SUBJECTS: AFP arrests and child care fraud, Australian wine traded into China, Hotel quarantine and Victoria, WA state border
Dan Tehan: Thanks everyone for joining us today. As you will have heard, the AFP has launched a major investigation into family day care fraud. There is an alleged criminal network that has been seeking to defraud the Commonwealth Government. Can I say to the AFP, to Services Australia and the Federal Department of Education, congratulations on the work that you’ve done against this alleged criminal network. The Government is absolutely determined to make sure that it continues to crack down on any fraud that is occurring against the Australian taxpayer. We have now seen savings of $3.1 billion made as a result of activity against fraud of the child care system. We will continue to crack down on anyone who seeks to defraud the taxpayer. We’ve put an additional 380 integrity officials in place since 2018, and we will continue to do everything we can to protect the Australian taxpayer against fraud against the child care system. I’m happy to take any questions.
Journalist: Minister, Kristy Mayr from Channel 7 in Melbourne. Was this mainly about the money, this particular taskforce? Or were there ever any concerns about actual child welfare as part of this?
Tehan: Well, this has been, this investigation was against fraud. But, as you would know, for people who are pretending to run legitimate family day care businesses, and at the same time seeking to defraud the Commonwealth, then there would be concerns around the early childhood educators that are being used and the type of care that children are getting. So, obviously, the number one target was the defrauding of the Commonwealth, but there will always be concerns around what type of education and care is being provided to children while these alleged criminal networks are seeking to defraud the Commonwealth.
Journalist: So, you mentioned this crack down will continue. How widespread is this? Are there concerns that this is more widespread than, you know, what we know about now?
Tehan: Well, we’ve already seen $3.1 billion saved as a result of the crack down, and we will continue to explore and investigate anything that we see is suspicious with these criminal networks seeking to exploit the Australian taxpayer. Sadly, there will always be people who want to exploit the Australian taxpayer. So, we will seek to always be investigating and making sure that we’ve got the resources to ensure this isn’t occurring.
Journalist: Minister, Jade Macmillan from ABC. Could you provide any more information about how they allegedly defrauded the COVID-19 stimulus payments?
Tehan: Look, that’s obviously part of the investigation. There are allegations which have been made, there’s arrests that’s been made, and all that will be detailed as part of the criminal prosecution. So, I don’t want to go into any of that detail. But, needless to say, there has been extensive work been done, cooperation between the AFP, Services Australia and the Department of Education – both the Commonwealth Department of Education but also with assistance from the Department of Education in Victoria – and, all the charges, obviously, will be laid out as part of the criminal prosecution.
Alright, have we got any further questions?
Journalist: Could I just ask on another issue. Has the Government failed to diversify export markets for Australian wine, and argued by the Labor Party?
Tehan: What the Government is doing is seeking to address what seems to be a concerning pattern of behaviour by the Chinese against Australia. Now, we’re seeking to have conversations with the Chinese, we’re seeking to address this matter in the World Trade Organisation, so that we can ensure we’re doing the right thing by our wine growers and every other part of our trading system, which is being impacted at the moment by the Chinese. Now, we want to work through this systematically. We understand the importance of having a trading relationship with the Chinese that works in their mutual interest and in our mutual interest. And, we will continue to prosecute the case, on behalf of our exporters, that both sides behave within the rules that are set out, both within the World Trade Organisation and through our Free Trade Agreement with China.
Journalist: Is China breaching those rules and those agreements?
Tehan: So, we are seeking, obviously, to work through these issues on a case-by-case basis with the Chinese, and we’ve said on numerous occasions we want to sit down with them and work these through. And, obviously, the latest, with regards to wine tariffs – once again, we want to work this through with the Chinese. The Chinese have had a huge demand for Australian wine due to its quality, and we want to make sure that we can continue to export wine to China. So, that will part of ongoing dialogues with the Chinese as to why they’ve put these tariffs in place.
Journalist: Minister just two questions – Kristy from 7 in Melbourne – just two unrelated questions on other topics, if that’s okay. First of all, just on the hotel quarantine inquiry in Victoria. As a fellow Victorian, how frustrating is it to watch this inquiry go on? It’s now dragged on for months. I think the latest estimate says it’s cost taxpayers about $10 million, and it’s looking like we may never know who’s responsible for the failures of the hotel quarantine program. How frustrating is this for you to watch, and do we need a Royal Commission to get some answers?
Tehan: Well, I think all Victorians want to know the truth. The commission was set up to find the truth and, let’s wait and see what happens with its final findings. But, I think, all Victorians deserve to know the truth. This had huge economic consequences for the Victorian state. There were also deaths that occurred as a result of it. So, all Victorians deserve to know the truth, and I hope that that’s what we will get when the final report is handed down by the commission.
Journalist: If we don’t get it, do you think we do need a Royal Commission after that?
Tehan: Well, let’s wait and see what happens with the commission and its findings. Because, I’m sure the commissioners themselves will want to be able to hand down a report which clearly details the whole truth when it comes to what happened with quarantine in Victoria. That’s what it’s set up to do, and I’m sure the commissioners will want to make sure that, as part of handing down their report, they’ve got to the bottom of the matter.
Journalist: And, just another question if that’s okay, Minister, on the WA border. Obviously, we’re now clear of the virus in Victoria. Should we be expecting a decision a little bit sooner on WA reopening their border to Victoria?
Tehan: Well, ultimately, that will depend on the medical advice that the Western Australian Government is getting. But, if that medical advice says that it’s safe for the border to reopen, then one would hope that the border can reopen. These border closures can have serious impacts on families, in particular. Often loved ones aren’t able to meet, often, where there are people who are dying in families, loved ones can’t get to go and see their loved ones as they’re dealing with the last months or weeks of their lives. Especially when we’re getting to Christmas, families want to reunite. So, my hope is, if the medical advice is clear and it’s safe for the border to open, that’s exactly what will happen.
Journalist: Thank you.
Tehan: Thanks everyone, thanks for joining us.