Child care changes; Malcolm Turnbull’s GST hike; Scrapping Knights and Dames; School funding

PETER VAN ONSELEN, HOST: Welcome back to the program as mentioned off the top of the show I'm talking now to Kate Ellis, Shadow Minister for the Labor Party, she joins me live from Adelaide. Thanks very much for being there.


VAN ONSELEN: You would have seen the story obviously yesterday in the Sunday papers around changes to child care funding arrangements. What's your first thoughts on what the Government's proposing? It was clearly an authorised story, Simon Birmingham was quoted in it.

ELLIS: Well it does seem a bit that they're making it up as they go along. As I said yesterday, this is now 21 months after the Government first commissioned a review, it's three ministers later, and we still don't have any detail of what the Government's actual child care policy is. In the meantime all we've seen under this Government is fees continue to rise and them cut a billion dollars of support. So my reaction would be please show us the detail, it is long overdue, time for action.

VAN ONSELEN: But, nonetheless, I understand that,  given what we do know from yesterday's papers, for example, the reductions in what joint salary earnings can be for people that are receiving these payments, Labor would welcome that wouldn't they?

ELLIS: Well certainly we want to see the details of that, but what I do want to see is that there is nothing that the Government announced, or leaked, yesterday which addresses the concerns that have been out there in the community. That the only modelling that anyone has publicly released on this policy shows that actually one in four low and middle income families can be significantly worse off, by the tune of about $1800 a year.

There is nothing that they announced yesterday which would improve the situation for those families, and I think it actually leads to the question being asked. It is extraordinary that a Government can come up with a plan to spend an extra three and a half billion dollars on child care, yet in doing so make hundreds of thousands of families actually worse off. That doesn't seem to be a measure of success.

VAN ONSELEN: Does Labor accept though that whether we like it or not, means testing is going to be something that is going to have to be increasingly looked at right across the spectrum, not just in terms of child care. Of course when you were in Government with the Labor party over the six years it was the then Liberal opposition which seemed to be railing against means testing across a multitude of areas. It does seem though now that both parties accept that like it or not, the fiscal position is that we need it, correct?

ELLIS:  Well certainly I mean we are talking about hypotheticals here, but what we have seen is that Labor certainly has supported means testing in a range of Government payments across the years. We absolutely believe that Government spending should be directed towards the families that need it the most. And when you are talking about child care, I guess it is slightly more complicated, in you have to look at the impact that will have on the second income earner's workforce participation. Which is still predominantly women, so we'd like to see modelling around the impact that would have on someone's decision around whether or not they would re-enter the workforce. But as I said, I am looking forward to seeing the detail of the Government's policy. They've said it will be introduced into the Parliament this year, this was the centrepiece of their Budget this year and we are still yet to see any detail and we are just having thought bubbles released to the media.

VAN ONSELEN: It does seem though like whether we like it or not, because of the change of personnel running the portfolios, as well as obviously the change of Prime Minister, on the way through, this is one that they are going to want to get right. Is the Labor party, I suppose, prepared to negotiate on these sorts of things? We are in this new era of more consultative Government, and a better relationship it seems, a better working relationship between the Government and Opposition.

ELLIS: Look absolutely Peter, we believe that Australian families need access to more accessible, more affordable and quality child care, and if we can work with the Government to make sure that this is a successful package, then I would be first in line in order to do that. What we have seen since the Budget announcements, and of course the child care package was actually leaked before the Budget, the Government has yet to answer really simple questions about the package, it's has been a number of months now.

Questions about whether they can guarantee that vulnerable children won't be worse off, questions about the families that will lose out, if they can provide the detail of that. Now if the Government wants to sit down and negotiate improvements to the child care system, and I don't think anyone would argue that the system is perfect and doesn't need improvements, then we are all for that, but it means that they are actually going to provide some of the detail.

VAN ONSELEN: Now can I ask you on the GST, as a broader question. We heard Chris Bowen stand up earlier and condemn the idea of going down that path, of talks to Labor frontbenchers before who have had concerns I suppose about the fact that any compensation that might come in line with a GST just simply wouldn't be acceptable, given the regressive nature of the GST. Doesn't the same thing go for the carbon tax though? And Labor quite prepared to have compensation to bring that in.

