Concerns about Tony Abbott’s nannies trial; Bronwyn Bishop’s travel to Albury; Labor’s leadership on women in politics and Parliament

KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD: Good afternoon. Media reports today have cast even more questions over the Government’s child care package. We have already seen reports that after the Government’s grand announcement of a new child care package for Australian families that up to one in four families could be over $1,800 worse off as a result of this package. Today, we see more reports that an important component of the Government’s solution, the nanny trial, is not even viable at all. The Australian Nannies Association have come out saying this is just not workable in its current form and it leaves us to, once again, call on the Government to reveal the detail of this package. 

Child care is a serious issue that thousands of Australian families are tackling. We need the Government to put forward workable solutions, not to make announcements and then run away and not front up with the detail, so that we learn from early childhood educators, from parents that there are no solutions put forward that will actually increase the flexibility for Australian families.

On another issue that was raised in the media today – and that is regarding Speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s travel to Albury. I was a member of the committee which Speaker Bronwyn Bishop chaired, and a member of the inquiry which looked into balancing work and family. Bronwyn Bishop and I are the last remaining members of the House of Representatives who served on that committee, so I thought I would add some of my recollections as to what actually occurred.

It is true that our committee travelled far and wide as part of an important inquiry into balancing work and family. However, it is also true that none of the public hearings occurred in Albury at the time that the Speaker claimed flights and travel to get there. What we do know and what we can recall is that there was a very formal process within that committee. We needed to have a core at the meeting approve any travel on committee business. Now I do not recall the Speaker getting approval for any travel to Albury that weekend, but what I will say is if she did get that approval it will be recorded very clearly in black and white in the minutes of those committee meetings. That is the only way that that travel could have been within entitlement and I would be recommending that Speaker Bronwyn Bishop might want to produce those minutes so that she can this controversy.

JOURNALIST: Have you had a look back through the minutes to confirm it yourself?


ELLIS: Look, what I have looked back on is my diary and the schedule of public hearings. There were no public hearings in Albury on that weekend. There was no reason for me as a member of that committee to be there. I struggle to think of any reason why the Chair of the committee, Bronwyn Bishop, would be required to be there on committee business. But as I said, if she was, she would have sought the approval of the committee beforehand and it would be in black and white in the minutes; and those minutes she should be able to produce today.

JOURNALIST: Will you be calling on the Department of Finance to investigate this case?

ELLIS: Look, this is a matter for Tony Abbott and Tony Abbott’s leadership. This is a test of whether Tony Abbott chooses to side with Bronwyn Bishop, or whether he chooses to side with the Australian public who have been appalled by revelations of helicopter travel and the like. There are really important questions to be answered here and I think that it is time for the Prime Minister, as well as the Speaker, to provide some clear answers to the Australian public.

JOURNALIST: How do you think Bronwyn Bishop has handled the fall out?

ELLIS: I think Australians can judge for themselves how Bronwyn Bishop has handled this issue. Of course we’ve seen her press conferences, we’ve seen the ducking and weaving, but what we haven’t seen is the black and white proof. It should exist. The minutes will be there and if the Speaker has nothing to fear from the inquiry then I would absolutely encourage her to just produce those minutes so we can be clear it was all above board, it was all within entitlement – and we can move on to some other issues.

JOURNALIST: Is it possible that she could’ve got that approval without your knowledge?

ELLIS: It is absolutely possible that the committee could have approved travel for Bronwyn Bishop but if they did so it would be recorded in the minutes and we should all be able to see that answer and have that answer in black and white today.

JOURNALIST: There have also been calls for an increase in quotas or to introduce quotas for women in politics. What are your thoughts there?

