Interview on ABC Radio Adelaide, Breakfast, with Ali Clarke and David Bevan
Summit in Singapore between the USA and North Korea; New child care package




David Bevan:                Well, let’s welcome Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator and Federal Education Minister; Penny Wong, Labor Senator and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs; and Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator from South Australia to the program. If we start with Penny Wong, because within a year you’d hope to be running Foreign Affairs in this country. Penny Wong, good morning to you.


Penny Wong:               Morning, morning all.


David Bevan:                Look, there’s going to be all sorts of caveats and qualifications surrounding any assessment of what happened in Singapore yesterday, but given all of that – we just take that for granted – do you think that Donald Trump has achieved something positive?


Penny Wong:               Well, this is certainly an historic and important step. I mean, we’ve seen the President of the United States sit down with the leader of the North Korean regime, something which would have been unthinkable in the years past. I think what is important is whilst we recognise it’s an historic step to recognise that actually, whether it is going to be a positive one, will depend on whether or not that we see the denuclearisation of the Peninsula. By that, I mean the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of the nuclear capability that North Korea has acquired. But look, it’s always better for people to be talking, isn’t it, and people are talking. And there is a discussion and negotiation underway, and I hope that leads to a better outcome for the region and security for all of us who live in this region, and obviously for the United States.


Ali Clarke:                    Well then, what about you, Sarah Hanson-Young? I mean, do you have to finally admit that Donald Trump has done something good here?


Sarah Hanson-Young:              Look, I think the jury’s still out. Until we really see the details of what any of this means, and until there’s any verification, I think it’s really hard to kind of give this in any sense a tick or a cross.


Ali Clarke:                    So even the fact that they’ve just got together and spoken?


Sarah Hanson-Young:              Well, talking of course is good, but the reality is, Ali, these are both madmen and they’re both erratic people, and it’s hard to know exactly what was said in that room, and they haven’t been forthcoming really about that. But also, I think the more worrying sign is just how Trump is now starting to treat allies, and if you look at the treatment of Canada, I must say, I think from Australia’s perspective that’s really worrying, and we’ve got to start thinking about how we diversify our relationships as well. Because it’s clear that Donald Trump is more interested in being and working and talking with enemies than he is with friends. And that might be all part of his showmanship and all part of his desperation for news coverage at the shock and awe of reality television. But he’s the President of the United States, and I think we need to be a bit more wise to that.


David Bevan:                Simon Birmingham.


Simon Birmingham:     Good morning, David. Good morning everybody. Look, we hope this is good news, as it is certainly a positive that this discussion has taken place and it’s positive that an agreement has been signed. Of course, the proof is in the delivery. The delivery will have a number of steps that will apply, most importantly [indistinct] our firmer commitments in terms of denuclearisation, in terms of [indistinct] will be assessed and verified, so that we can all have confidence that the intent…


Ali Clarke:                    Sorry Simon Birmingham, if you can just stay on. We’re going to see if we can do something about your phone line if that’s at all possible. That is Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator and Education Minister.


David Bevan:                In the meantime, let’s go back to Penny Wong. Penny Wong, does this show that your leader, Bill Shorten, underestimated Donald Trump when he suggested that some of his views were just barking mad?


Penny Wong:               No, look, I think there were a range of views that Mr Trump has that we didn’t agree with when he was a candidate, and there are a range of views he’s put as President Trump that we don’t agree with. But I think the problem…


David Bevan:                But to describe him as barking mad…


Penny Wong:               I think the problem with Sarah’s analysis is that it doesn’t separate sufficiently the personal and the strategic, or the personal and the institutional. Our relationship is with the United States, and we need to also assess this meeting not just by the personalities, but what it means for us, for Australia, what it means for the region, what it means for peace. Now, my view is the proof will be in the pudding, we do need to see whether or not there are concrete steps taken. We recognise that North Korea- you know, this is a brutal regime with a history of human rights abuse. It’s a regime over decades which has failed to honour its commitments to the international community, that has breached nuclear proliferation agreements. So we do need to make sure that from this historic moment, something actually happens. But is the world going to be a better place if we can achieve a reduction- a removal of nuclear capability by North Korea, absolutely.


David Bevan:                But the flipside of this is that Donald Trump is talking about removing troops from the Peninsula which China would be very happy about and would make Japan even more isolated. So if- the flipside of this is you could get things very wrong.


Penny Wong:               Look, you’re right to point to some of the concerns that obviously Japan and even South Korea may have, and I think- when I started out by saying this is about regional security, that actually is what I was referencing. There is a bilateral issue, there is an issue that obviously the Americans are very concerned about. That is the security of the homeland. But there is also a broader issue, which is relevant to America and to the whole region, which is regional security and ensuring that the regional balance is maintained and that any changes to that occur in a way that ensures greater security. Now, the key component of that is making sure that North Korea actually does whatever it says it’s going to do which it hasn’t done in the past, which is why we also need to keep up the economic sanctions which has brought Kim Jong-un to the table.


Ali Clarke:                    Well, let’s return to Simon Birmingham. I know you’re on the road to Yankalilla which might be why we’re struggling with the phone quality at the moment. But Simon Birmingham, then how will the Government monitor what happens next?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, we of course will engage closely – as we always do with our allies – with the United States to get an appreciation of what the next steps may be. We would expect and hope that international agencies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency will be engaged ultimately to be part of the process. And of course, you’ve already heard this morning Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on AM talking about Australia’s willingness to play a role in terms of verification processes around denuclearisation. This is an important development in terms of hopefully leading to a safer, more secure region and world for all of us. But it will only, it will only work if we can [indistinct] commitments given at this summit are actually translated into actions, and those actions are truly tested and verified and confirmed. And of course, its important that in the interim, the sanctions that are in place, the economic sanctions that have brought North Korea to the table, remain there until we see firm, concrete progress.


