Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Tuesday, 23 February 2021
Jim Wilson: On the line is the Minister for Finance, Simon Birmingham. Minister, welcome back to Drive.
Simon Birmingham: Hey, Jim, great to be with you as always.
Jim Wilson: Thanks for your time as always. Now we begin with Facebook. It is a major breakthrough. What's happened here is the government bowed to Facebook or as Facebook actually finally come to the party and seen the light?
Simon Birmingham: We have agreed to what I think are some very technical amendments to the legislation that's going through the absolute heart of what we had proposed remains firmly intact. And we expect this will see Facebook have to go through the type of processes that Google has gone through to negotiate, to pay for Australian news content. And that's what this has all been about, about making sure that these global tech giants who use Australian news content to drive views and hits on their platforms actually pay for that content and the use of that content so that we can continue then to have viable news media organisations in Australia who receive the income they deserve for paying Australian journalists to tell Australian stories.
Jim Wilson: So basically, Facebook's backed down.
Simon Birmingham: Well, Facebook and can describe their actions themselves. But I mean, the types of detail that we have just agreed to clarify in the legislation really is that there was already a provision that if a company, as Google has done, reached its commercial agreement with Australian news media companies, then they don't need to be bound by the code that is put in place because they've already got a commercial undertaking that both sides of the ledger have accepted. We're agreeing under these technical arrangements, arrangements to clarify that. If that's the case, then the platform the tech giant won't need to be designated under the code as long as those commercial arrangements hold, as long as the Australian news companies have agreeably and successfully signed on with them. There's an agreement to a two month mediation period if they can't manage to negotiate. So you can see these are fairly technical changes that don't certainly change the end outcome, which is making sure that we keep Australian news media viable and that tech giants are expected to pay on the online world for what we expect to be able to pay for in the physical world.
Jim Wilson: Well, it's a fair and reasonable request for that to happen. I mean, news content is down across Facebook. It remains down Nine News, 2GB, similar pages are still muted. When can we expect to see these Facebook? When can we expect to reinstate these pages, Minister?
Simon Birmingham: So we've been advised by Facebook that they intend to restore those pages over the coming few days. I would encourage them to do so as quickly as possible. I think there was an enormous and understandable backlash from Australians, especially when crucial health information, safety information, community information was struck by by this over-the-top action on their behalf. But look, in the end, we've got a result. That's the important thing. We hope that Facebook can now work with the Australian news media companies to negotiate a commercial outcome with them, just as Google has already successfully done.
Jim Wilson: You're the leader of the government in the Senate and you're responsible for getting this big tech legislation through the upper house. Are you confident, firstly that it will pass? And when can we expect it to become law?
Simon Birmingham: I am confident that it will pass and pass it this week is our intention. I would hope that we can manage to navigate that if not today, depending upon how much government business time the Senate facilitates. Then indefinitely, tomorrow would be my ambition. We want to get on with this, get it in place and provide certainty for Australian news media companies, Australian journalists, that in the end this will make the jobs of Australian journalists more secure and give Australians more confidence that they will continue to be Australian journalists able to report on all aspects of Australian society and tell Australian stories.
Jim Wilson: I'd said it was a big day in politics. Craig Kelly, what was your reaction when he announced his decision earlier today that he was quitting the Libs?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I was surprised. Craig stood up in a joint party meeting this morning where the Liberal Party and the National Party members and senators come together and informed the meeting. He had not provided any forewarning in that regard. But it was well known to me that the Prime Minister had been working with Craig to try to get him to address a number of issues of concern over recent weeks. And obviously, Craig had formed an opinion that he wasn't going to comply with all of the prime minister's wishes. And as a result, he thought that he would better serve as an independent. That's disappointing that he refused to comply with the prime minister's wishes. But I respect the fact that he has indicated he will continue to support the government on budget measures, on supply measures, in relation to confidence motions and indeed around all policies that we took to the last election. So it shouldn't change the dynamic or the operation of the parliament terribly much. But it does obviously mean that there will be a new Liberal candidate for Hughes at the next federal election. And I would certainly encourage voters in Hughes to get behind a new Liberal candidate when that time comes.
