SUBJECTS: Child care reform; Closure of Hazelwood power station; Housing affordability
Last night the Senate approved our child care package and that’s great news for hard working Australian families who will be able to afford more child care, more child care, quality child care that will enable them to work the hours they want to work.
It's a great outcome for Australian families.
MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING:
Thanks, PM. This is an incredible win for low and middle-income hardworking Australian families.
Whether they're working on $60,000 a year, $100,000, $140,000 a year, all of these families will benefit from increased support under our child care reforms.
Critically, the $7,500 cliff that many families fall off of mid-year will be abolished for lower-middle-income families.
Low-income families will see their rate of subsidy increase from around 72 cents in the dollar to 85 cents in the dollar. Real tangible support that, as the PM has outlined, means they're better off not just to the tunes of tens or hundreds of dollars, but thousands of dollars a year in support.
Why is this important? Well it is important because it helps and it empowers them to choose to work more hours, to choose the days they want to work, the time they want to work, that best suits their family needs without child care costs being an impediment in them making those work and family decisions to suit their personal circumstances.
So it's an incredibly empowering decision for hardworking Australian families. The Turnbull Government has backed them.
And I sat there last night in the Senate astounded to see the Labor Party – who have nitpicked and criticised and politicised these reforms for two years – then come into the Senate and not even propose one single amendment themselves. They didn't propose any amendments. They didn't propose any solutions. They've never had an alternative policy in this area. And then they voted against our solutions to fix Australia's broken child care system.
Well, thankfully, a majority of the Senate sided with us and help is on the way for Australian families who need it most, and they will see real benefits flowing into their pockets from the middle of next year.
Prime Minister, what's your message to families with unemployed parents whose children will be worse off under this $1.6 billion package?
MINISTER FOR EDUCATION:
I might help with that in that this is one of the many lies that is being spread.
People who are on Newstart and who are meeting the job search tests on Newstart meet the activity test under our child care reforms.
Let's remember what the activity test is as well – it's four hours per week of working, studying, volunteering or looking for a job. So this is a very light-touch activity test to get on the first rung of child care assistance.
But if you are unemployed and you are looking for a job, you meet that activity test. Plus, of course, we have other extensive safety nets to ensure at-risk children can access up to 50 hours a week of care if need be, or children in very low income families can still access two sessions of care a week.
Prime Minister, is there any way that your Government would step in to stop the closure of Hazelwood?
We'll just have some more questions on child care first.
Given that this was quite an easy win for you to take, why not just take it, why not take the compromise?
MINISTER FOR EDUCATION:
The Turnbull Government went through a comprehensive analysis of what we needed to do to fix the child care system. We also, of course, worked very hard to make sure our reforms were fully funded and fully paid for so that there's no impact on the budget bottom line as a result of our decision.
After a Productivity Commission inquiry that informed the design of this, which recommended many of the different elements in terms of keeping a lid on price growth in the future through our rate cap, in terms of the increased support for low-income families, and we went further than the Productivity Commission recommended in terms of the low-income safety net.
Now ultimately, Labor was trying to cajole us and the Greens and others trying to amend the legislation to add another quarter of a billion dollars onto what is already a $1.5 billion-plus investment in support for child care.
We believe we've got the settings right, the support right, and that the activity test is a fair way of ensuring that the greatest support goes to families who need it most, and the greatest level of subsidy goes to the families who are earning the least.
The children of parents who are on welfare payments – will any of those children be left worse off under this package?
MINISTER FOR EDUCATION:
Children of parents, as I said, who are unemployed but whose parents are looking for work will, of course, meet the activity test.
The children of parents in areas of particular disadvantage – if their families have mental health challenges or other factors that might see them on a Disability Support Pension will then meet the category of at-risk children, who can access services.
So all of the details of this have been very well thought through, to make sure that vulnerable children are cared for and catered for and supported, whilst delivering maximum support to help hardworking families.
No child worse off unless their parents don’t undertake the 4 hours of activities?
MINISTER FOR EDUCATION:
There's no reason parents cannot simply meet that 4-hour test. That includes volunteering activities, that can be as simple as coming and reading to your children at the preschool.
Thank you. You had a question?
Is there any way your Government would step in to stop the Hazelwood closure?
The answer is that the Hazelwood closure is a commercial decision taken by its owner, Engie.
Our thoughts today, are with the workers at Hazelwood and the people of Morwell who are facing the closure of this plant. It's a very big disruption in their lives and a very big event in that community.
We're providing substantial support in the community, in terms of providing investment and transition, structural adjustment. We will be supporting the community of the Latrobe Valley in the wake of this closure. There will, of course, be continued employment. For many of those workers, there is a very substantial rehabilitation task to be undertaken by the company and there will also be the opportunity for employment in other power stations in the area, which will be increasing, obviously, increasing production as a result.
Let me say, on the question of energy security, I want to be very clear about this – this is a substantial generator. It is one of the oldest, it is the oldest in fact in Australia and it has been slated for closure for many, many years.
The company has decided to close it because the cost of making it safe, the cost of paying for the long-deferred maintenance and to meet work safety requirements runs into many hundreds of millions of dollars, even to keep it operating after the 30th of June. So that's the reason for the commercial decision.
In terms of energy security, the Australian Energy Market Operator has advised us and, indeed, have said publicly, that the closure of Hazelwood will not reduce the security of the system.
In other words, there is more than adequate unused capacity in our electricity-generation system across the national electricity market to make up for the loss of the generation from Hazelwood, which is about 1,200 megawatts in practical terms. That's what they have been generating, about 1,200 megawatts.
Tony Abbott says stepping in to save Hazelwood would cap off a good week. Do you welcome his praise of your performance?
Well, you know, all contributions gratefully received, of course. But the company has, as I said, it's a commercial decision. The cost of keeping Hazelwood going is enormous. That's why Engie has taken the decision to close it.
Has the Government had a good week?
That's for our judges in the Press Gallery to determine. But I'll say this though, I’ll say this. The passage of the child care reforms is very, very important. Everything we do, is designed to help hardworking Australian families get ahead, realise their dreams. The cost of childcare – as every parent knows – is a very, very big one. It's a really big element, item, in the cost of living and of course, it creates a real barrier to mums and dads staying engaged in the workforce when their kids are little.
So it's important that everyone's able to do that. It's important for parents. It's important for children. it's important for the nation's productivity and our economic growth. So this is a vitally important reform.
When you look at the results, you have to ask: “What was it, why did the Labor Party oppose it so vehemently, when it is so fair?” It's something that has been called out for, for so long. By the sector, the Productivity Commission, by commonsense. It's really delivering a fair deal for Australian families.
So we're very pleased to end the week with this achievement. Of course, we now have our meetings with the Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang. We've got some very good news on exports, particularly exports of chilled beef, which is going to – again – expand those big markets in Asia, big market in China, for Australian exporters. It creates more jobs, more opportunities, here in Australia.
On housing affordability, is that a federal or state responsibility?
Well, the answer is it is overwhelmingly a state responsibility because the states control planning. The biggest barrier to, the biggest issue in housing affordability, is that we have not been building enough dwellings. That has been because of planning policies by state and local governments, I should add, but they're subject to state governments.
Now, there are Federal Government policies that impact on housing affordability. We're doing everything we can to support the development and the provision of more housing and more affordable housing. But planning under our constitution, is overwhelmingly in the hands of state governments.
OK, thank you all very much.