Laura Jayes:  Joining me now is the Minister for Education and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham, from Adelaide. Senator, thanks so much for your time. Can I first ask you about these developments across Indonesia? How concerning is it for Australia?

Simon Birmingham: Well good morning, Laura. Of course it’s always concerning but equally we should be very pleased at the fact that Indonesian authorities, working as they do in cooperation with Australian, American, and other authorities have been able to take this action, have been able to prevent these types of terrorist attacks from occurring, and it’s a demonstration that our close working relationship we have at a senior governmental level, at a political level, but also very importantly between our security agencies and intelligence agencies, is such a critical arrangement and is actually functioning quite strongly and quite well. Today we will see the Foreign Minister and Defence Minister sit down with their counterparts in Sydney while at the same time the Attorney-General and Justice Minister and security agencies will be sitting down with their counterparts in Jakarta, and so that strength of the Australian-Indonesian relationship is as strong in many ways as it’s ever been. This comes on the back of Prime Minister Turnbull’s very successful visit there and meetings with the Indonesian president, all of which of course is ensuring that our economic relationship is strong, but importantly our security ties are strong too.

Laura Jayes:  Australia has always had a pretty strong relationship with Indonesia, has been quite rocky at times though over various periods throughout history. Under the Gillard Government, there were also some problems – you might say – under the Abbott Government as well. So, is extra effort being made now by the Turnbull Government to make sure there are no fractures in this relationship going forward?

Simon Birmingham: We treat it like every important relationship, and that is one where we work at it constantly, where we acknowledge that sometimes there will be differences and we have to work through those differences, and we saw that on show in Prime Minister Turnbull’s visit to Japan last week – an open and public acknowledgement of the difficulties and differences of opinion around matters of whaling but otherwise an incredibly strong and successful relationship that we make sure we strive to deliver the best outcomes for Australia from.

The same with Indonesia, that yes, from time to time there will be these difficulties but we will do everything possible to avoid those difficulties, putting anything in the way of our successful economic relationship and most importantly the success of our national security cooperation because it’s through that type of cooperation that we are working with Indonesians to keep Australians safer, to keep Indonesians safer, and from what early reports seem to suggest, these reports and these attacks were targeted at Indonesians, perhaps at others from around the world who might have been in Indonesia but it’s about keeping Indonesians safe as much as Australians and others visiting Indonesia from around the world.

Laura Jayes:  Is there any information to suggest that any Australian holiday destinations could be targeted? Bali comes to mind.

Simon Birmingham: Well look, I’m not going to speculate on what might be the case. That’s information that security agencies would rightly have of course. We make sure we give appropriate and accurate warnings to Australians about travel overseas to different destinations, and no doubt this information will be considered as with any information in terms of updating or any analysis of those travel warnings but we would expect that working as we have been with Indonesian authorities, we will be able to continue to intercept cells like this to help them succeed in their battle, and of course in their fight, as they generally are, to be an exemplar as a nation that has the largest Muslim population in the world; an exemplar of countries who are still committed to people practicing different faiths, to people living very free lifestyles, to international trade and commerce, to accepting of tourists and visitors from around the world. Indonesia is a wonderful example of a country with different faiths, with a large Muslim population who is able to deliver a generally relatively peaceful and successful nation and we want to help them to continue to build on that in the future.

Laura Jayes:  Minister, it wouldn’t have escaped your attention that Duncan Lewis has been in the headlines for a couple of days now – about four days. There seems to be two camps within the Government – those who think that his information and his advice should be heeded and those who think that MPs have every right to air concerns about radical Islam. What camp do you fall into?

Simon Birmingham: [Laughs] Well, I’m not sure there’s much difference actually in the views that essentially of course members of parliament should be free to air their views, should be free to contribute to public debate, and particularly important public debate around matters of national unity, around matters of national security as well. But equally, we should all expect to be informed by the best available evidence and opinions, and if the Head of ASIO wants to speak with individuals to pass on expert knowledge and opinion well that’s something that should be welcomed. I’m sure it is done, I’ve no doubt, in a judicious way. Really, of course, it’s a matter for the Attorney-General and those agencies to explain how it is that they operate and undertake those discussions. But I don’t think there’s anything inconsistent with saying people are free to contribute to debate, to express their views while at the same time receiving expert opinion, advice and information.

