ABC Capital Hill – Leppington land sale, child care, multicultural Australians

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

JANE NORMAN, HOST: I’m joined now by our Tuesday political panel, South Australian Labor frontbencher Amanda Rishworth and New South Wales Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg join me, welcome to you both. Andrew Bragg, let’s start with you. This is the first time that the auditor general has we understand ever referred a matter to the federal police, that has got to be massively concerning, right?

ANDREW BRAGG, LIBERAL SENATOR FOR NEW SOUTH WALES: Jane this is an example where the federal police will have to go about their business without being trolled by the media too much, I hope. Because there is now an investigation under way and they will, I guess, make recommendations to the DPP if they feel that there are charges that should be laid, and that is the process under our judicial system which I think should be respected.

NORMAN: But to raise questions about the auditor general’s report, which has found a huge discrepancy between the value of the land bought and the valuation of that land, that’s not trolling, and it’s asking some pretty legitimate questions about the use of public funds isn’t it?

BRAGG: That’s right, and it is now an investigation which is being run by the federal police, and I don’t comment on police investigations. I’m sure that they will go through this thoroughly and they will make any recommendations at the end of their investigation. They may include charges, they may not.

NORMAN: Do you agree with your Coalition colleague Barnaby Joyce who has described this move, alleged move by a federal public servant, as blatant and stupid, and he believes heads should roll?

BRAGG: I’m not across the detail because it is a rolling investigation, so I haven’t been in that particular committee this week. But as I say, there is an investigation by the federal police, let’s see where they get to. It is very difficult for sitting parliamentarians to make comments on police investigations about these detailed matters.

NORMAN: And I fully understand that but just before I get to Amanda Rishworth, appearances count for a lot in politics and this looks bad, doesn’t it?

BRAGG: Well, I mean, these judgements have been made by the Department, there’s been no ministerial involvement, and let’s see where it gets to. Of course we want people to have confidence in our system, and that’s why we have a robust judicial system and it’s appropriate that the police now investigate as they are.

NORMAN: Amanda Rishworth, I am keen to get your thoughts on this. The AFP is obviously investigating because it was referred the matter by the National Audit Office, are you concerned that were it not for the ANAO this matter might never have become public?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Absolutely, it shows the vital role that the Australian National Audit Office has, and it beggars belief that this government has cut this very integral office. But the revelations in Senate Estimates have been deeply, deeply concerning and obviously the AFP will go through their investigations. But some of the evidence coming out that the $30 million price tag was established before any valuations had occurred, I mean there are so many questions when it comes to this. And I guess my question is why wasn’t the Minister in charge asking these questions? Why wasn’t he asking these questions, asking is this good value for money? And importantly, why is it that the current Minister only a few weeks ago said that this was a great deal for taxpayers? There is clearly some deep, deep concern going on that this wasn’t a good deal for taxpayers, but certainly also questions about the probity of the whole process.

NORMAN: I want to move on to your particular policy area and that is child care. Labor has announced a big new economic policy to basically remove the annual $10,500 cap on subsidies and extend it out to households earning up to about half $1 million. One of the criticisms of this is that Labor usually believes in means testing and this is a policy that basically throws that idea out the window. Why?

RISHWORTH: What this is about is economic growth. The KPMG report, the Grattan report into this area shows that for women, the second income earner who is usually a woman, they actually have to sometimes pay to go back to work on the fifth day. Sometimes they make no money on the fourth day because of the cost of child care. There are disincentives built into the current system that actually disincentivise the second income earner to go back to work. So what we’re doing is removing that, because what the economic analysis shows is that this will help grow our economy. So it’s good for families, good for women’s workforce participation, but importantly, good for the economy. And that is why it has been welcomed by so many groups. You’ve got business groups welcoming it, you’ve got economists welcoming it, and you’ve got families, you’ve got women’s groups, you’ve got unions welcoming it. Because this is about ensuring that women are able to get back to work after they have had a child. Of course if you are in business and you’ve got a very productive worker and they say I would love to come back for more days, for more hours, but it just doesn’t make sense financially for me, then that is bad for the business as well. So this is about economic reform, it’s about boosting women’s workforce participation and importantly, it is about economic growth. And this is something that the government seems to have a blind spot for. When you’ve got all the way from Kate Carnell to the union movement welcoming Labor’s policy, the only people who seem to be against it is the Liberal Party.

NORMAN: Just to finish off on this topic with you, has Labor quantified how many more women will be able to actually work full-time under this scheme? Like what percentage more women might be able to get back into the workforce full-time?

