Doorstop – Labor’s childcare policy, Labor’s Medicare dental plan

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Doorstop, Melbourne





SUBJECTS: Labor’s Medicare dental plan; Labor’s childcare policy; Morrison’s preference deal with Clive Palmer.

CATHERINE KING, SHADOW HEALTH MINISTER: We have just seen Bill Shorten deliver a fantastic vision for Australia. A vision that deals with cost of living pressures for Australians. I am here joined by Amanda Rishworth and Brendon O’Connor and I’m going to talk a little bit about the vision that we have for expanding Medicare dental. Labor has announced that we will invest $2.4 billion in a pensioner dental plan. $1,000 over the course of two years for dental treatment, private, public dental treatment, for aged pensioners and people who hold a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. Three million Australians will benefit from this. We know that older Australians, one in five, older Australians have no natural teeth, and one in two suffer from gum disease – moderate to severe. We know that for older Australians, this is affects their health across the course of the rest of their life. Labor wants to expand dental when it comes to our Medicare system. This will improve the dental care for many, many older Australians. What we have seen from the Morrison government is over $300 million a year cut from our public dental system. That has meant over 400,000 less visits are available in public dental every single year and we have seen our waiting lists blow out, over and over again. This is a major investment in the cost of living for pensioners and senior Australians and something I am very proud of. I’m going to hand over to Amanda to talk a little bit about our cost of living, easing the cost of living, for people who are using childcare.

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Well thanks Catherine. What Labor has announced today is massive cost of living relief for nearly a million families when it comes to childcare. What Labor is offering is relief for families on a joint income of less than $174,000 a year. That will mean extra money in the pocket of those families. On average families will save $1200 per child under Labor’s plan, with some families saving $2100 per child. This will not just be for long day-care, it will extend to vacation care, after school care, and before school care. This is a huge investment to support families who are struggling with the cost of living. We know that under the Liberal Party childcare fees have gone up 28 per cent and that families are really struggling with the cost of living. Well this investment of close to $4 billion will really ease that struggle, and ease that pain for so many families.

JOURNALIST: Mr O’Connor  how will this work with the mandate since Labor will fund it how will you pay these people that money? Is it going to be through award?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT: Well as Amanda has made clear we will negotiate this implementation with stakeholders. It’s going to make sure it covers, it’s a universal investment it covers the entire sector. I am very convinced, indeed Labor is very convinced that  the childcare sector will very much welcome this because there is a massive churn within the workforce in this important sector and there is a lack of investment in wages to ensure they get what they deserve, in terms of their responsibilities.

JOURNALIST: How will the taxpayer subsidise the pay rise?

O’CONNOR: Clearly childcare and childhood educators are indeed a subsidised sector and has always been a subsidised sector. But what has happened is we have seen up to 37 per cent of the workforce leave. There has been a rotation, a churn that has gone on which means good dedicated staff can’t be kept because it is too difficult for too many childhood educators to remain within the sector because they are having difficulty just paying the bills. If you look at the cost, you have a childhood educator that has a wage that is less than half the average wage in this country. Yet their job, their profession, their responsibility is to the future of this country, is to teach young Australians, to prepare them for primary school, and yet we don’t really accord them the recognition either through wages or indeed just the proper recognition they deserve given their responsibilities, given their qualifications and given their skills. This announcement, of course, as Amanda has made very clear, is going to relieve millions of families with the burdens of paying fees, paying too much to look after, to provide the care for their children. And at the same time we are able to invest in the workforce, that has that sacred responsibility if you like to look after three year old and four year olds in centres across the country.

JOURNALIST: How will it actually work in practice? Is this something that that comes into these educators accounts weekly?

O’CONNOR: Well what we’ve made very clear, we’ve made an investment – I will go to Amanda because Amanda has responsibility of course, for providing the relief, the subsidy for parents to tackle cost of living pressures. But what we have made very clear with respect to investment in wages for an underpaid profession, a profession that has been really neglected and that’s why we can’t retain or even attain dedicated staff, that we will negotiate with the sector, all stakeholders will be involved in making sure we implement this. But it is critical that if we are going to take preschool education seriously in this country, if we are going to attract and retain dedicated staff, then we need to renumerate them properly, and that’s why this investment is so important, it’s not just important for those childhood educators, it’s mostly important to the children of Australia who need first-class preschool education and for that reason this investment is critical. It’s not just critical to the families and to the children. I could say beyond that it’s critical to our economy, to this nation. We are in a global knowledge-based economy, we’re competing with countries around the world in terms of skills and education, we need to provide opportunities and we need to provide the best possible education we can give three-year-old and four -year-olds and this will help deliver that.

JOURNALIST: Is there a chance you could directly top up wages through a government subsidy?

RISHWORTH: So what we are saying is that we will work with the sector, with educators and employers to directly fund a wage increase for early educators.

JOURNALIST: So it won’t go from the government into someone’s pay-packet?

