Doorstop interview, Gawler
Topics: The Turnbull Government’s child care reforms; Barnaby Joyce; Donald Trump
Simon Birmingham: Well, thanks very much for coming today. The latest data out today shows that under the Turnbull Government’s sweeping improvements to Australia’s child care system, families are on average going to be around $1300 a year per child better off. We’re making these reforms because we want to ensure that more Australian families get more support to be able to work the hours and days that suit them, to be able to work without child care costs being an impediment.
Already, more than 800,000 Australian families have registered for the new child care subsidy, which takes effect from 2 July. Our message is very clear to all Australian families who have children in quality early childhood education and care: please register and make the switch over before 2 July so that there’s no interruption to your payments and so that your family can get every cent they deserve in child care support. The reforms we’re putting in place deal with many of the failures in the current child care model. No longer will families run out of support part way through the financial year because we’re abolishing the $7500 cap on the Child Care Rebate for all families earning under around $187,000 a year. We’re equally making sure that there’s greater levels of subsidy, particularly for those on low and medium incomes. Families earning less than $65,000 a year will see the rate of support for their child care go up from some 72 cents in the dollar up to 85 cents in the dollar.
Overall, the reforms we’re putting in place will help around 1 million Australian families and encourage around 235,000 people to work more hours, work more days because child care costs will no longer be a barrier. But receiving the benefits isn’t automatic and people need to make the switch. Equally, the fact that we’re on the eve of these ground-breaking reforms and improvements to our child care system is a reminder of the fact that for all of the negativity and carping from the Labor Party, we see no clear alternative policy except suggestions that they’d rather see many millions more spent on families or circumstances of very high incomes or people who aren’t working, studying or volunteering. We’ve deliberately put in place an activity test to ensure the greatest number of hours of subsidised child care go to people working the longest hours and the greatest subsidy rate goes to those families earning the least amount to ensure it’s a fair system, one that ultimately can help Australian families be all they want to be, with what we see at present, an extra predicted $1300 per child, per annum support thanks to these reforms.
Journalist: What efforts are you making to reach 350,000 families who are yet to sign up to the system?
Simon Birmingham: We’ve written, emailed, text messaged and of course run a mass media communications campaign, and we’re actually very pleased with the progress to date to see more than 800,000 people have made the switch over with still three weeks to go. But we do urge the remaining families to make sure you register so there’s no disruption to your payments so that you can get the benefits of our new child care system.
Journalist: If families miss the deadline, will they get backpay?
Simon Birmingham: There’s a three-month grace period that will apply post-2 July and backpay will be allowable in that time. But of course, we’d rather people didn’t have that disruption and the best thing any family can do, to be hundreds and potentially thousands of dollars a year better off, is to register before 2 July.
Journalist: Would you be willing to extend that grace period beyond 2 July if people still haven’t signed up by then?
Simon Birmingham: We’re very confident with more than 800,000 people having made the switch already that many thousands more will do so before 2 July and that we’ll be able to have a smooth transition to what is a much better child care system and that the grace period will be there to ensure that anybody who doesn’t quite get there is well and truly covered before the end of that three-month grace period.
Journalist: So 2 July is definitely the cut off?
Simon Birmingham: 2 July is when the new child care subsidy comes into effect, delivering around $1300 benefit on average for each child in child care, and of course we’d urge every Australian family to switch over their details so they can get the benefits they deserve.
Journalist: Why do you think so many people are yet to make the switch? Do you think they’re simply unaware of the changes or they’re just leaving it to the last minute?
Simon Birmingham: Our research suggests that many people would rather leave it until closer to the new financial year when they can be certain about what their annual income might be for the next year, and that’s understandable. Of course, people can update those details at any time though, and so we’d encourage people – make the switch now. If you need to update your details later on you can absolutely do so.
Journalist: Are those hundreds of thousands of people that are still resisting, is that potentially because they think they might be worse off under the new system?
