Transcripts → 2021


Sky News Live - Afternoon Agenda with Kieran Gilbert

Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia


Date: Thursday, 11 November 2021

Labour force data; Federal budget; US-China emissions agreement; NSW COP26;

Kieran Gilbert: Now, I caught up with the finance minister, Simon Birmingham, a little earlier about these jobs numbers, which has seen it spike to 5.2 per cent, and I asked him whether or not he considers this just a blip before the recovery takes over.


Simon Birmingham: Kieran, I think Australians should all still have a high level of confidence in relation to the Australian economy and the employment outlook. These results today show the power of reopening. They show that in New South Wales, as the state reopened, some 22,000 additional jobs were created. It was a survey taken during Victoria's period of still being in lockdown, and we know that circumstances in Victoria are very challenging. But on the whole, we've got employment data today that shows the participation rate is up. That shows the effective unemployment rate is down, the number of people working zero hours is down and shows indeed the continued resilience and strength on the whole of the Australian economy and of the labour market.


Kieran Gilbert: Now, while the government talks about this recovery and resurgent economy, do you accept that it's not an even recovery that nearly two million Australians are either out of work or underemployed? They don't have enough hours.


Simon Birmingham: What we have is more jobs in Australia than was the case 12 months ago. But of course, the need for us to continue to deliver upon the economic recovery plan that our government outlined in this year's budget. And whilst the Delta variant striking and the impact of lockdowns in Victoria and New South Wales, the ACT has hurt the economy to a certain degree. I think we can see the fundamentals remain very, very strong and our economic recovery plans as a government in terms of delivering incentives for Australian businesses to invest more in plant machinery, capital equipment in terms of encouraging Australians to be able to invest more through our tax reform agenda and lower income taxes for Australians. Our investment in our digital economy strategy, in the pharmaceuticals and biotechnology area, through the new patent box reforms, our Agriculture 2030 Strategy, our Modern Manufacturing Strategy. These are all designed to make sure that we see the strength in the Australian economy only get better and stronger. And the confidence that we've seen from the Reserve Bank from many international agencies should give Australians heart that we're on the right track.


Kieran Gilbert: But how is that message going to be received by those nearly two million who don't have enough work?


Simon Birmingham: Well, they should have confidence that the plans and strategies have delivered some of the best results in the world to date. Not just in terms of saving the lives of Australians, more than 30,000 lives saved through the pandemic. But in saving the livelihoods, jobs and businesses of Australians. And our economic resilience through these couple of years has been quite remarkable and particularly the resilience in the labour market. But of course, it's a job that is a continuing one, and that's why we are intently focussed on delivering all of those plans outlined in the budget, on delivering on the different economic growth strategies that we have as a government and making sure that we continue to have that type of growth and strength. Going back to the start of last year, as we entered into this uncertain COVID world, most people would have thought it unbelievable to see the unemployment rate where it stands today and the fact that we have managed to keep unemployment so low, employment so strong, businesses so strong, is a credit to the policies that have worked. But we know there's so much more to do and crucially we know the role of reopening in that regard. And as I said before, these results today are a testament to the power of reopening that show the New South Wales economy rebounding. And what we must make sure over the coming months is that as many parts of the Australian economy and as many states as of Australia have as much activity as possible as we charge through this period of reopening and moving to a highly vaccinated population that can deal with COVID in a more normal way going forward.


Kieran Gilbert: Anthony Albanese says in terms of the budget, if you do bring it forward to April and have an election in May that the government is clinging on for the election here, that the normal cycle would see election in March, whoever wins then delivers the budget in May. Is that a fair point?


Simon Birmingham: Well, there's something wrong with Anthony Albanese's arithmetic there, because the last election was in May and there was a budget prior to the last election. That is what happened in 2019. There's no reason that can't happen once again in 2022. And of course, I don't see anybody in Australia who comes bashing my door down, saying, Jeez, we wish elections in Australia were more frequent that governments shortcut their three year terms. They usually want us to get on, run the full term and make sure that we focus on governing in their interests. And that's precisely what we will do. The only people who seem to be spending all their time focussing on when the election might be is the Labor Party and Anthony Albanese in particular. He's wanted to speculate about December. He's wanting to call for it to be in March, and he seems to want to spend all his time talking about the election. We want to spend our time talking about and focussing on delivering the policies that matter to Australians in terms of their job security, in terms of economic growth and in terms of the national security and prosperity of this country in the future. Not worrying about the timing of elections.