RISHWORTH: We will work on the details and the mechanism best to do that. But there’s two principles that are really important when it comes to funding educator’s wages. The first is that families are better off, not worse off, in conjunction with our other subsidy policy. And it will be funded by the Commonwealth, not by families. And the second principle is that it won’t go to the centres. They can’t skive off the money. We will work on a mechanism that directly delivers this professional pay for with educators. We will work with the sector to deliver the staging of this pay increase over the eight year period and also with educators, but they are the principles that we will start from.

JOURNALIST: Amanda, how confident are you that the consumer watchdog can stop these companies increasing fees, given that in the last 18 months there’s about 40 companies that breached the procedures in a three-month period?

RISHWORTH: Well look we are putting childcare centres on notice. We will not stand by and see excessive fee increases that hurt families. We’re going to make sure that our policy delivers to workers, in the pockets of workers and the pockets of families. We will not stand by and Bill Shorten in his speech made it very, very clear that the sector and the centres, particularly the for-profits, are on notice. We won’t stand by and not see this money delivered to both educators and too families.

JOURNALIST: Can you be clearer about where that money is coming from, $4 billion how is it funded?

RISHWORTH: Well, it’s very clear, elections are about choices. Labor has made the choice to close tax loopholes to the top end of town and not give a $77 billion handout in tax cuts to the very wealthy. That’s our choice and we’ve done the hard work to then fund $4 billion of relief for low and middle income earners. And this is a priority for Labor. It builds on our preschool policy and it builds on our other cost of living measures that Catherine talked about before. We’ve made the hard decisions so that we can deliver, for families, for pensioners, for people that need the support right around the country.

JOURNALIST: How would childcare subsidies help a family with a newborn, zero to three, if the mother isn’t in work?

RISHWORTH: Well when it comes to how we are supporting families, obviously the current activity tests will continue. But we have a range of measures and we have announced that we will have an urgent review into particularly low income and vulnerable families. We know that the government has stuffed up when it comes to the activity test. But also to the additional childcare subsidy which supports very vulnerable families. So we’ve said that we will have an urgent review into this. We’ve had a lack of transparency from this government about how their new system is affecting vulnerable families. So one of our first jobs will be really to get a proper view on whether or not individuals are being …

JOURNALIST: How can the activity tests continue when you have said you don’t want Australian kids to miss out on early education because the government in Canberra doesn’t think their parents are working enough?

RISHWORTH: That is true and what we have said is we’ll have an urgent review into the activity test. But of course the example that you just gave, if someone has a newborn child she could be on parental leave and then is able to access early education services. Our three and four-year-old universal access to preschool will allow parents to access preschool for their children. Indeed we have made an exemption for 18 hours for three-year-olds, a new policy that the government has not matched, on top of our subsidy that we are paying for three and four-year-old preschool. So the choice is very clear. If you want a party that believes in early education, that’s investing in early education, that’s investing in preschool, investing in childcare support for families, that’s reducing the cost of living, is the Labor Party. If you want to see a government that just keeps hiking up childcare fees, and doesn’t care about preschool and kindy, indeed hasn’t funded it as of next year, then you will vote for the Coalition.

JOURNALIST: I don’t understand about the pay rise you don’t know how you will deliver that yet?

RISHWORTH: We will work with the sector and the educators to work on a mechanism to deliver it. We said the quantum, 20 per cent over eight years, and we will work with the detail and the staging with the sector.

JOURNALIST: Surely you have come up with some ideas of how this will be delivered before you’ve announced it?

RISHWORTH: What we don’t want to do is not work with the sector and the educators and representatives.We want to have a consultative process about how we do it. We are not going to come from on high and say this is what we’re going to  do, we want to work with the sector about how we deliver it over eight years.

JOURNALIST: It will be the taxpayer who foots the bill?

RISHWORTH: We’ve said the Commonwealth will fully fund this pay increase.

JOURNALIST: Will it be a cheque in people’s bank accounts?

RISHWORTH: We will work with the sector on how best we can deliver that. I will not go through hypotheticals. As i said the people that we want to work with, is the centres, is the sector, the peak bodies, the educators and their representatives on how best we can deliver this.

JOURNALIST: Inaudible.

RISHWORTH: To the educators, in higher wages.

JOURNALIST: So that taxpayer funding is going directly to their pay increase, not to the negotiations?

RISHWORTH: That’s correct.

JOURNALIST: Just on the (inaudible) have you left the door open for market intervention there. What is the threshold for you to make that decision? You would need to do legislation so would you wait for a recommendation from the ACCC?

RISHWORTH: We are tasking the ACCC to act very quickly to have a look at this area. We will not stand by and watch unscrupulous providers, jack up fees that hurt families. We will act as quickly as possible. As a priority, we will be asking the ACCC to look into this. And we will act accordingly.

JOURNALIST: You say it is a solution to childcare,they say it is about reducing red tape to make sure there are more competitors in the market. Is that something Labor would also look to do to increase the amount of child care providers in Australia?

