Interview on ABC 891 Adelaide, Breakfast with Ali Clarke with David Bevan
Topics: SA State Election; Batman by-election skit on ABC; Catholic schools funding; Labor’s proposed changes to imputation.
David Bevan: Well, let’s welcome our guests, all on the phone line today. Amanda Rishworth, Member for Kingston, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education, and Development. And Don Farrell – I should tell you, Amanda Rishworth – sent me a text saying: Amanda Rishworth should be given credit for Labor’s excellent showing of the southern suburbs. He says: we did better in the southern suburbs than the northern suburbs because of Amanda Rishworth.

Amanda Rishworth: Well, that’s very generous of him. And …

David Bevan: Yeah. I don’t know how Katrine Hildyard, and Chris Picton feel about that but apparently it was all your doing.

Amanda Rishworth: No, no, no. We had some very, very strong candidates out there and we got a great result in the southern suburbs, I think, as a result of their great, great campaign.

David Bevan: Amanda Rishworth, welcome to the program. Cory Bernardi, leader of the Australian Conservatives, you didn’t do so well in the state election but you’ll get back on the horse won’t you?

Cory Bernardi: Good morning. Yeah, we were a bit disappointed in the Upper House vote in particular. The Lower House was where we thought we would be okay, and that was as usual. But in the Upper House, we were about a percentage point off where I thought we’d end up.

Ali Clarke: Why do you think that was?

David Bevan: You didn’t have Amanda Rishworth working for you apparently.

Cory Bernardi: Well, yeah. I think part of is it we’re a start-up party, we’ve got a brand that we’re trying to instil out there, and we learned a lot of lessons out of the campaign. But it’s an imperfect science, I’ll say that, particularly when you’re doing it on a very small budget but nonetheless we learned a lot and I’ll get back on that horse and we’ll keep pushing as hard as we can.

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, Federal Education Minister, welcome to you.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning everybody.

David Bevan: You’d be cock-a-hoop over the result, wouldn’t you?

Simon Birmingham: Well, indeed. Winners are grinners, as they say, but seriously, Steven Marshall and his team ran an exceptional campaign not just over a month or so but over four years. And now I know they’re getting on with the hard task of implementing their more than 150 positive policies and reforms to create jobs, grow the economy, all those things that Steven talked about throughout the campaign.

Ali Clarke: Alright. Well, let’s get stuck in to it. Now, Cory Bernardi, you’re cranky at the ABC – and look so everyone is in the picture, this is all to do with the comedy show that Tom Ballard does on ABC TV at 9 o’clock at night, and they were doing a skit around the by-election in Batman and the controversy about whether or not the electorate should be re-named. Here’s a part of it.


Ali Clarke: So, Cory Bernardi, how far are you taking this?

Cory Bernardi: Well, I’ve written to both the minister and to Michelle Guthrie from the ABC, saying that this has really overstepped the mark of satire. Personally, I don’t think that word has any place on television, and I’ve made that very clear over many, many years. And the minister has frankly agreed with me. Today he sent me a letter, asking Michelle Guthrie to investigate it, saying it over steps the bounds. And particularly when you have a person of Kevin Bailey’s pedigree. I mean, he’s a former soldier, he’s a philanthropist, a former ambassador; I don’t think any candidate should be subject to that just because they step into the ring. But when you’ve got someone who has lived a life of service, it is even more inappropriate.

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, what do you think?

Simon Birmingham: I think this very clearly crosses the line. Frankly, somebody should lose their job over it. I’m all for good humour, I don’t think I’m a prude when it comes to the use of language but this crosses a line, and anybody who looked at it in advance of going to air, who was aware of the script or otherwise, should have known that it was going to cross the line and was completely inappropriate.

David Bevan: Amanda Rishworth?

Amanda Rishworth: Well look, in public life, politicians do get joked and ridiculed. And I, as I’m sure Simon and Cory have been ridiculed publicly before. But I do think the language in this skit was inappropriate. And I think while humour is humour, and as politicians and candidates we should expect to have a joke made at our expense, I do think the language was inappropriate.

David Bevan: So, all three sides agreeing. The ABC should do what, what’s the appropriate response? You obviously don’t want this repeated but, Cory Bernardi, what do you want Michelle Guthrie to do about this?

