13 June 2018




DAVID BEVAN: Let’s welcome Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator and Federal Education Minister; Penny Wong, Labor Senator and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs; and Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator from South Australia, to the program.

Let’s start with Penny Wong because in a year you’d hope to be running foreign affairs in this country. Penny Wong, good morning to you.


BEVAN: There’s going to be all sorts of caveats and qualifications surrounding any assessment of what happened in Singapore yesterday. But given all of that, we’ll just take that for granted, do you think that Donald Trump has achieved something positive?

WONG: This is certainly an historic and important step. We’ve seen the President of the United States sit down with the leader of the North Korean regime; something which would have been unthinkable in the years past.

I think what is important is whilst we recognise this is an historic step, to recognise actually whether it is going to be a positive one will depend on whether or not we see the denuclearisation of the peninsula. By that I mean the complete verifiable and irreversible dismantling of the nuclear capability that North Korea has acquired.

It is always better for people to be talking, isn’t it? And people are talking and there is a discussion and negotiation underway and I hope that leads to a better outcome for the region and security for all of us who live in this region and obviously for the United States.

ALI CLARKE: What about you Sarah Hanson-Young, do you have to finally admit that Donald Trump has done something good here?

SENATOR SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: I think the jury is still out. Until we really see the details of what any of this means and until there’s any verification, I think it’s really hard to give this, in any sense, a tick or a cross.

CLARKE: So even the fact that they’ve just got together and spoken?

HANSON-YOUNG: Talking of course is good but the reality is Ali, these are both mad men and they’re both erratic people and it is hard to know exactly what was said in that room. They haven’t been forthcoming really about that.

But also, I think the more worrying sign is just how Trump is now starting to treat allies. If you look at the treatment of Canada, I must say, I think from Australia’s perspective that is really worrying. And we’ve got to start thinking about how we diversify our relationships as well because it is clear that Donald Trump is more interested in being and working and talking with enemies, than he is with friends. That might be all part of his showmanship and all part of his desperation for news coverage at the shock and awe of reality television, but you know, he is the President of the United States and I think we need to be a bit more wise to that.

BEVAN: Simon Birmingham.

SENATOR SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning David, and good morning everybody.

Look, we hope this is good news (inaudible) it is certainly positive that this discussion has taken place. It is positive that an agreement has been signed. Of course, the proof is in the delivery. The delivery will have a number of steps that will be required, most importantly setting out firmer commitments in terms of denuclearisation, in terms of how that will be assessed and verified so that we can all have confidence that the intent… (inaudible).

CLARKE: Sorry Simon Birmingham, we’re going to see if we can do something about your phone line, if that’s at all possible. That is Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator and Education Minister.

BEVAN: In the meantime, let’s go back to Penny Wong. Penny Wong, does this show that your leader, Bill Shorten, underestimated Donald Trump when he suggested that some of his views were just “barking mad”?

WONG: No, I think there are a range of views that Mr Trump has that we didn’t agree with when he was a candidate, and there are a range of views he’s put as the President that we don’t agree with but I think that the problem…

BEVAN: But to describe him as “barking mad”…

WONG: I think the problem with Sarah’s analysis is that it doesn’t separate sufficiently the personal and the strategic, or the personal and the institutional. Our relationship is with the United States, and we need to also assess this meeting not just by the personalities, but what it means for us – for Australia – what it means for the region, and what it means for peace.

Now, my view is the proof will be in the pudding, we do need to see whether or not there are concrete steps taken. We recognise that North Korea, you know this is a brutal regime with a history of human rights abuse. It is a regime over decades which has failed to honour its commitments to the international community, that has breached nuclear proliferation agreements. So we need to make sure that from this historic moment, something actually happens. But is the world going to be a better place if we can achieve a reduction, a removal of nuclear capability by North Korea? Absolutely.

BEVAN: But the flip side of this is that Donald Trump is talking about removing troops from the peninsula, which China would be very happy about and would make Japan even more isolated. So the flip side of this is that you could get things very wrong.

WONG: You’re right to point to some of the concerns that obviously Japan and even South Korea may have. I think, when I started out by saying “this is about regional security”, that is actually what I was referencing. There is a bilateral issue, there is an issue that obviously the Americans are very concerned about, that is the security of their homeland. But there is also a broader issue which is relevant to America and to the whole region which is regional security and ensuring that the regional balance is maintained and that any changes to that occur in a way that ensures greater security. The key component of that is making sure that North Korea actually does whatever it says it’s going to do, which it hasn’t done in the past, which is why we also need to keep up the economic sanctions which has brought Kim Jong-un to the table.

CLARKE: Let’s return to Simon Birmingham. I know you’re on the road to Yankalilla, which might be why we’re struggling with the phone quality at the moment. But Simon Birmingham, how will the Government monitor what happens next?

BIRMINGHAM: We of course will engage closely, as we always do with our allies, with the United States to get an appreciation of what the next steps may be.

We would expect and hope that international agencies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency will be engaged and ultimately to be part of the process and of course you’ve already heard this morning, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on AM talking about Australia’s willingness to play a role in terms of verification processes around denuclearisation.

This is an important development in terms of hopefully leading to a safer, more secure region and world for all of us. But it will only work if we can have confidence that the commitments given at this summit are actually translated into actions and that those actions are truly tested and verified and confirmed. And of course it’s important in the interim, the sanctions that are in place – the economic sanctions – that have brought North Korea to the table remain there until we see firm, concrete progress.

CLARKE: Well, let’s speak to Howard, Howard you’re ready to go out on a limb and make a prediction, what’s going to happen?

