ABC AM Programme
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: One of the senior figures talked about as part of a potential leadership overhaul is the Social Services Minister, Scott Morrison. He joins me now. Mr Morrison, is the Abbott prime ministership now at the crisis point it appears to be?
MINISTER MORRISON: I don’t believe it is, but I do know that the Budget is in a very difficult position and I do know that Australian families are dealing with a lot of challenges and I do know that that’s where they want our focus to be and that’s where the Prime Minister’s focus is and I think that will be demonstrated today when he gets to his feet at the National Press Club.
BRISSENDEN: Ok, if it’s not a crisis, we’ve got headlines in all the papers across the country today, things like ‘PM fights for his political life’, ‘D-Day’, ‘Abbott on the ropes’. We’ve got business also clearly unsettled by this with a letter from Robert Bryan, one of Queensland’s big mining execs calling for Tony Abbott to step aside. It certainly seems like a few problems.
MINISTER MORRISON: Well, I’m not unaware of all of those headlines, Michael, and I’m sure the Australian people aren’t either and all of that is there in terms of that reporting and that is the heavy weather that governments have to deal with – all prime ministers, all governments have had to deal with that at various parts of their life – but what is important is that through those challenges, you remain focussed on why the people put you there in the first place. Now, we have had some strong deliveries in our first year. I don’t think people can deny that we got rid of the carbon tax and the mining tax and the boats have stopped and all of those things which I know people tire of us reminding them about, but that is the things that we were asked to do. Now, the Budget task remains very, very significant. I mean, last year we had over 200,000 new jobs created – over 500 a day – and we’re getting people into work. We need to get more people into work and we need to help families get into work at that time after they’ve had children and that’s what we’ve decided has to be the absolute focus of participation and that’s why the PPL scheme won’t be going ahead and we are going to put the focus on a child care package in particular that addresses that very real challenge facing Australian families.
BRISSENDEN: Ok. Well, no one doubts there are budgetary problems, that’s clear. The Galaxy Poll yesterday had the PM’s approval rating plunging to 27 per cent, the latest Fairfax poll has the Government trailing Labor 54 to 46. You guys have been in now for nearly 18 months dealing with this budget problem, but you haven’t seemed to have convinced the public that you’re doing it the right way.
MINISTER MORRISON: Well we’ve had our challenges in getting things through the Senate and that’s not an excuse, that’s just a reality, and the Labor Party have opposed measures to fix the budget mess that they left us that they actually put forward when they were in government. Bill Shorten doesn’t have a plan for the country; he just has a plan to stop the Coalition fixing the problem of the government that he was a part of. Today, you’ll hear the Prime Minister get up and outline his direction and I would encourage Australians and I would encourage everyone to listen to what he puts forward today and the plan that he continues to articulate because it’s the Government that has a plan to fix these incredible problems. It was only less than 18 months ago that these problems weren’t being addressed. The boats were still coming, the carbon tax was still there and the chaos and policy mess, Michael, was there. Now, I admit that we have political problems – we have big political problems – but the policy problem is the one that we’re focussed on and we’ve got to do better on the politics and that’s up to all ministers, all members of the Government, not just the Prime Minister and…
BRISSENDEN: But some in your own Party believe that the Prime Minister is part of the problem and that he hasn’t got the judgement to overcome these problems.
MINISTER MORRISON: Well, I think it’s a job for all of the Government, all of the ministers, all of the leadership to ensure that we manage the politics of this well so we can get the policy reforms through that are very, very necessary and…
BRISSENDEN: Are you part of the rescue plan? Should there be a change of leadership? Have you been approached?
MINISTER MORRISON: No, that’s not something that has focussed my mind and it’s not something I have any interest in. What I have an interest in is getting this child care package into a form that I would hope would be able to attract broad-based support, a lot like the NDIS has, to ensure that Australian families can have the sort of support that helps them get back into work, because when the previous government put the rebate up from 30 to 50 per cent it didn’t get any families back into work. There was no change in the participation rate. It just had an inflationary impact on the prices. They then put a quality framework in which we’re not changing, but we have to acknowledge that that quality framework put the prices up as well for families.
BRISSENDEN: So no one’s approached you about trying to solve this political problem, because, I mean, clearly there are lessons out of Queensland, you’ve got a New South Wales state election coming up. Your New South Wales state colleagues haven’t expressed their concerns to you or approached you about trying to do something about it?
MINISTER MORRISON: Of course I’m aware of the concerns that are out there, but the way that the Government moves forward is by dealing with the things we were elected to deal with and not getting engaged in the personality games that can often occur and that people, I know, can focus on. But the Australian people want us to fix the mess. They want us to focus on them and that’s what I’m doing, that’s what the Prime Minister’s doing, that’s what the Cabinet will be doing and we’re all doing our day jobs – the ones we were elected to do – and our day jobs go long into the night because there’s a very big set of problems to address.
