ABC Radio Adelaide – Newstart Allowance, universal access to preschool

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Radio interview, ABC Radio Adelaide, Breakfast

SUBJECTS: Petrol prices, Newstart allowance, The Liberal Government’s inaction on universal access to preschool, Liberal’s cancelling ARC grants

DAVID BEVAN: Let’s welcome our guests; Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, South Australian Senator, good morning to you.


BEVAN: Good morning to Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator from South Australia.


BEVAN: And Amanda Rishworth made it in to studio- you get points for that- Labor MP for Kingston and federal Shadow Minister for Early Childhood, good morning to you.


BEVAN: Let’s start with the cost of petrol. Now, Simon Birmingham you probably aren’t aware of the cost of petrol because you get a nice big car and the petrol is paid for by the tax payer but according to The Australian; a lot of your colleagues in the Coalition are pretty upset about the rising cost of petrol and they are putting pressure on the Prime Minister to do something about it. Are you aware of this?

BIRMINGHAM: I am aware the cost of petrol is a lot higher than it has been, a lot higher than the average prices we have seen throughout the calendar year and there is at least one car in the garage that we certainly pay for the petrol that goes into- so yes I do notice it, David. Of course there are a lot of factors that drive petrol prices- oil prices being a very significant one that is well beyond the control of our government domestically. The exchange rate being another factor that influences but the Prime Minister has been pretty clear that he expects the ACCC to do its job in terms of making sure there is no price gauging, that the competition factors are working as best they can to keep the prices as low as they can be not withstanding those factors.

BEVAN: What about lowering the excise- the fuel excise?

BIRMINGHAM: It was John Howard who froze the fuel excise and ceased the indexation on it many years ago now, so that has been a very static element in terms of fuel prices for quite a long period of time. We have worked hard to get the Budget back to a point where it is coming into balance next year. We have legislated tax cuts to begin flowing through to families and households this year, we’re doing our bit to try and help with cost of living pressures in that sense but you can’t go and dramatically cut fuel excise without having a dramatic impact on the Budget bottom line and possibly driving the Budget back into deficit.

BEVAN: Hmm, that doesn’t sound like you are going to do anything.

BIRMINGHAM: David, as I say; we have legislated for personal income tax cuts that start flowing through to people this year and we have done that in an environment where we have still managed to bring the Budget into balance after years and years of record deficits. But, you have got to be responsible, the price increases aren’t because taxes have gone up, as I said the fuel excise has been static since the Howard Government and that is a factor that would be lovely to cut or abolish fuel excise but where does the money come from to fund roadworks and road repairs and all of those factors without those sorts of taxes?

BEVAN: Amanda Rishworth- Labor MP for Kingston; you are coasting towards a massive win at the next election, you don’t need to make promises about petrol.

RISHWORTH: We don’t take any election victory for granted, we are doing the hard work that an Opposition- a responsible Opposition- should do and putting out a lot of policy and a lot of that policy does address issues around the cost of living, for example; restoring penalty rates, looking at the cost of medical care, tax cuts for middle and low income earners. When it comes to petrol though, of course the ACCC has got to use every lever that it has to make sure there is competition- proper competition that there isn’t collusion or gauging within the market and of course they should be given the ability to do just that. I think when it comes the headline that Coalition members are making, I think it is quite a lot of spin and anything the Prime Minister promises in this area- unless it is backed up by real policy then it is just a whole lot of words.

ALI CLARKE: Sarah Hanson-Young?

HANSON-YOUNG: Well the government’s in a bit of a mess over all of this. On one hand you have got the Prime Minister thumping his first saying the ACCC needs to do something; we have had the head of the ACCC Rod Simms come out this morning and say they are doing everything that they are able to do and actually this is partly because of the link to the international oil trade actually and international prices. So the Prime Minister has a bit of a thought bubble, frankly. He demanded action and didn’t know what that would look like. And, of course he is being egged on by the extremists in his party, people like Craig Kelly who are saying let’s cut the petrol excise- well, you know, we do need money to build roads, we need money to make sure our roads safe for everybody and that would be a disaster-

BEVAN: In fact, the Greens want to put up taxes on the very rich. Your Leader, Mr. Di Natale flagged that yesterday; put up the tax on the rich so you can increase the doll.

HANSON-YOUNG: We know that hundreds of thousands of people right across the country- over 800,000 are struggling and living well below the poverty line when it comes to being on the pivotal-pitiful amount of Newstart. We do want to see that increase- we are the only party in the parliament saying after 20 years it is time to increase that payment so that people can have some dignity as they are out looking for work and get themselves back on their feet. The fact that neither Labor or Liberal want to commit to lifting it, I think, is a national disgrace. I think it is time they did and you know what-

BEVAN: Amanda Rishworth?

HANSON-YOUNG: If you have to put taxes on some rich people to pay for it, well so be it.

