Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Friday, 8 April 2022
Laura Jayes: I want to bring in now the Finance Minister. He's in Adelaide as well, Simon Birmingham. He joins me now. Senator, good to see you. Anthony Albanese must think he can pick up some seats in Adelaide in particular. He has a good chance perhaps after the state election result.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Laura. Look, I expect both leaders to campaign in every state. That's the normal part of an election campaign as they make their way around the country once we're into that campaign mode. What's notable though is that Anthony Albanese doesn't seem to have confidence in himself and he has to keep appearing with different state Labor leaders around the country and so I think that's one of those question marks that hangs over the competence and the abilities of Anthony Albanese. Will he stand on his own two feet and he's running to be the Prime Minister of Australia. He's not running to be the joint premier of the country with Mark McGowan or Peter Malinauskas or Annastacia Palaszczuk. He's got to be able to front up, answer his own questions, address his own lack of plans and the lack of details in the very vague policies he's announced and even where he has announced some of those policies, you can see just how quickly they fall apart at the seams, such as his promises around aged care, where his own frontbenchers were backpedalling on the fact that they don't think they'll be able to hire the type of nurses from the type of promises that are being made on our side. We're careful with our promises, we're careful with our plans. And we make sure that the types of plans we outline are ones that can be delivered and are achievable and affordable for the country.
Laura Jayes: So what is the difference between your aged care policy and Anthony Albanese's?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we've acted on the recommendations of the Royal Commission. We've indeed invested more than $19 billion in aged care over the last couple of years (interrupted).
Laura Jayes: So has Labor though…
Simon Birmingham: Importantly, we have acted on recommendations. We've acted on recommendations in relation to home care. Anthony Albanese has been completely silent on. Senior Australians want the right and the opportunity to get the support to stay in their own homes as well and you've seen a trebling, in fact, of home care places under our government and that commitment to help people stay in their own home where that's what they want to do. But of course, we've also acted in support around increasing standards in residential aged care. But we're not making promises for nurses that even Labor frontbenchers saying now can't be delivered in the type of timeline that Anthony Albanese is saying he's going to put them there.
Simon Birmingham: That's just about holding (interrupted).
Laura Jayes: Why can't they though?
Simon Birmingham: Because it takes years to train nurses. It's not something that you can just turn around overnight. We already have coming out of COVID, pressures in terms of workforce (interrupted).
Laura Jayes: So you think you can do it in two years, Labor's saying they can do it in one.
Simon Birmingham: And we've put in place training and workforce growth measures as part of the budget response that we outlined. So we certainly weren't failing to acknowledge the fact that there are training and workforce pressures there. That was one of the pillars of responses that we outlined to the Royal Commission from the investments that we made, that you have to build the workforce to be able to initially meet the 200 minutes of care type promises across individuals in aged care on a daily basis in the 40 minutes of nursing care dedicated each day per individual. But then as you move further into the action of those recommendations, you've got to actually be growing the workforce to achieve those outcomes. That's what our careful response does. It's just a rash promise that won't be delivered that you've seen from Anthony Albanese to say that these things can magically be done sooner without actually the hard yards of building the workforce first.
Laura Jayes: But it's hardly rash to make a submission to the Fair Work Commission from a government to argue that these people should be paid more. That's something your government has refused to do. We also see that aged care workers aren't even on that critical skills shortage list. I mean, for all the complaints about Labor's policy, Mike Baird has backed it in.
Simon Birmingham: Laura, I know that the sector will always welcome increased spending, but ultimately that increased spending has to be in areas that you can also match up with the delivery. And that's why, ours responds carefully. In terms of the work of the Fair Work Commission, we back its independence and now I think it's pretty meaningless for Labor to say we're going to write a letter or a submission saying that we support an increase but not have the guts to then actually say what type of increase they want to see. We're at least being upfront here and saying this is a matter for an independent tribunal. We'll work with the response of whatever that tribunal, hands down. And what we do in matters such as the minimum wage case is we provide all of the economic evidence and analysis that we can from Treasury and across government to help them make their own decision. Come to that decision informed by the best expert analysis about what a fair outcome for low wage and low income Australians would be. And of course what is going to continue the type of economic growth and strength that Australia needs to sustain jobs growth in a very uncertain world that we live in and what we've done over recent times is managed to on the whole get that balance right. Australia outperforming the rest of the world in terms of having not only stronger jobs outcomes but also lower inflation outcomes and that's very important in terms of managing those cost of living pressures and other factors that we know are very real.
