Subject: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull
FRAN KELLY: Assistant Education Minster, Simon Birmingham, was one of Malcolm Turnbull’s key backers, he helped orchestrate this leadership change, Simon Birmingham good morning welcome to breakfast.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Why did your party need to change leaders?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Fran, we have been a good government, but it is clear that Australia faces some enormous challenges in the future and I think it is important we have leadership that is best placed to be able to help Australia through those challenges. The challenges of many jobs and many roles that will become redundant through the advance of new technology, the challenges of how we diversify our economy to meet those changes in the global environment that will have dramatic impacts on Australia and we need a leadership that is well across those challenges, we need a leadership that is well able to articulate them and is able to have calm and considered conversations with the Australian people that bring people with government rather than make politics a constant partisan battle as it seems to have been in recent years.
FRAN KELLY: So, a good government has lost its way?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well Fran-
FRAN KELLY: It’s very Julia Gillard-esque
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: They’re words that others have used. I think we have been a good government, but it is important that we are a great government because Australia faces great challenges.
FRAN KELLY: Does loyalty count for nothing in politics anymore?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Fran, our system of government, of Westminster system of government, is one where there are two checks on political leadership, the check of elections and the check of the party room and, of course, we’ve seen that check of the party room exercised, but I think what the Australian people care most about is the type of government they will have now and in to the future and that, I am confident, will be a government that is well equipped to face the challenges Australia will have to deal with and to make sure that we tackle them head on.
FRAN KELLY: But be truthful, this is a vote for self-interest, this is a vote you and others in that party room voted for their self-interest after a year and a half of losing polls. That’s what this is about, it’s the numbers isn’t it? I say again, loyalty is certainly not paramount in politics is it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Fran, it would be no surprise that the members of the Liberal party think that one of the greatest threats to Australia in the future would be if Bill Shorten, led by the CFMEU and others, became Prime Minister of Australia and turn their backs on economic rich form, turn their backs on the China free-trade agreement. That would be an enormous threat to Australia. That is, of course, part of what we have to consider in terms of the leadership of the party, how well placed we are, but ultimately, it is of course about making sure we put our best foot forward, but most importantly, the nation’s best foot forward and I’m confident that Malcolm will be able to do that.
FRAN KELLY: Tony Abbott and his supporters point out that he has done most of the things he has promised to do in the lead up to the election. He’s stopped the boats, he’s scrapped the mining tax, scrapped the carbon tax, we’ve got the free-trade agreements changed, I mean, what did he need to do that he hasn’t done in your view, given that he has achieved those promises?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Tony does deserve enormous praise and credit for what has been accomplished for-
FRAN KELLY: Funny way to thank him-
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: for the Liberal party getting in to government and what we need to do now as a government is build upon that good legacy and make sure that the vision we have for the future is one that the Australian embrace. Make sure that that vision is on that transforms the Australian economy to deal with the fact that we must be on that embraces advanced manufacturing, it must be one that embraces technology, we must make sure we are creating those new jobs in a new global marketplace to deal with the type of disruption that Australia faces.
FRAN KELLY: Malcolm Turnbull is promising to stick with the party’s line on climate change, he’s promising to stick with the notion of a plebiscite on gay marriage even though he thinks it is not really required. His support in the polls has come because people support his more moderate views, if he just remains Tony Abbott-like, so to speak, he will lose that support won’t he?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Malcolm Turnbull will be his own man, but he is also made it very clear that he will be a collegiate leader, a leader who engages in proper cabinet processes, a leader who engages the party room-
FRAN KELLY: So is this just about style, it’s not about policy?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Fran, I think it is about policy, but I think the most important area of policy is economic policy in terms of whether Australians in future have the confidence, will be generating the jobs that are required, that we will be training people in the ways that equip them to secure those jobs, whether our economy is competitive on a global stage where we face more competitors every single day, where Australian jobs face more challenges from economic disruption, from automation, from robotics, from all of those changes every single day. You need only look at the recent CEDA report to see the type of challenges Australia faces and the reality that we need to address them and create new job opportunities in the future.
FRAN KELLY: I know you have other commitments, so let me just ask you finally, there will be a reshuffle, do you expect a promotion and Kevin Andrews has said this morning he has reached out to Malcolm Turnbull, he wants to stay in his portfolio, do you expect someone like Kevin Andrews, a key Abbott backer, will remain where he is and what do you hope to get?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I have absolutely no expectations, have had no discussions with Malcolm about that. My ambition is to make sure that we actually, as a government, function properly, that we put our best foot forward and Malcolm, I’m sure, will put the best team on the field.
FRAN KELLY: How do you keep unity in your party now?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Malcolm and the whole team will have to come together, as of course, we have done before. Leadership changes are not unprecedented in the Liberal party or in Australian politics. We are a team, we are a broad-church, we must reflect that and work as one.
FRAN KELLY: Are you sad about this or are you sort of, you know, leaping for joy inside?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: No, I’m sad about it, Fran, but I think equally we have great new opportunities for Australia and we need to embrace them. I wish it had not necessarily come to this, but I think it is important for the country that we put our best foot forward and that we do have the opportunity to sell an exciting message to Australia about the types of economic reform and industry reform we need to be a competitive global economy in the future.
FRAN KELLY: Simon Birmingham, I thank you for your time.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thank you, Fran.