Cory Bernardi: Well, I think Michelle Guthrie has to examine who’s responsible for it. We know the performers were there, we also know that one of the performers said they did this because Kevin Bailey refused to appear on the program. Now, just because someone says: I’m not going on your show to be mocked or ridiculed or whatever – doesn’t mean you should be subject to this sort of harassment. So, I’m with Simon, someone should lose their job over…

David Bevan: Well, to be fair though, Cory Bernardi, wasn’t that just part of the joke? I mean, he was making fun of the fact that the guy didn’t come on the program and therefore this is what we’re going to do. And it was a continuing part of the joke at that point.

Cory Bernardi: Well, it’s still inappropriate. If this is the sort of payback that comes because you don’t acquiesce to the demand of a journalist, I think that’s really poor form. I’m with Simon, I think somebody needs to lose their job over it because it’s not like these things go to air without being pre-screened. I don’t think that sort of language is an appropriate thing on TV at any time, but the fact that ABC sort of endorses this, and it’s happening in other shows as well, it says there’s a real problem of culture there.

Ali Clarke: Well, some of the responses on the text line: middle-aged people aren’t the target audience, get over it. Don says: surprise, surprise, someone is offended by something, man-up Australia. Somebody else says: sorry no, this should be removed, some people live in inner-city bubbles and it’s not appropriate.

David Bevan: One person said to me: Look, this is the sort of humour you might get at a Fringe show late at night, and a few people- everybody’s had a few drinks, and you get away with it, and it’s appropriate in that setting but not for the national broadcaster. Simon Birmingham, does any of that argument have any traction with you?

Simon Birmingham: Well look, to a certain extent it does, David, in that, of course, people throw all sorts of things at politicians, [indistinct] et cetera, and I think we all have fairly thick skins in that regard, particularly if you have a look at what’s done and said on social media now days. And yes, in small intimate settings we have to put up with largely whatever’s said and done. But on the national broadcaster, you do expect standard to apply. As I said before, I think this well and truly crosses the line of those standards, people who put themselves forward for public office open themselves up to a whole world of scrutiny but they shouldn’t be open to – frankly to – blatant abuse from those appearing on the publicly funded broadcaster.

David Bevan: Let’s move on to another topic. Amanda Rishworth, later on today, Sally McManus, the ACTU leader is expected to give a very important speech. And she’s going to say that people who have been casually employed, after six months there should be a requirement to convert them to a permanent position. Do you think this is worth while?

Amanda Rishworth: Well look, I think the proposal that Sally McManus is putting forward is worthy of consideration and examination. I certainly know talking with people in my own electorate and actually right around the country that casualised work is becoming more and more the norm. Insecure work is becoming more and more the norm. And of course, what that means for people, when it’s their full-time job and yet, they don’t know what hours they’re going to get from week-to-week, sometimes lasting five, 10, 15 years, they can’t get a bank loan, they can’t rely on that income coming in. So, I do think it’s an issue, I do think it’s an issue that needs to be examined. What the solution is I’m not saying: yes, Sally’s got the right solution. But I think it does need really careful examination to make sure that the casual work and the idea of casual work, which is to fill holes where you don’t know if work’s going to be regularly there for companies is actually being used appropriately. And the comments I get from a lot of people including having to sign contracts that guarantee you zero hours – so they’re called zero hour contracts – when people, some weeks, get no hours. I mean, this is really, really difficult for many, many people. And we’re not talking …

Ali Clarke: So, then what are the- Amanda Rishworth, what are the business owners then saying in your electorate, the people who would be having to – or choosing to – utilise these contracts?

Amanda Rishworth: I think there is a place in a way for filling very sporadic work with casualised work. But what the issue is, is it’s becoming the norm. And as I’ve said there are people that are telling me that they have been on a casual contract for up to five, 10 years on insecure work being required to sign contracts year in, year out for many, many years. That doesn’t give any security for those workers. And importantly, it doesn’t enable them to go out and buy a house because the bank just won’t give them a loan. And I’m hearing this more and more. So, in terms of business owners, I think, what people are telling me around business is they want to get good workers, and I think, partly, giving workers security ensures that they can keep and retain good workers.

David Bevan: Well, it’s not just business. I mean, here at the ABC we have an enormous number of casuals. Casuals who’ve been casuals for years and years and years. Now, you feel some sympathy for the managers who are given budgets and they have to meet certain guidelines and they’re not allowed to do certain things. And permanent positions are tied up for all sorts of reasons. But the end result of that is that you have people who are on casual work not just in small business but in large publicly owned corporations on casual work for years and years and years. Simon, Birmingham, what are we going to do about this?

