Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Friday, 30 April 2021
Laura Jayes: National Cabinet will meet today. There's plenty of items on the agenda, including the travel ban from India. Let's go live now to Adelaide. That's where we find Simon Birmingham, the Finance Minister. Thanks so much for your time, Senator. First of all, with this National Cabinet convening and the travel ban, we believe that we've just heard from the Prime Minister on 2GB talking about the loophole that has been closed. He has advice on that. Are you confident that what we've put in place does actually hold and there's no loopholes for people trying to get back from India without quarantining?
Simon Birmingham: Laura, I'm confident that we do have a series of lines of protection, if you like, the decision that was taken earlier this week was one to immediately cease over the couple of week period direct flights. And we were also advised at the time that the main ports of entry as secondary destinations through which arrivals from India were coming, such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Qatar, that we're putting in place additional protections themselves. So that, of course, was essentially going to stem the flow through those ports once we discovered that in the case of those coming through Doha on Qatar Airlines, there seemed to be some provisions for people in transit to be able to get through the net. We acted to make sure that that is being closed as well. We'll continue to monitor high risk countries in general. In the end international border. Restrictions have been perhaps the single most important protection for Australians against the spread of COVID, and they remain the most important barrier to prevent the entry of COVID into our country. And we're going to continue to work closely with the states and territories to make sure that those international border protections are effectively applied in ways that keep Australia safe.
Laura Jayes: National Cabinet will also be talking about the quarantine system. It is working well, almost 100 per cent strike rate, we all know about the leaks from time to time. But some states want greater support. What is the federal government willing to do over and above? What's being done now? Are you willing to come to the party with extra resources and cash?
Simon Birmingham: Well, as we close the borders at the start of last year, the quarantine system has been incredibly important. And it's also been a partnership throughout its history. We've worked to support the states and territories through resources from the Defence Forces at various times. And we've worked with them in terms of some of the standards and the auditing and the processes in place to make sure that they have ratcheted up as we've all learnt more about COVID and learn more about how to prevent the spread of this disease in in different environments. And so it's very important that we continue to heed those lessons, but also even more important that we continue to work closely together. States and the Commonwealth don't always agree, but over this timeline, there's been far more agreement, far more cooperation than many had expected possible. And we're committed to maintaining that wherever it is possible. And that means that we will look, for example, closely at the Victorian proposal that's been brought forward and we'll give it due consideration and will engage with the Victorian government. It's got more detail to it than some of the other ideas that have been put forward from time to time by the states. And so we'll show the regard that a detailed proposal deserves.
Laura Jayes: Premiers have also been working on individual plans to try and bring international students of course, and they mean a lot to the economy. There's a large cohort of these international students from India, has the second way they're really cooled any chance of that happening?
Simon Birmingham: I think it certainly makes the case around international students from India very difficult. Now, first and foremost, keeping the country safe from COVID is the number one objective. And that means that we apply whatever international border restrictions continue to be necessary to give us the best chance of preventing the spread of it in the Australian community, because that is what has enabled our country to have one of the best health outcomes in the world and one of the best economic outcomes in the world, and to actually keep Australians jobs safe as well as their lives safe. And so that's why we will continue to take a very firm approach when it comes to those international borders while we deal with a very uncertain global environment. But where the states and territories think they have proposals that meet the high standard that can allow and facilitate some international students to come in where they're creating additional places over and above, returning Australians, putting in place all the relevant safeguards and doing it from countries that don't present an unacceptably high risk well they're proposals that can be sensibly worked through to make sure that we do what is possible, but nothing that would jeopardise Australia's continued success.
Laura Jayes: Okay, Minister, let's talk budget. How would you say that you're dealing with debt? Would you say you're embracing it?
