Topics: Voice; Wong NPC speech; Keating criticism; Chalmers to spend more and put pressure on Australians

07:45AM AEST
Tuesday, 18 April 2023


Pete Stefanovic:  You’re watching First Edition. Thanks for your company, folks. Well, let’s go to the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Birmingham. Simon, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Pete.


Pete Stefanovic: So, I’ve got to get you on the Voice because the Prime Minister said last night or he appeared to be open to changing the Voice question. If that were to happen or executive government was withdrawn, would you then support it?


Simon Birmingham: Well, they are all hypotheticals, Pete. Let’s see what happens. I’ve certainly been clear that I think the Prime Minister should first and foremost consider the offer by Peter Dutton, which would be to have bipartisan support for constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians. I think that would be a nationally unifying moment and the PM should seize that opportunity and consider that. But as a secondary level, there’s parliamentary committee is undertaking its work. The PM’s been quick to laud the principled stance of Julian Leeser. Well, if he’s going to do that, he should also listen to the considered thoughts of Julian Leeser in relation to the wording of the constitutional amendment too.


Pete Stefanovic: Okay, but as things stand, you’re going to sit the campaign out?


Simon Birmingham: Well, as things stand, I won’t be doing anything contrary to the party position taken. And of course, I expect this campaign, which has got many, many months to go and there’s plenty of issues in the meantime, including a budget coming up that means a lot for Australians in terms of just how it’s going to impact their cost of living. And we’ve got to make sure there’s plenty of focus on those issues too.


Pete Stefanovic: When you say when you say you’re not going to do anything that’s contrary to the party, I mean, you’re just not going to support it, right? You’re not you’re not going to take the line that Peter Dutton and co are taking?


Simon Birmingham: I think there are many, many other issues Australia faces and that we’ve got to make sure we maintain focus on those. As the Shadow Foreign Minister, I’m going to do it in relation to our national security, in relation to our diplomatic relations, but also as a senior frontbencher and frankly, just as a concerned member of Parliament. I want to see how we’re going to handle the threats of global recession and how we’re going to make sure we handle the cost-of-living pressures Australians face. I mean, these are things that people are far more likely to raise with me in their day-to-day concerns than actually the Voice is.


Pete Stefanovic: Right. Okay. But when it comes to campaigning, because the Voice is back to the question, you’re not going to campaign actively campaign against it? Just to get some clarification on that.


Simon Birmingham: I’ve been very clear on that-.


Pete Stefanovic: So, you haven’t changed?


Simon Birmingham: There are other things I’m going to get on and do.


Pete Stefanovic: Yeah, but. So, you haven’t changed?


Simon Birmingham: Other priorities that have a more profound impact on the lives of Australians and that’s where my focus is going to be. No, my position has not changed.


Pete Stefanovic: Okay. Peter Dutton, he’s reported to announce a portfolio reshuffle this morning. Are you going to stay in your spot just to check?


Simon Birmingham: So far as I’m aware.


Pete Stefanovic: Okay. No changes because there had been some suggestions that because you weren’t entirely on board the Coalition’s position on the Voice that you might be demoted somewhat? There had been some people saying that that’s not changing?


Simon Birmingham: Well, you’ve always got your critics out there, but so far as I’m aware, I’m staying in my place. And in doing so, I’m intently focused on, frankly, the concerns about the fact the Prime Minister is dithering about whether or not he’s going to go to the NATO Leaders’ Summit in July. Now, that is a real opportunity for Australia, firstly to show our continued support for Ukraine. You’ve just run a package reporting on the horrific 25 year sentencing to imprisonment of Vladimir Kara-Murza in Russia, a demonstration of just how oppressive Vladimir Putin’s regime is on its own people, as well as, of course, the violent war that it is waging against its neighbour, Ukraine. The PM should be in Lithuania for the NATO summit, not just to show support for Ukraine, but also to make sure that he seizes this one and only opportunity he gets on the global stage to engage with European democracies about Indo-Pacific security issues, which is such a critical thing for an Australian leader to do.


Pete Stefanovic: What about your opponent, Penny Wong? She urged to keep the peace over Taiwan in a National Press Club speech yesterday. It drew the ire of Paul Keating once again, though. What’s your thoughts on that continuing stoush?


Simon Birmingham: Well, it is quite the spat to see and Paul Keating, of course, has parts of a cheer squad within the Labor movement. And you could see that by some of the Labor branches and others who came out indicating their opposition to the AUKUS deal. But Penny Wong stance she took yesterday enjoys broad bipartisanship in terms of the position for making sure we work towards a peaceful, prosperous and stable Indo-Pacific region that we do so through ensuring we have strong deterrence, which is why the Coalition government embarked on the AUKUS partnership to help strengthen our deterrence. It’s also why we lifted defence spending to some 2% of GDP and why we are so anxious in waiting for the long delayed and deferred release of the Defence strategic review by the Albanese Government. There are many questions as to why that hasn’t been released and where the potential $3 billion of budget cuts is going to fall-.


Pete Stefanovic: Well, on that on that point, because I’ve got a minute left, Simon, so I’ll get your answer to both of these points. The first being, would you support an increase to the petroleum resource rent tax, given that Jim Chalmers has got to find some money somewhere?


Simon Birmingham: Well Jim Chalmers has got to rein in spending somewhere. And it’s deeply concerning to see in today’s newspapers suggestions that with increased revenue, he’s planning on spending more of it. And that will only put more pressure on the Reserve Bank to drive interest rates higher and hurt Australian homeowners more. So this is very concerning signals from the Labor Government in terms of this budget that’s coming up that they’re going to actually have a more expansionary fiscal policy just at the time when the Reserve Bank has been running a contractionary monetary policy.


Pete Stefanovic: Okay. Do you agree with Deloitte in suggesting that the national economy is on a knife’s edge?


Simon Birmingham: Well, we see from the IMF, from Deloitte, from others, great concerns about economies around the world, the risk of recession. But the Government’s got to make sure that it doesn’t make the inflation problem worse because that will only see Australians paying more through higher interest rates. And the suggestion from Jim Chalmers today that he’s going to take revenue gains and spend more of them is exactly the opposite of what the Reserve Bank would be wanting the Albanese Government to do.


Pete Stefanovic: Okay. So that, so the changes to the PRRT and capital gains tax discounts, you’re against any changes there? Just to close.


Simon Birmingham: Well, if there are changes, we’ll take a look at what the Government is proposing. We’re not going to run entirely on speculation, but we don’t think this government should be looking to hike up taxes and spend more money and spend revenue gains, and particularly not at a time when you’ve got the Reserve Bank trying to rein in inflation. And this Labor Government shouldn’t be acting in ways that just egg the Reserve Bank on to lift interest rates further, which all Australians end up paying for.


Pete Stefanovic: Simon Birmingham, appreciate your time. Thank you. We’ll talk to you again soon.