Topics: Legislation tax cuts; religious freedoms and legislation; Israel Folau.


David Bevan: Liberal Senator from South Australia, Minister from Trade, Tourism, and Investment Simon Birmingham good morning to you.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning guys.


David Bevan: Penny Wong, Labor Senator from South Australia and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, good morning Senator Wong. 


Penny Wong: Good morning all.


David Bevan: And Cory Bernardi, Australian Conservatives Leader, good morning to you.


Cory Bernardi: Good morning David, good morning everyone else and may I just say Ali on topping the ratings, it must be because we’re all tuning in in the mornings to you.


Ali Clarke: I think it was the moment Cory Bernardi you threw your weight behind our show, that’s what happened there.


Cory Bernardi: That’s right I did actually, now you mention it, I will take credit, fair enough.


Ali Clarke: Alright, thank you.


David Bevan: Penny Wong, can we begin with you. It’s not clear whether or not Centre Alliance will support the Government’s tax package. Where does that leave Labor? Has the opposition settled on its position?


Penny Wong: No, look we’ll we’ll work through that. I would make the point about two points, one is, one part of the tax package doesn’t kick in until after the next election, so 2024. And I would say this to Rex and to Stirling and to Rebekha, if you are considering voting for this, I noticed that Rex is saying they’re looking at it carefully, they should require the government to disclose the fact that they kept hidden through the whole election campaign, which is just how much money is going to high income earners. The indication is it’s about $77 billion goes to people earning over $180,000 a year. Simon was asked I think more than 10 times during the campaign and refused to answer and I think that’s a relevant fact for senators to consider when they’re looking at the package.


David Bevan: The initial bit though, the bit that will end up in people’s pockets soon that’s going to be for low income…


Penny Wong: We’ve already said we’d support that and in fact it’s interesting isn’t it, all through the election campaign Scott Morrison told Australians that that could be passed before the 30th of June. All the while knowing he’d already written to the Governor-General saying that the writs would be returned on the 28th June. In other words, there’s no way, he knew there was no way Parliament could sit before the 30th of June. As Albo said yesterday, he’s broken the record of election promises broken, he actually broke it during the election campaign.


David Bevan: Can you run those figures by us again, you say that is it $77 billion?


Penny Wong: Well this not my tax package, perhaps you should ask Simon that.


David Bevan: We will in a moment but what are you saying will go to people earning over…


Penny Wong: The public figure which the government refused to confirm or deny was $77 billion in the tax package for people earning over $180,000.


David Bevan: That’s a lot of money.


Penny Wong: It is a lot of money, in fact you know there was an independent body that suggested it was in excess of $80 billion and the ABC Fact Check said this was a reasonable, what was a reasonable figure. So we’re just waiting for the government to tell people.


Ali Clarke: Well Simon Birmingham the floor is yours?


Simon Birmingham: Well what this tax package actually does is give the greatest share of benefits to low and middle income earners.


Ali Clarke: But will you be giving $77 billion to people who are earning over $180,000?


Simon Birmingham: What it does Ali for those top five per cent of income earners on the top tax bracket, is it sees them pay a higher share of income tax overall. It reduces income tax paid by virtually all Australians, but it does see those on the top income tax bracket go from paying currently they pay, that top five per cent, around 32 per cent of income tax in Australia. That top 5 per cent of income earners would go to paying around 36 per cent of income tax in Australia.


Ali Clarke: Okay so Simon Birmingham, the figure that Penny Wong is chasing though is will you confirm that this figure of $77 billion will be spread over those who are earning over $180,000?


Simon Birmingham: Well Ali the point I’m trying to make clear to you, is that it’s misleading to say that there’s some disproportionate benefit, in fact those high income earners will end up paying a higher share of the total income tax collected. We’re cutting income tax, cutting income tax and yes people benefit across a whole range of wage brackets. But what we’re doing in particular is abolishing the current 37 cents in the dollar tax bracket, and that tax bracket kicks in far lower than that, and what we’re doing is making sure that if you’re earning anywhere upwards of $45,000 ultimately, you’re going to have the opportunity to get a pay rise, work an extra shift, do all of that without actually being pushed into a higher tax bracket, until you get up to that top tax bracket, which is unchanged, the top tax bracket in terms of still staying at the 47 cents in the dollar rate.


