MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Government’s planned changes to paid parental leave will come under scrutiny again today. A senate inquiry will hear evidence from some of those middle income parents who will be hardest hit by the Government’s decision to end so-called double dipping of payments. To discuss this and other issues dominating the political debate at the moment I am joined now by Social Services Minister Scott Morrison. Mr Morrison welcome to the programme again.
MINISTER MORRISON: G’day Michael. Nice to be here.
BRISSENDEN: This Bill will remove about 20 per cent of those mothers who are currently eligible from the federal paid parental leave scheme, the crossbench has been pretty scathing about this in the past. Do you have the support to get it through the Senate?
MINISTER MORRISON: I continue to engage with the crossbench, I always do. I will just work issues through. We’re are listening very carefully to the points they are raising but the point here is we have a measure currently that is not affordable in the current budget situation. We are spending more than we earn as a Government and what we are talking about here is where someone is already getting $11,800 from their employer then the taxpayer won’t provide a further $11,800 and the families, the 20 per cent you refer to, have an average family income of $150,000. Now, that is a difficult decision for the Government to make and I understand it’s not a decision that is not without consequences. But the key is if we are to get the Budget under repair then these are the sorts of decisions that are necessary. Now, Labor and the Greens are opposing it, I’m still talking to the cross-benchers. The reason I have to talk to the cross-benchers is because Labor opposes every savings measure.
BRISSENDEN: You keep talking about budget repair and you still do have a budget problem but now you’re planning to go to the election offering another round of tax cuts, is that fiscally responsible?
MINISTER MORRISON: What the Treasurer and the Prime Minister have talked about in terms of bracket creep is trying to ensure that we don’t have a tax system which drags on the economy. Now, growing the economy is good for everybody, it raises all boats and that’s why those sorts of priorities and those sorts of objectives, I think, are very important. But at the end of the day you have to get spending under control and this is a Government that has been doing exactly that and the key opponents of spending control are the Labor Party and the Greens.
Presenter: You keep talking about it but we haven’t actually had any real objectives, any real direction about how to get there. Bracket creep is an issue that’s come up time and time again and the Treasurer raised it again last week.
MINISTER MORRISON: And I will allow the Treasurer to continue to pursue that matter but what I’m talking about is spending in the social services portfolio and in June of this year, four-times the level of savings were passed in this year’s Budget than in the previous year’s budget by the end of June. So, we’re getting on with the job of savings and many of those decisions have been very difficult, Michael. And those decisions can’t just apply to one section of the community, they have to apply across the board and that’s what we’re seeking to do.
BRISSENDEN: But where are the solutions, how will you do it? How will you address this bracket creep problem?
MINISTER MORRISON: What I’m talking about are the social services savings. $1 billion can be saved by saying to families, who currently have an average income of $150,000, that where you’re getting $11,800 already from your employer, the taxpayer won’t give you a second lot of $11,800. Now, if that’s not a saving that can be achieved or seen as reasonable in this budget context to address the issues of us having a $35 billion deficit at the moment, then I put it to you what would you suggest is a fairer saving for us to achieve?
BRISSENDEN: We are talking about the broader budget problem, this is a small part of that broader budget problem. We’ve got growth figures coming out tomorrow. Some economists expect it will show the economy has contracted during the June quarter. We had Martin Parkinson last week, the former treasury secretary, warning Australia was at risk of entering a major downturn and not enough was being done to restore productivity growth. I mean at the moment you all seem to be asleep at the wheel.
MINISTER MORRISON: I think that’s an unfair characterisation of it, Michael, for you to put that it way and make that allegation. What I’m saying is as Social Services Minister it’s my job to get the social services budget under control. It’s growing at a real rate of around 3.5 per cent. That has to be brought under control to ensure you can relieve pressure on the budget. We’ve already had savings in areas of pension reform, we’re pursuing changes in family tax benefits to ensure we can get those measures under control. We want to spend an extra $3.5 billion on child care as well and you can’t do that unless you pay for it. And that’s why all of these savings measures in the social services area are more important because we have to be able to fund the important promises we’ve put forward. Now, $3.5 billion on child care is not a trivial amount. This is a serious investment, the biggest change in child care we’ve seen in a generation. Now I’m committed for paying for that and to pay for that I’m pursuing savings in the portfolio. Now, the Labor Party doesn’t want to support those savings. If they can’t support the savings, they can’t support the increased investment.
BRISSENDEN: Presumably we will hear how you intend to achieve all of this from yourself and from the Treasurer in the months leading up to the election.
MINISTER MORRISON: I’m already outlining to you the savings measures that I’ve already got out there on the table. They’re all there in the budget. I’m pursuing them through the Senate with the cross-benches and I am having productive discussions with them but in Senate discussions it’s no place for the proud. It’s a place where you sit down patiently and you work through issues which I have always done.
BRISSENDEN: Ok. Before the broader – the bigger general election we’re going to have the Canning by-election, there’s a lot riding on that. What happens if you lose it?
MINISTER MORRISON: We’re not going to lose it.
