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Transcript of press conference: Frontbeach Cafe, Torquay: 22 August 2013: Small business clearing house for superannuation and paid parental leave; Paid Parental Leave; People's Forum; Syria and chemical weapons; future debates; Fair Work Australia



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TRANSCRIPT OF PRIME MINISTER KEVIN RUDD PRESS CONFERENCE FRONTBEACH CAFÉ, TORQUAY 22 AUGUST 2013

E & O E - PROOF ONLY _____________________________________________________________

Subjects: Small business clearing house for superannuation and paid parental leave; Paid Parental Leave; People’s Forum; Syria and chemical weapons; future debates; Fair Work Australia. _____________________________________________________________

PM: It’s great to be here with Darren Cheeseman our local member for Corangamite. He’s been doing a fantastic job as the local member here. I’ve been here many times before. I’ve seen what’s happened with our investments in local schools; the local Epworth Hospital; as well as in broadband; and supports for families in critical areas like the School Kids Bonus which is currently paid to 11,000 local families and that stands now at risk under Mr Abbott’s plans.

It’s great to have Gary Gray here, all the way from the great State of Western Australia. He caught the red-eye over last night so his commitment to small business exceeds his comfort on aircraft. So, he’s joined us here to talk about some important initiatives for the future of small business.

I’ve said a thousand times in this campaign that I’m in the building business.

I’m into how we build Australia’s future; how we build the new industries and new jobs of the future and I’ve talked about how we do that with manufacturing. I’ve talked about how we do it in agribusiness up in the north and the Ord, and up in the Territory. I’ve talked about how we do this in the new high-tech manufacturing areas as well, when we visited the Australian Hearing Hub, for example, in Sydney. I’ve talked about how we build the new industries and jobs of the future in areas such as medical innovation research, when we visited the Translational Research Institute in Brisbane the other day. And also, the skills needed across the community services sector as well. We are investing in all these new industries, new training, new jobs for the future

Underneath it all is the absolute powerful importance of small business.

Small business formation is fundamental to Australia's future and its fundamental to me as well.

I used to have a small business. I ran it for a few years and I know something of the challenges involved in getting yourself started and if you choose to become incorporated and what you then do next. Therese my wife, she began with a small business which became a medium business and a large business, so the stepping stones involved in building up a business, we're very familiar with.

Our task here today is to make sure that we are building also and helping build the small businesses of the future.

There is about three and a half million small businesses in Australia and so therefore each and every one of those businesses is important to us because we're on about the little guy.

We're on about the little guy - the person who, for example, is out there needing support through DisabilityCare Australia because they may not be able to work because of a disability; a person who's unemployed, we're standing up for them as well because we want them to be properly supported and then find their way back to work. We're standing up for the little guy in terms of fair pay and fair conditions in the employment of the larger companies in this country, that's why the Fair Work Act is so important.

We're also standing up for the little guy in small business.

The little guy in small business and women in small business, the men in small business, getting these businesses started, going and succeeding is the pathway to Australia's economic future as well and we're passionate about each and every one of those drivers of growth and employment for the future. Which brings us here to this wonderful cafe and coffee shop and bar down at beautiful Torquay in the beautiful electorate of Corangamite represented by our great local member here. This is a great example of Australian small business at work. This entire area fills out with holiday-makers from Melbourne during the course of the Summer and it a beautiful stretch of coastline. I can say that with all the impartiality of Queenslander. This a nice stretch of coast. I give it a good mark. What we're here today to talk about is how we provide better support for small businesses like this right across the country. We want to take more of the red tape burden off Australian small businesses by offering a clearing house for superannuation payments by small business operators and for Paid Parental Leave payments as well, so we can help grow the small businesses of tomorrow.

On the details of these two proposals - both for the clearing house for superannuation payments, and for the clearing house for Paid Parental Leave payments - I'll turn to Small Business Minister Gary Gray to outline the announcements for you and then we'll take questions.

GRAY: Thank you Prime Minister, Darren, Kirsty, it's great to be here at Torquay talking small business.

