Subjects: Labor’s childcare policy; Labor’s Medicare dental plan; Early educator wages; Wages and the cost of living; Morrison’s preference deal with Clive Palmer; Northern Territory Senate candidate; CFMEU; Future of Australian mining.
MELITA MARKEY, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR STIRLING: So good morning, everybody. My name's Melita Markey, I'm the federal Labor candidate for Stirling and it's a real thrill to have Bill and Tanya with us here at the Good Start early learning centre here in Nollamara, I really want to thank the beautiful staff here, Kylie, Emma and Todd, the head of Good Start for Australia, who have really welcomed us and helped us get to see the great work that's being done here. I have a bit of history with this child care centre and Good Start centres. I worked for Mission Australia back in 2009, when we actually purchased Good Start centres with the view of bringing social inclusion into the communities and working through child care centres to build capacity for families and young people. And it's so fantastic to come back here and see what a wonderful job they're doing and to hear about Bill's wonderful announcement for child care and child care workers. Thank you, Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks, Melita. I want to thank Good Start too and it's great to be back in Perth with Tanya Plibersek. Tonight is debate night - I'm really looking forward to a positive debate, outlining competing visions for what we can do to help the Australian people. But it is all about choices. Today I make very clear that the Labor Party chooses to look after the childcare costs of a million Australian households rather than unsustainable tax loopholes at the top end of town. It's all about a choice. A choice between a united, stable Labor team, led by myself, supported by my Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek and Melita Markey here or the divided ramshackle coalition of the unwilling, led by Mr Morrison, and Clive Palmer and Pauline Hanson. This is a very unstable coalition of cuts and chaos in Canberra and it needs to stop. But Labor is not just focused on them. As I said, we have got exciting offerings to help Australian families with the cost of childcare. I was really pleased yesterday in Melbourne to announce that because of the serious economic decisions we've made, we can afford to provide the single best improvement assisting families, Australian households with the cost of their childcare in many years. We are saying to Australian families, whose household incomes are up to $174,000, that we will help improve the subsidy that you receive to help you pay the cost of your childcare. Effectively, this will mean between about a $2100 per family to about $1400 per family at the upper end. This is really good news, because why should women have to go to work, earn all the money, just to see it all end up in childcare costs. We've also announced the single most significant improvement to early childhood educators' wages. The system is failing. Early childhood educators are the first adults to which we trust our kids, and yet they are underpaid. The parents know it, the community knows it, everybody knows it. We also propose putting in measures to control prices. We don't want to look after families and the early childhood educators to see the fees miraculously increase by the amount which we're providing to support the teachers and to support the parents. I just want to close on reminding everyone that yesterday as well, it wasn't just good news for Australian families. It was good news for pensioners. I've already been inundated by pensioners since our announcement who say every election there's nothing for the pensioners. Well, that stops today. We are saying to 2.6 million aged pensioners, to over 380,000 people on the Commonwealth health seniors card, that we want to help you with the cost of your dental care. There's 185,000 people right now, older Australians, putting off getting dental care because it's too expensive. Well, Labor has got a proposition for every pensioner in Australia, that when you need health with your teeth, and your oral hygiene is so important to your health generally, we'll be there. We're going to create new support within our Medicare system so that every two years, pensioners, three million of them, will get an additional $1000 to help with the cost of going to see the dentist. Labor is in touch with middle class, working class people and people on the pension. We understand that if we can help with the cost of child care, if we can help with the early childhood educators, if we can help keep prices down generally and we can help with pensioners, then millions of Australians are going to be better off if they vote Labor on May 18. I'd now like to hand over to Tanya to talk a bit more about our exciting vision for restoring the fair go for millions of Australians.