Aug 13, 2014

Doorstop interview, Sydney

Subject/s: Impact of Abbott Government’s refusal to guarantee certainty for preschool funding; Tony Abbott’s unfair PPL scheme; ICAC; GP Tax; ASADA.

KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD: Well it’s fantastic to be here at this very high quality early childhood education centre, Marrickville SDM. And it’s great to be joined by my colleagues in Linda Burney, the State Shadow Minister with responsibility for early childhood and child care, and of course the Member for Grayndler, Anthony Albanese, a very passionate local member here, as well as the Mayor of Marrickville in Jo Haylen.

We stand here today at one of the preschools that around the country have absolutely no certainty as to the degree of Federal funding that will be received next year. The Abbott Government has refused to commit a single cent to the ongoing funding of preschools and kindergartens from the beginning of next year.

What this means is that centres have no certainty as to how many staff they can employ. What this means is that parents have no certainty as to how many hours of preschool their children will receive next year. And what this means is that child care centres are preparing to have their waiting lists explode even further if parents have to find alternative care to the preschools that they are currently using.

This is a farce. And Tony Abbott needs to make very clear today that he will continue to fund this vital early childhood education that is delivered to four year olds. On a day when we see reports that show the Government’s own members know what the rest of this nation knows and that is that Tony Abbott’s Paid Parental Leave scheme is a dud. They need to commit to stop adding to the over $1 billion in cuts that have already been announced to child care and early childhood, and actually stump up the funding so that four year olds can have the access to early childhood education that they need.

There is no clearer indication of the Government’s wrong priorities than the fact that as they continue to stubbornly stick by their Paid Parental Leave scheme, child care has already had a $1 billion cut out of it. And it looks like preschool is next on the chopping block, with the Prime Minister refusing to confirm a single cent in funding from next year. That’s just not good enough. Children across Australia, parents across Australia and early childhood educators across Australia deserve better, and they need some certainty from this Government.

JOURNALIST: So you’re calling for action from Tony Abbott? Do you have a deadline before it becomes critical for these child care centres?

ELLIS: Look, this is already ludicrous that we do not know the state of preschools from next year. Tony Abbott needs to come out today. He needs to stop making excuses, he needs to stop delaying and he needs to confirm funding for four year old Australian children to have access to preschool. This has got to be a priority. And from a Government who said there would be no cuts to education, they have now announced over $1 billion in cuts just to early childhood education. They cannot add to that by completely cutting preschool funding.

JOURNALIST: Kate, there’s talk today about the Paid Parental Leave scheme, how those payments to wealthier mums might be watered down. If you saw that money be pushed perhaps towards early childhood, would that get PPL over the line for you?

ELLIS: What we’ve seen is that this Government remains committed to sending large cheques to wealthy families who have a baby at exactly the same time that they have cut over $1 billion from existing child care assistance. This Government currently have legislation before the Parliament with the sole purpose of cutting the Child Care Benefit that low and middle income families on as little as $42,000 per annum rely on.

It is clear that the Government have got their priorities wrong. It is clear that Government backbenchers know how out of touch the Prime Minister is and what a dud his Paid Parental Leave scheme is. Now we need the Prime Minister to show some courage, actually front up and admit how wrong he got it.

JOURNALIST: Is there any way in which you would support the PPL? What changes would you like to see?

ELLIS: We have not seen any draft legislation on Paid Parental Leave. We have seen a number of different versions. We’ve heard a number of different accounts of speculation as to what will be in the legislation. Obviously we will wait until the Prime Minister gets his own show in order and actually puts some legislation before the Parliament.

But what we do know is that there is no clearer example than the Paid Parental Leave scheme of how this Government have got their priorities wrong. They are quite prepared to slug the Australians who can least afford it – the unemployed, pensioners, low income earners, those relying on child care assistance – yet they seem determined to be able to send $50,000 cheques to millionaires which the Australian public know is just ridiculous.

JOURNALIST: May I ask Linda Burney a question please? Obviously an extraordinary day at ICAC yesterday. What’s your response to those revelations?

LINDA BURNEY: Mike Baird has shown a total lack of leadership or a capacity to make decisions. We still have in Newcastle a Lord Mayor that has clearly been implicated in ICAC being the Lord Mayor. There should be moves immediately to get rid of that person because he has shown himself to be involved in these ICAC revelations.

