Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Schoolkids Bonus, tax reform, the Liberal Party’s carbon price fear campaign, Tony Abbott’s $70 billion budget crater, foreign owned land register, Gina Rinehart’s increased stake in Fairfax, G20 discussions


SUBJECTS: Schoolkids Bonus starts tomorrow, tax reform, the Liberal Party’s carbon price fear campaign, Tony Abbott’s $70 billion budget crater, foreign owned land register, Gina Rinehart’s increased stake in Fairfax and the importance of the Charter of Editorial Independence, G20 discussions

TREASURER: From tomorrow 1.3 million families will start to receive a substantial boost to their family budgets through the Schoolkids Bonus. It will be deposited in bank accounts from tomorrow. Families receiving Family Tax Benefit Part A fortnightly will receive $409 for each child in primary school and $818 for each child in high school. Now this will be a welcome bit of relief for a lot of families who struggle to buy the school uniforms, school excursions, stationary and so on. I think we all know that these costs can pile up, which is why we announced a Schoolkids Bonus in last month’s budget.

Bringing up kids is a wonderful thing, but those costs can sure pile up, and they certainly do. So the Schoolkids Bonus starting tomorrow is going to be a real helping hand for many families around Australia.

I’ll turn to Minister Macklin in a minute but I just wanted to make the point that this morning I think Mr Abbott said he was going to be going through the budget line by line, well he’ll need to because he’s got a $70 billion crater in his budget bottom line. That’s $70 billion which will need to be cut from Mr Abbott’s budget were he ever to deliver one and of course I wouldn’t be surprised that the Schoolkids Bonus is one of the first things that got the chop because it was opposed by the Liberals in the House.

Mr Abbott’s quite happy to give a tax cut to Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer but he won’t support this welcome relief for Australian families through the Schoolkids Bonus. Over to you Jenny.

MACKLIN: Thanks Wayne. What we know is that around a million families were missing out on their full entitlements under the Education Tax Refund. So the reason we’re making this change is to make sure that 1.3 million families and 2.2 million children get the Schoolkids Bonus and that they get it when they need it. One thing we also know is that parents are very busy people, we know that they’ve got a lot to do and keeping those receipts and making sure that they fill out those extra forms at tax time takes the time that they don’t have.

So we’re making this change to make sure that families get this extra support when they need it and we’re also making sure that parents don’t have to keep receipts anymore, they’ll get their payment if they’re getting Family Tax Benefit and if their children are of a school age.
JOURNALIST: Was it a mistake from Labor to ask parents to store receipts in shoe boxes for four consecutive years?

TREASURER: Well I think we had a good look at how the system operated and we decided it was time to reform it and reform it we did. This was the proposal we took to the people in 2007 and I think it was enthusiastically supported. But the practice that we found over time was that many people, probably those who most needed it, were those that were not receiving it.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)?

TREASURER: Practice has shown that it needed reform and the Government has acted. I’m proud we acted in this budget in the way in which we have acted. I’m gobsmacked that such a practical initiative to deal with cost of living could have been opposed so vehemently by the Liberals and in such a condescending way by the Leader of the Opposition, he clearly doesn’t trust parents when it comes to their children.

JOURNALIST: Another proposal that you had was to streamline tax, it was a standardised tax refund. Is there any hope of that coming back as it was a key element of the Henry Review?

TREASURER: There were a number of key elements and the other one was lifting the tax-free threshold and that’s the way we decided to go. It’s not a complete substitute for that proposal but in tripling the tax-free threshold we’ve got a fundamental economic reform and tax reform in place that goes to workforce participation in particular. I think it’s a very important reform for the future of Australia.

We didn’t proceed then with the standard tax deduction but we’ve got another measure which simplifies the tax system dramatically, brings many people outside of the tax system and enhances work incentives.

JOURNALIST: Can you see that then revisited?

TREASURER: I can’t at this stage see it being revisited. I’ve never raised any expectation that it would be and I can’t see that it will be at this stage.