HOWARD: … (connection lost)

CLARKE: Oh no, too scared of doing that, don’t worry about that.

BEVAN: I think Howard was saying that Donald Trump will win the Nobel Peace Prize and then be re-elected in three years’ time.

Simon Birmingham, something that is perhaps is a little more difficult than sorting out the problem on the Korean Peninsula is getting your new child care payments sorted out. You said on the weekend that you did it sitting on the couch in about 10 minutes. What’s somebody who must be on about $300,000 a year doing claiming child care payments anyway?

BIRMINGHAM: (laughs)… well very insightful question David. Yes, my family has had children, our kids are now five and seven, they’ve been in early childhood services for a number of years and they now still do some outside-school-hours care. Under the current, very broken arrangement where some families run out of support; that my family’s entitled to 50 per cent child care rebate as is indeed every Australian family.

Under our new arrangements, which yes I went through the process of registering for, my family will receive a zero per cent subsidy. So I’ve gone through the process so that I know what every Australian family is going through. I won’t get a cent from that, in fact my family will be worse off than 54,000 South Australian families and one million families across Australia will be better off as a result of these reforms… (inaudible).

CLARKE: Sorry Simon Birmingham, you are dropping out there. Look, we might just put it in pause until we can get you back on a line that we can actually hear.

Penny Wong Labor Senator, why do think 350,000 families who are eligible to receive this aren’t actually bothering because they haven’t filled the forms out yet?

WONG: Well I think, and unfortunately because he’s on the road to Yankalilla he can’t, but that really is a question for Simon to answer. We had concerns about these changes; we think that the new system has a range of problems with it, which will leave a number of families worse off – one in four, not just high income, but others as well.

But leaving that aside, the policy discussion aside, this is an implementation issue. You’ve got one in three families in Australia who aren’t signed up for the new system, possibly not even aware of it. You know, people have got kids and it’s always pretty hard to engage in life admin isn’t it? The government has a problem and they need to fix it. If you’ve got 360,000 families who aren’t in the new system then Simon’s really got to deal with it.

BEVAN: Sarah Hanson-Young.

HANSON-YOUNG: Look I think the implementation issue is obvious if one in three families haven’t signed up under the new system yet. But I think worse than that, when they do, we’re going to see anywhere between 80,000 to 300,000 families actually lose half of their child care that they’re currently entitled to and that’s because of these changes that the government has brought in to the activity test.

So unless you’ve got both parents working, you might indeed lose a day a week of child care. I think that’s going to be a huge shock for many families and it’s just not the right thing for kids. At the end of the day, why are we punishing children simply because both parents don’t happen to be able to have stable work?

We’ve got an increase in casualisation, an increase in insecure work and it’s kids in families where both parents aren’t in permanent jobs that are going to suffer. I don’t think it’s responsible of the government and instead they want to spend all this money on tax cuts, they could actually be making child care more affordable and helping parents get back to work.

BEVAN: That’s the voice of Sarah Hanson-Young from the Greens, it’s 11 minutes to 9.

Simon Birmingham has now reached the top of a hill, so we’re told that we can hear everything that he’s got to say. Simon Birmingham, Sarah Hanson-Young says between 80,000 and 300,000 people will be worse off.

BIRMINGHAM: Well David yes, apologies about the (inaudible) on the road to the Yankalilla Area School, but we’ve stopped by the Myponga Reservoir turnoff, which seems to be a nice friendly spot.

Look, we have brought in an extra $2.5 billion into the child care budget and we’re redistributing the funding within it to give the greatest support to families who are working the longest hours but also families who are earning the least amount of money. You asked me the question before when I cut out, and yes, my family is worse off under these reforms. I don’t think many of your listeners are going to cry or shed a tear for the fact that my family is worse off.

We’re actually wanting to make sure that families working the longest hours are the ones who get the greatest entitlement for hours of subsidised child care. Again, I think most people will think that is a fair thing, so we’ve put in place a reform process that sees around one million Australian families better off, on average those families who have transitioned in South Australia to date are $1,400 per child, per annum better off because we’re better targeting it to people working the longest hours, earning lower and middle incomes.

That’s a fairer system in relation to child care support, there are strong safety nets, there’s preschool access, there’s safety nets for children in vulnerable circumstances like this early child care education.

CLARKE: Simon Birmingham, Brad just wants to know: “look if the government is so aware of our eligibility then why do we have to fill out these forms? We’re all too busy to do it”.

BIRMINGHAM: Well look, the reason I’m altering that I knew full well that my family wasn’t eligible was I wanted to check that it was a fairly straightforward process, which for the vast majority of people it is. Well over 800,000 Australians have already registered.

We’re very pleased with the progress to date, that the transition is going quite smoothly in that sense and people just need to quickly update the activity in their family in terms of the hours worked, studied, volunteered to make sure that it’s more than the four hours on average a week, and their estimated family income for next year.

CLARKE: Alright, Penny Wong have you done it?

WONG: (laughs)… I haven’t asked Sophie whether we’ve done it, but we’re not eligible either.

CLARKE: What about you Sarah Hanson-Young, have you filled out the form?

HANSON-YOUNG: No, my daughter who is 11, turning 21 it feels, has been long out of child care. But I must say, I really do think the bigger problem here is why are we finding ways to save money in child care and early childhood education rather than investing in more? We know it’s the biggest bang for the buck a government will ever get when it comes to investing in the next generation.

BEVAN: Sarah Hanson-Young, thanks for your time, before that Penny Wong and Simon Birmingham.

Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra.