ABC News Breakfast
PAUL KENNEDY: Let’s return to tomorrow night’s Budget and the battle is already on over family benefits and childcare. The social services Minister Scott Morrison joins us from Parliament House. Scott Morrison, thanks for your time this morning. Jenny Macklin was on our program just in the last hour restating the Opposition won’t budge on those family tax benefits. Where does that leave your childcare proposals now?
MINISTER MORRISON: I’m not surprised that the Labor Party would continue to be reactionary. I mean, what we’ve seen in the UK, Bill Shorten is the new Ed Miliband of Australian politics and they’ll continue to go down the reactionary approach. We anticipated that. That’s why for some time now I’ve been engaging with a number of crossbenchers about this and the other packages we released last week on the pensions and we’ll continue to have those dialogues over time and, look, that’s the process. But you’ve got to pay for what you’re spending on. The Labor Party doesn’t seem to understand that. They think you can just spend, spend, spend and never have to be called to account for it. We understand that and that’s why we have savings in the social services portfolio to pay for the additional $3.5 billion we want to put into families with low and middle incomes who are disadvantaged and vulnerable. We think it’s a responsible package.
KENNEDY: Is it actually reactionary though, because you knew the Labor Party’s stance on this, the family tax benefits part B, you knew that would be the reaction and now it’s just a matter of whether or not you can convince them that this childcare outweighs the stance they’ve taken?
MINISTER MORRISON: It’s a different proposition. The proposition now is to invest the savings in increased support for families on low and middle incomes and who are disadvantaged and vulnerable. It is predicted Labor would be completely political about this. Fortunately I think cross-benchers are being far more constructive about these issues. We’ll see what the Greens are like under their new more pragmatic leadership as it’s been billed. We will have the professional discussions you would expect us to have and that is where we’re heading with this. It is all about ensuring we’re better spending the money that we have in it social services portfolio. Eight out of 10 income tax payers go to work every day and their income tax is what is required to pay the $150 billion bill. Now we have to spend it better. We don’t think you should be increasing taxes or increasing the deficit to pay for increased investments.
KENNEDY: Your childcare proposals were roundly applauded yesterday. I haven’t heard much opposition to them in fact Jenny Macklin said to us this morning that she thinks they’re good. The only thing she doesn’t like about them is it’s going to take a long time to bring them in. So it’s not a matter of convincing people about your childcare package, is it? I just wonder from what you’ve said there, are you anticipating your best shot of getting these things through is through the cross-benchers, to change their minds on family tax benefits?
MINISTER MORRISON: I think once again Labor have dropped the ball when it comes to fiscal responsibility. They like spending money; they just never want to pay for it. That means that once again the cross-benchers will have to be placed in the middle of this discussion and that’s whom we’ll have the professional and I think very constructive process with. That’s what the requirement is when you’re working through a parliamentary democracy. I wish Labor would be more constructive than they are but they clearly want to do Opposition for Opposition’s sake, that’s their political choice. I don’t think that’s what families want to hear. Families want to hear that we’re able to pay for the things we’re doing and this is a good package, it is a very responsible package, it’s a fair package and it’s all designed to do one thing, help families have the choice to be in work, stay in work, get in work because so many families have to be in work.
KENNEDY: It’s a long-term approach really, isn’t it; many of the mothers that might be able to get access to the childcare you’re talking about may not have had their children yet. Why not bring that forward and plan to have those changes earlier?
MINISTER MORRISON: Because they’re implementation issues. What we’re also doing at the same time is introducing a whole new technology support system to ensure that there’s greater integrity in the system, there’s greater ease of compliance for families and the service providers themselves. You’re not going to go and do that change twice, once with the old system and also with the new system and so this is just a sensible common-sense approach. When we went to the sector and talked about this, they preferred it to be introduced on a financial year basis that puts us to July 17 rather than six months earlier than that. Even doing it six months earlier with technology issues would be problematic. We’re not going to over-promise here. We’re going to get the implementation right. The previous Government made all sorts of problems in rushing their implementation and it all basically crashed and burned. We’re going to get the implementation right.