Simon Birmingham: No, I'd say that we are doing what's necessary, doing what's necessary to support Australia's economic recovery, doing what's necessary to keep Australians in jobs and to create more jobs. And we're doing it in an environment where we are following the expert advice of the officials from the Treasury, the officials from the Reserve Bank of Australia. We're working with them. We're understanding what their assessments say in relation to the future projections around the management of debt levels. And those future projections show very much that at the rate at which we can grow the economy should enable us to continue to sustainably service the debts that we have and to do so indeed at rates and costs lower than Australia's faced at times in the past due to the very low levels of interest rates that are there right now. So we also know that in growing that economy and in creating more jobs, every single person we shift from welfare to employment is a step in the path of balancing the budget. Because every single person we move from a welfare payment into a job is somebody who moves from being a recipient of government money to a contributor through their taxes. And that was evident in the data that the Treasurer released yesterday showing that with two hundred thousand more people in jobs at the start of this year than had been previously forecast, that is a five billion dollar benefit to the budget bottom line, because you've got billions of dollars in more taxes being paid and billions of dollars in fewer payments being made. And that's the type of virtuous cycle that we're very focussed on creating.
Laura Jayes: We're going to need those billions of dollars to pay for a growing aged care bill. In the budget, will that be detailed year on year and will you hypothecate spending?
Simon Birmingham: So we'll detail in the budget how we are responding to the aged care royal commission in further ways to those that we've already outlined. And it's important to remember that as a government we've built by many tens of thousands the number of places in terms of home care services that we outlined at the time the Royal Commission report was handed down a number of measures to to improve quality and standards in relation to aged care and will outline further measures in that regard in the budget as to how we are responding to that aged care royal commission report and in outlining those they'll be transparent, they'll be budgeted. It will be clear to all to see how we are continuing to increase our investment in those types of essential services Australians rely on. And that has been Scott Morrison's mantra from day one right through the last election campaign. It was all about ensuring that we have a strong economy that generates jobs for Australians and can pay for the services that Australians rely on. And in this budget, we will not only be dealing with all of the uncertainties of COVID all of our focus on economic recovery and jobs growth, but also on the delivery of those essential services like aged care.
Laura Jayes: Would you support a plan in which you did maintain the increase in super but also perhaps hypothecate a percentage of that increase to pay for aged care?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I'm not going to run through lots of hypotheticals in the budget-
Laura Jayes: But it's a good idea.
Simon Birmingham: Superannuation payments, are there to provide for people's retirement years. And those retirement years involve people as well, making contributions already as they do towards parts of their aged care services if they need that. Australians already make certain contributions to residential aged care. They already make certain contributions in certain cases to home care and support.
Laura Jayes: Would you rule it-
Simon Birmingham: Our intention is to continue to be a low taxing government, a low taxing government that drives taxes as low as we possibly can.
Laura Jayes: But super is not a tax is it?
Simon Birmingham: -to invest and to spend. What you're proposing to me, if you're talking about taking money into government revenue to spend on aged care, is effectively a tax or levy.
Laura Jayes: Ok, so you'd see-
Simon Birmingham: And our commitment is to maintain our position as a low taxing government.
Laura Jayes: So you'd see an increase to super hypothecated to aged care, even if it was individual as a levy and as a principle, you wouldn't support that?
Simon Birmingham: All of these things depend on how you structure it. But as I said before, Australians already make contributions towards their aged care services. And for many Australians, they make those contributions out of the superannuation savings they have.
Laura Jayes: All right. One final question.
Simon Birmingham: That's an individual contribution, therefore, rather than a tax.
Laura Jayes: Ok, the Prime Minister is meeting with Brittany Higgins today. Have there been any conclusions to the many processes and investigations that we've set up in the wake of that shocking incident?
Simon Birmingham: Obviously, the PM welcomes this opportunity and is grateful for the fact that Brittany, who sought the meeting, the Prime Minister, has been able to accommodate that, having indicated he was happy to do so in March. And I'm pleased that that's taking place. I also welcome the fact that that Britany or indeed many other individuals who wish to, will be able to participate in the process that Kate Jenkins, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, is undertaking for an overhaul and complete review of parliamentary workplace safety standards, practises advice and so forth. All of which I trust can ensure we have best practise standards in those parliamentary workplaces and Kate's work has been outlined on a schedule that sees her report in November of this year in terms of investigations into the specific instances, as is well known. The Australian Federal Police have their formal process in relation to investigation of the allegations. It would be inappropriate for me to know anything other than is in the public domain on that regard. And that is that I assume those investigations are ongoing and that has had an impact into some of the other internal pieces of work that have been paused in part due to those investigations.
Laura Jayes: Ok, Minister Birmingham, thanks so much for your time.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Laura. My pleasure.