Kieran Gilbert: And with me now Cabinet Minister for Education, Senator Birmingham. Senator Birmingham it looks like there are some like Sinodinos in the Government who still very much supportive of an increase in the GST. The Prime Minister though pretty much shelving the idea according to most people’s analysis of his comments yesterday? 

Simon Birmingham: Well Kieran what I think the Prime Minister did yesterday was make it very clear to Australians that the objective that is driving the Turnbull Government is economic growth, and how it is that we can look at restructuring the tax system in a way that might best drive economic growth and create jobs in the future. Just the same as we’re driving an innovation reform agenda, just the same as we’re looking at competition policy, just the same as we want to stamp out workplace corruption. All of those matters are matters of trying to get the growth and a lift in the economy, and tax reform is looked at entirely through that prism.

Kieran Gilbert: Is the GST dead in terms of the prospect of it being increased to 15 per cent, is that idea dead now?

Simon Birmingham: Malcolm Turnbull was just being incredibly open with people yesterday that at present he is yet to be convinced that any of the models and re-arrangements or re-alignments of tax that he’s been shown would necessarily get that lift in economic growth through a version that included increasing the GST. Now that’s not to say as work continues that could not ultimately be the case, but he’s been very open about not being convinced at this stage and of course the work continues. The thing the Australian people should be confident of is that the only type of tax reform the Turnbull Government will embark upon is tax reform that lifts economic growth and that we will give the people a say on that tax reform at the next election. 

Kieran Gilbert: It’s hard to see him backtracking though from that language where he says he’s yet to be convinced or not convinced. As Paul Kelly writes in The Australian today you can see Labor using that in any ad campaign if he did change his mind.

Simon Birmingham: Well Malcolm has said from the time he became prime minister that he wanted to have a mature discussion about tax reform and that’s exactly what we’ve been engaging in. We haven’t played rule in, rule out games, he’s been open about what it is, that the modelling and concerns weighing on his mind might be, and in the end it’s up to the Labor Party if they want to play silly scare tactics, we will be driven by what’s in the best interest of the nation. We’ll be driven by the evidence of what will best lift economic growth. We know that Australia needs to be ever more competitive…

Kieran Gilbert: [Interrupts] But how does negative gearing fit into that? If you want to look at economic growth, if you rein in negative gearing wouldn’t that have a softening impact on the property market?

Simon Birmingham: Kieran, it is all about of course how that might impact on other changes to the tax system. So of course negative gearing as it is currently structured does create an incentive for investment in residential housing by investors. If you change that mix and perhaps reduce company taxes or the mix of other company taxes in some way you might create a different incentive for investment in areas that created other forms of job growth and activity into the future. So these are the types of issues that the Prime Minister and Treasurer and the economic team are weighing up and ultimately the Cabinet will determine, and ultimately [indistinct]…

Kieran Gilbert: [Interrupts] But that would only at the upper end of the more wealthy investor? Those who have three or four or five properties in negative gearing.

Simon Birmingham: Kieran that would be to start to get into a ruling in or out or speculating about what could be in or out. What’s driving us is economic growth and the Australian people will get to have their say at the next election. When we present what will be a comprehensive package that won’t just be about tax reform…

Kieran Gilbert: The Prime Minister’s not baulking? He’s not baulking under the pressure here?

Simon Birmingham: Absolutely not. I mean to channel Paul Keating Labor’s attacks on a GST campaign have been a bit like being flogged if you pardon the pun, with a warm lettuce. So, no, we’re focused on the objective and the objective’s been the same all along; growing the economy, creating more jobs in the future. Tax reform is one part of that mix sitting alongside innovation, competition policy, union corruption, we want to address all of those and that will be a very comprehensive package for the Australian people [indistinct].

Kieran Gilbert: [Interrupts] My final question to you is about Stuart Robert the Minister for Human Services. Apparently he went to Beijing in a private capacity but there he was signing at a signing deal with a mining mate of his and members of the Communist Party. Is that appropriate?

Simon Birmingham: Kieran I’ve only seen the news reports this morning. I understand that this alleges this trip occurred in August of 2014, so quite some time ago, and that it was undertaken in a private capacity. Now that’s all that I’m aware of at this stage.

Kieran Gilbert: Okay. So no further comment in terms of whether it would be appropriate if it was done with members of the Communist Party in [indistinct]?

Simon Birmingham: I’m sure Mr Robert will have something to say in terms of making sure that it is clearly understood that it was a private capacity in the way in which that occurred.

Kieran Gilbert: Alright, Senator Birmingham, thanks for your time.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you Kieran.
Senator Birmingham’s media contact:                  James Murphy 0478 333 974
                                                                                   Nick Creevey 0447 644 957
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