As the Prime Minister has said, there are millions of small businesses around our country. One of the constant commentaries from small business is the need to cut red tape. Red tape that comes from Local Government; red tape that comes from insurance companies; red tape that comes from banking; red tape that comes from

State Governments and there's red tape from the Commonwealth Government. But I'm pleased to say in the course of this year we've cut more than 4,000 pieces of Federal regulation and what we're doing today is cutting even more red tape for small business.

You see the payment of superannuation to workers in small businesses, until now, has added red tape and complexity to the running of that small business. So making the superannuation payments through the superannuation clearing house reduces that effectively to a single transaction. It also allows the business to operate through effectively pre-populated documentation. What we mean by that is documentation that has already been electronically completed through the superannuation clearing house. What we also do in addition to that is make our Paid Parental Leave program - this is an important program because it's a fully-funded, functioning, working program from which already mums, and dads and kids are benefitting. It provides a real benefit to workers. So what we do for small businesses is we will now, for all businesses with fewer than 20 employees, that benefit will be paid effectively through Centrelink, removing again, a layer of red tape, bureaucracy and burden but at the same time, with both superannuation and Paid Parental Leave, ensuring that benefits for workers are maintained, the cost of delivering those benefits for employers is reduced, and ensuring that what we have is a working, functioning, fair system.

They're good reforms. They're reforms that benefit small business and they're reforms that we know the system is ready to bear. Prime Minister, congratulations.

PM: Well done. Thank you very much Gary. Out here supporting small businesses, the measure on Paid Parental Leave and using Government as a clearing house will affect 700,000 small businesses in Australia. It takes effect as of 30 September next year - got to set it up, make sure it's all in order, but frankly that's 700,000-plus small businesses that will benefit from that and the extension of the clearing house we already offer for businesses under 20 employees for superannuation payments, by extending that to businesses with 100 staff or less, that's going to benefit an extra 92,000 small businesses. These have been fully accounted for in the Budget - one measure cost is $4.8 million over four years; the other $10.3 million dollars over four years. All funded in PEFO and ready to go.

Over to you, folks.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, this morning you said the PPL is for millionaires. You said the NBN from the Coalition's side is for rich people and against poor people. Have you made a decision to use that kind of language? Is that a bit of an attempt to come back to the class warfare?

PM: No, what I'm an about is two things with Mr Abbott's Paid Parental Leave scheme, which I think is hugely important in this election campaign because of what it says about Mr Abbott's priorities.

He said this is his signature policy. He says this is his captain's pick because, as we know, a whole bunch of people on his team don't like the policy and the Nats have said they'd vote against it. So this is central because he says it's central. It's also central because it's $22 billion dollars. It's an amount of money each year more than

we the Australian Government spend for every family in the country in terms of childcare support payments. That's how big it is. It's a monster of a policy. It's massive, so therefore, there are two issues at stake here - one is its affordability and frankly the economic responsible or irresponsibility of doing it, and the second is it's unfairness.

When I was speaking to groups of workers this morning down in Geelong itself about Mr Abbott's priorities on the fairness front, I've got to say the response from normal working people is just to scratch their heads and then become very angry.

In the debate last night, Mr Abbott said that this Paid Parental Leave scheme of his which gives $75,000 dollars to millionaires - he equated that with the introduction of the aged pension as a social reform. How out of touch can you get? The aged pension, which provides for single aged pensioners now about $19,000 dollars a year - a year - he puts in the same category as a Paid Parental Leave scheme which provides $75,000 dollars for six months for millionaires.

I just ask any Australian listening to my remarks this morning right across the country, do they think that's fair?

Let's apply it here to our local circumstances in the wider Geelong region. Mr Abbott says he can find $5.5 billion dollars for his Paid Parental Leave scheme which provides benefits for millionaires but can't find half a billion dollars to invest in the future of the Australian car industry and sacrificing tens of thousands of Australian car industry workers. That's his priorities. They're not my priorities.

My priorities are an affordable and fair Paid Parental Leave scheme. We brought in the first one in the country's history. It's out there. It’s been drawn upon already by 300,000 families and it's aiming to provide extra support at the level of the minimum wage for when you've had in the first four or four months after you've had a child, some financial support. But we also believe, on the question of economic responsibility, that this is a dog of a policy. You cannot argue that if you're going to manage our economy responsibly that you can take a $22 billion dollar hit from such an ill-thoughtout and unfair policy as his Paid Parental Leave policy. If this is Mr Abbott's captain's pick on policy for this 2013 election, what would he do in his management of the general economy for goodness sake?

