Transcript by The Hon Christian Porter MP

Sky News – PVO Newsday


MINISTER PORTER: Kristina. How are you?


PETER VAN ONSELEN: Good to see you as well, Christian Porter.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: …and I’m, Peter’s here too so please..

MINISTER PORTER: Peter, good to see you.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: Christian Porter, there were a lion’s share of savings in yesterday’s MYEFO did come out of your portfolio and I am going to get to that in a moment, but I want to turn first to an area where there was an increased expenditure and that is the PPL. What’s going on there?

MINISTER PORTER: Ah yes. This is what we have sort of colloquially termed the jockey issue, I guess. The rules that about eligibility for paid parental leave have essentially required that you work a certain number of days in a period but that you work over the period of 10 months in the last 13. And the way that it was actually working in practice was that a range of women are in professions that can generally be male dominated but they are making a great impact in, which is fantastic, but there are also professions that require for occupational health and safety reasons that you step out of work at an earlier stage due to safety reasons because of your pregnancy. So jockeys, mining, painting is another one, and what that meant was that those women were not meeting the relevant requirement. So, look we’ve decided to change them because the rule was very old fashioned and clunky, it just didn’t take into account modern work practices. So now you can be a female jockey or miner or painter and work according to the occupational health and safety law and still apply and be ticked off for paternity leave – parental leave.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: Well, great news no doubt and particularly this year when Michelle Payne becomes the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup. Of course, something you and I discussed earlier in the year, Peter here on this show, so I am…

PETER VAN ONSELEN: So did everyone else in the country I think.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: No, no, I meant the jockey issue, the paid parental leave, that’s what we discussed. We did talk about that. You see what I’ve got to work with here Minister.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: (inaudible).

KRISTINA KENEALLY: We were, indeed. Congratulations, Minister Porter on that move, but let me ask you again about the PPL. I mean there have been reports today and suggestions that the government is softening its position on double dipping, that is, not allowing women to take both the government funded scheme and the employer funded scheme if they have one. Has Joe Hockey’s decision to double dip softened your view on the mothers of Australia double dipping?

MINISTER PORTER: Well, I think there was a real problem that was sought to be solved in the previous announcement and I am working through with the crossbench on some other structural models that we might be able to find some shared ground and actually try and deal with this problem. I think the problem is a real one and the problem is that there are a large number of people in the community who receive very generous parental leave from their employer, so they might be paid for instance 18 weeks at very close to their actual wage, which is a high wage and then on top of that were able to access the $11,600 odd payment that is coming from the government. Now I am not convinced and I don’t think that it is a convincing argument that that is very good use of tax payers’ money, but how to solve that structural issue whilst making the system as fair as can be possible really means that you’ve got to design it around some kind of principle. I think that essentially the principle should be that people should get 18 weeks parental leave and that is what I am working with the crossbench on. We are not in a position to make any firm announcements yet, but the work continues.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: So, are you moving away from your predecessor’s language, now Treasurer, Scott Morrison’s language that mothers who are getting both schemes are rorting the system?

MINISTER PORTER: Well I mean, I think there is two categories of people who are getting both schemes. There is categories of people on very high wages who get paid for 18 weeks parental leave at a high wage and then get the additional $11,600. Now, whatever you call that I am just not convinced that that is very good use of tax payers’ money. There are also people who might be getting less than 18 weeks, either at a low or a high pay from their employer who are also able to access that $11,600 and in some instances that might be justifiable, in others perhaps not. So it is really trying to unpack all of the data around who is receiving the payment and in what circumstances and trying to make it as fair as possible.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Can I ask you this, Christian Porter. What are the chances of the government taking another look at the signature paid parental leave scheme that you took to the last election where you entered federal politics?

