THURSDAY, 23 MARCH 2017
SUBJECT/S: Attack in London; Labor’s concerns with proposed child care reforms; 18C; Turnbull’s $50 billion corporate tax giveaway, Malcolm Turnbull’s freeze to Family Tax Benefit payment rates.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody. First of all I'd like to address the shocking attacks in London overnight. Everything else runs second today really doesn't it when you have events like this. Our sympathy goes out to the victims, in particular the policeman who died in the line of duty and those others who were slain. Our deepest sympathies go to Australia's oldest friend, the United Kingdom. Events like this legitimately horrify Australians, the idea that someone could be walking near the Houses of Parliament and all of a sudden they are subject to murderous assault.
Australians should be reassured that despite the political domestic debates in Australia, all of us in Australian politics are united in our hatred and opposition of terrorism and the terrorists should know whenever they are, that they will never divide this country. Our sympathies are with the United Kingdom and the English.
Just turning briefly to matters of domestic politics and Parliament today, overnight the Government passed legislation in the Senate which will see 1.5 million Australian families lose family payments. This will affect two million children. Mr Turnbull has so run out of ideas that he is recycling Tony Abbott's budget cuts from the 2014 Budget. Families with school-aged children stand to lose scarce dollars which help them make ends meet. For a single-income family on about $60,000 a year, with two primary aged school children, courtesy of Mr Turnbull's out-of-touch family payment cuts, they will lose up to $440 over the next two years.
Then of course, apart from family payments, we are pleased to note that the Government has split the cuts to family payments from the child care bill. Labor has been saying, since the outset when the Government's proposed child care changes, that they shouldn't hold family payments hostage to passing child care changes. Unfortunately, they passed family payments in a separate manner but at least the child care bill in itself is separate and Labor is pleased that with the crossbenchers we have had that win.
But serious concerns still remain with the child care changes. We are concerned that one in three Australian families stand to miss out. We are concerned that families of low-income stand to miss out. We are concerned that there are problems with the treatment of children and child care in regional areas and Indigenous children. We have written to the Government overnight and said, listen, let's talk about how we can improve the child care package. So Labor is pleased that the Government has seen sense and stopped linking the two and now we can have a debate about child care on its own merits. But having said that, there are still serious concerns. I would now like to get Kate Ellis to talk a bit further about our concerns for child care.
KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Well thank you very much Bill. After two years of talking about childcare reforms we expect that today may be the day that the Parliament actually votes on these reforms. Now, we have made it very clear to the Government and pointed it out again yesterday, when last night I wrote to Minister Birmingham to outline what it would take for us to fix the flaws in the child care bill and join with the Government in supporting additional child care assistance for Australian families.
There are two major flaws which continue to exist in this Bill, one of them is the changes to the activity test, which will halve the number of hours that many vulnerable and disadvantaged children have access to early childhood education. Now, just to put this in context of how important this is, the children we are talking about are for example, if you are a child that comes from a household where there is inter-generational unemployment, if you are a child that comes from a household that is deeply dysfunctional but you have not yet been caught up in the child-protection system, you currently have access to two days of quality early childhood education in a safe and secure environment. Under the measures before the Parliament, those two days would be slashed to one under the current proposal.
It is unthinkable that this Parliament is talking about spending an extra $1.6 billion but leaving behind the most vulnerable children in Australia. And the effects of that, of course, would be to lock in welfare dependency for generations if we do not utilise the smartest intervention that we have, and that is getting in early, making sure that we detect issues and making sure that we support children. It is not right to punish vulnerable children for the decisions that their parents make. And that is why we have been crying out for changes to the activity test and I note a number of the crossbenchers have been crying out for changes to the activity test and we trust they will hold firm today.
Just last October, the Xenophon team for example in the dissenting report into the childhood changes pointed out their concerns about changes to the activity test. They need to stay strong for these children today. Our other concern is the change to the budget-based funded child care services which predominantly serve Indigenous children in remote communities, but also regional families through mobile services in areas where traditional child care models are just not viable. We need to see these fixed today.
We have said from the beginning, we want to be productive, we don't intend to be obstructionist when it comes to child care. We know that Australian families need greater support. That is why we are making very clear to the Government, they have a choice. They can talk to us today about how to fix these two flaws or they can make up policy on the run by doing a range of different deals with different crossbenchers who come up with different ideas at the last minute. Child care policy is too important for that and we hope that they will come to the table.
