ANTHONY ALBANESE, AMANDA RISHWORTH & DAVID SMITH – TRANSCRIPT – DOORSTOP INTERVIEW – CANBERRA – MONDAY, 19 OCTOBER 2020
ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
AMANDA RISHWORTH MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR YOUTH
MEMBER FOR KINGSTON
DAVID SMITH MP
MEMBER FOR BEAN
MONDAY, 19 OCTOBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Labor’s Working Family Childcare Boost; Scott Morrison abandoning National Cabinet meeting; National Cabinet; Federal Budget; Aussies stranded overseas; childcare; easing of restrictions in Victoria; New Zealand travel bubble; international borders; JobMaker; women getting back into the workforce.
DAVID SMITH, MEMBER FOR BEAN: Hi, my name is Dave Smith, the Federal Member for Bean. Welcome to the Wonderschool here in Conder, in the Lanyon Valley. Wonderschool is a pretty amazing place. It is a purpose-built, innovative centre suited to early education requirements. This centre only opened this March, so it has been a pretty challenging year for early educators and all the staff here, the parents and the whole community. And it is great that Wonderschool is hosting Anthony, Amanda and I today. We have had the opportunity to hear of many of the challenges and some of the hints to the direction ahead for quality early education. It is with great pleasure that I hand over to our Federal Leader, Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much, Dave. And thanks for having us in your electorate today with Amanda Rishworth, our Early Childhood Education spokesperson. And we have been here talking about Labor’s plan for the Working Family Childcare Boost. We understand that one of the things that we need arising out of this recession is not to just try and go back to what was there before but, how do we actually have a recovery in which we strengthen Australia’s economic position? And a good way we can do that is by boosting women’s workforce participation. There are three ways you can grow the economy. You can have the three Ps. Participation, productivity and population. This will provide a significant boost to women’s workforce participation by removing disincentives for women to work a fourth or a fifth day where currently, because of the way the system works, 80-90, sometimes 100 per cent of income goes just to pay for childcare costs. It is not good enough. That is bad for participation. But it is also bad for productivity because what it means is that women’s careers in particular get more disrupted than they need to be. The fact is that this would be good for participation and productivity. And it would also be good for population because when families are deciding whether to have a second or third child, they have to weigh up the economics, whether they can afford to, how they will manage to get through in these difficult times. The other fact is, and what we’ve seen here today, is that early childhood education is so important for our youngest Australians. 90 per cent of human brain development occurs in the first five years. This is a great example of a centre that is getting our youngest Australians to grow to their fullest capacity. And the current system is based upon two falsehoods. One is that somehow government and our society has a role to educate young Australians once they hit five, but before then, then it’s up to just families to do their best by themselves. We know that all the research shows that those early years are so important. And the second, somehow, and we’ve been reminded of it during lockdown as well, is that somehow in terms of early years, the care that is required as well, is just the responsibility of families. The truth is that care of children is so important for families, but it’s also important for our society.
So, this measure, which we announced in our Budget Reply, of removing the cap on childcare subsidies, lifting it up to 90 per cent, and increasing where the taper rate comes off to so that it phases out at just over $500,000, a plan that would boost the incomes of 97 per cent of families is good for families, it’s good for children, it’s good for our economy. It’s also economic reform. And what was really missing from Scott Morrison’s Budget was any economic reform whatsoever. A trillion dollars of debt as the legacy of this recession, rising to $1.7 trillion over the decade, the largest deficit that we’ve ever seen with red ink off into the never never, but no legacy, no lasting reform. This is reform. Labor created universal healthcare through Medicare. Labor created universal support for retirement incomes through a universal superannuation. We created universal support for people with disabilities through the NDIS. And Labor wants to create universal, affordable childcare through our plan to make it more affordable for all families so that all Australian families can enjoy these benefits and it’s not just a luxury for some. Amanda?
AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Thank you very much. And it’s wonderful to be here at this excellent early learning centre. And I would just like to thank all the educators who showed us around today, because this was really quality early learning in action. And I just like to say that this is part of Labor’s plan to deliver quality early education to more children. But of course, it’s also about economic productivity, economic participation. And Rocket here who was just standing with me before, he said to me that mum and dad work hard. And they do, as many families right around this country. They work very hard, but they are not getting a fair go when it comes to our current childcare system. There are too many incentives built into it so that women, particularly second-income earners that are women, actually lose money on working the fifth day. Many work for five cents on the dollar on the fourth and fifth day. This is a disincentive that our country cannot continue to endorse. Because what it means is that women that would like to go back to work simply can’t. And businesses that want to use their talents and skills don’t get the productivity that they could in their business. This is about real reform. It’s a Labor reform that is a win, win, win. It is win for children. It’s win for families. And it’s a win for the economy. This is the sort of visionary policy that we need to see from the Government. Unfortunately, the Government is not delivering this. As a result, Labor is putting forward this plan. If we are elected, we will lift the subsidy for 97 per cent of families. We’ll make sure that the disincentive and the cap is removed. And of course, what we will do is support families when they need it most. This is what real economic recovery looks like. And it’s Labor’s plan and I’m incredibly proud of Anthony Albanese’s plan that will really deliver for our economy.
