Interview on ABC News 24 Breakfast with Michael Rowland
Topics: Turnbull Government’s plan to make early childhood education and care more affordable, accessible and fairer; Newspoll; Marriage equality
Michael Rowland: Let’s head to Federal Parliament now, where the Government’s hoping to make headway on its reforms to child care. But as you've seen already this hour, the Senate crossbench might have other ideas.
Joining us now is the Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham. Minister thanks for joining Breakfast.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Michael.
Michael Rowland: How confident are you this so-called Omnibus Bill that contains increases in child care benefits – and also those welfare cuts – will survive the Senate?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we believe that we can get our child care reforms through the Parliament, but of course, they must be paid for and we will work as hard as is required over the next two weeks to ensure that we get an outcome that gives relief to hardworking Australian families in terms of their child care costs. We have evidence that is mounting up – and more released on the weekend – of the escalation of fees under the current model of the way in which it is impeding work. Goodstart, Australia's largest early education and child care provider released evidence showing that around 61 per cent of families would work more hours if child care costs were not such an impediment to them. Well, we have a solution – it’s on the table – to bring down some of those child care costs for the lowest income, hardest working Australian families. And we just need the Senate, ideally, the Labor Party to work with us to make it happen.
Michael Rowland: Well, the Labor Party says that it won't even look at this bill unless the welfare cuts are uncoupled from it. Would you consider that as part of the negotiation tactics?
Simon Birmingham: Well, that shows the hypocrisy of Bill Shorten, who likes to cry crocodile tears for Australian families when it comes to their cost of living. But isn't actually willing to work with us on this. I mean, it's no different, of course, to the same hypocrisy we’re seeing from him, in relation to penalty rates, which has been exposed across many newspapers today. But we will work with anybody and we will work through the issues. But, of course, it is critical that the $1.6 billion of additional investment we're proposing into child care has to be fully funded. Otherwise, we're simply just leaving extra debt and deficit legacy that will probably have to be dealt with in years to come by the same children who are in child care systems today. So we really need to make sure it is fully funded to avoid imposing a cost on future generations, but to provide a better opportunity for hardworking families to work the hours they choose to today.
Michael Rowland: Those welfare cuts, therefore, stay as part of the Omnibus Bill?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we have a presentation before the Parliament that provides a clear means to pay for the child care investment. That's the way we want to do it. We will, of course, work constructively with any of the crossbench parties or the Labor Party to find a means to get it through. But it must be paid for so that we don't increase the debt deficit on future generations.
Michael Rowland: How big- how loud is the sigh of relief you’re hearing this morning, Simon Birmingham, from the Prime Minister's Office on the back of that Newspoll?
Simon Birmingham: [Laughs] What I know is happening in the Prime Minister's Office is they’re working hard on issues to continue to progress big investment in new energy storage …
Michael Rowland: [Interrupts] Oh no, they’re also looking at the front page of The Australian very carefully, too, I suggest.
Simon Birmingham: They’re looking at a number of other front pages that show the hypocrisy of Bill Shorten on penalty rates, in terms of the reality that as union leader he did multiple deals that brought down weekend penalty rates, which he now decries. Deals that favoured big businesses who he now goes out there and attacks. Deals that put money secretly in the pockets of unions without, of course, their membership actually knowing that that’s what was behind those deals. All of which needs action taken and which we will be taking action on.
Michael Rowland: Is the bump in the Newspoll sustainable in your view?
Simon Birmingham: We're going to keep focusing on issues that matter to people, whether it is getting child care reforms through that improve their cost of living, or whether it’s investing in major energy infrastructure, like in the Snowy Hydro. All of those sorts of things, I’m sure, will win the support of the Australian people.
Michael Rowland: A fortnight to go before that long pre-Budget break. Simon Birmingham, is it time for Parliament to do something about same-sex marriage?
Simon Birmingham: Well look, we've attempted to do so. And sadly, of course, if our plebiscite legislation had passed through the Parliament, then we would probably be legislating same-sex marriage right now at this point, with the endorsement of the Australian people. And it’s just the obstructionism of the Labor Party in the Senate that stopped that getting through, unfortunately.
Michael Rowland: A free vote, of course, is another option. Do you ever see that happening?
Simon Birmingham: Well, that's possible at some point down the track. You never know how things will shift and turn in this place.
Michael Rowland: At some point down the next fortnight’s track?
Simon Birmingham: I think in the next fortnight we have plenty on our plate and what is on our plate, absolutely, is getting those child care reforms through that can make a real difference in to the cost of living and work choices of many thousands of Australian families making around one million of them better off.
Michael Rowland: Okay, Simon Birmingham, at Parliament House, we’ll leave it there. Thank you very much for your time, this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Michael.