SUBJECT/S: ABCC legislation; Family Tax Benefit changes; Cory Bernardi
LAURA JAYES: Now, this is a big win for the Government. What does it mean in practice here? The new building code starts on 2 December; the transition will be reduced to nine months, but look …
MINISTER CASH: Okay, so last year as you’re aware the Government dissolved the parliament on the basis of the ABCC legislation. We were delighted to work constructively with the crossbench to pass the legislation - almost in full - back in December. Senator Hinch at the time had requested a two year transition period for companies that did not have code-compliant agreements. The Government obviously agreed to that because there were so many benefits to getting the bill through. Over the Christmas period, though, Senator Hinch has met with a number of small and medium players who have said to him the two year transition period is hurting us – in fact I think his words were ‘are killing us’. He has come to the Government and said ‘I would like to amend that transition period’, and we have been delighted to work with him and the other crossbenchers to introduce a very simple amendment that will have a significant effect and basically restore the ABCC back in full.
LAURA JAYES: So it’s back in a committee this week; the committee reports back next week. Are you confident you’re going to have the support of the crossbench to get this through pretty painlessly?
MINISTER CASH: Certainly the crossbench have given me that indication. In saying that, Laura, based on what I saw today from Labor, in particular Mr O’Connor and certainly the CFMEU, they are up to the same old same old games – bullying, thuggery, intimidation. So certainly I think it’s a great shame that they will not work with us, but absolutely I’ve been delighted to work with the crossbench to again show the Australian Parliament is working and we can work together in the national interest.
LAURA JAYES: Okay, but the criticism- and I’ll put the criticism to you, that Labor has levelled at this change today, that it’ll worsen safety standards, it’ll casualise the workforce and it’ll encourage the use of more temporary work visas. Will it?
MINISTER CASH: Wrong, wrong and wrong. I would point you to the recent disclosure in terms of monies given by the CFMEU to the Labor Party. That again shows why Labor parrot nothing more and nothing less than what Michael O’Connor and the CFMEU want them to do. Quite frankly, it’s time for Bill Shorten to put aside his union ties and stand up for the national interest. This is a Government that will work constructively with the Australian Senate. Labor and the Greens, though, continually say no, but I am very pleased that we have a crossbench that is prepared to work in the national interest and deliver good policy.
LAURA JAYES: As the Minister for Women, I just want to ask you about the childcare changes and the Family Tax Benefit changes today. Is this Government doing enough for single women in particular, and getting them back into the workforce after they decide to have children? Because some single women, under these changes, will lose some of their Family Tax Benefits.
MINISTER CASH: It has been a key pillar of this Government since we were elected to increase women’s workforce participation. In fact, if you recall, one of our G20 commitments was to in fact do that. So everything we do is looking at how we can get more women into the workforce. That is the reason that we have been so focussed on the changes to the childcare system, and I commend the Minister – Minister Birmingham – for doing an outstanding job to negotiate with the crossbench. Labor and the Greens, again, all they do is say no. But he has done an outstanding job of moving …
LAURA JAYES: [Interrupts] Sorry to interrupt, but you’re justifying better childcare provisions so lower income families will get up to 85 per cent in relief back, but still- so you can justify that with- you know, single income families are losing $354 a year, that’s just a quid pro quo that needs to happen?
MINISTER CASH: Not at all. You’ve got to be realistic when you negotiate with people, and certainly tens of thousands of families will benefit as a result of these changes. As I said, these are probably the most fundamental reforms to this system in 40 years. They are targeted at those who can least afford childcare but also work very long hours, and we make no apologies for doing that, and certainly at the other end of the scale it’s not nearly as targeted. Everything we do …
LAURA JAYES: [Interrupts] So the message here from the Government is if you are working you will get a better benefit from the Government, if you’re a single family or a [indistinct].
MINISTER CASH: [Interrupts] The message from the Government is we are proposing the most significant reform in childcare in 40 years. This is all about giving families the choice they need: More affordable, more flexible and more accessible childcare. And you know, Laura, as I’ve travelled around the country for many years now in the Women’s portfolio, when you talk to families and you say to them the Government could make one policy change that would make a difference to you, I can tell you 99.9 per cent of the time it’s more affordable, flexible and accessible childcare, and that’s why I was delighted with the announcement today.
LAURA JAYES: The announcement also- well, we saw everyone in parliament wearing their ovarian cancer ribbons today – a bit of bipartisanship, perhaps?
MINISTER CASH: We did, yeah. Look, and that’s what’s so great about this place. Of course there are going to be issues over which we argue …
LAURA JAYES: [Interrupts] Very positive for 2017, Minister.
MINISTER CASH: [Laughs] No, but you know, when you’re faced with something like ovarian cancer this is obviously above politics. This month is Ovarian Cancer Month, and I was really delighted to work with Greg Hunt today, the Health Minister, to be at the Ovarian Cancer Australia breakfast, but in particular for him to reaffirm the announcement that the Government has managed to list a drug that was previously costing women who had to use it $104,000 per treatment course. The drug makes a real difference to those women who have late stage ovarian cancer. In listing it on the PBS, the drug is now around $38, or around $6.30 if you have a concession hard. So it was really fantastic to be part of what is a significant announcement by our Health Minister.
LAURA JAYES: We love a bit of bipartisanship as well. Michaelia Cash, before I let you go, as a fellow conservative how disappointed were you to see Cory Bernardi leave the parliament? Because I know you two have been quite close- I mean, not the parliament, leave the party I should say.
MINISTER CASH: Can I say, Cory has been a great mate of mine over many years now. Am I disappointed in the decision? Absolutely, but the fact of the matter is the decision has been made. I know what my role is as the Employment Minister and the Women’s Minister, is to effect …
LAURA JAYES: [Interrupts] Did Malcolm Turnbull do enough to keep him though? Should he have picked up the phone?
MINISTER CASH: At the end of- the decision has been made. I now will work with Cory as a crossbencher who, whilst yes he has left the Liberal Party, he has not abandoned his conservative values, and I look forward to working constructively with him.
LAURA JAYES: So you haven’t had that edict from Malcolm Turnbull that he needs to be crushed, as was reported in The Australian today?
MINISTER CASH: I have not seen that, I do apologise to you. I will just be working- I have a good relationship, I hope most crossbenchers would say, with them and I will now work constructively with Cory Bernardi.
LAURA JAYES: And do you think he will most likely vote with the Government with legislation that- or support the Government’s legislation nine times out of ten?
MINISTER CASH: He was elected as a Liberal Senator for South Australia, and certainly our principles are consistent with his principles, and that’s why I think we’re going to have a very constructive relationship.
LAURA JAYES: Has he given you that indication?
MINISTER CASH: Again, I …
LAURA JAYES: [Talks over] You have spoken to him, haven’t you?
MINISTER CASH: … but what I’ve always said is- and you know, I guess- I don’t talk about negotiations I have with crossbenchers, I don’t really find that constructive, and the same rule will now apply with Cory Bernardi.
LAURA JAYES: Okay, well at least given your history, what he says you’ll believe, and you can count on his vote in parliament I assume. Michaelia Cash, thank you for your time.
MINISTER CASH: Always great to be with you, thanks for having me.