Date: Tuesday, 15 March 2022

Fuel excise; Cost of living; Labor marginal seat spending; US sanctions on China;

Peter Stefanovic:  Joining me live now is the Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham. Minister, good morning to you. I know you’re going to point to the budget here, but will you cut fuel excise?


Simon Birmingham: Well, good morning, Peter. It’s good to be with you and you are correct. I’m not going to comment on budget speculation, but I will reassure all viewers that the government is very, very conscious of cost of living concerns. Now that’s why, right throughout our term in government, which sought to drive down costs where possible, we’ve done so in electricity prices, achieving an eight per cent reduction in electricity prices over the last two years. We’ve put more money into the pockets of Australian households through our income tax cuts to the tune now of about $1.5 billion each and every month going into the pockets of Australian households, ensuring that they have more disposable income with which to deal with these sorts of cost of living pressures and will frame this budget in the context of keeping our economic recovery strong. The jobs growth strong that same 1.7 million extra jobs created in Australia and mindful of inflationary and cost of living pressures for Australians.


Peter Stefanovic: If you do cut the fuel excise, it has happened before. How difficult is it to wind it back to bring it back?


Simon Birmingham: Pete, that would well and truly be me engaging in hypotheticals about how the budget would be framed and said, I’m not going to do that, the budget’s only a couple of weeks away. We are making sure that this is a budget that is economically responsible for all Australians, and that means that we have to take into consideration all of the different global factors. It is a very uncertain world with a war in Europe, with the pressures we’re seeing in terms of trade attacks in China, with the ongoing challenge of the COVID recovery. Now Australia’s succeeded through all of this far better than almost any other nation, with some of the strongest economic growth in the world, with 1.7 million additional jobs created under our government, one million of those supporting Australian women. They’re the priorities we’re going to keep the focus intently on.


Peter Stefanovic: I mean, one more time here, and this is just a general question here. I mean, if you cut the fuel excise, it’s not really going to help people that much in the grand scheme of things, isn’t it? So I suppose, would it be a bit more of a prudent move to make a permanent tax cut somewhere else?


Simon Birmingham: I think that Australians do understand what’s driving the cost of petrol higher is the war in Europe are the disruptions caused by Russia’s outrageous attacks on Ukraine and the impact that’s having on global markets and that this is a global problem, not a specifically Australian problem. But, in terms of taxes, we have already cut income taxes for Australian families and households. We’ve already cut company tax for Australian small businesses. We’ve already made sure that every business, essentially across Australia, is able to invest more in plant machinery equipment to make themselves more productive and to support the creation of the jobs that we are successfully generating across the Australian economy. So Australians can always guarantee that we will cut taxes where we can and where it is sensible and wise to do so.


Peter Stefanovic: Okay, will you keep the low to middle income tax offset?


Simon Birmingham: Once again, you’re inviting me to run budget commentary, I just urge a bit of patience and also would encourage journalists, I’m not saying that you’re doing this, but others not to leap to conclusions about what is or isn’t in the budget. That’s held very tightly as we make the final decisions and we do so weighing all of the different economic analysis that is before us. And make sure that we take decisions to keep jobs growth strong in Australia to make sure that we manage the challenges of inflation as carefully as we possibly can so that fiscal policy is working as close as it can with monetary policy. So these are all careful considerations that we have to make. And when I see journalists claim that they know what is in the budget, they historically have very often been wrong and they will be wrong again this time.


Peter Stefanovic: Okay. Anthony Albanese, he’s promising a spending blitz favouring marginal seats. This is two years after you were doing the same. What’s your reaction to that?


Simon Birmingham: Well Pete, how many times do you think you’ve had Labor Party members, including Anthony Albanese on Sky or seen them on different programs around the country, declaring that it was inappropriate to decide where to spend money based on whether or not it was a Labor seat or a Liberal seat or a marginal seat. And yet now we’ve got this exposure of Anthony Albanese spending $750 million in promises just largely over the last couple of months alone, entirely almost in seats the Labor Party hopes to win at the next election. The scale of this spending is only exceeded by the hypocrisy from the Labor Party and even in the last couple of weeks. Anthony Albanese stands there and says grants should not be determined based on whether a party hopes to win a seat, while he then goes to an electorate that is clearly a Labor target seat and promises spending in that seat. It just shows that he is speaking with a forked tongue lying about those sorts of approaches he’d bring to government and the hypocrisy in the Labor Party.


Peter Stefanovic: Just a final one back to the war, Minister. The US has warned that China could face sanctions if it is supplying weapons to Russia. Will we follow up on sanctions for China, too? If that turns out to be the case?


Simon Birmingham: We have acted in lockstep with each and every one of our international partners and the decisions that they’ve been taking, we have done it in collaboration with all of them, with the US, with the UK and with European nations. We’ve taken a raft of sanctions against Russian individuals and entities against Belarusian individuals and entities. And by extending that to Belarus, we have demonstrated that we were willing to take sanctions against those players who support Russia in ways that underpin Russia’s atrocious attacks on Ukraine and the terrible assault they’re inflicting on Ukrainian people. So of course, we will continue to do that to any and all in relation to actions that in any way support Russia’s assault on the Ukrainians.


Peter Stefanovic: So we’d go after China?


Simon Birmingham: Well I’m not- I hope that it doesn’t come to that because I hope and trust that China does not supply weapons to Russia and does not support this. And as you’ve heard, coalition ministers say throughout this conflict, what we encourage China to do is stand up for the sovereignty of Ukraine. Stand up for the rights of Ukrainian people and apply pressure on Russia to cease this war, to stop this war, on Vladimir Putin to end the killing of Ukrainians.


Peter Stefanovic: Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time, as always. We’ll talk to you soon.