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well, thanks so much Bill. We know that when parents are leaving their precious babies and children outside the family, at a childcare centre, at an early learning centre, they worry about two things. They worry about the quality of the care and they worry that it's affordable for the family budget. I have so many families talking to me, about the fact that they wonder whether it's cost effective to go back to work, whether it's worth it, because childcare fees chew up so much of the family budget. Women in particular, say to me, look I don't know if I should go from two days to four days, I don't know whether I should go back now or wait until the kids are at school because child care, for many families, it is the biggest expense they've got after the rent or mortgage. So yesterday's announcement, which means up to $2100 more support for families, per child, per year, will make a huge difference to the family budget. Particularly if you've got two or even three children that are under school age. The other thing, of course, that families look for is quality in early learning. Nobody is going to leave their child with carers that they're not confident of. And we've been here today at this fantastic early learning centre. I visit childcare centres all over Australia. I see the skill of the work that's being done in those centres. I see the complexity of the work. I see the qualifications of the people doing that work. And there is no way you can convince me or the parents who are leaving their kids here that these workers don't deserve a pay rise. They deserve a pay rise. Because of the skill, because of the complexity, because of their qualifications. Because of the way that families rely on the care and the early learning opportunities in these centres. Nobody in Australia believes these workers don't deserve a pay rise. The question is who is going to pay for it? Parents can't afford extra fees. So it is simply the fact that a Shorten Labor Government would gladly assist with the cost of improving early childhood educators' wages because someone has to do it. The turnover in the sector is too high. The people who work in this sector can't afford to raise families themselves. I talk to early childhood educators who are still living at home with their parents well into their late twenties because they are worried they can't afford the rent or a mortgage because of their very low wages. People leave this sector and go into lower skilled work because it pays better. We can't afford to lose those skilled workers from this sector because of their very low wages. So, great news for families that are getting extra help with child care fees. And great news for our early childhood educators who do such important work raising up the next generation of Australians. Thanks.
JOURNALIST: On childcare, Mr Shorten why are you keeping the activity test in place which means that families in which women decide not to work won't get access to this? Previously, Amanda Rishworth has been opposed to the activity test, so why are you keeping it in place, and what's the review of the activity test going to achieve?
SHORTEN: I will get Tanya to supplement this but let's go to some of the macro numbers here. This Government when it talks about childcare, cut people's childcare and other people got an improvement. Under our new scheme, no one goes backwards. So, just to repeat the good news for Australian families. A family household income up to $68,000 will get 100 per cent subsidy up to the capped hours, be it $11.77. One hundred per cent. That's free childcare. A family household between $68,000 and $100,000, they'll get around 85 per cent subsidy which is also very good news and an improvement on the status quo. That will save them $1500 or so every year. That is per child. So for a couple of kids, $3K. That's not to be sneezed at. Then family household incomes between $100,000 and $174,000, the subsidy will taper down but it is still more generous than what the current Coalition is offering working families. So it will be from 85 per cent to 60 per cent. That will be a benefit of between $1200 and $1400 for families. I'll get Tanya to supplement.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you. It is actually a very good question. I guess there are two main areas of difference between us and the Government when it comes to early childhood education. The first is we have committed to universal access to preschool for three year olds as well as four year olds. That will continue forever if Labor is elected. At the moment you've got a Morrison government that's only promised one more year of preschool for four year olds. They've been rolling over preschool funding year after year. Centres can't plan. Community organisations that want to build new preschools can't build them because they don't know whether the funding is going to be there in 2021 or 2022 or 2023. We actually need to make this permanent commitment because we know that 90 per cent of a child's brain development takes place before the age of five. Investing in 15 hours a week of universal access to preschool for three year olds as well as four year olds is critical to making sure our children start school school-ready. So that's one very important difference.
When the Liberals changed the child care arrangements previously, about a quarter of families were actually made worse off. Some of those families were on very high incomes but many of them were on very low incomes. We are very concerned that a number of those children who would benefit from early childhood education are missing out on it. We've seen a very substantial drop in the number of children from disadvantaged families that are using childcare and we do need to look at how we can offer early learning opportunities for those kids who would really benefit from a few hours a week of childcare, even if their parents aren't working. It is a flaw in the system as it is being administered at the moment. We've spoken to early childhood educators, the centre operators and they tell us that a lot of their disadvantaged families have dropped out. We need to get to the bottom of this and we have committed to reviewing the arrangements for those disadvantaged families should we be elected.
