ABC Afternoon Briefing – Budget preview, NSW preselection, PM “gutless” comment, child care shortages

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Time now for our political panel. Liberal MP, Katie Allen is Melbourne. And Labor Frontbencher, Amanda Rishworth is in Adelaide. Welcome to both of you. Katie, we are edging so close to the Budget now, a week to go from this day. What sort of constraints is a government putting on itself when it comes to Budget repair? We are so deep in debt and deficit, yet we are on the eve of an election. We are hearing the Treasurer talk about trying to embark on repair, but how are the breaks actually being applied to spending?

KATIE ALLEN, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR HIGGINS: We are driven by economic responsibility and if you look at what happened with JobKeeper and JobSeeker, we have been very careful to make sure the work we have done through COVID in providing economic buffers has been targeted, proportional and temporary. Because we know that we did not want to bank in debt into the long term. It is important to remember the things we like to do are to make sure that we provide support needed during a time of crisis, unlike Labor who are asking for more spending and longer spending with Jobkeeper, with up to $81 billion more being spent.

JENNETT: Capping taxes is popular with Liberal and Coalition governments. Why not, noting what you just said about fiscal repair, why not add a cap of some sort to the spending side? There literally is not one for the preparation of this budget.

ALLEN: The important thing is we need to do what we need to do, and we are a government that understands when we need to apply the economic support system and when we need to remove it. That’s what we did when we removed JobKeeper, despite calls from Labor that we should not remove it, we did and found the economy was ready to have it removed and those economic buffers were moved carefully and with great consideration. And as we go forward, we have a lot of moving parts to take into account. COVID appears to still be with us, of course, we know the international security situation is very unstable and very uncertain. Now is the time to make sure we get the balance right, which is to help people when they are finding it difficult, and we do know there are some what we think are short term shocks because of the global supply chains, so we know that there are cost of living pressures at the moment. We need to support people through those difficult times, but then get out of the way and allow the free market to move forward and the economy to recover.

JENNETT: Amanda Rishworth, when it comes to some sort of spending constraint, I know the government would say at every turn throughout the crisis, whether it was JobKeeper, Labor’s remedy was do more and go a bit longer. Can you give us any guarantees that Jim Chalmers’ first budget would in fact put a lid on spending?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: I find it quite amusing when we had Labor actually calling on the government to stop handing out JobKeeper to companies that had an increase in revenue and increase in profit. What we have seen from this government is a lot of waste. When you spend the taxpayer’s money, it needs to be about growing the economy, about boosting productivity. So I do find it quite amusing when we look at what the government has said, we have had car park rorts, sports rorts. Really we’ve had a government who’s spending has been about buying marginal seats and getting them through to the next election. So what Labor is going to put forward, as we have already in a number of policy areas, spending and programs that boost the economy, but at the same time making sure that we make, for example multinationals pay their fair share of tax. We are going to take an approach that looks at the long term, including child care –

JENNETT: We are at or approaching a time when budget repair should become a serious issue for discussion. It does not look like the ingredients are there for one right now on the eve of an election, but it is going to have to be addressed. You’re putting a few markers there about what should be done, but will that actually get us –

RISHWORTH: Jim Chalmers has been clear – he wants to examine the significant waste and mismanagement by the Liberal Coalition Government. So, of course we will be responsible in our spending. What this Budget needs to do is set the economy up and, indeed society up for a post-pandemic world. Not just to get through an election, throw money around to get through an election. That has been the hallmark of this Morrison Government, to throw money around without looking at the serious outcomes of that investment. And if we look at, for example Labor’s cheaper child care plan, that is about boosting economic growth, about getting more people available to go to work and grow our economy. They are the type of long-term initiatives we need to see. We also need to see a plan from this government about the recovery from our floods and bushfires, a proper plan. So Labor will have, as we move into this election, costed, properly costed initiatives. But we have said we do want to see budget repair in a responsible way, and I think that is more a challenge for this government. This narrative that it’s all Labor is just not true. There has been so much waste and mismanagement from this government.

JENNETT: Since we’re talking economics, why don’t we throw in the name of an economist, Andrew Charlton. There are some reports Anthony Albanese is looking favourably on him as a preselected candidate for Labor in the western Sydney seat of Parramatta. Amanda, you would have some familiarity with Andrew Charlton. Would that represent a suitable pick given that he does not even live remotely close to that electorate?

RISHWORTH: I have been very clear in previous discussions like this, I am not going to interfere with the NSW branch of the Labor Party –

JENNETT: But is he a meritorious candidate based on your working with him?

RISHWORTH: We have a lot of meritorious candidates out there. The fact that we have so many people wanting to represent Labor I think is a really good thing. I think we have people from a range of different backgrounds. But I am not going to interfere myself and get involved in what is a matter for the NSW branch.

JENNETT: Katie Allen, I don’t know whether you are closely familiar with Andrew Charlton’s work, he was known around this place during the Rudd government years. What do you reckon, machines do their work well when they pick the right candidate? Is that fair enough?

ALLEN: We just have a very different approach. We are a grassroots organisation and we really do give our ticks of approval to communities that grow their own leaders. I’ve lived in Higgins for 40 years, I represent my community because I have known it deeply and that voice to Parliament from the community is the way we do it. We do not airdrop people in through factional warlords. We do not have the top down approach like Labor. We are grassroots up.

