Transcript by The Hon Christian Porter MP

Sky News, Jones & Co interview with Alan Jones


ALAN JONES: Christian Porter, good evening and thank you for your time.


ALAN JONES: Do you think Australians understand the gravity of the position that you outlined at the National Press Club?

MINISTER PORTER: Well I don’t think most Australians who are working hard and paying tax and don’t have a lot of contact with the welfare system probably don’t have an understanding about what goes on inside it.

And to be honest, until recently, and putting together the data that we’ve now assembled and paid a lot of money to assemble, not a lot of governments previously had a really accurate picture of what’s going on inside the welfare system.

In the Press Club speech that I gave a couple of weeks ago, what we were trying to highlight and address and focus on is the terrible tragedy of not inconsequential numbers of people inside the system, basically becoming reliant on welfare for very long periods, and most tragically, passing that reliance on to the next generation, effectively to their children.

What we have been doing is effectively keeping in place structures and pushing money out the door in a way that doesn’t actually improve people’s lives in the long run. And trying to break those cycles of dependency and encourage self-reliance through employment is just an absolute critical way in which we know we need to re-work what we’re doing.

ALAN JONES: You started off that answer by saying that…I said that people understand how grave it is, and you said well ‘people are very busy, people are going to work and they’re paying their taxes’ – which is true.

So people watching this program who pay their taxes, you have to get one statistic in your head haven’t you, $160 billion welfare bill, and 80 per cent of all personal tax that’s paid by workers in this country goes to welfare. Eighty per cent, that is staggering and it’s ridiculous.

MINISTER PORTER: Indeed, and just after the Global Financial Crisis when the then-Labor government embedded a whole range of long-run payments into the system based on revenue they were hoping, but never did get from the mining tax, at that point more than 100 per cent of the income tax take was being spent on welfare – more than 100 percent.

Now we’ve wrestled very hard over the past several years to try and get the growth in that part of the budget under control, and we’re making some progress there. But inside the spend of $160 billion, Alan, the fundamental question is, how do we make sure we spend it in the most efficient way possible and in a way that does not see very substantial groups inside the system spend, in essence, their entire lives drawing welfare and then creating an environment where that is the type of life that they’re handing onto the next generation, and cracking that welfare dependency cycle has to be the critical focus of government.

MARK LATHAM: Christian, I think that’s right and I’m glad you’re taking some inspiration from the New Zealand experience, where a few years ago the Finance Minister there, Bill English, made a very important speech where he said that breaking the cycle of intergenerational welfare should be a mainstream conservative concern. Sighting poverty is normally seen as a concern of the centre-left, but he said it should be a concern for conservatives for the reason that it’s not just the social dislocation and all the problems of crime and health, it’s the massive cost, the massive cost to government. If you believe in smaller and leaner government, you can’t sustain high levels of intergenerational welfare dependency.

But it seems to me, in Australia we’ve been talking about this problem for 30 years now, welfare dependency cranked up really over the recession in the early 80’s, so over 30 years. Haven’t we got the know-how in place, the data’s in, the results are in, people pretty well know the nature of the problem. Do we have to go out there reinventing the wheel to find a solution to poverty?

MINISTER PORTER: Well in actual fact Mark, that data that’s been available so far hasn’t been anywhere near the standard that we need.

What we’ve done, is we’ve spent $33 million, we’ve commissioned an entire rebuild of all of the data that we’ve collected over the last 15 years in Social Services – every single category of welfare payment. And what that’s allowing us to do is pack and unpack different groups inside the system, and with great accuracy predict forward what will happen to them is nothing changes.

So for one example, we’ve identified a group of about 4,370 young parents in Australia, effectively young mums, 77 per cent of that group are single. And what we’ve seen is that a minimum of 30 per cent of those 4,300-odd young parents will spend every year for the next 70 years inside the welfare system – a minimum of 30 per cent. And a proportion of that group will never actually leave the welfare system.

So what this type of data allows us to do, at a very detailed level, is break down individual groups and try and focus policy attention, extra expenditure if that’s what is needed, on that group to try and break those cycles.

