Topics: Australian held hostage in PNG returns home; Labor driving superannuation uncertainty for Australians;

07:45AM AEDT
28 February 2023

Peter Stefanovic: Well, let’s head now to the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Birmingham. Simon, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. So Bryce Barker, he’s friends, he’s family, no doubt relieved. He arrived home in Toowoomba last night, freed from the hostages in PNG. What are your thoughts on that?

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Pete. Well, it’s good news. Clearly a relief for him, for his family and loved ones and for the loved ones of those Papua New Guineans who had been held hostage alongside him. So in that sense, his release is welcome. And I acknowledge the efforts of many within the Papua New Guinea government, their police force and others who helped to secure that release.

Peter Stefanovic: Are you- I mean, they had to pay a ransom, though, not all of it, but some of it. What do you how do you feel about that?

Simon Birmingham: Look, any paying of ransom is of concern in the sense of the precedent that it sets and the risk it potentially creates for others. And so I have no doubt that would have been weighed carefully by Papua New Guinean authorities in terms of securing the safe release in this circumstance. But equally, it does reinforce the criticality of people looking at the travel advisories issued by the Australian Government, acting with caution and also of Australia in working in partnership with Papua New Guinea to help them with security and with law and order and with support. Papua New Guinea is such a close friend and partner to Australia. It’s so important that we help them take advantage of the many natural assets that they have to attract visitors to Papua New Guinea to ensure that researchers and others can work safely in Papua New Guinea as well. And that requires sufficient stability, security in place. And I hope the Government takes the opportunity from this incident to really double down on efforts with PNG to make sure we’re providing the type of cooperation in policing and security services so that stability can be put in place and people can travel with greater confidence in future.

Peter Stefanovic: Okay. Simon. Greg Combet, he wants the money raised from increased super to be shared with those who’ve got lower balances, perhaps even the reconstruction fund. So basically sharing the wealth. What’s your take on Greg Combet, these claims written up in The Australian this morning?

Simon Birmingham: Well, Greg Combet is entitled to his opinions. He’s no longer a member of the Government, although clearly he’s a key advisor to this Labor Government, as he is to most Labor governments. The real risk, though, here comes from firstly the enormous uncertainty that the Government is creating, and you’ve got a situation where Australians now just don’t know what’s going to happen to their superannuation and it’s unacceptable for that uncertainty to run from now all the way through to the May budget. If Jim Chalmers and Anthony Albanese are going to slug Australians higher tax on their superannuation, then they need to put the uncertainty to rest, be upfront about it and reveal what their plans are, because right now they’re simply scaring every Australian that they might be facing some type of slug on their superannuation or that they might be redefining the purpose of it, where it is managed then in ways that aren’t in the best financial interests of the individual Australians, but instead seek to serve some purpose of the Labor government of the day and that’s not in Australian’s interest for that uncertainty to continue.

Peter Stefanovic: Well, what do you make of Greg’s idea, though, particularly when it comes to those with lower super balances and in particular when it comes to women who tend to have a lower super balance? Does he have a point in that those people and those women with lower incomes can have it propped up?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I think there’s zero prospect of this Government looking to increase its taxes on superannuation to reinvest into superannuation. This Government, the Albanese Government, are looking to increase the taxes on superannuation to fund their government spending. That’s clearly what this is about. They are after the revenue to fund other aspects of government spending. So there have certainly been measures that we have put in place and previous Labor governments have put in place and to try to help lift the superannuation balances of lower income Australians and to support them in that regard. But I don’t think that’s on the table this time. I think the grab for cash coming from the Albanese Government is all about funding other aspects of their spending.

Peter Stefanovic: Okay, Bridget Archer and Russell Broadbent want to be part of the discussion though. So are the Liberals split on this one?

Simon Birmingham: Well, again, the issues here is that primarily, of course, the uncertainty, as I said before, but also that Anthony Albanese promised before the election that he wasn’t going to touch people’s superannuation, that he wouldn’t be applying new taxes, there wouldn’t be this type of potential retrospective-

Peter Stefanovic: But are you open to a discussion about it in the way that Bridget Archer is?

Simon Birmingham: Look, we will obviously have to look at any proposal the Government puts forward, and we’ll have to consider that through our normal party room processes. But we will equally be relentless in calling out the fact that Anthony Albanese, if he does increase taxes on Australian superannuation, has broken a promise that he took to the election in that regard.

Peter Stefanovic: Okay, but, but when it comes to having the discussion about it, I mean, what can you contribute if Bridget Archer and Russell Broadbent- they want to, they want to be part of that conversation and contribute to it as well. I mean, is that something that you would want to do as well, and if so, what?

Simon Birmingham: Let’s remember, there’s a couple of things running here. One is the purpose of superannuation discussion that Jim Chalmers set running. Now on the purpose of superannuation, we absolutely want to be part of that discussion and we want to be part of the discussion ensuring that the purpose of Australian superannuation is to ensure it is managed effectively to give them the best possible returns for their retirement. And we will engage carefully there with Government, but also across the Parliament to uphold that purpose, that it is the money of Australians that they get to control decisions over it, that it is managed in their best interests and yes, when they face critical times or decisions that could impede their ability when they’re heading towards retirement or during their working years that could impede them when they get to retirement, then there should be special provisions for access. So we’ll engage in that purpose discussion to protect the interests of Australians. But we’re certainly not interested in seeing a situation where we simply wave through circumstances for Anthony Albanese to be able to break election promises and so on that and with the uncertainty that’s raging, he’s got to come clean, the Government’s got to come clean. What are they proposing and not have this uncertainty hang over superannuation for months to come.

Peter Stefanovic: Simon Birmingham, the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, appreciate it. We’ll talk to you soon.