JOURNALIST: There are allegations you may have been rude to a make-up artist last night at the debate. Are you disappointed it perhaps has overshadowed your winning performance?

PM: Look I understand - I have only just found out about these things - I understand that the person concerned has withdrawn their remarks from Facebook or wherever it was and indicated they regretted making those comments.

You know something when you're preparing for a debate with two or three minutes to go and someone walks in and puts a bit of stuff on your face, you smile, you're in the zone, you're about to go. I don't know about you blokes but I'm not all that happy getting make-up put on the best of days. That’s as it be, you smile and then two or three minutes later out on stage to part in the debate, I think misunderstandings

occur and I have no hard feelings in terms of the comments which this person has now withdrawn from their Facebook site.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned 3.5 million small businesses in Australia and the Minister agreed with you. According to the most recent numbers from the ABS, there's only just over 2 million. Are you not across the detail?

PM: No, there are different calculations for this. I'll turn to Gary in terms of the way in which small businesses are calculated and their numbers.

GRAY: The 2.3 million number that you refer to is an ABS number, but we also have 4.8 million employees working within small business, and we also have a range of small businesses that are sole operators and so in the context of how we account for these things, the numbers we're referring to here, in the context of the superannuation clearing house, are businesses with up to 100 employees and in the context of the Paid Parental Leave program then we're looking at those small businesses that employ less than 20 employees, so the numbers move around, the numbers depend on definitions, but I do understand the 2.3, 2.5 number that you refer to.

JOURNALIST: There have been suggestions from the Syrian authorities that chemical weapons were not used on its citizens. What do you make of those claims and do you agree with the US and Britain that UN weapons inspectors should be sent in?

PM: The use of weapons of mass destruction in any circumstances is intolerable and unacceptable in any civilised nation.

When weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, are used against civilian targets, it is repugnant beyond description.

I spoke this morning, in fact an hour or two ago, with our permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Quinlan, who's just come from an emergency session of the UN Security Council, where Australia is, as you know, a member. In fact, next month, September, Australia will chair the Security Council. Ambassador Quinlan informed me that what Australia has done is co-author a letter to the UN Secretary-General requesting that inspection teams be dispatched to Syria immediately to establish the facts. Firstly, about how many people have been killed in this most recent incident, and secondly, to establish the facts about whether chemical weapons have in fact been used. There are also three earlier reports of incidents of this nature and our request, through the combined letter to the UN SG, is to ensure that all those matters are properly investigated.

No civilised country can stand idly by while there is a threat or even the actuality, in this case as it might prove to be, of chemical weapons being used in modern warfare, let alone against civilians.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there was - some detainees-

PM: If it's on Syria I'll come back to you.

JOURNALIST: Still on Syria, as a backbencher you wrote an opinion piece saying the world should look at arming the Syrian rebels. Now that you are Prime Minister again, is that something we should be doing or were you happy to raise it and not do it now?

PM: I take my positions on international relations seriously and I’ve worked in this field for a long, long time. I also know what the regime in Damascus has been up to for a long, long time. I also know what has happened in earlier periods of that Ba’athist regime in the treatment handed out by an earlier President Assad to various people in Syria which resulted in multiple civilian deaths. Therefore, I make no apology whatsoever for having a hard-line attitude to this regime.

On the question of the universality of human rights and the universality of the principles underpinning that in relevant international conventions, our Government is constant in our position - whether that's human rights abuses occurring in Syria or elsewhere in the world. As I’ve said, the responsible course of action for a nation state such as ours, which is a member of the UN Security Council, which has just finished an emergency session of some multiple hours exclusively dedicated to this subject, is that we believe the first responsibility through appropriate inspections is to establish the facts about numbers killed and the use of weapons, and then following on that, to take appropriate courses of action. Are you on Syria too?

JOURNALIST: Is it time for the West to undertake much more forceful intervention than just arming a few rebels?

