Release type: Transcript

Date:

Doorstop — Learning Links, Peakhurst, Sydney

Ministers:

The Hon Stuart Robert MP
Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business
Acting Minister for Education and Youth

E&OE 

MEMBER FOR BANKS DAVID COLEMAN:

Good morning. It's fantastic to be here at Learning Links here in Peakhurst in the Banks electorate. Learning Links is a fantastic place. It's one of the biggest employers anywhere in southern Sydney, with more than 200 employees in the pre-school here and a whole range of really important services that are provided to kids right across our community. It's fantastic to be here with Minister Robert to talk about the new Starting Blocks web service (www.StartingBlocks.gov.au), which is going to be fantastic for our parents right across the country. And I wanted to introduce the CEO of Learning Links, Birgitte Maibom, to say a few words.

Birgitte.

LEARNING LINKS CEO BIRGITTE MAIBOM:

Yeah, thank you. It's a fantastic opportunity to be here today with the Minister and with David Coleman, who is our Member here in the Electorate of Banks. Learning Links is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, so we're kind of kicking off our celebrations. We are a charity that supports children with learning disabilities and learning difficulties, and we do that in conjunction with parents and with schools. And our own staff try to help fill the service gaps that are out there to make sure that that children who might otherwise fall behind can be helped early and can thrive throughout their education. So we're really pleased to have the opportunity to kick off our celebrations. We're going to be ongoing for a full year because it's an organisation that has a very, very proud history in this local area. Today, we're right across Sydney. We provide services in New South Wales and increasingly as well professional learning to teachers and professionals right across Australia. So, an amazing opportunity. Thank you, David and Minister Robert, to have this opportunity to welcome you here today.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Look, thanks, Birgitte. Thanks, Minister Coleman,not just the local member, but the Minister for Mental Health. And of course, Dave's work was instrumental in education ministers last Friday agreeing to put mental health in the national curriculum in that health and physical education. 

It's great to be here at Learning Links to talk about and to launch the startingblocks.gov.au website. This is a simple place, a single area that parents and families can go to see what child care or early education centres are in their area to compare them based on quality, to look at fee estimates, to look at availability, look at vacancies, whether it's long day-care, short, early education, whether it's after-hour school. So a single place for parents to go. And it’s also a great opportunity just to talk through on the 7th of March, so in a few weeks’ time, of course, the Morrison Government's $2 billion injection into child care will begin, where fees for the second and third child, the subsidy the Federal Government will provide will go up by 30 per cent for that second and third child under the age of five up to a full 95 per cent rebate. That'll save the average parent with two or more children $2200 on average. At a time where cost of living pressure is always upon us, that is a significant saving, and it's really designed to help families out. So it was great to talk through, not just with Birgitte here, but of course with Greg, the chairman, and others what the Government's doing, get their feedback on the great work they're doing here at the centre as well.

QUESTION:

How embarrassing is it for the Government that it’s had to shelve its religious discrimination bill?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We took the religious discrimination requirement or bill to the last election. So we've honoured that promise. That bill has actually passed the House of Representatives. But at the same time, amendments were made to the Sexual Discrimination Act. The problem with those amendments that were passed by Labor is that there is a very real chance that those amendments they've passed to Section 37 of the Sexual Discrimination Act, will have an adverse consequence of increasing discrimination against certain children, for example, intersex children against pregnancies, if you can believe that. This is the problem with Labor rushing policy. Now, we’ll need to sort that out. That bill has passed the House. The Attorney-General and I are working very carefully through the unintended consequences of these rushed amendments.

QUESTION:

As you mentioned, this was first promised back in 2018, and it's kind of been left until the final days of Parliament ahead of the election. Do you think you guys have botched the process of getting this bill through by leaving it so late?

MINISTER ROBERT:

The bill, of course, has gone through two substantial committees within the parliament. Both committees have recommended the bill get passed. There's also been substantial discussion with various stakeholders across the country. And remember, the religious discrimination bill was passed in its entirety by the House of Representatives. It's the consequential amendments to a completely different act, the Sexual Discrimination Act, and Labor's ham-fisted approach to trying to do amendments to Section 37 that has now created the substantial problem we're in. The Morrison Government has kept faith with the Australian people. We promised to put the bill through. We have. It has passed the House of Representatives. We now have to try and sort out this consequential amendment debacle.

QUESTION:

But the bill was promised to go through both houses. Is that not correct? To go through to become law?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We've always made from an election promise that we would take it through Parliament, and that's what we're trying to do. Now, Parliament has its own mind, its own will, especially in the Senate. We respect that. And this bill would pass with - with the support of Labor. Except of this diabolical situation on the Section 37 amendments they've put through that have now got extraordinary potential unintended consequences of discrimination.

QUESTION:

But five of your own MPs crossed the floor to vote in favour of some of the amendments. What do you think about that? Are you worried about the unity within your own party?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Great thing about the Liberal Party is people have freedom to make decisions and cross the floor. In the Labor Party, if you cross the floor, you are expelled. A better question, respectfully, would be how is Labor allowed to expel their members just because they exercise a freedom of conscience? Five members of the Liberal Party expressing that freedom is a good and healthy thing for democracy. 

Now, of course, we like to bring the team wholly together, and you see crossing the floor quite irregularly. The challenge in this case is they've crossed the floor to support an amendment that right now seeks to increase discrimination as an unintended consequence. That's the problem with Labor's botched amendments.

QUESTION:

And what was your response when the Prime Minister floated the idea of kind of utilising a federal integrity commission to try and get some of the backbenchers on board for the religious discrimination bill?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, I don't accept the question. I understand that's the gossip that is coming out of an apparent cabinet leak, and we'll just leave it at that.

QUESTION:

And why haven't you seen the Integrity Commission legislation yet?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We have put a 350 page plus legislation on the table. We have tabled that legislation. We're looking forward to bringing that in with Labor support, the Labor opposition, has said that they won't support that. They've put forward two flimsy bits of paper with a crayon scratching as to what they would do without explaining it in detail. We've been very upfront. The legislation is there for everyone to see and with Labor support we would see that passed. Labor has said they're not willing to support it.

QUESTION:

But tabling the bill is different from introducing it and opening it up for debate and allowing debate on it.

MINISTER ROBERT:

We've made it very clear we'll pass this bill with Labor support. It's there for them to support us, and they've decided against it.

QUESTION:

Sorry. Governments routinely introduce legislation that doesn't have cross-party support. So how is this any different? 

MINISTER ROBERT:

When it comes to something that's got such a wide ranging impact and it's been consulted on extensively, we want to see this go through in a bipartisan format so that everyone can support it. This is a different piece to other bits of legislation, so we want it to be bipartisan and we're looking for Labor to support it. That's why we've been up front. We've been very transparent in providing it for everyone to see. Unfortunately, Labor won't support it.

QUESTION:

Final question, sorry. Has the Prime Minister broken an election promise by not delivering on a federal integrity commission?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We have sought to deliver it. We have created the legislation. We've put it there for everyone to see. We've said to the Labor Party, support us and we will put it through. We've absolutely kept faith with the Australian people.

QUESTION:

Thank you.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Thanks very much.