Interview on Sky News Live AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert
Polling; Cracking down on child care rorters; Penalty rates

Kieran Gilbert: Now to my chat with the Education Minister a bit earlier this morning.


Thank you very much for your time. First of all this Newspoll. It shows the worst primary result for a long, long time. In fact it’s five points worse than the weeks leading up to Tony Abbott losing the top job.

Simon Birmingham: Well we do have circumstances now that are analogous in some ways to the period John Howard faced between 1996 and 1998 when One Nation started to rise in terms of the polls and so on. But, look,  we will remain focussed as a government on the issues that matter to Australians and that is all we can really do is be resolute in working on getting our child care reforms through the Parliament, getting our enterprise tax plan through the Parliament to generate more jobs, working on how it is we fix the National Electricity Market to deal with issues of affordability and reliability and energy.

Kieran Gilbert: [Talks over] But you think comparisons should be made with that Howard period where the rise of One Nation obviously was a huge concern in the late ‘90s?

Simon Birmingham: Well we’ve seen this type of trend before on our side of politics in terms of the challenges they pose and so we have to work through those issues again and work through them we will but you work through them not by being distracted by polls, you work through them by focussing on policy and issues.

Kieran Gilbert: Or being disunited as we’ve seen the comments of last week and the repudiation of them from Mr Abbott and then the response from Mathias Cormann and others. Today, Peter van Onselen reports that there was a group they called the deplorables – conservatives within the party who’d been working since the election to try and, well among other things, get Tony Abbott back into the Cabinet.

Simon Birmingham: Well I think anything that creates the perception that a government might not be focussed on issues that matter to people is bad for that government. Now I can only but reassure your viewers that Malcolm Turnbull and every senior member of the Government is far from distracted by these issues that might be generating a lot of newspaper headlines and a lot of chatter but our focus is firmly on the policy matters. That around the Cabinet table we are talking about the electricity market and how we deal with that. We are taking action in terms of investing in new technologies like pump hydro storage that can make renewable energies work for us and work effectively within the energy market rather than working against us …

Kieran Gilbert: [Talks over] But are you encouraged by the, well, response from Mathias Cormann first of all and secondly the fact that this grouping that PVO reports about in The Australian today that are then seen to crumble because a number of them had said and Peter reports today that this was all about Tony Abbott, that it wasn’t about the policies. That’s why they didn’t want to engage in this grouping any more.

Simon Birmingham: I am confident that the absolute vast majority, barring maybe one of two, but the vast majority of members of the Coalition are absolutely focussed on the issues that matter to Australians and working as a united team in the Turnbull Government on addressing those issues and that’s why I’ve left. …

Kieran Gilbert: [Talks over] This is enough to spook a few of them though, isn’t it? And if you look at the poll in Dawson, George Christensen’s seat, the ReachTEL survey commissioned by the Australian Institute, it shows One Nation’s vote in Dawson at 30 per cent primary. That’s level with the LNP there.

Simon Birmingham: Well, and as I said, we went through this period in the late 1990s and One Nation at that time won a number of seats in the Queensland state election. We know there are real threats there. We have to work through them. But we work through them by dealing with the issues that matter to Australians. Australian people don’t want a government worried about opinion polls. They want a government focused on policy issues which is what we’re doing.

Kieran Gilbert: Alright well on that front, one thing you’re announcing today, some reforms to family day care and child care – talk us through it because there’ve been various reports of rorting, of individuals placing their children with other suppliers only to take other children into their own home, that sort of thing happening. What are your changes today?

Simon Birmingham: So they’re types of child swapping practices which we acted to ban last year. What we’re doing today is going another step with a third tranche of compliance activity in relation to family care providers specifically to deal with excessive fees in relation to some special child care benefits that support grandparent carers and other special circumstances and dealing with claims for children who are clearly too old to be effectively needing child care support – 16-year-olds and the like. So we’re digging deeper in terms of the dubious behaviour and we think these measures will save around $250 million, coming on top of around $1 billion of compliance savings.

Kieran Gilbert: And is that done now in terms of the compliance changes that you’ve made in this sector?

Simon Birmingham: I would never say that it’s all completely done because we will scrutinise continually for anywhere where people are taking advantage of the taxpayer but none of this negatives the importance for the Government of still getting our comprehensive reform of child care through which provide even better powers for governments in the future to deal with this type of malpractice and rorting.

Kieran Gilbert: Sure.

Simon Birmingham: And of course more importantly provide greater support to the hardest working low income families to meet their child care bills.

Kieran Gilbert: The last issue I want to ask about is the Fair Work Commission’s ruling on penalty rates. While Labor is hypocritical in terms of its position here, I think that’s fair to say, given they were the ones that put the Fair Work Commission in place and Mr Shorten said before the election he would honour the independent umpire’s judgment, I don’t think many people disagree with that, except for the Labor Party of course. But the point I want to make to you is this is a political vulnerability though for the Coalition isn’t it? If Labor makes this an issue and does campaign to reverse its decision?

Simon Birmingham: Well the commentators can talk about whether or not it’s a political vulnerability. We believe that the independent umpire should be allowed to do its job independently and that Bill Shorten’s hypocrisy in saying before the election he would respect the decision and now of course seeking to play politics with it is deplorable. That Bill Shorten really ought to have the interests of Australia at heart and where else will he go if he were to be in government and take this approach in terms of ignoring the independent umpire’s decision? Would he ignore what the Reserve Bank says about interest rates? Would he ignore minimum wage decisions of the Fair Work Commission? And there are all range of areas that he could seek to just overturn and of course we have these institutions in place to stop people playing with politics with them and yet Bill Shorten is out there directly playing politics with a commission that he largely set up when in government, largely appointed all the members of when in government and said he would respect the decisions of and yet he’s doing none of the above.

Kieran Gilbert: Minister, appreciate your time, thank you.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Kieran.

[End of excerpt]