JOURNALIST: Is this the Government trying to buy itself out of trouble?

TREASURER: No. It’s a very practical recognition that we need to spread the benefits of the boom around our country. Not everybody in our country thinks that they’re in the fast lane, they feel like it is somebody else’s boom and this is one practical way that we can help families.

There’s nothing more important to this Government than education and education reform goes to a number of very important platforms. There’s what we’re doing in the quality of education, what we’re doing in terms of funding the various types of education, but also you’ve got to provide some relief for the parents as well. Jenny do you want to say something on that?

MACKLIN: I think the critical point is that families are very busy and if there’s one thing we want to do is give parents a helping hand financially, but also to make it as easy as possible for families to get this extra help.

That is why it’s so extraordinary that the Liberal Party is opposing a Schoolkids Bonus, they’re opposing it, they’re saying parents should have to keep receipts, that they should see a million people miss out on their entitlements. Labor wants to make sure that parents get this extra help and we want to make it as easy as possible.
JOURNALIST: Is it just some form of economic stimulus in these payments?

TREASURER: It’s not a stimulus payment at all.

MACKLIN: The important thing is to make this change before the new tax year starts. We don’t want parents to have to start collecting their receipts after 1 July. We want to change the system, get it changed now so that parents don’t have to spend very valuable time collecting receipts.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) in the caucus meeting you were warning your colleagues of the fact of states trying to claw some of the compensation of the carbon price. Are you laying claim though for the reversal of the decision in WA where they increased charges to the public tenants for example and then reversed that after two days because of an outcry? Is that because of your outcry or the state opposition?

MACKLIN: If I can just go to the heart of the point you’re making. We are extremely concerned by the decision of the O’Farrell Government in New South Wales just last week to take money from pensioners living in public housing. This is money that we have paid to pensioners to give them a hand with their bills, that’s why we’ve paid this money for pensioners in the last month.

$250 to a single pensioner and we want that money to go to pensioners, not to greedy state Premiers who are going to rip-off pensioners by increasing their public housing rent, that’s what Mr O’Farrell is going to do.

Now it is the case in Western Australia that Mr Barnett was going to do the same thing. We had a very significant campaign, of course led by pensioners themselves who did not want to see their rent go up, as a result of our Government improving the amounts of money they’re getting to help them with their bills. We want this money to go to pensioners and we don’t want it gobbled up by state Premiers who are looking to fill their own coffers.

JOURNALIST: Mr Swan, (inaudible) under a Tony Abbott budget. What else is going to be cut? (inaudible)

TREASURER: Well he’s got a $70 billion crater. If you look at the budget I assume what he’s going to be doing is taking a very big axe to health and education. That’s what I assume he’s going to be up for.

JOURNALIST: Mr Swan is it a time to review the (inaudible) of foreign ownership of Australian land?

TREASURER: Well there was a statement from Minister Bradbury the other day that we’re engaging in consultation with about a foreign land register and that’s what we’re doing.

JOURNALIST: What do you say to those (inaudible)?

TREASURER: Well we’re going to have consultation. I’m not going to announce the results of the consultation before we have it.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any concerns about Gina Rinehart lifting her stake in Fairfax?

TREASURER: Well first of all can I say our thoughts go out to all those workers in Fairfax who’ve received some awful news in recent days. I think the cornerstone of our democracy is the capacity of journalists to report in a fair and balanced way and not be subject to direction from owners for commercial purposes.

That’s why we have a Charter of Independence at Fairfax. I think it’s pretty fair to say that Mrs Rinehart and her spokesman Mr Singleton have made it very clear that they don’t respect a Charter of Independence and reserve the right to impose their political views upon that particular newspaper chain.

I think that has very big implications for our democracy, I think we should all be very concerned at this turn of events. She certainly has a commercial right to do what she has done but it appears to be that she will go a step further, not respect the Charter of Independence and reserve her right to direct journalists with instructions that follow her commercial imperatives.

