Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Joint Press Conference with Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Melbourne – Paid parental leave scheme; Pensioners…

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Subjects: Paid parental leave scheme; Pensioners; Education Tax Rebate; Low income tax offset; Child care tax rebate; Mortgage exit fees; Family tax benefit A; Telehealth; Carbon pricing; Hazelwood power facility; Malaysian agreement; Securency; Liberal Party disunity; Workchoices; Western Australia

PM: It’s great to be in my electorate in Lalor in the city of Wyndham with Jenny Macklin the Minister for Families. And we’ve been here today talking with local parents about paid parental leave.

On the 1st of January this year Jenny and I were together meeting some new years day babies and talking to mums about the benefits of paid parental leave which commenced on the 1st of January this year. Now on the 1st of July we go to the next stage where employers will be directly providing paid parental leave benefits to mums and dads who are off work looking after a young baby.

What that means is as a Government we will make the money available but employers will keep that connection to their hard working employees. So you will get a pay packet, you will feel included in work with the money coming through from the Government. The benefit of keeping this connection between young mums and their workplace is that more young mums are likely to go back to work, keep their connection with their employer and more employers are likely to retain their hard working staff.

Now a number of employers opted to get into this scheme early and the feedback has been very good, that employers find it an easy scheme to work with and we know from businesses that have provided paid parental leave that the benefits of the connection between them and their employees who are at home looking after a baby does show. It shoes in greater return to work rates which is good for employers who want to keep their hard working staff.

So I’ve been very pleased today with Jenny to have the opportunity to talk about our paid parental leave scheme arrangements from the 1st of July this year.

The first of July is also a milestone for a number of other Government programs. We understand that Australia has an economy which is the envy of the world. We have a strong economy with a low unemployment rate. But we also understand that many Australian families aren’t necessarily feeling the benefits of that strong economy when they’re looking after their household expenses. They’re feeling cost of living pressures, which is why we want to work with them to take some pressure off. Of course paid parental leave does that itself but there are a number of other Government programs coming on stream from today, the 1st of July.

One of them is a program for pensioners. Many of our pensioners do still want to do a bit of work and they often do a bit of periodic work. They might assist with school and university exams at the end of the year. That has caused them to lose a lot of their pension. From today the pensioners work bonus comes into effect which means for our pensions who do want to do a bit of work, they’ll get to keep more of the money they earn and protect their pension at the same time.

We’ve also got coming on stream today the extension of the Education Tax Refund to school uniforms. The Education Tax Refund is there already to help with the costs of getting the kids back to school, now it is extended to school uniforms as well, so people should keep their receipts and they will be able to make a claim at tax time.

Today also marks the changed arrangements for the low income tax offset. This is a special payment for lower income earning Australians. We’ve determined to bring forward more of the benefits of the low income tax offset so people can see that money week by week, pay packet by pay packet, as they go about their work.

Today also marks changes to the child care tax rebate. We of course increased the rebate so that it meets 50 per cent of the out of pocket costs of child care. Now we are changing arrangements so people can see that money at the same time they are experiencing their child care costs, weekly or fortnightly, instead of being out of pocket and getting the child care tax rebate later.

Today also marks the day were our ban on mortgage exit fees comes into effect. Mortgage exit fees have been charged to keep people tied to mortgage products they no longer want. Now with the ban on mortgage exit fees people will be free to walk down the road and see if another bank can give them a better deal and then move to that bank without a financial penalty.

Today we also move to a system of more flexible payments with Family Tax Benefit A. This is the money we make available to assist families with the costs of raising children. Now that money will be available more flexibly. So if you have a big bill, for example the fridge or washing machine has broken down, you’ll be able to access more of that money to assist you as you face that big bill.

And today marks the day that we start Medicare rebating of the provision of telehealth services. This is using the power of new technology to bring specialists to people who need their advice. So already this week I’ve watched how this can happen. I sat with Mary in Darwin, she needed to see a dermatologist, there isn’t one for her to see in Darwin, so through the power of telehealth she saw a dermatologist in Adelaide meaning she could get the help she needed without having to leave Darwin. We will Medicare rebate to assist the specialist for that consultation and the medical practitioner sitting with Mary in Darwin as she gets that consultation. So this is a new system for people in outer metropolitan areas and rural and regional areas, where it can be difficult in your own community to get the specialist help you need.

