Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Monday, 26 July 2021
Simon Birmingham: Thanks very much for coming today. There are a couple of matters I'd like to touch on. Firstly, to welcome the finalisation and public release of the review into parliamentary workplaces completed by the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Stephanie Foster. I welcome very much Ms Foster's report. The Government intends to act upon all of the recommendations in this Foster's report. We take very seriously the need to ensure that workplaces across Australia's Parliament are as safe and respectful as possible. This report provides opportunities for us to enhance training available to Members of Parliament and staff to ensure the creation of a serious incidents team and response unit to investigate serious issues of harassment or bullying and ensure impartial, proper processes are followed. It's not the end of the matter, though, the important work being undertaken by Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, is ongoing. We look forward to the finalisation of Commissioner Jenkins' work, which has got more time and more ability to consult more widely to bring further expertise to the table and to build upon the recommendations of Ms Foster. And I encourage all of those current and former parliamentary staff, current and former members of parliament and others who have worked in parliamentary workplaces to engage with Commissioner Jenkins and to make submissions and participate in her review to ensure that it can be as thorough as possible.
I also want to touch on Labor's announcement regarding tax policy today. Now Australia's economy has been held up both before the COVID-9 crisis and through the COVID-19 crisis as a world leading, almost miracle economy. Under our government lower taxes, strong economic policy drove Australia to have record numbers of people in jobs pre COVID. And throughout COVID, our response has managed to ensure that we save jobs and have brought jobs back at record numbers compared to the rest of the world. The simple fact of our economic policies has been that lower taxes, strong economic policies have got more Australians in jobs and created more opportunities for Australians in the workplace. And crucially, keeping taxes low is essential to our economic recovery postcode to making sure that Australia retains its world leading economy and that most Australians retain the opportunity to have a job and secure a job. Right now, we've got Australians receiving more than two billion dollars extra a month in their household and family budgets as a result of the Liberal and National Party's lower taxes. The Morrison Government is committed to lower taxes. We've delivered low taxes and we will continue to deliver lower taxes in the future.
What we've seen today from the Labor Party is perhaps the most agonising, the most half-hearted concession in Australian politics ever, and one that can't really be believed. When Labor Party have come out today suggesting that they will now backing our plan to take the marginal tax rate for more than 95 per cent of Australians down to a top of 30 cents in the dollar. They've done it after months, years of bickering and arguing inside Labor. We know they're divided. We know that don't believe in it. And they can't be trusted with it. Equally, when they say they're going to tear up all the tax policies they took to the last election, the truth is they won't tear those policies up. They'll just put them in the bottom drawer to dust them off after the election if they win. Australians in their hearts know the Liberal and National Parties, the Morrison Government have committed to lower taxes because we deliver lower taxes and from that we've created more jobs.
The Labor Party has in their DNA a desire to always seize higher taxes, push them up higher, and certainly can't be trusted with promises in relation to lower taxes. Some Australians will be old enough to remember when Paul Keating went to an election promising that his tax cuts were L.A.W law, but then he didn't even deliver them after the election. His own tax cuts. Well certainly how can you trust the Labor Party today to say that they would deliver the Liberal Party's tax cuts, the Morrison Government's tax cuts, when in the past they haven't even stood by their own promises of lower taxes.
Journalist: Senator, just on the Foster report to begin with. That reporting and response reform that's required. What is that going to look like and how will the government guarantee it'll be independent?
Simon Birmingham: So what Stephanie Foster has recommended in relation to the approach to serious incidents, complaints, handling and resolution is that a process be put in place with Parliamentary Services Commissioner and the Parliamentary Services Commissioner does not report to the government or a government minister, but instead to the Presiding Officers of the Parliament. So it provides a detachment, if you like, from the process of government and an independence associated with the presiding officers. That we put in place, arrangements that we provide for full confidentiality, proper process, natural justice to apply in the investigation of complaints, but ultimately also processes that parliament can consider where if issues remain unresolved through proper the process then parliament itself may report issues further to the public.
Journalist: The report also recommend a taskforce be set up to implement the recommendations. How is that going to look?
