Brian Carlton: Federal Finance Minister Senator Birmingham. Good morning, welcome to Triple M Hobart. Sorry about that delay.
Simon Birmingham: Hey, Brian, great to be with you.
Brian Carlton: Appreciate your time. Tell me the trillion dollars’ worth of debt, how long is that going to take to pay off?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Brian, certainly a long time in that sense. But what we’ve managed to hand down overnight is a budget where net debt, both in absolute terms and in the share of the economy is lower in terms of the forecast over the next 10 years in this budget than it was in last year’s budget. And so the strength of our economic recovery, the strength of jobs growth across Australia are planned to continue growing the economy is enabling us to do as we promised at the last election, to invest in essential services like aged care, but to do it without worsening those debt projection.
Brian Carlton: There’ll be some diehard political wonks, I guess, myself included, who have been listening to the mantra from the Coalition for many, many years now. The debt and deficit are bad things and we need to eliminate both of them. And yet it appears that this is almost a Labor style budget being delivered by a Coalition government.
Simon Birmingham: Not at all, because its focus is intently on economic growth and jobs growth. Around 40 billion dollars of the plan in this budget is within the context of COVID response. And so we are still dealing with a pandemic. I think though things are incredibly good in Tasmania and across Australia we need to remember not just the health outcomes in the rest of the world, but across Europe they are re-entering recession. They’re having a double dip recession there. So there’s huge uncertainties that we’re dealing with around the world. Yet in Australia, we’ve got job numbers back to being above where they were prior to the pandemic and a remarkable achievement. We want to keep it going so our plan has a number of investments, be it in the manufacturing sector, in digital economies, in targeted medicines and capabilities across Australia or indeed in places like Tasmania further reforms to the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme that will make accessing essential inputs cheaper for Tasmanian businesses, make them more productive and competitive. Just as the tax breaks we announced in the lead up to the budget form small breweries and distilleries again will help to give small Tassie businesses the chance to compete with global businesses and importers and to get more product on the mainland with those tax advantages.
Brian Carlton: There’s more than a couple of hundred million dollars in the in the budget for road spending and related here in Tassie overwhelmingly and I would argue disproportionately targeting the north of the state. Why has Hobart as a city completely missed out? Let’s have a look at the seat of Clark federal and state seat, you’d be familiar with it, held federally by independent Andrew Wilkie. Two million dollars for a Holocaust memorial, which is fabulous. And nobody’s arguing that’s a bad thing, but that is it in terms of spending in this seat, which covers the majority of greater Hobart. We’ve been completely overlooked here. Why is that?
Simon Birmingham: So look I get this question sometimes from different states as well at different times that infrastructure spend moves from budget to budget. It can’t be completely evenly allocated from budget to budget. It does. It does, of course, follow big infrastructure projects around the country over a longer period of time. We try to take account of those balancing factors, but we’ve got programmes like our Hobart City deal that has been investing in essential services and facilities in Hobart. Our ongoing support as part of that, in relation to the Antarctic Division of the government that is based there in Hobart [INDISTINCT]
Brian Carlton: Just on that one of the things is the proposal to move the Antarctic Division to Macquarie point. No specific funding there for that either.
Simon Birmingham: So there proposals that the Antarctic Division and agencies will bring forward over time, but [INDISTINCT]
Brian Carlton: You know, Minister though there were calls for funding to have the Macquarie point redevelopment fully funded. That’s not happened.
Simon Birmingham: But support for those sorts of jobs in Hobart is important. And we’re sustaining those jobs not just by infrastructure that might be built in Hobart, but by the final delivery of the new icebreaker that is now expected very soon and actually sustain the ongoing operations not only of the staff based in Hobart, but, of course, the many researchers, scientists and others who transit in and out of Hobart on their way through to Antarctica.
Brian Carlton: Ok, there’s a substantial amount of federal funding for, as I mentioned, roadworks disproportionately in the north. But the overwhelming majority of that money doesn’t flow in for two old years from now. In fact, the spend between now and the end of this fin year is, I think, four million. Somebody is actually counted up, which is basically nothing. Why is it taking so long for the allocations, the budget allocations, for roadworks here in Tassie to flow through?
Simon Birmingham: [INDISTINCT] there on the new projects that are announced, again with infrastructure projects, it’s not unusual that there’s a year or two of planning approvals and contracting that occurs before those new projects start up. Of course, there are pre-existing projects that continue to be rolled out right around the country under the infrastructure plan. The infrastructure plan is only one part of what we’re delivering to get jobs going, growing across the country. Our support very much for apprenticeships and skills training about creating the environment to get many thousands of young people across Tasmania into apprenticeships. And they’re part of the measures that have been driving success to date and that we expect to drive continued employment growth. Some 250,000 extra jobs forecast to be created out of this budget.
Brian Carlton: I understand there are elements of the budget that will no doubt benefit many Tasmanians, particularly older Tasmanian, single parents, women. There’s a whole range of people who will benefit from the government spending. I just want to spend just one minute if I can. I know your time’s really tight. Not a lot of word on defence. You talked about the changing world we’re living in, the drums of war are beating to the north. Have we allocated enough to defence to deal with anything that might emerge out of some Chinese aggression towards Taiwan, for example?
Simon Birmingham: We have Brian, if you look back before our government was elected, defence spending had dropped to its lowest level of the share of the economy since the 1930s. We’ve now got it back up above the two per cent of GDP benchmark. So we’ve grown that defence spending significantly. We’ve committed to very significant defence capability and infrastructure projects that are already now giving our Navy and new ships, new vessels have the plans, of course, for further aircraft, other capabilities. And importantly, in this budget, there’s a step up, for example, in relation to national security funding going through ASIO and our security services, recognising the diverse threats we face, which aren’t just military in context, but also operate across a range of spheres.
Brian Carlton: Simon Birmingham, I appreciate your time this morning. I know you’ve got to go. Thank you for and apologies for the little technical glitch there.
Simon Birmingham: No probs, thanks Brian. My pleasure.
Brian Carlton: Thank you. Senator Simon Birmingham.