KENNEDY: Mathias Cormann was on our program half an hour ago and basically said you couldn’t afford to do it yet, it wasn’t about implementation. Which is correct?
MINISTER MORRISON: It is implementation and I don’t think – accept your characterisation of the way the Finance Minister has responded to your question. These are the issues we’ve all got to deal with but as the Minister responsible for social services when it comes to implementation, that’s the date that can be introduced properly.
KENNEDY: Have you been able to identify other areas where you can make cuts in your portfolio?
MINISTER MORRISON: We already have and the Treasurer announced one yesterday, and that was the issue of double dipping on paid parental leave, that was a proposal by the social services portfolio and got support of the Treasurer and Prime Minister and what this is doing, let me be clear, if someone is getting a lesser paid parental leave payment than they would otherwise get from the taxpayer then their paid parental leave will be topped up. But if they are getting exactly the same or more from their employer then you don’t get to go to the well twice. This is an integrity measure. Basically, the scheme has had people having a loan of it who are frankly on much larger incomes, get the full 18 weeks from their employer and turn to the taxpayer and say, “I’ll have that again please.” I don’t think it’s fair.
KENNEDY: Is it accurate this might save you a billion dollars?
MINISTER MORRISON: Correct.
KENNEDY: And how many mothers have been double dipping?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well, it’s at various degrees. You’ve got around 20,000-odd who have been taking the full amount from their employers and then turning up for the full amount from the taxpayer and you’ve got a slightly higher number than that who have been claiming a partial payment.
KENNEDY: How many on top of that?
MINISTER MORRISON: The total figure is about 47% of those claiming paid parental leave currently have either been over claiming or completely double dipping. So that’s the practice we’ll be putting an end to because it’s frankly just not fair. If you’re working for a small business that doesn’t have a paid parental leave scheme, why should you get less paid parental leave than someone working for a big public service entity or a big corporate, it’s just not fair.
KENNEDY: It’s true it does sound a bit unfair. When was this uncovered?
MINISTER MORRISON: This was put up during the course of this Budget.
KENNEDY: When did you find out that some 20,000-plus people were double dipping?
MINISTER MORRISON: It was a proposal that came through the department in the course of this Budget.
KENNEDY: Are there any other cuts you’re going to flag as part of your portfolio? Or is that it now, or will we hear more tomorrow on that?
MINISTER MORRISON: The Budget is tomorrow night and the Treasurer has the ball lined up to kick through the goals and I’m sure he’ll do exactly that and we’re all there supporting him as part of a strong team. What you’ve seen over the last few weeks is the Government laying out what we’re proposing to do here and what we’re trying to do here is unlock the potential of all Australians so they can make the biggest contribution they can for themselves and their families and as a result the country benefits.
KENNEDY: What do you make of the commentary, I guess you’re alluding to it a little bit there, the commentary that you’ve been the chief salesman and Joe Hockey’s been left out in the cold on those big announcements that people would be more favourable to?
MINISTER MORRISON: I just dismiss it as the usual Canberra hyperventilation that goes on when people don’t want to focus on what was really occurring and that is the Government was making significant changes in the Budget to the way we operate pensions to make that fairer, we’re going to improve the pension for some 170,000 pensioners and we’re going to deliver a jobs for families package which is going to give families choice because they need to be in work – so many families these days. How people want to look after their kids is up for them. They’re there personal decisions but increasingly we all know mothers work hard but increasingly the majority also needs to be in paid employment and that’s what this package does. It’s not a welfare initiative, childcare, it is helping families to frankly get off welfare by ensuring they can be in a job and stay in a job.
KENNEDY: Scott Morrison thanks for your time and you’ve got plenty of negotiations to come.
MINISTER MORRISON: We do. Thank you.