Simon Birmingham: The government will now work across party lines and with the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate to ensure that we have the appropriate and people brought together for implementation of the recommendations and to make sure that we can make appropriate referrals to the Parliamentary Services Commissioner to get the serious incident team and associated investigatory functions in place, as well as ensure that in relation to training for which we have already piloted some of that training, I have undertaken the training myself as part of that pilot programme and government will expect that we work across party lines to make that training available to all MPs, all their staff, and Ms Foster has recommended the parliament consider publicly reporting those MPs and Senators who undertake it. And that, again, will be part of the discussions the government takes forward with Parliament.
Journalist: Do you have any idea specifically who will sit on that task force at this stage?
Simon Birmingham: The taskforce will be designed to ensure expert implementation of the recommendations it won't be a political affair.
Journalist: Who will that look like, the experts?
Simon Birmingham: Well we'll work with the Parliamentary Services Commissioner and other officials in relation to that. It's about the practical implementation from here on in.
Journalist: Talking about that training, will there be consequences for MPs who don't complete the training?
Simon Birmingham: Well, the biggest consequence for most employees is usually a name and shame consequence. That's what occurs in a range of other practises. And what Ms Foster has recommended is that there be a public register of those who undertake the training. The Prime Minister has made it clear that his expectation is that all of his Ministers will need to undertake that training, and that would be an expectation placed upon those where he can apply it. But for the rest of the Parliament, it will be for the Parliament to consider exactly how that name and shame function may work. And for those who may refuse to do so.
Journalist: Maybe speaking about ministers then, what would the consequences be for a minister who didn't choose to undertake the training?
Simon Birmingham: Well, the ultimate consequences is to cease to be a minister, I trust that all get on and undertake training as and when it's made available.
Journalist: Do you imagine that would be the outcome?
Simon Birmingham: Prime Minister's made it clear that he expects all his ministers to undertake the training. That's an expectation the Prime Minister places upon a minister. Then it is a requirement in terms of continuing to serve as a minister.
Journalist: Just talking about the opposition's announcements around tax cuts. Given half the country is currently in lockdown. Is it time to perhaps be reconsidering generous tax cuts altogether for wealthier Australians?
Simon Birmingham: Tax cuts have proven to be an essential way of making the Australian economy more competitive and in doing so, getting more Australians into jobs. We have record jobs today and had record jobs pre pandemic as a function of a strong economy fuelled by lower taxes. Maintaining their economic strength on the other side of that is going to be essential to Australia's place in the world. And that's why I'm making sure that we have some of the most competitive tax rates in Australia's history is crucial. Under our reforms, we're going to ensure that more than 95 per cent of Australians pay no more than 30 cents in the dollar as their top marginal tax rate. That's about backing hard working Australians and their families to have the incentive to work harder, to strive harder, to keep more. But in doing so, to grow our economy more strongly and to create more jobs. That's the model that has been proven to work, tried and tested, that delivering that support into the Australian economy creates more jobs. And it's just, frankly, something that the Labor Party cannot be trusted with, a party that has spent the past few years debating whether or not they're for or against these tax cuts while promising higher taxes elsewhere, can't possibly be trusted to keep their word after an election in relation to taxes.
Let's remember the alternate parallel universe where Labor had won the last election. And we'd gone through COVID not with the type of lower taxes of the coalition, but with the higher taxes that Bill Shorten, Anthony Albanese and Labor Party promised at the last election. That would have been a recipe for economic disaster to face the COVID crisis and all of the higher taxes they were proposing. And far from tearing up those higher taxing policies. Australians know Labor would just be putting them in the bottom drawer to dust off another day if they were to win the election.
Journalist: Why not focus though I suppose on the vulnerable groups, lower income earners, rather than pushing ahead with the phase three tax cuts?
Simon Birmingham: These tax cuts were phased in a way to make sure that we delivered the earliest gains to the lowest income earners, but ultimately that we achieve the type of reform across Australia's tax system that creates the maximum incentive for economic growth, for jobs growth and for people to pursue those ambitions.
Journalist: Does Labor getting on boards and these phase three tax cuts does that take a little bit of the wind out of the government's sails, for any proposed coming election campaign. Was this something you were hoping you could attack the opposition over?
Simon Birmingham: I don't think Labour's announcement today will change much with the Australian people because Labor have come so half-heartedly, so begrudgingly to this decision that it shows that deep down they don't really believe it themselves.