Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Baby bonus, interstate transport concessions for seniors, social security agreement with Japan, child protection system


JENNY MACKLIN: Just so you know, there’s actually quite a few things happening today; so we’ve got the baby bonus. And I just want to run through them so everybody knows, because otherwise they might think God, is she ever going to stop?


JENNY MACKLIN: So we’ve got changes to the baby bonus and the maternity immunisation payment. There’s also a new social security agreement with Japan. Better information sharing with Centrelink, joining the national alert system for child protection purposes. And interstate transport concessions.

Quite a busy day really.

Okay, thanks everyone.

From tomorrow there will be changes to the baby bonus arrangements, to make it fairer and simpler for new parents. What we’re doing is introducing changes to the way in which the baby bonus is being paid. From tomorrow, it will be paid in fortnightly instalments of around $385 and paid over 13 consecutive fortnights. What we want to do is make sure that families are receiving regular payments, over a six month period, to help them while the bills come in.

We’ll also be introducing, for the first time, a new family means test for the baby bonus, to make sure that we target the baby bonus to those families in greater need. The way that will work is following the birth of a baby, the family’s income will be assessed, but only assessed on the income that a family has after the birth of the baby. That recognises that for most families, one member of the couple, the mum or the dad, takes time off to look after the baby and so we’ll means test the family income following the birth of the baby. The family income test will be a six monthly test of $75,000 per family income and that six months is post the birth of the baby.

There will also be changes from tomorrow to the maternity immunisation allowance. It will now be paid in two parts. One, to encourage immunisation in the period 18 months to two years of a child. And the second part, in the period leading up to when a child starts school. This is really, once again, to encourage parents to do both sets of immunisations and particularly to make sure that children are fully immunised before they go to school.

The second areas that I wanted to highlight today are changes that are being made to improve the child protection system around Australia. For the first time Centrelink will be part of the national alert system. And they’ll also enter into an information sharing agreement with state and territory child protection systems. We want to make sure that we do everything possible at the national level, to support children who are in danger, who are being abused. And this will make sure that the information that Centrelink has is available to child protection authorities.

From tomorrow there’s also a new social security agreement that’s been agreed with Japan. And around a thousand people, both here in Australia and in Japan will benefit from that new social security agreement with Japan.

And finally, we’ve agreed that from tomorrow we’ll be implementing progressively one of our election commitments. We made a commitment before the election to introduce a new transport concessions policy. We want to make sure that older Australians, people who hold a seniors concession card, in different states and territories, are able to use their concession cards as they travel interstate.

We’ve received agreement from most of the states and territories for that to start from tomorrow. So from tomorrow we’ll have New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT as part of this new national transport concession scheme.

People will be able to come here to Melbourne from South Australia for example, enjoy our trams, enjoy all the different parts of Victoria from other states and use their concession cards. We’re continuing discussions with Queensland and Western Australia. And in the meantime in Queensland, senior concession cardholders will be able to use their cards on urban public transport in Queensland.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Minister, can I ask a question about the ABC Learning Centres closures today – 55 to close across the country. What will you be doing – what will be done to help those parents involved?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well as you’d be aware, we’ve been engaged with the receiver since the news of the collapse of ABC Learning. And the Government’s been advised today that children in these centres that will close, have now all been placed in other centres.

We are still continuing to work very closely with the receivers, because we do understand just how important this is for parents. In particular, we know that parents need access to child care and we want to make sure that that’s provided in as sensible a way as possible.

QUESTION: What about the 241 centres which have been kept afloat with a government grant that will run out in March?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we’re continuing to work with the receivers on this issue. As I say, we do understand just how important it is to have a strong child care system in Australia, to make sure that parents can get access to affordable, high quality child care. And we’ll continue to work with the receiver on those centres.

QUESTION: With the baby bonus, has enough been done to communicate those changes to parents and prospective parents?

JENNY MACKLIN: Of course, the way this works is that when parents have a baby, when a mother has a baby in hospital, information is given to parents about Family Tax Benefits A and B and about the baby bonus, and these changes will be communicated in the normal way. Of course, with every change it’s important that we get the information out through the media, as we are today. But parents, as they have their babies, will be given this information from Centrelink.

QUESTION: Will fewer people be eligible as a result of the new system?

JENNY MACKLIN: We estimate that around 94 per cent of families will be eligible for the baby bonus. So the vast majority of parents will still receive the baby bonus.

QUESTION: So how much money does that save?

JENNY MACKLIN: I haven’t got that with me right now, but I can get it for you.

QUESTION: So … on unemployment. If that rises substantially next year, as expected to, will the Government have to take unusual steps to combat that [indistinct] – that refocus on their Budget next year?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well as you’d be aware, we have already taken substantial measures to make sure that we address the impact of the global financial crisis. Over two weeks, from the 8 December, we paid out very, very significant increases in Family Tax Benefit A, increases to pensioners and to carers. And that money is now flowing into the economy. And the reason that we made those very significant payments, is to make sure that we get ahead of the curve; that we do everything we possibly can to protect Australian jobs.

We also are distributing $300 million to local government, and doing that in a way that encourages local governments to get on with local projects, to keep people employed in their local areas. And we came to an agreement with the States and Territories to increase, in a substantial way, the amounts being spent on health and education.

So the Government has acted decisively to make sure that we do everything possible to protect Australian jobs. We know the impact of the global financial crisis will be felt here in Australia. But we’ve wanted to act quickly and get ahead of the problems coming towards us, by the measures that I’ve just described.

QUESTION: How about the suggestion from ACOSS that the Government should directly fund businesses to provide training for their employees?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well in fact, of course we, as part of our economic stimulus package, we provided additional funding for extra – an extra 56,000 training places. We do understand how important it is that people have the opportunity to be trained, or retrained. And those training places were part of our 14 October economic stimulus package.

We know that jobs is the biggest issue we have to confront, but that’s why we’ve put $10.4 billion into the economy, as part of our economic stimulus package. Why we’re putting more into local government. And why we’re also making sure that, as part of the Council of Australian Governments agreement, we put very, very significant boost into health and education.

QUESTION: Just on the ABC Centres again, I know of at least a few that want to remain open, but the receivers won’t let the licence be transferred. Is there anything the Government can do to intervene in keeping the smaller centres open?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well as I said before, we’re continuing to work very, very closely with the receiver on all of these issues and I think it’s important that that be done carefully. And, as you can see from the announcements today, our priority is to make sure that children are placed and, as I’m advised, they have been placed in alternative childcare arrangements.

Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Just one more question. This Japanese announcement, can you elaborate a little bit more about that? What’s it supposed to be? How does it foster bilateral relations between the two countries?

JENNY MACKLIN: As I mentioned, there are around a thousand people who’ve spent a considerable part of their lives either in Japan or Australia. So it’s really to make sure, for people as they retire, they can get benefits from both the Australian aged pension system and the Japanese system, depending on the contributions that they’ve made to both. We have the social security agreements with a wide range of countries and I’m very pleased that the most recent to be negotiated is with Japan.

Okay. Thank you very much.