Simon Birmingham: Look, we know that more than 800,000 people have made the switch to date, and yes, we are better targeting the support. We’re investing an extra $2.5 billion. We’re also targeting support so that those working the longest hours get the greatest hours of subsidy, those earning the least get the greatest rate of subsidy, and we think that most Australians would think it’s fair the child care subsidy is targeted to those working long hours, earning lower levels of income.
Journalist: Are you concerned that those who haven’t signed up won’t be able to do it in time?
Simon Birmingham: There’s still three weeks to go. There’s ample time. It only takes a few minutes. I’ve done it myself in terms of updating the details for our family and our children, and I’d urge every other Australian just to take the 10 minutes out, to log in to education.gov.au/child care and get the job done.
Journalist: Many have criticised how difficult it is to complete that information online. What can the Government do to streamline that process?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I’ve done it myself and it was a fairly straightforward process to provide information around the hours of activity that our families engaged in and the average income for the family. That ultimately is something that everybody should be able to complete fairly simply, but there is help available on the call line if people need it.
Journalist: On a different topic, an investigation has uncovered numerous concerns about the conduct of Australia’s special forces in Afghanistan including potential unlawful killings. What assurances can you offer the people of Australia that our elite soldiers are maintaining the highest possible standards of conduct?
Simon Birmingham: Our Defence forces are an institution that Australia can be proud of, but equally our Defence forces take high standards of conduct extremely seriously. That’s why the Defence Force has undertaken investigation like this, and why they of course will get to the bottom of it.
Journalist: On another issue, Barnaby Joyce said yesterday that he’d like to see tougher privacy laws to protect people like himself from the paparazzi. Does the Government support that?
Simon Birmingham: I don’t see any need for Australia’s privacy laws to be changed.
Journalist: What do you make of the way Donald Trump behaved at and after the G7 Summit?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Australia is a country who engages successfully on the world stage by standing up for Australian values, but also ensuring we’re always constructive in our approaches, that we have strong relations with other countries, and that of course we also encourage open, free markets. And that is something that we will continue to stand for. It’s up to other world leaders to talk about the way they conduct themselves.
Journalist: The Government keeps talking about the need to defend the international rules-based order. Shouldn’t you speak out if a person like Donald Trump is threatening that?
Simon Birmingham: Australia will always speak up for the types of policies that we believe are in the national interest. We believe that as a country significantly exporting produce and services to the rest of the world that it is in Australia’s interest to have open, free, fair markets and we will defend that with any country at any time.
Journalist: Is there room for discussion on those privacy laws?
Simon Birmingham: Oh, look, it of course is a matter for the Attorney-Generals of the nation to discuss privacy laws if they believe there are enhancements required. But it’s not my view that there’s a compelling case for any changes at this point in time.
Journalist: Does it bother you that the US President seems to hold international forums and his allies in such low regard?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Australia will conduct our diplomatic affairs in Australia’s national interest and we’ll leave commentary to commentators. And ultimately, it is for President Trump to speak about or defend the way President Trump conducts himself. We’ll conduct ourselves with the usual substance and style and argument and engagement that you see from Prime Minister Turnbull and Foreign Minister Bishop all of the time.
Journalist: Do you agree with President Trump that the Canadian Prime Minister is weak and dishonest?
Simon Birmingham: Look, Australia will continue to engage with all world leaders, whether that is President Trump or the Canadian Prime Minister or any other world leader with Australia’s best interests at heart. That is what Australians expect us to do, not to be commentators about everybody else’s relationships on the world stage, but for us to engage as the Government of Australia with Australia’s interests first and foremost. That’s what we’ll always do.
Journalist: Do you think his Tweets crossed a line?
Simon Birmingham: You’re inviting me to comment. I’ll avoid the commentary and reinforce the fact that the approach of the Turnbull Government will always be in foreign affairs to put Australia’s interests first and foremost with any world leader we choose to engage with. And we will always do so respectfully and focused on the issues of the day.