Topics: Child care fee increases, the Turnbull Government’s child care reform and Same Sex Marriage.
Simon Birmingham: Well today we have new government data that shows the continued growth in child care fees, which is a problem for both Australian families and Australian taxpayers, who wear a heightened bill as a result of these fee increases. We also see new information released by Australia’s largest child care operator, Goodstart Early Learning, who have demonstrated that Australian families, would under the Government’s reforms, be inclined to work more hours, to participate more in the workforce, but that child care fees are a barrier to them doing so.
All of this is clear evidence as to why the Turnbull Government’s child care reforms ought to pass the Parliament in these next two weeks. And it’s why we’re determined to ensure they do pass the Parliament over these next two weeks. Our reforms will put in place a new rate cap mechanism that will put downward pressure on fee growth, and will send a clear price signal into the market. We will equally provide more support to the lowest income, hardest working Australian families. And abolish the current $7,500 limit that applies for nearly all families, so that they don’t fall off a cliff in terms of their child care support in the future.
So we have comprehensive solutions to fix the price pressures in child care. And all we need is the Labor Party and the Senate to come on board, to get them through the Parliament, to ease this burden for hard-working families. Mr Shorten likes to talk a lot about the problems with child care, the cost pressures on Australian families. Here’s a chance for him to do something. To stop speaking with forked tongue, to stop blocking the actual solutions that are on the table, and to actually support us to pay for the reforms that can invest more in child care, keep a lid on price growth, and make it more affordable and available for Australian families.
Question: If you’re so committed to child care reform, why don’t you separate it from the Omnibus Bill, so it can pass?
Simon Birmingham: Everything we do has to be paid for. And what we’ve done is identify sensible ways to ensure there are savings to pay for child care investment. And we think this is an appropriate thing to give families who want to participate in the work force more. More support to enable them to do so, so that families are empowered to choose the hours they work, the days they work, without child care costs being an impediment. And we have solutions to be able to do that, but they must be paid for. And therefore we will work as hard as we can with any parties in the Senate, to be able to get those savings through. And to be able to get our child care reforms through.
And whilst we continue to have discussions with the crossbench, what we’d really love to see, is for the Labor Party to realise, this is a problem that must be solved, and to come on board with constructive conversations about how we can fund it to ensure it is solved.
Question: Is that your focus though, to make sure that the child care reforms do get through and at the expense of those- maybe those welfare changes as well?
Simon Birmingham: Well one of our most important priorities over the next two weeks is to see these child care reforms legislated, so that we can give certainty to hardworking Australian families, and to child care providers, that the solutions are on the way to help them with these problems. But they must be paid for, and so we will keep up the discussions and work as hard as we possibly can to ensure we get a solution through the Parliament, where our child care reforms are fully funded, without an impact on the budget bottom line, but help is actually delivered to Australian families at the same time.
Question: But you don’t think separating it is a way to go forward?
Simon Birmingham: We must make sure that this isn’t at the expense of a higher deficit and greater burdens, frankly on the children who are in child care today, with increased debt by the time they’re adults. So it’s essential that the increased investment – around $1.6 billion of increased investment in child care support that we’re proposing – is actually fully funded. And so we want to see savings passed through. We’ll work hard to make sure that happens. And when it happens, we’ll then have a child care model, that will ensure there’s restraint on fee growth, more help for low income families, no limit of support that ensures families cut back their working hours. It’s a solution that I’m pleased Goodstart has endorsed. Their evidence demonstrates that with our reforms, more families can choose to work the hours that suit them best, without child care being a cost impediment.
Question: Christian Porter says the Government’s likely to get enough savings through the Senate to be able to pass the child care changes. Do you agree with his assessment?
Simon Birmingham: We’re hopeful and we will keep working as hard as we possibly can. The only person who’s not a party to conversations really is Mr Shorten and the Labor Party. And that’s a tragedy because they keep saying that they believe there need to be changes to our child care system, yet they won’t actually say what they would do, and they won’t support the Turnbull Government’s solution. And that’s irresponsible from Mr Shorten, but we will work as hard as we can with anybody who is willing – the crossbench Senators, The Greens, the Labor Party if they are willing to come to the table – to actually get these solutions passed to help hard-working families.
Question: Just on another issue, Peter Dutton’s come out slamming CEO’s, saying the Government won’t be bullied into favouring same sex marriage. Do you agree with that stance?
Simon Birmingham: Well I think throughout history, business leaders have often stepped ahead of legislators in supporting reforms related to gender equity or racial equity. And I see no reason as to why business leaders are not free to do likewise when it comes to issues like marriage equality.
Question: Is the timing right to reignite that debate about same sex marriage though?
Simon Birmingham: Well our priority is to see reforms like the child care legislation passed through the Parliament, and that’s absolutely where the Government’s focus is at. But individual members of the party room are free to raise issues in the party room at any time. And we’re more than capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time.
Question: Would you have preferred that some of those backbencher’s comments remained in the party room and not maybe in the public sphere?
Simon Birmingham: I’d always prefer that everything was conducted through the party room, but in the end, people are free to express views, argue their case. We will work through any such issues in the party room, but it won’t distract us from focusing on the main game, which is helping hard-working families with child care reform.
Question: A group of moderates plan to ambush the PM on that issue to clear the air before the May Budget. Do you think that’s a good idea?
Simon Birmingham: Well let’s see what anybody proposes, and of course, people are free to put their propositions to the Prime Minister, to the Cabinet, to the party room. That’s the freedom of a democracy. And we can work through those issues. But it won’t distract us from our focus in relation to passing child care reforms or the like.