Topics: Intergenerational Report; Referendum ballot paper; Voice to Parliament;

10:40AM AEST
Friday, 25 August 2023


Gabriella Power: Welcome back to I Am Agenda. Joining us live now is Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham. Simon Birmingham thank you for your time. First off, can I get your reaction to the intergenerational report that was handed down yesterday?

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, good to be with you. Well, a few things on that. Firstly, it’s a little bit of a mystery as to why the Treasurer and the Albanese Government felt the need to bring this forward three years. We get the intergenerational reports every five years to provide a serious update. This one hasn’t really told us too many things that we didn’t already know. But what it does reinforce is that there are real risks in terms of this government, which is a government that is reregulating significant parts of the Australian economy. Its biggest economic reform is actually the reregulation of the industrial relations system for putting in place things that will drive productivity backwards, not forwards in terms of their IR reforms. It’s a government that seems to have endless reviews out there and has driven increases in government spending at a time when we should be seeing decreases occurring. And it’s a government that hasn’t out of any of those reviews or processes to date, given any clear direction as to how it is going to tackle the particularly big areas of spending growth in the NDIS or aged care, notwithstanding the fact that in two Budget reply speeches now Peter Dutton has been very clear that he is willing to work cooperatively and we as a Coalition and an Opposition are willing to work cooperatively with the Government to implement what could be difficult reforms to contain spending in those areas.

Gabriella Power: What do you make of this tick and cross issue in the Voice to Parliament referendum? Are you concerned that ticks will be counted as a yes vote and no and crosses rather will be counted as invalid?

Simon Birmingham: It does concern me. I would urge the Electoral Commission to ensure that it thinks through this in ways that uphold the confidence in the fairness and the integrity of the process overall. That’s ultimately what this is about. The Australian Electoral Commission and Australia’s electoral system overall is one of the best regarded in the world. But it is this type of little thing that will have people potentially all the way through to polling day concerned about the integrity of the process, I would hope that the Special Minister of State is engaging with the Electoral Commission, urging them to look at a process that ensures every Australian is confident that votes will be counted, counted fairly and counted in a way that accurately reflects the will of the nation.

Gabriella Power: Labor says the Opposition is just trying to muddy the waters here. What’s your reaction to that?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I don’t think Labour should be seeking to respond in ways that turn this into a partisan contest, regardless of people’s position on the Voice. I would hope that everybody wants a situation where all Australians are confident in the integrity of the outcome, the integrity of the count and the process applied by the AEC and in the end in a ballot paper, if it is to be one that asks people to write yes or no, then they’re pretty clear instructions that are being applied and to get into a debate about well, we will recognise a tick but not a cross is one that really does undermine that confidence. We’re seeing that from the debate that’s been sparked and I’m surprised that the AEC, who do a very sound job in running an electoral system in Australia of the highest integrity. I’m surprised they didn’t pre-empt this concern and find a clearer pathway through it. There’s still time for them to do so and I hope that that is what they do.

Gabriella Power: Your state of South Australia could well be the swing state in this referendum. Which way do you think it’s going to go?

Simon Birmingham: Well, as I’ve said for a long time, I didn’t wish to see the country put on a path to have a referendum put that fails. I’ve been disappointed in a number of the ways in which the government has handled this and indeed the discussion we were just having and perhaps an approach from the government where they seem to be burying their heads in the sand or seeking to make it a partisan argument about the way the referendum is conducted is just another example of mishandling of this referendum. And it’s that mishandling of the issues of the referendum that I think has eroded public support significantly. Its mishandling of the question that’s been put and overreach in terms of the nature of the reforms that has, I think, hurt degrees of public support and that appears to be putting a state like SA and potentially the national vote really in doubt for the Government.

Gabriella Power: Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham, we have to leave it there. Thank you so much for your time.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks, my pleasure.