Peter Gleeson: You’ve recently obviously been to Indonesia to sign that trade deal, how important. Is that trade deal to this country?
Simon Birmingham: Hi Peter it’s good to be with you and yes I got back from Jakarta this morning. This is a very important trade deal. Indonesia is forecast to grow from currently the 16th largest economy in the world to potentially the fourth largest economy and of course it’s right on our doorstep. So the proximity and the scale of Indonesia are clear reasons why Australia needs to step up in terms of our economic engagement with Indonesia. This trade agreement that we struck as the closer economic partnership is going to provide a range of opportunities for our farmers, our businesses, our service providers and investors to have much closer integration with Indonesia in the future. That can only be a good thing, not only for us economically, but also strategically in terms of the stability and prosperity of our broader region.
Peter Gleeson: Minister worth does it mean for farmers in particular?
Simon Birmingham: Well for farmers, if you are a cattle producer and of course, we know many cattle producers are doing it tough at present, there is significant increase in terms of the tariff free quotas that can be accessed and for both live cattle including breeding stock, as well as for frozen beef products. There is significant growth in terms of grain sector, half a million tonnes of grains that are going to be able to go into feedstock industries. That’s going to help underpin food security in Indonesia but also to open up new markets in Australia. For horticulturalists, those who are growing carrots, potatoes, enormous growth again in terms of the tariff free quotas that they’re going to be able to access. So across a range of different areas of agriculture, clear win win outcomes that are going to lift Indonesia’s food sustainability and capacity, drive down food prices for them, but also provide new market opportunities for Australian farmers.
Peter Gleeson: So Minister if it’s such a win win for Australia and Indonesia, why is Labor opposing it?
Simon Birmingham: Well, it would be nice if we could get a straight answer on it, they haven’t said that they are opposing it. I hope in the end they will not oppose it because, and this strategically, as I said incredibly important, as successive governments for a long time have tried to work hard to strengthen the Australia Indonesia relationship, and it’s something Labor governments have tried to do as well. It would be absolute folly for Bill Shorten and quite reckless and irresponsible if he were to win the next election, to walk away from this agreement or to try to renegotiate this agreement and in doing so, recklessly endanger the benefits that are there for today for Australia and even more reckless would be, to endanger the closeness of the ties and the relationship between Australia and Indonesia.
Peter Gleeson: Simon Birmingham, if in fact a Shorten government is elected and they did oppose this particular arrangement, this deal, how badly would it hurt our relationship with Indonesia?
Simon Birmingham: This has been some seven or eight years in the making in terms of extensive and exhaustive negotiations they were on hold for a number of years, but we managed to get them back on track and get to this point and it would be a real breach of faith in terms of Australia because once can sign a deal we honour it, and we’ve done that too regardless of whether the Government’s changing in Australia or not. When we sign on for an international agreement we get on with it, we honour it, we are a country that sticks to our word and we do that across all of our different international agreements. But in these bilateral trade agreements particularly important to the relationship between the two countries and it’s important to our credibility when we ask other countries to honour the deals they have done with us.
Peter Gleeson: Now Minister, the Prime Minister made a pretty significant economic speech today and he basically compared the policies of the Coalition and Labor with the politics of envy versus enterprise. Can you explain what he’s trying to suggest there?
Simon Birmingham: Well Australia will have a very stark choice in May between the stronger economy that government was created with economic growth amongst the top of the world in terms of developed economies with circumstances where we’ve seen one point two million additional jobs whilst balancing the budget, whilst delivering tax cuts, whilst providing record investment in schools and hospitals. That’s a pretty remarkable achievement and of course securing our borders. In contrast, we will be a weaker economy We all know, anybody would know, you don’t need to have studied economics to know that $200 billion worth of extra taxes in the economy is going to dampen the economy, weaken us. I guess of course that’s money coming out of people’s pockets, that they can no longer spend or invest. In Bill Shorten’s case it’s going to come out of the pockets of retirees, of home owners, and investors of small businesses and these are people who are going to find they’re paying significantly more tax under a Shorten Labor government, and that means they’ll be employing fewer people, spending less money, while the weaker economy is a result of it.