JOURNALIST: Just to clarify though, Mr Shorten, would you like to see the activity test eventually scrapped following this review?
SHORTEN: I thought Tanya answered that. The point is that the Government, they can't help themselves because they are so busy defending the top end of town with their unsustainable tax cuts, they try and do all the good policies on the cheap. How is it they came up with a childcare policy, which in order to see three families benefit, knocked off the fourth family? We've said we will review that. We want to see how that's working. We are not convinced it's working well. But the good news for Australian families, to cut through the clutter and white noise of the election, if childcare matters to you, if you're worried that your household budget is being knocked around by the cost of childcare, Labor is so far ahead of the Coalition in our offerings on childcare, just not funny.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you promised a pay rise for childcare workers, why not single out workers in other low paid industries and give them a similar pay rise? If not, could that not open the flood gates for union claims for pay rises in other sectors?
SHORTEN: There are a number of points in that but I'll be as brief as I can. I think you're right, Olivia. Everything is going up in Australia except people's wages. Wages are stagnating. That's a fact. This government has broken the sort of records no government should ever want to break in terms of low wages growth. That's a problem. In terms of how we help workers get wage rises in a modest and meaningful way, we've already suggested a number of policies in the course of last week. The Government is suspiciously silent on raising wages. Of course, we're in the home state of Mathias Cormann who famously said low wages is the economic architecture of Liberals, so they're happy. But we have picked childcare workers to go first. I think this is a strategically important industry. We talk a lot about the national interest but what could be more in the national interest than the quality care and education of our zero to five year olds? That is pretty important. These are the first workers, the first adults in our children's lives we trust outside the family unit and they work hard. The lovely lady Emma who we just spoke to before. Eleven years in the industry, two years here. She has plenty of friends who come in with the best hopes in the world but the money is so crap, the money is so bad, that they have had to sacrifice their passion just to make ends meet. We're going to change that. So we have deliberately said that we think the early childhood educators is an area where the normal system is not working. If you're in the private sector, say you're in the media or say you're in mining or say you're in, I don't know, manufacturing. You can go and bargain with your boss to try to get a wage rise. But the fact of the matter is childcare has a lot of government funding so when the government funding is tight there is simply no money for the wage rise. So, if you like, childcare workers are caught in a Catch-22 by the economics of childcare. If we don't put more money into the industry then you can never get a wage rise. But if you can never get a wage rise, we keep churning the good workers. So what we've come up with is a policy which is not dissimilar to what was done when Labor was last in government for housing, community sector workers, where you pick industries where they are predominantly feminised. In this case, did you know childcare is 96 per cent women so it's no coincidence that their the pay is low because that's the sort of in-built bias in the system. What we've said is we will find money in an orderly manner across ten years, or across eight years I think we've spelt out. Then, we'll sit down with the employers, with the industry, with the parents, with the independent umpire and work out how we can do it. But what we bring to the table is good will. And more than good will, we are willing to find money. This is a government who is willing to find $77 billion - although they haven't told us where it is coming from, what cuts they are going to make - to pay for a tax cut for the top three per cent. We've explained how we're raising our money. We've been upfront with the people for the last three years and this is the dividend of these reforms. Everyone knows wages in early childhood are too low. Parents know it. Industry knows it. If any of you have got kids, you'd know it too. But there hasn't been a proper answer until now. We can't just ask the parents to pay more. They are already struggling with the bills. The industry is a hybrid of for-profit and not-for-profit. They don't have the money to give significant wage rises. The other alternative is we can just keep going along asking childcare workers to subsidise the children by not getting wage rises. We've come up with a neat solution and it makes sense. There is some precedent and we'll work through it in a calm ...
JOURNALIST: You have repeated your line that everything is going up except your wages. If most workers in Australia don't get a pay rise, will your first term have been a failure?
SHORTEN: We haven't won the election, yet.
JOURNALIST: But if you do.
