Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Hornsby Hospital; Paid parental leave; Welfare Reform; RSPT – Canberra – 16 June 2010


Transcript from joint press conference with the Prime Minister in Canberra.

PM: The Government is committed to a program of reform. The Government is committed to the continued reform of our economy, that’s why we’re engaged in a big debate on tax reform right now and we’ll continue to prosecute that debate. We’re also involved in the reform of our education system, quality reforms within the school system, the national school curriculum as well as our quantitative investments in the system as well.

We’re also engaged in the business of health and hospitals reform and if the planets align the Parliament will agree to another reform today, in terms of paid parental leave. This would be a significant reform for the nation and parents, mothers, have been waiting for this reform for a long, long time and we look forward to the conclusion of the Senate’s deliberations and hope that those deliberations will end positively.

What we’re here to talk to you about now is another item of reform which will be before the Parliament this week, this sitting fortnight and here I speak about welfare reform. The Senate will shortly debate the Government’s welfare reform Bill. This legislation is about making welfare work. By encouraging individual responsibility and fighting passive welfare. By helping people move from welfare dependence in into work, into education and into training and making sure that welfare payments are spent in meeting the needs of kids.

This is an important reform, not just for the nation at large but also for the most disadvantaged Australians who depend on our safety net. Welfare should not be allowed to become a way of life in Australia. Encouraging welfare dependency helps nobody, least of all the families concerned. Also taxpayers have a right to expect that welfare payments are also part and parcel of how we keep our economy strong as well and that means investing, wherever possible, into the skills and training needs of our workforce, particularly for our young people.

Therefore this is about rights and responsibilities, that’s proper welfare reform. We intend to fight passive welfare and link income support more strongly to school attendance, to study and work and to the proper care of children. There’s no escaping from the fact that at present, when you’ve got a history of welfare dependence within families, we lack strong incentives to get those folk out of the cycle of welfare dependency. These incentives are not in place right now.

But from 1 July this year, depending on the deliberations of the Senate, these welfare reforms will commence in the Northern Territory and across the entire community within the Northern Territory. They will extend the benefits of income management to indigenous and to non-indigenous people in need of financial structure and protection. They will ensure more welfare is spent also on life’s essentials like food, like clothing and rent and less goes to alcohol and to drugs. And they will support and encourage families to make positive decisions about the critical things in life including a child’s education, their health and their nutrition.

The critical thing about these reforms is that they are not restricted to indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. What will happen with the passage of this Bill is that they will extend to entire community within the Northern Territory and that is why this is an important reform for the future of the nation.

Therefore the challenge is pretty simple. We’re either going to be fair dinkum about welfare reform in this country, which means the Senate passing this legislation this fortnight so it can come into effect as of the first of July. No delays, no stuffing around, get on with it. This is an important reform for the future for the nation, an important welfare reform for those who need additional incentives to break welfare dependency.

Before I take your questions I’d like to ask Jenny to add to the detail and then I’m happy to take your questions.

MACKLIN: Thanks Prime Minister. It is now in the final stages of passage through the Parliament. The Paid Parental Leave legislation has been partly debated this morning and we hope it will be finally resolved in the Senate this afternoon. If it is finally agreed to in the Senate this afternoon this will be a very significant reform for Australian families.

Families, mums and dads, have waited decades for Paid Parental Leave, for Australia to finally catch up with the rest of the world. The rest of the developed world knows that Paid Parental Leave is good for families, good for mums and dads, good for babies and also good for business. So finally Australia looks like catching up with the rest of the developed world.

If the legislation goes through the Senate, this legislation will mean that Paid Parental Leave will start in Australia on the 1st of January next year. Parents will be able to get access to 18 weeks of Paid Parental Leave paid at the national minimum wage. This is a very, very significant reform.

The second area of reform is in the area of welfare responsibility. We know that there is no dignity, no dignity in a life on welfare. And what we want to do is make sure that we work with welfare recipients to make sure that their welfare payments are spent in the interests of children, are spent to encourage young people to go out and get the training and jobs that will mean that they will have a better life.

This welfare reform legislation is also very significant. For the first time we will see the roll out of income management across an entire Territory. It will introduce a non-discriminatory approach to income management, it will apply to people who have been long term beneficiaries of Parenting Payment, or Newstart, to make sure that welfare is spent responsibly. To make sure that parents spend their welfare in the interests of their children, to make sure that children go to school. These are very, very significant changes and we look forward to the Senate support.

