Transcript: Jenny McAllister on Social Services Legislation and Childcare Package

8.00am | March 23, 2017


SUBJECTS: Social Services Legislation, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, Nick Xenophon Team, Childcare Package

SENATOR MCALLISTER: I want to make a few remarks about what happened last night in the Senate but before I do so, can I note the terrible events that took place in London overnight. There will be families that are grieving today. I know all Australians will be extending their sympathies, their solidarity, with those families and to all of the people of the United Kingdom as they face the consequences of this murderous act.

Turning now to the Senate. Last night, in the dead of night, at around midnight, the Senate passed a package of cuts that strips away almost two billion dollars from Australian families in the coming years. These are not families that can afford to have this money taken away from them. These are not well-off families. These are families for whom that money tied up in the Family Tax Benefit goes towards things like school fees, like excursions, like school shoes and, in some cases, putting groceries in the cupboard.

I say to the Liberal Party that this is not the way to undertake budget repair. The Labor Party has always been up for a conversation about fair approaches to budget repair, but stripping money away from Australian families should not be done like this. It is unsurprising that the Liberals took this approach; this has been their consistent approach since that dreadful budget in 2014. The budget that effectively cost the former Treasurer, Mr Hockey, his job.

What is surprising is that last night we saw parts of the crossbench racing, lining up, to vote for this. I don’t understand how a party like Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, who claims to be for Australian battlers, who claims to stand for ordinary suburban families, who claims to stand for the people in the regions; I do not understand how they can sign up and vote for a package of this kind. It is a package that can only hurt the people they represent.

Similarly, the Nick Xenophon Team went to the South Australian people promising sensible representation in Canberra. Well he is going to have a lot of explaining to do to the people when he gets back to Adelaide on Friday.

I will also make some remarks about the childcare package that we expect will come in to the Senate today. We have written, our Shadow Minister Kate Ellis has written, to the Minister Simon Birmingham, to set out our expectations in terms of improving this package so that it actually helps the Australian families that need it most.

The principle areas where we consider changes need to be made are around the base funding for those services that would not be sustainable if they simply operated in the ordinary way. These are services largely in remote Australia that cater to Indigenous children. It is our view that a package that does not deal with the needs of Indigenous children is a package that ought not to be supported in the Senate.

The second reform relates to the guaranteed availability of early childhood education for low income families, and again we stand with those in the sector who have called for this to be lifted to at least two days a week. We know the benefits of providing early childhood education to children, particularly children from disadvantaged families. This ought to be an area that the Government is prioritising in this package.

JOURNALIST: Very quickly on the tax cuts, if the Government gets rid of the big business tax cut and just keeps those measures for the smaller businesses, is that something that the Labor Party would support?

SENATOR MCALLISTER: We have said that we are opposed to a very large tax cut. It is unsustainable from a budget perspective and would go to corporate Australia. If the Government returns with another package of course we are always open to a discussion but that’s a hypothetical at this stage.

JOURNALIST: What’s your threshold? I saw in the Financial Review this morning that Labor would support businesses that turned over less than two million. Yesterday the Government sort of flagged in some circles that it would be willing to cut taxes for those earning less than 10 million a year. What’s Labor’s – I know it’s a bit of a yard stick proposition – what sort of business cuts would you like to see? What scale of business?

SENATOR MCALLISTER: I think it’s for the Government to lay out their intentions for business tax cuts and we will be in a position to make a response.

JOURNALIST: Just on these childcare reforms, is near enough good enough? I mean they’ve put the ugly stuff through last night from your perspective. Would you just like to see something pass the Parliament before the budget on childcare reform?

SENATOR MCALLISTER: The Government has put through a series of measures already in the Senate that strip away money from Australian families. We have never accepted that improvements to childcare ought to be paid for by taking money away from the very same families that might benefit - robbing Peter to pay Paul. That is not the approach that we accept. We are interested in seeing whether this package can be improved and we will be in discussions with the Government over the course of the day.

What I will say is that childcare ought to be an absolute priority for this country. We’ve got a target to lift female workforce participation. We know that female workforce participation is absolutely contingent on the availability of childcare. We know it from the people you talk to in the street and we know it from the research. It is unbelievable that after years of Government, this is the best that they can do.