The data that we’ve been able to amass is much better – light-years ahead of anything that we’ve had at our fingertips previously.

MARK LATHAM: I’ve studied the issue for over 30 years, and the data’s in for me, can I just give you three priorities in this area?

One is the importance of location. If you put a lot of disadvantaged people in a disadvantaged place it makes the problems of disadvantage exponentially worse. And you’ve got to break up public housing in states, you’ve got to move Indigenous people closer to where real jobs exist. You can spend a lot of money on welfare, and make work schemes in places where Bill Gates couldn’t turn a dollar it’s that desolate, and you won’t actually get people out of welfare dependency.

The second issue is education. A lot of the schools in the places we’re talking about have become welfare schools. Poor teacher quality, low expectations about success, it’s almost like testing students is a crime on the poor little loves and it’ll, sort of, break their spirits. So you’ve got welfare government schools in these locations that are a crime against the young people. It’s an absolute crime and shame it’s happened that way.

And the third issue is responsibility. You can’t let people just be bludging on the system. There’s got to be the right to welfare, but also the responsibility to get off your backside and work hard and provide a good role-model to your children and everyone in the street that you’re going to have a go.

I thought the strength in your speech was, you spoke about mutual obligation and the extraordinary number of people who haven’t got mutual obligation applied to them in the welfare system, so you’re acting there. What about the other two – location and education?

MINISTER PORTER: I think location is the most difficult to tackle, if I deal with education first.

Say, for instance, using the dataset we put together as an example, we’ve identified a group of 6600 students, and they were studying, they generally didn’t complete and then they moved onto Newstart and they stayed there for a year.

The results for that very small group are absolutely terrible over the longest sweep of their lives. Now what this data allows us to do, is look at, what have they been studying? Why have they not been completing? What’s going wrong? And I must say in the early stages of looking at that data, but I will bet London to a brick, that a good share of those people were on the failed Labor VET system. So they are taken out of the mutual obligation system. Their only mutual obligation was to study and they were studying things like – the diploma of the essence of flower therapy – and that system that was created in 2012, where there was this explosive amount of taxpayer money being loaned to, in effect, fund courses for students that had no prospects whatsoever of ever getting them into employment. That has to stop and it is stopping. But we can now go back and track what’s gone wrong in those areas.

ALAN JONES: See Christian, people watching you tonight will say, well of course they’re on welfare, because no-one’s got the guts, in government, to take them off welfare.

Now you’re not going to solve the problem unless we can articulate what the problem is. And you expressed it, you said that what will happen, will be children, people watching this program, their kids, will pay for the welfare system of their own time and retrospectively for the welfare system of our time.

Now one example you gave, you told which I couldn’t believe, 4,370 young parents under the age of 18, 4370 young parents under the age of 18, they get a parenting payment. They have one child they get a parenting payment – have two, have three, have four, have five, have six – keep having kids and gutless government keeps paying these people. You then said 77 per cent of these are single and 1,580 continuously receive these payments for 13 years. Only because government stump up the money.

Surely someone’s got to stand up and say, you are not entitled to put your hand in someone else’s pocket – in lingo that the whole of Australia understands. Don’t we have to talk in that lingo?

MINISTER PORTER: I think that this comes back to the point Mark made about mutual obligation.

Now is you receive Newstart as a payment type, for instance, there are mutual obligations that you should search for work, apply for work and accept reasonably offered work to you. One of the difficulties that is attached across the system, is there are a lot of capable working age Australians, including Alan as you’ve noted there, inside the single parent payment system, who in effect don’t have mutual obligations that are attached to their receipt of welfare in any substantive sense. Now it may be that for a period of time during your receipt of a single-parent payment you’re able to work because of your caring duties to your children, but nevertheless during that period, surely there can be a strengthening of mutual obligations, and this is what we have to start a conversation….

ALAN JONES: But Christian, no one should be made to work. If you don’t want to work fine, but don’t put your hand in my pocket when you don’t want to work, that’s your choice.

