Interview with Jonathan Green, Radio National Drive Program
Jonathan Green: Scott Morrison has unveiled his new cabinet team over the weekend and in the characteristic style of this government they are getting down to business. There's been a bit of a reshuffle on the frontbench. We see Sussan Lee returning to the frontbench. New Environment Minister Ken Wyatt and this is significant as he becomes the first Indigenous person to hold that Indigenous Affairs portfolio. Expect that team to be sworn in this Wednesday. One of the frontbenchers continuing in his current role Trade Minister Senator Simon Birmingham. He joins us now. Senator welcome.
Simon Birmingham: Hello Jonathan good to be with you.
Jonathan Green: A handful of new faces in this cabinet and in part of necessity one of the features in this election was a departure of people like Christopher Pyne, Julie Bishop, Nigel Scullion, Steve Ciobo and the post poll departures of Mitch Fifield and Arthur Sinodinos. Do you think some of those wished they would have stuck around to enjoy the victory?
Simon Birmingham: Oh no look I'm sure all are moving on to different stages of their lives. In in terms of the new ministerial line up, it's a good blend of experience and continuity at the top. Obviously the PM, the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and myself in the trade portfolio. A good number of people continuing as in education and health key service delivery portfolios, but then a number of new faces coming in to fill critical roles in defence as well as well as of course as you mentioned in your intro the historic achievement of Ken Wyatt being the first Indigenous Australian to be the Minister for Indigenous Australians and that is something of which we are all very proud and we have no doubt that Ken will make a profound contribution in that portfolio.
Jonathan Green: Let's come back to some of those in a sec but the other new appointment today was of course Anthony Albanese as leader of the opposition. Now he in his initial press conference in that role says that your frontbench lacks experience. Let's have a listen.
Anthony Albanese If you look at our side of politics and compare it with those who will sit on the government benches, whoever serves on our frontbench I will take that team every day compared with those opposite. The truth is that the government has lost an enormous amount of talent in Julie Bishop, in Christopher Pyne, and now might I say Mitch Fifield and Arthur Sinodinos who I think it does augur very badly for the government because I think that for Prime Minister Morrison, to give two jobs for the boys out at his first press conference announcing the ministry is hubris and is arrogant.
Jonathan Green: What do we make of that Simon Birmingham, I mean the hubris, arrogance but electors voted for Senator Sinodinos and Fifield and then barely days into the new government they're gone?
Simon Birmingham: Well actually neither Mitch nor Arthur were on the ballot paper this time around, they are both continuing senators. But I have to say listening to Mr Albanese there, it sounds like he's forgotten that the election was just a couple of Saturdays ago. It sounds like he didn't listen to the verdict of the Australian people, they elected Scott Morrison and the team that he was leading. The Australian people weren't electing Julie Bishop or Christopher Pyne a week and a half ago that they clearly were not part of the election campaign that was had. Scott was, Josh Frydenberg was, Mathias Cormann was, I was. Our team was there on the field and that's the government the people have elected for the future and Mr Albanese and the Labor Party could do well by spending just a little less time in these early stages of opposition trying to make cheap shots at the government that's just been re-elected, and actually thinking about what went wrong in terms of their policy settings and getting more in touch with hardworking aspirational Australians to make sure that the Labor Party better connects with them. I mean far be it for me to give them political advice but the first thing they should do is lock in support for the tax relief that our government took to the election, and that we'll bring to the Parliament and seek to legislate because it would be…
Jonathan Green: Although, sadly not when you promised you might, before the end of the financial year. But let's let's not get stuck on these big issues.
Simon Birmingham: Everybody will get every dollar that we promised as long as the legislation passes, and it will pass a lot faster if the Labor Party say they'll support it.
Jonathan Green: Nonetheless those absences from the frontbench are notable. It can't be denied that you have some well, the most positive spin is fresh blood, the less positive is yes to dwell on the absence of senior campaigners.
Simon Birmingham: I think we've got a very exciting element of generational change that happened as a result of the leadership change. Now it's well known, the leadership change last year was not one that I sought, not one that Scott sought but ultimately what it's left us with, with this newly elected government now is that Scott Morrison with the mandate of his own, the endorsement of the Australian people, is leading quite a youthful government. I mean you look at the figures who are at the helm of the government, we represent in many ways new generation.
Jonathan Green: Your Minister for Youth for example is 61.
Simon Birmingham: And that's a great mix, you can pick one out there, there's plenty of them in their forties in the Ministry as well.
Jonathan Green: Well it's an ironic juxtaposition. But giving a 61 year old the role of Minister for Youth is intriguing.
Simon Birmingham: I'll back Richard Colbeck any day in terms of his ability to get in touch with the issues and you don't have to be a young person to be able to connect with young people, to be able to understand their issues and to work and advocate for them. And I know that Richard will be working across the government in that portfolio to make sure that the focus the PM put around youth suicide and mental health investment is a priority in this government, have champions not just in the health portfolio but with Richard right across the government.
Jonathan Green: Did you have to see off the Nationals to keep your job as Trade Minister?
Simon Birmingham: No no, look I never had a discussion about about such matters aside from the couple of journalists who sought to ask me.