RISHWORTH: Red tape is clearly an issue that has been raised, particularly with the government, its new system. The government has put a huge burden on early education and centres and actually has had an IT system that continues to fail as centres, continues to put the burden onto centres who are having trouble with cash flow at the moment. We’ll, of course, work with the sector to look at how we can make it as easy as possible. But what we won’t do is water down quality. We want to have the best early education system, the best childcare system in the country. Happy to deal with the red tape and work with the sector and the red tape, what we won’t do is water down quality.

JOURNALIST: If you want to give the child care workers a pay rise, would it make more sense or is it an option to open more government run preschools who can pay what you want?

RISHWORTH: At the moment, have a market-based system and where we have a range of not-for-profit, for-profit and community-based childcare centres run by parents, and indeed run by state governments. We will work with the whole sector and this proposal is going towards the whole sector. What we’ve said is that we don’t want to see fees go up. These fees need to be kept in line and centres shouldn’t take advantage of the government ‘s investment in early education and we will act on that.

JOURNALIST: What realistically can you do about it?

RISHWORTH: We can look at capping mechanisms, a range of different options. As Bill announced today, we are tasking the ACCC today with clearly looking into this issue but capping fee increases is an option that’s on the table.

JOURNALIST: Bill Shorten made a virtue of the fact that you were going to be able to pay for this because you are cracking down on tax loopholes. Looks like there  could be a few interesting characters in the Senate. If you cannot get your savings measures through the Senate, will you delay the spending promises of what you put the budget into deficit?

RISHWORTH: I’m not going to talk about hypotheticals here. I am talking about our plan for early education. It is a really bold plan, it’s a bold plan that provides universal access for three and four-year-old preschool, world ‘s best practice. It is about relieving families when it comes to the cost of living and valuing our early educators. That’s our plan on the table, that’s what were taking to the Australian people and you couldn’t get a starker contrast between the Labor Party and the government who has really left the early education sector on its own with no investment, no commitment and no dedication.

JOURNALIST: I want to ask a question on Clive Palmer. Michael O’Connor is reported to have spoken with Mr Palmer about Labor preferences, do you know anything?

O’CONNOR: No idea.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of the reports?

O’CONNOR: Now you’ve mentioned Clive Palmer I’m happy to say few things. Clive Palmer as we know entered parliament once before, and all we had after that was chaos in the Senate. In fact, that last party that was run by and funded by Clive Palmer splintered into many political parties. We don’t really need to see that chaos in the parliament again. However, we have in the Prime Minister Scott Morrison someone who is willing to be transactional about important matters including who is represented in the parliament. What Scott Morrison has to answer is what has Clive Palmer extracted from the Liberal Party and Clive Palmer for the preference swap? He owes workers in Townsville $7 million and he owes the Commonwealth of Australia $70 million because they bailed out those workers and provided money to those workers under the fair entitlements guarantee some years ago. So there is a debt that taxpayers of Australia are owed that hasn’t been paid by Clive Palmer. Why wouldn’t Scott Morrison deal with that issue. When he was asked about that issue, he said it’s nothing to do with him. It’s to do with Clive Palmer. Well, no, sorry. You want to get into bed with a person who wants to play transactional politics, who owes workers in Townsville and who owes taxpayers tens of billions of dollars, you have to explain what deal has been made and what has Clive Palmer extracted in the form of a deal from Scott Morrison and the Liberal Party. This is a question of character. It’s a question of judgement. It’s a question quite frankly of values and morals. When it comes to Scott Morrison, he must answer what he has done to engage and to make a deal, a formal deal with Clive Palmer.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly, the coalition ‘s cap on migration – Labor’s reaction today?

O’CONNOR: Well the fact is Scott Morrison is a big supporter of temporary migration otherwise we wouldn’t have 1.6 million temporary visas issued in this country. There’s no point talking about cracking down on a couple of visas when in fact we’ve got the highest amount of temporary visas in this country. 1.6 million temporary visas issued under this government. So frankly, I don’t believe Scott Morrison. In fact increasingly people don’t believe what he says. And on this issue what Bill Shorten and Labor have said is we are going to make it harder to issue temporary skilled and other forms of temporary visas so that people have to demonstrate that there is a genuine need for a particular job before we look overseas. We expect and so do the workers of this country expect that you look local first. So we’ll be bringing in stronger labour market testing for 457 type visas and will be certainly reviewing the issuing of other temporary visas because we don’t want local workers who are currently unemployed or underemployed to miss out on work. But right now, that’s what’s happening. So frankly, I don’t think the government is genuine when the talk about this issue.

JOURNALIST: Is there any harm in freezing the humanitarian intake, why is the need to increase it?

O’CONNOR: All I can say is when it comes to the issue Scott  Morrison again like almost everything else he seems to touch, it’s dishonest, it doesn’t go to the heart of the issue about temporary immigration in this country, and if he was fair dinkum about cracking down on temporary visas, he should start by the 1.6 million temporary visas that are currently issued under his Prime Ministership. I mean that is effectively what has happened and that’s the matter he should be dealing with. Thanks very much.


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