David Bevan: Is it fair to say Simon Birmingham that the mood in your, in the Coalition Government is not to compromise, you just won an election so you’re not going to roll over within a few weeks and start breaking up your tax bill?


Simon Birmingham: Well it’s fair to say that we talked extensively through the election campaign about abolishing the impact of bracket creep on low and middle income earners, it was a core part of our campaign and our policies we took to the election, and I think it would be quite remarkable if the Labor Party’s first act under Anthony Albanese was to vote against tax relief to hardworking Australians.


David Bevan: But what this means Simon Birmingham, because you guys are so cocky cause you’ve won the election, you won’t compromise on your bill but you haven’t got control of the Senate and ordinary Australians are going to miss out because you won’t compromise.


Simon Birmingham: David it’s not about being cocky, it’s about putting to the Parliament the policies we took to the election. That’s what we’re going to do. Put to the Parliament the policies we took to the election. Yes we did win the election and we are continuing with governing Australia and we want to implement the policies that we took to the election so that everybody gets every dollar of tax relief that we promised during that election campaign.


Penny Wong: If there’s every dollar, why won’t you tell Australians on this show now, why won’t you tell them how much is going to people earning over $180,000? We believe the figure is $77 billion, how much do you say it is? 


Simon Birmingham: Well Penny why doesn’t the Labor Party say…


Penny Wong: See he won’t tell you…


Simon Birmingham: Why doesn’t the Labor Party accept…


Penny Wong: All of you listeners can be aware he will not tell you the figure.


Simon Birmingham: You are trying to demonise people on higher incomes…


Penny Wong: No I am not.


Simon Birmingham: Even though the tax reforms that we are putting forward will see them pay a higher share of income tax into the future. 


Penny Wong: It’s a reasonable question Simon, and you refuse to answer it, end of story.


David Bevan: Now listening to this, at almost 11 minutes to nine. I’m taking it for granted Cory Bernardi Australian Conservatives leader you’re going to sign off on the package in terms of your vote for the Senate, so we can move on to another topic. We’ve got Cory Bernardi, let’s start with you on this issue of faith and the election. We’ve got a copy of a letter, it was an email, it was sent out by a northern suburbs Pentecostal church and it featured online in an article by Malcolm Sutton who has done a very good piece on this for the ABC. Basically, this church leader encouraged his very large congregation to not vote Labor or Greens. I’m just going to read a portion of it, he says, our decision on who to vote at the election needs to be informed by the knowledge that Labor and the Greens have made statements publicly about diminishing the freedoms that we have today. There is no doubting of their intentions and while I have never previously encouraged anyone to vote for a party in the lower house, I do want to make you well aware that a vote for Labor and the Greens or anyone who represents anti-Christian rhetoric, policy positions, or beliefs, will undermine our nation. It goes on to say, this is the next step in the assault against the church, Christianity, and Christians in Australia, the next steps after this will be to deem the Bible as hate speech. Cory Bernardi, Australian Conservatives are you picking up this sentiment? 


Cory Bernardi: Well there are many in the faith community who are deeply concerned about religious freedom and that’s reflected actually in the Coalition. But I’m not sure why this is cause any cause for concern or alarm. This is a group of like-minded people in a community organisation that are encouraging others to vote for their own interests. It’s just like the ‘Friends of the ABC’ saying don’t vote for the Coalition because they’re going to cut ABC funding, or the Wilderness Society saying a vote for the Greens because they’re going to be helping our cause. There’s nothing inappropriate about this and secondly, there is a very…


David Bevan: I’m not suggesting there’s anything inappropriate, they’re perfectly entitled to lobby in any way they see fit here. But look frankly you could close down the ABC and life would go on. But what they’re saying is that this is an attack on a fundamental part of our society, and that is religious freedoms. It goes on to say, as followers of Christ, this election comes down to a simple proposition of whether you and I believe in freedom of religion.


Cory Bernardi: People will prioritise different issues, but certainly the freedom agenda is one that concerns many people not just of faith but those who recognise the role that free speech plays, freedom of thought and freedom of worship plays. And we’ve seen various assaults on these freedoms both overt and covert assaults, and certainly it should be a priority for this government I think to prioritise protecting our freedoms. Now how best to do that is a challenge, we introduced, I introduced a protected freedoms bill last year in the Senate and I will do so again this year in this Parliament, because I believe that our freedoms are under assault in this country.


