Topic:  UKFTA comes into force; Economic outlook; Coalition; Voice to Parliament; 

09:45AM AEST
Wednesday, 31 May 2023


Laura Jayes:  Joining me live now is the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Birmingham, also from Adelaide. I called it a town, but it’s a beautiful city. Who would you be going for if you were in Adelaide tonight?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Adelaide’s good neutral territory for the State of Origin, no doubt does events like none other. But look, you know, I like to do a bit of sparring with my leader sometimes, so why don’t I say come on the blues? So Dutts and I have got something to argy-bargy over.


Laura Jayes: That’s a great idea, I love that. Well, let’s talk free trade. We’ve now seen this something you started. Now it’s been completed. I mean, we always talk about free trade agreements as being, you know, good for everyone. But have we got the better end of the deal here?


Simon Birmingham: Well, there’s great opportunity for Australia, no doubt about that. We used to have the UK as a top ten trading partner before they entered the EU and their economic and trade circumstances changed dramatically. And at that stage they then had free trade with Europe and high tariffs and quotas in place in terms of arrangements with Australia. That’s now changed and this is a good deal and a great opportunity for Australia to surge back in having the UK as one of our larger trading partners and building that up. And this is one of the last two trade deals signed off under the Coalition. The India and UK deals which together with the Asian ones, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and others drove Australia’s trade performance from one where only around 27% of our trade entered other markets under preferential terms. Now close to 90% of Australian trade enters other markets under preferential terms. It’s a big legacy achievement of the Coalition.


Laura Jayes: Yeah, it’s great news indeed, and this is one area where we often have bipartisanship, but it’s cold comfort at the moment, isn’t it? Just look at the economic circumstances. The cost of living is hurting and the Treasury secretary yesterday said basically it’s all downhill from here. We could be entering recession territory. We’ve got the RBA governor before Senate estimates this morning saying productivity is low. Good governments are born out of strong oppositions. So, I ask you in that context of what you’re doing at the moment.


Simon Birmingham: Well, Laura, we’ve been very clear in terms of trying to hold the government to account around their budget and the framing they’ve taken as to whether it is making a bad problem worse or whether they are actually tackling it. And I think what we can see from the analysis following the budget is that the Reserve Bank is being left to do all of the heavy lifting, that indeed the Governor is appearing today before Senate Estimates. He’s admitting very clearly that he has to do the hard yards in terms of tackling and slaying the inflation beast and the Reserve Bank is continuing to do that through interest rates. But elsewhere, analysts have said at best the Albanese Government’s budget is neutral. Many have said it was expansionary, none have said that it actually does anything to help reduce inflation to actually ensure that fiscal policy works in tandem with monetary policy rather than against it.


Laura Jayes: It’s convenient though, to ignore that LMITO ended and that was worth about $44 billion, I think over the forward estimates and the new measures a little bit less than that. So, there is, you know, on that base level, less money going into welfare. So is it what are you talking about, the structural spends here?


Simon Birmingham: Well, we do see big structural spends now being baked in over the years ahead. And their structural spends that are being baked in areas where, of course, many Australians. Yes, are feeling it tough and doing it tough, but many more don’t receive any support out of this budget. And everyone, whether you are somebody receiving a small bit of support from the government or the many people who miss out will all face the pressure of inflation being higher for longer. And that’s the consequence of a government running a more expansionary policy that is running counter to where the Reserve Bank is trying to push things.


Laura Jayes: The Opposition doesn’t seem to be cutting through at the moment. I mean, we had Angus Taylor in the House yesterday misquote inflation figures and this was apparently, according to our political editor Andrew Clennell, after a leak out of shadow cabinet, after he’s essentially reprimanded that his fellow shadow cabinet ministers for not finding savings and essentially not doing their job. What’s going on at the moment?


Simon Birmingham: Well, everybody can have a slip of a tongue, and that happens in this building almost every day from somewhere across all sides of politics. We have sought to have a very consistent approach in terms of the budget and response to that as I just outlined before. Of course, we’re going to have discussions around our shadow cabinet table about savings and the policies that we take to the next election in 18 months to two years.


Laura Jayes: Within the Coalition, or is that just being directed from Angus Taylor to the rest of his colleagues?


Simon Birmingham: There’s not frustration. There’s a big, hard task to be done. And it’s a work in progress. There were lessons to be learnt out of the last election. Opposition is never easy and our task is to ensure that we take compelling, credible policies to the next election. Still some 18 months to two years away, with those policies fully costed-


Laura Jayes: So when will you formulate those?


Simon Birmingham:  They are being formulated and that’s an ongoing process. More will ultimately be formulated than you actually take to an election because you want to make sure you’ve got options to assess as you go into that campaign to suit the economic circumstances of the time.


Laura Jayes: On assessment at the moment-


Simon Birmingham: We don’t know for sure what Australia and the world will look like in 18 months time.


Laura Jayes: Do you think you’re the strongest opposition at the moment that you could be?


Simon Birmingham: Laura, we are absolutely giving it our all and yes, I think we are a united team. I think we are focused in terms of the different messages that are being pursued. But there’s a big, big task and there’s more to be done. There’s always more to be done when you’re in opposition to get you back onto the government benches. And our task is a huge one after the last election and I don’t underestimate that at all.


Laura Jayes: We’ve got some breaking news from the House, Senator. The Indigenous voice bill has just passed the Lower House. You would be happy to see that. Have you got any message for your colleagues about how they should move forward in this debate now over the next couple of months? Being careful to make yes, their points, but also how to do that in a way that doesn’t divide us.


Simon Birmingham: So the bill will come to the Senate in the next parliamentary sitting fortnight and it will pass through the Senate. We’ve been clear that the Coalition wants to see this bill passed. The Liberal Party is being clear we will give the support to the Government for it to pass so Australians get to have their say. And your vote, my vote. Anthony Albanese’s vote, Peter Dutton’s or anyone else. They’re all worth exactly the same value.


Laura Jayes: You’re saying is you don’t matter so much in all of this?


Simon Birmingham: One vote, one value right across the whole country. Engaging with Australians, I would urge everybody to ensure we focus respectfully on the facts that this is a debate where I don’t want to see reconciliation take a backward step because of this debate. I want to ensure it’s one that is had as respectfully as possible.


Laura Jayes: Senator, thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, LJ. My pleasure.