PM: Will I think the first thing to do is to establish the facts about chemical weapons used. President Obama has made it very clear his position on this in the past - that the use of chemical weapons in a conflict such as this constitutes a red line for the United States. I think all countries in the world would have a view that in the year 2013, if there is a factual basis to any regime in the world using chemical weapons against people, frankly, we enter into a new level of barbarism, and therefore all civilised nations in the world have a responsibility then to act.

The first step is to establish the facts, which was the exclusive focus of the emergency session held at the UNSC and I have just received quite a long briefing from Ambassador Quinlan on that an hour or two ago.

Now, over here.

JOURNALIST: There were five detainees that escaped from the Northam detention centre in WA. Four of those have been recaptured but there seems to be some confusion between the Federal agencies and local agencies as to who should have been tracking these people down. Do you think there are some lessons that have been learned through this? Who has responsibility for these issues?

PM: Look, I think let's await a proper and full statement from Minister Burke on this and so that all the facts can be put before you, and I would simply draw your attention to the fact that back in the days of the Howard Government we had escapes of hundreds, I think, from Baxter. Is that right?

GRAY: That's right.

PM: Let's put all this into a bit of context. I think I’ll go here, and then there if that’s ok.

JOURNALIST: Back to the PPL, was it a mistake for Labor not to include ongoing superannuation payments for new mothers as part of that and will Labor revisit that?

PM: We believe we have the balance right with an affordable and fair paid parental leave scheme. Remember, our conservative opponents had 12 years in office to do something on this and they didn't. In fact I remember a certain conservative politician who said it would be over his dead body that PPL, Paid Parental Leave, was ever introduced. I think his name night have been Abbott. I'm maybe confused on that.

So we believe we've got the balance right. It's not the most generous system, I grant you, in terms of what's on offer for millionaires, but we want just to provide a helping hand for young families who have had a bub. For those first four or five months it's tricky. You've got young kids, working people across the country with young kids, you've got all the stuff to buy - the gear, the nursery, the cots, the prams, the whatever else. You've got all that settling in, when you're settling the baby down to make sure that it's sleeping in a regular pattern so that if the mother then wants to go back to work you've had some financial support while all that is being undertaken. I'm proud of this policy.

When I was first elected Prime Minister and during that term, this is a policy I implemented. I'm proud of it. It's the right policy.

Is it as generous as offering 75,000 bucks to millionaires and by the way, billionaires? No, it's never going to compete with that. Let's be very clear, Mr Abbott's policy means that if you're a billionaire, like Clive Palmer, if you're a billionaire, like Gina Rinehart, if you’re a billionaire like all those folks - and I don't criticise those folks for being billionaires - but I think they would scratch their heads as to whether they should be entitled to paid parental leave under Mr Abbott's scheme.

It is a policy which is just wrong in principle. It's unfair. It’s unaffordable, and goes back to the core question, which Mr Abbott did not answer in the debate last night. He said even last Sunday this would be fully paid for by his 1.5 per cent levy on big business. Guess what? Last night he said he was wrong. He said that what he said three days before was completely wrong, and when I challenged him on the exact amount, he said 50 per cent. Well based on the numbers coming out of the Parliamentary Budget Office, I think we need to look at that again - does it come out closer to 40 per cent? Of course the second question is this, if you're going to have your signature policy, your captain's pick as a policy, out there for the whole country to see, you'd think you'd get the detail right first on a $22 billion plan. And here's the final one - there you have it, $22 billion bucks as part of his Paid Parental Leave scheme for millionaires, because they are the folks who can benefit from it, and over here, $70 billion worth of cuts to jobs, to health, to education, which he refused last night to provide any answer on. Well, you know, if you live in Campbell Newman's Queensland, if you lived in Jeff Kennett's Victoria, and frankly if you're an education worker living in Colin Barnett's WA today, where 500 of those folks have just been sacked, you want to know the answers to this.

So again, my question to Mr Abbott today is, given your $22 billion Paid Parental Leave scheme is so unaffordable - where are the cuts going to come from in jobs, health, and education as part of your $70 billion worth of cuts that he hasn't given us the detail on?

