RSPT; Leadership change; Mark Latham; Ministerial portfolios; Population; Paid Parental Leave scheme
*** E & OE – Proof only ***
HUGH RIMINTON: Thank you very much, Emma Dallimore joining us from Toronto with the latest news there from the Deputy Prime Minister, that is Wayne Swan of course these days. Now welcome to the program Jenny Macklin. Good morning, Minister.
JENNY MACKLIN: Good morning Hugh.
HUGH RIMINTON: We heard from Wayne Swan there that there are choices that can be made if there were going to be such changes to the mining tax as it might start affecting the revenue projections. Which choices would you be most comfortable with?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I do want to reinforce the point that Wayne Swan has made this morning, he made this very clear at budget time, that our number one priority is to get the budget back into surplus in three years time and three years ahead of schedule. So that is our clear priority as a government. We understand how important that is to the Australian people. I’d also say that he has made clear this morning that the mining tax and all of the issues around it are matters for negotiation and discussion with the mining industry and of course, the new Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has made it clear that her door and the government’s door is open for those negotiations.
HUGH RIMINTON: Sure. The language though is plainly starting to move towards an expectation that there will be sufficient – significance in the movement on the mining tax. It will start to affect revenue. So what goes? The cut in company tax that’s been promised, superannuation, the infrastructure spending? Which would you prefer?
JENNY MACKLIN: They are all matters that are going to be negotiated and I certainly won’t be flagging where we expect to end up this morning. I think it is important that when you’re giving a very clear indication that you want to have proper consultations, proper negotiations, you allow those to proceed. I have absolutely no doubt that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer will deliver a very important reform for the Australian people to make sure that we do get a fairer share of that mining wealth that we do all own together but we also know how important the mining industry is for our country.
HUGH RIMINTON: You have just lived through perhaps the most tumultuous week in the Labor Party since the dismissal in the 1970s. Do you think Kevin Rudd deserved better?
JENNY MACKLIN: There’s no question, Hugh, that it was a very, very difficult decision for all of us to make. Many of us have worked very, very closely with Kevin Rudd, especially over the last two and a half years. He has achieved some extraordinary changes. I was fortunate to be able to work with him on the Apology to the Stolen Generations, to deliver an extra $100 a fortnight to our pensioners, Australia’s first paid parental leave scheme. So you can imagine for all of us it was a very difficult time and a very big decision for us to make. We did not want to see Tony Abbott as Prime Minister. We do not want to see WorkChoices come back and the slashing of health and education that Tony Abbott wants to bring about.
HUGH RIMINTON: So you felt that you would’ve lost it under Kevin Rudd?
JENNY MACKLIN: We certainly got the message, especially across the Labor caucus, that there was a strong mood for change, a strong desire to see Julia Gillard become the Prime Minister. I think, nevertheless, we do have to acknowledge the significance of such a change. I think she will bring a really different approach, different priorities and already you can see the Australian people responding.
HUGH RIMINTON: You talk about the mood in caucus that Julia Gillard would be a better choice, what about the mood in the population? There are still polls coming out even late this week that showed that Kevin Rudd would probably have won the last election. Surely that just shows sort of a gun shyness on behalf of caucus these days. You know, John Howard came back from much worse circumstances three times.
JENNY MACKLIN: Well, these are judgments that you have to make and of course we make them in the best interests of our country. We have very strong views, of course, about what we think is important for our nation. We do not want to see the return of WorkChoices. We see the value of strong government services, of making sure that we do everything we possibly can to protect people’s jobs, you would’ve seen that through the global financial crises, and Julia Gillard, as Prime Minister, has really indicated that for her, the value of hard work, supporting those who work hard in our community, supporting the importance of education, are really the key priorities for her. My approach now really is to look forward, to do everything I possibly can to make sure that we return a Labor Government so that those fundamental values are protected.
HUGH RIMINTON: OK. We’ll take a break. Coming up when the panel joins us, just how good is Labor’s record on social reform. And the social effect of Julia Gillard’s ascendancy – apparently we’re all rangas now.
HUGH RIMINTON: Welcome back. This is Meet the Press. We have with us the Senior Federal Cabinet Minister, Jenny Macklin. Welcome now to Sue Dunlevy from the ‘Daily Telegraph’ and Patricia Karvelas from ‘The Australian’. Good morning. The former Labor leader Mark Latham says Julia Gillard might have won the leadership, but now she has to watch her back.
MARK LATHAM: Gillard has, for reasons I never quite understood, enormous animus from people like Albanese, Tanner and Macklin. I don’t know what they did down there in the Victorian left in the ’80s and ’90s, but they hate each other.
SUE DUNLEVY: Minister, you and Julia Gillard had been on opposing camps in past Labor Party leadership challenges. Mark Latham says there’s enormous animosity between the two of you. Is that true and do you think that might affect your fortunes under Julia Gillard’s leadership?