ELLIS: Well no I think obviously there is a big difference between big polluting companies paying for their pollution and every day Australian families paying every time they go to the supermarket, every time they purchase any good and service, they are very big differences, I think you are drawing - I'm not sure about that comparison, Peter.

VAN ONSELEN: There is an argument that if you have a carbon tax that those businesses pass it on through their consumer goods, and therefore that's why Labor had so much compensation for every day consumers, in that sense it becomes a parallel, surely?

ELLIS: Well we certainly wanted to make sure that low and middle income families were protected when pricing carbon, and we went out of our way to put in place generous measures. I think the concern is with the scope of the GST, that's much harder to do, and with the fact that we know this is a regressive tax, we know that the burden is not shared evenly across the community, and appropriately compensating families is much more complicated to do, and we just don't think it is the fairest solution looking forward.

I mean I do think it is interesting that every single time that this Government is looking for savings, or is looking for a new revenue measure, the people they are hitting the hardest are the families who can least afford it. That's what we saw under Tony Abbott, that's what we continue to see under Malcolm Turnbull, and it's why there is a very important role for the Labor party to play in pointing out, like we did when there were attacks on pensioners, like when there were attacks on university students having to pay $100,000 degrees, we will stand up for the community and make sure that we see fair policies before our Parliament.

VAN ONSELEN:  Kate Ellis, you've lost your opportunity to become a Dame, the Cabinet have removed Tony Abbott's Knights and Dames -

ELLIS: - I'm devastated -

VAN ONSELEN: Are you disappointed?

ELLIS: I'm quite devastated, Peter. It's something that I will try to come to terms with, and I know that all Australians will be feeling a bit disappointed about the opportunity lost today. On this one I would say I can support the Prime Minister and say I can support getting rid of this measure, it was a ridiculous move, a ridiculous move. On you Malcolm, I'll pay him credit for that one.

VAN ONSELEN: I think there is a unity ticket everywhere and anywhere except maybe Tony Abbott. Let me ask you this though is this going too far? Because all the Cabinet has done is remove the continuation of Knights and Dames. Should we revoke the existing five that have been handed out?

ELLIS: Look, I'm not going to lose any sleep over five Australians holding that title, but I mean really, I think that the more that we can just get on with the normal business of Government, the normal business of Parliament, the better. I wouldn't waste my time and energy on trying to revoke the titles of five people, I'd probably just move my concentration onto the issues that are affecting Australians' lives, and Knights and Dames it isn't.

VAN ONSELEN: That's fair enough. One final question in your portfolio area, if I can. On the wider issue of schools as well as child care, I suppose in that context as well. Will the Labor party look to put forward a robust alternative policy once you are satisfied with what the details are, in a fulsome sense of what the Government come up with?

ELLIS: Absolutely. In schools we have maintained that we support the Gonski reforms. We think that that was a very detailed process that came up with the right solutions. The Government have sadly tossed to the side, but we will be sticking with those principles, and we will be outlining the way that we will undo the damage the Government has done. And in child care, well obviously we need to see the detail of the Government's package, but we also know that the Australian people are relying on real solutions to be put forward, so we look forward to doing that ahead of the next election.

VAN ONSELEN:  A quick final one, is that the commitment from Labor to the education share of the $80 billion in funding that was cut beyond the forward estimates by the first Hockey budget?

ELLIS: Well what we've said is that we supported Gonski in Government, we found ways to prioritise finding the funding for it in Government, and we remain supportive of it today. What we now have to do, is work through what is the best way to undo the damage that has been done, and so we will have to articulate how we will do that, and how we will fund it, and we are looking forward to doing that, and having a very clear comparison with the Government's - their current policy, which is to cut that $30 billion.

VAN ONSELEN:  It is, alright Kate Ellis we appreciate your time, thanks for being with us on NewsDay.

ELLIS: Great to be with you Peter.