Interview on Sky News Live with Kieran Gilbert
Topics: Enterprise tax plan; Taxing the digital economy; US-China trade; Mayo by-election

Kieran Gilbert: Now, back to the parliamentary debate. Returns today, parliament. Big focus on tax, as I mentioned there with Penny Wong, and I spoke to the Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, earlier this morning and suggested it looks likely the government might get the support of the Centre Alliance now and their two senators to get their tax plan through.

Simon Birmingham: Well Kieran, look, the government’s intention is to keep working on our plan, which has delivered more than 1 million jobs over the last five years into the Australian economy, and that of course is of great benefit to so many households and businesses. Now, our Enterprise Tax Plan is a key part of continuing that jobs growth, continuing a plan that has brought the Budget back to balance, that is ensuring we’re in a position to be able to offer tax relief to low and middle income Australians as well. All of that comes from a growing economy and we will keep talking to the Senate crossbench to try to get them to understand and appreciate the importance of fully implementing that Enterprise Tax Plan so that Australia can be a country with a competitive rate to attract investment, a competitive tax rate to ensure that businesses keep growing, all of which will underpin further jobs growth, further wages growth, and from that the opportunity to continue to provide tax relief and essential services.

Kieran Gilbert: And with the two Centre Alliance members. Does it look like that digital proposal for digital tax on companies like Google and so on, Uber, that that might be enough to sway them?

Simon Birmingham: Well, as a government we’ve taken a lot of leading steps in this space already. Working in terms of the diverted profits tax, other efforts that have seen us ensure that billions of dollars of tax from multinationals and global companies are now being captured that previously weren’t. That’s been important to strengthening the Budget bottom line, but also to ensuring fairness in the tax system. In terms of some of the measures that are speculated on today, what we’ll be doing is shortly releasing a discussion paper that the Treasurer will put out there, and from there of course we will work through all of those areas to ensure we continue to respond to changing the global economy.

Kieran Gilbert: So, you’re not confirming that those companies will face an additional tax?

Simon Birmingham: No, Kieran. What we are going to keep doing is working to ensure that all companies pay their fair share of tax. We’ve done that with multinationals, we’ve done that in terms of changes to the GST arrangements with the states to make sure that low level imports are captured in the tax…

Kieran Gilbert: But now the focus is on the digital economy.

Simon Birmingham: And we’re going to continue to look at digital spaces. What we’ve got is a situation where the global way in which the economy works keeps changing. We have to keep changing and adjusting tax laws to keep up with that and to make sure that we keep the integrity of our tax base so that all companies are paying their fair share. But we have to also make sure that when it comes to companies who are investing in Australia, who are active in Australia, who are frequently Australian companies, that they also have a competitive tax rate. That’s what our Enterprise Tax Plan is about.

Kieran Gilbert: You have received a bit of a boos today, with Chris Richardson from Deloitte releasing analysis of the income tax plan, which shows that far from being unfair, the top 20 per cent will in fact pay a greater burden under the government’s proposed changes.

Simon Birmingham: Well, the evidence shows what the government has been saying all along – that our tax plan is a fair plan that is targeted towards low and middle income Australians, that gives early tax relief to the lowest income groups. But also addresses the problem of bracket creep for middle income Australia and that is a critical problem to address. It’s a sensible seven-year plan…

Kieran Gilbert: So, has that been the flaw in the numbers that have been released to this point – that they haven’t factored in the complexities of bracket creep? As Mr Richardson says he’s done today in these numbers he’s released today.

Simon Birmingham: Well, the problem to date is that Bill Shorten and others have buried their head in the sand and want to create political strife, which of course is what an Opposition loves to do, rather than looking at the merits of this proposal for low and middle income Australians. Rather than looking at what Mr Shorten and others in the Labor Party have said time and time again as well, they’ve acknowledged the problems of effective marginal tax rates, they’ve acknowledged the issues that this plan addresses, and that’s why they ought to get on board and support it. A sensible tax plan that is spelt out over the next seven years that can be legislated quickly through this parliament and give Australians the tax relief they deserve and the incentive to be able to work more and work harder.

Kieran Gilbert: As Education Minister, one of the big exports at the moment is the higher education sector in terms of foreign students coming to this country. Obviously, you know, trade rules and the important market of China in this deal with the US trade war. Do you feel comfortable by the fact that ?

Simon Birmingham: We have been a world leader and of course, whilst Mr Shorten and the Labor Party have said that we should step away from things like the TPP and give up on it when the US pulled out, what we’ve done is go through the details and work hard to get other parties to reach agreement to set an example for the US or any other nation that free trade remains beneficial, that indeed it is one of the reasons why, as a country, we’ve seen this growth of the million plus jobs. And international education is a key part of that. It’s boomed over the last decade to now be our third largest export earner, and we can remain committed very much to ensuring that the global order is one that respects trade agreements. And where trade agreement are advanced where possible to create open access for goods and services that countries like Australia are producing.

Kieran Gilbert: Lastly, I touched on the by-elections that loom. And Mayo is one where the Liberals might be a chance for Georgina Downer. Do you- what’s the mood like within the South Australian Liberal Party right now in terms of your chance of taking that seat back in the Adelaide Hills?

Simon Birmingham: We don’t over-estimate the challenge in terms of any of the by-elections. By-elections are difficult for governments to win. Historically, governments have not won by-elections, but we’ll work hard in the seat of Mayo to give those voters a choice and to encourage them to choose to be a part of government. To not sit outside of the political mix, but to actually choose to be inside the government. We have an outstanding candidate in Georgina Downer, who will not only be a fearless advocate for the people of Mayo, but a powerful leader of South Australia in the future if she’s given the chance.

Kieran Gilbert: Simon Birmingham the Education Minister, speaking to us earlier this morning.