Peter Gleeson: Are you concerned at the exodus that’s taking place, particularly senior Coalition politicians at the moment, I’m talking about your predecessor Steven Ciobo, I’m talking about Christopher Pyne, Julie Bishop, Kelly O’Dwyer. I mean these are key frontbenchers, and there is a perception here whether you like it or not that they are fleeing a sinking ship. I mean are you concerned that you’re losing that wealth of talent leading into the next election?
Simon Birmingham: Every election is an opportunity for renewal. Now Bill Shorten has eight members and senators who are going out the door. I don’t judge their reasons for doing so I assume they’re not going because they think Bill Shorten will lose the election, I assume they’re going because they have personal reasons or because frankly they’ve had long enough in politics. In the case of Christopher Pyne on our side, he’s been there for 26 years, I mean fair suck of the sav, you’re allowed to change job after 26 years in a job without people questioning your motivations.
Peter Gleeson: Alright, final question, this Adani Carmichael Coal mine, its a big issue, not just in Queensland but around the country, are you concerned as Trade Minister that the signal that we are seeing from the Labor Government here in Queensland, certainly Shorten hasn’t come out and clarified this, is that there is a sovereign risk attached to investment from overseas countries. Because we’re now seeing the Indians coming out very strongly and say that the way in which they’ve been treated in relation to this project Is criminal, and you would have to question whether you would invest in Australia right now?
Simon Birmingham: Well the Queensland Government really does not seem to know whether it’s a Arthur or Martha when dealing with these issues. We have Senate laws applied nationally, they do at the state level that ought to be applied consistently, fairly, to any and all investors. Nobody should receive favorable treatment but equally nobody should find that the rules keep changing on them on the way through. I don’t want to prejudge any of the allegations that may or may not be made against the Queensland Government by Adani, that’s a matter for those parties to sort out. But I do know that the rhetoric that comes out of the Labor Party just as you have Bill Shorten saying different things in one part of the country, to another part of the country, even within Queensland you seem to have Queensland state Labor government saying different things in one part of Queensland relative to another part of Queensland and it’s little wonder that that creates confusion amongst investors.
Peter Gleeson: Can you win the next election Simon Birmingham?
Simon Birmingham: Absolutely. There is a lot of time to go between now and the election in May. Australians are going to see a balanced budget brought down and the budget going back to surplus. A strong reminder of what the Howard government achieved and what our government is now managing to achieve, that mirrors that in terms of turning around and major Labor deficit, bringing the Budget back to surplus. But doing it while creating a stronger economy as I said before. Doing it well legislating tax cuts and as Prime Minister Morrison was saying this morning, you’ve got Bill Shorten of wanting to roll back stages 2 and 3 of our income tax cuts. That means many hard working Australians paying more income tax. So it’s a tax on workers, just as he’s got a tax on retirees, just as he has a tax on housing. A contrast between whether Australians want the strength of our economy or the uncertainty or whether they want to (indistinct) uncertainties with Bill Shorten’s extra taxes. I think when it comes to the crunch, I think people will back the interests of themselves, their families, and the nation in terms of having that economic security.
Peter Gleeson: Are you finding on the hustings that the negative gearing policy reforms suggested by Labor as well as the franking credits crackdown, do you think that’s resonating? Do you think people are listening? Do you think that’s actually cutting through?
Simon Birmingham: The retiree tax, absolutely comes out again and again. I think also people are increasingly realising the housing tax and other taxes from Bill Shorten. They don’t understand all of them, of course Labor has done their best to make they’re highly technical but when you boil it down, retirees, housing, investors, small businesses, workers. Everybody gets hit.
Peter Gleeson: Simon Birmingham, thank you so much for joining us today. You just got off the plane from Jakarta, we really appreciate it.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you, my pleasure.