Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Wednesday, 30 March 2022
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, federal Finance Minister, joins us now. Good morning, Simon Birmingham.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, David. Good morning to all of the team and listeners.
David Bevan: Yeah, it's just easier saying good day guys.
Stacey Lee: Everyone.
Simon Birmingham: Everyone where it's all of you.
David Bevan: Everyone. Simon Birmingham. How can you be sure the petrol companies and the retailers don't pocket the cut in the fuel excise?
Simon Birmingham: Well, David, we have extensive powers in place through the ACCC and the Treasurer spoke with the chair of the ACCC yesterday to make sure that they will be used. So we are seeking to make sure there will be price monitoring, that multi-million dollar penalties can and will be applied if the $0.22 a litre reduction is not passed on in full, which will save people around 15 bucks every time they fill their car up. Whilst we just live through these price spikes that have been caused by Russia's terrible war on Ukraine.
David Bevan: Well, so you're saying that the ACCC has the resources to police tens of thousands of petrol stations across the country, from Oodnadatta to Mount Gambier, from Hackham to Stepney. They'll be on top of this and the retailers won't be able to just slip in a little bit of price gouging for a couple of hours and then pull back and your ACCC can be on top of this.
Simon Birmingham: David they can. Now what they do is, of course, monitor right across the country, but many of these prices are influenced by the actions of the bigger oil companies. So that's where they'll start first and foremost, not retailers who pay petrol excise and collect it. That's paid at the point of the refineries and the importers and so on. So that's where there will be applying their efforts, but they'll be looking at the end price, what it means at the bowser and that's why those powers will be used (interrupted).
David Bevan: How do they do that? How do they look at the end price? I mean, are all of the prices fed into a huge computer bank somewhere?
Simon Birmingham: David, I heard they have lots of different monitoring tools. There's probably no sector that has been subject to more enquiries in terms of pricing than fuel prices over the years. And so the ACCC has perhaps the most sophisticated team and tools in terms of their ability to monitor prices and to identify anything that is not in accordance with what they'd expect to be market trends. There's lots of evidence about where the price of global oil is and therefore what the price of the bowsers should be.
David Bevan: And what are these sophisticated tools?
Simon Birmingham: So it is about data and analytics that they apply. They know full well what sort of the pricing margins are across the different elements of that supply chain. And so just as, you know, petrol prices are not something that are completely static. They move a lot. They go up. They have gone down in the past. And we expect to see $0.22 a litre reduction flowing through over the next couple of weeks as the impact of this hits through the different supply chain.
Stacey Lee: Well, the Australian Automobile Association says it's not going to work. There's no guarantee this cut will be passed on at the bowser. So if that's what the Australian Automobile Association thinks, how can the public trust that it'll happen?
Simon Birmingham: Well, look, the Australian Automobile Association should have confidence and as I said, we have legal powers to make sure that the oil companies pass this on to the retailers and monitoring arrangements in place to make sure that the retailers pass it on to the consumers. And now the alternative would have been we could have done nothing. We could have said, "Oh, well, it's all too hard. And even though Australians are wearing the pain of these global impacts on higher oil prices, we just won't bother." I don't think that would have been a very acceptable alternative though. So what we've done here is act with the lever that we have at our disposal, just like we did with COVID, where we said we would do things in a temporary and targeted way in response to crises that we faced. This is a crisis the world is facing in terms of the war in Ukraine, the spikes that's had to oil prices. They're not expected to stay at these elevated levels forever. That's why it's a six month measure targeted, which would provide the greatest support to regional South Australians, to those who do more running around to get to work, get the kids to school, to get the kids to sport, all of those different things that we know matter to Australians and it should add up to hundreds of dollars of savings for motorists over the six month period.
Nikolai Beilharz: The excise is largely used to fund and maintain roads. So does that mean now that that excise has been halved, roads are going to basically have no work done to them for the next six months?
Simon Birmingham: No, Nikolai, there's no changes to infrastructure and roads spending at this time. We have thanks to a stronger economy with record growth in jobs numbers and unemployment pushing down towards 50 year historic lows. A much improved budget position. What we've done is taken more than $100 billion of that improved position and put it towards having lower deficits and lower debt and squirrelled it away to ensure we're in a stronger position for the future. But then we've also taken a much smaller part of it to recognise this latest crisis in the world and to respond through the petrol excise cut as well as additional payments, particularly to those on low and middle incomes or those receiving fixed incomes through social safety net payments like the aged pension.
