Transcript by The Hon Scott Morrison MP

Press conference

Location: Adelaide

MINISTER MORRISON: I’m delighted to be here at Common Ground today in Adelaide and I want to commend everyone who has been involved in this very successful series of projects here in South Australia. This is exactly the sort of work that the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness has supported in the past and will be able to continue to support in the future. I want to thank the South Australian state government for coming on board with the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness which will see just under $9 million per year for the next two years from the Commonwealth be matched by the state government to be going to projects just like this to do the sort of work which is so important in alleviating homelessness and the risk of homelessness. The great thing Common Ground does here is it provides people in transition a pathway and a secure pathway out of homelessness. For people of all ages, it gives them a sense of surety, a sense of stability as they deal with the many and varied issues in their lives which would see them be in a position of homelessness and to get back on their own feet and the sort of success they’ve had with 70 per cent of their tenants being able to move on to independent living over an average period of just over a year and up to 18 months. They’re the sorts of services which have provided to be so effective. So we’re very pleased that the Agreement has been concluded. All states and territories have now come on board with the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, some $230 million of commitment over two years from the Commonwealth. There was no funding in the Budget previously that had been provided for by the previous government, so we’re very pleased to have provided that new funding and I’m very pleased that the states and territories have all combined together. I think there is a strong purpose here and a sense of bipartisanship in going forward with these projects.

The other thing I wanted to announce today, is in response to the coroner’s report on the Chloe Valentine case, Premier Weatherill wrote to the Commonwealth and sought support for the application of income management, particularly in child protection cases, but more broadly where people volunteer into that, for South Australia and particularly in Greater Adelaide. On the first of October this year that will be put into effect so that will be in the form of the Basics Card. The Chloe Valentine case is heart wrenching, it is unspeakable in its brutality and its cruelty and it’s important that our officials and those working in these very sensitive and difficult areas have every tool available to them to prevent those sorts of unspeakable outcomes. So we’re very pleased to have responded to the Premier’s request for that and the working in partnership with the South Australian Government to protect children and we can do that by better managing the delivery of income support through the income management model and the Basics Card. So we’re very pleased to do that here.
So there are two very constructive areas where we are working together with the South Australian state government. The Prime Minister is very committed to working through the COAG process. We saw that at the Leader’s retreat recently in Sydney. Housing was one of the issues that was discussed, the Prime Minister put on that agenda, and I want to thank the Premier here for his enthusiastic engagement on those issues and I look forward to working with the South Australian state government on like matters going into the future.

QUESTION: Minister, what parts of South Australia will get the income management rolled out first?


QUESTION: So North, South?

MINISTER MORRISON: The Greater Adelaide metropolitan area and that will be set out in [inaudible].

QUESTION: Will that be voluntary?

MINISTER MORRISON: There are two aspects to it, there is a mandatory component that would relate to a child protection order or something of that nature and there’s also the option of voluntary take up of the Basics Card and that is an important tool that financial counsellors and others working as case managers with people in these sorts of situations that is often used to assist people in those circumstances. So it extends that opportunity and I think that’s a positive opportunity but in cases where child protection is at stake and there’s an order in place then that would be a mandatory requirement.

QUESTION: How will that mandatory element work? Will it be that FamilesSA would let Centrelink know? Or how does that work?

MINISTER MORRISON: Exactly. That’s exactly the process – the state government through their relevant agencies, particularly those involved in these more significant distressing cases will deal directly with Centrelink and the Basics Card will be rolled out in the same way as it is in other places.

QUESTION: The fact that that wasn’t in place when the Chloe Valentine tragedy happened, that in any way doesn’t let FamiliesSA off the hook, does it?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well I’m not here to commentate on the handling of that case. What I’m here to do–

QUESTION: You raised it, in all fairness. You said it would help prevent tragedies like Chloe Valentine.

MINISTER MORRISON: As did the coroner. The coroner made a recommendation. The Premier wrote to the Commonwealth on the basis of that recommendation and the Commonwealth has responded to support the implementation of that recommendation, so that is the appropriate response. I’m not here to provide a commentary on the handling of the case at that time, I know there’s plenty of treatment here on that incredibly distressing case here, as is appropriate, but it’s my job to ensure the recommendation of the coroner is put in place, and that’s what I’ve done.

QUESTION: Will the mandatory card be restricted to Adelaide? What if there are child protection issues elsewhere in South Australia?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well initially it is being put in place in Greater Adelaide and we will work with the South Australian state government and if it’s their view [inaudible] implemented here in Greater Adelaide, then the Commonwealth is not opposed to extending it, but that’s a matter that we’d have to work through with the South Australian state government. They are the lead agency here, in dealing with very serious child protection issues and we would of course be directed by their advice.

