Doorstop interview, Adelaide
Topics: Senator Lucy Gichuhi joining the Liberal Party; Preschool funding; ABC Cabinet files


Simon Birmingham:     Firstly, though, of course it’s a great thrill that Senator Lucy Gichuhi has chosen to join the Liberal Party of Australia here in the South Australian division. This is a wonderful testament to the fact that we have over the last year worked cooperatively with Lucy in the Senate and here in South Australia to build a strong relationship. But of course, it’s also a testament to the fact that, as Lucy has outlined in her statements to date, she truly aligns with Liberal values, Liberal principles, and that that, of course, is what has drawn her to work with us. I know that the Prime Minister, who met with Lucy yesterday morning, is thrilled and delighted that she will be part of our team. I’m confident that in Canberra, Lucy will be a strong advocate for South Australia and for Liberal values, and that here in South Australia, Lucy will continue to be a hard working senator for South Australia, committed to working across the different communities of SA, to working with us to make sure that in a Liberal family that represents a broad diversity of views and backgrounds, we continue to do that, and that Lucy, with her unique life story and background that she brings to the Parliament and to the Party, will only strengthen that diversity and connection that we can have with the community.


Lucy, thank you so much and welcome.


Lucy Gichuhi:              Thank you very much, Simon, and everybody who has done a brilliant job to welcome me. And for me, this is an opportunity to learn how to serve South Australians, learning from parliamentarians because, as you may all know, I’m not coming from a political background, I’m coming from a layman, and ordinary day mum and dad on the street, so when I got to Canberra my goal was to learn and learn as much as I can do, and I could only learn from those who are doing it- at Canberra those who are experienced, and that conclusion has led me to decide to join the Liberal Party.


So thank you very much for welcoming me and all the politicians, everybody in Canberra, all the parliamentarians, including staffers, have been very helpful. We’ve learnt a lot from them and we will continue to learn and I’ll continue to do my best to serve South Australians. Thank you very much.


Simon Birmingham:     We’ll take questions on everything in a second, but I’ll make a few preschool comments, so then we can do all of the questions.


The Turnbull Government today is thrilled to commit some $440 million to continue preschool access for predominantly four year olds, for children in their year before school. This is about ensuring that children access preschool for 15 hours per week. It will help and benefit around 350,000 young students across the country, ensuring that they get the skills and the opportunity to go to preschool, where they will learn and prepare for school: everything from how they should behave in the classroom, how to hold a pencil, as well as brain and development and cognitive skills that will be established to help them get to a flying start at school.


We know that early childhood education is very important and we know that, of course, it can provide the greatest benefits for children who may not be getting the stimulation or support that ideally they would at home. And that’s why a message that I have for the states in committing this extra funding is that they must do more to ensure that the kids who will benefit most are actually turning up to preschool, because our data and assessments to date demonstrate that more than a quarter of children might be enrolled in preschool services, but they’re not turning up, and that that is much, much higher across disadvantaged cohorts of children from Indigenous backgrounds, socially or economically disadvantaged backgrounds, from language backgrounds other than English.


So the states and territories, in administering this preschool funding, must focus over the next couple of years on ensuring they lift attendance rates for disadvantaged kids who stand to gain the most from being at preschool and accessing those services. And we look forward to working with the states over those next couple of years to make sure the funding is put to the greatest use, to boost those attendance rates, so that we can then structurally deliver the long term programs that Australia needs.


Journalist:        Why is the funding only for one year? Is that not a bit of a stop gap measure?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, this provides certainty of funding right through to the end of 2019, so essentially up until 2020. This gives a good long period of time for the states to deliver on the areas where we’ve identified failings. We’re not going to give the states a blank cheque when they’re failing to actually get the kids who can benefit most to turn up to the preschool. We want to work with the states to make sure we can target those children at disadvantage, that we can lift those attendance rates, and that we can get over the next couple of years better data, better attendance, that can provide the basis to better structured preschool arrangements for the long term.


