ABC 7.30 programme
LEIGH SALES: The Prime Minister Tony Abbott has flagged domestic violence as one of the top priorities for the Council of Australian Governments meeting this Friday. With me now is his Social Services Minister, Scott Morrison. Minister, I’d like to quickly get through a number of issues, but if we can stick with domestic violence for a moment. If on Friday you could get the federal and state governments to adopt one policy in your portfolio area because you thought that it would make a real difference, what would it be?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well it would be continuing the policies of the National Action Plan, which is a broad-basing set of initiatives which already does draw together the states with the Federal Government. I mean, most recently, $230 million to support the new National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, where the top priority for that program is on domestic violence. But could I say this, Leigh: anyone watching that story you’ve just mentioned who would need to get in contact with someone, the 1800 RESPECT line is a national counselling service that is also part of that nationwide program to support women in exactly this situation and I would encourage them to call that number. It’s a 24/7 number.
SALES: The keyword you said there to me was “continuing”, but if we continue what we’ve been doing so far, it hasn’t worked yet to stamp out the problem.
MINISTER MORRISON: Well this is an additional $100 million program which has just come into place with the second wave of the action plan. I think there is broad support for as much as can be possibly done here, Leigh, and I think we need to harness that energy and that passion and that commitment. I mean, as a father of two young daughters, this is your worst possible nightmare for a society, for a family and I don’t think there’s any lack of effort or any lack of commitment from anybody from whatever side of politics to do what is necessary here and I’m sure that sentiment will prevail on Friday.
SALES: OK, turning to anti-vaccination. The Government has announced a plan to deny the childcare rebate to people who refuse to vaccinate their kids. Your policy involves the assumption of rational behaviour, that if you do X, then Y will happen. But anti-vaxxers have proven by their behaviour that they are not rational, they’re not motivated by facts or economic imperative, they’re motivated by conspiracy theory and ideology, so why do you think that a rational policy will work on people who behave irrationally?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well there are two objectives here, Leigh. The first one is of course to try and encourage people to do what all the best medical science and advice and professionals have been saying for a long time and frankly it’s common sense. But the other point is this: and that is if someone chooses not to do this, then they will not receive the child care benefit or the child care rebate, which would enable them to put their child in connection with other children where the families have taken that decision. So there are two objectives here, Leigh.
SALES: But that’s my point, though, Minister. That’s – what you put there is a rational proposition, but will these people behave rationally?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well we’re already at 97 per cent of immunisation around the country and there are some 15,000 people who currently claim that exemption for conscientious objection who are using those child care services. Now, the funding support for that – remember the Government pays for two-thirds of the child care bill in this country – and if people want to make that choice, they can make their choice. But, the Government is not going to subsidise that choice. They have no sense of entitlement to taxpayer funds to support that choice.
LEIGH SALES: On another matter, along with domestic violence this Friday, COAG will discuss the carve-up of the GST between states and territories and the Commonwealth. Your Western Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann is calling for a freeze on the carve-up of this year’s GST takings. Is he at odds with some of your other parliamentary colleagues?
MINISTER MORRISON: No, I don’t believe so because we’re doing here is we’re putting it to the states to sort this out. It is a matter for the federation to address what is a very serious issue here. I mean, 30 cents in the dollar is what Western Australia is looking at and coming from a state where New South Wales has always been a contributing state, a donor state in this process, and now has the strongest economy in the country, NSW also needs to look at how well this formula’s going to work in the future. But it is for state premiers and treasurers to put aside their political differences and deal with this issue practically, which the Prime Minister and the Treasurer has challenged them to do and that’s where it rests today.
SALES: But I don’t imagine that your parliamentary colleagues from Tasmania, for example, would be on board with the idea that Mathias Cormann’s putting forward to help Western Australia.
MINISTER MORRISON: Well where we are right now is it’s for the state treasurers and premiers to get in a room and sort this out. That’s the challenge they’ve been given. They’re part of the federation. They’re the ones principally affected by these arrangements and I would hope that they’d be all adult enough to get together and sort this out.
SALES: Do you think that it’s fair that Western Australia is set to receive less than a third of the GST that citizens in its state are paying?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well I have a lot of empathy for the position in Western Australia. As I said, I come from a state where NSW has always been a donor to the other states and Western Australia going to 30 cents in the dollar I don’t think is something that could ever have been envisaged and was really part of what people thought those arrangements would deliver. So I think there is a need for the state treasurers and premiers to get together and sort this out. This is a federation problem.
SALES: Any suggestions as to how?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well, look, it’s for them to work this through because they’re the ones who are affected by the collective decisions that need to be made. It’s fine to try and hand-pass this to the Federal Government, but this is a matter for the federation. We are a federation. These matters I hope would be further discussed on Friday and at other occasions, but so far, they’re not passing that test and it’s important for the states and territories to turn up to that debate and to sort it out.
SALES: Just one final question: how far are you off a deal with the Senate crossbenchers on pension reform and is it safe to assume that that will involve a tightening of the assets test for wealthy retirees?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well, these discussions are continuing, but what I certainly welcome is that whether it’s ACOSS or National Seniors or the Council of the Ageing or it’s crossbenchers like Nick Xenophon or David Leyonhjelm, there is I think an emerging consensus about the need not to stick your head in the sand about the future fairness and sustainability of the pension, but to take decisions which address that. Now that’s where the Coalition, the Government is sitting. The Labor Party has stuck their head in the sand and they are walking away.
SALES: How far are you from a deal?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well the Budget will be released in the usual course and we’ll continue to work constructively with the crossbenchers.
SALES: Is it safe to say that people with more than a million dollars in cash and investments on top of their family home won’t be receiving a part-pension in the future?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well this is the argument that ACOSS has made and I think it’s had very good support across the community, but we’ll work through those details and it’s important that we have something that’s fair and sustainable for the future. We had another measure that was put on the table in last year’s budget. There’s been a lot of discussion of that and I’ve always said something doesn’t come off the table unless something goes on and ACOSS and other organisations I think have been very constructive. But the Labor Party have been left behind in this debate. They just haven’t even turned up. They’ve got their head in the sand. We’ll deal constructively with the issue.
SALES: Scott Morrison, thank you very much for joining me.
MINISTER MORRISON: Thanks very much, Leigh.