SPENCE DENNY: … there is a lot of interest in the outcome of the vote for the Senate. Much of the Coalition’s policy really does hinge on control of the Upper House and, wow, it is quite an extraordinary situation that there are so many candidates this year that the Electoral Commission is actually issuing a magnifying glass so you can read what’s going on. Senator Simon Birmingham is one of those candidates – number two on the ticket for the Liberal Party – and joins us right now. Hello, Senator Simon Birmingham.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Spence. Good morning to your listeners.
SPENCE DENNY: So, I guess a couple of the key ones that are going to require Senate approval are the proposal to repeal the carbon tax and we’ve already heard that the Prime Minister is suggesting that he wouldn’t be afraid to call a double a dissolution and that you wouldn’t… the community’d be thrilled with that and the other one is Paid Parental Leave. Has the… and, look, early in the campaign, Senator, Nick Minchin said he was doubtful Paid Parental Leave would get through because of a lack of control in the Upper House but the Greens are moving a little on that, aren’t they?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the Greens have had a little to say on that but, Spence, it’s important overall for good government that we have a Senate that is going to support getting Australia back on track and delivery of the Coalition’s plan, if we’re elected, to get the economy on track; to grow jobs again; yes, to get rid of the carbon tax and the mining tax; to stop the implementation of Labor’s fringe benefits tax increase; to ensure that we strip $1 billion worth of ‘red tape’ out of the economy; that we keep the tax increases and pension increases associated with the carbon tax without having a carbon tax. There’s a lot of things that we want to get on and do as part of our plan to ease the cost of living, to restore the economy again, and we need, indeed, a cooperative, or as cooperative as possible, Senate to be able to do that and so my message to all South Australians as they go about their voting on Saturday is, if they’re supporting a change of government, please make sure you also support that change in the Senate by voting Liberal.
SPENCE DENNY: Regardless… you’ve got your plug in… regardless of the outcome of the vote on the weekend, the new Senate doesn’t actually kick in until July 1 next year, so it’s… regardless, it’s going to be a reasonably hostile environment for some time, isn’t it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, absolutely, to the extent that Labor and the Greens currently control the Senate and they will continue to dominate the Senate right through until at least 30 June next year and there’s a chance they may continue to control the Senate thereafter and if that’s the case it will be incumbent upon those parties to think about what’s good for Australia in cooperating if there is a new Government in the Lower House and we think that the Labor Party should, and I’m pretty confident they will, take a long hard look at the carbon tax. If they’ve lost on Saturday, the carbon tax will have played a very big role in that because of its destructive effect on the economy and its impact on the cost of living and so we would think the Labor Party would be wise to take a second look at their support for a carbon tax and that they probably will, should the Coalition win on the weekend, whatever Kevin Rudd or anybody else may say today, there’s certainly divisions in the Labor Party on what they might do afterwards and, hopefully, they’ll recognise that a new government would have a clear mandate to get rid of the carbon tax
SPENCE DENNY: What is internal polling suggesting about the effect of some of these minor candidates for the Senate – I mean, 529 candidates in the race for half of the Senate and a lot of those aren’t going to get a lot.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Spence, people are already scared enough. Let’s not scare South Australians too much about their Senate ballot papers. There’s only 73 in SA, at least.
SPENCE DENNY: There’s 529 nationwide, though…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s right and that’s…
SPENCE DENNY: … and we’re talking about, you know, the way in which the Senate is going to function.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Absolutely and, look, I… there is a real risk out of the micro parties and independents and others and Antony Green, of course the ABC’s election commentator, has been quite scathing about the types of preference deals from minor parties and independents who are completely ideologically opposed to one another but who go and do these cross-preference deals between each other to try to give any of them the best chance of winning, so you have completely ridiculous situations where if you vote Green in South Australia on Saturday you could help elect the Climate Change Sceptics; if you vote for Nick Xenophon on Saturday you could help elect Greens. You know, in the end, people need to think very carefully if they’re contemplating voting for a minor party and make sure that they have confidence of where their vote is going and, if they don’t have that confidence, then really I’d urge them, whether it’s Labor or Liberal, to stick with the major parties where at least they know who they’re voting for and where their vote will land.
