Doorstop interview, Adelaide
Topics: New child care fee data; Sugar tax; Martin Hamilton-Smith

Simon Birmingham: Thanks very much for coming today. The Turnbull Government’s pleased to see new child care fee data that shows average increases over the last year in childcare fees of 3.9 per cent, which is some 40 per cent plus below what fee increases averaged under the previous Labor government, well below the nearly seven per cent fee increases people saw during that period of time, which even spiked with some 14 per cent growth in fees.

But we do know that many Australian families still struggle with child care fees and while this latest data is welcome, for the families with 1.2 million Australian children who are in early childhood education and child care settings, it’s important to keep downward pressure on fees and to deliver more support, which is why from July 2 this year, we are undertaking the most sweeping reform of child care subsidies and support for families ever undertaken in Australia. A new child care subsidy will come into effect with an extra $2.5 billion of support for families targeted at hard working low and middle income Australian families.

For many families, that will leave them millions of dollars better off as a result of the changes that have been put in place that will ensure more support for families working longer hours, more support for families on low and middle incomes; families will see a couple of thousand dollars a year benefit in many instances, ensuring more money in their hip pocket but also greater flexibility for families to choose the hours they work, the days they work, to meet their family circumstances.

Journalist: Minister, the cost of child care is still going up higher than inflation. How can you claim this as a win?

Simon Birmingham: Well, when we look at the history of this we can see that we have really managed to constrain what had been out of control increases in child care costs, to now an increase that, by historical standards, is a much slower rate of growth. But that’s why we acknowledge that more needs to be done and we are doing more. The comprehensive overhaul of child care subsidies coming into effect in July this year will give more support to families but also, having had extensive consultation applied, will ensure that we’re putting in place the mechanism the Productivity Commission recommended to keep a lid on fee increases in the future. The child care subsidies will be benchmarked against a fee rate that is tied, in the increases in future, to inflation. That sends a clear signal to parents, to childcare providers, that we expect fees to increase closer to in line with other cost of living increases, with inflation increases, in the future and that subsidies will be tied to those increases in the future.

Journalist: Minister, the changes aren’t coming into effect until July, but you say that the rate of increase has already reduced. What’s actually led to this decrease in the rising costs?

Simon Birmingham: Well, this is the most comprehensive reform and the Turnbull Government, though, has been taking steps over the last few years, really, with different regulatory changes that we’ve made, to send clear signals into the child care sector that excessive fee charging practices are not acceptable, to make sure that we stamp those out, which have brought down averages. And of course, across the economy in terms of our approach to business taxes, to other cost taxes such as electricity prices and so forth, everything we’ve been doing has been about trying to keep prices lower for all businesses, but in particular we’ve taken regulatory steps in child care, we’ve taken economy wide measures to keep costs down, and all of that has a flow on benefit in terms of lower cost pressures in child care centres and therefore lower cost pressures flowing through to Australian families.

Journalist: Yeah, just on another matter – the AMA renewing its push to crack down on childhood obesity with a number of measures, I think 20 in total, including a tax on sugary drinks and also banning junk food advertising. Is that something the Government’s going to support?

Simon Birmingham: Our view very much is that we want to reduce taxes across the Australian economy – it’s why we’ve reduced taxes in companies, why we’ve cut areas of income tax, why we have further plans for company tax reductions, further plans for income tax reductions. The Turnbull Government has no intention to be introducing new taxes. We are committed to working on healthy- preventive health measures for Australians, but they won’t be about new taxes. They will be about helping Australians to do the right thing in terms of exercising, eating well, ensuring they live a healthy lifestyle.

Journalist: But this is what doctors are saying will fix the problem, or at least help solve the problem. Why won’t you listen to that?

Simon Birmingham: We don’t believe that new taxes are the answer. We think Australian families want to see a Government that works hard to keep cost of living pressures down and that means no new taxes, it means tax cuts where we can afford them, and it means help in terms of healthcare measures that focus on preventative health aspects rather than tax hits on Australian families.

Journalist: The current strategies aren’t working to prevent childhood obesity. Is it not something that you need to look at?

Simon Birmingham: Well, indeed- look, as Education Minister as well, I’m very conscious of the fact that families need to think very hard about the choices they make in their circumstances, that we need to ensure that across early childhood education, across family information that goes out from all the different agencies, is a clear understanding that helps people appreciate the importance of healthy lifestyles, healthy eating, good exercise regimes, active lifestyles. All of that is critical, all of that is part of our overall approach as a Government, but we are not a Government that believes in new or higher taxes. We’re a Government that believes in lower taxes and reducing cost of living pressures.

Journalist: Okay, what about a ban on junk food advertising, then?

Simon Birmingham: Well, there are already a number of restrictions in that regard and we continue to work with industry – both the food industry as well as the media sector – to make sure that we have responsible approaches in regards to the marketing the promotion of foods.

Journalist: So essentially not looking at any of those recommendations at the moment?

Simon Birmingham: We’ll of course always look at submissions that are made, but in terms of taxes in particular, we are a government of lower taxes, no new taxes, we want to make sure we reduce cost of living pressures.

Journalist: Just while I’ve got you, perhaps you could provide your thoughts on the departure of Martin Hamilton-Smith?

Simon Birmingham: Well, Martin Hamilton-Smith, just two months after the last election having been re-elected as a Liberal MP for four years, ratted on the voters of his electorate and became a Labor minister. And now he’s running like a coward from the voters of Waite, who were clearly going to punish him at the next election; punish him for his disloyalty, for his dishonesty. Now in the end, nobody’s going to mourn the departure of Martin Hamilton-Smith from political life, but it does show that he knew full well that the voters were lining up with their baseball bats to punish him for his dishonest and disloyal acts.

Journalist: What’s going to happen now, do you think? Is it an open race and what do you think the Liberal Party will do?

Simon Birmingham: Sam Duluk has been working hard in that seat that largely comprises parts of his existing electorate of Davenport now as well. I am confident that Sam will retain that seat for the Liberal Party. It’s long been a Liberal seat. The voters of Waite voted overwhelmingly for a Liberal candidate in Martin Hamilton-Smith at the last election, I’m confident they’ll do so again but with Sam Duluk, who is a true Liberal and will stay a Liberal, unlike the rat Martin Hamilton-Smith.