ELLIS: Well I must say it is much easier to agree with Christopher Pyne when he is not trying to defend the Government’s $30 billion cut to Australian schools. What we have seen here is that Tony Abbott is a dinosaur when it comes to women’s representation and his own Liberal MP’s are calling him out on it today. Now on the weekend we saw the leadership of Bill Shorten – who has moved to put in place a process to see that we have 50 per cent representation within the Labor Party of women. What we haven’t seen is any such leadership from Tony Abbott. And now his own MP’s are begging him to get out of the Dark Ages and actually put in place a structure to help us see an appropriate representation of women within the Parliament.

JOURNALIST: But are quotas the best way of doing that? Or are there other ways that it could be done?

ELLIS: Well what we have seen is that the Liberal Party has failed dismally to have appropriate representation of women, either in the Parliament, or specifically within their Cabinet. Now what we do know is that there are structural reasons why there are not more women in the Liberal Party, and I think that that means they need a structural solution. I will leave it up to them to see how to go about trying to reform and become a modern political party that can represent this nation adequately. But what I will say is that I am proud that on my side of the Parliament we have seen leadership. We have had a target of 40 per cent and that is now, as a result of Bill Shorten’s work on the weekend, increased to 50 per cent – so that we can see that as any modern political party should have, we can adequately represent that diverse community of Australia.

JOURNALIST: The ACCC has said that scrapping the Carbon Tax has saved households $550 a year. Does that confirm that Labor put undue pressure on households and businesses?

ELLIS: What we have seen is that Tony Abbott has been making up figures and trying to run scare campaigns, as is his form. We don’t expect to see any differently from Tony Abbott. But what we do know is that since the last time that Tony Abbott ran a scare campaign on carbon pricing the Australian people have learnt a lot about him. The Australian public have learnt just how much he lied before the last election and I think the Australian public have learnt that we shouldn’t be trusting him the word of the Prime Minister again.

JOURNALIST: Back to women in politics. What do you say to the fact that the introduction of quotas would see two different classes of parliamentarians?

ELLIS: I think that anyone who is saying at the moment the reason that the Liberal Party doesn’t have more women in their Cabinet is because there aren’t women of merit within the Liberal Party, is offending many good Liberal women out there. We may have disagreements about policy, but it is appalling that in 2015 there are only two women within this nation’s Cabinet. This compares so badly internationally. And it means that do we want to see quotas and affirmative action being required forevermore? No of course we don’t. But what we do know is that action is required now to turn around the lack of representation of women in the Liberal Party – which we see now – we have seen for far too long, and it just take us back to the Dark Ages. It is long past the time for Tony Abbott to act.

JOURNALIST: Just one more on Bronwyn Bishop. Would’ve there been any reason for her to be in Albury as her role as committee chair?

ELLIS: As I said, I can’t recall any reason why Bronwyn Bishop would need to be in Albury on that weekend. But I do absolutely say that if there was a reason, and if she did go through the proper processes, then there would be documentation and we wouldn’t need to be here speculating about it. This is really up to Tony Abbott and Bronwyn Bishop to put this matter to rest and they should be able to do that very easily by just producing the minutes.

JOURNALIST: Just finally, as a women in politics. Yourself, do you find that you are held to a different standard?

ELLIS: I am constantly grateful that within the great Australian Labor Party we have a large number of inspiring women that I get to call my colleagues. I know that working alongside Tanya Plibersek, working alongside Catherine King, Amanda Rishworth, Clare O’Neil, there are countless women who play an important role within the Labor Party and I’d like to see that replicated on the other side of the House.

JOURNALIST: Just on nannies, what is the solution then for people such as shift workers to get adequate child care?

ELLIS: We all think that we need flexible arrangements for Australian families. But what we need to see is the detail of the Government’s proposals. The Government have put forward what they announced was a solution for shift workers – and that is their nanny trial. But reports today show it is completely unworkable and even the Nannies Association are saying there is no way that this can be the solution for Australian families. What we need to see is the detail from the Government. We are happy to sit down and work with them productively to come up with workable solutions for balancing work and family – that thousands of Australian families rely upon – but it seems that once more this package isn’t it.