Simon Birmingham: Well, David, firstly the evidence doesn’t back up any of Amanda’s claims. The rate of casuals or the proportion of casuals in the Australian workforce hasn’t really changed for decades. It’s been sitting at about 25 per cent through Labor and Liberal governments quite consistently. The second point is that the unions are running quite not only a misleading campaign about that but they’re also misleading or ignoring the fact that they themselves took the case to the Fair Work Commission – the Fair Work Commission established by the previous Labor Government under terms under which it operates for all labour law – they took a case to the Fair Work Commission over the last couple of years, it considered this issue and it put into 86 awards the right for workers to request permanency.

But of course, for many people casual work works for them, just as it works for their workplace. And if you listened to Amanda’s answers before, there was a lot of gesturing and empathy and value-laden statements, but there was no actual commitment from the Labor Party that they were about to make a change. This is just about trying to make people think they care, whereas the reality and evidence shows there hasn’t been a change in the rate of casualisation. The issue has been considered by the Fair Work Commission that they set up. Unions are free to bring other cases before the Fair Work Commission if they think that’s necessary in the future, and they will all be heard clearly on their merits. But we should also recognise that casual work suits many students, many people who are juggling different commitments, and that’s the way they like it, and they of course do receive an additional loading of 25 per cent on the award rates with the minimum rates to compensate them for not receiving holiday leave and the like.

David Bevan: Okay. Simon Birmingham, Federal Education Minister, do you regret comparing the Victorian Catholic education sector to Judas?

Simon Birmingham: Well, David, look, I will say no offence was meant. As far as I’m aware, none was taken and, of course, biblical references are common colloquialisms in many ways nowadays. But the point that was being…

David Bevan: How could you say you didn’t want to offend them? You said they took their 30 pieces of silver.

Simon Birmingham: And this was about a political campaign that was run in response to Labor throwing a special deal around school funding on the table. Now, what I said in that interview was also that across Australia, including in South Australia and at a national level, we have really good relations with Catholic education and I have enormous regard for the work of Catholic educators, for the hardworking parents in the Catholic education system. And of course, we’re providing an extra $3.5 billion in funding over the next decade to Catholic schools as part of …

David Bevan: You just think in Victoria, you just think Catholic Victoria education was a sell-out.

Simon Birmingham: Well, what we saw was a political campaign run in response to a special deal thrown on the table by the Labor Party. Now, this is Bill Shorten abandoning any sense of principle around needs-based funding, and just going after vote buying and politicking. The Turnbull Government believes, emphatically, that schools should be funded based on the need of their children, not based on some political judgement about where you’re planning to buy votes.

Ali Clarke: Cory Bernardi, your thoughts. Did it offend you?

Cory Bernardi: Well, no it didn’t offend me, but I- the entire funding package for the education system I found was offensive because the Government started with $18 billion. They ramped it up to $23 billion and there wasn’t one stated educational outcome that was necessary to receive the funding. There was no measurements. It was all told during the parliamentary debate: I will look at that later. And as literacy and numeracy are falling in this country, education is not doing the justice, or serving our children, as well as it should be. Throwing money at it isn’t the answer. You’ve got to make sure there are adequate benchmarks for returns on that money before giving $23 billion over the next estimates.

Ali Clarke: Amanda Rishworth, are you going to have to do something to help thousands of pensioners in this state who will be disadvantaged by your leader’s tax reform?

Amanda Rishworth: Well look, if we want to talk about a disingenuous misleading argument, then you don’t have to look much further than the Liberal Party when it comes to the imputation credit argument. What we’ve had is Scott Morrison deliberately out there conflating taxable income with low income earners. Of course, in the retirement phase, there are many people that are very wealthy but pay very little tax, because your superannuation income is not taxed. So, our policy is clearly targeted at those very wealthy retirees, in which as the policy, get about 80 per cent of the benefit. So- and that goes to the top 20 per cent. So, quite frankly, the Liberal Party is running the same type of scare campaign that they ran when it came to negative gearing. We think this is the right thing to do so that we can properly fund our schools …

David Bevan: But if Malcolm Turnbull is right, if he is right and there is an unintended consequence- you say you’re going after the high earners, but if it can be shown that you’re actually hitting the middle to low income earners, what are you going to do about that?