Earlier this year, in the essay I wrote for The Monthly, I did raise my concerns about a few Australians with enormous wealth seeking to have a disproportionate say in our public debate, and a disproportionate influence on public policy making. Sadly, what we are seeing unfold may well be that happening.

JOURNALIST: The Greens today, on that very point have said that perhaps the solution is to legislate independence by Government on top of the media. Are you interested in that?

TREASURER: No, no. The Government has before it a series of recommendations from a series of inquiries and we are considering those. I can’t be commenting on what the outcomes of those considerations will be.

The fact is that over the years, many media empires have been owned by people who have been, or who have had access to enormous resources. But no-one has so publicly and blatantly said that they intend to impose their commercial imperatives on the essential role of journalists, when they are trying to report in a fair and balanced way.

JOURNALIST: Mr Swan if this is a threat to democracy (inaudible), then why would the Government not act?

TREASURER: Well because there are limits to what the Government can do. The fact is that Mrs Rinehart has a right to buy shares and takeover the company. But if in the process of doing that she is indicating that she intends to junk the Charter of Editorial Independence, then that does raise concerns about public debate, about how reporting is fair and balanced, and what that means for our democracy.

And these are issues that I’ve been raising for some time and I’ll continue to talk about them, but there isn’t an instantaneous solution.

JOURNALIST: Isn’t the real problem though that even if you do legislate there’s nothing to stop an owner appointing an editor who shares his views?

TREASURER: Well this is now coming to a head at Fairfax. We haven’t seen its conclusion as yet, all I can do is give you my views about how it’s unfolded and they are as I’ve indicated to you today.

JOURNALIST: Did the Prime Minister go too far in the lecturing of the ..

TREASURER: I don’t accept that characterisation at all. I have been to many G20 meetings and in fact, around 20. It is not unusual that leaders and finance ministers will express their views about matters which are going to be discussed at those conferences in the way in which the Prime Minister did, and indeed a reading of the international press shows just that.

Many international leaders have made remarks about their concerns over Europe and what should be done, just as the Prime Minister has done. So there’s nothing unusual about that at all.

Secondly, and I think most importantly, for Australia to talk about our performance in the world economy and what our economic model means for growth here, but also globally is something Australians, I think , are proud of. What has been achieved here is extraordinary and when I go to international meetings there is intense interest in what has occurred in Australia and frequently both talking the finance ministers, world leaders, those attending business conferences and the G20. There’s an intense dialogue and discussion about what Australia has done and how it is different from many other parts of the developed world. That’s what the Prime Minister did.

JOURNALIST: Is it in Australia’s interest to see Europe get its economic house in order?

TREASURER: Well it’s in the global economy’s interest and it’s in Australia’s interest that they get their economic house in order. That is the view that has been expressed by the President of the United States yesterday, the President of Indonesia, and many others have been making these remarks.

Indeed, I have been making these remarks publicly for over the past two years as this has unfolded. There has been deep frustration among both developed and developing countries with the pace of change in Europe, there’s no secret about that. The question is, what is the way forward?

JOURNALIST: What are the options before the Government to at least encourage editorial independence?

TREASURER: We will respond to the reports before the Government at the moment. I don’t propose to say any more than that.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

TREASURER: The Government is considering these matters. We commissioned these reports..

JOURNALIST: Can you say what the options are?

TREASURER: I’m not going to speculate about a hypothetical situation.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about rising electricity prices? Are you concerned the Federal Government will get the blame for rising electricity prices notwithstanding the carbon price is only a fraction of that?

TREASURER: Well the carbon price is only a tiny fraction of the rise in electricity prices in New South Wales, everybody knows that. The Government will be out there talking to the people of New South Wales about how Barry O’Farrell has been responsible for significant increases in electricity prices, that he has very profitable electricity generation portfolios in his state which he derives a very significant income from and it’s within his power to take decisions to assist the..

JOURNALIST: Are the generators too profitable at the moment? Are they (inaudible)?

TREASURER: The fact is that he receives very substantial income in NSW which he could to direct to assist New South Wales residents if he chose to do so. Thank you.