SHORTEN: Thank you for that optimism. I believe our policies will see sensible movements in wages. This nation can't keep bumping along at the bottom in terms of wages. I know, for example, that we will reverse these unfair cuts, arbitrary cuts to penalty rates. That will mean that hundreds of thousands of people will get a wage rise. I know our plan here for early childhood educators will see in our first term modest and sensible increases. I know that when we improve the bargaining laws, that will crack down on sham contracting, we will stamp out the abuse of temporary work visas from overseas. I have been around this business for 30 years. I understand what we have got to do to get wages moving again and we will. But it will be done with business, it will be done recognising capacity to pay. But you know we have got a big problem in Australia. Confidence is flat. We're seeing household savings being spent. We saw zero per cent inflation in the last quarter. That shows you that people are just basically hunkering down under this Liberal Government. What we need is a bit of confidence back in the system and that is what we will bring to Australia.
JOURNALIST: On preferences, you made your feelings about Clive Palmer very clear. Why is one of your candidates in Tasmania Julie Collins preferences his candidates second?
SHORTEN: I'm not aware of that. In terms of Mr Palmer, why is to hard for billionaires to pay the taxpayers the money they owe them? Why is it that there is one rule for the rest of us and another rule for him and Scott Morrison? If you owed the Government $10,000, for longer than a year, the Tax Office would give you a ring, wouldn't they? They might give you a letter. They will chase you up. But apparently in this country if you owe $70 million to the taxpayer not only does the Government not worry about it - it wants your preferences. In fact it wants to elect you to the Senate. it's a whole new strategy in Australian politics. I am lucky enough to have Tanya here, she's been giving this matter quite a degree of reflection.
PLIBERSEK: Thanks Bill. I have been thinking a lot about Scott Morrison and Clive Palmer and the conclusion I have come to is they're just the same. Scott Morrison can afford to protect every tax loophole for the top end of town but he can't afford to pay childcare workers properly. Clive Palmer can afford to put his face on every billboard in the country, but he can't afford to pay his workers that he ripped off at Queensland Nickel properly. They're peas in a pod. What really worries me, is that Scott Morrison is so desperate he's prepared to put his arm around Clive Palmer to do a deal, to try and cling desperately onto power. But what is in it for Clive Palmer? What deal has Scott Morrison made? We know that Clive Palmer does nothing for people without expecting some return on his investment. What's the deal here? You've got Scott Morrison backing Clive Palmer to get into the Senate. What does that mean? It means more cuts and more chaos and it's incredible that Scott Morrison should be prepared to inflict those cuts and chaos on Australians just to cling desperately to power.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just on this issue of Clive Palmer, the Newspoll today seems to suggest his popularity is on the rise. If you do win the election next month and Palmer does hold some sort of sway in the Senate, do you think you will be able to negotiate with him and get your agenda through, which is fairly ambitious?
SHORTEN: Well, the election hasn't been decided yet. But having said that, we'll deal with whatever the Australian people give us in the Senate. But if Clive Palmer gets into the Senate, I blame Scott Morrison. Because the only way that bloke can be on electoral life support is because the Liberal and National Party are putting him there. This is turning Australian politics into a joke, isn't it? Let's go back to the fundamentals. Mr Morrison was the Treasurer who repaid Mr Palmer's $70 million worth of debts to the workers and that therefore means Mr Palmer owes the Government that $70 million. But instead of getting the $70 million out of Clive Palmer, Clive Palmer said, "I will give you my preferences." And all of a sudden when Clive Palmer was the sort of bad guy in the Liberal dictionary, all of a sudden, get the preferences, he's a good guy, don't bother me about his debts. So in the Senate we have got to stop it feeding the extremists. The problem is now that the Morrison Government is so desperate that when you vote for Scott Morrison you're voting for the Morrison-Palmer-Hanson Government. Australians are sick of the circus of Australian politics. A vote for Mr Morrison pretty much guarantees Mr Palmer in the Senate, Ms Hanson in the Senate and more chaos for three years. Vote Labor in the House and vote Labor in the Senate to avoid more chaos and confusion.
JOURNALIST: The Northern Territory candidate Wayne Kurnoth has posted some questionable social media posts. How worried are you in the Northern Territory practices that he was pre-selected?
