Doorstop Interview with Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong – Labor’s Working Family Child Care Boost

Monday, 12 October 2020

PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY IN THE SENATE: Thanks very much for being here. Well, welcome to the Sturt Childcare Centre. Thanks to Jenny, the director, and all of the kids and early childhood workers who welcomed us here today. It is a great pleasure to be here in the seat of Boothby, with Anthony Albanese, Leader of the Labor Party, of course, and my good friend, South Australian colleague and Shadow Cabinet colleague, Amanda Rishworth, to talk about Labor’s childcare promise. I just want to make a brief comment. What you saw through this last Budget week was two very different visions of what this country can be. One; the Prime Minister so focused on his own political fortunes, so focused on everybody except working women. And in the alternative, we saw the alternative Prime Minister of Australia talk about an important economic reform, which is childcare. And really, as you walk around today at this childcare centre, we are reminded why it is so important. It is important to get more women to participate, which is good for everyone and good for the economy. And, of course, it’s great to see children in an early learning environment, which is so important. So, I will throw now to my very dear friend, Anthony Albanese.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Penny and Amanda. It is great to be here in Adelaide. And I thank the Sturt Childcare Centre for being so welcoming, particularly the young kids who are receiving the best start in life through quality childcare here at this centre. Last Tuesday’s Budget was a lost opportunity. We had a trillion dollars of debt, but nothing to show for it at the end of it. There’s no legacy from this Government. They hope that if they just throw money at issues, and last Tuesday, we saw $100 billion of new spending, it’ll fix itself. What we don’t have is reform. It’s always up to Labor to do the big reforms that change this country for the better. It’s Labor that have provided for a minimum wage. That makes an enormous difference with comparative countries, like the United States, making sure that people, whether they’re the third-head hairdresser in a salon, or whatever job they have, that there’s a minimum wage, which is amongst the best in the world. It’s Labor that also provide for retirement savings, through our compulsory universal superannuation system that now is $3 trillion, providing a ballast for our national economy, meaning that people, when they retire, they don’t have to rely upon the age pension. They can actually have a bit of independence in their retirement, not be dependent upon Budget announcements from time to time and support ongoing from the Government. And, of course, it’s Labor that created Medicare, universal health support, making sure that people, if they get sick, are able to be looked after whether or not they have private health insurance. And it is Labor that that lifted the high school retention rate from three out of 10 to 8 out of 10, providing for an opportunity for young Australians to then go to TAFE or university, providing aspiration in its greatest sense.

And our childcare vision is in that tradition, making sure that arising out of this pandemic we don’t just aim to return to what was there before. But we think about how we can improve the country, how we can improve our nation. And this reform that we’re proposing will do just that by lifting the cap and increasing the subsidy to 90 per cent and then having it taper off to $530,000. What we’re doing here is providing for removing the anomaly that’s there. The bizarre disincentive whereby if a woman chooses to work a fourth day or a fifth day, they’re often paying 80-90, sometimes even 100 per cent of their salary to pay for childcare costs. That’s not good enough. We need to do better and remove that disincentive. Because what that is, that is a barrier to participation in the workforce. It’s also a barrier and a handbrake on productivity. And, of course, it has an impact on population growth as well. And they are the three Ps in which you can grow the economy. Population. Participation. Productivity. At the same time, this reform, of course, is about giving every Australian kid the opportunity for the best start in life. We know that 90 per cent of human brain development occurs in the first five years. And what this is about is making sure that every Australian kid can get those opportunities. So, good for our kids, good for working women, good for families, good for our economy. This is the sort of reform that we need to make sure that we emerge from this recession stronger, and then are able to grow into the future. How on earth you could rack up a trillion dollars of debt and not have any reform, not have any lasting change, not have something to look back on as a legacy from this period is beyond me. But that’s a part of this Government’s problem. It’s all about short-term political fixes. It’s all about the 24-hour media cycle. It’s all about marketing from the chief marketeer, the Prime Minister. And that’s why we actually need a Government that looks to build a recovery that makes Australia even stronger. I would ask Amanda to make some comments.