What I am concerned about on this issue is that Mike Baird’s demonstrated lack of leadership, lack of capacity to make a decision, is going to impact on families here in New South Wales, in particular Sydney. We have a crisis looming in terms of child care and funding. Let’s hope that Mike Baird can grow a backbone about this to Tony Abbott, the early childhood sector, as he hasn’t shown what’s going on up in Newcastle.

JOURNALIST: Co-payments for GPs is in the news again. What’s the latest from the (inaudible)?

ALBANESE: This is a Government that is showing that it’s incapable of governing the country. They had a plan to get into Government. They don’t have a plan to actually govern. And the fact that you have the Treasurer of the nation going around three months after the Budget has been handed down and attempting to talk for the first time to Senators about this unfair Budget shows how incompetent they are. This is a Budget that has unfairness at its core. That’s why the Government tried to hide from the Budget papers the normal figures that go into Budget papers showing the impact on families of different incomes.

We know that the Medicare co-payment is about a fundamental principle which is about the universality of Medicare. You can have whatever charge at whatever level now, it can go up into the future. Labor is absolutely committed to the universality of Medicare, that’s our position, full-stop, end of story. It has served our nation well and if we compare how much Australians spend on health care as a percentage of the Budget with a country like the United States, why on earth would you move away from a system that has been shown it is the world’s best practice and the rest of the world wants and envies our system?

JOURNALIST: What’s wrong with asking a family or a person on an income of say $100,000 to make a small contribution?

ALBANESE: They do. It’s through the taxation system. That’s the way that it happens. And it happens therefore in a progressive manner, through a tax system, whereby the more you earn, the more you get hit in terms of the Medicare levy. So those who can least afford to pay are not hit. And we know from all the evidence that if a charge is introduced then what it will do is one- it will have an impact on our hospitals and our emergency departments as people flee the local GP for services that actually cost higher to deliver. Secondly it will mean that people defer a visit to the doctor and what that means is that often it might cost more. The whole attention of the health system should be on early intervention and preventative health. Why? Not just because it is better for the individual consumer. But also because it is better for the economy because it costs less than if there is a delay in getting that advice from a doctor down the track.

JOURNALIST: So at the time when the Government is trying to tighten its Budget belt, are you saying that Labor will not move when it comes to co-payments?

ALBANESE: Well they’re not trying to tighten their Budget belt. They have a Paid Parental Leave scheme they’re determined to implement that will cost $5.5 billion per year. More than $20 billion over the forward estimates for this unaffordable Paid Parental Leave scheme. They made changes to the Budget that have added $68 billion to the deficit. They doubled the deficit. They want to introduce new payments like the Paid Parental Leave scheme, and at the same time they walked away from making sure the modest measures that Labor put in place, making sure that companies couldn’t just offshore their tax liabilities were there, they walked away from that. So this is a Government that is economically irresponsible, that’s unfair at its core –

JOURNALISTS: But when it comes to co-payments?

ALBANESE: Well the co-payments, our position is we’re opposed to co-payments, full stop, end of story. We support universality of Medicare. You won’t see any shift. It is in our DNA. The Whitlam Government introduced Medibank. It was gotten rid of by Fraser. It took a Labor Government to reintroduce it. At its core this is one of the fundamental divides in Australian politics. Labor that believes in the universality of Medicare, and the Conservatives who in their DNA want to get rid of it, want to niggle at it, want to get a payment in there that they’ll then increase down the track.

JOURNALIST: You would be aware that the Essendon Football Club is in the Federal Court with ASADA at the moment. It’s been reported that you had some disquiet about senior members of Cabinet such as Wayne Swan and yourself weren’t consulted before that blackest day in sports media conference was announced. What can you tell us about those concerns?

ALBANESE: Well the important thing there is in your question, it’s in the Court, and whilst matters are before the Court that’d be entirely inappropriate for people to comment. My concentration in sport at the moment was there last Friday night where Souths whacked Manly, and it’ll be there tomorrow night when Souths play Brisbane. That’s my concentration, as well as the very silly idea I’ve had of playing my first AFL game at Henson Park this Sunday in the Reclink Cup which is a charity event raising money for disadvantaged young people to get access to sport and cultural services. So that’s my concentration very much on a personal level than a political level, I’ll leave that to the Courts and others.

JOURNALIST: So you’re unwilling to comment on the (inaudible) information available at the time?

ALBANESE: I’m unwilling to comment on something that is before the Courts. My sporting concentration is very personal at the moment.

JOURNALIST: What about this idea – and I have to ask – that Kate Lundy was pressuring ASADA at the time?

ALBANESE: Look it’s before the Courts and it’s not appropriate that politicians make political comments while there is a Court case going on.