So a number of big changes on the 1st of July to help families with cost of living pressures. We do have a strong economy but I want the benefits of that strong economy to be shared with all Australians and the measures coming on line today are part of doing just that.

I’ll turn to Jenny Macklin for some comments then we’ll be happy to take questions.
MINISTER MACKLIN: Thanks very much Prime Minister. This is a very significant day for Australian parents who are benefitting from our new paid parental leave scheme. From today employers will be making Government funded paid parental leave available to their long term employees and this will be good for their businesses so they can keep hold of their highly skilled employees that they’ve really invested in. It will also be good for parents who will keep in touch more effectively with their employers.

We’ve just to McDonald’s this morning and have very clearly seen that this is great for the local business. They are able to keep their employees on their staff, the people that they’ve trained and I’d like to congratulate McDonald’s and all those other employers who’ve not only decided to sign on already to our Government funded paid parental leave but also are making sure that they keep their own paid parental leave schemes operating so that parents get the benefit of the Government’s paid parental leave and employer funded leave. This is great for parents and great for business.

PM: Happy to take your questions.

JOURNALIST: Does the climate change policy you’re about to announce include a carbon tax, you seemed a bit reluctant to talk about the tax side of things yesterday?

PM: Certainly not at all reluctant and very happy to explain the way carbon pricing will work. We are going to price carbon so our nation can have a clean energy future. So we can do the right thing by our environment and have the benefits of the jobs that come with a clean energy future. On the day I first announced to the nation that we would be pricing carbon, I explained the design of the scheme would be a period of time where there was a fixed price, effectively like a tax, followed by an emissions trading scheme. And an emissions trading scheme has been supported in this country by John Howard, by Malcolm Turnbull and of course it has my support.

As we’ve worked through the details of carbon pricing, I’ve been determined to make the period of the fixed price, which works effectively like a tax, as short as possible. So whatever you want to call it, this isn’t about the terminology, whatever you want to call it, a carbon tax is temporary, an emissions trading scheme is permanent.

JOURNALIST: You say it’s like a tax, but it is a tax, isn’t it?

PM: It works through a permit system, it’s the start up of getting ready for the emissions trading scheme, but I’m happy to say yes it works effectively like a tax. But the point here is with the design of the scheme, I’ve been working hard to ensure that the period of the carbon tax is as short as possible and we get to the emissions trading scheme. Now I think many people listening to the public debate and particularly listening to the words of Mr Abbott may have got the impression that the carbon tax is going to be permanent. The design of the scheme is that there is a fixed price period, effectively like a tax, I’ve worked to make it as short as possible before we get to the emissions trading scheme that John Howard talked about, Malcolm Turnbull talked about and I have talked about as Prime Minister. So the carbon tax is temporary, the emissions trading scheme will be permanent.

JOURNALIST: What’s your response to Tony Abbott’s comments on your use of terminology there yesterday saying you’re being tricky and dishonest?

PM: I want Australians to have the facts and getting to the facts requires explanation. When we announce the full details of carbon pricing there will be a lot of details and complexity that we will be describing to the Australian people. We’ll want them to clearly understand how the carbon price is paid by the 1000 big polluters in this country. We’ll want them to clearly understand the tax cuts and increases in payments that nine out of ten households will receive. We’ll want them to understand our mechanisms to protect Australian jobs, particularly in those sections of our economy that generate carbon pollution and compete with firms overseas. And we’ll want them to understand our plans for programs to tackle climate change. So I’m going to keep describing and working with the Australian community so we can get that understanding of carbon pricing. But the first thing to understand is that the carbon tax is temporary, the emissions trading scheme is permanent.

JOURNALIST: Under that long term scheme is there a view to shut down Victoria’s Hazelwood power facility?

