Doorstop interview, Canberra
Turnbull Government’s plan to make early childhood education and care more affordable, accessible and fairer; Newspoll

Simon Birmingham: These are reforms that will ensure an effective price mechanism to keep a cap on fee growth in the future. More support for the lowest income hard working Australian families that will see low income families paying only around $15 a day in terms of their child care costs, removal of the limit on support, the $7500 limit, that so many families fall over that cliff each year at present, removing that for everyone earning less than $185,000. These are comprehensive reforms targeted to help those who need it most. And evidence yesterday not just of fee increases, but also from Goodstart, Australia’s largest early education and child care provider, shows that around 61 per cent of families would choose to work more hours if we had a more effective child care system in place and that Goodstart endorse the system the Turnbull Government is proposing as a more effective model.

We must see this legislation passed this fortnight. We will work as hard as we can with any of the crossbenchers or the Labor Party, if they’re willing to come to the table, to help get it through. Because all we see from Mr Shorten is frankly hypocrisy when it comes to child care where he cries crocodile tears about the costs facing Australian families and yet of course does nothing to actually constructively help address those costs by supporting our proposals and our reforms. 

Equally of course, we see hypocrisy from Mr Shorten when it comes to the issues of penalty rates. What’s clearly been exposed across many of the nation’s newspapers today is that Bill Shorten is a rank hypocrite on the issue of penalty rates. Somebody who as a trade union leader, negotiated away penalty rates, weekend penalty rates for Australian workers, who as Employment Minister asked the Fair Work Commission to undertake a review of weekend penalty rates, who as opposition leader said he would support the Fair Work Commission’s independent decision on weekend penalty rates, and yet now, apparently, stands for the opposite of all of those things that he has done before. All the Fair Work Commission has done is hand down a ruling that frankly gives small and medium size Australian businesses the opportunity to compete on a more level playing field with those big businesses who Bill Shorten and his union mates have done back room deals with before.

Journalist: Was it a mistake to link the childcare reforms to the welfare cuts?

Simon Birmingham: Well our childcare reforms involve $1.6 billion of additional investment and they must be paid for, and they must be paid for in a way that doesn’t leave today’s children facing an even greater mountain of debt in terms of government debt in the future. So we will continue to work to find a way to make sure these reforms are paid for, that include working through the savings measures and the Omnibus Bill, so that we find the means to ensure they are fully funded, fully paid for but delivered to help Australian families’ needs.

Journalist: [Indistinct] that they would rather see the Omnibus Bill split up. So is that an idea the Government will consider?

Simon Birmingham: We’ll work constructively with anybody who comes to the table. And I’ll say this about the crossbench, they at least open their doors, they have a conversation, they work through the issues. The Labor Party just say no. They say ‘oh we worry about, we worry about Australian families and their child care costs’, but they won’t do a damn thing about it. Well I hope that we can see Labor change their tune in this fortnight, come to the table and help us strike an agreement that gets these comprehensive reforms through. They’ve been years in the making. They’ve been years in analysis by the Productivity Commission, by multiple Senate inquiries, all of course have found they are the right type of reforms to fix a broken system. We must get these reforms through but they must be paid for so they don’t worsen the Budget bottom line.

Journalist: Are you pushing so hard on Labor because you’re not getting far in your crossbench negotiations?

Simon Birmingham: No, I’m pushing so hard on Labor because they are the alternative government. That’s what they hold themselves out to be and Mr Shorten says he cares about these problems, yet of course, yet of course, consistent with his hypocrisy on so many levels he won’t actually do anything about it. It’s all talk and no action from Mr Shorten. The Turnbull Government has a solution on the table and the only thing standing in the way of getting it through is really the Labor Party. Now the crossbench have constructive discussions. We will keep engaging with them and of course if Labor don’t come to the table, well hopefully we’ll get an outcome with the crossbench.

Journalist: Are you pretty stoked with today’s Newspoll results?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I’m very pleased that the Australian people are reacting positively to our nation building investment in areas like the Snowy Hydro, that they want to see us fix the broken childcare system and understand that that’s what we’re getting on and doing. I think people do appreciate the Turnbull Government is focused – in a very difficult political environment and with continued challenges economically from a global perspective – we are focused on the things that matter in terms of job creation, job security, investment growth, dealing with cost of living pressures, dealing with instability in our electricity markets, getting on with those issues.

Journalist: When you were asked about it yesterday it sounded like you wouldn’t commit to keeping the welfare cuts tied to the childcare package. And again this morning you’ve kind of shied away from that. Can you clarify: is the Government up for negotiating that? Is it on the table that you could split those aspects?

Simon Birmingham: The Omnibus Bill remains the pathway forward to get the childcare reforms through. But of course we will negotiate if we have to to secure its passage through the Parliament.

Journalist: What are you willing to dump?

Simon Birmingham: We’ll conduct our negotiations in private with the crossbenchers or with any other party who comes to the table, consistent with the practice this Government has shown to get things done. This is the Government that got through the Australian Building and Construction Commission, that got through the Registered Organisations Commission, that got through tax cuts for middle income Australians, that got through reforms to support volunteer firefighters, that has achieved a lot actually in this Senate. We’ve achieved it through quiet negotiations with parties who are willing to come to the table, and that’s what we’ll keep doing.

Journalist: What if by Tuesday next week you’re still at a standoff, do you agree to split it up, or do you just let the whole thing peter out..?

Simon Birmingham: That would be front-running tactics and that’s not something I’m about to do.

Journalist: One Nation said you haven’t talked to them since February about this.

Simon Birmingham: Look we’ve had discussions with One Nation and those discussions have been ongoing and I’ve had very constructive discussions with Pauline and I look forward to having more.

Journalist: Since February?

Simon Birmingham: I couldn’t recall the exact date of the last discussion but we’ve gone through…

Journalist: But if it’s a priority are you talking actively and currently?

Journalist: When Parliament’s not in Canberra are you talking to them still?

Simon Birmingham: Well, it depends whether there are issues that demand discussion at that point in time. We are working through the issues. I think I have a fair appreciation of the parts of the childcare reforms and the elements of the Omnibus Bill that One Nation are inclined to support or not. And of course we’ll keep those discussions up as we circle around all of the different crossbenchers. We wouldn’t have to circle around all of the different crossbenchers if Bill Shorten came to the party and actually had a proper discussion with the Coalition about how we could sensibly get these reforms implemented and paid for.

Journalist: Would you consider dropping company tax cuts to pay for the childcare reform?

Simon Birmingham: No.

Journalist: Do you have any meetings with the crossbench this week specifically about the Omnibus Bill?

Simon Birmingham: We have discussions that will continue this week, absolutely.

Journalist: Meetings are scheduled already?

Simon Birmingham: Discussions will happen this week, absolutely.

Journalist: This is the package that the Government’s determined to get through as a priority?

Simon Birmingham: [Talks over] Sure. Indeed.

Journalist: And you’ll do anything to get it through in the next two weeks?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we will do what is sensibly required to get it through in the next two weeks, in terms of finding the savings measures necessary to ensure that it is fully funded.

Journalist: Are you confident it can be wrapped up by next Friday?

Simon Birmingham: I believe we can manage to get it through. And of course it is a high priority to get it through, because that way we can give certainty to hard-working Australian families and to the early education and childcare sector that a solution is on the way. 

Thanks everybody.