Laura Jayes:  Minister, do you think there has been a bit of overreaction to this story about Duncan Lewis making these personal phone calls?

Simon Birmingham: Well, perhaps we’re running into that time of year where the newspapers need to find extra things to write or sensationalise.

Laura Jayes: Okay moving on, I want to look at this story on the front page of the Financial Review this morning. A global deal to abolish agricultural export subsidies by the WTO in Kenya overnight, and it seems this will be really good news for particularly our dairy farmers and perhaps the sugar industry, who often misses out when it comes to some of these free trade agreements.

Simon Birmingham: Great news for Australian agriculture. This is an outcome that in global trade talks, Australia has been seeking since the 1970s to end these types of subsidies on agricultural products, particularly out of the European Union and the United States. So incredibly good news for Australian farmers as they run into Christmas and in some ways a bit of a surprise outcome. 

The Doha round of world trade talks has been going on for many, many years. Many people were still, as they say, in short pants back when these discussions commenced and it’s great to see a positive outcome in this one issue, although admittedly a recognition now that a comprehensive arrangement at the Doha round was trying to seek originally is not going to be realised but we can at least get on through these multi-lateral fora with achieving tangible outcomes for better world trade, for enhanced results in particular for Australia’s highly competitive farmers and agricultural sector and so by eliminating these sorts of subsidies, our farmers can have more confidence that they will be competing on an equal footing with those from around the world in their many export markets.

Laura Jayes: And what about the Productivity Commission report today – the Productivity Commission is expected to hand down its final report looking at penalty rates. We saw in the draft version of this report, a recommendation that penalty rates on a Sunday should be brought in line with those on a Saturday. That’s a pretty sensible suggestion, isn’t it?

Simon Birmingham: Well, a couple of things there. The Productivity Commission report itself is something we promised at the last election that we would have undertaken in analysing Australia’s workplace relations system. It’s been a very comprehensive and thoughtful process. Trade unions have participated in it, as have hundreds of other stakeholders who have made submissions and it will now inform government thinking ahead of the next election, and any recommendations that we choose to take through as policy reforms, we will take to the people at the next election, as we’ve said all along, in relation to penalty rates themselves. They, of course, in terms of individual award arrangements, are set already by the Fair Work Commission. There are various hearings and applications before the Fair Work Commission to consider penalty rate matters and no doubt perhaps this information from the Productivity Commission might feed into some of the evidence before the Fair Work commission in future.

Laura Jayes: Minister, given that the Government did commission this report, as you rightly point out, it would be unwise to ignore the recommendations, so are you confirming that the Government will adopt some of these and take them to the next election to seek a mandate?

Simon Birmingham: I’m confirming absolutely that we will receive the final report and publish it today and we will take the time to look at it and consider it and then if we are going to adopt policies out of it, we’ll be quite transparent in telling the Australian people what those policies are and putting them to the people at the next election.

Laura Jayes: And what do you make of your colleague Christopher Pyne texting a very well-known broadcaster in Adelaide trying to recruit his help to warn Nick Xenophon off running a candidate in his seat of Sturt? The Liberals must be quite worried about Nick Xenophon at the next election.

Simon Birmingham: One of the many wonderful things about Christopher Pyne is that he leaves no stone unturned in relation to any political battle that he’s in, and obviously in looking ahead to the next election I think he had a very sensible view that South Australia would be better served if he and Nick Xenophon were all able to fight for South Australia’s interests without having a fight against one another but also of course that there is this awful aspect to the Xenophon team and candidacy where it’s built around Nick Xenophon the individual but South Australians are now going to be asked to vote for a bunch of people who are not Nick Xenophon and that we really need to scrutinise them because we’ve seen before in relation to these personality-based parties like the Palmer United Party, that quite often they fall apart at the seams once a bit of pressure is applied and I think that’s something that South Australians will need to look and think long and hard about in relation to these candidates.

Laura Jayes: Minister for Education and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham, merry Christmas and thanks for joining us on AM Agenda.

Simon Birmingham: And to you, Laura, and to all of the viewers out there.

Laura Jayes: Thank you so much.

Senator Birmingham’s media contacts:      James Murphy: 0478 333 974

                                                                        Nick Creevey: 0447 644 957

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