SPENCE DENNY: I note with interest that you’ve announced some help with solar in northern suburbs overnight yet at the same time part of what you’re hoping to cut costs with, that would require Senate approval, is clean technology and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, so you’re trying to save money on that particular direction and at the same time announcing money for solar initiatives in the northern suburbs.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Spence, there’s a real difference in the approaches here. The program’s we’re cutting are programs that either go towards funding activities that are seen as non-commercially viable and therefore wouldn’t attract any sort of commercial funding – and that’s what the Clean Energy Finance Corporation that Labor set up with the Greens does – or they’re just subsidising, in many ways, big business activities. The solar programs we’re supporting, and the ones I’ve announced for the Salisbury and Elizabeth [Playford] council areas this morning… they’re about supporting local community groups so, by putting solar PV [photovoltaic] systems on the rooves of local community groups, sporting clubs, community organisations in those suburbs around Salisbury and Elizabeth, we’ll create the situation where they can do their bit for the environment and it has an environmental benefit but it also reduces the costs for those community groups so it’s a real targeting of assistance to those who can’t really afford the increased electricity prices, but getting an environmental dividend at the same time so our policies in all of these areas are really focused on win-win outcomes, in this case a win for the environment and a win for the communities around Elizabeth and Salisbury.
SPENCE DENNY: 14 past 9 is the time. We might just take a quick call if we can. Senator Simon Birmingham is with us…
SPENCE DENNY: Andrew from Norwood. Hello, Andrew.
CALLER, ANDREW: Yeah, good morning, Spence. How are you?
SPENCE DENNY: Good, thank you.
CALLER, ANDREW: That’s good. I have a question for the Senator. This morning, Tony Abbott was interviewed by Sabra Lane and, in relation to the Paid Parental [Leave] scheme, Mr Abbott made the point that he’s only introducing a scheme that allows people in the private sector to get the benefits that someone in the federal public service would and Sabra Lane didn’t challenge him on that point, so I infer that that’s correct so, if the Coalition is going to line up their policy to the benefit that public servants get, why don’t they line up the superannuation benefits that politicians get, and the automatic wage rises that politicians get, to the private sector?
SPENCE DENNY: Senator Simon Birmingham.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, thanks for the question and I’m part of the vintage of politicians elected since 2004 who get superannuation paid into a superannuation fund of my choice, the same as any other employee in the population does. There was no pension for politicians like me or any other new politician elected since 2004. There’s no guarantees about any of those things. We just get super like the rest of the population.
SPENCE DENNY: Okay, so you’re saying that yours is no better than anybody else.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Mine is like any other public servant, so politicians are treated like public servants nowadays, in terms of their super, and there’s no pension at all.
SPENCE DENNY:What about…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … same as yours, Spence, I expect.
SPENCE DENNY: … okay, and I don’t deny that mine is a good one… that’s irrelevant… and what about the automatic pay rises Andrew mentioned?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, it’s not an automatic pay rise for politicians. It goes through a process, again…
SPENCE DENNY: Well, you vote on your own pay rise, don’t you?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: No, no, not at all. We don’t vote on our pay rise at all, Spence, so politicians’ pay is determined by the Remuneration Tribunal that also determines judges’ pay, public servants’ pay – they set all of those salaries separate from politicians, so that’s all been taken out of the hands of politicians and the super was fixed up by John Howard back in 2004. Yep, there’s a legacy scheme for people elected prior to then, but that goes back way back to people elected pre-2004. The majority of the Parliament nowadays does not get a pension.
SPENCE DENNY: Senator Simon Birmingham, thank you for your time.