Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Monday, 28 March 2022
Sabra Lane: Simon Birmingham is the Finance Minister and the leader of the government in the Senate. He joins me in Parliament House. Good morning and welcome to AM.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Sabra. Great to be with you again.
Sabra Lane: It's being reported this morning that the Government will deliver a six month cut to fuel excise in the order of 10 to 20 cents. What's the thinking behind that?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I'll let specific budget measures stand for tomorrow night. But this will be a budget that deals with some of the most uncertain global environments that we've faced in a long time. The continued aftershocks of COVID-19, rising inflationary pressures around the world and the war in Ukraine. And so we will seek to keep momentum going in Australia's economy, which is growing faster than most other developed countries, but also to carefully respond to cost of living pressures that Australians are feeling as a result of those international events.
Sabra Lane: Sure, I'm not asking for a specific figure for the fuel excise cut, but why six months? Why not three? Why not 12?
Simon Birmingham: Sabra, in terms of the overall cost of living pressures Australians are facing, we know that these international factors are driving them, the spike in oil prices, which we would expect to settle and to come back to a more normalised level over a period of time. The spike in relation to transport, shipping and logistic costs that have flowed in part from COVID and also driven by other factors. So we can see a number of somewhat temporary inflationary pressures across the economy. We're hearing from Australians about the pressures these are causing on them and their families and that's why this will be a budget that seeks to keep the jobs growth going and that builds upon our record as a government of low taxation. Helping Australians have more disposable income because of our income tax cuts and we'll always look for ways to keep those taxes low for Australians.
Sabra Lane: I'm just curious on this point though. You've just alluded to that too. A month ago the Prime Minister dismissed a fuel excise cut, saying you don't go and completely recalibrate your budget based on fluctuations in oil price. They've gone up, they've gone down. And he pointed out that further increases in the price of crude oil would wipe out any benefit. So why about the about face on this? This has been widely briefed that you're going to do this.
Simon Birmingham: Well, Sabra, the international situation has deteriorated markedly during the course of the preparation of this budget. And with that deterioration, we've seen greater volatility, even greater spikes than had been forecast in areas such as oil prices. Now the budget will look across a range of different factors, whether it is those cost of living pressures and how we help address them. For Australians by targeted and temporary assistance that is responsible and doesn't add to long term deficits for the country, but does address short term pressures that come from short term global impacts. And so that is how we're approaching the budget, but also crucially with an eye to continue to invest in productive infrastructure across the country that keeps jobs growth going with an eye to make sure that Australian businesses continue to employ apprentices in record numbers as they are through just comprehensive skills packages.
Sabra Lane: On the infrastructure point, there is $17.9 billion more in infrastructure spending, including in commuter car parks. Are the successful sites here, mainly in Coalition seats?
Simon Birmingham: No, Sabra, when people see the details of the programs right across the country, they'll see that the cost adjustments for commuter car parks, as you put it, account for 0.3% of that $17.9 billion. So the vast majority is in new project commitments for projects such as the intermodal terminals in Victoria, which will be a key part of our inland rail-
Sabra Lane: Back to the car parks. The Auditor-General's report previously found that previous agreements had gone to 77% of Coalition seats in that case. Has there been an effort here to even things up and to give more money to ALP or even independent seats?
Simon Birmingham: Well, these are overwhelmingly major infrastructure projects that are about making sure we're investing in the productivity for the nation. Now it's more productive to help people catch efficient public transport in effective ways that get them to and from work quicker and faster-
Sabra Lane: Sounds like you're ignoring my question altogether, sorry.
Simon Birmingham: That's what investment in things like practical things like car parks are about. But equally, the Prime Minister will be out at the Western Sydney airport today where the new runway is now commencing construction and this is a project-
Sabra Lane: Sorry, on the point of the actual question itself, are Labor seats or independent seats going to get money here or is it?
Simon Birmingham: We have made these decisions on infrastructure as we have previously on the basis of where it's going to deliver productivity gains for the country, help people get to work or home faster, to help freight move more efficiently across our country, to help businesses lower their costs. And so again, you can go to Queensland and see the investment in relation to faster rail services or between Sydney and Newcastle. These are all crucial decisions that are about helping people with their lives and helping business do business more cheaply.
Sabra Lane: Minister, we're out of time. Thank you for joining the program this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Sabra.