JENNY MACKLIN: I think it is yet more indication that he is very out of touch. We’ve worked – Julia and I have worked extremely closely together over the last two and a half years in government. I think she is an outstanding Prime Minister of Australia and I indicated to her on Wednesday night that she had my support.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Ms Macklin, Julia Gillard’s framing her Cabinet at the moment, appointing people to the front bench. She obviously has to make quite a few changes. Have you got a call from her yet? Do you expect to stay in Cabinet and what sort of position would you like to get? Would you like to retain your current portfolio?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I’ve certainly been very fortunate to have the portfolio that I have, to be responsible for the pension changes that were so significant for millions of Australian pensioners, the delivery of paid parental leave of course, all of the work that we are engaged with to close the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. It’s a huge program of reform. So I have been very pleased to be part of all that work. Of course, in the end, it is up to Julia Gillard to make those decisions and I’m sure she’ll do that quickly.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Any calls yet?
JENNY MACKLIN: We’ll keep talking with each other. They are not things that I intend to talk about publicly.
SUE DUNLEVY: If the Government is worried about population growth, there is only two ways of stopping, or three ways of stopping – one is to have fewer babies, the other is to cut back immigration or perhaps have people pass away faster. How is the Government going to solve that problem?
JENNY MACKLIN: I think the point that Julia Gillard was making this morning is that when we think about population growth, we really do have to think carefully about making sure that we meet the needs of the Australian economy, so have targeted skilled migration in those areas of skills shortages where the country needs to change and make sure that business can do the job they have got in hand. We do also know that we have areas of serious unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, and I know one of the new Prime Minister’s areas of grave concern is to see another generation of young people unemployed. It is just not something she wants to see. So if there is a priority we have, it is to really make sure we do everything possible to get those young people into training, into jobs, to fill the skills shortages that we have. We also know that population issues don’t just go to the three that you mentioned, Sue, they also go to infrastructure demands, the pressures on our environment and that is why she has asked Tony Burke, with the new title of ‘sustainable population’, to look at this broadly and to examine all of those issues.
SUE DUNLEVY: But this is a shift to the right, isn’t it? I mean is the Labor Party perhaps dog-whistling a little bit on an issue that is affecting you, which is immigration.
JENNY MACKLIN: I don’t think youth unemployment is anything of those terms. I think it is something that all Australians are very concerned about. When we have areas in Australia with 25 per cent youth unemployment, we should be getting in there and doing everything possible to get those young people skilled up and into the jobs that are available, making sure that where we have serious congestion in our cities, that we do something about it. That is what population pressures really bring on to our agenda.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Ms Macklin, Kevin Rudd said he did not want to engage with the Liberals in a race to the bottom on this issue. Do you think that Julia Gillard has, however, shifted the rhetoric on this? He, even in his last press conference, said “I’m not going to move to the right on asylum seekers” implying that his caucus wanted him to, Julia Gillard immediately raised this as an issue. Is that what is going to happen?
JENNY MACKLIN: Patricia, I don’t think this is about rhetoric. It is about actually recognising, as the new Prime Minister said at her first press conference, that these are serious concerns that Australian people have. If you live in a very congested part of one of our major cities, then you want a government that is actually responding to those concerns. If you live in an area of very high youth unemployment, you want your kids to get a chance to get a job and not to see that dealt with by migration and your children ignored. So I think we’ve really got to deal with the complexity of this issue and not deal with it as a rhetorical problem.
SUE DUNLEVY: Listen, you have recently introduced an historic paid parental leave scheme into Australia. Its one weakness is that it only goes for 18 weeks. The Sex Discrimination Commissioner, the Unions and Early Childhood experts want a scheme that goes from between 6-12 months. Now that we’ve got a female Prime Minister, do you think that it is more likely and will you be fighting to extend the term of your scheme?
JENNY MACKLIN: The wonderful thing about what has just happened is that Australia now has for the first time a Paid Parental Leave Scheme. We can now catch up with the rest of the developed world, and thousands of Australian women who previously had no paid parental leave, will now get 18 weeks of paid parental leave at the federal minimum wage. It is a very, very significant change. Of course, for many families, they are going to add their other leave to the 18 weeks that the Government will provide support for and so the Productivity Commission did anticipate that for many women, once they combine their own leave with the Government’s new Paid Parental Leave Scheme, many women will in fact get around six months leave.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: What will you say to the women who, come election time say “I think I prefer to vote for Tony Abbott because his scheme gives me six months’ and I’ll spend more time with my children at home, my newborn?
JENNY MACKLIN: I don’t think that will be the case because of course the other side of Tony Abbott’s scheme is that he wants to introduce a very significant new tax, an extra 1.7 per cent on larger companies and families have already figured out that that means when they go to the supermarket, when they go to Target to buy their kids’ clothes, they are going to be paying more. So the Australian Government, the Labor Government wants to cut company tax, Mr Abbott wants to increase the tax on companies to pay for paid parental leave. You’d also know that the National Party don’t agree with his paid parental leave scheme. It is not popular in regional areas. I think that government has got this right and the Australian people understand that.
HUGH RIMINTON: Jenny Macklin, thank you very much for joining us on Meet the Press this morning.
JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you.