PM: Certainly this is all about seizing a clean energy future. I want our Australian economy to have the benefits that will come along with clean energy jobs and I want us to do the right thing by the environment. On all of the details of the carbon price package and how it will drive that clean energy future, we’ll obviously have something to say about that when we are in a position to announce all of the details of the scheme. We’re still working hard to finalise all details of the scheme before we announce them all publicly.

JOURNALIST: Just on your Malaysian asylum seeker deal, you seem to be struggling to get the UN to support it. Is that a worry for you and when will it be announced?

PM: Well I don’t agree with the characterisation in your question. We’ve had great cooperation from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as we’ve discussed the Malaysia agreement. When we first announced the agreement the UNHCR said that they were prepared to discuss and be involved as we work through these arrangements. We’re in very advanced negotiations for this innovative solution. It comes following the regional work we did in Bali when the nations of the region came together to work on a regional plan to counter the evil of people smuggling. And now under that framework agreement we’re continuing in advanced discussions with Malaysia about a transfer agreement. I’m very determined that we succeed in this agreement because it would send the strongest possibly message to people smugglers to stop plying their evil trade and it would also mean our nation extends the benefits of its generosity to 4000 genuine refugees, processed right now, waiting in Malaysia, many of them for years and years and years to get a chance at resettlement.

JOURNALIST: The Federal Police apparently have made some arrests this morning, you might have been briefed (inaudible) have you got concerns about the Reserve Bank’s dealings with Securency?

PM: You’re right, the Australian Federal Police today have announced a number of arrests in relations to the Securency matter. Cleary with police processes in train and legal processes to follow, I’m not going to get involved in commentary about the arrests that have been made.

JOURNALIST: Just up on the Hazelwood power facility; are you not able to give the 800 workers there a guarantee of their jobs in the years to come?

PM: What I can say to people who work in power stations around the nation including at Hazelwood is there’s nothing more important to me than the jobs of Australian working people, there’s nothing more important to this Labor Government than ensuring people have got the benefits of work. That’s why we went so strongly out to protect our economy during the days of the global financial crisis, why we worked so hard to keep jobs in our country and in designing carbon pricing we will be working to protect and maximise Australian jobs, to make sure we’ve got a strong economy with jobs today and a strong economy with the jobs of tomorrow. I’m not going to have people run a scare campaign about individual workplaces. When all of the details of carbon pricing are available, people should judge then. No one should allow themselves to be scared or frightened by people peddling misinformation at this stage of the debate.

JOURNALIST: Your relationship with Kevin Rudd, is it affecting the way Government operates (inaudible) Tony Abbotts (inaudible) dysfunctional (inaudible)?

PM: Dear me, Tony Abbott talking about political unity this week of all weeks? I’m very surprised about that. What we’ve seen this week is the Liberal Party in pieces. The one thing that unites them is that they all believe in Workchoices, it’s just half of them want to tell you that they do and the other half don’t want to tell you. Tony Abbott’s not sure which half he’s been in, because he promised Peter Reith he’d vote for him, then voted for Alan Stockdale who clearly didn’t trust him to deliver the vote and had to show his ballot paper to Alan Stockdale to persuade Alan Stockdale he was telling the truth. Well if Mr Abbott can’t really tell the truth to his closest confidants, Peter Reith and Alan Stockdale, it’s probably making Australians wonder about what else he isn’t telling the truth about.

JOURNALIST: Just one more on the resources (inaudible). Talking about WA seceding over the GST payments, do you take him seriously on that?

PM: I’m the Prime Minister that has acted to address the concern of Western Australia on the goods and services tax. So members of the Liberal Government in Western Australia would recall the days that John Howard and Peter Costello didn’t do anything on this question. As Prime Minister I’ve ordered a high level review of the GST, it was strongly welcomed by Premier Barnett. So I’ve heard the concerns of Western Australia and set up a process they can be engaged in to look at those concerns. Strongly welcomed by Premier Barnett and coming against a track record of inaction on Western Australian concerns.

Thanks very much.