BEVAN: Amanda Rishworth, Labor doesn’t want to increase Newstart?

RISHWORTH: We have recognised that the rate of Newstart is extremely low and very difficult to live on, so what we have said if we were to get elected is we want to do a root and branch review of the adequacy of Newstart and actually look at how you pay for it because it does cost money and having a thought bubble of just tax the rich without some actual detailed work into where you get the revenue from-


RISHWORTH: It is pretty basic, I mean Labor has announced today a policy in which we will end the tax breaks of people flying over to the Cayman Islands and other tax havens to check on their tax avoidant assets. We are going through systematically and looking at tax loopholes and actually identifying specific ways to make savings. We do want to look at the adequacy of Newstart- we do want to look at it in government; what is the appropriate increase that may be needed. So, we want to look at all those elements when we are in government through a thorough review.

HANSON-YOUNG: I don’t think we need another review, we know it is pitifully low and it should be increased. $75 bucks is what most groups are calling for and that is what we should- we should all get behind lifting it.

CLARKE: It is 18 minutes to nine. This is Super Wednesday, that was the voice of Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for SA. Simon Birmingham is with us, he is the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment and Amanda Rishworth, Labor MP for Kingston and Federal Shadow Minister for Early Childhood is with us too. Amanda Rishworth, can you just explain the system that sees parents of three and four year olds as we tick over into November, tomorrow, still not know what is going to be happening with the kindergarten needs of their children? Essentially they are going to kindies and kindies are saying, look we don’t know if we are going to have enough money to give you two days of kindy next year, or three, or two and a half, or what it will be.

RISHWORTH: Of course the federal government- since Labor brought in Universal Access to preschool and kindergartens contributed a significant amount of money to ensure that every child gets the opportunity to go to kindergarten. That is only for four year olds. Labor has a policy to extend that to three year olds. But, if we just look at four year olds, the government had been talking up the fact that it was only giving up a year extension next year but what we found out from Senate Estimates is that they have not even done  the agreements with states and territories for January next year. We are hearing kindergartens saying to parents; we don’t know what we can offer for you, we don’t know whether that money will flow, we don’t know how much that will be. Now, we know that kindergartens like to enrol mid-year at the latest, at the beginning of the year for the next year for many kids and it is just totally incompetent and chaotic of this government not to have landed agreements with the states and territories for funding only for next year. After that the government will not commit to our kindergartens but even as of next year there is no agreements in place so that puts a lot of uncertainty.

CLARKE: Simon Birmingham, how would you go trying to organise next year and being told that you don’t know what your children will be doing?

BIRMINGHAM: Well it was not that long ago since I had children in child care, juggling indeed what days were available and I understand those pressures. The states and territories have known since around February this year exactly how much money they are likely to get next year to fund preschool services. The federal government doesn’t actually fund preschool services, the states and territories do but we give them some money to help them along the way and in doing so we announced that they would have that money next year- we made that announcement way back at the start of this year and I don’t know what the hell the state governments around the country are doing if they are not making it clear to parents when indeed those preschool services will be open. There should be no doubt in the minds of states and territories that the money is there for them.

RISHWORTH: Well why haven’t the states and territories signed the agreements? I mean, why haven’t they been presented the agreements? I mean it is November.

BIRMINGHAM: I am saying the money is there, it has been committed, they have known it for many, many months and they ought to if their- if this is a problem that kindergartens aren’t providing that advice to parents then the state ought to intervene and make sure they are because there is no doubt the money is there.

BEVAN: Simon Birmingham, you are now Minister for Trade but not that long ago you were the Federal Education Minister and you blocked 11 Australiana Research Council grants to the humanities, totalling about $4 million. Now, the Australian Research Council is an independent body, they thought these projects should be researched. Why did you block them?
BIRMINGHAM: Well lets firstly understand, David, the Minister for Education, under the law- under the Australian Research Council Act, has to approve every single grant. So, every grant comes up for approval to the Minister, it is not a case of blocking it is the case that I actively approved 900 plus- I think- grants, more than 99.7 per cent of those that were put in front of me, I approved. But, you are right, I said no to a handful- 11. I said no giving $926,000 for research into writing the struggle for Sioux modernity, I said no to $764,000 for the music of nature and nature of music. I said no to $335,000 for Soviet cinema in Hollywood before blacklist 1970-195. Do stop me if you think I should have said yes to any of these. I said no to $226,000 for music heritage and cultural justice in the post-industrial legacy city-

CLARKE: How do you choose- with respect Simon Birmingham- how do you choose between one thing and the other? I mean how much information are you getting or is it just going on these natty titles?

