Interview on Sky News PM Agenda with David Speers
Cory Bernardi; Making child care more affordable, accessible and fairer

David Speers: With me now is the Minister for Education, and also a Senior Cabinet Minister from South Australia, Simon Birmingham. Thank you very much for joining us.

Simon Birmingham: G’day, David.

David Speers: You’ve been for years a factional rival of Cory Bernardi’s in the South Australian Liberal Party. Are you happy to see him go?

Simon Birmingham: Well I’m certainly not happy that he’s betrayed the trust of many South Australians, the 345,000 plus South Australians who voted for the Liberal Senate ticket at the last election, therefore putting Cory Bernardi back in the Senate for another six years, which as they rightly expected was as a Liberal senator.

David Speers: [Interrupts] He says…

Simon Birmingham: [Talks over] Those voters all had a choice.

David Speers: [Interrupts] He says they knew who they were voting for.

Simon Birmingham: Well they knew they were voting for the Liberal Party. And the vast majority of them voted above the line, number one for the Liberal Party. They had a choice, they had a choice to vote to the right of the Liberal Party. They could have voted for One Nation. They could have voted for the Liberty Alliance, the anti-Muslim party. They could have voted for the Liberal Democrats. They chose the Liberal Party, and they expected to get Liberal Party senators as a result of that. Yes, Cory’s name was one of those listed underneath that along with my own. But I don’t kid myself to think that the hundreds of thousands of people were voting because they’re all in love with Simon Birmingham; they were voting because they wanted Liberal senators serving their interests in the federal parliament. And today, sadly, they’ve been denied one of those places.

David Speers: Do you share the view he should leave the parliament?

Simon Birmingham: Well I think that would be the most honourable thing to do. That is ultimately to put your future where your mouth is. If he believes that there is such a groundswell of support for a new conservative movement then the right thing to do would be to go out and test that with the Australian people at an election. He got here under the Liberal Party’s umbrella. He was re-elected twice under the Liberal Party’s umbrella. If he wants to be here as something else, well that’s of course his right, but he should test it through the right democratic process.

David Speers: Now he says as you’ve seen today that he’s doing this because people are so disappointed, disaffected with the major parties, and he wants to give them a conservative voice to rally around. Why do you really think he’s doing this?

Simon Birmingham: Well, look I think there’s a certain lack of logic in some of what I saw Cory say today. He said he’s doing it because he was partly concerned by the rise of minor parties, yet he’s proposing to set up a new minor party. He’s doing it because he’s concerned about the loss of trust in politics, yet he’s breaking the trust with 345,000 voters in South Australia who put him here as a Liberal. So…

David Speers: [Interrupts] But hasn’t the Government already lost the trust of a lot of voters? I mean, you scraped in at the election last year. The polls have worsened since then. There’s clearly a problem – put Cory Bernardi to one side – there’s clearly a problem in holding that conservative vote.

Simon Birmingham: Well there’s an ongoing challenge always to make sure that you are maximising your vote as much as possible, but we’ve seen ups and downs over the years. You can go back to 1998 when John Howard faced an election where Pauline Hanson got a significant vote right around the country, close to double digits at that time. People said many of the same things then as they’ve been saying since this election, yet of course we move through that cycle and a few years later John Howard was governing with a majority in the Senate. So, you can never predict what will necessarily happen in the future.

David Speers: [Talks over] Well let me ask you that.

Simon Birmingham: What we will do is focus on good policy and good government, because that ultimately is where the reward lies.

David Speers: Will he eat into the Liberal vote in South Australia?

Simon Birmingham: I don’t believe so. I think that people want the Liberal Party to succeed. And we will focus emphatically on delivering better policies in terms of for small business through our company tax cuts, in terms of for national security through our border security and border protection policies, in terms of for families through our child care reforms.

David Speers: [Talks over] Well, let’s talk about those child care reforms. Something you want to move on this week in the parliament. Where is that up to now? Is the package still as was previously announced? The child care changes together with the Family Benefit tax cuts?

Simon Birmingham: We’ll be introducing an omnibus bill which will bring together Family Tax Benefit changes in the Social Services portfolio, together with the child care reforms, demonstrating our commitment to getting this passed. To make sure that it passed…

David Speers: [Interrupts] Has there been any change to the child care reforms?

Simon Birmingham: The child care reforms we’ll bring to the parliament in the legislation will be as they were introduced previously. But I’ve been having ongoing discussions with crossbenchers and key stakeholders to perhaps iron out a couple of concerns people have, which we can do through the parliamentary processes.

David Speers: [Interrupts] What are they? What are some of those?

Simon Birmingham: We want to make sure that particularly Indigenous services are reassured that they will have absolute support into the future under this program.

David Speers: And disadvantaged kids, will they have any reduction in their child care hours and entitlements?

Simon Birmingham: Again, we’re having a look at the right mix for the hours that are necessary to make sure a couple of days a week can definitely be delivered to children in disadvantaged circumstances, but without that necessarily being a profiteering exercise for child care services that can charge 12 hours for services that often only deliver five or six hours.