Journalist:        Senator, why is preschool so important? Can you tell us?


Simon Birmingham:     Preschool’s critical because it develops those skills that children need before they start school. Whether it’s as simple as holding a pencil, or of course all of the different cognitive and brain development attributes that you’d hope are being stimulated in children, all of those things are critical for a child walking into the school classroom. So our commitment is to make sure that school education, whether record levels of needs-based funding, is as best it can be right across Australia, and that preschool provides the foundation, the building blocks, for kids to be able to succeed when they get to school. Because if they’re falling behind when they start school, falling behind in the early years of school, it becomes harder and harder to close the gap.


Journalist:        So why only funding for predominantly four year olds in SA? Three year olds are in preschool as well.


Simon Birmingham:     Well, what we’ve identified is that the challenge here is that the states and territories have been taking this money for many years now and haven’t been getting the kids who need it most into the preschools, so the focus and the target that we’ve laid out here is to say yes, we’ll provide further funding, we’ll extend the program, but we need to make sure that it’s working for the four year olds who’ve got the most to gain before we simply give the states a blank cheque on anything else.


Journalist:        [Indistinct] So this is the second time you’ve changed parties in 15 months. Is this where you’re going to stay now?


Lucy Gichuhi:              I’ve actually never changed to anything. I came from the streets, like I have said, I came here like an ordinary mum and dad, found myself in Family First, and it’s my party who disappeared. I couldn’t make that decision and I needed to study and understand what politics is all about, how to serve South Australia, and that is what I was doing for nine months. So I’m not changing anything. This is my first political, ever, decision I’ve made.


Journalist:        So why didn’t you join Cory Bernardi’s Conservative Party? You’ve been recorded to have some pretty conservative views, surely it would’ve been a perfect fit?


Lucy Gichuhi:              Like I said, I took time to study the political landscape and for me, my goal is to serve South Australians. So, it is to work with the party or the team, more the team, that does this best. For the moment, with my understanding, that is the team that serves all South Australians, remember it’s all South Australians, so I appreciate, and of course the support of all parliamentarians have been very supportive. At this point in time, according to what I’ve understood in the last nine months, the best place, the best team that enables me to serve all South Australians is the Liberal Party.


Journalist:        What did the Prime Minister and the Party offer you to join up?


Lucy Gichuhi:              There was no pre-condition for me joining the Liberal Party. So all they offered me is support and lessons, which I can learn about how to serve South Australians, and they are…


Journalist:        [Interrupts] Sorry, did the Liberal Party approach you or did you approach them to join?


Lucy Gichuhi:              Look, since I got into politics, that’s nine months ago, all the parties have approached me to work with them as a team – all the parties, I mean all the parties. So it has been a type of weighing which party allows me to serve South Australians best.


Journalist:        There’s a difference between working with you and asking you to join up. Did the Liberal Party or the Prime Minister actually approach you and say, we would like you to join our party officially?


Lucy Gichuhi:              I made the decision to join the team that allows me to serve South Australians the best.


Journalist:        So you approached the Prime Minister?


Lucy Gichuhi:              I made a decision at some point to join the team that allows me to serve South Australians the best.


Journalist:        And I know you say you didn’t change parties, but you were in Family First and now you’re in the Liberal Party, so don’t voters deserve to know who they’re voting for and what party that person will represent when they cast the ballot?


Lucy Gichuhi:              Absolutely they deserve and that is part of that voters’ challenge is to understand who is running their country. So Family First is so aligned in policy to the Liberal Party that anyone doing their homework a bit will realise that Family First is so aligned in policy and politics to the Liberal Party [indistinct].


Journalist:        So why did it merge with the Conservatives, then, if it’s such a Liberal …


Lucy Gichuhi:              If you did a bit of homework around this whole major move, you would realise that I joined at the time the Party- by the time I joined, the Party had already made that decision. So I was right in the border. I did not have time to be part of that decision, which I respect. The only decision I can control at that point was what I was going to do myself, with the information I had, that is of benefit to South Australia.