ALBANESE: Thanks, Amanda. Happy to take questions. And perhaps we might flick some to our youngest contributors here.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, the results of the two elections on the weekend suggest that oppositions are struggling to cut through at the moment. how hard is it being in Opposition right now?
ALBANESE: Well, what they suggest is that people need Labor governments. Jacinda Ardern had a magnificent victory in New Zealand. She’s a strong leader. She’s a compassionate leader. Can you imagine Scott Morrison acting as Jacinda Ardern has during crises? We saw Scott Morrison during the bushfires. Empathy isn’t the word that comes to mind. Jacinda Ardern is someone who connects with New Zealanders. She has shown great leadership and I congratulate her. Andrew Barr leads a tremendous government here in the ACT. And what we saw on Saturday was the rejection of the hard right of the Liberal Party. They are now in control. The moderates are an endangered species in the Liberal Party. Over the years, we’ve seen them pushed aside. So, the issues that shouldn’t be politically controversial, issues like the fact of climate change, the fact is that in terms of the health issues, we have one of Scott Morrison’s favoured members of the caucus, the Member for Hughes, Craig Kelly, remember him? He’s the guy who Scott Morrison intervened to have pre-selected as the candidate for Hughes, because he didn’t have the support of his own branch members.
JOURNALIST: The focus has been on the Government response and we have seen Scott Morrison’s popularity increase. How do you get your message to cut through right now?
ALBANESE: We’re here today talking about the future of Australia and reform, real reform. And the fact is that we have played a constructive role during the pandemic. And we’ll continue to do so. All the measures, including the sitting of Parliament, remember, Scott Morrison wanted Parliament to be cancelled for six months. He didn’t want Parliament to meet, wanted democracy postponed for six months. We insisted that the Parliament meet. We’ve continued to be constructive. The question now is, what sort of Australia emerges from this crisis from the recovery? Too many people have been left behind during the pandemic, something we pointed out. And the danger here is two-fold. One, that people get left behind during the recovery. And second, also, that you have a trillion dollars of debt and nothing to show for it. It’s only Labor that are putting forward economic reform like the one that we’re engaged with here, boosting childcare, boosting women’s workforce participation.
That’s terrific. That is the great benefit of this early learning centre, that children don’t have the constraints. They’re learning through doing. That’s the idea of this magnificent space here. That’s why we need to support this sort of reform. The Government proposed no lasting legacy during a Budget in which they announced $100 billion of new spending, most of which is in these little pots of money where ministers will be able to spend however they like, setting up pots of money. And we’ve seen what they do with that with other schemes.
JOURNALIST: What are your thoughts on the trans-Tasman travel bubble? Are you still in support of it?
ALBANESE: We’re in support of it. But the fact that the Government couldn’t on the weekend say who it was that had travelled to Victoria of the 55 people, where they were from, where they were going, is just extraordinary. And this Federal Government continues to abgregate responsibility for things that clearly, they’re in charge of, including the responsibility to get the 29,000 Australians home who have been stranded overseas, including looking after aged care, for which they still don’t have an appropriate plan.
JOURNALIST: So, you do think it is a Federal responsibility and not a Victorian Government mistake in this instance?
ALBANESE: Last time I looked, our international borders, the National Government was in charge of it. Just like they’re in charge of getting Australians home. Scott Morrison, who recently cancelled last week’s National Cabinet because he’d rather raise money for the LNP in Queensland, has reduced that body into a body in which people have discussions about what the states are doing. Scott Morrison ticks off on it, holds a press conference and then goes out and selectively criticises Labor state governments.
JOURNALIST: Will Labor be supporting the Government’s JobMaker hiring program?