MINISTER PORTER: I am certainly not aware of any moves outside my office and portfolio or we’re certainly not looking at it. I mean, what we are looking at, at the moment is how to make the system that relates to this $11,500 tax payer funded parental leave as fair as possible, in the way that it interacts with what are often quite large payments –

PETER VAN ONSELEN: – is it sort of an aspirational goal because it was the central policy of the election of this Coalition Government, understandably for fiscal reasons, Tony Abbott had to junk it. Is it a sort of a long term goal when the fiscal climate changes to be able to really look at a PPL structured along those lines?

MINISTER PORTER: Look, I am not looking at that sort of long term aim at the moment. What I am looking at is how we deal with legacy issues that we’ve got, how we restrain expenditure and the reality is that there is no doubt there is a –

PETER VAN ONSELEN: – but aspirationally though, aspirationally would it sort of be the kind of thing, obviously we are talking about the Howard-Costello type fiscal situation, could you imagine looking at a scheme such as that, the designs principles of it being what they were?

MINISTER PORTER: If you are asking me what might we look at if we had a $20 billion surplus, I mean you might look at any number of things, but that’s not what we are looking at, at the moment.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: And now can you just confirm though that in the MYEFO there is still a cut to the PPL and how much is that cut and how many women are going to lose out?

MINISTER PORTER: Well, what the MYEFO shows is a change from the previous policy position which was written into the Budget and it shows a decrease in the save from the previous position of about $37 million which gives you some indication that we are looking at a way in conjunction with the crossbench to try and soften the policy somewhat. But there is still money to be saved in terms of cutting back upon the parental leave system, but particularly to that group of people who receive already generous benefits from their employer that allow them to stay home during the better of 18 weeks after giving birth.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: So, there is still a kind of about $950 million in the PPL. Would that be an accurate number?

MINISTER PORTER: Yes. I think it was about $990 million minus about $40 million so that sounds about right. So look, we are still progressing measures that will save money in the parental leave system and we are trying to do that in a way in conjunction with negotiations with the crossbench where we do limit the ability for highly paid workers who receive generous employer related parental leave to also be able to access on top a tax payer funded scheme. We just don’t think that that is necessarily a very good way to spend tax payers’ money.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: Alright, we will wait to see where you get with that. Can I ask about the other areas in which you are planning to save money in your portfolio as revealed in MYEFO. I mean in the May Budget there is, I think about $1.5 billion was announced as efficiency and integrity measures in your portfolio, yesterday another $2 billion announced in savings in your portfolio – a lot are coming from integrity and compliance matters, what’s changed in the six months between May and now that allowed you to get that much more savings out of those measures?

PETER VAN ONSELEN: A change of Minister, Kristina.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: Well, that’s what I am, I am hoping that he is going to say that he is clever-er that his predecessor.

MINISTER PORTER: Yeah I’m sure that’s a good political move.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: Career limiting. Career limiting.

MINISTER PORTER: I mean, what we have done is we have had a look at, as you point out in the 15/16 Budget there was about a $1.5 billion save written into the forward estimates based on what is described as income data matching. What we have found is that with better use of big data we are able to cross reference what people are telling Social Services is their income to what they are telling the ATO is their income. That might sound like it’s a simple matter but on the ground in practical terms it is not, but we have kind of cracked that code and we are able to do it. And what we have found over the first six months and these figures will be something that we announce separately in the not too distant future. But we are being very, very successful in identifying debt through that income matching system and recouping it, so what we have –

KRISTINA KENEALLY: So, can I just ask is that technology, are you saying that you have been trialling that technology, that technology didn’t exist in May? I mean really what gives you the confidence that this technology is now going to work when the Government wasn’t confident enough to include it in May?

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Greater agility.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: Innovation flexibility?