BRISSENDEN: Is this a test for Joe Hockey and the Prime Minister?
MINISTER MORRISON: It’s a test for all of us and what we’ve been putting forward to the Australian people and the changes there. But most importantly it’s a choice for the people of Canning about who they want to represent them here in Canberra and Andrew Hastie is by far and away the obvious choice for the people of Canning. He’s an outstanding individual, he’s the best candidate in the field by a mile and if they want an outstanding member to represent them then Andrew Hastie is the pick.
BRISSENDEN: Is it a test for Joe Hockey as some seem to be suggesting?
MINISTER MORRISON: It’s a test for all of us. We’re a team as a government and as a government we put our measures forward. Whether it’s the savings in social services, whether it’s our plans for tax reform, whether it’s what we’re doing on national security, we all work together as a Cabinet and as the various committees of cabinet to deliver good government.
BRISSENDEN: Is there a move to shift him?
MINISTER MORRISON: Not that I’m aware of.
BRISSENDEN: Would shifting him help save the Government? Give the Government a chance to…
MINISTER MORRISON: As I said yesterday that is all speculative nonsense so I don’t intend to engage it.
BRISSENDEN: Your name is one that obviously keeps coming up in regard to replacing Joe Hockey.
MINISTER MORRISON: Not from me.
BRISSENDEN: Would you take the job?
MINISTER MORRISON: It’s speculative nonsense Michael, I’m not going to indulge this fantasy of yours.
BRISSENDEN: Is Joe doing a good job?
MINISTER MORRISON: Joe’s a great bloke and he is doing a tremendous job.
BRISSENDEN: The leaking of all of this is a sign of a government in crisis, isn’t it? Clearly a number of you are worried you’re heading for defeat after just one term?
MINISTER MORRISON: You pose these questions in a very verballing way and I’m not about to entertain it. What I will say to you is this though – it is becoming commonplace for politics to be reported on like it’s reality television. We as a government take it more seriously than that and they’re the issues we’re focused on – jobs, growth, community safety.
BRISSENDEN: I know some of your colleagues blame the media for a lot of this but the media’s not reporting things that aren’t been told to them by people within the Government?
MINISTER MORRISON: I’m not going to feed the frenzy you’re seeking to whip up Michael. What I’m simply going to do is say to you is the Government is focused on the serious agenda we have, on people’s jobs – on people’s jobs. That’s what keeps me up awake at night is how are we going to ensure that people can stay in their jobs, stick in their jobs and the jobs of the future will be there for those coming through.
BRISSENDEN: I suspect some of your colleagues are worried about thier own jobs because polls have been pretty consistent for a long time haven’t they? Since last year’s Budget in fact every Newspoll has put you behind Labor.
MINISTER MORRISON: I will tell you why we would be concerned about that because we know if we’re not in government as a Coalition, with the right policies for this country, then people’s jobs will be at risk. They will be at risk. I mean the last time the Labor Party were in, we saw the Budget go to hell in a handbasket. I mean we don’t want to see that continue. We want to ensure the jobs of Australians are secure by ensuring a strong Coalition Government that’s focused on jobs, that’s focused on growth, focused on keeping the Budget under control, focused on national security. Now these are things that the Opposition can’t measure up to. They can’t even support savings measures, even their own savings measures they put up in Opposition going through the Parliament. I mean you’ve got Bill Shorten who is the union’s pick, treats the union movement like it’s an ATM, doubling down on bullying Dyson Heydon, a former High Court Justice doing an excellent job and at the insistence of the unions they double down on bullying a former High Court judge. It’s appalling.
BRISSENDEN: Take all of that as read.
MINISTER MORRISON: You can take it as true. You can take it as true. You can agree with me if you like, Michael. Go out on a limb.
BRISSENDEN: But the poll reality suggests that you’re not going to be in government.
MINISTER MORRISON: This is why we’re working so hard, Michael…
BRISSENDEN: But it’s not working, is it?
MINISTER MORRISON: You can make forecasts and predictions, you can call the end of the Abbott Government if you wish to, Michael.
BRISSENDEN: I’m not doing that. I’m just showing you the reality…
MINISTER MORRISON: Well I am getting that slight sentiment from you Michael. What we’re focused on, it doesn’t surprise me, but what we’re focused on is the job of good government for the country. Last week I was up in the northern peninsula area with the Prime Minister focussing on indigenous issues. Today in Cabinet we have a full agenda of issues that are focused very much on the future of this country. I’m focused on trying to get a child care package which is going to give choice to Australian families to be in work and stay in work and I’m going to do that by funding it through savings. Now the Labor Party can’t support savings to save themselves. As a Government we’re putting forward sensible savings that I think are supportable, create a fairer system particularly on paid parental leave, which will ensure that families can plan for their future with confidence.
BRISSENDEN: All I’m suggesting to you is that the polls have shown consistently that whatever you’ve been doing hasn’t been working.
MINISTER MORRISON: Well you can commentate on the polls, I’ll focus on the policy.
BRISSENDEN: Thanks for joining us.
MINISTER MORRISON: Thanks Michael, good to be with you.