Transcript by The Hon Scott Morrison MP

Press conference, Adelaide


Subjects: Coalition Government provides further $1.7 million for Emergency Relief, welfare reform, ACOSS proposal on welfare reform, Labor’s head in the sand approach to welfare sustainability, NDIS, superannuation, pension increases under the Coalition Government, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, child care.

MINISTER MORRISON: Today is the day that there will be the transition from the previous Emergency Relief providers across the country that form part of the Department of Social Services grants programme that was drawn to conclusion late last year. As of today some 300 Emergency Relief providers are taking up the role from those who were providing the service previously or will be continuing in that role around the country. The government is providing some $107 million of Emergency Relief support to people in communities right across the country. Earlier this year I made the announcement that following the outcome of the DSS grant round, as it applied to the Emergency Relief providers, that we would extend the funding until the end of March while we work to ensure there were no unintended consequences or service gaps that may have emerged as a result of the transfer from one set of providers to the other. Over the course of the last few months we have been working to ensure that has been the case and during that period of time we have been able to ensure that in places like Margaret River with the Community Resource Centre there they will be able to continue to provide that support. The Aboriginal Family Support Service here in South Australia providing Indigenous access in rural and remote parts of the state will continue to provide support. The Ararat Emergency Relief Committee in Victoria, the Mareeba Information and Support Centre, the Gundagai Neighbourhood Centre, the [inaudible] Association in Queensland – these are just some of a number of organisations who provide the important work of Emergency Relief around the country. They are there to help vulnerable Australians providing a safety net for people experiencing financial distress and hardship. This important support is provided in the area of food parcels and clothes and bedding and household items and vouchers that can be used for utilities in supermarkets and includes referrals to appropriate services. Often it is the case that the first point of contact that someone in distress will have is with an Emergency Relief provider. That not only provides the opportunity for our community to provide direct and immediate financial support in situations but to connect with people and try to better understand the broader issues they may be facing and to connect them up to the many other services and support that is available in our community.

The offer I made to Members of Parliament and Senators right around the country to continue to bring matters to attention where they believe there may be funding gaps or service gaps that may have emerged, still remains on the table. I will be pleased to consider any of those specific instances should they be brought to our attention. We continue to work through the end of 30 June with the broader DSS grant round as we move from one set of providers to another. This is the overall grant round, which includes these Emergency Relief providers, some $800 million of support to these organisations, some 700 specific community organisations that are delivering these services right around the country. We extended the funding for frontline service providers in each of these areas out to June 30 and we will continue to work through the process of identifying again, any unintended service gaps that may have emerged in this process of transitioning from one service provider to another and again, where there are Members of Parliament who are concerned about any potential gaps the invitation for them to make direct contact with me and my office and Department to ensure we can try and address those gaps where appropriate then that is the process we will engage in.

Secondly I wanted to congratulate ACOSS today on being part of the solution, on being part of the discussion that we are having to ensure that we have a sustainable and adequate pension and retirement incomes for the future for all Australians. ACOSS today has put forward today a proposal in relation to the pension that is something the government of course for those who are serious about being part of this conversation we will consider and work through with them, not only them but other stakeholders and other Members of Parliament who are keen to be part of finding the right answer for how we can ensure the sustainability of our safety net for older Australians into the future.

On the current trajectory of doing nothing when it comes to these issues the Intergenerational Report demonstrates that these outlays, these payments paid for by taxpayers will represent 3.6% of GDP. Now if we are able to go down a reform path here then the government’s measures will take us to a point where that is 2.7% of GDP. The difference between those two figures is, in today’s dollars, in today’s economy with GDP, is some $14.4 billion. Now I don’t agree with the Opposition when they say that that is a sustainable outcome, that there could be a $14.4 billion blow out in outlays in this area and somehow for the opposition to think that is a sustainable position – just so you know, that would pretty much wipe out the NDIS Commonwealth contribution. It would be double what we are currently paying in support for child care in this country, a critical part of the government’s agenda this year and particularly for this year’s budget.

So we welcome the fact that ACOSS want to be part of this discussion and that they are putting things on the table. I have said since coming into this portfolio that we are open to those organisations and political parties who want to be part of the solution, not just there as reactionaries as we see from the Labor Party at state and federal level where they simply say no to everything, stick their heads in the sand and are not interested in ensuring we have a sustainable budget position that will ensure a safety net is there for future generations of Australians, not just those who are here today.

The NDIS here in South Australia will benefit some 33,000 South Australians and from July 2015 children up to the age of 14 years will be able to participate in the programme. We anticipate working with the South Australian Government we will be able to move to a full programme by July of 2018 but that of course continues to depend on our ability to work together and get these initiatives in place. All parties are operating in good faith in that area and we will continue to do that and I commend Minister Fifield for the work he is doing in that area. Questions?

QUESTION: Do you think that it is fair that the wealthiest retirees are receiving these millions of dollars in tax breaks each year?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well Australians invest over the course of their lives to try and take responsibility for themselves in their retirement and I think this is something we want to encourage in this country. The more that people provide for themselves, the less they then will have to draw down on the welfare safety net. Eight out of ten income taxpayers are required to go to work every day to pay for the welfare system of $150 billion in this country. We want to encourage Australians to save and to be able to provide for their own retirement. That is why I welcome the proposal put forward by ACOSS, this is by no means the government adopting this but I am simply saying good on ACOSS for being part of the debate unlike the Labor Party and being prepared to put things on the table because they understand the need for a sustainable safety net for the future. That is why they are a partner the government can work with on this.

QUESTION: So does that mean you are ruling out the government will accept these calls for reform. The ASFA has made these calls, ACOSS has made these calls to look at reforming the higher end of the superannuation [inaudible].

