Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much for coming today. I want to firstly as Trade Minister provide reassurance to Australian exporters and businesses that the Australian Government is taking a belt and braces approach to how it is we ensure that Australian exporters will continue to have the best possible access into the UK and into European markets regardless of what happens with the Brexit situation. We clearly face very uncertain circumstances as to what may unfold in the UK in coming days and months around the arrangements for Brexit and whether or not it will proceed. Those matters are rightly matters for the UK, its parliament, its government, its people. However, we want to make sure that our exports into the UK and into Europe are protected. That's why our government is pursuing free trade negotiations with the EU, free trade negotiations with the UK as soon as they are in a position to do so, if they are. And also making sure that existing agreements we have with the EU, for market access for key goods and wines, for exchange of people in terms of skills recognition and qualifications, are ready for duplication with the UK should there be a complete separation with the EU. These are very important because Australia has huge trading and investment partnerships with the UK and the EU, and we will make sure that they are in sound condition into the future, whatever transpires. I'll be heading to London into Brussels shortly to meet with relevant trade ministers and officials to ensure that our exporters are protected, and that they get the type of access they deserve in the future.

I also want to note today some of the latest statistics around what it is that Australians will face when it comes to Bill Shorten and the Labor Party if they are elected at this year's federal election. We see today that more than 60 per cent of the 660,000 Australians who face capital gains tax bills are on incomes less than $80,000 per annum. That is of course income earners on top of the nearly 900,000 retirees, one million plus superannuation account holders, many others in negative gearing situations, income earners, all of whom face the prospect of higher taxes under Bill Shorten's Labor Party if they win the next election.

We have to make sure that Australians understand that if you are a tax paying Australian, Bill Shorten and the Labor Party will odds on reach deeper into your pocket and make you pay more tax if they win. This is what's at stake. Our Liberal-National Government has managed to deliver tax cuts for working Australians, for small and medium sized businesses, while balancing the budget and while providing record investment into our schools and hospitals. Yet the Labor Party says they will tax people more. They will tax people more on their savings, their retirement savings, their superannuation savings, they will tax them more on capital gains, on their property, on their wages. That's what's at stake and we will make sure between now and the next election that Australians understand very clearly the stark choice between a responsible lower taxing Liberal-National government to make sure you get to keep more of your hard earned money and balances the budget, versus a profligate risk taking, high spending Labor Party who fund that by taxing everything and anything that moves, reaching into your pockets, not just the wealthy as Bill Shorten pretends, but those earning less than $80,000 a year will face higher taxes when they seek to invest, when they seek to save, under a Shorten Labor government.

Journalist: There been another fish kill at Lake Hume, how serious is his problem becoming?

Simon Birmingham: Drought is devastating and what we're seeing with fish species is a devastating consequence of devastating drought. Of course there are many devastating consequences and our heart goes out, to the farmers, to the communities, to the animals, to the farm animals, the native animals, the fish stock, all of those who face impacts as a consequence of drought. And we have made sure over the years that we've been delivering the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full on time. We've responded of course by ensuring that where we can environmental water is used to get the best possible impact and result for environmental management, including for fish species and other native species. However, there's only so much you can do with the finite water that's available across the northern Murray-Darling system, particularly the Darling system where the drought exists in such high levels. So it's critical that we make sure the limited water that's available is used as effectively as possible. That's why Minister David Littleproud has brought together and is bringing together, environmental and water managers from the different states and territories to get their expert advice on whether with the limited water that's available, we can do more to protect those fish species. That's why we've committed to invest further five million dollars to the funds that are there manage the river to make sure that as far as we can we're protecting those native fish species. But people shouldn't play politics with this, people should make sure that they appreciate these are drought conditions, there is very limited water that's available, f farmers are suffering, communities are suffering and sadly, fish species are suffering. And how you do your best with limited water is a big challenge but we're making sure that all possible resources in terms of technical skills and financial support are deployed to do so.

Journalist: There's a study by ANU that shows 70 percent of Australians don't want the population to grow. When will you start listening to Australians and work on a policy that reduces the migration intake?