PM: Over to you folks.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister because no one is starting I will. I wanted to ask you about health very quickly. Do you remember making a promise to a doctor in Hornsby by the name of Richard Harris when you visited earlier this year? You told him you would go back and tour the hospital with him. He’s contacted you on seven different occasions directly and he’s had no response.

PM: Well first of all when it comes to the implementation of our health and hospital reform program, that takes effect from 1 July. You’re right I made a commitment to go back to the hospital at Hornsby and I’m aware of the communications and I’ll be doing so, post 1 July when our reforms begin to take effect.

Secondly if anyone seriously suggests that the Government has not been serious about consulting local hospitals around this country on the implementation of health and hospitals, frankly, they’re just wrong. We had about 107 hospitals visited I think around the country by myself and health minister and her Parliamentary Secretaries and the Minister Assisting. I visited some 20 to 30 of those myself around the country and I look forward to getting back to Hornsby.

JOURNALIST: You said you had an open door policy when you became Prime Minister, he’s contacted you on seven different occasions, he’s a respected surgeon, it’s a local hospital, why haven’t you gone back?

PM: There are 756 hospitals in Australia. I imagine I’ve got a fair bit of correspondence from each of them. I look forward to getting to the Hornsby Hospital soon. I’m unaware of the seven items of correspondence that you speak to.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) Minister I’m just asking this is obviously for the Northern Territory, are there plans to roll it out to the rest of Australia after you see how it goes in the Northern Territory?

MACKLIN: What we’ve had made clear is at the end of 2011, after the end of 2011, we will do a very extensive evaluation of the impact of the introduction of income management across the Northern Territory before we extend it to other parts of Australia.

But certainly from the evidence we have so far in the Northern Territory, income management is a very useful tool for making sure that food is put on the table, making sure that welfare money is spent in the interests of children and not on alcohol and drugs.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister do you concede that the RSPT as it’s currently designed in dead in the water but once you’ve modified it, done a couple of carve outs here, there and everywhere it will be barely unrecognisable to what’s been presented?

PM: Thank you for that very loaded question. The bottom line is this, we’re in the business of tax reform, it’s a tough debate with the mining industry. We’ve outlined our framework on the second of May, we’re in the business of a tough and hard set of negotiations, and just make a broader point, who is on the side of tax reform here? The Government, the MCA, Mitch Hooke, my best mate, together with a whole bunch of other people out there, Marius Kloppers, Twiggy Forrest, I could go through the list of those who say we need reform in way in which the resources industry is taxed.

There are two people who are opposed to reform that I have seen around the nation and they tend to walk in lock step these days; Tony Abbott and Clive Palmer. They are the two that I see out there opposed to a reform which is based on profits. Can I say, we are in the business of reform, the industry is calling for it, we are determined to get our negotiations with the industry right. We also want to see the product of that reform which is; better super for working families, tax cuts for Australians businesses, and on top of that, better investment in our infrastructure. And the debate and the negotiation continues. Over to you.

JOURNALIST: Pension groups are concerned pensioners will be caught up in your new welfare reform system. Can you guarantee that pensioners will not be subjected to quarantining of their income?

MACKLIN: I think their concerns are driven by a scare campaign that’s being run by the Greens, so I thank you for the question so I can make it very clear. We will not be applying income management automatically to aged pensioners, or disability support pensioners except in two instances; where the child protection authorities recommend that it would be in the interests of the child for a person’s pension to be income managed, so the person would have to be caring for the child and there would need to be evidence of neglect of the child.

And the second instance would be where there is evidence of considerable vulnerability by of the pensioner. So it may be where the pensioner is being abused by a relative, harassed for money, humbugged for money. They’re the instances where it would apply to a pensioner. I think it is very important that we get this cleared because the vast majority of pensioners do do the right thing. Of course, are able to manage their money. Pensioners may choose to participate in income management and if the experience in Western Australia is anything to go by, I think we will see pensioners putting their hand up to be voluntarily income managed because it will help them look after their money.

JOURNALIST: In some cases pensioners will be forced?

JENNY MACKLIN: Only where there are instances of child protection needing to step in or where the pensioner is particularly vulnerable to harassment or humbugging.

JOURNALIST: The generous transitions arrangements, do they include consideration of the taxing point and also treating different industries, different sectors and different minerals differently, is that part of what the transition involves?

PM: Well let me restate very plainly what the Government has said from the beginning. We think we’ve got the rate of this tax about right. We are consulting and negotiating with the industry about detail, about implementation and about generous transition arrangements. One the different qualities and different circumstances of, let’s call it, sections of the industry, it’s quite plain that we will be considering with different parts of the industry their respective requests for transitions arrangements which may be particular to their industries. Whether we respond positively to that is a separate matter, but that’s currently the consultation negotiation which Martin Ferguson is directly engaged in.

