March 17, 2016

SUBJECT/S:  Growing Together – Labor’s Agenda for Tackling Inequality; Inclusive Growth; Newstart Allowance; Paid Parental Leave; Jobs First, Early Childhood Education.


FRAN KELLY: Rising inequality in this country has prompted the Labor Party to conduct a sweeping review of economic and social challenges in this country to help shape debate within the Opposition and their policies into the future. Now Labor has released a major report which flags an increase in the Newstart Allowance, more help for the long-term unemployed, a focus on early childhood education and an expanded Paid Parental Leave Scheme.


Two years in the making, the Growing Together Report was authored by Labor front-bencher, Jenny Macklin, who joins us in our Parliament House studio now.


Jenny Macklin, good morning.




KELLY: Nearly 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth in this country, yet we have 2.5 million Australian’s living in poverty, inequality is at a 75 year high according to your report. How do we make sense of this?


MACKLIN: Well those figures are the basis of this very significant piece of research that we’ve done over the last couple of years and I think it is a wake up to all of us.


When we’ve had such an extraordinary period of growth, when many people have benefited from that growth, we also need to look at how fairly that is shared.


Looking at the details behind these figures shows us just how many people are both unemployed, but we also have about one million people who are underemployed and more people in insecure work.


I think one of the great fears Australians have right now is that the next generation will not be as well off as our generation. I think that is a very big fear for families and it really is incumbent on governments, and I think oppositions, to take the time to think about what the policy responses should be to these very significant changes.


KELLY: One recommendation that you make, or that you talk about in this report is a model which would put social policy at the centre of our economic debate. What would that look like? What are you talking about? How do you have a special focus on social policy or elevate that?


MACKLIN: As you know, in Australia we have an organisation called Infrastructure Australia that really tries to take the politics out of big decisions to be made about where infrastructure investment should take place. We would like to see a similar organisation established that really looks at the research, looks at the evidence of good social investment and gives advice to government about where investment would best be placed.


In the past we’ve done very big reviews that have led to the recommendations to fund our schools properly, for example. But we think it would be good to have a standing group on social investment that really gives governments independent advice, based on evidence, about where is the best place to put scarce tax payer dollars.


KELLY: Because you know yourself, in government, as a Minister, you come slap up against the hard edge of budget priorities. For instance, when you were a Minister, Labor changed the rules for single parents, being forced off the higher parenting payment onto Newstart, losing $60 a week in the process. You’ve since said that that was wrong. It just reminds us that social policy often loses out to economic policy, by definition. Doesn’t it?


MACKLIN: Well I think too, one of the things that I’ve learned is if you get very good work done, as I did, by the Productivity Commission, to really help guide the implementation and the design of both the Paid Parental Leave Scheme that we put in place and the National Disability Insurance Scheme, if you get that good technical advice, it really puts your policies in good stead. That was really one of the main reasons to do this big piece of work in opposition, to do a lot of that thinking now so that we’re better placed when we hopefully will be in government after the election.


KELLY: After you’ve done that thinking, as I understand, this is not going to drive changes to Labor’s election policy now is it? This is a broader thing, but after doing that thinking, what is the priority? You talk about increasing the Newstart Allowance for the lowest paid amongst us, those on unemployment. Is that a policy that Labor is going to take to this election?


MACKLIN: The number one priority which I’ve really emphasised in this report is to put jobs first. What the evidence shows overwhelmingly is that people in Australia who are living in poverty are living in poverty because they are either unemployed or can’t get enough work.


We really need to address what is a very serious problem in many parts of Australia, high and increasing unemployment for particular groups, such as young people. We have in some parts of Australia, 20 per cent of young people unemployed. It is of course a tragedy for those individual young people, but it is a terrible waste of talent for our country. So for me, you ask me the priority, I will be arguing both before the election and after the election, in every forum I can, that we need to be putting jobs first.


All the evidence around the world is that if you invest in getting people into work, if you invest in education, we’ve already got costed policies out there on schools and higher education, if you address inequality in that way then it will lead to higher economic growth, and that’s really what we’re about.


KELLY: In your report you highlighted the importance of the Paid Parental Leave scheme being improved so parents can spend as much time as possible with your babies, and then you say when those babies turn three you want them enrolled in pre-school. Is this going to feed directly into Labor’s policy going to the next election and the extension of Paid Parental Leave, which is currently 18 weeks at the minimum wage? Is that inadequate, and would Labor go to the election promising to extend that?


MACKLIN: Well of course the Paid Parental Leave scheme has made a huge difference to hundreds and thousands of families, mostly mums, but we’ve also got the Dad and Partner Pay. If you look at the evaluation that’s been done of both the Paid Parental Leave Scheme and Dad and Partner Pay it shows that it’s achieving what we set out for it to achieve. Which is that parents, mums and dads, can spend more time with their newborn babies.


If we can, budget permitting, find the room at some time in the future to expand access to that leave I think that would be terrific. Of course, all these things needs to be paid for, I understand that, I understand the competing priorities.


You asked about early childhood development. We have proposals from the government to change the way that childcare is funded at the moment. What they don’t do is really think about the benefit of early childhood education. So for Kate Ellis and me, that’s the priority.


Let’s think about how we make sure we do everything we possibly can to get the best early childhood education to get the best out of these child care changes.


KELLY: All right Jenny Macklin, thank you very much for joining us.


MACKLIN: Thank you, Fran.




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