeted a significant fund towards building that interconnector.

David Speers: I think $200 million, but these things cost, what, a billion plus?

Simon Birmingham: Now, you would expect to see there, like most of these assets, that they would have a degree of private contribution to them and …

David Speers: So, would the feds kick in anything?

Simon Birmingham: Well look, that’s something that we’d have to talk to a new Government in SA about, if they were going down that path, as to whether there was a place for a Federal contribution, or indeed whether any other states thought there was a place for them to make a contribution, knowing that it will really round off the …

David Speers: So, there’s no guarantee the Federal Government will chip in anything to this?

Simon Birmingham: Well, no, there’s not. State Liberals have released a clear policy with clear funding that they have committed to it. And the important thing about building that interconnector is that it will allow South Australia, when the wind is blowing and all of those extra turbines that have already been built and are part of the system are generating more energy than the state needs, to be able to export that energy elsewhere. But, of course, with such an intermittent, unstable grid, as it’s been built, it will also mean that when the wind’s not blowing and all of those turbines are still, you’ll be able to draw on …

David Speers: Yeah, but only if someone pays for it. Only if someone pays for it. And we still don’t know who would pay for it.

Simon Birmingham: But, you know, the Labor Party promised they’d build this interconnector 16 years ago and it hasn’t happened.

David Speers: They’ve done a few other things since then, but …

Simon Birmingham: They’ve created a more expensive, less reliable energy system in South Australia.

David Speers: Do you think the Tesla battery, this big battery, world’s biggest battery, is a good thing?

Simon Birmingham: Look, I think [indistinct] fair degree of stunt and showmanship to that from Jay Weatherill.

David Speers: Maybe, but is it good or bad to have?

Simon Birmingham: Experimenting in new technology is not in and of itself a bad thing, but let’s remember: what does this battery do? It will keep the lights on for a couple of hundred thousand homes for an hour or so if the lights were to go out. That is not something that provides certainty and reliability if you’re an investor. It doesn’t deal with the fundamental problems of lack of reliability. It’s a token effort in that sense, unlike the type of policy we were talking about before, which is less sexy in terms of having Elon Musk and all of that showmanship. It’s, you know, building a solid piece of infrastructure in an interconnector, but it’s actually something that will work for the long term and make a substantial difference.

David Speers: Let me turn to a couple of other things away from the South Australian election. The Batman by-election. We’ve seen Bill Shorten, during the course of this campaign, again playing up to the Catholic schools – a letter from him that suggested that Labor would provide $250 million in extra funding over the first two years in office if they win. You’ve been attacking him for this, but are you ruling out doing something similar?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we won’t be playing special deals in that sense. What we’ve seen Bill Shorten do is walk away from the principle of needs-based funding that is applied consistently, based on the actual needs of students in schools, and instead say, I’ll just offer a special deal over here. I mean, it’s Bill Shorten, the trade union leader, who thinks he can march around the country and do a special deal over here with this group and a special deal with that group to try to construct a majority. Whereas I think Australians want to see some principle in their politicians, not that type of unprincipled approach where for years he said he stood for needs-based funding, now he’s walked away from it. We will stand by needs-based funding, but we are working through, in response to concerns from the Catholic school sector, the methodology in which the Gonski school funding model works, and we’ve got an independent review that’s being led …

David Speers: So, working through that and doing this review to look at the Catholic school funding, you’re saying there still will be no special deal for them, though. Will they get any extra money, though?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we’ll have to see what the review actually says in terms of any changes that are made to the socio-economic status score that way non-government schools are funded. So, this is a thorough and very independent review. It’s putting in place a national school resourcing board, as was recommended by the original Gonski panel, as was constructed by, in a sense, the Australian Senate with full independence. They’ll make the recommendations. Those recommendations will be public, and the Government will respond to it from there. But it’s important as well to make sure that the lies that are being told by Mr Shorten and others about school cuts aren’t allowed to stand uncontested. When it comes to Catholic schools in Victoria, there’s an extra $100 million [indistinct] into those schools this year compared with last year. There will be an extra $1.2 billion over the course of the next 10 years. There’s real extra growth happening in those schools already under the Turnbull Government’s reforms, but unlike Mr Shorten it’s not because there’s a special deal; it’s because we’ve applied a consistent, needs-based approach to funding.

David Speers: Let me turn finally to Labor’s tax policy announcement this week, getting rid of cash refunds for franked dividends. We know the Government’s been highly critical of this, calling it theft, calling it a crime and so on. Labor’s point is why should a wealthy investor but why should a wealthy investor be able to put money into shares? They don’t pay any tax but they’re getting a cheque on top of their dividend, a cheque from the Tax Office.

Simon Birmingham: Well, your point there, though, David, is why indeed should people, who are not wealthy, who have very limited incomes, be penalised in this way? Why should investors who actually are paying degrees of tax be able to get tax rebates against those dividends, yet indeed people who have low incomes not be able to get any tax benefit from those dividends? This is actually a policy that Labor have admitted themselves will hit pensioners, does indeed target people on lower incomes, and it’s very clear from the data that’s been released that the bulk of individuals who will pay more tax as a result of this are individuals who are on very low and modest annual incomes.

David Speers: Low taxable income I think is technically correct, because, as you know, under the new superannuation rules you can have a tax-free income as a couple on $3.2 million in your superannuation, and that’s tax-free, that income.

Simon Birmingham: And what’s the Turnbull Government done? We’ve made sure that when you make superannuation changes, and what we proposed and took through the last election campaign wasn’t popular, but we made sure that it targeted individuals based on the value of their savings, based on it ensuring that those were people with a very high nest egg and level of savings, not what Labor’s done, which is basically a very crude measure that will affect pensioners and part-pensioners, as well as self-funded retirees, and that’s the bluntness of it.

David Speers: It’s not black and white. There are some pensioners affected by this, there are some needy affected by this, but there are also some who own their own home, have 3 million bucks in superannuation, getting a tax-free income stream from that. You can’t say they’re on struggle street, can you?

Simon Birmingham: Well, the Turnbull Government’s taken action in terms of individuals who might be self-funded retirees with very large nest eggs in that type of space and made sure that there are tax changes there.

David Speers: A couple with three million in super and own their own home, are they …

Simon Birmingham: We think we’ve got the balance right now in terms of having made those changes. Bill Shorten is trying to go after those people again, but is doing so in such a crude way that he is actually hitting pensioners, part-pensioners, others. Yesterday he said, well, we might have a look at whether we fix that for those pensioners; now his spokespeople today are saying, no, there’ll be no changes to the policy. Clearly this policy is falling apart already in terms of Labor’s coherence or commitment to it, and that’s because it’s just bad policy. It’s another example of an opposition who is addicted to raising yet more tax in revenue because they’ve got so many unfunded spending promises to meet.

David Speers: Simon Birmingham, Education Minister, proud South Australian, you’re not an Eagles fan?

Simon Birmingham: I’m not an Eagles fan. You were in my territory last night up at Central Districts with the doggies.

David Speers: Bulldogs.

Simon Birmingham: Bulldogs, indeed.

David Speers: All the way. Alright, terrific. Thanks very much for joining us this afternoon.