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Transcript of interview: ABC Insiders: 8 July 2018: National Disability Insurance Scheme; Indigenous Affairs; paid parental leave; the biggest increase to the age pension in 100 years; the role of government

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SUBJECTS: National Disability Insurance Scheme, Indigenous Affairs, Paid Parental Leave, the biggest increase to the Age Pension in 100 years, the role of government.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Jenny Macklin, good morning. Welcome.

JENNY MACKLIN: Good morning, Barrie.

CASSIDY: In your press release, you quoted Gough Whitlam, "It's time." How do you know when it's time?

MACKLIN: When you just can't bear the idea of getting on another plane to Canberra, and we’ve just had our first grandchild, a delightful little granddaughter and it's time to spend more of that precious time with her.

CASSIDY: So that's the circuit-breaker. It wasn't a tough decision in the end?

MACKLIN: It is always a tough decision, especially after a very long time. It was a very, very hard decision, but now that it's made, it will give me time to think about what to do next.

CASSIDY: You probably don't think a lot about legacy, but the fact that you are in the history books as the first woman to be in a leadership role in either of the major parties, is that important to you, or is it a particular policy achievement?

MACKLIN: It is the policies, really. When you think of the importance of the National Disability Insurance Scheme for - well, millions of Australians, really, the people with disability and their families, I think it will, over time, transform their lives and that, the rise to the pension, paid parental leave, all the issues in Indigenous affairs, these are the reasons you go into politics, to have the chance to make these policy contributions, and I'm just very, very grateful I had the chance.

CASSIDY: With the NDIS, there was a feeling around at one stage it was all a bit rushed on the part of the Labor Government at the time and it was a deliberate strategy because you wanted to lock it in, in the event of a change of government, is that fair comment?

MACKLIN: No, I don't think so. I think if you are a person with a disability a or a family member, it was way overdue, way overdue. People had been waiting years, literally since Gough

Whitlam's time, for an insurance-based approach to disability care and support, and finally people with disability had a government that was prepared to deliver it. Yes, it's got some issues in its implementation, but I do think it will be transformative for people with disability and their families, as it is implemented.

CASSIDY: But the difficulties with the implementation, is that a result of it being a bit rushed?

MACKLIN: No, I don't think so. I think it is a huge change. We are changing from a charity-based approach to one that says people with disability can make decisions about their own lives. For the first time, they are going to be able to say what they want to do and also get the chance to have the investment they need in their lives, so that hopefully more people with disability can enter the workforce, more carers can be working, and that's what's going to change the economics as well. The Productivity Commission said in its original report the economics will make this pay because people with disability will have the investment in them as individuals, so that they can contribute.

CASSIDY: In government, you were a Minister for Indigenous Affairs. Other ministers have sometimes described in a word their experience and it seems to be frustration. What word would you use?

MACKLIN: Well, I don't agree with that. I think that there is enormous ways in which we can work together with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and of course...

CASSIDY: But by frustration, frustration at the lack of achievement, the difficulty there is to get things done?

MACKLIN: Well, sometimes it is difficult. If you look at the resistance by Mr Howard to the Apology over a very long period of time, but then once the decision was made to deliver that word that people had waited so long for, people wanted an acknowledgement of the truth, that children had been forcefully removed from their parents on the basis of race. When Kevin Rudd stood up and said that he was sorry on behalf of the nation, I think it said to all of us just how important it is to take these big steps forward, to tell the truth, to acknowledge the wrongs of the past, but we also then, of course, linked it with our whole approach to close the gap, which was also led by Aboriginal people like Tom Calma, like Pat Dodson, people who really wanted to see the investments made…

CASSIDY: Is that because you wanted to match a symbolic gesture with something of substance?

MACKLIN: Well, it was more of - I remember Mick Dodson saying to me when we first talked about what should happen with the Apology, he said, "Link the two. Link the Apology, the saying of sorry to closing the gap," because the 10-year life expectancy gap is both of course totally immoral in a wealthy country like ours, but it can be closed with determined effort, and I suppose if I had to choose a word, as you asked me before, I would say it takes determination to work with Aboriginal people to make these big changes.

CASSIDY: Well, is determination enough now when you look at Constitutional recognition? That seems to have hit a brick wall?

