Interview on Sky News with Samantha Maiden

Topics: High court decision on citizenship; Christopher Pyne


Samantha Maiden:       Joining us live now is the Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, does Kevin Andrews have a point?

Simon Birmingham:    Well Sam, look an audit is easy to call for, but the reality is if you actually went about doing it, it will likely be expensive, drawn out and riddled with legal complexities. Because it’s not just about the application of the Australian constitution, you would be getting into questions of international laws, citizenships law in a whole range of other countries potentially, if you look at the finding handed down in relation to the seven individual’s before the High Court the other day, the two who were given the clean bill of health at the end, Senator’s or then Senator Xenophon and Senator Canavan were not citizens but that actually required quite a lengthy exploration of Italian law and UK law to ascertain exactly what the circumstances there were. Now, if you’re going to go through the process of setting up an audit, people who think this would be a straightforward exercise could well be kidding themselves, ultimately each member of Parliament should be responsible for themselves. We’ve seen individuals volunteer information, Senator Parry doing that most recently, and of course that should be sufficient, whilst frankly the rest of us all ought to be getting on with the things that the Australian people think are far more important which are the policies which impact them, instead of talking about spending what could be millions of taxpayer dollars on a drawn out, complex audit process

Samantha Maiden:       Good luck with that, because Barnaby Joyce says that he is sure there are more dual-citizens?

Simon Birmingham:    Well Sam, look another question for the audit is, if you are going to go down that path, to actually fully ascertain the impact on the last election, you wouldn’t just be looking at members of Parliament but you would have to look at the many many candidates from the last election, some 1700 I think there were different candidates, because that could potentially impact on the legitimacy of any result, so.

Samantha Maiden:       C’mon?

Simon Birmingham:    No, I mean these are all the sorts of hypotheticals that you would suddenly see come about through an audit process. Frankly, Australian’s would much rather the parliament and the government get on with the job, that is certainly what the Minister’s in the government are doing. 

Samantha Maiden:       Even if you have MPs sitting in the parliament that shouldn’t be there?

Simon Birmingham:    Well, every MP is responsible for themselves, if anybody has any evidence that an MP is not eligible to be there, they should bring that forward which indeed was the case in relation to Senator Ludlam, the Greens Senator which sparked this whole process.

Samantha Maiden:       Simon they can’t, not all of this information is publicly available, MP’s are refusing to release it, this is a racquet, I mean why don’t you just say that the MP’s have to put on their website the forms where they’ve renounced.

Simon Birmingham:    MP’s are responsible for their legitimacy as a candidate at the point at which they nominate.

Samantha Maiden:       And we as the public, can’t check it?

Simon Birmingham:    Sam, anybody is welcome to.

Samantha Maiden:       And then you’re saying that if you can’t prove it they won’t do anything, it’s ridiculous.

Simon Birmingham:                You have instances in other cases where individuals, candidates, who were defeated have sought to launch matters in relation to the High Court if they have sufficient doubt. The court can hear those matters, there is an established process to do so. But, it really would be an unnecessary distraction and waste of taxpayer’s funds and resources to set up something that I suspect would be quite drawn out and quite complex, and frankly would be a distraction that would drag this process further on rather than actually allowing the parliament to focus on the business of governing the country.

Samantha Maiden:       Ok, but the real problem is that the Turnbull Government doesn’t want to have an audit because it could actually spark a snap election, that’s the real problem isn’t it? If you’ve got another MP in the House of Representatives who shouldn’t be there, you don’t want to know.

Simon Birmingham:    Well Sam I assume based on the position the Labor party has taken that they share the Government’s concerns about the complexity of this process, and the fact that it is unnecessary and expensive.

Samantha Maiden:       Seriously, I’ve had very senior Liberals say to me, quote: ‘everybody knows why we can’t have an audit, it’s because it will be likely to cause an election’.

Simon Birmingham:    I’m yet to see an opposition that doesn’t want an election, but this is an opposition who appears to be saying they don’t think this is necessary either, they don’t think it’s appropriate, as I said I’m sure they must understand as well the complexities that would come from this type of undertaking, so really, this is something that the opposition and the government would appear to be agreed upon that we would both rather spend our time at least focused on issues, I’d say Labor want to play politics with a range of those issues, but at least we’re wanting to get on with the issues that impact households, businesses, Australians rather than an issue that only impacts politicians.

Samantha Maiden:       Ok, what about Kevin Andrews suggesting though that strong leadership is required now, is he suggesting that the Prime Minister is not showing leadership by failing to have an audit.

