Doorstop interview, Canberra
Topics: Rorting of child care payments; Murray-Darling Basin plan; National Energy Guarantee: Higher education reforms; Proposal from the Hobart City Council to change the date of Australia Day; AFP raids on AWU offices




Simon Birmingham:     … on a non-political front, can I say that the hearts, prayers, sympathies and thoughts of all members of the nation’s Parliament would be with Linda Burney and her family today. We respect her right to grieve the death of her son in private, but we absolutely do send our best wishes to Linda and her family at this very difficult time.


I want to touch on two particular issues today. One is a story in the Herald Sun that reports on the rorting of child care payments. Now, the Turnbull Government has taken strong action increasing compliance checks on family day care and child care services around the country from just 500 under Labor to more than 3000 under the Turnbull Government. This huge increase has resulted in savings to the Australian taxpayer of $1.8 billion from the suspension or cancellation of 166 services around the country. But what’s remarkable in today’s Herald Sun story are the revelations that Labor MPs – Peter Khalil, Kate Ellis and even Bill Shorten’s office – have urged the Turnbull Government to go easy on some of these providers, to give some of these providers who are alleged to have rorted taxpayer funds, a second chance. Well we’re not interested in having second chances for people who rip the taxpayer off.


This is just further proof that Mr Shorten and the Labor Party cannot be trusted with other people’s money. It’s a demonstration that the Labor Party is lax when it comes to the spending of taxpayer funds, just as there have been countless examples that they are lax when it comes to the spending of union members’ money. Of course, we will guarantee and work as hard as we can to ensure the integrity of child care services around the country.


I also want to quickly comment on Jay Weatherill’s interview on Lateline last night. Jay Weatherill is demonstrating that, for him, it’s all politics and no policy. It’s all about the games and never about policy solutions. When it comes to the Murray-Darling Basin, he wants Royal Commissions, he wants outrage, but of course he won’t pick the phone up to the Queensland Labor Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk, he won’t reach out to the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and say: your states need to support full, on-time implementation to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.


The Turnbull Government is absolutely committed to implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, we have been from day one, we were bipartisan in its development, we will continue to oversee its implementation. But Jay Weatherill is there wanting to make it a political stoush with the Liberal Party, rather than recognising that problems that may exist in certain institutions or jurisdictions are problems that he could equally reach out to his Labor mates and try to get addressed. But I’d note that in relation to these Queensland cases, action has already been taken. Law enforcement agencies are already on the case; the fraud that is alleged to have occurred is being investigated – a demonstration, that in many ways, the safeguards there are actually working.


I also note Jay Weatherill went playing politics when it came to the National Energy Guarantee, demonstrating that he stands for higher prices and less reliable energy. That’s an appalling position for a premier overseeing the state that has got the highest levels of intermittent energy, has seen the greatest instances of blackouts, has got the highest prices in the country and, of course, his policies would see even higher prices, even more blackouts, instead of the Turnbull Government’s guarantee that delivers reliability, affordability, as well as meeting our international obligations.


Journalist:        Do you support that recommendation of the Productivity Commission for a price on carbon? That was in a report delivered by the Treasurer.


Simon Birmingham:     Well the Productivity Commission report is very far ranging yesterday; it’s a report to government, not of government and the Government’s view is that the best way to deal with the dual challenges of meeting our international obligations as well as guaranteeing reliability and doing it at least cost is to accept the expert advice of the energy market regulators and those who have brought the energy guarantee to the table via the Energy Security Board. We have clear advice now from those most knowledgeable, most expert; we accept it, we urge the states, territories and the Labor Party to get on board and accept it as well to give consumers cheaper power prices.


Bill Shorten’s policies are adopted, households will see a $200 increase in their policies over time; if the Energy Security Board’s advice is adopted as the Turnbull Government advocates, households will see a decrease of more than $100. That’s a $300 a year differential in household price bills. It’s meaningful. Households shouldn’t cop that, we should see full adoption of the Turnbull Government plans.


Journalist:        How much more movement can we expect to see on proposed higher education changes before the end of the year?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, I would hope that people will see the merit in delivering sustainability in higher education across the country. Universities have seen vast growth in their funding – some 70 plus per cent of growth in funding since 2009, a rate that’s twice the rate of economic growth – we’re proposing to simply slow the rate of funding growth. Under our reforms universities would still see funding growth of around 23 per cent over the next four years. There are many small businesses around the country who would love that type of funding growth and I call upon the Parliament, particularly the cross benches but also the Labor Party, to recognise the common sense in simply slowing that rate of growth to make university funding more sustainable for the long term.


Journalist:        In a practical sense, are you confident that you’ll get there by the end of the year though, or …?


Simon Birmingham:     Look, I remain hopeful and committed to working for solutions and, of course though, as we’ve indicated with the Xenophon Team stance they took last week, if those solutions cannot be found then we will have to consider the implications, not only for higher education policy, but also to make sure, as we always do, that those budget issues are addressed. And given the rate of spending growth in universities over the last few years and its contribution to the budget deficit to date, it is entirely reasonable to continue to expect that universities make some contribution to budget repair with a slightly lower rate of growth in their funding.


Journalist:        And just on Hobart City Council voting to urge the Government to change the date of Australia Day; are they at risk of losing their right to hold citizenship ceremonies, do you think? And when you think of the growing momentum for that movement, I guess.


Simon Birmingham:     Look, I am yet to see an Australian who comes up to me and says they want to see Australia Day changed. Everybody I speak to about this issue thinks that we should be celebrating Australia Day in a unified way. The many different citizenship ceremonies and Australia Day events I’ve attended in recent years have done a fabulous job of recognising and celebrating our Indigenous culture and heritage as well and I would urge councils around the country, including the Hobart City Council, to focus on how we can make sure that Indigenous Australians are partners with us in celebration of Australia Day as a unifying day on 26 January, rather than dividing Australia with this type of political debate.


Journalist:        And just finally, on the AFP raids on AWU offices; do you- or what’s your response, I guess, to Sally McManus’ comment that that’s an abuse of power essentially and an attack on democracy in Australia?


Simon Birmingham:     The Registered Organisations Commission is a statutory body established by this Parliament with a clear mandate to make sure that registered organisations, including trade unions, act in accordance with the law and act in a way that sees the members’ money they receive – the fees from hard-working members of Australian trade unions – are used in responsible ways. Now, this is an investigation launched by the ROC, it’s their investigation. You, of course, should run the proper course of the law of the land, but ultimately it’s about testing whether or not hard-working union members’ money has been misused or abused.


Journalist:        Thank you.


Simon Birmingham:     Thank you.