MACKLIN: Well, once again, I'm very hopeful that we will, as a country, find a way through this. I thought that the leadership from First Nations people at Uluru was a real message to all of us

in the Parliament that they want a voice to the Parliament and recognised in the Constitution. I think it's really now incumbent on all of us, all leaders, to take that seriously. Such a strong message and I'm a very positive optimistic person, Barrie, so I think it will get there.

CASSIDY: But one idea gets put up, and without even tweaking it or any attempt to re-work it or come up with anything else, it just died?

MACKLIN: Well, there is now a parliamentary group looking at this with Pad Dodson and...

CASSIDY: That's where ideas go to die, don't they?

MACKLIN: Well, I don't think so in this case. I'm optimistic and I know that Aboriginal people will certainly going to continue to campaign for it.

CASSIDY: If you look back though over the 22 or so years that you've been in the Parliament, and particularly the last 10, it’s been quite chaotic, is there something endemic in the system, or is it just more difficult these days to operate a stable government?

MACKLIN: I don't think so, but I do think the message has got through - certainly I don't want to be particularly political today, but it certainly has got through to our side of politics that unity is absolutely paramount, and I think the Australian people have actually made a really, really big shift over the last 20 years of my time in politics. I think people have recognised that that Margaret Thatcher idea that there is no such thing as society is wrong. You can't just let the market rip. Governments have a critical role to play in investing in our people, in making sure that we are protected from institutions like churches that abuse children or banks that abuse businesses. Governments are absolutely critical and so the public expects the leadership of the Government to be a united force in the interests of the community. I think we've got that message.

CASSIDY: So you seem to be arguing for... for more government intervention, more regulation?

MACKLIN: If you were sitting and watching the Banking Royal Commission every day, you would have to say there has been a serious breakdown of regulation. Small business, families, farmers, Aboriginal people - lives have been destroyed. The same from the royal commission on institutional child sexual abuse. People have now found out the level of abuse, significant horrific abuse that took place at the hands of people who we were supposed to trust, and then it was all covered up. Governments have to step in and make sure that these horrific breaches of trust are dealt with. CASSIDY :You said before that your side of politics has learnt the lesson about leadership, and yet on both sides of politics it seems that leadership is a more fragile commodity than it has ever been?

MACKLIN: Well, I can only reflect on my own personal view, but I do think that we have got the message. If you look at the stability on our side over the last five years, I think we understand that the Australian people marks you down very heavily if you fight amongst yourselves, because they have an expectation of what we need to deliver to them. We've also got, of course, these massive changes happening in the workforce. People's lives are very, very insecure at work. Housing affordability is so difficult for young people. All of these big issues require serious, unified government at the top.

CASSIDY: You talk about stability on your side, but that's partly because of the Kevin Rudd

initiative, change the rules to make it harder to change leaders, and yet it's true, isn't it, that Caucus could overturn all of that with a simple 50/50 vote?

MACKLIN: But rules aren't what makes these things work, it is actually understanding the importance of unity, and I do think that's what we've got at the top of our side of politics. I'm not wanting to comment one way or the other on the other side today, but I do think that it's whether or not you understand the importance of unity that you understand the importance of government to the Australian people, and I do think that our leadership team have got that very clearly in their minds.

CASIDY: So you couldn't see any circumstances where Caucus would take such an initiative, and if they were to do that, what would be the response of the rank and file?

MACKLIN: Well, I don't think it will happen. I think we are a very unified bunch, I'm pleased to say. It was a pretty terrible time for us. It goes back much longer than the last 10 years, I'm sorry to say, and - well, if I'm just one example, I've learnt my lessons.

CASSIDY: So looking back, what would be the thing that you will certainly not miss about being in federal politics?

MACKLIN: Cold Canberra winters.(LAUGHS). It is more the things I will miss. It has been an extraordinary opportunity. My local community - I had on Friday morning one of the great veterans’ representatives in the local area from the repat hospital came in to say thank you. I, of course, will miss the opportunity to make decisions at the highest level of government. There is no getting around it, Barrie, delivering a huge pension rise to Australian pensioners - that day was an amazing day. So to be able to do both, learn to be a representative of a wonderful group of people, and contribute at the highest level, it has been a very, very great privilege.

CASSIDY: Well in the last couple of days, you have won high praise on both sides of politics. The consensus seems to be that very few people have made the contribution that you've made to social policy, so enjoy life beyond the next election.

MACKLIN: Thank you.

CASSIDY: Thanks for coming in.

MACKLIN: Thank you.