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Well, thanks, Anthony. And it’s been wonderful to be here at Sturt Childcare Centre to see the wonderful work done by our early educators. And it was great that Anthony, Penny and myself could see that early education in action and see the children thinking and growing and learning in front of our own eyes. Well, I think a lot of parents would have been scratching their head over the weekend when they heard the Government trying to encourage them to have more children and to grow our population. Because what they would have thought is, it’s all well and good for the Government to say, ‘Think about having another baby’, but there was nothing in this Budget to support them. There was nothing to support them and the really difficult balance of going back to work and raising a family. Because the Government offered nothing in this Budget for childcare. But, of course, what Labor is offering is a stark difference. It is a stark difference that not only supports families, balance work and family, and help with the cost of living, but it also is so critical to growing our economy. Economists have clearly said that we need to boost female workforce participation if we’re going to grow our economy. And we need to improve productivity. And that’s what Labor’s childcare policy is all about. It is about supporting families, it is about supporting women’s workforce participation and growing women’s workforce participation. But it’s also good for the economy. This policy clearly demonstrates through a lot of different economic modelling that this will help grow our economy. This will be good for everyone, because we will see growth that will be inclusive and support those that need it. And it is unclear why the Government has failed women in this Budget, failed to really look at any long-term reform and failed to really look at how we boost women’s workforce participation. Labor has put a clear and stark contrast on the table. We are speaking to families and speaking to, whether it be business groups, the trade union movement. Across the community, there is wide support for this policy. Because it is about short-term support, but also long-term economic benefits.

ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Amanda. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Leader, how would an Australia run by yourself be different to that being run by Scott Morrison? Can you explain to us what the key differences will be, particularly as we head towards the post-COVID era?

ALBANESE: The key differences are, firstly, we’d be inclusive. This Budget forgot 51 per cent of Australians. Their response to the childcare initiative, and to the fact that they left women behind in this Budget, was to say that ‘women could drive on our roads’. It was quite an extraordinary response. We’re going to make sure that no one is left behind in terms of dealing with the immediate concerns of the recovery. That’s why yesterday in Adelaide, I was looking with Jason Claire and Mark Butler and Penny Wong, we were looking at a social housing unit that, frankly, was an absolute health risk that hadn’t been fixed. That is why we have put forward the immediate job creation that could be done through social housing. But also, what we’re about is making sure that no one is held back. What do we mean by that? What we mean is that Australians can aspire to a higher standard of living for themselves, but also a better life for their community. And what we need to do arising from this pandemic is not just try to return things to the way they were. Because if your ambition is so low, inevitably, you won’t get there. You’ve got to actually aim for something higher, something better than that. And with childcare reform and other reforms, what Labor would do is look at ‘does a reform tick the box of boosting productivity, of boosting future economic growth, whilst also creating opportunity?’ This policy is a great example of the stark difference in the vision for our country between Labor and our conservative opponents. Labor wants a country that grows, yes, grows our economy. But that’s not the end in itself. It’s about providing for a better quality of life for all Australians. We regard that the Government can actually play a role in facilitating that. Can’t do it all by itself, but Government makes a difference. The decisions that governments make, whether it is on childcare reform that we’re proposing, along with the tradition of creating Medicare, creating universal superannuation, creating the sort of industrial conditions whereby we have minimum wage, workers compensation, these are the changes that make a difference to people’s lives. This Government is now in its eighth year. What’s its big reform? What will they look back at and say, ‘How did we really make a structural difference?’ When Labor was last in Government, I don’t argue we were perfect. But we made structural differences with things like paid parental leave. We made structural differences in terms of how we dealt with the challenge of climate change. We put in place different structures in my portfolio with the creation of Infrastructure Australia, and with more investment in urban public transport than all previous governments combined. This Government managed to spend $100 billion of new money, adding up to a trillion dollars of debt, and not even had a new major infrastructure project to show for it.

