Release type: Transcript


891 ABC Adelaide, Matthew Abraham and David Bevan


Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham
Minister for Education and Training

Subject: Terrorism; Child Care


Matthew Abraham: Let’s get into Super Wednesday right here with Matthew Abraham, David Bevan, and joined by Mark Butler. He’s the Labor MP for Port Adelaide, he’s the Opposition Environment and Climate Change Spokesman, and for good measure, National President of the Labor Party. He swings a lot of clout in the ALP. Mark Butler, welcome to the program.

Mark Butler: Good morning gentlemen.

Matthew Abraham: Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator, Minister for Education and Training, and one of those who installed Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister. Simon Birmingham welcome.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning gentlemen.

Matthew Abraham: Senator. And Greens Senator for South Australia, Sarah Hanson-Young, very experienced Senator in the Federal Parliament. Spokesperson on Immigration and Early Education, welcome to the program.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Thanks for having me.

David Bevan: Now, we’re just going to assume, crazy assumption here, we’re going to assume that Simon Birmingham likes the new tone that Malcolm Turnbull has brought to national security. So let’s go straight to Mark Butler, and then Sarah Hanson-Young. Mark Butler, do you have a problem with the way Malcolm Turnbull is discussing security?

Mark Butler: No. So the Prime Minister made a statement yesterday to the Parliament that was then responded to by the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, and I think both were very fine speeches. Both I think reflected the very deep level of concern in the Australian community after the attacks in Paris, in Beirut, in Mali, the downing of the airplane over the Sinai in Egypt. There is a very serious level of concern in the Australian community, and rightly so.

David Bevan: And you think Turnbull’s pitched it just right?

Mark Butler: Well, no no, it’s just not really a matter for the Labor Party as to the differences in tone between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull. What we look at is the substance of the policy of the Government, because we’ve been very clear over the last couple of years, as far as possible, to be bipartisan on national security matters. Now, there hasn’t really been any …

Matthew Abraham: …Well there hasn’t been a big change in substance, there [indistinct] …

Mark Butler: There hasn’t been any change.

Matthew Abraham: No.

Mark Butler: And we still find ourselves comfortably able to support the Government in its approach to ISIS, its mission in Syria and in Iraq, and there hasn’t been any change really to that with the change of leadership from Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull. Now, there’s a bit of a debate going on within the Liberal Party obviously, I think we’ve seen Tony Abbott and Kevin Andrews and a number of others seek to argue for the Government to move to a much different level of mission, a mission not supported as far as we can see by any of the allies on the ground in Syria, or conducting air missions. But we’re not going to let that distract us. Our job is to be as constructive as possible on National Security. There has been no change of substance with the change of leadership from Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull, and Labor’s still in a position where we can support the Government’s missions overseas.

Matthew Abraham: Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator, do you buy this … this, I suppose, strategy of sort of calming people down, we don’t refer to ISIS as a death cult, matter of fact Malcolm Turnbull is saying they’re weak and they have more smartphones than guns. Does that reassure you?

Sarah Hanson-Young:  Look I think that the change of tone is significant actually, and I think it’s incredibly welcome. I think a lot of people were right to be fearful of the idea that when Tony Abbott was Prime Minister that he was thumping his chest and being as loud as possible, and as frightening as possible, rather than focusing particularly on the task ahead, and that is defeating the extremists. The concern that I have is that the legislation that’s currently before the Parliament, which is what both of- we’ve got the Government and the Opposition in lock-step on, to remove dual-citizenship of people who are terrorists. My concern with that is actually how is that Australia playing its role in combatting extremism? If somebody is a terrorist, they’re a criminal…

Matthew Abraham: …Well isn’t it Australia protecting itself? It’s not necessarily about scaring ISIS off, it’s protecting Australian citizens.

Sarah Hanson-Young:  Well is it though Matt? Because if somebody is a terrorist, I would prefer to see them locked up and the key thrown away. I don’t want to see them roaming around the globe where they can be committing violent acts, just as we saw [indistinct] …

Matthew Abraham: Or you’d rather them roam around Australia committing violent acts.

