Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Wednesday, 3 March 2021
Scott Emerson: In Canberra today, we did see the press conference by Christian Porter. He has identified himself as the cabinet minister that have been accused of historic rape allegations. He vehemently, firmly denied that today. He said it did not happen 33 years ago during a debating contest at the University of Sydney. Now, must be said that New South Wales police has closed the investigation for insufficient evidence. No charges have been laid against Christian Porter and the complaint that was made against him was withdrawn. Now I'm joined now by Christian Porter's colleague in cabinet, Simon Birmingham, the Finance Minister. Minister, thanks for being on 4BC Drive this afternoon.
Simon Birmingham: Hello, Scott. Thanks for the opportunity.
Scott Emerson: I think anyone watching that press conference today was feeling for both Christian Porter, but of course, also the family of this now deceased woman who had made the allegations. But Christian Porter was very clear that he will not be standing down. He will not be resigning. He's going to take a break. And clearly, when seeing that tearful performance today, that clearly, as he said, he needs to have a break just for his own sanity. But let's go back to what he said today. No, he denied vehemently it did not happen, the events. Is at the end of the matter?
Simon Birmingham: Scott, it really is a matter for investigating authorities if they choose to do so as to whether it is the end of the matter. In Australia, everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, it doesn't matter whether you're the nation's Attorney-General or any other person. Everyone should be treated equally, considered equally. And in that sense, investigations, if they need to be had, ought to be had. But nor can we have a circumstance where some individuals in Australia are expected to have to disprove allegations that are levelled against them. What we expect in our system of justice is that complaints are properly heard and addressed through law enforcement bodies, through our police services, and that then guilt is determined through proper legal processes, through our courts.
Scott Emerson: Now, Attorney-General Christian Porter made it very clear, and I just quote for some of the statements he made today at the press conference, he did say that if he stood down that any person could lose their career due to allegations being made. Is that the concern you would have in terms of allegations, untested, unproven allegations out there and the calls there for him to stand down or quit as Attorney-General without that being tested in some way?
Simon Birmingham: I think people do need to consider long and hard the consequences of shifting to some sort of system where people have to prove their innocence, where they have to have to disprove allegations or claims made against them. And so obviously, what Christian Porter has done today is to speak publicly about the rumours that had been circulating in the information that had been passed to the media and certain political offices in recent times. He has passionately, clearly stated that, that the allegations are untrue, that the events did not happen. And in terms of how such events should be considered, which, of course, they should be considered by the police. And in your introduction, you went through some of the considerations there in terms of how the police have handled it to date. But as always, it is up to police to act independently, free of any political interference, and they will continue to have the right to do so.
Scott Emerson: Now, I spoke to Tanya Plibersek, the shadow minister for women in the opposition, earlier on the programme. She said she didn't think that Christian Porter should stand down, but she didn't also say whether there should be or not an independent inquiry into this. Do you think there should be an inquiry now? Christian Porter made the point today. Well, how can he disprove something going back 33 years?
Simon Birmingham: Well, the question would be what is an independent inquiry expected to do that we don't expect our existing criminal justice systems to do? And we have we have already independent police with all the powers to undertake the investigations they need to determine whether or not to lay charges. And beyond that, we have, of course, systems through our courts to hear and determine cases. And obviously, in this case, it has not reached any of those points of going to court or indeed of any charges being laid. And we have to acknowledge that the systems we have in Australia, everyone should be seen as they are equal in the eyes of the law and everyone should have their rights to natural justice accorded as an important part of those principles.
Scott Emerson: Simon Birmingham, listen to the finance and the state of the Australian economy. Look, going back to pre-COVID as we went through the coronavirus over the last 12 months. So I don't think anyone expected to see the kind of figures that were released today, GDP being growing by three point one per cent. These are quite remarkable figures and really probably leading the world in terms of what we're seeing.
Simon Birmingham: We are world leading and Australians should be very proud of what as a country together people have managed to achieve. We have some of the best economic performance, just as we have some of the best health performances from right around the world. The Australian economy growing for the first time in recorded history for two consecutive quarters by more than three per cent over the course of the year. Of course, having had that, those two quarters of negative growth that occurred whilst we were dealing with the shutdowns in the height of the pandemic. We've ultimately come out of it with a contraction through 2020 that is significantly less than most other developed countries. Australia contracted by 2.5 per cent economically, the US by 3.3, Japan by 4.8, Canada by 5, France by 8.2, The U.K. by 9.9. So it is it is very strong economic performance relative to comparable developed nations around the world. And of course, what that has done is fed into the jobs recovery that we've seen. It doesn't mean that everything is perfect or they are out of the woods yet completely. But it certainly shows that we have a world leading economic performance in recovery and that we should continue to have and build confidence that recovery can be sustained.
Scott Emerson: Well, as you said before, we're not out of the woods yet. And while these are very strong figures today, clearly there are sectors that are doing it tough. The obvious one being here in Queensland, the tourism sector still struggling after the lockdown's and even questions now being raised about how successful Easter will be with caution from interstate travellers coming here to Queensland. Despite these figures, are you still looking at some sort of specific sector support for tourism?
Simon Birmingham: Well, looking carefully around the end of JobKeeper at the end of March as to what activity needs to be targeted and supported across the Australian economy to maintain critical services like aviation and to ensure that we see the recovery continue in those areas of tourism activity. We know that there's huge almost pent up demand across Australia for people to be able to plan and booked holidays and to have the confidence to undertake them. And I hope that having now had a couple of weeks of a COVID free environment largely across the country, that we can build that confidence for for people to be able to book and plan those holidays across interstate borders proper true holidays is not just a quick weekend away, but spending a week or a couple of weeks or more actually undertaking experiences like you would overseas, really getting out and living the Australian holiday experience. That would usually be something our international visitors would do. Australians can and should do that through the course of this year. And we want to make sure that we are creating the environment and supporting that activity to sustain those tourism jobs.
Scott Emerson: Well, Simon Birmingham, hopefully we'll get you up to Queensland for a holiday here and enjoy our beautiful state.
Simon Birmingham: Plenty of work to do, Scott, but love to do so at some stage for sure.
Scott Emerson: All right, Minister, thanks for being on 4BC Drive this afternoon.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you. My pleasure, mate.