Simon Birmingham:     And I think that’s a fair point – let’s remember that Family First dissolved the Party at the time Lucy entered the Senate and Lucy has taken the time since then, six months or however long it’s been, nine months, to reflect upon what is the best decision for her and the best way, as she says, that she can serve South Australia. And she’s determined that joining the Liberal Party is the best way to serve the South Australian public and we warmly welcome her.


Journalist:        Just a bit of a question for the both of you, I suppose, again: for most of the nine months you’ve been in, you have sort of voted along lines with the Government. It doesn’t really change your numbers in the Senate that much, does it? It’s still the same crossbench to deal with.


Simon Birmingham:     Well, we will continue to show the respect that we do to the crossbench and to work with all cross benchers in the Senate to make sure that the Government presses its agenda. It’s that approach of respecting cross benchers and working constructively with them that has helped to bring Lucy to join the Liberal Party. Of course, we’d welcome any others who’d like to join the Liberal Party too, but in the interim, yes, we will work one by one, as we have to, to continue to succeed in getting our legislative program through, and we have been successful: school funding reforms, company tax reforms, reforms across a range of national security issues; the Government has demonstrated we can deliver through the Senate time and time again.


Journalist:        Senator, can I just ask you a quickie: you’ve been in, as you say, nine months now, what do you feel you’ve achieved for South Australia in nine months as an independent?


Lucy Gichuhi:              Can you repeat the question?


Journalist:        Sorry, what do you feel you’ve achieved as an independent for South Australia in your nine months so far?


Lucy Gichuhi:              What I’ve basically achieved as a Senator for South Australia is to bring awareness to migrants, people from emerging community, small business and employers, workers, every mum and dad on the street, just to have that confidence that they can be involved in learning their own country. Starting from the state, people need to be involved in understanding what goes in my country, who makes the decision? Chip into the future of this country. It’s mandatory that we all feel that we are all Australians, irrespective of where we come from, who we are, young, old; everybody, because it’s our country, all of us.


Journalist:        Senator Birmingham, I have some questions about the ABC Cabinet, if you don’t mind answering them?


Simon Birmingham:     Sure.


Journalist:        Okay, so the Prime Minister’s Cabinet basically confirmed that it lost the Cabinet files that were published in the ABC. How serious is that admission from the department?


Simon Birmingham:     This is a serious issue and that’s why it is receiving a full and proper investigation, and I expect that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet will get to the bottom of exactly what went wrong.


Journalist:        Should that person or people be sacked?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, let’s let the investigation take place, understand exactly what went wrong, and then consequences will be dealt with in accordance with the usual public service codes.


Journalist:        The ABC has been told that Australia’s Five Eyes of Intelligence partners have been notified of this breach. Has this breach damaged those relationships and what assurances has the Federal Government given to those five places?


Simon Birmingham:     The tightness of our security relations with other countries is something that we value and that we work closely with, and nothing really threatens that close bond and cooperation that we have with our security partners. We make sure day in day out that that is a tight knit relationship; we are absolutely confident it will continue to be in the future.


Journalist:        Can we expect further inquiry into this?


Simon Birmingham:     There is an investigation, of course, underway. That investigation will be fully undertaken and, of course, whatever consequences flow from that will be a matter for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in accordance with the usual public service codes and guidelines.


Thanks everybody.


Journalist:        [Indistinct]


Simon Birmingham:     The Labor Party went to the last election without promising a single cent for preschool over the next few years. What the Turnbull Government’s delivered is preschool funding that stretches from before the last election until after the next election. That’s providing clear long term certainty, but we’re also making sure that it’s not a blank cheque for the states; it’s an opportunity for the states to focus on the areas where they’re failing, which is their failure to get the children who need it most, from disadvantaged backgrounds, actually into the preschools and attending. That’s what we want to work towards because that way, for the long term, we can build a much stronger and much more successful framework for preschool in Australia.


Journalist:        Thank you very much.