BIRMINGHAM: No, so I had titles, summaries, I even went and asked the ARC for further information to a number of projects, I then actually said yes to some based on further information that was provided but said no to this handful. In the end I said no because I think Australians will generally believe these projects don’t reflect our nations priorities-

BEVAN: Who wanted-
BIRMINGHAM: and should be spent on or more valuable research more relevant to Australia’s nation interest-

BEVAN: Minister, who wanted nearly $1 million to look into the Sioux Indians and their struggle and U.S. modernity?

BIRMINGHAM: I think that was La Trobe University, now and I think that is a fair point, David, is that a valuable area of research? Yes, I am sure it is. Is it one in terms of targeted taxpayer grants for Australian research that we ought to be saying is a priority for Australian research, well ultimately I said, no. I never said no to any research proposal which related to Australia’s indigenous population-

RISHWORTH: Well that’s not-

BIRMINGHAM: I think, absolutely that is highly relevant for Australia.

RISHWORTH: That is not true. One of the titles that you actually rejected; the music in post-industrial society was actually about the city of Playford, Simon. It was about the adjustment after the Elizabeth.

BIRMINGHAM: Australia’s indigenous population. There are some indigenous people who live in Playford.

RISHWORTH: No, no, I am talking about a different project.

BIRMINGHAM: Sorry, when you are saying that is not true; I never said no to a project that related to Australia’s indigenous population when being asked about giving nearly $1 million grant to north American Indians.

RISHWORTH: What you said no to, the one about the music impact on the post-industrial era- of course that has a pretty long title- but that was actually about the city of Playford and their adjustment to the closure-

BIRMINGHAM: -And somewhere in Detroit I think

RISHWORTH: Yeah, because they were looking at what the impact has on a post-industrial era when a car manufacturer closes down- that is pretty relevant to the city of Playford and pretty relevant to South Australia. I think it is pretty disingenuous to say that everything wasn’t related and of course these grants have an impact statement- socio and economic impact statement that they are required to do as part of their application. It is easy to get caught up in the titles and make fun of the titles but that project actually had relevance to the city of Adelaide.


BEVAN: If I could ask you Amanda Rishworth, what about the Sioux Indians and U.S. modernity, should that be funded by Australian taxpayer?

RISHWORTH: What became very clear in this process is that there was no transparency as to why the Minister and on what grounds the Minister decided not to approve these.

BIRMINGHAM: C’mon, a straight answer, Amanda.

RISHWORTH: You can’t just use the title and say this is the reason- you know make fun of the title and leave it at that. There are impact statements, there is an extensive peer review process- that these grants go through and quite frankly the Minister has not justified his actions. There is no transparency into what he actually did and why he actually rejected them and that cloud of secrecy, I think, is pretty inappropriate when it comes to these decisions.

BIRMINGHAM: There was no straight answer there but listeners should assume that a Bill Shorten-led-Labor Government would just give a blank cheque to fund all of it.

ALI CLARKE: Let’s hear from Sarah Hanson-Young.

HANSON-YOUNG: The ridiculous thing about all of this is that somehow we think the Minister of the day should be the best judge on what projects go ahead or not and there is an independent panel, it is peer reviewed, based on their recommendation is what we should be going on, not the political or historical pre-judgment of prejudice of the Minister of the day.

BEVAN: So, Sarah Hanson-Young are you saying that Simon Birmingham should just sign off on whatever is recommended to him by the Australian Research Council, which would, in this case have meant nearly a million dollars went to looking at the Sioux Indians.

HANSON-YOUNG: I think the point is here is that it should not be left to the whim of the Minister. I would trust an independent panel of experts-

BEVAN: Really?!
HANSON-YOUNG: Over some- yes, absolutely- over some, staffer in a Minister’s office that wants to push their own political barrow. This is the Liberal Party-

BIRMINGHAM: Rest assured it was my decision, Sarah. My decision, no staffers.

HANSON-YOUNG: This is the Liberal Party who talk about wanting small government, they want small government and yet they want to dictate what researchers get to research on. I mean, it is hypocritical and I think it is dangerous to give one Minister- whoever that may be. You are a pretty good Minister, Birmo, imagine if we had Tony Abbott being the person who was signing off on which reports. That is the principle of the matter here.

BEVAN: That is why we have elections, isn’t it, if people want Tony Abbott signing off on the reports he gets to sign off on the reports- it’s called democracy.

HANSON-YOUNG: It is also about saying if there are experts who get-

BIRMINGHAM: I think Sarah might need a research project for that, David.


RISHWORTH: Democracy also involves transparency, there has been no reasons given a part from Simon Birmingham ridiculing these titles, no outlined reasons about on what basis the Minister rejected these projects.

CLARKE: Alright, well we will leave it there. I know everyone has to rush off and get ready for Halloween, trick-or-treats; I don’t know.

BIRMINGHAM: booooooohh.


CLARKE: Thank you very much, Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for SA and Amanda Rishworth, Labor MP for Kingston- thank you for coming in.


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