Topics: Budget 2022
Pablo: Minister, firstly thanks so much for speaking with us. You’ve made clear that the cost of living pressures that are going to be alleviated are going to be temporary, they’re going to be targeted – the one off tax offset, the one off payments, the fuel excise. So what happens to struggling Australians when that ends after an election?
Simon Birmingham: We’re responding to events that are happening from the other side of the world but having real impacts around the globe and here in Australia. The oil price spikes that have occurred since Russia’s tragic invasion of Ukraine have meant that petrol prices have soared well above expectations in response to those price shocks. But those price spikes aren’t expected to be with us forever and that’s why these measures are temporary and targeted to help Australians deal with the pressures they’re feeling right now from those higher petrol prices, knowing that there should be a stabilisation of them down the track. And that’s why we’re doing the responsible thing. Ensuring it’s temporary, it’s targeted, doesn’t undermine long term revenue, but it provides relief to people who need it now when they need it.
Pablo: But given how volatile some of those factors have been, is there money in the coffers? Should one off payments more support need to be made in six months’ time?
Simon Birmingham: Well demonstrated from this Budget is that from having a strong economy you can respond to unforeseen circumstances. And we’ve responded in ways where we’ve been able to provide relief at the petrol pump, relief to low and middle income Australians and those receiving age pension and other social safety net payments. And we can do that without undermining the Budget position. In fact, we’re strengthening the Budget position because we’ve got a much stronger economy allowing us to do these sorts of things whilst ensuring our deficit and debt levels are lower than previously projected. So we will respond to future unforeseen circumstances with the same care and consideration as we have with these price shocks, or of course COVID 19 previously, where we made a number of similarly targeted and temporary measures to deal with emergency circumstances.
Pablo: Given the nature of a lot of these payments, how do you expect voters to not look at this as a bribe?
Simon Birmingham: Well, they should see this for the fact it’s a response to temporary shocks from the other side of the world. But it’s only one part of the Budget too. It’s an important part helping people right here, right now. But we have a longer term economic plan that has generated unemployment levels of 4% forecast to go down to 3.75%, 50 year lows in unemployment in Australia. An economy that’s growing more strongly than comparable economies around the world. What we’re doing in our economic plan is building a resilience in Australia for job opportunities for Australians. That shows in the Budget in terms of real wages growth from 1 July onwards, growing at 3.25%, expanding out to 3.5% over the following years. That’s a really positive sign of the strength of our economy and that our plan is working.
Pablo: Spoken obviously a lot about the jobs figures. The forecast with a three in front of it. Treasury is also estimating the return of net overseas migration, a figure of 213,000 by 2023. How critical is migration in that recovery as well as the jobs recovery?
Simon Birmingham: Having reopened the borders, it is crucial that we see the return of normal migration flows and patterns, pre-COVID migration flows and patterns as much as possible. So it is pleasing to see strong positive growth and returns of people to date. The fact that we are able to now calculate that out and to see strong growth, particularly of skilled migrants, but also providing a response for Afghan refugees, providing a response in terms of resettlement options for people from Ukraine. We’re showing an ability to respond to these global crises, but also making sure that we get the skills we need back in Australia to help keep our economy growing.
Pablo: Your Liberal colleague Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has called Scott Morrison a bully who lacks a moral compass. How damaging is that claim and how seriously is the Government taking it?
Simon Birmingham: Look, it’s disappointing that Connie, after 17 years of opportunity to serve in the Australian Parliament, but having lost her pre-selection from a meeting of 500 plus Liberal Party members over the weekend, now wants to lash out. I would urge anybody who’s had the honour to spend 17 years in the Parliament to lead with dignity and to leave in a thoughtful way and to be grateful for the opportunities they had.
Pablo: But isn’t this more than just someone who’s bitter about a pre-selection loss? There’s a pattern here, Minister. A bully, an autocrat, a horrible, horrible person, a complete psychopath, a hypocrite, a liar, menacing and controlling, the list goes on. These are liberal colleagues who have labelled Scott Morrison this, many of whom are women. How damaging is that for his character?
Simon Birmingham: Much was said over previous weeks about various cultural issues inside the Labor Party. I’m not interested in commenting on those and playing personality politics be in the Labor Party or the Liberal Party. We want the next election to be determined on the livelihoods and lives of Australians and the support that we provide to them, the job opportunities for them, the opportunities for young Australians to get ahead and get their first home, the support we provide to senior Australians. These are the matters that really matter to the Australian people and that’s where the focus for the next election should lie.
Pablo: So no reason for voters to think twice about Scott Morrison’s character?
Simon Birmingham: No more than you could argue there are reasons in terms of cultural issues inside the Labor Party or other things that have been aired recently. But I don’t think they are relevant to a debate. That should, for the next election, be about the future lives of Australians, not the petty political arguments of this place from people who have disgruntled sentiments to share.
Pablo: Thank you.