Stacey Lee: It's 19 to 9 here on ABC Radio Adelaide, Nikolai, Stacey and David with you and also with you Simon Birmingham, the Federal Finance Minister. Why didn't South Australia get any share of the $7.1 billion to upgrade regional roads?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I'm not sure that it's a regional roads package that you're talking about, but that's a package there in relation to some of the big energy and resources export hubs around the country and ensuring that they can make the transformation in terms of new parts of the resources industry, critical minerals and those sectors that we're seeking to drive growth in. In terms of road infrastructure funding, I actually read some criticism in the Financial Review and The Guardian and other outlets in the last couple of days that South Australia had received, they were saying something like 17% of additional infrastructure spending and much of that of course being the four and a half billion dollars it cost to finish the North South Expressway, but also investment in regional roads. Support for the Horrocks highway upgrades is part of that. So there's a big investment in infrastructure (interrupted).
Stacey Lee: The $7.1 billion regional spend, which as you say, is for infrastructure and water, and it's being used in some other states for road upgrades. South Australia's not receiving any of that.
Simon Birmingham: That says something about particular industrial export hubs around the country. It's got a particular purpose, our infrastructure spending. And so I've got criticism from elsewhere that SA is receiving too much or more than our fair share of that. You get these different fluctuations in different things of, cops the same criticism when we've made defence investment decisions that all of the big investment decisions around and the future frigates around future submarines flow disproportionately into SA. That's because it makes sense to invest in defence investment in South Australia and we're investing in resources export hubs. It makes sense to do that where the resources export hubs are.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham Federal Finance Minister, why should a couple with a combined income of $350,000 a year be given taxpayer funded paid parental leave?
Simon Birmingham: Well, David, that's the upper level of that support. Now \we think that in terms of support for families at that point of having a child and the support for one or either parent to stay at home. It's a reasonable thing to do to.
David Bevan: Why don't you give the money to poor people?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we are doing that, David, in terms of the targeted payments.
David Bevan: You've only got so much money. Well, you've only got so much money. And if you give paid parental leave, 20 weeks paid parental leave, minimum wage to people who have a combined income of $350,000 a year, that's less money you can give to poor people.
Simon Birmingham: Sure. Sure, David. And you have to set a limit as to where these things phase out somewhere. That's consistent with what we've done in terms of childcare subsidies. I note that the Labor Party's policy is to remove even that $350,000 limit. So whilst we have said that, we think that is by far and away enough and that's where childcare subsidies should end and that's where paid parental leave should end. The Labor Party has indicated that they'll take that, although lay out won't matter if you're earning a million bucks, you'll receive these sorts of subsidies. We think that in terms of support for families to proportionate way of trying to allocate that support and in the case of paid parental leave, the big change in this budget is to take the 20 weeks where currently it is very much defined that 18 weeks is for mum and two weeks can be for dad. We're now saying that that 20 weeks should be able to be used as families choose. If mum can go back to work sooner, dads can stay home longer, then that's a great way to help women in terms of their workforce participation.
David Bevan: Well, in a moment we'll talk about that with Amanda Rishworth, Labor MP from South Australia and Early Childhood Education and Youth spokesperson for the Labor Party. But before you leave us. Simon Birmingham, well you're hoping this Budget will win an election, your Liberal colleague in the Senate, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, was describing Scott Morrison as a ruthless bully, unfit to lead the nation.
Concetta Fierravanti-Wells (recorded audio): There was a very appropriate saying here, the fish stinks from the head. Morrison and Hawke have ruined the Liberal Party in New South Wales by trampling its constitution. By now you might be getting the picture that Morrison is not interested in the rules based order. It is his way or the highway. An autocrat, a bully who has no moral compass.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, how can you win an election with attacks like that from within your own ranks?
Simon Birmingham: Connie faced the New South Wales Liberal Party's preselectors last weekend. And I understand that after 17 years of being able to serve in the nation's parliament, she is obviously very disappointed and perhaps even a little bitter at the fact that she didn't get chosen again last weekend to be a candidate at the next election. But these things happen in politics, and I would encourage even those members of the team who might be disappointed that their parliamentary career is coming to an end, to not lash out and to be more team players in terms of the Government achieving.
David Bevan: Your side was calling for an enquiry into the 'mean girls' bullying allegations. Here's somebody from within your own ranks who saying the Prime Minister is a bully, unfit to lead the nation.
Simon Birmingham: Well, actually, David, all I ever said on that were they were matters for Anthony Albanese to respond to and handle. In this case, I think what we have is somebody pretty clearly just days after losing their preselection. And it is disappointing the comments are made, but I think for Australians the bigger picture handed down in the Budget over night, about keeping an economy strong that's delivered economic growth faster than pretty much any other developed country in the world that's got unemployment pushing to 50 year lows and these are historic achievements and they're the things that make a real difference to the lives of Australians.
Stacey Lee: Okay, Senator Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks guys, my pleasure.
Stacey Lee: Simon Birmingham there, Federal Finance Minister and Liberal Senator for South Australia.