Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Thursday, 31 March 2022
Simon Birmingham: Good afternoon, everybody. It's good to be here with my great friend and brilliant colleague, Jane Hume. This week, the Morrison government demonstrated in our budget how our economic plan for Australia are working and delivering for Australian families, Australian businesses and the Australian economy and our plans to ensure that continued strength and growth for Australia and Australians in the future.
Our budget plans show that we have managed to achieve world leading economic recovery from COVID-19. We've managed to drive unemployment down to 4% and have it headed towards 50 year lows. Our plans outline how we are investing the dividends of success in ensuring that we have lower deficits and lower debt into the future. In ensuring the economic growth continues by supporting small businesses, the digital economy, by supporting Australian families, by supporting our manufacturing industries, by investing record sums in infrastructure. Our plans also show how we are going to help respond to the immediate shocks and pressures caused by international events on the household budgets of Australians with support for cost of living relief. And last night in the Australian Senate we saw the passage of legislation to provide that cost of living relief. $0.22 a litre cut to fuel excise, which is already starting to help to see downward pressure at petrol stations around the country, helping to provide relief for Australian motorists, hardworking families, people particularly in the outer suburbs and regional Australia who drive extra k's, incur extra costs and will get the biggest dividends of relief from our petrol excise cuts. We passed also the additional payments and which will enable those particularly to be provided to Australians, pensioners, carers and others as soon as possible.
But tonight it's the Leader of the Opposition's turn. We've outlined our plans. We've outlined them in detail. And the test is whether Anthony Albanese can outline any detailed plans at all. But at present the Labor Party is largely a blank sheet of paper. They've run this small target strategy, refusing to detail any of their plans for the Australian public. You have Jim Chalmers saying that they would apply an alternate budget later this year and yet they won't say what would be in the alternative budget. If there is to be a Labor budget later this year, should they win the election, then Anthony Albanese should tell Australians tonight what would be in that Labor budget? What is his economic plan? Because thus far all they've offered are a series of vague aspirations. Vague aspirations in terms of policy areas that would add tens of billions of dollars to government spending debt. We all know that when Labor spends big it means they tax big and Australians pay more. So Mr. Albanese tonight he needs to front up, front up with some detail. End the blank piece of paper, stop being a small target and actually demonstrate to Australians what it is he would do differently to the plan that the Government has outlined that is delivering for Australia, keeping safe and secure and creating jobs.
I'll let Jane say a few words then we'll do a few questions.
Jane Hume: Thanks, Birmo. I don't have much to add other than to say that obviously not only has the ink dried on the budget papers now, but the dust has settled and the verdict is in. It's been extraordinarily well received right around the country. Our economic plan is clearly working because more people are in work and fewer people are on welfare. We can deliver the essential services that Australians expect and deserve. The NDIS, Medicare, the PBS. Because there are fewer people on welfare and more people in work. We can build the economy of the future. Keeping taxes low. Cutting red tape. Investing in our digital economy. Investing in our modern manufacturing strategy. And because more people are in work and fewer people on welfare, we can make sure that we keep Australians safe investing more in our defence, particularly in our cyber security.
Tonight we'll hear from Anthony Albanese, but he said that it's only going to be a statement, it's not going to be a budget, but he'll wait until he gets into government before he delivers a budget. Well, I don't think Australians think that that's good enough. You can't have it each way, Albo. Either you want to govern, in which case we need to put your policies out there for people to assess or you want to stay in opposition, in which case you can throw arrows from the sidelines. You can't have it each way. Tonight we expect Anthony Albanese to come clean on what his policies are for the future of all Australians.
Journalist: Can I just clarify something from the budget papers on the potential for another port in Darwin? The money that you set aside, that is, how can it be read as anything other than an admission the government should have intervened to stop the sale?
Simon Birmingham: Well, let's recall that the federal government has acted in terms of changing our foreign investment laws and arrangements subsequent to the decision that was made by the former Northern Territory government in relation the port. We've outlined plans to invest in infrastructure across the country, backing particularly regional Australia, an infrastructure that will keep regional Australia's leading place and exports going, leading role in energy exports, particularly in future energy sources such as hydrogen. And that includes particular investments and opportunities in the Northern Territory, just outside of Darwin, supporting a long mooted industrial precinct there that has huge opportunity to be a growth engine for the Territory economy and a wealth generator for Australia.
Journalist: That was a Country Liberal government you're a Liberal government. There were many ways that you could potentially intervened to stop that sale. Was this essentially a billion dollar mistake?
Simon Birmingham: Well, it was not a sale subject to Commonwealth Government approval at the time. If it happened today, thanks to the changes our Government made to Australia's foreign investment laws, it would be subject to direct approval by the Federal Government and I would suspect it would not receive that approval
Journalist: [Indistinct] the recent bullying allegations in the party. I guess how can bullying allegations continue to be levelled [indistinct] that we have senior members of the party saying that they haven't heard anything or that's not their experiences.
Jane Hume: Certainly I can say that I've never experienced bullying within the party, certainly not from this prime minister. I would look at who is levelling those allegations, what their motives might be. I can understand why people in other parties or other parts of the Parliament might want to see- might want to level allegations that would damage the government. They don't want this government. That's fine. But I've never seen bullying within my party, within my parliament and I certainly wouldn't abide [indistinct]
Journalist: So isn't that at odds with all the different accounts that we're getting that we've got two senior ministers that have never seen bullying in Parliament yet we talk about cultural reform that needs to happen and how parliament needs to be cleaned up?
