Topics: Liberal Party; Election result; Gas crisis
Laura Jayes: Thanks so much for your time. Senator, we haven’t spoken to you since the election. We’ve seen the intervening two weeks with a lot of soul searching. What are your observations of the election result?
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, LJ. It’s good to. Good to be back with you. The result obviously, was was one in which Labor has formed government, but they’ve formed it with one of the weakest mandates in Australian history. Fewer than one in three Australians voted for the Labor Party and so I think there were clear messages for both major parties in the sense that this is not a strong endorsement of Labor’s policies. But obviously we lost a lot of seats across different areas and we have to understand the reasons why voters deserted us, the type of voters who deserted us and worked very hard to make sure that we can regain the trust of those voters. And I think there are clear messages for us there in terms of how we address some of those concerns in relation to how we handle issues of climate change, for example, and the important policy areas there. We took some we did some good things as a government,. But clearly, particularly the rhetoric and the debates that occurred internally at different times created perceptions in the community that were very unhelpful. And I think messages about ambition there are ones we have to think closely about. There are issues around issues of equality and perceptions, again, created around where the party stood that are unhelpful and we need to make sure we have a very strong range of particularly skilled women coming forward as candidates in the future to better reflect the diversity of Australia within our own ranks. No doubt there are other lessons for us to learn too, but there’s also a very strong track record as a government of having come through some of the most troubled times, effectively got unemployment down to a 48 year low. These are things that we should be proud of, and we should make sure that those accomplishments are well remembered, well sold too.
Laura Jayes: You’re leading voter, at some leading conservatives of using this election result to say, you know, the problem was that the Liberal Party became Labor lite, quote unquote, and that they need to have more product differentiation with the left. What do you say to that?
Simon Birmingham: Parties in government always have to fight over the centre in countries like Australia. That is precisely where we need to keep the battle as a party. We need to look closely at those seats and the voters within those seats that we lost. Now I don’t think we lost seats like Bennelong to the Labor Party or Higgins to the Labor Party and or Ryan to the Greens or Boothby to the Labor Party. Before you even deal with any of the seats lost to the independents because we were too far to the right. I think if anything, the issues that caused us to lose votes in those communities were the types of issues that I was speaking of before. Perceptions around those matters of climate change and around the scale of ambition or otherwise, that we had perceptions around issues of equality and treatment of women, issues that we need to make sure that we address thoroughly as a party and do so in ways that demonstrate we have heard that message and project a modern, future oriented image of the Liberal Party of the future, one which holds on firmly to our core equities in terms of strong economic management. The things that Australians I think did trust us on. I think in many ways there are two key things that Australians think about when they go to vote or voters right around the world think about. One is whether or not a party is in touch with their values and beliefs. The other is who is most capable and competent to govern. I think at the recent election we probably lost on the first question, but probably still won on the second question, which is why you saw the Labor Party struggle with their vote and have such a low vote that there were doubts about their competence, their capabilities, but that we had lost in parts of Australia that sense as to whether we were in touch and shared their values and concerns.
Laura Jayes: Is there a sense of reflection or responsibility from you in terms of not you personally, but the moderate faction? Were you too quiet? Were you not bolshy enough? Now that you’re in opposition, do you think you need to have a louder voice?
Simon Birmingham: Laura said on election night, I take my share of the responsibility and I think all of us in the leadership team in particular have to do that. Of course, Scott has acknowledged his share. Many things that he can and should be proud of having achieved and led the nation through. And again, I underscore that we cannot, should not, must not turn away from our economic successes as a government, our national security and foreign policy successes in government. These are all critical things that they need to go for, make sure we sell, as well as reminding Australians continuously of the fact that we did deliver on those essential services in fully funding NDIS and the building of Medicare and the core things that were done. But yes, we have to make sure that within the Liberal Party moving forward and the Coalition moving forward. We do it, as Peter has said, as Liberals not to, not particularly as moderates or as conservatives, but as Liberals within that broad church, as John Howard famously has described us for a long time now, and making sure we do it true to the Menzies tradition that we are appealing to small business owners, to the professionals, to working women and men of Australia in ways that demonstrate to them that we are looking after the bread and butter issues of concern to them job security, housing security, keeping taxes as low as possible. But also we are mindful of the other concerns they have for the future in those areas of climate change and in that continuing creation of a more equal society.
Laura Jayes: You have left this Labor government. It seems a bit of an energy mess. Look at the gas crisis at the moment. What has caused that?
Simon Birmingham: Laura, I think if you look at what I said when I was asked many times about different matters of energy policy during the course of the election campaign, I highlighted the huge complexity that we were facing. As right around the world, economies were being battered in terms of energy markets by the events caused, some of them by COVID, some of them by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We were open and clear that there weren’t easy solutions to the global challenges Australia was facing, but that Australia was withstanding those challenges better than many other countries. The Labor Party, through the campaign, sought to pretend that there were easy answers, that they had policies that would quickly bring down power prices. Now what’s clearly being demonstrated now is that there aren’t easy answers and that that whatever Labor’s shallow pool of policies they took to the campaign were, they’re not about to provide any sort of magic wand solutions to the type of global challenges that Australia is not immune from. But of course careful management is required through these issues and also an eye not just to the short term pressures that are here, but to the medium and longer term factors. One of the things you know, that we sought to do continuously as a government was to try to achieve a one stop approach across Australia to environmental approvals, to making sure that where new gas facilities and explorations were trying to come to market, they weren’t held up through years and years of getting through state hurdles and Commonwealth hurdles, but that we can have more efficient processes for that. Labor opposed that throughout our time in government, but I think they need to give a long, hard look for how it is they’re going to ensure that those sorts of reforms can help to achieve the type of supply that is necessary to give Australia the best ability to do what we do so well in supplying gas to the world and being a big exporting nation, but also having sufficient supplies as well to give confidence to our domestic supply in addition.
Laura Jayes: Senator Birmingham, thanks so much for your time, as always. We’ll leave it there. We’ll speak to you next week.