David Speers: Okay, so it will be a slightly different package to initially announced to iron out those issues?

Simon Birmingham: So, I’m working through those with crossbenchers, with the sector and stakeholders, and we’ll make sure that we address those before it finally passes the Parliament.

David Speers: But the problem for many in the Parliament is that, as you say, it’s tied to these cuts in Family Tax Benefit; the end of year supplements that are worth up to $726 per child per year, you want to take that away.

Simon Birmingham: I think Nick Xenophon was very responsible, unlike Kate Ellis in his interview with you on Sky earlier today, where Nick made the point that he has a responsibility to make sure that hard-working Australian families get the support they deserve and to make sure that we protect as best we can the AAA credit rating that we deal with the budget deficit we have. And that’s the responsible approach the Government is taking as well and we’ve demonstrated how we can pay for this, how we can shift, in a sense, from what in many ways are some out-dated and passive welfare payments to support for hard-working families who need greater assistance to pay their child care bills. This is the most comprehensive reform …

David Speers: [Interrupts] I mean, you mentioned Nick Xenophon, his preference talking to me was not to cut the family payments, was to tax corporations a bit more.

Simon Birmingham: Well, we’ll work through all of the issues with Nick. We think there are some justifiable changes to family tax payments that can be made and I know there’ve been many discussions happening in that regard.

David Speers: [Talks over] But what makes you think this omnibus bill is the way to go? I mean, is there any indication that he or anyone else will vote for it?

Simon Birmingham: We’ve had many constructive conversations. Now, we’ll keep all of those private until we get to the point of settling arrangements to pass it through the Parliament, but we believe we can. It’s the neatest, simplest way to get the savings through at the same time as the reform, and these are the most far-reaching reforms to child care that we’ve seen since subsidies and payments were introduced. It abolishes the different child care benefit and child care rebate in favour of a single subsidy, it ends that cliff that many low and middle income families fall over around March or April each year where they hit a maximum level of support for the child care rebate, and so that they won’t face that financial difficulty that last couple of months of a financial year, it provides greater support to the lowest-earning, hardest-working Australian families, increasing rebate or subsidy from about 76 per cent to 85 per cent. So, they’re big changes and they support those who need it most.

David Speers: [Talks over] But can you understand that a lot of families having heard the Liberals since 2010 talk about better paid parental leave and then it became better child care support as you’re articulating now, here we are in 2017 … nothing’s happened.

Simon Birmingham: This is why we emphatically, the Turnbull Government wants to bring this to a vote and get it done. And we saw in the last six months of last year that we managed to get through the Parliament the Registered Organisations Commission, the Building and Construction Commission, tax cuts to middle income families …

David Speers: [Talks over] So you’ll get this through, you will get this through?

Simon Birmingham: … the firefighter protection arrangements for volunteers.

David Speers: Okay, and you will get this one through?

Simon Birmingham: And I’m confident that we can work with the Senate to get this through as well.

David Speers: What if it means splitting the bill, dealing with the family cuts separately, just to get these child care benefits through?

Simon Birmingham: I’m not going to deal with a whole lot of hypotheticals there David. We’ll deal with it one step at a time with our partners in the Senate to hopefully get it done …

David Speers: [Talks over] Families are … families are sick of waiting here.

Simon Birmingham: The simplest- well, the simplest thing would be for Bill Shorten and the Labor Party to say they’re willing to get on with getting this done.

David Speers: Or for you to cut the bill and half and say here are the child care changes we can get through.

Simon Birmingham: Everything has to be paid for. Everything has to be paid for when we’ve got a budget that is significantly in deficit already. So, that is why we’re presenting it as a package that we believe provides clear pathways to pay for it, to fund these changes, but changes that will make the system so much fairer and better for the hardest-working, lowest income earning families in Australia.

David Speers: Final one, are you willing to sit down and talk to Cory Bernardi in your effort to get this through? He’s now in the crossbench, you may have to.

Simon Birmingham: Of course. I mean, I completely disagree with what Cory has done today, it was a dog act. But in the end, Cory is still a member of the Australian Senate, he’s chosen to keep his Senate seat despite no longer being a member of the Liberal Party, and we will work with him as one of the members of the crossbench. He’s indicated that he holds true to Liberal values, at least the policies and principles that we took, so I trust that means he’ll be supporting the types of things we want to implement.

David Speers: [Laughs] It’ll be a fascinating conversation. I think you’ve done a dog act on us but now let’s talk about this bill that we need you to vote for.

Simon Birmingham: Well, politics is a robust thing David and I’m sure Cory’s a grown up, he can deal with the criticism that of course will come his way from this decision. He knew that he wouldn’t be warmly welcomed or embraced by Liberal voters, supporters, or Members of Parliament.

David Speers: Alright, Education Minister Simon Birmingham, good to talk to you. Thanks so much for that.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you David.