Amanda Rishworth: Well look, when it comes to pensioners, Labor’s been standing up for pensioners. We stood up against the Government when they tried to change the assets test, and unfortunately, they succeeded to a degree…

David Bevan: Yeah, but it’s quite a specific question. Now, this gets back to Simon Birmingham’s point. You can make statements which appear to give empathy, but quite specifically, if there’s an unintended consequence for middle to low income earners, what would you do?

Amanda Rishworth: Well, we are always looking at how we better can protect pensioners, but I would say that the Government is being completely disingenuous by conflating the concept of a low income with tax-free, and we know that in the retirement phase that tax-free can apply to people with very large amounts of wealth. But this is exactly the hard decision making that needs to be done so that we can properly fund our schools. And I’d like to respond to Simon’s comment about Labor making a political [indistinct]. That’s just not right. The Government cut the majority from public schools and low Catholic schools when they made their changes, and Labor is merely recommitting to put that money back into schools. We have to get that money from somewhere and we believe that this targeted policy is the right policy.

Ali Clarke: It sounds like, then, Simon Birmingham, you’re soft if Amanda Rishworth is saying that they’re hard.

Simon Birmingham: Not at all. Look, what you see here is a Labor Party who said that union foundations are able to still get refunds in terms of the tax paid on shares that they might own, but pensioners and part pensioners are not. I mean, the double standard in this is incredible – that Labor’s scripted a policy that attacks Australians who work hard, save hard for their retirement and pension years, and yet is allowing their union buddies to still go and actually claim the same tax credits they’re trying to strip away from thousands upon thousands of pensioners and part pensioners around the country. Now, if this is not a policy that demonstrates, very clearly, that the Labor Party will tax anybody and anything that moves unless they’re a mate of theirs, then I don’t know what is. And what we’re seeing here is that, in relation to negative gearing, if you work hard and save hard, and maybe buy an investment property, Labor wants to tax you more. In relation to shares, if you buy a few shares to help you out during your retirement years, Labor wants to tax you more.

Amanda Rishworth: Simon, this is not a tax. This is a cash refund. There is no changes to the refundability of tax…

Simon Birmingham: This is absolutely about collecting more tax.

Amanda Rishworth: It is not a tax. This is …

Simon Birmingham: Ensuring that a Labor government would have more tax. That’s why you’re doing it, Amanda. You’re doing it to raise billions of dollars in more tax. This time, a bunch of it coming from pensioners and retirees. So …

Amanda Rishworth: This is not …

David Bevan: Alright, well perhaps if we could just cut this short by going to a listener, who gives- and very quickly let’s deal with this. This listener sends us a text saying: my taxable income was $18,000 last year. I received $600 in franking credits, which came in handy for my electricity bill. The Labor Party is hurting retired lower income earners. Now, Amanda Rishworth, what do you say to that person?

Amanda Rishworth: Well look, I don’t know that person’s circumstance and I don’t know what …

Simon Birmingham: They explained their circumstance.

Amanda Rishworth: Assets they have. But what I do know is that when a policy that costs $5 billion a year and 80 per cent of the benefits go to the wealthiest 20 per cent, this is something that we need to look at. And Simon is incorrect to say that there’s any changes around the tax deductibility. I mean, an ordinary worker does not reduce their taxable income and still have deductions and say: I want cash back for it. They don’t get to do that when they’re working. This is a cash refund and it goes by the absolute majority to the wealthiest 20 per cent- 80 per cent go to the wealthiest 20 per cent. So, in terms of pensioners, we will have more to say about pensioners. We’ve always stuck up for pensioners, and it’s disingenuous- and it’s not just Labor saying this, the Grattan Institute and many economists have come out and said that the Liberal Party’s spin on this is completely misleading, disingenuous, and I think the words from the Grattan Institute were: deeply misleading.

Ali Clarke: Amanda Rishworth, just to be clear, did you say the Labor Party has always stuck up for pensioners or sucked up to pensioners?

Amanda Rishworth: Stuck up for pensioners.

Ali Clarke: Okay, just thought I’d clarify that. Thank you very much. We will have to leave it there. Amanda Rishworth, Member for Kingston, also Simon Birmingham, Education Minister there, and Cory Bernardi, leader of the Australian Conservatives.