JOURNALIST: What are the ramifications of the cuts in funding for the Auditor General announced in last week’s Budget?

ALBANESE: This is payback for the Auditor General doing his job. This is payback for the Auditor General exposing rorts and corruption in schemes like the Sports Rorts scandal. The fact is that this Government has taken the opportunity last Tuesday to cut the Budget of a body that dared to hold it to account. And this just shows why we need our National Integrity Commission. We need the National Integrity Commission so there’s an independent body that can investigate issues like the sports rorts scandal, the payment to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the rorting of regional funds that occurred under this Government, the water scandal that occurred on this Government’s watch, so that taxpayers’ dollars can be well spent, not just looking after mates and looking after the electoral map. One of the obvious saves that can happen in this Budget is if they just stopped setting up these pots of funds with ministerial discretion where ministers abuse their privilege. The Auditor General’s job is to hold them to account and it’s just extraordinary and blatant that the Government has ripped money out of the Auditor General as payback because they’ve done their job too well.

JOURNALIST: Do opinion polls suggest that the Government has erred by not extending job support and job incentive packages to all Australians rather than a limited demographic?

ALBANESE: Well, if they spent more time developing coherent policy and less time doing focus groups to set up clever marketing names for various programs, we’d be better off. A whole lot of Australians were left behind last week, whether they be over 35s, whether they be women. People in the arts and entertainment sector continue to be left behind. The fact is that this is a Government that is just focused on 24-hour politics and marketing slogans. And last Tuesday’s Budget reflects that.

JOURNALIST: The latest Newspoll seems to show that the Budget has been given approval by voters. Are you worried that your reply hasn’t cut through the way you would like?

ALBANESE: Not at all. You had $100 billion of new spending in last Tuesday’s Budget. I would have thought the Government would be very disappointed with the outcome and the fact that Australians, as they focus on this Budget, know that so many of them have been left out and left behind. We had JobKeeper cuts that came in to wage subsidies last week. The Government is saying that wage subsidies will disappear next March. We’ve seen a Government that fails to say whether unemployment benefits will go back to $40 a day. We have a Government that has left women behind. We have a Government for those working women out there, who in response to Labor’s policy of removing the disincentive for working women to be able to participate in the workforce, says, ‘Oh, well, it is okay because they can drive on roads’. I think that this Government and its short-term focus is really letting Australia down.

JOURNALIST: On JobKeeper, what should the rate be by the end of the year?

ALBANESE: Well, what we shouldn’t have done is reduce the rate last week. What we shouldn’t have done is reduce the rate while the Government is saying that unemployment will be added to by 160,000 people by Christmas.

JOURNALIST: So, what should the rate be?

ALBANESE: What we shouldn’t have done is to reduce the rate last week when 160,000 additional Australians will join the unemployment queues on the Government’s own figures.

JOURNALIST: Can you nominate a figure, what Labor thinks it should be?

ALBANESE: I have answered the question, it shouldn’t have been reduced last week. That is Labor’s position.

JOURNALIST: Will you head to Queensland and campaign with Annastacia Palaszczuk?

ALBANESE: I am campaigning in Queensland all the time, and I’ll continue to do so.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

ALBANESE: Well, there are restrictions which I will note, and I don’t have my own plane.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Scott Morrison being there is appropriate, given the pandemic?

ALBANESE: That is a matter for him.

JOURNALIST: Leader, some concerning stores keep emerging from Australians overseas wanting to come home. Are you satisfied that the Federal Government is doing enough to repatriate Australians?