Kieran Gilbert: It sounds very much like you're preparing for that April budget. Is that fair to say?


Simon Birmingham: Look, we will work through the normal process of events there, and that may well involve handing down a budget in April. There will certainly be a budget early next year that is the normal course of events. The election is due by May, and we'll work through the timing of all of those issues as we enter into next year. And the Prime Minister will no doubt take all the different relevant facts into account there.


Kieran Gilbert: In Glasgow we've seen a significant deal between China and the United States. Some analysts and commentators are saying that this further isolates Australia and our position. What's your response to that?


Simon Birmingham: Oh, well, I completely reject that, and I warmly welcome the agreement and the statement that has been made by the world's two largest emitters. The fact that China has not increased its scale of ambition in relation to the COP26 discussions and is still sticking to a net zero by 2060 position, is something that we would like to see change. We would like to see and hope that this type of discussion between the US and China could bring China to a position that Australia holds and many other countries hold in terms of achieving net zero by 2050. We hope that the type of cooperation that may ensue under this statement will enable China to make that decision. We know that what will drive them towards that will be the type of technology and cooperation that is envisaged in this statement between the US and China. Consistent indeed with the different agreements we've signed as a country, be it with Germany or with South Korea or Japan or a range of international partners where we're embracing technological cooperation. Because it will be those breakthroughs in technology that enable the big emitting countries. Three of the four largest emitters in the world China, Russia and India, all of whom are holding out in terms of a 2050 deadline to perhaps bring forward their positions. If we can get those breakthroughs in technology that enable them to see cost effective pathways to reduce their emissions whilst preserving their economies and trying to grow the lifestyles and standards for people in their nations.


Kieran Gilbert: The host, Boris Johnson, is saying he wants some nations, including Australia, to revisit the 2030 targets and to strengthen them by the end of next year, will the Morrison Government agree to that?


Simon Birmingham: We lodged in the lead up to the Glasgow conference a new update in relation to our nationally determined commitments that provided the trajectory demonstrating that we're on track to meet and to beat the 26 to 28 per cent reduction target that we'd put, that we're on track to achieve 30 to 35 per cent instead. We certainly welcome all countries of the world seeking to not just meet but to exceed the commitments they've made. And what we'll continue to do as a government as we have always done is to quite transparently in quite a detailed way, release the regular updates in relation to Australia's emissions profile and the trajectories in terms of how we're tracking in meeting the commitments we've made. And if we can further exceed that 30 to 35 per cent reduction that we now see is possible. Then, of course, we will strive to do so because that's what we've sought to do at every juncture in meeting and exceeding our international climate change targets.


Kieran Gilbert: Minister, the New South Wales Treasurer and Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean has said that New South Wales is signing on to the UN COP26 declaration to accelerate the transition to zero emissions vehicles by 2040. Will the federal government approve that?


Simon Birmingham: What we want to do is ensure that Australians, just as they have embraced the choice of being world leaders when it comes to having rooftop solar, also embrace that choice when it comes to transitioning to lower emissions vehicles, electric vehicles, hybrids, hydrogen vehicles, the different suite of options that we expect to see increasingly come onto the market. And so we have complete confidence that Australians, when they're given effective choices, they're backed up by the infrastructure in terms of charging infrastructure in their homes, at their workplaces, particularly support for how we manage the electricity grid to underpin that charging infrastructure, will make the transition to lower emissions vehicles just as they've done so elsewhere. And we're seeing more and more such vehicles come on the market and we're determined that we will provide that effective support for Australians to make that choice as they get those options available to them with the infrastructure and the resources and the facilities necessary to embody and enable that choice.


Kieran Gilbert: But just on the Matt Kean and New South Wales government commitment, will the federal government give approval for them to sign on to that UN declaration, with federal government approval now necessary under law?


Simon Birmingham: Well, there's a process in place in relation to states and territories making international agreements now. That process involves them working through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and I'm sure they'll go through that properly. And of course, that will receive the requisite normal assessments in that regard. I wouldn't want to prejudge or pre-empt what the assessments are, but we are certainly there in terms of wanting to see Australians have absolute choice and empowerment to embrace electric vehicles or other low emissions vehicles. And the way we do that best is by ensuring they've got the infrastructure and the facilities to be able to do so and an electricity grid that enables them to do so. And that's what we're investing now, some $1.2 billion in, I think in total with the additional commitments that were announced this week.


Kieran Gilbert: That was Simon Birmingham, the Finance Minister, I caught up with him a bit earlier this afternoon.