SHORTEN: Well I am not sure that the people who preselected him knew of all of these posts. But I don't think he should be our candidate. Just before we all shout ... So I don't think he should be our candidate any more and I understand that it is in train for him to step down as our candidate. And I hope that Mr Palmer is willing to do something about the 20 candidates he has got with Constitutional eligibility clouds over their heads. And I hope that Mr Morrison can show the same certainty of purpose as I've just displayed.
JOURNALIST: Should the CFMEU be suing Victorian Police for blocking them from inspecting a work site?
SHORTEN: That is going to be a matter between them and the police. I don't know anything about it. When it comes to adhering to the law though I want to make it clear, no one is above the law, not the CFMEU, not their officials, nor the banks. And always remember that our friend the current Prime Minister voted 26 times to cover up the banks' behaviour, voted 26 times against a banking royal commission. And indeed your question goes to the heart of making sure we have got a better trust in the system. That's why we need a national integrity commission. And I do not know why Western Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter keeps resisting having an anti-corruption commission. Perhaps one more question.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask on mining, do you support Tanya's view yesterday, you said that Indian mining companies are not capable of providing jobs in Queensland?
JOURNALIST: Not yesterday, the other day. Do you support that and what is your stance on Adani?
SHORTEN: You're not reporting accurately what Tanya said. But in terms of mining, you in fact do remind me kindly of our announcement about the future of mining. Today Jason Clare and I have announced and I guess it is a good news story so not as exciting but it is a $75 million commitment to invest in the future of mining. Did you know in Australia that we haven't had a tier 1 mining discovery since 2005? That is tier 1, very high quality, underground. The rest of the world has reported three tier 1 discoveries every year. Did you know about $221 billion that we make in mining exports, 80 per cent of it comes from mining deposits which were discovered 40 years ago. We don't properly map underground Australia. So Labor is putting in $75 million to help work with geoscience, work with the mining industry so we can exploit our mineral deposits. Another good bit of news is we are putting in $2 million to fund 50 mining engineering scholarships in Western Australia.
JOURNALIST: Just on wages Mr Shorten you said before that childcare workers would be the first. Are we looking at a raft of almost unprecedented government intervention in getting wage rises and will other industries expect it?
SHORTEN: I don't mind repeating what I said earlier, because it is an important point so I appreciate your giving me the chance to do that. No I don't see this as being economy-wide this approach, at all. But I do accept that in certain sectors of the economy we have a wages problem, don't we? And I would put it to you, childcare educators, there is only four things that can be done. One, they just never get a pay rise. Well that's not good is it? I think you would agree with that. Thirty per cent turnover, very important the development of kids. Two, we ask the parents to pay a lot more. That's not really viable either is it with the cost of living crisis under this government? Three we just ask all the operators to increase their costs, to not pass it on to anyone. That's not economically rational or reasonable either. Or four, the Government assists, provide money to the childcare sector so that workers can get better wages. This is a problem everybody acknowledges. If all of us agree that childcare wages are too low and if I did a quick survey here of all of you, is $21 or $22 or $23 an hour, really is it enough for someone with a Cert. III or Diploma in childcare? You and I know it is not enough.
JOURNALIST: It's not isolated though.
SHORTEN: You asked the question and I am giving you an answer. So if we know there is a problem, it's then a matter of choices. And that is what this election is about. It's about choices. Today across Australia the pre-poll voting is opening. It's estimated that up to 40 per cent of people will vote before May 18. So I say to people who have to vote at pre-poll today, tomorrow or in the next three weeks, this election is about a choice. You can either give billions of dollars to negative gearing and property investors or you can properly fund early childhood educators' wages. You can either give billions of dollars away by not policing loopholes for the top end of town or you can provide $2000 to middle class families struggling with the cost of childcare. This election is about choices and we are making choices. I want to clamp down on unsustainable tax subsidies for the top end of town. And do you know what? I want three million Aussie pensioners to be able to know that they can get a decent set of teeth and afford to go to the dentist. Thank you, see you around.