David Bevan: Penny Wong, does Labor have a problem with conservative religion? 


Penny Wong: I want to make a few points about the letter that you’ve read out before I come to that if I may. I think the first point is all parties support freedom of religion and that in fact is I think a principle of our democracy under our Constitution. The second point about the letter is it makes some assertions which are simply untrue. It makes the assertion that Labor somehow and the Greens somehow have anti-Christian propositions in their platform. The only thing they could be pointing to is something in fact that even Scott Morrison supported, that people didn’t believe that religious schools should have the right to expel children just because they were gay. One of the points in the letter is that the Bible would be deemed hate speech, that is simply untrue and it is disappointing that something that is not truthful was was put into a letter. There are many different people, peoples’ of many different faiths and there are people who are of faith but don’t share some views that some people do in relation for example, to issues of sexual orientation. So there are Christians who supported marriage equality, the majority of Catholics in fact voted for marriage equality in the previous plebiscite. I do think that we have to have a respectful discussion around these issues. It would be a pity in Australia, a country which I think has had a very good history of ensuring we respectfully discuss different views, different faiths, whether it’s Christian faith, Muslim faith or others. If this turned into a partisan political issue and I would hope that we could have a more respectful discussion with that and I’d hope all political parties would avert this becoming a highly partisan issue.


David Bevan: Should Israel Folau lose his job?


Penny Wong: Well that’s, I mean that is a contractual matter. I mean these are…


David Bevan: Well Eric Abetz says it’s not.


Penny Wong: Well Eric can say that. I mean I just think employers do, you have to determine what they regard as the appropriate aspects of the employment contract and that goes beyond these sorts of issues. I mean I don’t agree with his views, he holds them and he’s entitled to hold them. The question is whether he, his employment contract enables him to use a platform to promulgate them, that’s that’s a matter between him and rugby league. But more broadly, I just hope, I would prefer to have a society where regardless of our views, we didn’t speak about each other in ways that were this divisive.


Ali Clarke: Simon Birmingham would you like to comment? 


Simon Birmingham: I hope that this Parliament will be in a position to progress religious freedoms laws, those that provide for anti-discrimination rights for people of faith in a sensible and bipartisan way. I do think this is an issue that we don’t wish to see play out in a political sense. The recommendation for there to be some sort of religious freedoms legislation that provides certain protections was a recommendation of a Senate committee looking into the marriage equality laws some time ago that was a joint committee.  And I understand a joint recommendation was then followed through with a further recommendation from the review that Philip Ruddock led for the government in looking at religious freedoms, and what we’ve done is ask the Australian Law Reform Commission to do some drafting work.


David Bevan: But do you agree with Penny Wong that that letter is basically, it’s factually incorrect? Do you agree with Penny Wong, I know you and Penny Wong had a tense moment during the election campaign but can you and Penny Wong, do you agree though? 


Penny Wong: We’ve made up mate, it’s okay.


David Bevan: You’ve made up. Well that’s good, we like to bring people together on this program.


Penny Wong: Well we did it without you but we can give you credit if you’d like, but we’ve actually caught up since, it’s okay.


David Bevan: But Senator Birmingham do you agree with Penny Wong that this, she finds this letter has errors in it, and I don’t want to put words in Penny Wong’s mouth but I think she finds it unhelpful. Do you agree with her on that front?


Simon Birmingham: Look I saw the letter for the first time probably half an hour ago when your producers sent it through. I think it is for the author of the letter to defend or otherwise its content. I understand people have various views, in the end I think what’s important here is how we tackle the issues. Penny and I have had private discussions about the importance of protecting matters of faith and respecting those matters just as we’ve also had private and public debates about the need to respect and protect all people’s rights in terms of not being discriminated against, whether that is their faith, or their sexuality, or their age, or their gender, or any of those other factors.  And what I hope we can sensibly do as a parliament is come together around legislation that gives people of faith confidence that they will not be discriminated against, just as we try to provide the same confidence to other groups in our society.


Ali Clarke: Okay, well Simon Birmingham, thank you very much. Penny Wong there as well and Cory Bernardi from the Australian Conservatives.