Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Thursday, 29 April 2021
Kieran Gilbert: Live to the Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham, who joins us. When the Treasurer talks about turning to repair the fiscal buffers when we're over the crisis. When do you know we're past the crisis? What measures will you use?
Simon Birmingham: Well, thanks, Kieran, for the opportunity to be with you. And we will continue to be looking very carefully, first and foremost at job levels across Australia in the unemployment rate. And that's been incredibly encouraging to date. And having actually got to the point where we now have more Australians in work than ever before, more Australians in work than before the pandemic. These are very encouraging steps that we've taken, but it is against a backdrop of great global uncertainty. We can see that through the continued crisis in parts of Europe, in parts of South America, the tragedy in India. It's against a backdrop of global uncertainty around vaccines and exactly how they're going to work, how long they're going to work, and the effectiveness of rollouts around the world. And we can see those challenges that we've lived and are living here in Australia, too. And so we know that there's great uncertainty that still exists and that those things are very good in Australia compared to the rest of the world in terms of health outcomes and economic outcomes. We have to continue to protect the great progress that we have made.
Kieran Gilbert: What's the marker? Is it but is it five per cent underemployment is that it?
Simon Birmingham: The marker is a combination of factors, it's not going to be a single one factor when you then ignore all of the other uncertainties that might exist around the world. So we will have to continue to assess, as we do each and every budget, each and every budget update. Our focus as a government has always been on creating jobs for Australians. That's why pre pandemic, we'd got to the point where they were one point six million new jobs for Australians that had been created during the life of our government. And in doing that, we'd been able to bring the budget back to balance. In doing that, we're able to pay for the services that Australians expect and rely upon, and nothing has changed-
Kieran Gilbert: But there's been a- lot has changed in terms of the message, though, because you've gone from saying we've got to stop debt and deficit to massive debt and we don't know when your focus goes back to repairing the budget?
Simon Birmingham: Oh, every additional job created is a step in the journey of repairing the budget. Because the evidence that Treasury provided that the Treasurer released today showing that there's some five billion dollar budget turnaround as a result of there being two hundred thousand more Australians in work than it was forecast and anticipated during the early part of this year. That has led to a turnaround in terms of reduced welfare payments, increased tax receipts. And it's that type of virtuous cycle that we had created, pre pandemic that got us to the point of a balanced budget and enabled budget surpluses, and it will be continued focus on jobs growth. That gets us back to a similar point at some point in the future.
Kieran Gilbert: Do you see the irony where we've got this talk of conflict, potential conflict with China from a senior public servant in this discourse at the same time that the iron ore price is nearly two hundred dollars per ton and it's underpinning our budget, the biggest customer, China.
Simon Birmingham: We're hearing there are many things that that underpin our budget, but our trading relationship, our economic relationship, our regional relationship with China is important and our government continues to wish to see peaceful engagement by China in the region. Cooperative engagement, respectful engagement. And that is something that we will continue to welcome. We, of course, have stood very firm in relation to Australia's values, Australia's sovereignty, Australia's interests. And we won't compromise on any of those things. And that includes our interests in seeing a free, open, prosperous Indo-Pacific region in which the sovereignty of all nations is respected, in which the rights of all nations day in regards to passage through the oceans of our region, with regards to the way in which they operate, their finances are respected. And can I warmly welcome indeed the observations and the commitments made by President Biden in his address to the US that demonstrates that the United States understands the strategic challenges faced by the world, is committed to continuing to work with all of their partners around the globe in defence of values of freedom and democracy, which Australia holds dear to our heart. But we all do it through a spirit of wanting to have peaceful coexistence and cooperation that has enabled trading relationships to be strong and has benefited people on all continents as a result of that type of open trading economy.
Kieran Gilbert: It is a massive windfall that iron ore price is for sure. But we'll wait for the budget to get that number. I just want to ask you finally, I had one of your colleagues send me a message after my exchange with Stuart Robert yesterday, where he explained laying on of hands the Pentecostal prayer and reached out to a couple of times, touched to embrace my shoulder. And one of your colleagues said, I fear they've become emboldened to the point that I feel very uncomfortable. Leave it in the church. Do you share that sentiment?
Simon Birmingham: I don't think those observations are necessary. I think that faith in Australia remains a largely private matter. I get that there's interest in the Prime Minister's faith, as indeed there has been in terms of the church goings of previous prime ministers at different times through history. But the Prime Minister conducts himself in a way where his faith is part of who he is, but it doesn't drive everything he does by any means. He works day and night for the interests of all Australians, regardless of their faith, regardless of their background, regardless of their gender, regardless of their circumstances. And I know that's what he will continue to do and expects all of us as ministers in this government to do as well.
Kieran Gilbert: Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, a busy time for you this budget cycle. Talk to you soon. Thanks.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Kieran. My pleasure