ALBANESE: Look, we’ve been supportive of any measure of support. This, again, is quite bizarre. I notice the Prime Minister saying, ‘Labor must support this today.’ He hasn’t even listed it for debate in the Parliament today. It’s not listed for discussion. The fact is that we’ve been supportive of all measures. But what we have done at the same time is point out inadequacies. And we need to point out that the Government still hasn’t been able to say whether it’s okay if someone who’s over 35 gets sacked and replaced by people who are getting these subsidies. That’s of real concern for the Government, given that we’ve seen fraud with the superannuation withdrawals. We’ve seen a misuse of some of the other wage subsidy schemes. We’ve seen a lot of people being paid more money than they were receiving beforehand at the same time that others were missing out. At the same time that this Government, when we look at delivering of programs, this Government is found wanting consistently. They’re good at announcements, but not good at delivery. They’re always there for the photo-op, but never there for the follow-up. And what we will do, of course, we’ll pass it through the House of Representatives, but it is appropriate that the detail of schemes get examined, because we’re concerned that so many Australians have been left behind. And if you’re over the age of 35, you’ve already had your wage subsidy cut, you lose it completely in March, you then go back to $40 a day, which is poverty levels, and then, potentially, you get left out of the labour market because you’re competing with people who have subsidies and you don’t.
JOURNALIST: Given the very low case numbers in Victoria, should hospitality and retail businesses be able to open now?
ALBANESE: Well, Daniel Andrews made announcements yesterday. And one of the things that should happen is that we should listen to the health advice. And this shouldn’t be the subject of political argy-bargy. I mean, Tasmania’s borders are still closed. The fact is that there’s a range of restrictions which have been put in place. I just want to say that Victorians are doing exceptionally well. They’re doing well on behalf of their fellow Victorians, but also on behalf of their country. The Premier has said, acting on health advice, that there will be further openings up in two weeks and potentially earlier if the numbers justify that. And that would be a good thing. No-one wants to see any restrictions any for one day more than is necessary.
JOURNALIST: How have the numbers not justified that now?
ALBANESE: Because, as the Premier has explained in press conferences that go for over an hour each and every day, you’re looking at the advice of epidemiologists, looking at what the numbers are over a fortnight. We know with this virus, there’s a delay in terms of the potential infection of 14 days. That’s why people are quarantining for 14 days. That’s why the Victorian colleagues who are from Melbourne, some of whom I’ll see today, have been here in Canberra isolating for two full weeks in order to attend Parliament today. So, there are restrictions on all of us in various degrees. But Victorians, particularly, have shown, I think, great diligence in following the advice. And I’d encourage them to continue to do so. And I think that public officials have a responsibility to back in that advice and not to send mixed messages. I haven’t done that. And I think it’s unfortunate that members of the Federal Liberal Party have done that. If you listened to the Liberal Opposition in Queensland, and some of the Federal members or the Victorian Liberal Opposition, Michael O’Brien and others, you would have seen a complete opening up of border, a removal of restrictions. And have a look at what has happened in Europe. Each day, countries like France are having five figures, more than 10,000 new infections. In London, it’s been locked down, again. Victoria has done the right thing. And they deserve support. And they deserve better than to have mixed messages which are inconsistent, by the way, depending upon the political nature of state governments. I’ve been consistent throughout this and I’d say to all my Federal colleagues, don’t play politics with this virus. Labor hasn’t. And the Liberal Party shouldn’t either.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it is likely it will over-shadow Senate estimates this week?
ALBANESE: Senate Estimates should be well worth looking at. And nothing should overshadow the scandals that have ridden this Government. The scandal of the payment of more than $30 million for a block of land that was worth $3 million to a Liberal Party donor that then had it leased back for $1 million. The involvement of Angus Taylor in meetings associated with the Daryl Maguire-New South Wales ICAC scandal that we heard about last week. The multiple issues regarding Sports Rorts, regarding the abuse of funds. The issues of programs that have been announced that simply haven’t delivered what they said they would. Why is it that the emergency response fund of $4 billion is yet to have a single dollar go out the door? Why is it that the employment program for over-50s established by the Government has 40 per cent of it, 40 per cent of participants, back on the unemployment queue within six months? Why is it that the women’s programs that the Government has pointed to, that it’s announced and reannounced and reannounced and reannounced, still haven’t had a dollar spent but have announced a second round. These are all questions that require examination. Senate Estimates is an important part of that process. And when it comes to jobs as well, today in infrastructure, why is it that the Inland Rail project has no Australian content guarantee on any of the rail carriages that will go on that line? Why is it that we’re not manufacturing trains here in Australia, instead, buying them from overseas when they’re too high for tunnels, they don’t fit the tracks and they have to be retrofitted once they’re here? Senate Estimates will be very important over the next fortnight in terms of holding the Government to account. Thanks very much.