Interview on Sky News Live AM Agenda with Tom Connell
Meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un; New child care package; Western Civilisation Scholarship Program




Tom Connell:               Joining me now in the studio is the Education Minister, Simon Birmingham. Thanks for your time today.      


Simon Birmingham:     G’day, Tom, good to be with you.


Tom Connell:               You’ve had some interesting meetings at COAG where you thought it’s going to be tough to get an outcome. This is probably next level today.


Simon Birmingham:     Look, this is obviously a very different discussion and a very serious one. I know that you’ve had Foreign Minister Bishop on Sky this morning already. Clearly, Australia wants to see peace settlement in terms of relations, wherever possible. We have very clear positions and for Australia we hope these are constructive discussions.


Tom Connell:               Let’s talk child care. Figures out today, I’m assuming you’ve crunched some numbers here and you’re talking about Labor’s plan, it could cost a billion dollars extra for the Budget, but we don’t actually have Labor’s plan as yet on child care.


Simon Birmingham:     That’s very true. We don’t have a plan from the Labor Party. We have the shadow minister, Amanda Rishworth, out oozing sympathy for families earning more than $350,000, suggesting that they should potentially be receiving child care subsidies and support under a Labor government. Sounding similar in the vain of talking about families who don’t meet any level of activity test in terms of work, or study, or volunteering activity and suggesting they should be receiving child care support. Now, the Turnbull Government takes a very different approach. Our view is in terms of the reforms. The overhaul in improvements to child care we’re bringing in are about targeting support so that those families working the longest hours get the greatest number of hours of support, those families who are earning the lowest incomes for their work or effort receive the greatest rate of subsidy. We think it’s a much fairer way to deliver support, whereas Labor’s showing once again that they just can’t be trusted with other people’s money and think that they ought to just splash cash around willy-nilly everywhere.


Tom Connell:               The new scheme will mean that people on $250,000 a year. That’s the 50 per cent rebate, where it starts to taper and obviously cuts out altogether, I think, at $350,000. Do you think most of those people would be Liberal voters?         


Simon Birmingham:     Look Tom, I don’t want to sort of put people into pigeon holes in that sense. But I think most people…


Tom Connell:               [Indistinct] whether you support a party or not.


Simon Birmingham:     Well, you’re sort of saying if somebody earns a certain income do you think most of them would be. My view is that we attract support from across the spectrum, but the Liberal supporters and voters expect us to be responsible with taxpayers’ money. That’s what the Turnbull Government’s done. That’s how we’ve brought the Budget to a position of going back to balance in the near future. They expect us to work to grow the economy and our child care reforms are going to complement our reforms in terms of economic and workforce participation. We already have female workforce participation at the highest levels in Australian history, under the Turnbull Government. We have employment at record levels and our child care reforms are estimated to help around 235,000 Australians increase the hours or days that they work by ensuring that child care costs are no longer an impediment. Because the thing to remember about this is, under the old broken model which we’re replacing, families would run out of support for child care payments part way through the financial year, and then they’d have to decide whether they cut back on their hours or days, or whether they basically work just to pay the child care bills. We’re abolishing that cap on support for all families earning less than around $187,000 a year, ensuring that they can choose and be empowered to work the hours and days that suit them.


Tom Connell:               Despite what you say is going to be such a big advantage for families, a lot of people still haven’t logged on to the new system. Now, if someone hasn’t realised and they apply two weeks later, for example, do they get back paid for that?       


Simon Birmingham:     Yes they do…


Tom Connell:               Where does that run out?                     


Simon Birmingham:     There’s a three-month grace period. We’re actually very pleased with progress, the fact that more than 800,000 people have already registered for the new child care subsidy. There’s still virtually three weeks to go for families to do so. We’d anticipate that many more will do so in that time, and then yes, we have the clear grace period of three months afterwards. But the message is clear to Australian families, visit education.gov.au/childcare. Get it done before 2 July so that there’s no disruption to your family’s support.


Tom Connell:               And the reason they have to go through this, sort of, I know you say it’s a simple website, but they’re having to do it, that’s because of new requirements around activity and work, and so on. And that needs to be verified. Is that why it can’t be a bit more simple?


Simon Birmingham:     We do, because we’re putting in place a system that better targets support to those who are working the longest hours, and those families earning the least amount, but we do need information about those hours of activity – working, studying, or volunteering – and estimated family income to make that targeting occur. But it is well worth the time of families. For those who have transitioned to date, we estimate that they will be on average around $1300 per child, per annum better off, so it’s well worth 10 minutes on the website updating your details.


Tom Connell:               I want to ask you about the Ramsay Centre decision by ANU. Tony Abbott wrote, in the lead up to this decision, that the Centre would be calling some of the shots on academics and course material – this is for a Western civilisation course – he also said that any organisation that is not explicitly right-wing eventually becomes left-wing. Did that help the whole debate?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, look, I don’t want to run a commentary around the discussions that occurred. I think hypothetically it would seem rather poor form if one set of comments could manage to blow off course discussions with an institution of the calibre and substance of the ANU.


Tom Connell:               So, if they were scared off by Tony Abbott’s Op-Ed, they shouldn’t have been, basically?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, I would have hoped – and I do hope – that an Australian university, if not now ANU, that another university or universities manage to work through any of their issues with the Ramsay Centre. This is a generous bequest, and that is available that will provide generous scholarships to students, enable study into the history of Western civilisation, not propaganda about it, but study into history and values and background that, of course, underpin things like academic integrity and freedoms at our universities.


Tom Connell:               Absolutely but to that very point then, do you understand if a university is a bit reluctant if it comes with these strings attached on control on either staff or course material, that you would get that as a concern again?


Simon Birmingham:     Look, and I would expect that universities would protect those values that are central to a university, that’s the right thing for them to do. But equally I’ve had discussions with John Howard – who’s chairman of the Ramsay Centre – and he assures me that their approach is one where they respect ultimately the academic appointments processes within universities, that they expect the curriculum is something that ought to be agreed with the university, and by the university, that this is not something they are seeking to dictate terms around, and they’re wanting to ensure this generous bequest enables studies of values and history that is very important not just to Australian society but even directly to the history and culture of our universities.


Tom Connell:               Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time today.


Simon Birmingham:     Thank you, Tom.