Simon Birmingham: The Turnbull Government has clear policies to fix the broken child care system, and the only thing standing in the way of those policies are the Labor Party, Greens and an obstructionist senate. We’re willing to invest, and planning to invest, $3 billion extra to help families pay for the cost of child care. But the savings measures necessary for those measures to go through are being blocked by the senate. It’s really critical that the Labor Party, Greens, acknowledge that we do need to fix the child care system, but it has to be paid for, and the Turnbull Government has clear plans that for ordinary working families would make them around $1,500 a year better off thanks to our child care reforms. That’s $1,500 a year in the pockets of ordinary working families, that the Labor party’s blocking because they won’t cooperate with responsible budget processes and fixing their child care mess.
Question: So when can we realistically see this come through then? Before the election, or…
Simon Birmingham: This could absolutely be legislated before the election if the Labor Party just supported the savings measures necessary to pay for our child care reforms.
Question: Just on to Safe Schools, are you concerned that the states still have the right to be able to fund the full program in schools as Victoria said they will do?
Simon Birmingham: State governments of course run their own school systems, but what I would urge state governments and everybody to think about is the rights of children to be protected from information that may not be age appropriate for them, and the rights of parents to be fully informed and aware of what’s being taught in the school environment.
Question: And just following on from that, Richard Di Natale this morning has said that descriptions of MPs as homophobic and transphobic are absolutely legitimate when it comes their criticisms of Safe Schools. Do you agree with that?
Simon Birmingham: What I think has occurred is that we’ve seen extremes, in some instances, from all sides of the debate. What I would urge people to realise is that this is a debate about the welfare and the wellbeing of children. Now we have rejected calls for the Safe Schools program to be yanked, or for funding to be cut. We’ve equally rejected the idea that it cannot be improved and that you can’t give parents an appropriate say. There is a sensible middle way that protects the wellbeing of children, both in terms of from bullying, from homophobic actions, and protects the wellbeing of children from being exposed to inappropriate material or content. That’s the sensible middle way. That’s what the Turnbull Government has done. We’ve stood up to the extremes in this debate and we’ve charted a sensible middle course, that backs the rights of parents, that protects our children, in every instance.
Question: So do you disagree with Richard Di Natale, in that MPs like Cory Bernardi, for instance, are not homophobic? Is that what you’re saying?
Simon Birmingham: I don’t believe that MPs are homophobic. I believe that MPs have expressed concerns and reservations. I think at the extremes of this debate we have seen, at times, language or actions that are intemperate. Whether that’s in terms of some of the language that’s been used to criticise the Safe Schools program, or the actions of people who’ve sought to wreck destruction on Cory Bernardi’s electorate office. Those extremes are unacceptable. This is about the wellbeing of children, and I am proud of the fact that the Turnbull Government has chartered a sensible middle course that’s rejected extremes at both sides of this argument, and put the wellbeing of children first.
Question: Senator, just changing pace, looking at what happened in the senate during this week, I guess, presumably working with the current cross bench for the next four years would be untenable for the Government after the senate voting debate over the past week.
Simon Birmingham: Well, if individual senators are unwilling to actually judge each legislative measure on its merits then they don’t deserve to be there.
Question: And just what does the Government believe the Government could do, all the things it has to do with a double dissolution with just two sitting days available?
Simon Birmingham: We will seek to continue to govern the country in the best interest of all Australians. That’s why we want to see savings measures passed that can get our child care reforms through. That’s why we want to see a sensible middle course in areas like Safe Schools. We’re seeking to govern for all Australians in a sensible and considered manner. And I just urge senators, whether they’re from the Labor Party, the cross bench or the Greens, to respect and recognise that we’re seeking to implement reforms that are sensible for Australia, that get the balance right between what our national interest is and also how we address real problems like our budget deficit.
Question: But to get that double dissolution, presumably, you’d have to hand down a budget, there’d be supply bills you’d have to get through, possibly debate over the ABCC. Is the Government confident it can get all of that done?
Simon Birmingham: Nothing is impossible and the Government will work though, very carefully, to make sure that ideally, we get the ABCC legislation passed. That we don’t necessarily have to have a double dissolution. But we have seen a senate that has been dysfunctional over the last couple of years, and that is highlighted by the fact that the senate stands in the way of $1,500 extra support for working families in relation to child care. Why on earth would the senate do that? Why on earth would the Labor Party, the Greens, the cross benchers, not be willing to back savings measures that can pay for child care reforms? This is the type of dysfunction the Government’s been dealing with, and these of course are issues that we’ll have to consider as we contemplate when the election may be.
Question: Just quickly on tax as well. Do you believe a company tax cut is more beneficial to the economy than a personal tax cut?
Simon Birmingham: Anything that reduces tax is good news, but again, just like child care reforms, it has to be paid for. We are still grappling with Labor’s debt and deficit and that means that any tax reforms need to be paid for and they are the careful considerations we’re giving to tax reform at present.
Question: Is the Government considering a 28.5 per cent tax rate across the board for companies?
Simon Birmingham: The Government’s considering a range of things in relation to tax reform. I’m certainly not going to speculate on them item by item.
Question: Just back on to Safe Schools. The Federal Government has some powers to be able to control what curriculum is taught in each of the schools in Australia. Would you consider using your powers to restrict what is taught in schools, particularly with Safe Schools, would you look at cutting funding or anything like that?
Simon Birmingham: The Federal Government sets, in conjunction with the states and territories, a national curriculum, which the states and territories have broadly signed on to, and I expect the states and territories to teach to that national curriculum, and the types of changes that we are making to the content of the resources in the Safe Schools program are to help to ensure that they are in keeping with that national curriculum.
Question: So if Victoria does choose to continue with the full Safe Schools program, they will be in breach of the national curriculum. Is that what you’re saying?
Simon Birmingham: No. Not necessarily. It, in the end, depends what is taught in an individual classroom, and ultimately these are matters, really, that the Victorian Government has to answer for, the Victorian Government will be held accountable for, if they choose to ignore the rights of children to be protected from any inappropriate material, the rights of parents to know exactly what their children are being taught.
Question: But will you hold them accountable for it? Or will voters? What are you saying here? Will the Federal Government punish the Victorian Government in any way for continuing to teach the full safe schools program?
Simon Birmingham: The Federal Government does not control what the Victorian Government does in their education system. We help to set a national curriculum. They teach within that national curriculum. They should, they ought, and of course, ultimately they ought to be communicating with their parents to make sure they understand exactly what is being taught in Victorian schools.
Question: Just on another issue, what’s your comments on reports today that refugees- ISIS is targeting refugees?
Simon Birmingham: We are taking the most careful and methodical approach to how we assess potential refugees from the Syrian crisis. That is why our Government is moving very cautiously through the acceptance of anybody, and indeed why it is that some individuals will not be allowed into Australia, based on the analysis of our security agencies. We will not do anything that jeopardises the safety of Australians in relation to our refugee intake. Thanks guys.