First Edition – COVID border restrictions, child care and cost of living, Jenkins review

Wednesday, 01 December 2021

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOSTJoining me live now from Canberra is Labor MP, Amanda Rishworth. Amanda, thanks for your time this morning. So it appears that Premiers are holding the line following talks with the Prime Minister last night. Would you be urging that as well, particularly South Australia’s Premier who didn’t rule out a future lockdown only a couple of days ago when it comes to Omicron?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Well, I think what we need is certainty. We need, of course, to follow the medical advice, and that’s been our consistent position as we’ve gone through this pandemic. So look, obviously this is reassuring that the country is united. But, of course, we need to continue to follow the medical advice. And I’m not going to criticise Premiers or try to pick fights with Premiers. Labor’s not going to do that, we support their efforts. And importantly, when they are following that medical advice, it’s very, very important we all work towards that.

STEFANOVIC: And would it be your hope that as soon as possible, we lift that pause? You’d know from talking to businesses in South Australia, in your electorate, that they need those migrants coming in, they need those students too, particularly not just for the start of the next year at university, but also to work throughout the Christmas period.

RISHWORTH: Those international students and other migrants that come to Australia play a really, really important role in the South Australian economy. And so, of course, as soon as it’s safe to do so, I would certainly welcome the return of those people. I know the universities are desperately needing it, businesses are requiring support. So we do need to do it, but we do need to do it in in a safe way. And I am never going to come in here and override medical advice. It is really important that we follow that medical advice and take those precautions, but certainly as soon as it’s safe to do so, I welcome their return.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, let’s just go into your portfolio for a moment. There is going to be some alarming economic figures that come out today, it’s basically going to bring in the Delta figures, the ones we have been fearing, but it’ll eventually come good for the next quarter. The fact that wages are still at lower levels, that doesn’t seem to be picking up, all the while child care fees are heading towards that upward trajectory. What’s your take on that discrepancy that doesn’t seem to change?

RISHWORTH: My real concern is that wages growth is stagnant, in fact real wages have gone backwards, and at the same time child care is just really, really expensive. In fact, it’s much more than inflation, almost double that of inflation in the most recent figures. So what that really means in practical terms, we can talk about numbers, but what that means is it makes less and less financial sense for families, particularly the second income earner, to go back to work and take more hours if they are in a job. That is not just bad for that family, but that is bad for the whole economy. Because you do hear businesses crying out for workers to work in certain industries, yet particularly women are saying it’s just not worth my while, because the money I get coming in is not worth paying for child care. That is a drag on the whole Australian economy. So I am –

STEFANOVIC: Despite government assistance?

RISHWORTH: Despite government assistance. Because what we know is it’s not just child care fees that are increasing, it’s also the out of pocket costs. When you take into consideration the government assistance, the out of pocket costs are growing. So that is really, really concerning. And that is why if we want to look at what will supercharge our economy coming out of this pandemic, what gives us good return on investment is investment in child care and early education. That’s what economists are saying and that’s why Labor has a really strong policy on addressing that affordability issue.

STEFANOVIC: And just a final one here, Amanda. How surprised were you at the findings of the Jenkins report yesterday? And your thoughts on its recommendations?

RISHWORTH: Look, I guess I wasn’t too surprised, we know there’s been issues in the culture here at Parliament House. But I was concerned at the levels we’re talking about. One in three people in Parliament House have experienced sexual harassment and about the same –

STEFANOVIC: Who took part in the survey?

RISHWORTH: A number of staff, former staff, MPs and people that work in this building. So I was concerned at those figures were being reported. I was also concerned that many of those individuals said they didn’t feel that they could report such behaviour. So look those recommendations, there’s a lot of them, 28 I think recommendations, I’m very keen to work through them and see what we can implement to make sure our workplaces are safe. I think it’s important that as we go through and implement those recommendations, we consult with staff every step of the way. Because ultimately, it’s about making their workplace safe. But on the face of it many of these recommendations make a lot of sense. Obviously I’m very keen, with the Labor Party, to work through the detail, consult with staff, but we do need to make this place a safer place for our staff.

STEFANOVIC: Amanda Rishworth, appreciate it. Talk to you soon.


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