Sarah Hanson-Young:  No, no, I want them locked up Matt. I want them in jail. I want them where they can’t be roaming around and committing violence on anyone.

David Bevan: But presumably if they have committed that offence, they would be locked up here. If the Government thinks- well they’re overseas and their dual citizenship is there, well you can stop them from ever coming back by stripping them of their citizenship.

Sarah Hanson-Young:  That doesn’t necessarily- my concern here is that is that Australia really playing its part to make people safer? Because what we saw in Paris of course is that the impact was on people from all over the world, including a young Australian girl. If we know where terrorists are, if we have the ability to lock them up as criminals, mass murderers, then we should do it. We shouldn’t simply push them away and make it somebody else’s problem.

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator?

Simon Birmingham: Thanks gentlemen. Look, it’s really important that all of our approaches to this issue are about defeating Daesh and terrorism at its source, but also about protecting Australians here in Australia. And the reforms we’ve proposed in terms of the changes to citizenship laws as they apply to dual nationals are part of a series of reforms the Government has implemented, largely with the co-operation and support of the Labor Party, I acknowledge, to try to make sure laws in Australia are as strong as they possibly can be. And all of these measures have been and are developed and implemented in co-operation with our national security agencies, the experts in security agencies, the experts in the military fields as well in terms of our posture and position in international conflict. So…

Matthew Abraham: …Do you think there should be, as we’re seeing in Brussels, a suspension of democracy, that you really don’t give anyone the benefit of the doubt any more. And if we’d done that, then the Lindt Café shootings almost certainly would not have happened.

Simon Birmingham: We cannot throw out the rule of law. It is important that we …

Matthew Abraham: …You can suspend it for a little while, can’t you?


Simon Birmingham: It is important that we do all we can to keep people safe, but it is also important that we do not let terrorists win, and terrorists win when of course we do live in fear. The terrorists win when we do curtail our own freedom. The terrorists win when we limit the capacity of Australians to have confidence that they will get their day in court.

David Bevan: Is it a death cult still, ISIS, or just an outfit with too many phones on their hands?

Simon Birmingham: Well no. ISIS or Daesh or however you put it are indeed proponents of death, they are a death cult if you want to use those words.

David Bevan: No we didn’t, Tony Abbott did, your former leader up until a few weeks ago.

Simon Birmingham: Indeed. And look, that’s a perfectly reasonable way of explaining what they are.

David Bevan: But now they’re out there and they’ve too many phones, not enough guns. I mean …

Simon Birmingham: No, I think – let’s put that statement in context and be very clear about it. What Malcolm Turnbull was emphasising is that we need to fight them on a range of levels. We shouldn’t overstate their military capacity. If it were a straight out war between Daesh and the West, the West would have the military capacity to defeat them quite easily. They certainly do not out-militarise us. But of course, it is also a culture war between them. Their communication tactics, their ability to use and engage new media and smartphones and social media is actually quite sophisticated, and that is really part of the danger of an outfit like that, and that’s why we need to make sure that it’s not just about how we combat them through military activities in Syria, but in terms of countering violent extremism, it is about the types of engagement we apply in social media, the type of responses we have through our education systems. The way in which we identify children who are at risk of extremist activity.

All of those things are important, and we have to recognise that they are actually using the liberties and freedoms that we have in the West to communicate and propagate their very dangerous message, and we have to counter that.

David Bevan: Okay, well it sounds like you’re all singing from the same song sheet though, although there’s a bit of disagreement about dual citizenship for people who may or may not be in the country. Let’s move on to child care. Simon Birmingham, you’ve this week, as Federal Education Minister, announced proposed changes to the way our listeners would pay for child care. Now just very briefly, can you sum it up? I think you’re going from a daily rate to an hourly rate.

Simon Birmingham: No, that’s not quite right, David, but I will sum it up very quickly. And we’re proposing to introduce more generous subsidies for working families accessing child care, with more than $3 billion of extra spending supported, which would see families earning between $65,000 and $170,000 around $30 per week better off in terms in terms of their child care subsidy arrangements. We’re also proposing to remove some of the requirements on child care providers around the number of hours per day and number of days per week that they must operate their long day care facilities.