ALBANESE: One of the things about the Morrison Government and Scott Morrison is that he doesn’t accept responsibility for anything. He wants to claim credit for everything when it’s convenient, but won’t accept responsibility for anything, even when he is completely in charge. He’s completely in charge of Australia’s borders. The idea that the National Government does not control who comes into Australia, people might remember slogans of the past that this Government has come up with. The fact is that he’s in charge of the borders. He’s in charge of quarantine as well under the Australian system of government, but he seems to think that someone else is responsible. There are tragic stories of Australians, and there’s around 27,000 of them at last count, who are struggling to get back to Australia. I have constituents, and Amanda and Penny would as well, who are contacting our office, desperate. People who paid tens of thousands of dollars, only to have flights cancelled. People who’ve travelled overseas for funerals of parents or loved ones who haven’t been able to get back. People who are desperate to come back to see their kids here in Australia but can’t get back. The fact is that this Government has gone missing when it comes to ensuring that Australians from overseas can return safely. Maybe Penny might want to add something here?

WONG: Just very briefly, some months ago now, the Prime Minister told the country he was going to ask his Defence Minister, his Foreign Affairs Minister and his Home Affairs Minister to come up with a plan to get Australians home. Well, you know what? They’re still waiting. They’re still waiting. We have thousands of vulnerable Australians, including some which are in the media today, who cannot get home. So, it’s about time that the Prime Minister stop telling people that they will come up with a plan. Instead of talking about it, actually come up with a plan for these Australians.

ALBANESE: Can I make one further comment on that, which is linked to a previous question as well. About a month ago, I raised the fact that the Prime Minister has access to the VIP fleet, that he’s using for the campaign at the moment. Australians could be on those planes regularly coming back here. Australians who are desperate, the most in need. I raised that in good faith as a sensible, practical suggestion. It’s true that the Royal Australian Air Force planes fly around empty if they’re not flying around full. And that’s because they need to get their hours up, etc. There’s no reason why the Government couldn’t have put in place a plan that included using all assets at its disposal, particularly in terms of short-term flights. It’s good enough to fly politicians overseas, and I’ve flown with the Prime Minister overseas earlier this year on one of those planes. It is good enough to fly myself, the Prime Minister, and staff to Timor Leste and to return to Australia, it’s good enough to bring our Aussies home.

JOURNALIST: The Government says it will make an announcement on JobSeeker in December.

ALBANESE: So little time, so many slogans.

JOURNALIST: They said they will make an announcement in December.

ALBANESE: Which one?

JOURNALIST: On Jobseeker, about what will happen with the rate. Is that an appropriate timeframe or would you expect to know prior to December what is going to happen with that rate?

ALBANESE: The appropriate timeframe for Government to make announcements about Budget decisions was in the Budget last Tuesday night.

JOURNALIST: And so, just on the Budget, the businesses that missed out on tax breaks, those with an aggregate turnover of over $5 billion, in this year’s Budget, they’re asking the Government to reconsider their plans. They want to be able to write assets off. Do you think the Government should take a look at that?

ALBANESE: Look, that’s something that we wouldn’t regard as a first-order priority. My priorities in businesses that have turnovers above that amount, that’s the very top of Australian businesses, my priority for the Government to consider is those people who’ve been left behind. Those people the Government is telling will be left to live on $40 a day, those women who can’t work full time and provide for their family in the way that they want to because of the anomalies that are there in the childcare system, the disincentive. My priority is those people over 35 who have had their JobKeeper cut and will get it to disappear in March and they’ll then be left to live on $40 a day competing against people who are given an incentive to employers. They’ve just been thrown on the scrap heap by this Government. My priority is all those people who’ve been left behind by last Tuesday’s Budget.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

ALBANESE: We are in a pandemic. You look at leaders around. The Australian public want, and I want, the Government to succeed. We want people to not be left behind. That’s the fact of the matter. And that’s consistent with all of the state premiers and what’s happening. What isn’t occurring, though, is that that’s not translating through to the sort of figures that we’re seeing, for example, in New Zealand, for Jacinda Ardern.

JOURNALIST: Has Australia started a war with China, as your Shadow Agricultural Minister said last week?

ALBANESE: Look, I comment on myself and my own comments. And quite clearly, we are not at war. Thank you. I can confirm we are not at war.

ENDS

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