QUESTION: Minister, are you concerned that your colleagues are trying to destroy your leadership hope given their reaction to–

MINISTER MORRISON: Right now I’m dealing with homelessness issues and the Chloe Valentine case, if there are other political questions that people want to ask, I’m happy to cover those but once we’ve dealt with why we’re here at Common Ground.

QUESTION: What does the government not want these parents spending their money on? Generally speaking, the income management – what do you want to prevent?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well there are two types of income management. One is through the Healthy Welfare Card which is not an issue here. That was announced by the Parliamentary Secretary and will be trialled in Ceduna with the full support of that community and that provides a restriction on the amount of cash that someone has available through their income support payments. In that case, it’s 90 per cent of the payments that are tied to the card. What the Basics Card does is several things. It not only restricts cash, but it also ensures that there is allocations of that payment that ensures food is on the table, that the basics of life are able to be provided for and that’s what the money is spent on and it is in particularly responding to this case, which was such a putrid case, where the most basics of parenthood were being neglected – to the extent that income management can provide some sort of safety net against those things, well and good and we’re happy to do it. But I wouldn’t want to suggest for a minute that that, of itself, can prevent those sorts of cases. So drugs, alcohol, these sorts of things, that’s what Basic Card prevents, as does the Healthy Welfare Card, but it also ensures that the basics of life are also being addressed through the provision of that income support.

QUESTION: Are you happy to help the South Australian state government given their pretty poor track record on child protection, the Federal government has a role, would you say, to help the state government given how poorly they’ve handled these issues?

MINISTER MORRISON: Certainly where they raise issues like this we are of course only too happy to help. I don’t think there is a government or a political in the country who won’t do what they can in relation to child protection.

QUESTION: You’d be aware that the Weatherill government’s track record on child protection is pretty poor?

MINISTER MORRISON: I’m going to leave the political commentary on the local management of these things to South Australia. I’m an eastern states politician and I don’t make it my habit to commentate on the issues at a state level necessarily, particularly for such a sensitive case. It’s my job to respond to the needs that have been identified – the coroner has identified them. Others have made commentary on this, I’ll leave it to them. We’re pleased to provide the support we can to protect the children of South Australia.

QUESTION: Do you think income management will be controversial though? You said the community of Ceduna is 90 per cent behind it, but I imagine some parts of the community will find it highly controversial?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well they do and that happened in New Zealand as well, where this was introduced and at first there was opposition but over time the benefits of it I think are seen and I think it’s important you do it in a measured way, you take people along with you and that’s what we’re doing in Ceduna. Alan Tudge, the Parliamentary Secretary has laboured tirelessly over a long period of time to get the support of the community to do that and look, whether it’s there or in any area of social policy, you try and work with the people you are seeking to assist, the service providers who are delivering. No different to here at Common Ground. Leverage off their understanding and skills and experience and apply taxpayers’ funds as best as you possibly can.

QUESTION: [inaudible]

MINISTER MORRISON: Well I think what we’ve decided to do here in South Australia I think provides an indication to other states and one we’d always be happy to consider.

QUESTION: Will people have the opportunity to review – to ask for the mandatory nature of the BasicsCard to be reviewed?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well that will be more related to the child protection order itself so there is another system that is involved there. The other element of the system which is a voluntary one, obviously it’s a voluntary process but the mandatory process relates to a child protection case and what drives that is obviously quite different to the broader social services case management.

QUESTION: George Brandis and Malcolm Turnbull have slapped you down over your call for a referendum they say it is not necessary. Do you stand by your statement that a referendum is the best way to go on this?

MINISTER MORRISON: I believe the best way to address this issue definitively, so all Australians can have their say, is to have a referendum for this reason, it is a binding vote – it gives an outcome that governments must act on. It is a compulsory vote; every Australia of voting age gets to have their say and is required to have their say from whatever community they might come from, whatever religious community they might come from, whatever ethnic community they might come from. Thirdly, it requires a special majority. This is a big change and I am arguing for a special majority which is a majority of its own nature and a majority of states. The people of South Australia shouldn’t have this issue determined by them by the bulk of numbers on the eastern states any more than Western Australians or Tasmanians should. And finally it is important, as a referendum delivers, for both sides of this case to be able to be articulated, free of any abuse, free of any censorship, free of any antagonistic sort of treatment of the views of Australians of differing opinions. As the Prime Minister has said people of the country who have different views on this are of good faith and that should be reflected. Now that is what a referendum does. There is no legal barrier to this matter being addressed in a referendum. I said very plainly the other night when I raised this. I know the High Court resolved this question from a legal point of view but I don’t think judges should decide this matter anymore than I think politicians should decide his matter. I think the Australian people should decide this matter and at the next election they will have the opportunity to do that, to provide for that referendum or whichever process the Party ultimately decides.

QUESTION: So should a referendum be held at the same time as say the Aboriginal recognition referendum? Before or after?

