Interview on Sky News Live with Ashleigh Gillon
Topics: Newspoll; New child care package
Ashleigh Gillon: Returning now to federal politics, joining us live from Adelaide is the Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Appreciate your time, Minister. Thirty straight Newspoll losses – how many more does the party has to suffer before your colleagues get nervous and start looking at changing the leadership?
Simon Birmingham: Well, good morning, Ash. You know, I’m here in South Australia, my home state, where we just had a state election, and a few months ago people were saying that Nick Xenophon was about to be the Premier of South Australia based on polls. They proved to be horrendously wrong, and that’s because what we did was we held our nerve in SA. The state team focused on ensuring that it stuck to the key messages of contrast between it and the alternatives that were on offer. And what we will do as a government is take the strengths that Malcolm Turnbull has delivered as leader – strengths around leadership, strengths around style of leadership in terms of government. Economic leadership, in particular, jobs growth. There were more than 420,000 jobs last year alone. A record period of consecutive monthly employment increases across the country. And we will contrast that between now and the next election, which is still a little over 12 months away, with the alternative that Bill Shorten and the Labor Party have on offer. A very dangerous alternative for jobs and investment because it proposes more than $200 billion worth of higher taxes on wages, on retirements savings, on housing, on electricity and that really will be the stark choice that Australians face.
Ashleigh Gillon: Surely you can’t credibly attack this poll when it was Malcolm Turnbull himself who set the benchmark.
Simon Birmingham: No. Look, polls are part of political discourse and discussion and the media will spend a lot of time talking about them, no doubt. But the Government will remain focused on other things that Malcolm Turnbull also highlighted when he took the leadership. He highlighted the importance of delivering Cabinet-style government, consultative leadership, and he’s done that in spades. He highlighted the importance of strong economic leadership for the nation, and clearly that’s being delivered. Given those records around employment growth, jobs growth; the highest female workforce participation in Australia’s history. And that’s before we get to July this year, when we’ll have our new childcare and early education package hit the table in terms of providing more support for hardworking Australian families, who will be able to work the hours that suit them.
Ashleigh Gillon: And I do want to ask you about that, Minister. I’m wondering, though, can you even conceive of a Tony Abbott comeback or is that just not even an option now or ever in your view?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I don’t really think anybody’s conceiving of that. What we are conceiving of is focusing between now and the next election, firstly on our number one responsibility: continuing to govern in the national interest. Providing the type of leadership around trade negotiations that protects our steel workers, as Malcolm Turnbull did in his negotiations with Donald Trump. As we’ve done in terms of delivering a revised Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement with all of the players willing to come to the table, and that was because of the leadership that Malcolm Turnbull and Shinzo Abe from Japan provided. All of that is helping to underpin strong jobs growth that will be further enhanced if we can get rid of the obstructionist policies of the Labor Party and actually progress our enterprise tax agenda further through the Senate. But even what we’ve done has given a real lift to small businesses in terms of their investment, and that underpins our jobs growth. So, all of those things are about building, in terms of economic leadership, job opportunities for Australians, which will ultimately translate into not just more jobs and opportunities, but higher wages and better standards of living.
Ashleigh Gillon: Still though, disunity, as they say, is death. Mr Abbott is on the backbench, so he’s therefore free to speak his mind on various policy issues. He said this morning he plans to continue to do so all the way up to the next election. Would you be urging him to try and stick more to the script in the lead-up to that election in a bid to strike that tone of unity that the Prime Minister’s calling for today?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I urge every member of the Coalition to help us to sell the contrast between our strong economic leadership that’s delivering record jobs growth and more opportunities for Australian families, versus that of the Labor Party. You know, we’re on track to bring the Budget back to balance now on top of this jobs growth. That’s going to allow us to do more, to put more money back into the hip pockets of hard-working Australian families. We’ll do that in part through our childcare reforms this year. We’ll do that as well by looking at more opportunities to ease the tax burden on Australians. And that is a stark, stark contrast to Bill Shorten, who already has policies for higher rates of personal income tax, higher rates of company tax, higher rates of tax on housing, higher rates of taxation on people’s retirement savings, measures that would increase the effective tax that applies to our electricity that we all pay and rely upon. This will be a very critical election we face in around 12 months’ time or so, because …
Ashleigh Gillon: Okay, well let’s focus on the changes that you’re making, what your policies are. You mentioned the childcare overhaul. It’s going to be kicking in in just a few months. You’ve announced today there’s this new online transition portal that, I understand, has been set up for families to update their details for this new scheme. If families don’t fill out that required paperwork or online paperwork by 2 July when this scheme starts, will they then be ineligible from receiving subsidies from that date? Is that how it works?
Simon Birmingham: So, there will be some grace periods applied, and people can potentially have certain payments backdated after that period, but it really is essential that Australian families act between now and 2 July. Around 1 million Australian families are estimated to be better off as a result of the changes to childcare payments that we’re making, and that’s really because we’re better targeting them to the hardest working families in low- and middle-income brackets. Many of whom, if they have a couple of kids in childcare for three or four days a week, will be several thousand dollars a year better off as a result of these changes.
So, there’s big incentive to be able to log on to education.gov.au, follow the links through to the childcare pages, update information about the estimated hours that your family works, the estimated income that you have, and that will translate into often significant additional support for those families, which will allow people to choose to work the hours that suit them, the days that suit them. The estimates are that these reforms could well see around 230,000 Australian families working more, participating more in the workforce, because they’re getting more support to do so.
Ashleigh Gillon: So you mentioned a million families will benefit from the changes, but I understand there’s around 128,000 families – correct me if I’m wrong – that will get reduced subsidies or no subsidies if they earn more than $350,000 as a family income. Is there a concern that we could see kids pulled out of childcare because suddenly it’s going to be cheaper for that group of families to have a babysitter at home? That means there could be a significant number of kids missing out on the early learning side of childcare. That babysitting is generally cash in hand business, so that has its own problems.
Actually, I’m just being told – sorry, Minister – that Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister, is on his feet. Let’s take you there live.