This one here, then it’s over to you.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister you’ve made much of the need for working families to have better superannuation entitlements but in the Senate an hour or so ago the Government Senators voted against adding superannuation to your paid parental leave scheme. Is it your goal in the longer to have superannuation attached to that paid parental leave scheme?

MACKLIN: We’ve made it clear that we will have a proper review of the Paid Parental Leave scheme within a couple of years and that’s going to be the result of an amendment that we’re moving in the Senate that will be part of the legislation that this review will be undertaken, and the issue of superannuation will be part of that review.

PM: I am in complete concord with the Minister. Over to you.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister could I just clarify as far as the RSPT is concerned, could I just clarify, what you’re talking about here in terms of the negotiations with the industry are that you’ve got your overall design parameters, 40 per cent, uplift factors and so forth in place, what you’re prepared to negotiate on is things like taxing points and particular transitional arrangements like that, so that you are not at this stage conceding any of the fundamental design principles of the tax?

PM: Laura I do not intend, through the media, to engage in any public debate about elements of detailed implementation and generous transition arrangements. If you were the Government engaged in negotiations with industries as large, big, muscley, and from time to time as ugly as parts of the mining industry, you’d actually manage those negotiations privately, confidentially and with them individually, that’s what’s going on at the moment. The media is not the means by which you go through each of those points. We’re serious about generous transition arrangements, we’re serious about the individual circumstances of firms and of projects. And by virtue of what’s gone on with both the Treasury consultation panel and the subsequent negotiations involving myself and Martin and Wayne is that we’re getting to grips with each element of that. But we will not be engaged with a detailed blow by blow account of elements of generous transition arrangements through the media.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister your best mate Mitch Hooke today said that as far as his companies are concerned the negotiations aren’t within a bulls roar of what they want, he’s looking for revenue neutral reform and of course what’s on offer from Tony Abbott is complete revenue neutrality as far as they’re concerned. Are you resigned to go into the election with at least the MCA members resolutely opposed to what’s on offer from you?

PM: Well this Government’s on about the hard business of reform, the hard business of tax reform, this is a tough debate we’re engaged in. Secondly, of course Mitch Hooke would go out and say I don’t want to pay more tax. The only person who agrees with him but goes further than that is Tony Abbott who says that Mitch and his mates are already paying too much tax. We don’t have that view. I don’t think anyone else really across the country has that view either. We intend to prosecute this reform, we intend to get it right, that’s why we’re engaged in detailed consultations with individual firms. I presume one of the things which upsets Mr Hooke is the fact that we are engaged in individual consultations and negotiations with the firms that count, the firms that are out there making money, the firms that are out there employing people, that are doing real projects rather than going to an individual who seeks to represent them.

JOURNALIST: Are you prepared to go to the election Prime Minister with such opposition from the companies that you’re talking about?

PM: We’re prepared to do what is right in the national interest, and that means getting tax reform right. These debates have always been hard in the past, they will be in future, so we intend to prosecute this reform debate. Remember there’s two clear polarities here: us on the one hand saying tax reform for the mining industry is the right thing to do, a volumetric, a production based tax for the mining industry is not efficient, a profits based tax is efficient, we believe that, Mitch Hooke believes that, Twiggy Forrest believes that, Marius Kloppers believes that, a whole bunch of other people in the mining industry believe that. The only person opposed to that is Mr Abbott and Clive Palmer who has a particular relationship with the Liberal National Party, which you’re all familiar with.

JOURNALIST: Other than the meeting yesterday with BG, what evidence is there that things have moved from consultation to negotiation? Are you holding any other talks with chief executives that proves that point?

PM: Well I don’t intend either to go into a day by day, blow by blow account as to who I, Martin, Wayne are consulting with or negotiating with and where each of those is in fact up to at a given stage, nor will I go into a day by day rendition in the public debate about what might constitute at the end of the day generous transition arrangements. These are tough and hard negotiations that we’re engaged in, but we’ll prosecute them because this reform is right for the future of the country.

You know something, reform in this place has never been easy. I also draw people’s attention to the fact when the big reforms have been proposed in the past, people have said the mining industry would fall apart. We had that fear campaign at the time of Workchoices, we had it sometime before that with the introduction of native title legislation, we had it sometime before that for the offshore sector when the introduction of the PRRT occurred. And folks it’s four minutes to two and I’m due in a certain place in four minutes. Thank you very much.