MINISTER MORRISON: I am not the Treasurer, I am not responsible for superannuation policy. We have a tax white paper that is out there at the moment and the Treasurer has called for a multi-party conversation and discussion about the policy process in that area and I think that is a good move forward. These observations have been made by other groups. What I am saying particularly in relation to the pension is that the proposal put forward by ACOSS today is something we will consider seriously. I am interested in getting an outcome and a solution here that delivers a sustainable pension for all Australians, not just those today but those in the future. Those children born today, those leaving school today I want there to be a pension for them in the future, not just there to be a pension today and ACOSS by putting this forward today understands that that is something we have to address. We can’t just stick our head into the sand which is what the Labor Party appear to be doing. It is not too late for Labor to be part of this discussion about the sustainability of our pension for the future. I hope that they do but until then I am very pleased to see that ACOSS and other groups such as National Seniors and the Council On The Ageing and others have also been prepared to be part of this discussion as well.

QUESTION: How are your negotiations going with the Senate crossbench on the three-year review panel on pensions?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well the pension is going up every six months. The pension has gone up by $78 a fortnight since the last election for couple pensioners and over $51 for single pensioners. So it continues to go up despite the scare campaign of the Labor Party and it has gone up by over 6%. Our proposal at present which sits at the table is that the pension will continue to rise every six months on that basis but for every three years in addition to those increases there will be an opportunity to review the adequacy of those payments. Now ACOSS has put forward a different approach today and that is why we will consider that in the context of that discussion. But I am meeting with Nick Xenophon while I am here in South Australia. It is always good to catch up with Nick on many issues, He is a very constructive and engaged member of the crossbench and I will be discussing again these issues through with him and that is where we will have that conversation, not here.

QUESTION: And are you still planning to legislate on pension changes in this term?

MINISTER MORRISON: I have always said I will keep on the table measures until there are new measures to put on the table. That is why I have extended a call to the sector and to other party members from other parties if they have better proposals to make our pension sustainable – that is what we are trying to do here. This is not about indexation or assets test or anything like that specifically. It is about getting to a point where we can be in agreement about the measures that will deliver a sustainable pension. That is the goal. That is what I am wedded to. The government is wedded to the goal and our goal is to have a sustainable and adequate pension into the future and it is clear that if you keep just going down the path that Labor is suggesting which is to stick your head in the sand and do nothing then you will run the pension off the edge of a cliff. And in ten years a government will have to take drastic measures to try and deal with the blow-out in expenditure. That is not what I want to see for a generation of Australians ten years from now. I want to see a modest, incremental change which will help us transition to a more sustainable pension for future generations of Australians.

QUESTION: If I could just ask about the G20 leak, did the Australian Government inform international leaders at the time of that leak?

MINISTER MORRISON: This was a matter the Department of Immigration and Border Protection has already responded to. It was an individual act of human error and it is highly regrettable as I know the Secretary at the time was keen to point out to me when I was the Minister in that area. It is not something that anyone hoped would have happened but it has happened and the appropriate steps were taken to deal with all the relevant other national governments at the time.

QUESTION: And so when did you tell them?

MINISTER MORRISON: I just said the appropriate and relevant action was taken at the time.

QUESTION: What advice did the Immigration Department get from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner on how to respond to the breach?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well I am not going to go into issues of advice in a portfolio I previously held and on an issue as sensitive as this. I don’t think that would be terribly responsible.

QUESTION: Sorry, just going back when you said that you took action at an appropriate time, what does that actually mean?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well it means this is a sensitive issue and it is not one that I think is assisted by public discussion. The action was taken by Departmental officials at the time. It was a regrettable action involving an individual act of human error and human beings are not infallible and the appropriate action was taken both within the Department and whatever other advices were necessary.

QUESTION: Was it taken within weeks, was it taken within months?

MINISTER MORRISON: It was taken in the appropriate timeframes.

QUESTION: Just on child care, how are your talks going with Labor? Have you put a proposal to them?

MINISTER MORRISON: I am meeting with Kate Ellis after this press conference today. We have been meeting over several weeks. My Department has given her a full briefing on a whole range of issues and we will be responding to further questions today. I think it is best for us to continue to have those discussions privately. I think what we both hope to achieve is an improvement in the system, one that I think focuses more of the support on middle to lower income families. I think there is a need and we would both hopefully agree, I am sure we do, that we need to do things which put downward pressure on the price increases in child care. We also I think very much agree on the fact that child care support is not a, if you like, sentimental indulgence. It is something that is critical to how our economy operates. To be able to give families the tools they need to be able to get into work and stay in work when they have had children is incredibly important. The truth is today you can do that with great confidence about the quality of care that is being provided in early childhood learning and child care centres across the country. That is a product of the quality improvements that have been made over time. The government is not walking away from those. Parents want quality and affordable child care. This package is focusing on the affordability in particular and maintaining the improvements in quality that have already been achieved. We will also be dealing more directly and specifically with issues of disadvantage. There is a stream of activity that we are looking at which deals with the economic participation here. There are 165,000 families the Productivity Commission identified who want to be able to work more or get into work and we need to make sure the equation for them around the kitchen table as they consider these matters is far better than it is now, particularly for middle and low income families. But there are also families – in Indigenous communities, people in remote areas of the country, people with children with special needs, people living in areas of high socio-economic disadvantage and we need to be able to address those. But we can’t have the subsidies system be all things to all people. It needs to be very targeted activities. We need to make sure that, particularly for the subsidy for the mainstream programme, it is about helping people to be in work and stay in work. That is what it needs to do. It is not a something for nothing proposition. That is what we are hoping to achieve by increasing investment in this area. But we also need to pay for it and we have measures before the Senate that need to be passed when it comes to creating the savings that enables us to invest in these important areas in our economy. Ok, thank you very much for your time.