JOURNALIST: In regards to the House of Power debate tonight in Brisbane, there's some suggestion we may not see you there. Will you be committed to coming along tonight?

PM: Sorry, can’t hear from this stuff behind me - on, the House of Power stuff?

JOURNALIST: Will you be there tonight? And secondly, will you commit to the Rooty Hill RSL People's Forum next week in Sydney?

PM: I think first of all, on the debate in question, for another People's Forum debate with Sky News - if it is a proper debate - it's alright, it's democracy, everyone can have their say - in a people's forum and a proper debate, you can - if that's a debate with myself, Mr Abbott and, again, a Galaxy selected crowd of swinging voters - fine. I'm happy to do that in Rooty Hill, or whenever.

I think the Australian public want to see their leaders debate each other on the big questions of the future.

And the exchange I had with Mr Abbott tonight was not about trivia - last night - it was not about trivia. It was about how are you going to fund this $22 billion plan? Where are you going to cut? It’s a pretty basic question.

And on the other one in terms of the local candidates’ debate in Brisbane tonight, can I say, I have done a debate already with local candidates which went for three hours. Three hours.

Secondly, I am certainly the member and candidate for the electorate of Griffith. I am also Prime Minister of the country, which means that I have to be around the country engaging in debates everywhere, including in Victoria, including in NSW, including elsewhere.

Over to you.

JOURNALIST: You won't be there tonight?

PM: Well, listen, I've got other responsibilities. I've got responsibilities - well, we're here in Victoria at the moment and can I just say this -have you asked Mr Abbott has he ever debated his local candidate? Has he? And the answer to that question is ‘no’. He's never debated his local candidate.

I've had a three hour with my local candidates. Every one of them, as Prime Minister. I don't even remember Mr Howard doing that when he was Prime Minister. And furthermore, when he was unable to attend he sent Senator Arthur Sinodinis to face off his challengers. Senator Claire Moore will represent me this evening. I've got responsibilities around the country. Those, I believe, are the right priorities.

Here and then there.

JOURNALIST: (INAUDIBLE)..court papers today accusing the CFMEU of ignoring court orders to stop its campaign against Grocon. Doesn’t this show Fair Work Australia is failing employers and allowing unions to run unchecked?

PM: No, what it says is that we're a nation of laws and within the laws of the nation, which includes the Fair Work Act and other provisions of our legal framework both civil and common law, that everyone is entitled to take appropriate action before the courts.

We don't stand and say, ‘this person's right, that person's wrong’, that’s why we uphold the laws.

On the question of the laws and fairness in the workplace, I think it is really important for people to focus on, again, what Senator Abetz has had to say in the papers today, and what he has actually said very, very directly about the future of penalty rates and overtime.

Mr Abbott last night said that this is not a problem - not a problem. If you look carefully at what Senator Abetz has said today, I think it is a real problem for workers because what he is sending out is very clear, very clear code language that this is something which a future Liberal National Party Government would look at, and I believe, from what he's said, act on.

Putting it to its essentials it’s : where do the $70 billion worth of cuts to jobs, health and education coming from? No answer. What will be the future shape of the Fair Work Act under an Abbott Government? No answer. And will it affect penalty rates over time, and other basic conditions? No answer. Thirdly, what will be the future of the Goods and Services Tax - will it be increased and will be extended to food? No answer.

I’ve said to all you good folk before, here’s the problem - unless Mr Abbott is subjected to scrutiny between now and voting day, his plan is very clear, his strategy is very clear. And his political strategy is not to put out any of that detail before election day because he knows that the Australia people would be frightened, frightened, legitimately frightened about voting for this folk. Now I’ll just say in conclusion about the Paid Parental Leave scheme and how it’s funded, and where his $70 billion worth of cuts are going to fall. If the Australian people do not know where his $70 billion of cuts will fall, what will happen to the GST, and what will happen to penalty rates and overtime, then frankly the Australian people will be right to question whether they should ever vote for him, because they’re uncertain of what the detail will mean for them.

Having said that folks, we’re going to zip.

ENDS

Communications Unit: T 03 8625 5111 www.alp.org.au

Authorised by G. Wright, Australian Labor Party, 5/9 Sydney Avenue, Barton, ACT, 2600