Laura Jayes: Yeah, but this is not a coronation. This election is not a coronation on your past achievements. It's about your plan for the next three years. Is it entirely clear what your plan is going to be to address the cost of living? Because all we see in the budget is one off payments, a pause in the fuel excise levy that only lasts for six months when the war in Ukraine is going to last a lot longer than that. So what is your plan for the future? Because interest rates, inflation is just going up.
Simon Birmingham: So Laura our plan is to continue to keep taxes as low as we possibly can and that will see the third stage of our income tax cuts flow through in the next Parliament, ensuring that around 90% of Australians will pay no more than 30 cents in the dollar at the top marginal tax rate and that plan is already putting thousands of dollars into the pockets of hard working Australians and ensuring they have more (interrupted).
Laura Jayes: But if voters vote Labor they're going to get that anyway, aren't they?
Simon Birmingham: Well I think whilst Labor's saying that they had to be dragged kicking and screaming to say that and their commitment to it is very, very dubious and Australians would be right to question that commitment, given just how much Labor resisted it at every turn until really the last minute. So lower income taxes is part of our plan. The economic strength we have delivered in terms of continued growth across the economy is key. It's why our budget has detailed plans for investment in productive infrastructure across the country and the skills agenda across Australia to support workforce growth in a range of different ways, and particularly in trades and apprenticeships growth. It's why the Budget also has details around technology and investment in digital skills and capabilities, especially for small businesses. All of those factors are about creating a more productive, more competitive country that can sustain stronger rates of economic growth than the rest of the world, as we've been doing.
Stronger rates of jobs growth than the rest of the world, as we've been doing. And from that drive an environment where we can provide the best possible returns to Australians in terms of their wages, their incomes and their support. Now there's also other ongoing cost of living supports in the budget, such as the reforms in relation to the medicines safety net there, to make sure that more Australians who need support in paying for their medicines get that support sooner and earlier and have to pay less out of pocket and get more support from the taxpayer. So there's direct and ongoing measures. Yes, there's targeted measures to deal with the oil price spikes now, as we have Treasury projections that that indicate those oil prices are expected to stabilise and to come down over a period of time. And that's why it's a carefully targeted six month measure, because we, again, are not into making rash promises that would add to the inflationary environment, knowing that we've got many pressures coming in from overseas that we have to be careful in our response to.
Laura Jayes: Why hasn't the election been called, Simon Birmingham? What are you waiting for?
Simon Birmingham: So we're a government that, as the Prime Minister has said, the election's due around the middle of May and he said that for a long time, that's when the election is going to be held. Australians don't ever like to see early elections based on my experience. So we're not having an early election, the election will be held in the ordinary course of events and it will be an election that is a real choice for the country.
And we're not a country that can manage to completely avoid the impacts of international pressures from the war in Ukraine, international pressures where we're seeing inflation driving higher and stronger in other countries than it is here. All of those things put pressure back on Australia. It's how you manage those pressures that matters most. We've demonstrated that our economic plans are working for Australia in terms of faster rates of economic growth and faster rates of jobs growth than other parts of the world. We've managed to be one of only nine countries to keep a AAA credit rating and we've seen in this budget the fastest improvement in the budget bottom line in more than 70 years. These are the types of strengths that we're building upon with careful, targeted plans to support small business, to support apprenticeships, to support the skilling of Australians and the building of the infrastructure that keep us strong into the future. What you're seeing on the Labor side are vague promises that either are undeliverable or if they are, they will come with very high costs that will only add to the inflationary and interest rate pressures across the country.
Laura Jayes: Simon Birmingham we will talk frequently. It's going to be a long couple of weeks ahead. We'll speak to you soon.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks Laura, my pleasure