Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Tuesday, 15 March 2022
Simon Birmingham: The election issue. This is it, after two long years, most Australians are just barely hanging on Ali.
Allison Langdon: All right. Well, let's bring in. Finance Minister Simon Birmingham. He's in Adelaide to talk about this. Simon, I mean, you just heard from people right around the country this morning. Do you understand how much people are hurting right now?
Simon Birmingham: Morning, Ali. Yes, indeed. We know that fuel prices really do hurt people and that they feel that pain. And certainly, as we frame the federal budget that is in two weeks’ time, we'll be looking to make sure that we consider all of the different issues that are important, how we keep Australia's economic recovery going as strongly as it has been, how we keep jobs growth going as strongly as it has been, how we continue to respond to cost of living pressures. The things that we've done so far in the past to respond to cost of living pressures have been income tax cuts that right now are putting about $1.5 billion a month extra into the pockets of Australian families and households. For somebody earning about $90,000, that translates to around $50 a week that they're better off. We've also successfully applied pressure to drive down electricity prices by about eight per cent over the last two years. That's been a consequence of our policies, and I think Australians know these fuel price issues are a function of what's happening in Ukraine and Russia's war that they've ignited there. There's something right around the world and they're outside of our direct control-
Allison Langdon: Yeah, but you've still got people Simon that we just heard from and I get all of that and a lot of this is outside your control. But when you see people going on trying to decide if I buy toothpaste this week or if I buy toilet paper, I mean, so, much has got to be done right? So what are you looking at here with a budget two weeks away? Would you support a cut to the fuel excise? It's been really interesting that a lot of motoring groups have said that they're not on board with that. How do you feel about it? And if you do, how much would you cut it by?
Simon Birmingham: Well the motoring groups are right to highlight the fact that fuel excise is an important revenue stream to pay for roads, to pay for critical infrastructure that motorists drive on. Now I'm not going to entertain speculation about what precise measures will be in the budget in two weeks’ time, but to just reassure viewers that we are very mindful of the cost of living pressures, but also of how we make sure that we manage inflation carefully, that we don't do things that could put additional upwards pressure on interest rates and that we keep the economic recovery going strongly. 1.7 million additional jobs have been created in Australia, and we don't want to do anything to jeopardise that continued job creation environment either-
Allison Langdon: So is a cut to the fuel excise on the table at this stage?
Simon Birmingham: Look, if I start talking about what is or isn't on the table for a budget two weeks away, it just ignites all sorts of speculation. And we're going to carefully frame the budget in two weeks’ time, and we're taking into account all of the economic advice we can about how we make sure we balance all of the difficult international factors war in Europe that we face right now, the continued pressures of COVID recovery and how we manage the international inflationary environment. We've got to do all that while we make sure we don't destroy the great things that have been happening in Australia with those high rates of jobs growth with more than one million additional jobs created for Australian women and that strength of our economic recovery, which is led ahead of the G7 nations in terms of just how strongly we're performing.
Allison Langdon: Well, I mean, we're focussing on petrol here this morning, of course, but it's also groceries. They're going up right across the board. You're on track for inflation to hit a 14 year high. This is at a time when the only thing not going up is wages. I imagine this is not where you want to be heading into an election.
Simon Birmingham: Well its why, as I said in the outset, we have focussed so carefully in terms of helping Australian families with how much money they've got available, the income tax cuts that we introduce and are putting extra cash into Australian pockets, that's disposable income to help Australians to deal with these pressures-
Allison Langdon: But respectfully, even with that, even with that, it's not enough. It's not enough for people and for families to get by week to week.
Simon Birmingham: And Ali, it's why we continuously look at what we can do to support Australians. We have a federal budget that has had to take on huge additional costs during COVID-19, health costs and economic costs that have driven the budget to a very significant deficit. So it's not like there's lots of extra cash that can be splashed around despite what the Labor Party may think or promise. What we're focussed on doing is having that careful economic management supporting Australians where we can. If you look at what we've done with electricity prices, which rose extraordinarily during the Labor years, we've put in place careful policies that have driven them down by eight per cent on average over the last two years. That's a very significant achievement, coupled with those income tax cuts for small businesses who I know are feeling this pain as well. We cut small business company tax rate down to 25 per cent. These are things that we have done. But of course, with the budget in two weeks, we'll be looking to see what else we can do without jeopardising the other economic settings that we have to manage-
Allison Langdon: So we'll get all our answers in two weeks’ time as to what's going to get done. Meantime, you've got dozens of the country's top emergency chiefs. They've slammed your government's quote fumbling response to the floods disaster. How did you get it so wrong?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Ali, we had troops available to work with the states and territories, and they started doing rescue operations early on in the piece. They've been on the ground, but we respond in terms of providing those troops in those supports to states and territories. We've made hundreds of millions of dollars, many hundreds of millions of dollars of payments already in support for families. And what is crucial here is that we continue in terms of events like this one in 500 year flood event to make sure we learn the lessons in terms of how people can build and the country can build better resilience to events of that extreme nature in the future. But we've worked as closely as we can with the states and territories to support their response efforts, including through that provision of Defence Force personnel.
Allison Langdon: Well, Minister, as you know, plenty of people are hurting right now on several fronts. We really appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.