MINISTER PORTER: Well, for instance, we did include it in May and the first six months of it shows that it is working very well. So what this Budget does is extend it out a further two years but it also uses the same technology, not just for cross data referencing of someone’s personal income information in terms of employment income, but also income that they have earned from investment properties or rental properties or non-employment based income. So what we are doing is we have seen it works in one context, we are applying it to another. There are, Kristina, a range of other measures which don’t relate to income data matching, I mean for instance we have determined to do something that no government has previously done and that is to apply a general interest charge to individuals who accumulated a debt whilst in the welfare system and then have moved into employment. And what we have found is that there is about $870 million worth of debt outstanding amongst that group of Australians and there was very low incentive to pay it back. And what we are saying is that if you do not enter into a reasonable measured time-to-pay arrangement to pay back that debt once you are working, then we will put an interest on that debt of around about 9 per cent, which is similar to what the tax office does, and we think that’s going to provide, based on the analysis that we’ve done, a very significant incentive for people to do the right thing and pay back their debt. And look, as a matter of general principle, it is a very good way to get savings for the tax payer that can get us back to surplus and help us along that path and be reinvested in other priority areas of expenditure by giving people a bit of a nudge to do the right thing and pay back debt where it’s been accumulated, but also identify the debt.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Christian Porter, just on another issue if I can just ask you if I request an interview with you, and you respond that you would answer email questions, so I should send through some email questions. If I then send those questions through and you then provide responses by email back to me, have we engaged with one another?

MINISTER PORTER: Is this a hypothetical or are you referring to an issue that’s arisen?

PETER VAN ONSELEN: It’s a hypothetical.

MINISTER PORTER: I mean it would depend on, I mean as you would be well aware, Peter the word engagement has a French derivation from the 16th century and its now used in about five or six different contexts. Look if we would really turn on the ever green legal truth then it would turn on the particular facts of the case and I will leave that to you to sort out with whoever it is that you’ve engaged or not engaged with.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: Well he regularly non-engages with me when I send him an email but let’s say –

MINISTER PORTER: What a shame, Kristina, because you are very engaging.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: Oh thank you. I like that use of the word engaging. But if you send an email to someone and they answer your questions –

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Not all of them.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: No, not all but some of them, then what the hell else is it but engagement?

PETER VAN ONSELEN: What is it if it’s not engagement?

MINISTER PORTER: In actual fact the word has a derivation in combat in a military sense and who knows, I just, I can’t answer your question because I wasn’t involved in that process.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Alright, well let’s not engage with this anymore.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: I am done engaging.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Let…if we are engaging with it, let me ask you this though, Christian Porter. Back in your portfolio area the toughest part about your portfolio is probably not even selling it to the public and that is saying something because I think that is tough – the toughest part is selling it to the Senate. How are you going to ensure that you don’t become victim to what so many Ministers over the life cycle of the Abbott Government and now Turnbull Government have fallen victim to which is a recalcitrant Senate?

MINISTER PORTER: Well I think, Peter, there is a close but not perfect correlation between those two things. If you can sell something publically it does very much buttress your ability to sell to the crossbenchers the policy. I must say that the debt recovery measures, the stringency measures, the means testing measures that we have in this MYEFO document which save $2 billion or thereabouts of tax payers’ money. I am happy to go out every day of the week and sell that publically and I think that ability is going to enhance my ability with the crossbench to sell it to them. Why should it be that hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of debt for people who have been overpaid when they were in the welfare system and then go and get a job should not be paid back. And I think that is a strong argument that I will make publically, that I will make with the crossbench, time will tell but I’ve got an elevated sense of confidence that these are very reasonable measures and of course we can’t get back to surplus unless we make these type of savings.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: So essentially, Minister Porter, you are going to engage with the Senate?

MINISTER PORTER: Well, I am engaging with the Senate. They are engaging with me. But it is definitely not an engagement in a military sense, its convivial…

PETER VAN ONSELEN: But it’s good to know that you are engaging with them even if you don’t ultimately get an answer to all of your concerns but if it is something well at least that is something that has come out of the engagement.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: Indeed. Thank you for engaging with us.

MINISTER PORTER: I think we’ve got the inventors of Scrabble.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Thanks for your time, appreciate it.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: Thank you, Minister.