Interview on ABC AM with Sabra Lane
Cracking down on child care rorters; Polling; Tony Abbott
27 February 2017

Sabra Lane:                  The Federal Government’s announced a new crackdown on family day care payments and its daring the Senate crossbench and Labor to block them. The Minister responsible, Simon Birmingham, says the changes should stop $250 million a year being rorted from the system. The Government’s capping some payments and applying new age limits to prevent people ripping off taxpayers but it’s not legislating the changes. It’s tabling them in the Senate in what’s known as a ‘disallowable instrument’ and that means if Labor, the Greens and the crossbench disagree they can use their numbers to vote it down. 
The Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham joined me earlier.


Simon Birmingham, thank you for talking to AM.

Simon Birmingham:     Good morning, Sabra, great to be with you.

Sabra Lane:                              You’re capping the grandparent child care benefit and special child care payment to $12.67 per hour and now limiting it to children under 14. Why?

Simon Birmingham:     Because we’ve seen particular abuse in these areas. Over the last 12 to 18 months we’ve seen the claims against these special child care benefits escalate around four fold in terms of the scale of rebates that were being claimed and then in very isolated pockets we’ve seen astronomical price growth associated with those claims and that’s because in those areas for those particularly special rebates, the Government pays a higher level of rebate and so for people who are seeking to fraud the system it’s become quite attractive for them to charge a higher fee, therefore they can take that higher rebate straight from the taxpayer rather than of course being held in a sense to a lower reasonable price by a grandparent or somebody actually providing their share of the payment.

Sabra Lane:                              How much do you think you can save?

Simon Birmingham:     We believe we can save around $250 million in this measure which comes on top of around …

Sabra Lane:                              [Talks over] A year?

Simon Birmingham:     That’s right, which comes on top of around $1 billion that the Turnbull Government has already managed to save through increased compliance and other measures, particularly targeted at the family day care sector where we’ve seen excessive levels of rorting and malpractice.

Sabra Lane:                              The Government has a pretty patchy record at the moment when it comes to clamping down on social security payments. How can you be sure that you’re not going to catch up innocent people in this? That you’re actually going to target those who you say are rorting it?

Simon Birmingham:     We are quite confident because the measures we put in place are quite reasonable. 

Sabra Lane:                              Hand on your heart?

Simon Birmingham:     Absolutely. They put in place a cap on fees that is a generous cap on fees, more than $12 per hour in terms of the cost that can be charged for the care of children. There’s no reason why looking after the child of a grandparent who is their prime carer should cost any more than looking after my child or your child or anybody else’s necessarily. So we think that reasonable fees ought to be paid. Of course, under our child care reforms that are currently before the Parliament, we have embedded a range of measures that actually would put these types of compliance provisions in place in an even more effective manner, that we’re taking action now to bring this forward to ensure that no dollar of taxpayer’s money is wasted that we can avoid.

Sabra Lane:                              But you’re not legislating this in the normal way. You’re not asking – you’re not putting the bill before Reps and the Senate, You’re tabling it via a disallowable instrument, effectively challenging Labor and the crossbench to a fight. That’s pretty antagonistic don’t you think?

Simon Birmingham:     Well it shouldn’t be. I’m pleased to say that …

Sabra Lane:                              [Talks over] But it is.

Simon Birmingham:     I’m pleased to say though that in relation to our two previous tranches of family day care reforms, the Labor Party have supported them and let them go through. They were done in exactly the same mechanisms in terms of tightening the regulatory rules and so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t expect the same level of cooperation on this.

Sabra Lane:                              Have you talked with the crossbench? I’d imagine that there’d be some support. David Leyonhjelm would probably back something like this.

Simon Birmingham:     Well we’ll brief all different parties in terms of the detail of this to make sure they understand it over the period where it is allowed to be or can be disallowed by the Parliament.

Sabra Lane:                              Some voters actually like what they see on the crossbench in the Senate. There’s a poll out this morning showing in George Christensen’s seat of Dawson that the Coalition and One Nation are level pegging on a primary vote of 30 per cent each. What does that say to you?

Simon Birmingham:     Well of course we saw at the last election a rise in some areas of crossbench support. We’ve seen that before too. You only have to go back to the 1998 election to see a big vote for One Nation at that stage.

Sabra Lane:                              That vote is increasing and even if you look at today’s Newspoll result, you’ve got 29 per cent of voters opting for One Nation, independents or other, not the major political parties.

Simon Birmingham:     And this is a global trend and it’s a trend, of course, that we are all trying to grapple with. The best we can do as a government though is to stay focussed on the issues that matter.

Sabra Lane:                              Some in your side though aren’t working towards the Government’s agenda. Mr Abbott is making, again, a lot of noise. Is he making a worthwhile contribution to the Government?

Simon Birmingham:     Well policy contributions are worthwhile but you have to be conscious in terms of policy contributions of what is realistic, what is achievable, what is actually dealing with the complexity of issues and we do have complex issues.

Sabra Lane:                              [Talks over] Is that helping or harming you?

Simon Birmingham:     Well I think when it takes us away from the message that we are trying to convey to Australians and away from the focus on the good things we are doing, whether it’s tax cuts that generate investment in new jobs or whether it’s child care support, those are the types of measure and the things that we are trying to focus on as a government, build support for and I would urge every single member of the Coalition to help build that support.

Sabra Lane:                              Is he better off in Parliament or outside Parliament?

Simon Birmingham:     Look every member of the Coalition is better to have here in Parliament because we want to have of course the maximum numbers within our team within the Parliament but we also want very single member pulling in the same direction supporting the case for the reforms the Government is trying to implement right now.

Sabra Lane:                              The Prime Minister’s satisfaction rating has taken a four point slide in Newspoll today. That is outside the margin of error. Something is going on there. Voters obviously don’t like what they see.

Simon Birmingham:     Well I think voters don’t like it when they have days where they think that governments are talking more about their internal factors than otherwise. All I can do is reassure listeners and voters that Mr Turnbull and every senior member of the Government is resolutely focussed on the issues that do matter to people. That Malcolm is spending a huge amount of time focussed on the electricity and energy issues, as to how we actually deal with either blackouts in my home state and he’s acted in terms of encouraging investment in new technologies like pump hydro storage. He’s working closely with Josh Frydenberg to reform the national energy market and ensure that works better for households, businesses and everybody in terms of more affordable and reliable energy in the future. We will keep focussing and are focussed at the top levels of the Government on the issues that matter.

Sabra Lane:                              Minister, thank you for talking to AM.

Simon Birmingham:     Thank you, Sabra.

[End of excerpt]

Sabra Lane:                              The Education and Training Minister, Simon Birmingham.