Topics: Cost of living pressures; Climate target legislation; Solomon Islands






Peter Stefanovic:  Joining us live is a Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham. Simon, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. So, as we just mentioned there, the fuel excise is to be returned in full by the end of the month. That’s another $0.25 a litre that will be paying at the bowser by the end of the month. Do you support that decision by the Treasurer to return it in full?


Simon Birmingham: G’day, Peter. It is good to be with you. This is a decision for the government. It’s one for them to explain, and particularly to explain what their alternative supports are for cost of living pressures. When we were in government and you were seeing international oil prices spike, we took action in relation to that area of cost of living to help Australians by providing for this six month temporary reduction in the fuel excise. And now since then we may have seen fuel prices come down a little bit in global terms, but we’ve certainly seen pressures elsewhere on cost of living. And what we’ve got is a government that appears to have no plan, no policies to help Australians with those pressures. So, it’s for the Government to explain, as this measure put in place by the previous Coalition Government comes to an end, what is it they’re going to do? What are their policies? Because right now all we’re seeing is a policy fixation from the Albanese Government seemingly around things that the trade union movement want, measures such as abolishing the Building and Construction Commission, pursuing now collective bargaining type reforms across the industrial relations system. And these are the types of things that will hurt, not help productivity and therefore hurt, not help the dealing of inflationary pressures across the economy. So you’ve got a government that appears right now to be pursuing policies that could make a bad and challenging situation worse, rather than having any clear policies to help Australians with the cost of living.


Peter Stefanovic:  I mean, there are clear policies though. There’s childcare changes, there’s a migration increase that’s coming. That only happened just a few days ago. They’ve got energy policies. I mean, that’ll be argued in the Senate today. I’ll ask you about that in just a second. Pensioners will be able to return to work longer. I mean, there are there are plans there.


Simon Birmingham: Look, some of those measures, Pete, we welcome, but these aren’t measures that are particularly going to help Australians here and now with cost of living. When it comes to the Government’s child care changes, there were plenty of people who went into last week’s summit encouraging the Government to do them earlier, but they appear to have fallen on deaf ears in that regard. The Government turned their back on that proposition, so clearly they don’t think that those families are feeling the pressure at present. And well, if you get out there and talk to families, you will find that they are feeling the pressure in a range of different ways in relation to inflation pressures that are there. The previous government outlined plans and acted at the time. The test is on this government. What are they going to do in the here and now? The petrol excise reduction is coming to an end this month. So what are they doing now rather than policies that may take effect some months or years down the track.


Peter Stefanovic: So do you think that should be kept?


Simon Birmingham: That’s not what I’m arguing, Pete. As I said, that was designed at the time to deal with spikes in oil prices. And some of those spikes have come off now. But the government clearly should be outlining in relation to cost of living pressures that you can see elsewhere across the economy now, what it is they’re doing to help people with those.


Peter Stefanovic: Okay. Because, I mean, the excise cuts, they couldn’t go on forever. There’s too much money that’s being missing there.


Simon Birmingham: Well, they were targeted to deal with a particular problem at a particular point in time, and they were successful in doing that. If you look at the way the oil price spiked at that time, it was the right policy to help Australians through that and to avoid the consequences. Had people really felt the full impact of those oil price spikes? They seem to have stabilised to some degree. Obviously the Government will have better accurate information and modelling available to it and so it’s for them to explain why they’ve made the decision indeed to let it finish. But then what is the alternative? Because whilst those oil price spikes globally may have stabilised, plenty of Australians know that the cost of living pressures and inflation pressures are real everywhere else across the Australian economy. And so what are they doing to help people with those.


Peter Stefanovic: Pensioners going to get another 20 bucks a week? It’s some relief. How far do you expect that to go?


Simon Birmingham: Well it’s the standard indexation and of course that standard indexation is welcome. It would have happened under any government. Crucially, the Coalition, when in government had previously put in place reforms for pensioners, for example, to ensure that pensioners received the benefit of indexation to either wage price index or CPI, ensuring that that pensions could keep up and would keep up with both wages and inflation at the highest level of that. Obviously inflation is the one running higher at present, but over the years that has helped to make sure that pensioners do get the type of support they need.


Peter Stefanovic: Okay. I mean, that just gets swallowed up though if the RBA moves on 50 basis points tomorrow again, which is widely expected. In fact, markets are pricing in a cash rate to be at around three, maybe even above 3% by Christmas. You must be concerned about any changes that come in just get swallowed up by those interest rate rises?


Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s what goes back to my earlier observation there that this government, rather than talking about industrial relations reforms that are more likely to hurt productivity, to increase strike action, to potentially drive up cost pressures across the Australian economy, ought to instead be looking at policy measures that will help productivity, that will help ensure Australians can actually address these cost of living pressures and that’s where they between now and their mini budget that they’re doing in October need to detail that.


Peter Stefanovic: Well, I mean, just give me an example. Where would you start there? Just one example.


Simon Birmingham: Well, Pete, I’m going to let the government govern. They’ve only just been elected recently, and it’s for them to outline that we will take our policies to the next election.


Peter Stefanovic: Okay. On climate. The climate bill begins its debate in the Senate today. Legislation on targets to be locked in. So how do you expect this to go? Where will you be voting today or when that comes up?


Simon Birmingham: Well, look, it will go through the usual debate and process there. This legislation is not necessary. The Government’s already made the commitment to the 43% emissions reduction target by 2030. I welcome higher ambition in relation to climate change emissions. I want to see though now the detail from the Government over how that is to be achieved and that’s really where the real test lies. This is a government that promised that it would keep the jobs of Australians safe and secure, that it would maintain full employment, that it would have real wages growth, that it would have productivity growth, and that it would do all of that whilst lowering emissions with these higher levels of ambition. And so the test, when they bring forward those different policies around emissions reduction is whether it lives up to the promises that Anthony Albanese took to the last election.


Peter Stefanovic: It does have the support of the Greens though. So I mean, would you be expecting that to sail through?


Simon Birmingham: No, I expect this legislation to pass. But as I said, the legislation itself is not necessary. The Government’s already made the commitment through the UN climate change framework process to these higher emissions reduction targets. So this legislation is a bit of window dressing in some ways to towards that. The real test around climate change policies will be when the government brings forward policies that actually seek to reduce emissions and what the impact of that is, whether they reduce those emissions while protecting jobs and providing the types of commitments that the government took to the election.


Peter Stefanovic: Okay. Just a final foreign matter here to end on. Manasseh Sogavare famously hugged it out with Prime Minister Albanese not that long ago, as a matter of fact. Now he’s denied access to Australian, American and British naval vessels from his port. Is he to be trusted Sogavare?


Simon Birmingham: Look, there’s a number of issues that have been at play in the Solomon Islands. This review of access by naval ships and vessels to the Solomon Islands is something that we should let play its course. Clearly Australia should be making representations to the Solomon Islands about what appropriate administrative arrangements would look like to ensure continued access to those ports. It’s notable that the most recent naval vessel to visit the Solomon Islands was a US hospital ship providing humanitarian assistance and aid. And that’s the type of example that shows the many benefits, be it those humanitarian benefits, other vessels partaking in fisheries type control exercises to help the Solomon Islands protect their economic zone and their fisheries rights. Crucial things that the US, Australia, other countries partake in for the benefit of Solomon Islanders and their country. And that’s why working cooperatively on these issues is crucial. I note that the Prime Minister Sogavare will be attending the White House summit of Pacific Island leaders with President Biden, which I welcome and I trust that will provide further opportunity for these issues to be explored and hopefully resolved.


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