In removing those requirements, what I’m simply saying to child care operators is I want you to think about your business models, and if it is possible for you to offer families who only routinely require shorter sessions of care than ten or twelve hours, for you to offer six or eight hour sessions …

David Bevan: …Well why would they bother doing that? Isn’t it better if a family only needs six hours but is forced to pay for twelve hours – they make more money, don’t they, the child care centres? Why are they going to carefully consider that reform, Simon Birmingham?

Simon Birmingham: Because the Government is limiting the number of hours that different families can actually access child care dependent upon an activity test, and so child care providers have come to me talking about that, telling me that they are very committed to early learning outcomes for children and that they think that children need two days per week of early learning outcomes in addition to what the Government is giving them in preschool support. And what I’ve said to them is that a 12 hour entitlement, which we’re guaranteeing for children in all low income families, should be sufficient for two days per week of access.

Nobody expects that a three or four year old is going to sit down and learn for 12 hours in a single day, so rationally speaking here we should be looking at two six hour sessions to support learning outcomes in those circumstances, while still facilitating families going to work who need ten or twelve hour sessions.

David Bevan: Sarah Hanson-Young from the Greens, what do you think of that?

Sarah Hanson-Young:  Look, I’m obviously a bit concerned about the idea that trying to fit a casualised or occasional child care system into what is effectively a long day care system is going to push the prices up. I think we have to listen to the experts in this, they are saying that if they are forced to have to charge by the hour, or in smaller blocks, that is actually going to disadvantage everybody across the board because fees will have to rise.

But my biggest concern, to be honest, is we haven’t seen the legislation yet. This is – there’s a lot of talk, and Minister Birmingham of course has had to have this portfolio taken on after Scott Morrison had it, before the Budget, where it was promised that there’d be this great big child care package. We still haven’t even seen the legislation. So it’s kind of a bit weird to be ruling things in or out when we still haven’t even got what it is that they want to do.

Matthew Abraham: Mark Butler, Labor brought in a lot of reforms which pushed up the cost of child care – can you give some support to Simon Birmingham? He says he’s going to make it more affordable.

Mark Butler: No, well no, I can’t. And I’m more than a bit concerned about the sort of thought bubble that Simon unleashed on the child care sector earlier this week. The sector would simply be unworkable on Simon’s model. It is a sector set up obviously to give early learning opportunities for nought to five year olds, but also importantly to support working family. That was always really the core objective of long day care, and the sector would be utterly unworkable if it was pushed into an hours based billing model that Simon Birmingham talked about earlier this week. This is already a very, very flexible model. I mean, imagine operating a school, for example, a primary school on the basis that some students come one day a week, some two days a week, some five days a week – well that’s what long day care centres already do.

David Bevan: But it’s not a school …

Mark Butler: And every – and every …

David Bevan: It’s not a school. It’s day care.

Mark Butler: No, it is an early learning opportunity that requires a business, whether they’re a for-profit business or a community day care centre …

David Bevan: Mum and dad – mum and dad have to work. Mum and dad have to work and they put their kids in day care, and they hope that there’s some good that comes out of it.

Mark Butler: But think about it from operating the centres’ perspective. You have to employ staff, which we increasingly want to have professional qualifications. You have to be able to roster them in a way that is predictable and spreads the cost across the entire customer base. Now, it is simply impossible to run a child care centre on the basis that Simon Birmingham outlined without a very massive increase in fees, and without a significant casualisation of the workforce.

David Bevan: Okay …

Mark Butler: Now the thing is there is already a model, an occasional care centre model, for the sort of demand that Simon was talking about. This is a thought bubble, and he should dismiss it and move away from it as quickly as possible.

Matthew Abraham: This is Super Wednesday, you’re listening to Mark Butler from the Labor Party, Simon Birmingham, a Liberal Senator, Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator.

Simon Birmingham, your thought bubble?