Jane Hume: I think we can safely say that pre-selections, which I think is the context of the allegations that you are talking about now are always run-.
Journalist: I'm talking about the culture.
Jane Hume: -And in fact, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells’ preselection on the weekend there was more than 500 people that made a decision that they didn't want her to continue on in parliament. Now that's a real rough thing to here. Speaking as someone that's been through really rough preselections before I can understand why you would be very disappointed and would want to lash out after a long career in Parliament. Where she's done exceptionally well and made an enormous contribution that's a difficult thing to hear, that your party wants you to hang up your boots. But that's not bulling. That's very different.
Journalist: Isn't that hypocritical to what the prime minister was even saying over the Kimberley Kitching accusations. It was also about preselection, bullying allegations in that context. This is a very similar thing happening now. Say, oh, it's all about her being angry.
Jane Hume: Let me be very clear that Kimberley Kitching's preselection was threatened by the faceless men of the Labor Party, not by the rank and file of party members.
Journalist: That's what Concetta Fierravanti-Wells though too. She's saying there should have been a lot more than 500 people present for that preselection.
Jane Hume: I think the 500 people at a preselection is a very democratic process. Not, certainly not one that Kimberley Kitching [indistinct].
Simon Birmingham: Damn sight more than you'd ever see at a Labor Party preselection.
Journalist: Both you and the Treasurer have talked up the skills commitment in the budget. 3.7 billion national skills agreement that was supposedly to be signed mid last year and it continues to be delayed. Why has that not happened yet?
Simon Birmingham: We've continued discussions with the states and territories and we urge the states and territories to embrace the opportunities of that funding stream and of the reform that we wish to see to make sure it is used in the most effective ways to ensure Australians are skilled in the areas of future jobs and future occupations lie and skilled in ways that are most effective and efficient for them to get those qualifications. And what we've managed to achieve as a government is to drive apprenticeship levels to their highest ever on record. And in this budget, in addition to the skills agreement with the states, you can see that we've outlined extensive reforms to support apprenticeships, not just to keep commencements at those record highs, but also to support apprentices to stay in their apprenticeship and push through to the completion so that we get the extra qualifications our country needs to address labour market shortages.
Journalist: Ministers, both of you have stood here today and said that Anthony Albanese need to come clean. That he needs to effectively reveal a budget tonight. Why should he when Tony Abbott never did?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Anthony Albanese is the one running around the country at present saying, making accusations and allegations as indeed his shadow ministry are, that there is an absence of a plan for the future. Well we dispute that. We have outlined a real plan that is already delivering real benefits for Australians. Our plans have driven real jobs for more Australians 1.7 million of them. Our plans have ensured that Australia's economy has rebounded stronger than G7 nations around the world. Our plans are setting Australia up strongly for a stronger position in the future with lower debt than what would have been the case under Labor and a lower debt than we've previously forecast. Our plans are enabling us to invest in our national security in other ways. Where are Mr. Albanese's plans? He is the one making the statements criticising the government. He is the one who wants to go out there and present a whole lot of vague promises about what Labor might do in relation to future aspirations in childcare or future aspirations in paid parental leave or future aspirations for the rate of jobseeker. But where are his economic plans? How would he pay for these aspirations?
Journalist: Can't you see the hypocrisy here. That's exactly what Tony Abbott did in 2013. A small target. He said that he wasn't the Gillard government. That's effectively what you're saying Anthony Albanese is doing now. What's good for the goose is good for the gander?
Simon Birmingham: Tony Abbott and the Coalition went to that election clearly outlining the policies we would apply to tackling the challenges of that time. How would we stop the boats? Which we did. How would we address the pressures on electricity prices and remove labor taxes? Which we outlined and we did. How would we create additional jobs in Australia? And we well and truly exceeded the forecasts and promises we made in terms of the additional jobs we created. So there were real details that we provided at that election, a stark contrast to the small targets of Labor. Mr. Chalmers is the one who's gone out there and said there would be another budget this year if the Labor Party wins. Well, if you're going to say there'd be another budget this year, it's incumbent upon you, Mr. Chalmers and Mr. Albanese to say what would be in that other budget.
Jane Hume: Because otherwise what are Australians voting for? They don't know what they're voting for. Labor are trying to sneak their way into government, they can't simply get away with being a small target. Australians are not that stupid. They understand that. They want to know what it is that they're voting for. Tonight is Anthony Albanese's chance. He can't have it both ways. Either he has policies or he doesn't have policies. Either he wants to be in government or he doesn't want to be in government. But you can't simply speak your way in.
Journalist: [Inaudible] target in 2019?
Simon Birmingham: I think you're asking about 2013?
Journalist: Nah, I'm asking about 2019.
Simon Birmingham: The previous questions were about 2013. 2019, we again, as we have done this time, released a budget prior to the election, clearly detailing the different areas of investment across the nation's economy. Clearly detailing how we would keep our commitments around jobs growth going. Clearly detailing our tax reform plans for the country of which in this parliament we've seen stage two of those tax cuts brought forward, which are putting thousands of extra dollars into the pockets of Australian families and hardworking Australians and are helping to drive the economic recovery. And in the next Parliament, if the Morrison government is re-elected, Australians can guarantee they will see stage three of our tax cuts delivered, which will ensure that around 90% of Australians pay no more than $0.30 in the dollar at the top marginal tax rate. Fundamental reform to the way income tax in Australia applies, greater incentive for people work, an opportunity for them to keep more of what they earn. They're detailed policies and they're completely missing from the Labor side. Thanks, everyone.