MINISTER MORRISON: These are questions of detail that the Party will now work through. There was a very I think positive discussion in our Party Room during the course of this week. These matters have been raised and the Prime Minister and the Cabinet and others will now work through a process to have a very clear policy position that will be available to people at the next election. The choice will be fairly straight forward; every single Australian of voting age will be able to have their say especially on this question through the direction the Coalition is going to go. Bill Shorten’s approach is saying that there is only one response here from the Labor Party and that is for the politicians to decide it and I just don’t think that is fair to all Australians who should be able to have, on such a big change, the opportunity to have their voice heard. In my electorate I can’t represent every single person on this issue. There is a portion of my electorate who doesn’t share my view and I respect that but I can hardly apportion my vote by percentages based on what is happening. The best way to do that? Have a referendum, make sure it is binding, let’s settle the issue and let’s settle it maturely where both sides can be clearly put in perspective.

QUESTION: The Dyson Heydon issue, should he step down as Labor wants?

MINISTER MORRISON: Look they are matters for the Attorney General and I will let him address those. What I do know is that the Royal Commission to date I think has identified some very troubling matters I think for Mr Shorten to respond to and I think workers in the AWU would be asking themselves based on what we saw before the Royal Commission is “if I couldn’t trust him when he was my union boss how can the people of Australia trust him if he was to be Prime Minister?”

QUESTION: Was it a mistake for the NSW Libs to ask him to make that address?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well they are Party operational matters. I used to be a State Director for NSW, thankfully I no longer am, those days are behind me and I will leave those matters to Tony Nutt.

QUESTION: Back on same sex marriage, should the yes and no case do you think both be equally funded I think in the same way?


QUESTION: So there should be equal funding for both?

MINISTER MORRISON: Of course because there are a lot of issues I think people need to become familiar with and I think it can be done soberly, I think it can be done respectfully. We did that in our own Party Room the other night and if we could ensure a similarly respectful debate takes place in the community – I was concerned when I saw there were two commercial networks who weren’t going to air a commercial that was simply promoting the current law in this country. You know we don’t need to get into that, everybody should be able to have their view put out there and support for those views to be aired. Australians I trust to make this decision on such a sensitive issue. I mean this has been put before the Parliament many times and it hasn’t passed.

QUESTION: Do you think perhaps then the same sex marriage proponents, the ones that are pushing this, more so some of your own colleagues who are in favour of it, are scared of the silent majority out there? The people that politically correctly have to say “well yes I support same sex marriage,” when it comes to a referendum, when it comes to a vote, the silent majority may well reject it.

MINISTER MORRISON: Well I don’t know and I am not forecasting the outcome of it. What I do know is if you go through a process that a referendum provides it is a robust process, it is a definitive process and I think the outcome of that process will enable all Australian’s to say “fair enough.”

QUESTION: But are your colleagues – some of your colleagues and gay marriage proponents are they scared of that process?


QUESTION: Well what do you think? What is your feeling?

MINISTER MORRISON: I don’t know. I am not – I have said this to a journalist once before, you are not Oprah and I am not on a couch so I am not here to discuss my feelings. What I am here to do is just simply to say…

QUESTION: Interesting.

MINISTER MORRISON: I simply say look there is the opportunity it think on the other side of the election for people to have their own say. I think they should have it. Bill Shorten doesn’t, he thinks he has to decide for every single person in his electorate about what the vote should be on this and I just don’t see, on an issue as sensitive as this, where the harm is in allowing a robust process like that – because we have been talking about this for a long time. Australians have different views on it and if we can resolve it in a robust way then the matter is settled and I think that would be really helpful. It is not the top issue the government is focused on. I am focused on jobs, I am focused on getting people out of welfare and into work, I am focused on helping people transition from sleeping on the streets here into being in independent living which is what Common Ground is achieving here. That is what my focus is. This issue has come up, it is not an issue I sought to raise but it is there, let’s deal with it the best way through a referendum and we can get back to work.

QUESTION: Do you fear that some of your colleagues are trying to ruin your leadership hopes?

MINISTER MORRISON: That’s a ridiculous question. Look lawyers will always have lots of views on lots of things. We are used to lawyers going into the entrails of these sorts of things. I am not interested in sort of a lawyer’s picnic discussion on this issue. There is no legal impediment to the matter being considering in a referendum. I have never suggested that there is a legal issue to be addressed as a result of any high court case or ambiguity around that. George Brandis is completely correct when he makes that observation. It was not my point and I am sure George understands this. I think the referendum process provides the best process, the most robust process, the process that I think all Australians on the other side will be able to embrace whatever the decision is and its binding which would mean that a government would have to act on it. I think that is what people want to see. It is great to have you here at Common Ground, I am particularly pleased that we were able to respond to the South Australian government’s request in relation to the Chloe Valentine case and let’s just hope and pray that we don’t see anything as horrific as that ever again in South Australia or anywhere else. Thanks for your time.