BRISSENDEN: Ok, and in today’s speech, it’s widely reported the Prime Minister’s going to be dropping his PPL scheme. You say that’s the case. This is something he’s taken to two elections. Who’s he been listening to?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well this has been happening now for some time and even before my appointment last year, the Prime Minister had indicated some changes in this area and that was about trying to get the focus onto a families package that really addressed what the priority need was. Now, he and I have had many discussions, as other colleagues have had in that policy context, and this is the right way to go ahead…
BRISSENDEN: Ok, let put it another way – it has taken 18 months, then, for this to turn around. Has he been too stubborn?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well it went up as part of the Budget and that wasn’t accepted through the Senate and you have to deal with the realities of that, but you also have to make sure that you’re putting all of your best policy resources into the areas that can make the most difference and that is going to be in the form of child care and the PPL has to pass, like any measure, the test of what’s best for participation. Those participation goals were not being met by the previous government’s scheme and how they changed it, so we need to address that. It’s very important for families that we don’t allow them to get into a welfare trap, simply by the process of having kids and not being able to get back to work because they can’t get access to the right sort of child care at affordable rates and it gives them certainty, and that’s what we’re seeking to deliver.
BRISSENDEN: I’ll put it to you, that’s not the only issue that needs to be addressed…
MINISTER MORRISON: Well it’s the one I focus on, Michael, because it’s my responsibility.
BRISSENDEN: Of course, I understand that, but what else would you like to see in today’s speech? There’s got to be a circuit breaker there somewhere for you and your colleagues, too, I would have thought?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well I think you’ve already reported on earlier today some of the changes the Prime Minister is looking at in terms of how he engages more our colleagues in how decisions are made and I think that’s an honest reflection by the Prime Minister and I think Government members will welcome that. Our Government members are doing a great job. They are well-respected and well liked in their communities and they’ve got their ear very firmly and closely to the ground about what the priorities need to be. They also know that we’ve inherited a big mess. We inherited it from Labor and we’re trying to fix it and Bill Shorten, as I said, won’t have a plan on how to fix the problems that his government that he was part of left to this Government. He only has a plan to stop us fixing them. But you’ll hear from the Prime Minister today a plan to address those issues.
BRISSENDEN: I seem to recall when he won the leadership all those years ago he said he’d consult more, too. He said it many times in the past. What makes you think this time will be any different?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well, I think this is an iterative process and there’s s further, I think, significant iteration today and I think what we’re seeing is the Prime Minister, with his Cabinet, focussing on the policy challenges and the policy changes. I mean, since I came into the portfolio, we’ve already made a number. There are some reforms that I’ve temporarily suspended, such as those to family day care to get some of the details right so there are no unintended consequences. The marriage voucher scheme, that has been disbanded and I’ve put that funding into front line community service to ensure that there’s no gap in critical areas when we transition from the old grants system into the new system…
BRISSENDEN: This is really about the Prime Minister and his approach to governing and his approach to his colleagues here in Canberra, isn’t it?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well, I think it’s important that he has good processes that connect us to the ground and our members are critical to that process – our Government members are critical to that process – and I think that’s what he’s putting in place.
BRISSENDEN: And his office and his Chief of Staff have come under criticism too. Should there be changes there?
MINISTER MORRISON: Everyone’s got criticism for everybody, it would seem, around the place, but what’s important is what gets done and we have got a lot done. And, yes, we have attracted our share of criticism and there are some things that we wish went better and there are some things we wish were able to pass through the Senate and that hasn’t happened, and when that happens a government, as the Prime Minister was outlining late last year, you have to reset, you have to refocus, and I think you have to proceed at a pace of reform which gets the job done, that you can bring the Australian people along with, but you’ve got to have a plan and you’ve got to be acting on that plan. That’s how you get things done. Bill Shorten has no plan. He expects to just sail in to the next election. I’m noticing Bill Shorten’s getting pretty cocky at the moment, but you know, if he wants to get that cocky, he better be able to back it up with a plan.
BRISSENDEN: You can’t really blame him, the way you’re going at the moment, though, can you? I mean…
MINISTER MORRISON: Well if you want to give him that leave pass, Michael, you may, but I’m certainly not going to give him that leave pass and I don’t think the Australian people will give him a leave pass for being cocky about the fact that he thinks he will inevitably become Prime Minister and it will be thrown at his feet.
BRISSENDEN: Ok Scott Morrison thanks very much for joining us.
MINISTER MORRISON: Thanks Michael.