Simon Birmingham:    I haven’t seen, Kevin’s interview, I don’t know what he is suggesting, that is for Kevin. The Prime Minister is showing strong leadership and getting on with the things that matter to the Australian people, we over the last few months, whilst others have been distracted with this issue, have progressed in particular the National Electricity Guarantee, something that actually in the energy market is going to help deliver greater reliability, greater security, meet our emissions reductions targets, and do so at least cost, we have engaged extensive policy work around that, of course we developed the pathway to resolve the same-sex marriage issue and have implemented that and are seeing incredible success with some 77 per cent of Australians choosing to participate in that process. Individual Ministers are getting on with their jobs, just yesterday I announced both a new metric in terms of how it is we will assess research to make greater impact and engagement in Australia.

Samantha Maiden:       That didn’t get a lot of attention, after Stephen Parry turned out to a secret pom.

Simon Birmingham:    Well actually it did get quite a bit of attention, there was good coverage across the nation’s newspapers and had quite a few radio interviews. We could talk about that further if you would like?

Samantha Maiden:       Let’s talk about your colleague Christopher Pyne who has been accused of being a cancer on the Liberal party. We’ll just have a quick listen to what Peta Credlin and Cory Bernardi had to say overnight.

Excerpt played

Samantha Maiden:       So Simon Birmingham, is Christopher Pyne a cancer on the Liberal party and is this the start of something as Peta Credlin is suggesting?

Simon Birmingham:    Well no, Christopher Pyne is a great warrior for the Liberal party, a greater contributor to the Liberal party, a particularly impressive performer in the House of Representatives, has been a skilled manager of business for the party in both opposition and in government, and look grumbles from Cory Bernardi who is somebody who happily accepted Liberal party endorsement to run as a Liberal candidate at the last election, was elected to a six-year senate term and then decided to bugger off less than 12 months into his six year senate term, that’s hardly an individual who can really speak about loyalty or sticking with the team.

Samantha Maiden:       Ok, what about Peta Credlin’s speculation that a Liberal moderate held some sort of secret negotiations with GetUp over their strategy to essentially play dead in the electorates of some liberal moderates. Do you know any Liberal moderates who have had recent contact in relation to the 2016 election before or after with Getup?

Simon Birmingham:    Definitively not, I do not know of any such activities, I note that GetUp themselves have said they’ve had no conversations with Christopher Pyne, if that’s the innuendo that is being pushed. And, frankly again this is people wanting to stir-up trouble, create issues when the government wants to actually focus on things that matter to Australian households, families, businesses – jobs growth, actually getting record jobs growth.

Samantha Maiden:       But we’re told the Liberal party is going to investigate Christopher Pyne. Peter Gandolfi has suggested reports are accurate that Christopher Pyne rang him and encouraged him to essentially run against the pre-selected liberal party candidate, now if that is accurate, shouldn’t Christopher Pyne be disciplined for that?

Simon Birmingham:    Well I don’t think we have been told there is going to be an investigation, we’re seeing claims that are being made, now rumours and gossip spread along political parties a lot of the time, much of it are untrue, it is being denied by Christopher Pyne.

Samantha Maiden:       Well it isn’t being denied by Peter Gandolfi? In fact, I have spoken to Peter Gandolfi this morning and he says that those reports are accurate.

Simon Birmingham:    Well it’s not unusual that people some years after events take place have different recollections of conversations.

Samantha Maiden:       So Peter Gandolfi has imagined that conversation?

Simon Birmingham:    I don’t know, I’m not really sure that I care all that much Sam because this is a lot of stuff that happened in the past.

Samantha Maiden:       You don’t care that if a Liberal minister has….

Simon Birmingham:    It’s gossip, it’s tiddle tat, I know that Christopher Pyne has worked for the election of every Liberal candidate around the country, that he works hard particularly in South Australia, to fundraise, to mobilise the troops in the party, to make sure we run campaign’s, he has fended off battles in his own seat numerous times over the years and has demonstrated his own capability and credibility in that sense as an effective local candidate, local MP as well as an effective minister who is of course overseeing in the defence industries portfolio some of the biggest investment that South Australia has ever seen.

Samantha Maiden:       Just finally on the race for the president in the senate, why should the Liberals hang on to that job, particularly when the liberals have just sat back and watched as Fiona Nash, the Deputy Nationals leader is turfed out of parliament in favour of Holly Hughes who has never sat in parliament. Why shouldn’t Wacka Williams get a go as Senate President?

Simon Birmingham:    I can’t say I have turned my mind on to the replacement of Senator Parry as president of the senate, I’m sure we will have those discussions inside the senate ranks of the coalition. You know there are instances in the past I guess where Ian Sinclair served as Speaker of the House, but traditionally, and convention certainly dictates that..

Samantha Maiden:       Leaving the door open?

Simon Birmingham:    Look, these discussions can happen, the nats are free to raise questions with us, it’s a friendly family relationship between the Liberals and the Nationals, but the convention certainly is the positon is held by a Liberal senator and I would be very surprised if that convention wasn’t adhered to and stuck to on this occasion as well.

Samantha Maiden:       Ok thanks Simon Birmingham, we appreciate your time, we know you’re very busy. Thank you.

Simon Birmingham:    Thank you Sam.