Monday, 08 July 2019
SUBJECTS: Liberals’ failed child care system, China relationship, industrial relations, parental leave
KIERAN GILBERT: Turning our attention now to politics of the day, joining us is Amanda Rishworth, the Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and Development. Thanks for your time. You’ve been critical of the government’s changes to the child care subsidy, many people grappling with that in this first week of the financial year. But isn’t it reasonable to require some parents to have an activity test of four hours a week? Individuals could volunteer in their school canteen for example for one or two hours a day and they cover off that requirement.
AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: There are certainly some concerns around compliance behaviour that the government is now embarking on. The previous Minister was talking about a light-touch activity test and a light-touch for compliance. Of course what we now know is the government will be data-matching income records from tax returns with the amount of child care subsidy one has. We know that previously when they’ve attempted to do this there have been debts levied on people that didn’t actually acquire those sorts of debts. But also I don’t think parents were expecting or were prepared for this. At the beginning of last financial year they were asked to estimate their income – now we find out there’ll be data matching and a huge amount of compliance work. I’m very concerned about parents that will end up with large amounts of debt – how are they going to pay it off, but also what is it going to mean for their child care arrangements going forward?
ANNELISE NIELSEN: This is a system that has been really vulnerable to being rorted and that’s something that a lot of tax payers would be concerned about. Isn’t it a good thing that the government is increasing its compliance behaviour?
RISHWORTH: What the government has not done is worked with parents and explained to them that there will be data matching with their records. They said at the beginning just give us an estimate, it’s just going to be a light touch compliance activity, and now they’re doing the exact opposite. They sent one message to parents before the election and another message to parents after the election. What we’re also concerned about is who’s going to end up having to pay these debts back? Is it going to fall on child care providers that will actually have to do the debt collection on behalf of the government? That is still unclear as well. So I think the issue is there’s been a lot of confusion, a lot of misinformation coming from the government when it comes to child care fees, and now it’s going to be parents who are actually going to find out exactly what this so-called ‘light’ activity test is all about.
GILBERT: But in terms of four hours a week – whether it’s volunteering at the school canteen, studying something at TAFE, some part time work or volunteering for Vinnies or the Salvos whatever it is – four hours a week isn’t that reasonable given other people receiving the child care subsidy are working full time?
RISHWORTH: The activity test is not just about those individuals, it is also about what level of support you get. Depending on whether or not you work 26 hours a week or a range of different hours will determine the level of child care support you get, so there’s been a lot of people who’ve seen a reduction in the level of support they get. But in terms of the activity test, previously it was the case that every child had access to a certain level of early education. That’s a principle that’s been supported widely across the world as a good principle to ensure every child gets the best possible start to life. The Government is really turning this into a compliance process rather than actually looking at what’s of benefit to the child.
NIELSEN: You’ve lost your mic there but sorted it out – absolute professional. If we can talk about other news of the day, it would be interesting to get your take on the story we’re following of the Chinese warship coming to observe Australian activities. It’s quite alarming for many Australians to think the Chinese are coming to observe such a sensitive process like that. Is this the new normal?
RISHWORTH: I’ve only seen the reports I haven’t had any briefings, but look I think it’s not surprising that China as it grows in its economic power and assertiveness that it’s taking an interest in our region. I don’t think that is surprising to anyone. Of course what’s in Australia’s interest is that we have a good relationship with China and a good relationship with the US, and indeed that China and the US have a good relationship. We want stability in our region, we want to ensure that those with power in our region and across the globe are working constructively together for peace in our area.
GILBERT: On another matter, the push for more economic reform to industrial relations. This is coming from the Australian Industry Group today and another industry body, Steve Knott from the Australian Mines and Metals Association, they’re calling for another wave of reforms. The RBA changes to monetary policy plus the tax cuts aren’t enough, that more has to be done. What’s your overall view of these six points that the industry bodies have put out today?
RISHWORTH: I don’t think going after workers’ entitlements and workers’ rights is the best way forward to ensure we have a growing economy. I think there’s more that needs to be done. I agree with them in the sense that more needs to be done than just the tax cuts. There does need to be stimulus in our economy and bringing forward infrastructure is a great example of what can be done. I don’t see though watering down workers’ rights and actually attacking some of the basic entitlements that workers have is the best way forward.
GILBERT: Which one of these six points does that?
RISHWORTH: Anything that waters down entitlements of workers and ensures they don’t get their rightful place in our economy. They deserve pay increases – we’ve seen stagnant wage growth and of course the government has said that’s a product of their design. That doesn’t help our economy either. Stagnant wages has of course affected the ability of ordinary workers to go out and spend in our economy. So I think when it comes to helping our economy, there is more to be done but I don’t think you go straight away to workers’ entitlements in the hope that it will somehow make our economy stronger.
NIELSEN: Just finally know you’re only a few weeks away from having baby number two. You were part of a pretty iconic photo when you were pregnant with your first child with Kate Ellis and Kelly O’Dwyer, you were all pregnant in Parliament at the same time. Both of those parliamentarians have now left saying family reasons were a serious concern for them. Do you think enough is being done to support women in Parliament who are having families?
RISHWORTH: I think more can be done right across all workplaces in terms of supporting women and families to really balance their family responsibilities and their working responsibilities. I feel very lucky my husband will take majority of the parental leave, so we’re lucky in our family arrangements that that is a possibility. That’s not always the case whether it’s Members of Parliament or other workers around the country. So I think the more we can do in terms of cultural change but also rules within workplaces to support both men and women to have time off to balance their families is really important. Certainly the Parliament is one of those places, but I do think it’s a lot of workplaces around Australia.
NIELSEN: Absolutely Amanda Rishworth thank you so much for your time.
RISHWORTH: Thank you.