David Clarke:               Simon Birmingham, something that is perhaps a little more difficult than sorting out the problem on the Korean Peninsula is getting your new childcare payments sorted out. You said on the weekend that there- you did it sitting on the couch in about 10 minutes. What’s somebody who must be on about $300,000 a year doing claiming child care payments anyway?


Simon Birmingham:     Well very insightful question, David. Yes, my family and children who are between five and seven, they’ve been in early child care services for a number of years. They now also do some outside school hours care. Under the current very broken arrangements, there are some families who run out of support. My family’s entitled to 50 per cent childcare rebate as is indeed every Australian family. Under our new arrangements, which yes, I went through the process of registering for, my family will receive a zero percent subsidy. So I’ve gone through the process, so that I know what every Australian family is going through. I won’t get a cent from- in fact, my family will be worse off with 54,000 Australian families [indistinct] around one million families across Australia who will be better off [indistinct].


Ali Clarke:                    Sorry, Simon Birmingham, you are dropping out there. Look, we might just put it on pause until we can get you back on a line that we can actually hear. Penny Wong, Labor Senator, why do you think 350,000 families who are eligible to receive this aren’t actually bothering because they haven’t filled the forms out yet.


Penny Wong:               Well, I think unfortunately, because he’s on the road to Yankalilla he can’t, but it really is a question for Simon to answer. I mean, we had concerns about these changes. We think that the new system had a range of problems with it, which will leave a number of families worse off. One in four, not just high income, but others as well. But leaving that aside, the policy discussion aside, this is an implementation issue. You’ve got one in three families in Australia who aren’t signed up for the new system, possibly not even aware of it, and you know, people have got kids. It’s always pretty hard to engage in life admin, isn’t it? And the government has a problem, and they need to fix it, and if you’ve got 350,000 families who aren’t in the new system, then Simon’s really got to deal with it.


David Clarke:               Sarah Hanson-Young.


Sarah Hanson-Young: Look I think the implantation issue is obvious if [laughs] one in three families haven’t signed up under the new system yet. But I think worse than that when they do we’re going to see anywhere between 80,000 to 300,000 families actually lose half of their child care that they’re currently entitled to and that’s because of these changes that the Government has brought in to the activity test. So unless you’ve got both parents working, you might indeed lose a day, a week of child care. I think that’s going to be a huge shock for many families. And it’s just not the right thing for kids. Like at the end of the day why are we punishing children simply because both parents don’t happen to be able to have stable work. We’ve got an increase in casualisation, an increase in insecure work and it’s kids in families where both parents aren’t in permanent jobs that are going to suffer. I don’t think it’s responsible of the Government and instead, you know, they want to spend all this money on tax cuts; they could actually be making child care more affordable and helping parents get back to work.


David Bevan:    Well that’s the voice of Sarah Hanson-Young from the Greens. It’s 11 minutes to nine. Simon Birmingham’s now reached the top of a hill and we’re told that we can hear everything that he’s got to say. Simon Birmingham, Sarah Hanson-Young says between 80,000 and 300,000 people will be worse off.


Simon Birmingham:     Well David, yes. Apologies about being on the road to the Yankalilla area school but we’ve stopped by the [indistinct] turnoff, which seems to be enough [indistinct] spots. Look, we have put an extra $2.5 billion into the child care budget and we’re redistributing the funding within it to give the greatest support to families that are working along these hours but also families who are earning the least amount of money. You asked me the question before when I cut out – and yes, my family is worse off under these reforms. I don’t think many of your listeners are going to cry or shed a tear for the fact that my family’s worse off. We actually wanted to make sure that families working the longest hours are the ones that get the greatest entitlement to hours of subsidised child care. Again, I think most people would think that is a fair thing. So we’ve put in place a reform process that sees around one million Australian families better off. On average those families who have transitioned in South Australia to date are $1400 per child, per annum better off because we’ve better targeted people working the longest hours, earning low and middle incomes, that’s a fairer system in relation to child care support. There are strong safety nets, there’s pre-school access, there’s safety nets for children in vulnerable circumstances, such as early childhood education.


Ali Clarke:        Simon Birmingham, Brad just wants to know, look, if the Government is so aware of our eligibility then why do we have to fill out these forms? We’re all too busy to do it.


Simon Birmingham:     Look, the reason I made sure even though I knew full well my family wasn’t ineligible was because I wanted to check that it was a fairly straight forward process which for the vast majority of people it is. Well over 800,000 Australians have already registered. We’ve very pleased with the progress today that the transition is going [indistinct] and people just need to quickly update the activity in their family in terms of the hours of work, study, volunteered, make sure that it’s more than the four hours on average a week and their estimated monthly income for next year.


Ali Clarke:        Alright, Penny Wong, have you done it?


Penny Wong:   I haven’t asked Sophie whether we’ve done it but we’re not eligible either.


Ali Clarke:        Okay, what about you Sarah Hanson-Young, have you filled out the form?


Sarah Hanson-Young:  No, my daughter who’s 11 – turning 21, it feels – has been long out of child care. But I must say I really do think the bigger problem here is why are we finding ways to save money in child care, in early childhood education, rather than investing in more? We know it’s the biggest bang for buck a government will ever get when it comes to investing in the next generation.


David Bevan:    Sarah Hanson-Young, thanks for your time. Before that, Penny Wong and Simon Birmingham.