Topics:  Dunkley byelection; Energy policy; Prime Minister of Malaysia visit for ASEAN summit;

02:45PM AEDT
4 March 2024


Tom Connell: Welcome back. A lot of dissection of the Dunkley result after the weekend’s by election. Joining me now is Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham. Thank you for your time. What was your take?


Simon Birmingham: G’day Tom, good to be with you.


Tom Connell: It’s pretty dire for cost of living. Would you call it a bit of a muted swing, given how much things were set up for voters to send a message, as they say?


Simon Birmingham: No, Tom, I think this was a positive and strong outcome. I mean, of course, there is always more work to be done, but it’s pretty clear. No government, first term government has lost a by election in more than 90 years. And the swing that appears to have been achieved with postal votes still coming in and so forth, is more than twice the average that a first term government has faced against us. So, the recovery in the Liberal vote, uh, the size of the swing against a first term government, these are all very encouraging signs. Of course, there is work still to be done and we knew that going into the by election. It was always going to be the case coming out of the by election too, because there’s up to 12 months left to run roughly on this parliamentary terms, and we need to make sure that we are not just seeking to hold the government to account, but as we run up to the election, offering positive alternatives to the Australian people, as we will.


Tom Connell: Lots of different stats on different averages on by elections. I won’t go through them all. I think we’ve said enough about that. But what about when we look at the strategy for the Coalition? This is the suburban side of things, the cities, and that is mainly teal seats, but it includes seats such as Higgins as well. If a voter last time left the Liberal Party, they had voted for the Liberal Party before but voted another way. What reason would bring them back right now to the Liberal Party?


Simon Birmingham: Well Tom, we’re not facing a general election right now. We will face a general election sometime in the next 12 months or so, and we will be presenting compelling reasons. Now, of course, there are some that are already exist, and those reasons go very much to the core of the government’s broken promises and failures. So, Anthony Albanese’s failure to deliver the $275 promised cut to people’s electricity bills and instead overseeing significant growth in those electricity bills, broken promises in relation to superannuation tax or income tax. The range of different areas where the government is letting Australians down and failing, and where we have seen Australia’s household disposable income go backwards by a greater degree than any other developed nation. But we will be outlining very clearly more positive policies. We’ve already announced some in relation to support for home ownership and access to superannuation, support for pensioners to be able to work more and keep more of what they earn. Things that do help different cohorts with addressing some of the cost of living pressures. We’ll have plenty more to say in the run up to that election to give a sharp contrast and what people can absolutely bank on is that when we outline our income tax plans and say, this is what we will be doing, it is what we will do in government. Unlike Anthony Albanese, who has been shown to say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards.


Tom Connell: We’ll find out ultimately what you will be doing. What about on climate policy? Your leader, Peter Dutton, said over the weekend, part of the reason you can win back so-called teal seats is a credible climate policy. Well, a credible climate policy have to include an update on your party’s previous 2030 emissions reduction pledge.


Simon Birmingham: What we’ll have before the next election is clearly greater evidence around how Australia is tracking towards that 2030 commitment. The commitment that is now being made under the Paris Agreement and that is Australia’s commitment, and we’ll have to assess how the country is tracking towards that. My hope will be that Australia is tracking towards meeting that commitment. We were exceeding the commitment the previous government had made and as I’ve said before, it would have made sense given that we were on track to exceed that commitment for us to have updated that commitment prior to the last election. That was a missed opportunity. It didn’t- Australia has now-


Tom Connell: Beyond just sort. Beyond, beyond what was going to happen anyway. Do you think it’s going to need a significant sort of increase in ambition from your party?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Australia now has a target and a commitment that has been made under the Paris Agreement. That is the nation’s starting point and working point. It’s the one that we will have to work against too. But we will have to assess how Australia is tracking towards that. As always, I have high ambitions when it comes to achieving net zero and the desire to do that as quickly as possible, but it’s got to be balanced against the cost to Australian households, businesses and the economy, which is why we’ll be making sure that people also understand the degree of challenge and that we are willing to take difficult decisions. As you can see from-


Tom Connell: What you’re saying, there is the 43% the government under Labor’s committed to would be hard to walk away from. Is that what you’re saying?


Simon Birmingham: The 2030 targets are now Australia’s commitment under the Paris Agreement. And so that is what we will have to assess against. Those assessments will have to be looking at the evidence as to how Australia is tracking how existing policies that we support are tracking. We of course, will need to be taking policies that look longer term than that and particularly look through the whole trajectory out to achieving net zero. There are real questions about whether net zero can be achieved without taking some tough decisions like nuclear energy. That’s what Peter Dutton is alluding to when he talks about having credible policies, taking tough decisions. There is not a simple, easy pathway, and there are some parts of policy that have been seen to be untouchable, like nuclear energy in Australia for a long period of time, that we are going to have to assess if the country is to have a truly credible pathway to net zero and energy security.


Tom Connell: Sorry, sorry to jump in again. Nearly out of time. I need to get this question for you because the Malaysian Prime Minister is in town of course. And so far, the government has said it’s not willing, the Malaysian government, to recommence a search for MH370 Australian families connected to this, saying we should. Should Australia consider its own search, even if the Malaysian government doesn’t want to go ahead with it?


Simon Birmingham: There have been significant efforts made over the last ten years to seek to find MH370 and of course, it’s been a very traumatic period for all of the families involved, those of the Australians, those of the other nationalities, including many Malaysians whose lives were lost in that tragedy. We should be looking to continue to make sure that anything that is credible and gives new hope and new possibility is something that we should back and that we should seek to pursue with our other partners. But it needs to obviously be an effort that gives sufficient new hope and new possibility to deserve that type of backing and hopefully then winning regional backing, including of Malaysia, to be able to pursue those undertakings. And I would be guided by the evidence around that. In terms of those experts who present the case and the structure as to how we can best make sure that new programs might give a greater chance of success, we should absolutely be willing to invest. We should be willing to encourage others to invest, but it’s got to also be a credible pathway.


Tom Connell: Okay. Got to leave it there, Simon Birmingham. Appreciate your time. Thank you.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Tom. My pleasure.