RISHWORTH: There has been different analysis about boosting women’s workforce participation. What it means to the economy, and similar models not the exact model, is between $7 and $11 billion. So that is a big amount of economic growth. Of course it is not just women, it is the second wage earner. But it has a big impact and I think if you speak to many women and second wage earners, they know what this means for them and they know that this means that they can take on more hours. It might be the fourth day, it might be full-time, but it means more productivity and participation in this country, and this is exactly the type of policy that we need to see as we move out of this recession.

NORMAN: Any idea of what we might see in terms of that participation rate?

RISHWORTH: There’s been a range of different analysis and when we finalise that I will share that with you.

NORMAN: Andrew Bragg, to ask you about this policy, it has been pretty widely and well received, is this a policy that come May next year when the Coalition hands down what’s likely to be a pre-election Budget you will end up matching?

BRAGG: Sometimes I wonder what century I am living in when you hear child care characterised as a woman’s issue. I think in most modern households, it is seen as an issue that a family needs to carry collectively whatever the genders of the parents may be. Of course, in reality, too much of that burden has fallen historically onto women and that is why we have this debate as part of, in part, because of a women’s discussion. But I think we want to be careful of the tone here. In terms of our policy, we make no apology for targeting the lower and middle income earning people in our society and we have targeted our child care arrangements to give the biggest possible subsidy to people that are down the middle and lower income earning parts of the spectrum.

NORMAN: There is still a massive gap in workforce participation between men and women. In 2015 when Scott Morrison as Social Services Minister overhauled child care, which has largely been welcomed to this day, women’s participation was around 60.6 per cent. In the five years since, it rose by one percentage point to 61.5 per cent, that’s about 10 per cent lower than men, so when you ask advocates, women’s groups, they say one of the biggest barriers is in fact child care policy. So really, is this something that we do need to be revisiting?

BRAGG: I think we are always open to looking at ways to improve the capacity of women to participate in the labour market, but again, I’d say, the tone on this stuff is important. Child care, although it does disproportionately fall onto women, should be seen as something that is the responsibility of everyone, and as I say, our policy is calibrated to give the greatest amount of support to the lower and middle income earners and that is an appropriate policy for now.

NORMAN: I wanted to ask you about an issue that you have been pretty vocal about in recent days and this is your Liberal colleague Senator Eric Abetz, who caused a stir last week when he asked three witnesses with Chinese Australian Heritage at a parliamentary committee to unequivocally condemn the Chinese Communist Party. He hasn’t apologised for those comments which were seen to be basically asking these three witnesses to either condemn or pledge loyalty one way or another, but should he apologise?

BRAGG: I won’t comment on any colleagues, but what they would say is that through my engagement with the Chinese Australian community in Sydney, I have been aware even before the pandemic of the sensitivity around these questions of loyalty. The Chinese Australian leadership would say privately, perhaps publicly, that Chinese Australians are the only people in the Australian family who are asked to confirm their loyalty to Australia. And I think that is degrading and regrettable, because Chinese Australians have done more than almost any other group to help protect Australia against the pandemic, after they isolated following Chinese New Year.

NORMAN: And it should be noted that Eric Abetz has put out a statement saying at no point did a question the loyalty of anyone, I did not even mention the word loyalty. Amanda Rishworth, I just wanted to ask you about your thoughts on this. Andrew Bragg has previously said that he thinks the commentary around China at times can be unsophisticated, do you agree? Do you believe our commentary has reached that level?

RISHWORTH: I think we have to be very careful not to denigrate any Australian. One of the most wonderful things I get to go to as a Member of Parliament is our citizenship ceremonies. Australian citizenship, if you migrate here, is something that you can pledge your loyalty to the country and then you have equal and formal rights as someone who was born here, and I think that is a really special part of our democracy. So I’d agree with Andrew, I think we need to be very respectful of our Chinese Australians, but also all our multicultural communities. They bring vibrancy, diversity. And many are born here just like myself. This is their country, this is their home, so I think we’ve got to be very respectful, and it really denigrates our democracy when we get into this type of debate.

NORMAN: Is that an issue though, because there are legitimate concerns that the Australian government has with the Chinese Communist Party in China, but then eventually Chinese people here might get tarred with the same brush, is that one of the issues that we face?

RISHWORTH: Of course we’ve got to separate foreign interference by other governments, and I’m not targeting one particular country, but we’ve got to separate that from our multicultural communities. And as I said I go to citizenship ceremonies, I go to Australia Day functions where people are very, very proud of this country and believe in this country, because it is their country. And I think we really have to be careful when we stumble into this debate not to insult certain groups of Australians.

NORMAN: Alright, Amanda Rishworth and Andrew Bragg, thank you for joining the program today.


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