Interview on SKY News with Kieran Gilbert
Topics: APEC Leaders’ Meeting; Relationship with the USA; Restoring the rule of law in the construction industry; VET Student Loans program
Simon Birmingham: Well Kieran, I gather it was a long meeting between President Obama and Malcolm Turnbull and it comes on the back of very successful discussions that Malcolm Turnbull has had across a number of nations in relation to Lima, but we should always recognise that Australia has a significant role to play in the world. We’re a G20 nation, we’re a strong and powerful voice in our own right, but of course also we have one of the closest and most long standing alliances of any nation with the United States, and that’s something that was re-enforced in Prime Minister Turnbull’s discussions with President-elect Trump, and it is upon that foundation that we can have confidence that Malcolm Turnbull will be able to engage with President Trump when he takes office and that as a government we will engage with his administration successfully, standing true to our values but equally trying to make sure that in our engagement with them, we make sure that they are engaging as we would hope with the rest of the world in terms of their policies.
Kieran Gilbert: Do you think that there is a strong story to tell, in terms of obviously the years, decades long alliance and the military involvement but in contemporary policies as well – is there any commonality between the two countries do you think?
Simon Birmingham: Well we’re two different countries, we have our own policies but we’re also two countries that have embraced a sense of engagement with the rest of the world, an openness to the rest of the world in terms of our trade and economic agendas. We of course are countries that share many similar values, and it’s those foundations that we work with and absolutely we will be making sure that we drive Australia’s best interests first in our engagement with the Trump administration, but those best interests are served by continuing to advocate for clear strong defence policies, strong engagement in the Asia-Pacific region, and of course continued openness to trade, which we know is a challenging area but we have to make sure it’s well understood that it’s that openness that rises all boats in a sense across the world, creates new economic opportunities, and in Australia has created enormous opportunities for many, many companies and businesses and farmers who are incredibly reliant on their capacity to sell goods and services into other markets around the world.
Kieran Gilbert: Now we’ve got a big couple of weeks, final sitting fortnight of the year here in Canberra, the building and construction commission watchdog and the registered organisation legislation, how is that looking in the Senate? Will you have the numbers?
Simon Birmingham: So final sitting fortnight, a great opportunity to build on the record of delivery we have achieved since the election where we’ve seen things like income tax cuts pass, where we’ve managed to secure protection for volunteers, particularly volunteer firefighters, where we have managed to get other legislation through the Senate, demonstrating we’re getting on with the job. And this week, first up the Registered Organisations Commission; around 2 million Australians trust their money to trade unions and to employer organisations but we’ve seen, especially through the findings of the Trade Union Royal Commission, far too much corruption, malpractice and other activities across the union movement, which needs to be cleaned up in the interests of protecting those workers, in the interests of ensuring that union representatives and employer associations are adhering to the same high standards we expect of businesses. That’ll be followed up by vocational education reforms which are the second item listed, importantly clearing up a multi-billion dollar mess and making sure billions of taxpayer money is better targeted towards people getting the right outcomes in terms of their training.
Kieran Gilbert: How important is it that you get – well you’ll get that through, that looks no problem there, but in terms of the building watchdog, how important is it that you finish the year on a high, and particularly on that trigger legislation for the double dissolution?
Simon Birmingham: Well it’s very important to the nation that we have a building and construction industry – and that is another piece of legislation up these couple of weeks – a building and construction industry that is efficient, that is competitive, that is productive. And we saw when the ABCC was abolished, a decline in terms of the productivity of the building and construction industry. This is a huge sector, underpinning around 1 million jobs across the Australian economy and yet lawlessness which sees more than 100 different CFMEU officials facing criminal charges across the country is something that hampers productivity and efficiency on our building sites, cripples investment in the future and that’s why we really need to get that through.
Kieran Gilbert: Are you confident?
Simon Birmingham: Well Michaelia Cash is doing a great job in terms of the discussions she’s having with individual crossbenchers. Neither the Registered Organisations Commission nor the ABCC should have to come down to the crossbench though; we should actually see the Labor Party recognise that though they may be close to the trade union movement, though most Labor members may be trade union officials, including from entities like the Health Services Union who have been so damned in these reports, that they should support this. Now sadly it looks like they won’t, and we’re having those discussions with the crossbenchers to get these important reforms through.
Kieran Gilbert: Look Minister, I appreciate your time ahead of a big sitting fortnight, thanks very much.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks Kieran.
Kieran Gilbert: The Education Minister there on a range of issues, including those talks at APEC.