Now you talk in the speech about…

MINISTER PORTER: If you’re receiving a payment, you should be required to search for work, to take work, to maintain work, or at the very least you should be required to be preparing to be able to be into the workforce. And that I guess is the point around the single parent payment, but also other payments in the system.

But Alan, Mark, even inside Newstart, we’ve been able to identify about 100,000 people inside Newstart, who in effect are using the rules as the presently exist, have been able to become exempted from the usual requirements to search for and try and maintain work.

Now we have to look at the way in which we apply mutual obligations, because frankly in the system, when you’ve got 400,000 working-age Australians who are otherwise capable, full of potential in receipt of a whole variety of payments in a very complicated system but without sufficient mutual obligations to search for and accept work, that shows a problem around the design – that’s something that we just have to tackle head-on.

ALAN JONES: If you said in the speech there are 400,000 students getting – young people – getting a student payment of some sort, this is what you said, and 60 per cent of them stay on welfare. Whose fault’s that? That’s governments fault in simply stumping up the money.

MINISTER PORTER: What you’ve seen over the last several days Alan, again, through Simon Birmingham, the Education Minister, is we’ve put an end to a system that was designed by Labor in 2012, which effectively allowed a student to be loaned a lot of money, that went into the pocket of a dodgy provider to study a diploma course which had no prospect of ever creating employment for that individual, which more often than not wasn’t completed.

The great tragedy of that was that out of the Newstart system, on a student loan being paid to study a course which would never get you a job, you in effect get drawn out of the substantive system of mutual obligation. Your only obligation is to study, but of course that wasn’t happening because of a variety of these providers were, in essence, dragging people in to diplomas that were useless and never finished.

We’ve just put an end to it, and have to redesign the system from scratch.

Now that is a very substantive reform, and the problem with the system that Labor created in 2012 was that it was drawing people out of the mutual obligations that most Australians would expect are placed upon you when you are in receipt of very substantial amounts of taxpayer funding.

MARK LATHAM: Christian, I suppose we don’t want to be too much of a raincloud here, pouring all over your parade I want to congratulate you…

MINISTER PORTER: I’ve got enough of those Mark.

MARK LATHAM: I’m sure they’re all over the Parliament, don’t worry – and most of them sitting behind you.

I want to congratulate you for putting a focus on welfare dependency. I’ve seen a lot of reviews, a lot of well-meaning talk over the years. But you seem to be taking this seriously and quite frankly, I’m sure out there in the great suburbs and regions of the nation, people have had a gutful of hearing about marriage equality and symbolic issues, Indigenous recognition. Indigenous recognition doesn’t put a single Indigenous person in a job, doesn’t get a single Indigenous kid out of horrific circumstances in a bad home. So at least you’re right there with the bread and butter issues that can have long-term benefits for the country. So more power to you, and I hope you have a lot of success and you get a lot of support on your own side.

ALAN JONES: We’ve run out of time Christian, but I will say this, what we haven’t addressed tonight is corporate welfare, and people watching this want to know why Chinese owners of wind turbines are subsidised by the taxpayer to the tune of billions of dollars – they don’t understand that, they don’t understand that.

And there are people watching this program, they make cakes, or they fix up peoples tyres or whatever, they don’t get those kind of subsidies.

Then of course we’ve got parliamentary welfare. That business about the gold card. It has been in the parliament to abolish the gold card for, I think, 700 days over two years, it’s still there, people leaving parliamentarians. The Gillard’s of this world who destroyed the economy leave on permanent pay, superannuation of around $180,000 a year for life. People say, I don’t understand this, these people have completely buggered up the economy and this is what we give them when they leave. So there are a whole range of things where we’ve got to actually come to grips with taxpayers money being thrown out there, where the people who are voting say, this isn’t fair, none of that’s done for me, all they’re doing is taking the money out of my pocket to provide for this largess.

But you can’t answer all of that now, it’s really good, we need to talk again.

Please, as Mark said, please keep up the battle, and one can only hope that the numbers are there in the Parliament and in the Senate to support you.

MINISTER PORTER: Thanks gentlemen.

ALAN JONES: You’re most welcome.