May 03, 2015

SUBJECT/S:  Childcare; Tony Abbott’s cuts to family payments; Tony Abbott’s broken promise to pensioners; marriage equality.


CHRIS UHLMANN, HOST: Jenny Macklin, welcome.


UHLMANN: Should families get government-subsidised childcare important if they are not working?

MACKLIN: I think the important thing is to remember when you are assessing childcare policy, you think of the huge range of different working lives that families have. So of course, childcare is there to support families when they're working but there are many families who are working very casual jobs, short shifts, part-time work and we have to make sure those families aren't excluded from childcare. The childcare sector is worried about 100,000 families could be excluded by these changes. Now we’ll have to wait and see. But we want to make sure the childcare is affordable, accessible but also there for children when they really need it.

UHLMANN: As a principle, if someone chooses not to work, should they get childcare benefits?

MACKLIN: That's the point I'm trying to make. The real issue is will the Government's policy meet the needs of families who have small amounts of work, irregular work, parents who are looking for work, who need of course access to childcare while they're looking for work, while they're studying. We also have to remember for very vulnerable children how important childcare can be for them. All of those things have to be looked at.

UHLMANN: It boils down to a principle, though. Is this a welfare payment, is it a payment for workforce participation or is it a default position where the Commonwealth becomes the provider of early childhood education which was never the Commonwealth's role?

MACKLIN: I think it actually always has been partly the Commonwealth's role. It's a shared responsibility with the States. We have preschools and kinders that are funded largely by the States with the Commonwealth making a contribution. As we saw today, one of the good things that's happened over the last five years is that the Commonwealth preschool is paying for extra access to preschool and kindergarten. One of the policies I was pleased to be part of, we’ve seen a huge increase in early childhood education because of that policy so the Commonwealth is involved. All the evidence shows that childcare and early education is great for kids. Let's remember that objective as well as supporting parents who work.

UHLMANN: Ok, so if you see a package which helps low and middle income families and which improves the position where parents are now, will you support it and that will mean you will have to back getting rid of some of the family benefits payments that you are holding up in the Senate?

MACKLIN: There are a lot of questions in all of that.

UHLMANN: Will you help fund the package?

MACKLIN: First and foremost, we want a childcare system that’s good for parents and good for children. We will look at both of those perspectives, helping working parents but also making sure that it is good for early education. We will make sure also that when we assess the impact of the whole change, which families are going to be better off, how many families are going to be worse off?

What we know from the Government's cuts in last year's Budget is that a lot of families, millions of families, in fact, would be worse off. The Government wants to cut Family Tax Benefit Part B to those families who have a child once the youngest child turns six, they are off that payment. For some families, this is going to mean a cut of up to $6,000 a year. Now we are not going to support that.

UHLMANN: The $6 billion or $7 billion being held up, obviously if you to get a better package, it needs to be funded somehow, you wouldn't keep part of the old system and apply a new system, you would look at whether or not you support this?

MACKLIN: We will certainly look at whether we’ll support improvements to the child care system - if they are good for children and parents - that will be the test. But what we won't do is say that one group of families will lose up to $6,000 a year for a single income family with a couple of children at school, that's what that family will lose. We are not going to support robbing Peter to pay Paul. That is just very short-sighted.

UHLMANN: Can we go to the other end of spectrum now and to pensions? Should people who have a million dollars over and above the family home be getting a part pension?

MACKLIN: Now of course, like you, we have seen all this speculation but nobody knows what the Government is actually going to do except one thing seems to be sure: they are going to break their promise again. Tony Abbott said to pensioners would before the last election there would be no changes to pension.

UHLMANN: But you want them to break the promise on indexation now?


UHLMANN: You said no change but you want them to break what they did last year, to change that?

MACKLIN: Go back to what Tony Abbott said before the election. He said no changes to pensions. He broke that promise in last year's Budget with the huge change to pension indexation. $80 a week cut to pensioners over the next decade. Yes, that should come out of the Parliament.

UHLMANN: Sure and I think we have heard all of that.

MACKLIN: Well it’s not out of the Parliament yet.

UHLMANN: If we can go to what you might do, do you think people who have a million dollars over and above the family home should be getting a part pension?

MACKLIN: Well we’ve indicated recently what we think needs to be done with the sustainability of the whole retirement income system. So you have seen our priority from Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen where we have emphasised the importance of cutting back on some of the concessions to very high income earners.

UHLMANN: Which gets you just over a billion dollars a year, you are looking at a $40 billion Budget deficit this year.

MACKLIN: Well actually, about 14 billion over the next 10 years.

UHLMANN: $1.4 billion a year.

MACKLIN: And we’ve also announced we would crack down on those multinational corporations not paying their fair share of tax, another $7 billion. So we’ve said to the Government - if you are looking for fair savings, take these ideas from Labor - don't go to pensioners and try and whack those people as they did in last year's budget who are living on incomes as low as $20,000 a year.

UHLMANN: Do you concede you have to make savings at all in this area given that pensions are 10% of the Budget, welfare payments 40% of the Budget, it is growing at 20% a year over the next four years. Surely some change has to be made?

MACKLIN: We did make some very significant changes when we were in government, they were to fundamentally to improve the adequacy of the pension. This is very important to remember. There are millions of Australian pensioners living on a very small amount of money, around $20,000 a year. For me, the priority is to make sure we look after those people. And that people at the top who are on very large superannuation returns, they're the ones who should be making a greater contribution.

UHLMANN: Can I take you to a discussion this week within the Labor Party as you head towards July's national conference? Do you support getting rid of the conscience vote on gay marriage?

MACKLIN: I do. That's the way I voted and many my colleagues voted at the last national conference. I think the good thing is that this is being openly debated. We will have a good discussion about it in the lead-up to national conference. I'm sure there will be many people who will put different points of view in the Labor Party but it is a good thing the Labor Party will have the debate.

UHLMANN: So you will remove the conscience vote in the Labor Party- that's what you are arguing for - and in the same breath, you will argue Tony Abbott should give one to the Coalition. How does that add up?

MACKLIN: Let's take each of those questions separately as well. I do think that marriage equality should be delivered in Australia. That's the first principle position. Should people be treated equally? Yes, I think they should. I don't think Australians believe in inequality on the basis of race or gender and I don't think we should do so on the basis of sexual preference. So that's the principle. That's why I think it should be a binding issue. But these matters will be debated in the conference.

UHLMANN: You are arguing a person who disagrees with you on this are the same as a racist, that they are a bigot.

MACKLIN: I'm not calling anybody names. I’m saying -

UHLMANN: That's the natural extension of that?

MACKLIN: No, it's not. I'm not about to call anybody names. I'm saying these are matters of principle. I understand people have a different point of view. They'll have their opportunity to put their ideas forward and so will we.

UHLMANN: Sure and if they have a different point of view, why can't they keep the conscience vote?

MACKLIN: Well we in the Labor Party have very strong views about discrimination. We have taken those views forward over many, many years and I'm sure it will be productive debate.

UHLMANN: Jenny Macklin, thank you.

MACKLIN: Thank you.