Topics: Repatriation of Sharrouf children; Cory Bernardi; support for legislating tax cuts; IR reform; US-China trade war.




Tom Connell: It is the Trade Minister Simon Birmingham joining us from our Adelaide studio. Thanks very much for your time today. Simon Birmingham let’s start with the news of these eight children including of course the Sharrouf children being spirited away from this refugee camp in Syria. Why was this decision taken?


Simon Birmingham: Well thank you Tom and good morning. This decision was taken in the best interests of Australian children and these are Australian children who had their childhoods ripped away from them by their parents. And these are Australian children who will now thankfully get a second chance at having a life in Australia despite the appalling behaviour of their parents in taking them into a war zone. We will work hard, carefully as we have in terms of around the extraction to make sure that those children and Australia have the best chance of success in terms of their resettlement back here.


Tom Connell: That’s the difficulty isn’t it? The chances they have of actually getting a new life. I mean they’re going into a new name for example and also the reaction of the community around them and if people find out they’re going to their school how safe they’re feeling.


Simon Birmingham: Well it is important that we handle this very carefully and we’ve handled it carefully to date and we will continue to do so in terms of the individual assessment and support that will be provided to these children and of course in terms of the confidentiality that’s there. I want to pay tribute to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials, Home Affairs officials and partner agencies around the world who have helped to date, but also acknowledge the media in terms of responsible coverage of this issue to date and the work that needs to occur from here in terms of protecting the privacy of these children. They are children, yes the oldest is now around the age of 17 and has been through things that most of us could not possibly imagine, but they are Australian children and we should do our best by these children and we are going to do so.

Tom Connell: Wanted to get your thoughts on talk of Cory Bernardi coming back to the Liberal Party, should that be something canvassed by the South Australian party?

Simon Birmingham: Well Tom I welcome Corey’s comments about his support for the Morrison Government and desire to see the Morrison government succeed. I look forward to Cory’s cooperation as a crossbench senator. In the end Cory chose to leave the Liberal party several years ago, that was his decision to set up a party. The party itself didn’t go so well but I look forward to working with Cory as a cross bench senator into the future and to get support for the Morrison government.

Tom Connell: Not as a Liberal senator though?

Simon Birmingham: Well Cory chose to leave the Liberal Party, he sits as an Australian Conservative senator, apparently the party now he’s being wound up, he made that decision. The party in South Australia has had a real period of success in unity over recent years and we of course won the state election here last year, the first time that we’ve won a state election in South Australia since 1997. So we’ve seen true success, unity in the federal election. We saw the second largest swing of any state towards the Liberal and National parties happen here in South Australia. We held all our lower house seats, we won three Senate seats for the first time in several elections in terms of a half Senate election, and we are in a good position and I’ll make sure we do everything we can to preserve that success and unity into the future.

Tom Connell: Alright sounds like it’s a no from you. Let’s talk about the tax cuts and Labor inching perhaps towards a position of supporting them. Now you’re Acting Treasurer so if they take this position while you’re on this roll you’re going to take all the credit?


Simon Birmingham: Josh Frydenberg and Mathias Cormann have done incredible work in making sure that the arguments in favour of our tax reform plans are well understood. It is about tax relief for hardworking Australians and reform to make sure our income tax system is more globally competitive and incentivises people to work hard into the future. So first and foremost steps to provide more support for low and middle income families, so tradies, teachers and others who are out there who can expect to see an increase to their tax return of around $1080 dollars coming back into their pockets as a result of our changes this year. Now that’s going to be a big lift in terms of household budgets, a real help to them and of course a boost to our economy which given some of the global headwinds has been recognised as important. The long term plans around this are really critical as well because without them we’ve seen evidence that our tax rates in Australia will be completely uncompetitive against other English speaking countries. We’re seeing economists, banking governors and others indicate just how critical it is to have that type of plan. This is the time now for Anthony Albanese to show that he’s actually different to Bill Shorten that he’s willing to support tax reform and taxing Australians and if he doesn’t support it and support it in its entirety well it will show just how tone deaf he and the Labor Party are from the election result just five weeks ago.


Tom Connell: So that’s one part of Scott Morrison’s speech today, he’s delving into some other areas including just a signal that there could be something within industrial relations. Isn’t this the sort of thing you usually outline before an election? Why is it coming after the election?


Simon Birmingham: Well what Scott is talking about is the productivity agenda that’s important today. So he’s spending a lot of time talking about the need to get that tax reform through and of course that can be guaranteed today if the Labor Party stop messing around, step up to the plate and commit their support for tax relief for hardworking Australians. Scott, today’s Prime Minister will also be talking about the need to address red tape issues across the economy and yes the need to make sure that we look at any productivity areas that we can make our IR system more effective.


Tom Connell: Just on that IR aspect, could I  ask Minister because again this is something that he’s outlining just after the election and saying business make the case bring the Australian people with you. That’s strange to make just after an election why not do it beforehand?


Simon Birmingham: Well he’s making sure as well that he frames all of the conditions first and foremost to make sure that workers benefit from any changes and that the economy benefits overall from any changes. What we want to make sure is that life is better for hardworking Australians with lower taxes and with better job security with prospects of higher wages through a stronger economy into the future. They are our motivators now what we want to do to make sure that happens is to get the economy humming along as strongly as we can in Australia. We face these international pressures of global trade wars, but what we can do in Australia is ensure that there is less red tape, that where possible union lawlessness is stamped out. So that’s our first priority when it comes to IR reform, to bring the ensuring integrity legislation to the Parliament to get that debated quickly.


Again, the Labor Party, if they were serious about dealing with lawlessness in unions like the CFMEU they would support that legislation. That’s what they ought to do. Come on board and support that legislation just as they ought to support tax cuts for hardworking Australians. Because you know Bob Hawke, what did he do with the BLF? Well he ensured the BLF were put out of business because of lawlessness. You’ve got comparable behaviour happening in terms of the CFMEU and yet Labor are wanting to potentially maybe deal with one individual rather than with the lawlessness of the entire unions that’s happening.


Tom Connell: Your area of trade is being mentioned again by Scott Morrison obviously talking about the trade war going on between China and the US. Is there any direct criticism of the US because if you talk about this tariff war if you like to go right back to basics, did the US start it?


Simon Birmingham: Tom we share some of the US concerns about issues in terms of ensuring the protection of intellectual property, particularly around technology matters and ensuring that you don’t have unfair subsidies that impact upon the operation of market economies but we also think that unilateral tariff measures are not the right way to go about addressing these issues, that you need to work hard in terms of changing behaviour of other partners using the mechanisms of the World Trade Organization, building global cooperation where possible. So there are issues on all sides that we would like to see progress on. We’ve been very clear about it.


Tom Connell: But I guess we’re nearly out of time, very directly do you think Trump policies are possibly hurting Australia and the economy in the near future or even now?


Simon Birmingham: Well a trade war between the US and China will dampen growth. We already see predictions in terms of a downturn in the rate of growth in global trade and that that is projected to have a down turn in terms of the rate of growth of global economies. So the impact that this sort of trade uncertainty is there already. What we want to see is unfair subsidies addressed, as well as protectionist measures avoided and again, back onto the path that has provided the world and particularly our region with such enormous opportunities over the last few years. More than 800 million people are estimated to have been lifted out of poverty thanks to the growth of China and the Southeast Asian region and that growth has happened because economies have opened up to the world, increased their trade and that has provided benefits in those economies, but also here in Australia too.

Tom Connell: All right Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, always appreciate your time. Thank you.