Topic:   Labor putting pressure on the economy; Urgent support needed for Ukraine;

09:20AM AEST
Thursday, 8 June, 2023


Laura Jayes:  Let’s go live to Adelaide now. The Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham joins us. Simon Birmingham, first of all, I want to talk about the economy at the moment and what Ross just said about wages. How much of a problem do you think they are and what should be done?


Simon Birmingham: Well, the problem is the full spectrum that you were just hearing from Ross there. We’ve got a situation where interest rates are now at their highest level since Labor was last in power under the Rudd-Gillard years. We’ve got a situation where economic growth now resembles COVID lockdown periods despite our economy being wide open. And these sorts of pressures are of course putting real strain on Australian households, real strain on Australian businesses. And when Ross Greenwood there was asked about what do you do to drive productivity and he said we’ve got to make it easier to employ people, easier for people to do business. Well, the problem we’ve got is an Albanese Federal Labor Government and increasingly state Labor governments actually making it harder to employ people. The types of industrial relations reforms we’ve seen and that are proposed are actually taking the economy backwards and are going to be a constraint on productivity rather than an enabler of productivity. And that’s a real concern that can only take a very difficult situation and make it much, much worse.


Laura Jayes: Okay. So, if you were back in government, what would you do? And do you admit now that all of that COVID cash spent by the previous treasurer is in part why we’re in this situation now?


Simon Birmingham: Well, the first thing you do is do no harm. And so, you wouldn’t be pursuing the types of industrial relations reforms Labor is and you wouldn’t be putting the constraints on gas and energy markets that Labor is. You’d actually be trying to make it easier for people to employ people, easier for gas to get to market and to keep energy prices down-


Laura Jayes: Sorry to interrupt you, Senator. Sorry. Can I just make one small point there because the RBA Governor commented on this. And look, energy, transport, food are all the things that are driving inflation. They are the essentials. But he also seemed to say yesterday that that the government’s intervention on the energy market, the price caps that you’re talking about, actually do bring the cost down in the short term.


Simon Birmingham: Problem, Laura, that we’ve indicated there is that those types of caps might have, might have some short term effect, but the way in which they’ve been constructed drives investment away, coupled with the types of policies the government’s put in place that stymie gas coming to market, will create more medium and longer term problems that exacerbate the length of energy price crises, of energy shortages and difficulties. And that’s why when it’s come to the PRRT reforms, the tax reforms that were outlined in the recent budget, we’ve said we’ll play a constructive role. But in return we want the government to come to the table and have a look at where they can actually make changes to the policies that they’ve put in place that constrain gas coming to market and actually make it easier for those projects to get to the market because that’s going to help Australia through the medium to long term and not have these problems last longer and therefore put us in a situation where inflation and energy costs are higher for longer than they would otherwise need to be. And so, there are key things that that we want to ensure we play a constructive role in, in trying to get the government to see that some of their policy settings are making things worse and that if we can drive them to change that, then hopefully they can create a better situation in those energy markets and be one area that helps. But the government definitely needs to rethink its industrial relations agenda. Listen to the cries that are coming from Australian businesses big and small at present about the proposed additional reforms. There are enough concerns about last year’s reforms and we’re starting to see indeed through those low growth rates, these low productivity rates, the alarm bells ringing because of that, and they cannot go down a path where further IR reforms make this even worse and harder in the future.


Laura Jayes: Okay. One final thing. In your portfolio, you’re talking and you are pushing the government to do more to help Ukraine. What more do you want the Albanese Government to do?


Simon Birmingham: LJ, we’ve tried to ensure we keep as much bipartisanship here in support of Ukraine as possible, but it’s reached a point where it’s frankly embarrassing to see the Ukrainian Government having to run public campaigns appealing for more military assistance from Australia.

The level of frustration that we’re hearing from the Australian Ukrainian community and elsewhere is very, very real. And so, we want the Albanese Government urgently to release a new and comprehensive package of support, humanitarian assistance of which there’s been no additional commitment since the Labor Government was elected. The last humanitarian support was under the Morrison Government. Additional military assistance and providing detailed responses to the now public requests that the Ukrainian Government has made for additional Hawkeis, for additional military capabilities and a range of other areas, making sure that the government does this and does it as urgently as possible. Not wait until Anthony Albanese has a photo op opportunity at the NATO Leaders’ Summit. Actually, make the commitments now to a friend in need, a country in need, a country at war who deserves to ensure that they get the type of support from Australia that they were 12 months ago and the type of support that is commensurate with what we’re still seeing so many of our partner countries deliver from elsewhere around the world.


Laura Jayes: Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, LJ. My pleasure.