LYNDAL CURTIS: Now to our panel and today we’re joined by Labor Senator Lisa Singh and Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham. Welcome to you both.
LISA SINGH: Hi, Lyndal.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good afternoon, Lyndal. Hello, Lisa.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Simon, if I could start with you, quickly, because the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, said he would look into reports that the Liberals’ candidate for the New South Wales seat of Charlton, which is Greg Combet’s old seat… at reports that there was inappropriate content on a car enthusiasts website he had set up. Do you know if that candidate, Kevin Baker, has been disendorsed?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Lyndal, my understanding is Mr Baker will not be the Liberal candidate in Charlton and that is, I think, the appropriate thing. Obviously, during the course of the day, appropriate investigations and discussions have been had and Mr Baker will now no longer be the Liberal candidate for Charlton.
LYNDAL CURTIS: And, of course, the nominations have closed, so you can’t put someone else into the seat, can you?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s right. That’s unfortunate. However, it’s important that the right thing happens in this regard. Tony Abbott made very clear earlier today that what appeared to have occurred by Mr Baker was inappropriate and wrong. Mr Baker apologised but, in the end, it was the right thing for him to step aside as the Liberal candidate and that’s now occurred.
LYNDAL CURTIS: We might move on, now, to the Coalition’s paid parental leave scheme. The Opposition Leader has been forced to backpedal on how it would be funded after a backlash from one state premier. Yesterday, Tony Abbott indicated states would be asked to chip in, but the Western Australian Premier, Colin Barnett, objected. Today, Mr Abbott clarified, saying there would be no cost to states, prompting Government claims the policy is falling apart.
KEVIN RUDD: The Coalition is divided on it, the National Party folks are saying they’ll cross the floor on it, business hate it, state government conservative premiers hate it … it is unfunded, it is unfair and, frankly, it’s a policy falling apart as we watch.
TONY ABBOTT: Kevin Rudd just doesn’t get it and, you know, he’s, frankly, a bit… he’s embarrassed about a lot at the moment, Kevin Rudd, and I think one of the things he’s embarrassed about is that his party didn’t have the gumption to embrace this scheme.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Simon, will it change your policy costings if the states don’t tip in money to the scheme, if the Commonwealth merely tops up what state public servants get – the difference between what they get under state schemes and what they’d get under the Commonwealth scheme?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Lyndal, let’s be very clear about this. We’re not expecting states to contribute any more. We are simply expecting states to not enjoy a windfall gain either. We want to end a situation where public servants currently potentially double-dip: they get a government-funded – through their state or Commonwealth employer – parental leave package and then they go through, essentially, the Centrelink government program that also exists. We want to end that so that there is one uniform paid parental leave scheme operating and we would expect that the states not enjoy a windfall gain in that regard and continue to contribute what they are currently paying in regards to their paid parental leave component. The Commonwealth will then top that up as is necessary.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Would it be easier for people to understand how this policy is going to be funded if you actually put your costings out with the policy?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Lyndal, we have gone through the process with the independent Parliamentary Budget Office; it has all been costed; we’ve, of course, announced that, in relation to the costings, there will have to be on the biggest companies in Australia a 1½ per cent company tax levy, so we’ve taken that difficult decision, in terms of how you make sure the funding occurs; then, of course, there’s the savings from axing Labor’s inadequate paid parental leave scheme and putting in place this real scheme; then there’s the funding from the states that come about; then, of course, there’s some adjustments to income tax – these are all pretty simple things. They have been explained by Joe Hockey and others and, of course, the full costings, as we’ve always indicated, will be released at the appropriate time in this campaign.
LISA SINGH: Now, we have a really good paid parental leave scheme in this country.