Simon Birmingham: Scott Morrison has undertaken a significant shift in the way population policy planning occurs in Australia by taking a bottom up approach, by engaging the states and territories and making sure that when it comes to planning our population of migrant intake, it's informed by what local communities and regions need, what they can accommodate in terms of infrastructure support. We're here in South Australia in my home state where the State Government has a strong clear ambition to grow the economy and to grow the population. But South Australia's seen too much of a drift of population to the east coast and that attracting a better share of Australia's migrant population is a part of South Australia's plan for the future. That's not necessarily shared in parts of Sydney or parts of Melbourne or some parts of regional Australia. It's why you have to make sure you get all of the advice from all of the different communities and build your population policy and migration intake based upon all of those different local factors.

Journalist: How will the government reduce overcrowding?

Simon Birmingham: The government is adopting an approach to population policy on our migration intake that is informed by different local factors across the different parts of Australia and that will hopefully ensure in the future that we don't have circumstances where infrastructure is inadequate because the states and territories have planned effectively and informed our national migration policy effectively to get the best possible outcomes for local communities.

Journalist: There's been a suggestion that New South Wales water resources have been over allocated in light of the recent fish kills. Is the current system of water allocation for the Murray fair?

Simon Birmingham: There's no doubt that there is a long history of over allocation of water resources in Australia which is why we brought about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is designed to address over allocation of water. Billions of dollars have been invested in buying back water licences, investing in infrastructure, building a large pool of environmental water to be able to be used to support key environmental assets such as native fish species. But that plan cannot in and of itself overcome the natural cycle of droughts any more than it overcomes the natural cycle of floods. So we have to recognise that across the northern Murray-Darling Basin there is a very significant drought of historic proportions. The consequences of that are devastating, it's a finite amount of water that's available, that has to be used as strategically as possible and to be able to support local communities, local environment and that is exactly what we're seeking to do.

Journalist: Rob Oakeshott is planning to run again targeting a Coalition held seat. How will the government tackle the threat of independents at the next election?

Journalist: Will the Liberals run a candidate in Mallee?

Simon Birmingham: That will be a matter for the Victorian division of the Liberal Party.

Journalist: Is Peta Credlin a good choice?

Simon Birmingham: Look, the pre-selection will be a matter for the Victorian division of the Liberal Party, consistent with their rules that give their local party members a say.

Journalist: Are you concerned about Angus Taylor's eligibility to sit in parliament?

Simon Birmingham: No.

Journalist: What's your reaction to that? To Angus?

Journalist: What will the PM achieve from his Pacific trip?

Simon Birmingham: I think there we're seeing the Labor Party engaged in another grubby smear attempt to drag out eligibility questions. We're transparent, there are none and all issues being been addressed. In terms of Fiji, Prime Minister Morrison has led and built upon our government's long standing efforts to step up engagement in the Pacific. And we've been we're investing more in terms of supporting our Pacific Island friends and family to be able to invest in infrastructure, to attract more investment in terms of businesses to ensure that they grow their economy and capability. Fiji is a significant family member, friend, partner strategically and economically in the Pacific region. I am confident that based on the discussions Prime Minister Morrison has already had with Prime Minister Bainimarama that of course we will see success in terms of this visit, it will be positive visit, it will take what is a strong, friendly relationship at present and make it even stronger into the future.

Journalist: Labor are calling on the PM to sort out their Prakash mess while he's in Fiji. Has the government stuffed up on that issue by taking away his citizenship?

Simon Birmingham: No, I think all of those issues have been addressed and indeed the Prime Minister's already had relevant discussions with his Fijian counterpart about those matters.

Journalist: Just on the migration issue, George Christensen says migrants should not be sent to the regions? What would you say to him?

Simon Birmingham: Well I think he was specifically talking about his region, in his part of Queensland and that is part of the reason as to why having a 'bottom up' approach, to building migration intake and approach is a sensible one. In some parts of Australia, with higher levels of unemployment rightly want to focus on how is they get people in their communities into employment. Other parts of Australia where there are these skills gaps, where it's hard to get people to fill jobs in certain industries rightly want to see opportunity for skilled migrants or others, to be able to contribute to those communities, grow those communities, and ensure businesses succeed in those communities by having the employees they need. Thanks guys.

Ends


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For a full transcript please visit www.senatorbirmingham.com.au/news/interview-transcripts/

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