JENNETT: Can we take it to some remarks that Scott Morrison made today, again all of this said in the context of Kimberly Kitching’s untimely death. We’re not to artificially prolong this discussion. But the Prime Minister went there today Katie, suggesting Anthony Albanese is “pretty gutless”, and “in hiding”, another quote from the Prime Minister. What is to be gained here for the Coalition making this an Anthony Albanese issue?

ALLEN: I have been on the hustings since the day I got elected and I have been talking about how we need to pressurise the workplace in Parliament to make sure every woman who wants to be that will feel safe, and we also want to make sure every workplace right across Australia is safe for all women. We have put processes in place from the Jenkins review, and one of those processes that is unfinished business is the process under apparently Senator Kitching made her own complaint to the process. I would just like to see that completed. To sort of go missing in action at a time when he put himself forward, Anthony Albanese, as the alternative Prime Minister, it’s important to see how does he respond to that? Because these are important issues. People tell me they want to make sure their democracy has good representation by women. They want them to be feeling safe and they want the processes around those safety issues to be respected. We have started the processes, please, let’s respect them.

JENNETT: Amanda, substantively there probably are some points to be responded to within the broader parliamentary culture framework, that is what Katie is saying. To my question that I put to Katie, Scott Morrison is reckoning that Anthony Albanese has to front an answer for this. Is that fair enough?

RISHWORTH: First I would say that Anthony Albanese has made ten media appearances since last Wednesday. I would agree with Katie that we need to lift the tone of Parliament. I do not think that has been exemplified by the Prime Minister who has now resorted to name-calling. I mean that’s what we have the Prime Minister, and I think it does show an air of desperation from the Prime Minister with this kind of name calling. We need to lift the standards and that is on everyone’s shoulders, including the Prime Minister.

JENNETT: Specifically to some of the questions that remain unanswered around Kimberly Kitching, Amanda, do you think we will get to a time when Richard Marles or Anthony Albanese will feel they have to or want to address directly some of the criticisms made?

RISHWORTH: I think there’s been statements and clear comments made, but we have had a very robust internal process within the ALP. A clear complaint process around bullying and harassment since 2018. We have recently gone through a process, after extensive consultation, of bringing that into best practice –

JENNETT: Did it work, was it successful I suppose is the question?

RISHWORTH: No one in the whole Parliament can rest on their laurels in terms of making sure the internal complaints process within the party and within Parliament is dealt with, and that is why Labor has said they will accept all of Kate Jenkin’s recommendations. This is something we do need to take very seriously. I have always felt it has been taken seriously by the Labor Party and I am sure that we will continue to receive feedback about those processes as we go forward. No-one should rest on their laurels, but this is across the whole Parliament. We do need to lift the standards and it should start by the Prime Minister not calling people names.

JENNETT: Let’s move over to another policy area. I think you touched on it briefly earlier, Amanda, it’s child care. Katie Allen, a study by the Mitchell Institute has been reported today showing that, despite all the public funds pumped into that sector, particularly Commonwealth subsidies it must be said, there are still large portions of the country that are described as “deserts” when it comes to places available for children. What is it going to take do you think until everyone in this sector or parents are satisfied?

ALLEN: That is a bit of a leading question, because at the end of the day the report was not about that question. In fact the ABS surveys that are looking at other reasons whether people are not going to work because of access to child care has actually fallen. We have invested huge amounts of funding –

JENNETT: So you think people are broadly satisfied that the system is working for them?

ALLEN: There are always going to be people who are not satisfied, but we want to know if it is going in the right direction. An increase of $7 billion in 2015 to now $11 billion, significant investment, record amounts of investment going into child care, to do what women and families and young families want, which is to have accessibility, choice and a decrease in out-of-pocket costs. We have had a big impact on being able to decrease out of pocket costs and we’ve also been able to make sure the costs are not rising. They rose by 50 per cent under Labor. We also know women want choice. The Mitchell Institute should be congratulated, they have done a great job mapping out what is a very important issue. It is very difficult to look at the way we use child care and child care access in one report. This is the very first report and as they said, they can’t actually be sure about whether the reasons for the accessibility question is because people are choosing it, or because they can’t access it. The important thing is women want to be able to access child care and if you live more than 40 minutes from a regional town, you might be taking that child to that town to work and putting them in child care. The definition in the report of not being accessible is being more than 20 minutes away talking about where you live and not where you work. The report is great but it is complicated and technical.

JENNETT: Amanda, just the last word to you. I know you’re full throttle on a lot of this stuff. But a lot of money going in, I guess this is an ongoing project for governments of any stripe?

RISHWORTH: This report has been really, really important to understand where there is access issues. I have always said there are three really important things – affordability, quality, and access. This report needs to be taken seriously, and I have been disappointed the government has taken a very hands off approach. This should be something I think that the government should be tracking and working with the sector on how they deliver access to early education and care. Look, I hope a lot more work is done with looking at access and making sure that families have it, both affordability – which is a problem in this country – and this report talking about accessibility.

JENNETT: Fair enough. I’m sure it will be kicked around at great length and with great spirit with the election looming now. Katie Allen and Amanda Rishworth, we’re going to leave it there.


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