Jim Wilson: When someone quits a major party minister, should there be an immediate by election?
Simon Birmingham: But that's not the way our parliamentary democracy was built. And I think our parliamentary democracy has served us very well over all of Australia's history. But it's a model built and informed on a on a slight mixture of UK and US traditions, but particularly in the Lower House UK traditions that it continues to serve us well. I wouldn't want to force that particular change, but I do think that voters look at it with some disgust, frankly, at times. And so I would expect that many liberal voters in Hughes would be questioning this decision today and that they would want to see continued strong support for Scott Morrison, his leadership and our government.
Jim Wilson: Do you think Craig Kelly's betrayed the Liberal Party?
Simon Birmingham: Well, yes. Look, anybody who is elected on a platform as a representative of one party goes to their electorate indicating strong support for that party is a member of that party is to some degree betraying the party and the voters who supported them when they step away. But I note that Craig has said he will continue to support the government. He was generous in his best wishes for Scott as prime minister and for the government's continued success. And so, look, we will work with him as an independent, but take him at his word that he will continue to provide all of the certainty and stability of support in the House of Representatives that I would expect.
Jim Wilson: Let's move to this increase in JobSeeker, when exactly was fifty dollars a fortnight increase kick in?
Simon Birmingham: So this will [inaudible] legislation kick in when the current JobSeeker supplement comes to an end at the conclusion of March. So our intention is that there is a seamless transition from the supplement that has been in place to the higher rate of JobSeeker that it will be there for the future. We've really sought to strike the right balance here. There's been a long standing debate in this country about whether the previous level of JobSeeker was adequate to increase that payment to increase the old Newstart payment that's now known as JobSeeker, and that some people call the dole. Still, that is a very expensive undertaking to do so. But we've accepted the queries and questions that it should be increased. It's the largest increase since 1986, but we have accompanied that with some tightening around the mutual obligation to really make sure that that JobSeeker is receiving that payment have to get back following the relaxation of some of the COVID restrictions of looking for work, and indeed that there are tighter checks on them, that they are genuinely looking for work and taking jobs where they are available.
Jim Wilson: Your colleague, Family and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston has sparked some debate today and she's urging those who are on JobSeeker, who are single and have no dependents or medical issues to relocate to get a job. Do you think that's a fair ask?
Simon Birmingham: Yes. There are hundreds of thousands of of people, and many of them younger Australians who are single, who have relatively few commitments in many parts of their life, who could manage to relocate to take a job where it is on offer, particularly in areas of regional Australia. And I think the vast majority of Australians fully expect that we should have a strong social safety net in Australia. They expect us to do that and to provide for unemployment benefits and support when people are out of work. But they also expect that those who are receiving those benefits will genuinely take work that is available. We know that's not always easy for everybody, but we do provide a relocation allowance of up to 6000 dollars for somebody to move to where a job is. And under the reforms we've announced today, we've indicated that we will provide an upfront payment of two thousand of that 6000 dollars for somebody who is moving so they don't just get the reimbursement of costs associated with moving to take a job, but that we can help them with the immediate cash flow of those costs as well.
Jim Wilson: Before I let you go, we saw the prime minister getting the jab and being vaccinated on Sunday. When are you in line to get to get the vaccination?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I will be in queue with you and the rest of the country, which will be whatever is available at that particular point in time. So we have a well stepped out phased approach. And I would anticipate I think I'm a reasonable, reasonably healthy member of the adult population, and I'm sure you are as well, which puts us towards the back of the queue. The prime minister and a handful of other political leaders have had the jab early to make sure that the public can see we have the utmost confidence in it as politicians, that we're not asking people to do something that we wouldn't do ourselves. But for the bulk of us, we should wait and be done according to that sequencing. And up front, we've got medi hotel workers, quarantine workers, those frontline health workers, people in aged care. And we're going to work through other vulnerable population cohorts before it comes to the likes of you or me.
Jim Wilson: Well, I'm happy to be at the back of the queue, but others are a priority. Absolutely right at this point of time. Thanks for your time as always this afternoon, Minister.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you. My pleasure.