Kieran Gilbert: Joining me now this morning in the Canberra studio to discuss this and the other issues of the day, the Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Minister thanks for our time, now we’re just a few months out from the poll, it’s been said that the published polls don’t reflect the internal polling. I don’t expect you to divulge any of that but still it’s a worry it’s very, very close right now.
Simon Birmingham: Well good morning Kieran, look, every Australian election is determined in a very narrow range, every Australian election is a hard fought affair and a close battle. Now I fully expect this one will be as well but in the end I am confident that Australian people will determine the election on the basis of who is best placed to help Australia’s economy transition from the mining boom to one that is more diverse, better able to take advantage of the opportunities around the world and that they will see the a Turnbull Government led by Malcolm Turnbull has the capabilities to see that, that we will not of course be following Labor’s trajectory of putting $100 billion of new taxes on the Australian economy because that would hurt jobs and growth. We will keep spending under control, we will work hard to reduce taxes wherever possible, we will drive efficiency and opportunity in the economy which ultimately is what the sittings of Parliament this week are all about.
Kieran Gilbert: Yeah and we’ll get to those in just a moment but first of all, in terms of the polling, does it- is there some encouragement in this that despite the fall in various areas that the Prime Minister still seen as competent by a clear majority of people and he’s still got that overwhelming lead over Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister in both the major surveys. Is that encouraging to you?
Simon Birmingham: Malcolm Turnbull’s capabilities in economic management, in driving reform, in productivity enhancing measures for the economy are critical leadership traits and people I’m confident running up the election will contrast Malcolm’s capacity in transforming and transitioning our economy with Bill Shorten’s and what they will see is a leader who instinctively understands that you need to keep taxes as low as you reasonably can, keep spending under control, be open and engaging with the rest of the world, versus Mr Shorten who has railed against free trade agreements, is proposing $100 billion in additional new taxes and stands in the way of productivity enhancing measures like our reforms in the building and construction industry or in relation to the [indistinct].
Kieran Gilbert: When you talk about spending restraint, the Newspoll today shows a majority of people think that that should be the Government’s main priority to get government’s spending reigned in. Is that the Government’s priority heading into 3 May?
Simon Birmingham: Spending restraint absolutely remains a priority for this government. Now we won’t impose any shocks on the Australian economy in terms of the way in which we go about spending constraint but it is important that we get the nation’s budget back under control. This is proving to be a long and challenging and difficult task. We still have a budget deficit this year of some $36 billion as we try to rectify to the mess we inherited from the Rudd and Gillard years and the last thing the nation can afford at present are the types of high spending, high taxing policies of the Opposition.
Kieran Gilbert: Do you hope that the 3 May Budget will prove a turning point, that you say that people see Turnbull as competent economically and that’s fine but without detail, it’s hard for people to make judgments and it looks like their expectations have not been met thus far, are you hoping that the May Budget will [indistinct] turning point?
Simon Birmingham: It’s a- there’s a level of frustration where everybody wants to know well what are the future tax reform plans, what are the plans in other portfolio areas, all of which will be appropriately detailed in the context of the Budget and then of course further details in other areas coming during the election campaign. That’s all the normal course of events and the tax reform details will be released on 3 May in the Budget as is the normal course of events. The Labor Opposition can run their campaigns they’ve been doing over the last couple of months, we’ve been getting about, solidly, calmly and thoughtfully…
Kieran Gilbert: But it’s hurt Mr Turnbull, hasn’t it, this state of limbo right now?
Simon Birmingham: There were very high expectation and in the end we still have to go through the proper processes of government. That’s what we’ve been doing but I have no doubt that Malcolm’s capabilities and economic leadership will ultimately be the defining matter in this election.
Kieran Gilbert: Will there be a higher education policy as well, in the coming months? Because at the moment we don’t know where the Government stands on your area, of higher education particularly.
Simon Birmingham: And I’m certainly continuing to consult in relation to higher education policies and we’ll have much more to say about that I’m sure.
Kieran Gilbert: And so there will be a policy before the election? Some clarity on that?
Simon Birmingham: Absolutely Kieran.
Kieran Gilbert: And in terms of the Building and Construction Commission, you know your- the fellow Senate is better than most, is there any prospect that this gets through this week or are we heading inevitably to a 2 July election?
Simon Birmingham: There’s prospect this gets through and I hope that it does get through because we’re serious about achieving this reform. But in the end we’ve seen through the course of the last couple of years that the Australian Senate has been highly dysfunctional on many occasions. Even when it last sat we had the farce of the overnight sitting, cross bench senators running around in pyjamas filibustering debates…
Kieran Gilbert: But why do you think it’s a prospect, is filibustering the cross bench it sounds that at least five of them are not budging at all.
Simon Birmingham: I don’t think that’s the case. There’s certainly movement in the ranks of a number of them. Now ultimately they’ve voted against it before. They may choose to vote against it this measure again. Of course this is a reform to part of the economy that supports more than one million Australian jobs, our third largest employer sector and it’s critical when we see the number of days lost to industrial disputation, it’s critical when we see the extent to which union officials have been involved in illegal activities and are facing criminal charges in this sector that we actually do get this reform in place so that a huge part of our economy operates in a manner where employers, investors and employees can have confidence to work and I hope that the cross bench senators see sense and I hope that they, the Labor Party and the Greens engage properly and thoughtfully in this debate rather than the type of stunts and tactics we’ve seen in the Senate all too often this year [indistinct].
Kieran Gilbert: Minister of Education, Mr Birmingham I appreciate your time. Thank you.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks Kieran.