Simon Birmingham: Yes thanks Matthew. Look firstly I have never spoken about pushing centres to an hourly charge that has not been part of the proposal, it is simply talking about whether they consider sessions of different duration. Secondly, I think it’s important to realise the changes [indistinct]…

David Bevan: That’s a … I mean, there’s semantics there.

Matthew Abraham: [Laughing] Sessions of duration.

David Bevan: We know what that’s code for.

Simon Birmingham: No no- well but centres already of course employ staff for different shifts working different hours throughout the day. They don’t have staff there who are the same staff working from 7:00am in the morning to 6:00pm at night. They have peaking loadings of staff to reflect when children are there in the centre already. But I think most importantly let’s understand what the Government’s talking about here, and that is making sure that child care and early learning are delivering what is required for working families and children to access that early learning, and it’s far more about the families and the children than I think it is about the commercial business models of child care centres.

David Bevan: Okay, now …

Sarah Hanson-Young:  My- can I just jump in here?

David Bevan: Yeah, Sarah Hanson-Young.

Simon Birmingham: And let me also say [indistinct] Sarah, legislation, I’ve said all along, should be introduced by the end of the year, and that is still the Government’s intention.

Sarah Hanson-Young:  Well we’re looking …

Simon Birmingham: We’ll have all the details next week.

Sarah Hanson-Young:  …we’re looking forward to seeing it in detail. But let me just add, I think the- we talk about the- what the purpose of child care is. There has very much been a shift towards it being able to cater for early learning, and that is absolutely crucial. If we want kids to have the best start at school, we need them to have had the best start in those pre-school years. And the only way of doing that is ensuring that there are some bare basic access for all children regardless, regardless of how many hours of work their parents actually do. And I’m concerned that under these reforms there’s going to be a bunch of children who miss out altogether. And we can’t possibly allow some children not to get educated just because it doesn’t fit the Government’s productivity model.

Simon Birmingham: Let me just correct that. Every child in Australia is guaranteed at least 15 hours per year of pre-school access.

Matthew Abraham: Okay …

Simon Birmingham: So in the year before they start school …

David Bevan: Per year? Per week.

Simon Birmingham: … 15 hours …

David Bevan: Wouldn’t be 15 per year.

Simon Birmingham: … per week. Yeah, per week, thank you, thank David.

David Bevan: [Laughing] That’s okay [indistinct].

Matthew Abraham: And no child shall live in poverty.

Simon Birmingham: Yeah so every child, 15 hours, 15 hours per week in the year before they start school, which is in addition, over and above what their parents may access through the child [indistinct] …

Sarah Hanson-Young:  But not the years under. Not the years under. You’re taking away that guarantee under the proposed reforms.

Simon Birmingham: Low-income families are also guaranteed regardless of an activity test, and it is a very light-touch activity test for people to meet to be able to access hours. It can be volunteering, studying, as well as working.

Matthew Abraham: Okay.

Sarah Hanson-Young:  Let’s see the detail of the legislation and we can have that debate.

David Bevan: Well we’ll have to wait.

Matthew Abraham: Mark Butler, just in closing, one question for you, just to close with, we won’t have to run through the rest of the panel. What are you going to do about Bill, Mr 15 per cent?

Mark Butler: We’re going to continue doing what we’re doing, outline policy and making the argument. This honeymoon will end and there’ll be a contest of ideas …

Matthew Abraham: You hope.

Mark Butler: … between the time it ends and the election, and we’ll continue to do what we’re doing.

Matthew Abraham: What if it ends after the election?

Mark Butler: We’re confident it will end before the election.

Matthew Abraham: Okay.

Mark Butler: And there’ll be a genuine contest of ideas.

Matthew Abraham: Mark Butler, thank you. He’s the National President of the Labor Party, he’s the Labor MP for Port Adelaide. Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia, Minister for Education. Sarah Hanson-Young, she speaks for the Greens, she’s a Senator, on immigration, early education. Thank you to the texts that came in three minutes apart, one accusing this of being leftist S-H-I-T, and the other saying this is just a right-wing talkfest.


Sarah Hanson-Young:  You must have the balance right.

Matthew Abraham: Must be doing something right. It’s seven minutes to nine.