SHORTEN: Thanks Kate. We're pleased to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: So, if those two areas in the child care bill are fixed, what will Labor's final stance be [inaudible]
ELLIS: As we've said, the sector, the academics, the Senate, the Parliament and Labor have all made it clear that these are fundamental flaws in the package. But we do fully expect that there will be amendments moved to the child care reforms. What we're doing now is saying to the Government, we want them to make smart amendments, we want them to make good policy and we want to them to join with us in standing up for all Australian families in improving their commitment to child care. That's what we're working on today and that's what we want to see.
JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to any of the crossbench about these concerns and [inaudible] on this?
ELLIS: We have had conversations for a long time about these concerns. We know that Senator Jacquie Lambie shares our concerns about the activity test. In discussions with the Xenophon Team over a number of months, they have also shared their concerns about the activity test as they outlined in their own Senate dissenting report. So we're hoping that the crossbenchers - and sorry, and we know that the Australian Greens have also expressed deep concerns about changes to the activity test.
This is not Labor trying to create problems with child care reforms. This is a fundamental flaw which would have a long term impact on vulnerable Australian children. This is serious and we're urging the Government to ensure that it gets fixed today.
JOURNALIST: But if the Government made changes and it didn't go as far as you wanted, would you still vote against it?
ELLIS: Well obviously we would need to look at any changes that the Government puts forward today. We have now for two years been pointing out the serious problems in this Bill, we continue to do it today. This is no small matter. We take very seriously the lives of these children and we want to see real reform, which is why we're willing to work with the Government today. They can come, they can sit down with Labor, we can fix these two flaws and we can deliver additional child care support for millions of Australian families. Alternatively, they can look to the crossbench, they can come up with a range of different policies on the run and after two years they can throw away all of the evidence about what's best for Australian children and instead come up with a political fix. We are urging them to take the first path.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Barnaby Joyce has delivered a blast to his Liberal colleagues for obsessing over Section 18C of the RDA, presumably you would welcome those comments from Mr Joyce. Secondly, will Labor join with the Senate crossbench and vote to disallow the ratification of an extradition treaty with China?
SHORTEN: I think Barnaby Joyce's contribution is remarkable. I agree with him, which is also remarkable. What on earth does Malcolm Turnbull think that people can't say now they should be able to say? It's a very simple question. Mr Turnbull says we have a freedom of speech crisis in this country, no we don't. We have a gas crisis in this country; we've got child care reforms which need to be fixed up; we've got 1.13 million people underemployed; we've got no action on climate change; they're big issues, 18C is not.
Fixing up or changing 18C in the manner which Mr Turnbull wants won't create one new job, it won't put one extra nurse in the ward, it won't create one more apprenticeship, it certainly won't help any pensioners.
So Barnaby Joyce is right on this matter. In terms and we think the Government should just drop it and Mr Turnbull should go back to being old Malcolm Turnbull rather than the massively disappointing hostage of the far right. In terms of the extradition treaty, we've got a view that we should review all extradition treaties before ratifying this but we'll work through the issues and of course, we'll sit down and talk with the Government as we always do on matters of foreign policy.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, on the issue of company tax cuts, it looks as though the Government may abandon what would cut 25 per cent over ten years. Would you support a tax cut for businesses with a turnover of $10-20 million at the very least?
SHORTEN: Well first of all I'm not going to deal with a hypothetical. The Government though, is leaking out, I think this is the only Government I've seen which leaks against itself, but what they're doing is they're sort of preparing the ground for an extraordinary admission of failure.
Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison must think that Australians have no memory at all. Do you remember the last Budget? The centrepiece of their 2016 Budget was the $50 billion tax giveaway to corporate Australia. We said it was a dumb idea then, we said it wasn't possible to do and we said that it was completely the wrong time to contemplate that sort of reform. Then Mr Turnbull went to the election and he said to back up his clichéd mantra of 'jobs and growth’, he only had one point in his economic plan, it was this corporate tax cut of $50 billion. Now they're going to drop it? What is the point of the Turnbull Government?
It's humiliating to the Treasurer. When a Treasurer gets up in 2016 and says this is what he stands for, does that mean that the Treasurer will drop himself from the frontbench because his signature accomplishment fails?
So we will see what they do but we've said all along that it was a dumb idea, it couldn't be afforded, it was all at the wrong time, it was all the wrong priorities. So now, we think that the Government needs to come clean on its economic plan and tell Australians if they don't have one. And I have to say again - Labor opposed this from the outset when plenty of other people said it was great idea. We've stuck to our guns. Just like we stuck to our guns in terms of separating family payments cuts from child care. Labor will keep standing up for the needs of real Australians.
JOURNALIST: Just back on child care, since the welfare cuts did pass the Senate last night, surely now you can't now block the child care measures otherwise you'd have the cuts but nothing to show for them.
