Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Monday, 22 November 2021
Simon Birmingham: ...These are world leading vaccination rates, giving Australia the maximum protection to be able to reopen safely, to reopen our small businesses and to reopen our daily lives, to reopen our international borders in careful, cautious ways in accordance with the national plan that Scott Morrison took to the national cabinet earlier this year.
Our intention is to keep progressing as quickly as we can whilst doing so as safely as we can. That safety is underpinned by the widespread vaccination rates we're seeing across the country. It's enabled us to reopen to returning Australian citizens, permanent residents and their families, and it will enable us to now move into the next stage of reopening to international students so that they can get back here, to support our universities and the many small businesses that depend upon them by the start of the academic year next year. To get essential workers back into the country and to continue the process of normalisation due to the success in our management of COVID-19. It's been underpinned by economic policies that have seen $5 billion worth of tax cuts, supporting and stimulating the investment and employment activities of small businesses across Australia. They continue to see around one and a half billion dollars a month of personal income tax cuts, underpinning the economic activity of Australian families and households. And of course the saving of lives, more than 30,000 that have been saved due to the successful management of COVID whilst we've got to this point of higher vaccination rates.
Journalist: We're heading towards an election next year. Why has it taken so long to get these key election promises, like the religious freedom bill and a federal ICAC? Why has it taken so long for that to come to parliament?
Simon Birmingham: These are complex pieces of legal arrangement and of legislation. The Attorney-General has had those bills drafted released for public comment. Indeed, on multiple occasions, in some instances. She has been working through that public comment and the feedback in relation to those laws. But they don't. You have more to say during the course of this fortnight.
Journalist: Minister. How are you going to deal with rebel backbenchers in the Senate and threatening to derail your agenda?
Simon Birmingham: It's a time honoured tradition of the liberal and national parties that we allow our MPs to cross the floor without being tossed out of the party. And that right to exercise individual freedom is an important one. However, it's a right that should always be used sparingly, and I would urge any member of Parliament to not conflate unrelated issues to consider each vote, each bill on its merits. And I hope that is the way people engage during the course of these parliamentary proceedings.
Journalist: Have you discussed the matter with Senators Rennick and Antic?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I and other members of the government have had many discussions, as we always do with our colleagues. I respect the confidentiality of discussions with my colleagues. I understand that they have passionate views and it's why the liberal and national parties allow our Members - without threat of expulsion like the Labor Party has - to exercise their rights and their will. But equally, I, along with every other liberal senator, were elected by voters supporting the Liberal Party as a result of the hard work of Liberal Party members and volunteers and they want to make sure that I engage in support of the government as much as possible across all areas of our agenda, and I'm sure that holds true for what members expect of all our colleagues.
Journalist: Minister, do you believe some of your colleagues are a bit stupid for threatening to block certain bills over something the prime minister can't control?
Simon Birmingham: I'd never get to the point of using that sort of description towards my colleagues.
Journalist: Minister, was inappropriate for both those senators Rennick and Antic to address anti-vaccination, anti-lockdown rallies over the weekend?
Simon Birmingham: The right to protest is again one that is an important one in a free democracy like Australia. It's what stands us apart from totalitarian regimes around the world. But protest should, always, should always be undertaken peacefully, respectfully and not engage in any way that threatens peaceful activity across our country. I've not seen any suggestion that the events that those senators spoke out on the weekend crossed that line, and I would hope that they I'm sure they would have been encouraging only that sort of peaceful protest activity.
Journalist: Is the national integrity legislation going to be kicked off into next year?
Simon Birmingham: As I said before the Attorney-General have more to say in relation to those couple of bills during the course of this fortnight I'm sure.
Journalist: Being a cabinet minister though you can tell us whether or not it's going to be on the agenda for this coming fortnight?
Simon Birmingham: I can also play the team game and respect the role of my other senior cabinet members. Thank you very much.