Jonathan Green: You're probably the last one they would drag into that conversation to be fair Minister.
Simon Birmingham: Well it is the Government's Deputy Leader in the Senate, I am thrilled to also be able to continue as the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment you know one in five Australian jobs rely on trade. It's essential to our economy under our Government 27 of the last 29 months, we've managed to record a trade surplus that's a record running achievement in terms of us as a nation exporting more than we import, a large part of that growth has been to countries where we've struck trade deals while we've been in government and we want to keep opening up market access for those Australian exporters into the future.
Jonathan Green: The Prime Minister during the campaign gave a very definite affirmative answer to whether Melissa Price would be staying as Environment Minister, she's not.
Simon Birmingham: No, obviously the Prime Minister and Melissa discussed that and decided that her skills could be used elsewhere. The PM also made some other changes there.
Jonathan Green: Why did he promise that in the campaign?
Simon Birmingham: There was clearly an expectation but when you get to the other side and sit down and talk to each of the colleagues about their roles and how they can best contribute to working for the Australian people as a member of the government, he and Melissa clearly came to a different conclusion. But he's also taken the chance to restructure some of the responsibilities there and so we now have a minister clearly responsible for emissions reductions as part of part of their remit and it's very important to give that dedicated priority on ensuring we meet and ideally exceed our 2030 Paris targets just as we're on track to meet and exceed our 2020 Kyoto 2 targets.
Jonathan Green: There are many ministers with multiple responsibilities, Marise Payne in Foreign Affairs and Minister for women, is that underplaying of that Minister for Women role do you think?
Simon Birmingham: No the Ministry for Women has often been held by individuals holding other significant Cabinet portfolios, it guarantees that there's a seat at the Cabinet table as well as part of the broader leadership discussions that the Foreign Minister is often involved in and Marise I think I heard on Fran Kelly this morning, talking about her long and passionate advocacy in relation to women's issues, the opportunities from the women's economic empowerment policies the Government has released, and Marise's plans to take that forward. But perhaps also to realise, to be an advocate for women globally with the work that of course she does as Minister for Foreign Affairs in oversight of our budgets and support for overseas development assistance, much of which is targeted on improving the lives of women and children in in less developed countries.
Jonathan Green: Jason Wood is Assistant Minister for Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs. He's a man who says quite a bit on his Facebook about Sudanese crime waves as he's suited to that role?
Simon Birmingham: Well Jason is, anybody who's been out and visited his electorate and worked with him. You see he has deep ties with the Sri Lankan community, with many multicultural communities throughout his diverse electorate. That's not to say that he doesn't take a strong stand in terms of community safety and law and order issues as a former police officer himself. But I'm quite confident that Jason Wood will continue, will be somebody who connects as I say very well with multicultural communities around Australia just as he has done so successfully in his own electorate.
Jonathan Green: I imagine Simon Birmingham that Tim Wilson is perhaps not best pleased with the cabinet arrangements. He did so much before the campaign with his committee talking about franking credits and so forth. Many thought he may well have been on a shortlist for an outer ministry role, what happened there?
Simon Birmingham: Well Tim has not been in the Parliament for a long time, he certainly made a strong impact and a really valuable contribution that I applaud as Chair of that House of Representatives Economics Committee that was looking into the franking credits issue pre-election. Tim will continue to pack a punch in a big way and I have absolutely no doubt that Tim will serve on a Coalition frontbench in the future. Probably not in the too distant future I would hope that ultimately it's not that long that he has been in the Parliament relative to some others and so he'll no doubt continue to make his contribution through those parliamentary committees, as well as being a great representative for that part of Melbourne.
Jonathan Green: And Barnaby Joyce presumably spending more time with his family?
Simon Birmingham: As always you have to prioritise, 5here are only a limited number of ministries and the National Party again had their own period of generational change and fresh faces and Michael McCormack and Bridget McKenzie had an incredibly solid election. We see quite a number of new faces in the National Party ranks coming to Canberra, a great range of women I think five of the six if my recollection is correct National Party senators are women, and that's a fantastic accomplishment for the National Party.
Jonathan Green: And again in closing to that that great positive on the announcement, Ken Wyatt as Indigenous Affairs Minister and we heard again from Anthony Albanese today that promising a more consultative across-the-aisle approach to issues around constitutional recognition. Do we seem to be moving as one, towards perhaps something along those lines, is Ken Wyatt perhaps part of that role?
Simon Birmingham: I hope so, our government is firmly committed to seeing constitutional recognition of the first Australians. But we want to make sure and have always wanted to make sure that it was a unifying gesture and one that when it came to a referendum, was going to secure a clear and significant majority of Australians to minimise any contentiousness around it and to make sure that it achieves that first and foremost aim which is to recognise Indigenous Australians as the first Australians in our nation's constitution. And of course there are many other tasks that Ken will have to focus on in terms of closing the gap for Indigenous Australians. But I'm sure that he will work across the aisle and across Indigenous Australia as effectively as he can to realise that ambition.
Jonathan Green: Simon Birmingham, congratulations on the retention of your ministry and thanks for your time.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much Jonathan My pleasure.
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