SHORTEN: Well, the way we would pay for child care changes is perhaps the Government doesn't go ahead with giving away $50 billion to the big banks and multinationals.
JOURNALIST: They've already passed it, the cuts already passed last night.
SHORTEN: It's still a bad idea. And in fact, on the cuts which passed last night, two million children will be affected by this. 1.5 million Australian families affected by Malcolm Turnbull decreasing their standard of living. What Mr Turnbull calls his budget measures, the 2014 Budget which he is recycling, it has a real impact on the lives of Australians. The fact of the matter is that a single income household on $60,000 a year with two children of primary school age will be $440 worse off.
This is a remarkable Government. When it comes to corporate tax cuts, they'll fight for that. When it comes to giving tax cuts to millionaires, they're right up for that. But when it comes to opposing penalty rate cuts, missing-in-action, they support the penalty rates cuts. When it comes to cutting family payments, they're right up for that. And on the child care changes which you ask about, I think Kate outlined pretty succinctly that there are some flaws. Now, we are willing to work with the Government, we are willing to compromise with the Government. We're willing to try and meet them somewhere in the middle. Let's look after Aboriginal kids, let's look after kids in remote and regional Australia but let’s also look after kids from backgrounds who are doing it really hard and not see them stranded merely because the Government's out of touch with the way people construct their lives.
JOURNALIST: You must be heartened that there are now members of the Coalition who are openly speaking about a free vote on same-sex marriage?
SHORTEN: Yes, I am. I just think we should get on with marriage equality. It shouldn't be the political football it has become. We're in Parliament 20 weeks of the year. We should vote on it and let's be done with it. We should just get on with it for two reasons.
One, it should just happen because it's a human right and two, we've got other issues to talk about and let's get on to all the other issues. I think Australians can't understand why this place can't do it's day job.
JOURNALIST: Would you support a postal-vote campaign, Mr Shorten, given that there would be no publicly funded advertising campaign for the 'yes' and 'no' votes which you, yourself raised concerns about when opposing the plebiscite last year and also earlier this year? Is a postal vote a possible way through?
SHORTEN: This is a Government who, when they get things wrong, can never admit they are wrong. They’re always getting their own way to get anything done aren't they. Doesn't matter if it was linking child care to family tax benefit cuts, corporate tax, the crusade they've got to look after the top end of town. Just have a vote on marriage equality. Who dreamed up the latest - a postal vote which is non-binding, which will - it's an opinion poll. You know, they've invented the internet, they should just have an opinion poll, which we've already had and let the Parliament vote on it. It's very straight forward.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, I think you're meeting with the Chinese executives later this afternoon. What representation will you be making in regards to Crown executives being held in China and also human rights abuses in China?
SHORTEN: We will give a statement about what we talk about after we've met with them. We'll do them the courtesy of talking to them first. Whenever we meet with the representatives of the Chinese Government, the discussion is always very constructive, very respectful and based on promoting Australia and Chinese national interest together.
JOURNALIST: Is it unusual the Foreign Minister isn't here? She is actually in Washington at the moment.
SHORTEN: I am not going to judge her for that, that's about ISIS. No, no politics there, I am not going to have a crack at her about that. She's doing the job there which she should do. There's plenty of the rest of us here in Canberra to meet with the Chinese Premier.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, is it not a bit rich to drop the heel into the Government for implementing these freezes on family tax benefits when Labor has got form with these kinds of freezes?
SHORTEN: Oh, I think I'll let Jenny hit that one out of the park.
JENNY MACKLIN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FAMILIES AND SOCIAL SERVICES: Ok, let's have a look at the facts. What Labor did was introduce a means-test for Family Tax Benefit Part-B at $150,000 family income. John Howard provided Family Tax Benefit Part-B to everybody, including the wealthiest people in the country. We did limit family tax benefit thresholds at the top but what this does is freeze the rates of family tax benefits for every single family getting family tax benefits. That's why the poorest families, the lowest income families are going to be worse off because of this change. There are 600,000 earning less than $52,000 a year family income, who are going to lose money because of this change. That's what this Government is doing and Labor opposed it last night because it is unfair.
JOURNALIST: But Ms Macklin, so Labor paused the indexation on various family payments something like six times when it was last in Government. What's the difference?
MACKLIN: And we've continued to support the Government when they freeze at the top. But this is going to freeze the rates of family tax benefit at the bottom and right through the family tax benefit system. It is unfair, we voted against it and it shouldn't have happened. It is going to hurt families.
SHORTEN: Alright, if there are no more questions, I would just want to acknowledge Lane Calcutt's 30 years at Channel 9.