LISA SINGH: What the Coalition have announced is something that is very expensive, they don’t know how they’re going to pay for, and leaves their own Coalition party members divided. It’s simply a joke, quite frankly.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Simon, there are still some members of the Coalition who aren’t happy with these scheme, aren’t there?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Lyndal, let’s be very clear about this. We don’t have a very good paid parental leave scheme in Australia. We effectively have a glorified Baby Bonus where working women all get paid exactly the same amount, so that really is just like a Baby Bonus. It’s not a paid parental leave scheme because it’s not tied to their work conditions of employment; it’s not tied to how much it is they actually earn in their job – that’s why we want to establish, and why Tony Abbott has been so passionate about establishing, this paid parental leave scheme, so that you actually give the working women of Australia the recognition they deserve, the pay they deserve, at their working wage, when they take leave to care for newborn children. That’s, indeed, how it works in many other countries of the world. That’s a real paid parental leave scheme, not the one we’ve got at present, and Tony is the first one to admit he’s been on a journey to come to this point but he is now the most passionate supporter of this policy and quite driven by it and I’m quite confident he will take all of the rest of the Coalition with him on that journey successfully.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Simon, your Leader announced today that, if the Coalition wins, he would like to change the name of DisabilityCare back to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Now, he said that about $22 million had been spent on branding DisabilityCare. Why would you want to spend more changing the name back?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Lyndal, I’m sure that could be done in a sensible way but it’s about making sure that people understand what the Scheme is and that it’s true to its intent and I think that, of course, is part of what Tony was talking about but this costings debate really is, of course, part of Labor’s scare campaign because that’s all they’ve got to offer this campaign. We see Kevin Rudd creating, essentially, a false scare campaign built on lies and untruths and that has been the case right throughout the course of this campaign. It’s the Labor Party who, of course, can’t manage to budget and can’t run their costings. During Penny Wong’s own time as Finance minister we’ve seen some $107 billion in budget blowouts – $107 billion in budget blowouts that have actually happened while Penny Wong has been Finance minister. Even under Chris Bowen’s very brief tenure as Treasurer we’ve, of course, seen further deterioration in the Budget and the fact that the Labor Party has to go and grab new taxes like the $1.8 billion fringe benefits tax just from nowhere and cause massive shock to industry in the process.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Lisa, it’s the case, though… under the Labor Government there have been cuts; there’s been efficiency dividend after efficiency dividend on the public service; you’ve cut spending, some funding to universities to help fund your school education plan, so while you say the Coalition might be going to cut things, Labor’s cut things too, hasn’t it?
LISA SINGH: Well, we’ve been fiscally responsible and, all the way through, we have had all of our costings put through Treasury. We’ve been very clear and very upfront that all of our policies…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: They’re always wrong, in the end.
LISA SINGH: … will be funded and costed, unlike the Coalition who have not done that, so the people are left wanting. We’re three weeks out, Lyndal, from election day and people are still looking at the Coalition, going ‘how are you going to pay for these things?’ I mean, there are still policies that aren’t even out there. We don’t even know, really, what they’re coming out with but the things that they are coming out with…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: So, there’ll be no new Labor policies the rest of the campaign?
LISA SINGH: … people are wondering how the Coalition are going to fund them…
LYNDAL CURTIS: Simon, can you say now that a Commission of Audit held by a Coalition Government wouldn’t be putting forward cuts that you might take up?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Lyndal, of course, the purpose of a Commission of Audit is to look, effectively, across government and find smarter ways for us to do business and that is obviously what we would expect to occur. What we’ve been very transparent about, though, is, firstly, outlining a number of savings measures and the Labor Party can’t have this debate both ways. They can’t, on the one hand, say ‘the Liberal Party’s not announcing any savings measures’ and have this ‘giant black hole’ sort of scare campaign but then, on the other hand, attack us for the fact that we’ve announced that we’ll end things like the Schoolkids Bonus; that we’ve announced changes to public service numbers; that we identified, when Tony Abbott gave his Budget Reply speech this year, some $17 billion worth of savings measures; that we identified, in announcing the paid parental leave scheme, the changes to the company tax rate and the imposition of that levy that will raise funds. We have taken difficult decisions this campaign. Where are Labor’s difficult decisions? Where is the pressure on Labor to justify their six years of failure in managing their Budget or, indeed, how Kevin Rudd is funding promises such as those he made even today?
LYNDAL CURTIS: And that’s where we’ll have to leave it. We’ve run out of time. Lisa Singh and Simon Birmingham, thank you very much for your time.
LISA SINGH: Thanks, Lyndal.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thanks so much, Lyndal and Lisa.