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Opposition Leader discusses paid maternity leave; Democrats; pensions; Centenary House; and protecting children.



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH JOHN McNAMARA, ABC RADIO PERTH, 30 JULY 2002

E & OE - PROOF ONLY

Subjects: Paid maternity leave, Telstra, Democrats, pensions, Centenary House, protecting children

McNAMARA: Good morning. How are you travelling? Are you making an impact on the voters’ minds yet, do you think?

CREAN: I believe so, John. There’s a lot of issues that we’ve been putting to the fore - paid maternity leave is getting a lot of support. It’s forced the government to start looking at a families agenda. But all it’s doing is looking. I mean, the Prime Minister said 12 months ago he was going to be bringing policies forward, but where are they? Now, were visiting, tomorrow, an organisation that has paid maternity leave. It’s not just of benefit to the women working in the facility, but it’s of great benefit to the way the business runs. It’s a win-win outcome. So, if John Howard’s looking at things why doesn’t he go and look there?

McNAMARA: These are private organisation?

CREAN: Yes.

McNAMARA: Paid for out of their own pocket?

CREAN: No, this is a negotiated arrangement …

McNAMARA: Sure …

CREAN: The employer pays it. But, you see, this is a

circumstance in which I believe the partnership between government and the business becomes terribly important. There are ways to do these things but you’ve got to be committed to the end objective. There’s no one set model that necessarily works. You’ve got to have those consultations. But the commitment for government and business to work together to recognise that women these days want greater choice. And it is about giving them more

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time to spend with their kids. And that’s really what the policy dimension is about. It’s a simple proposition. Why not commit to the objective and then work together to develop the detail?

McNAMARA: OK. But that’s, basically, what the Prime Minister, in fact in this very studio not too long ago, was saying - that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to the issue of fixing these kinds of problems, that you’ve got to accommodate the various needs of various people in the community. So, what’s the difference between what you’re saying and what he’s saying?

CREAN: Because there’s no framework against which that flexibility can work. I mean, no size fits all but there’s only one solution, so far as he’s concerned, and that’s no paid maternity leave.

McNAMARA: It’s on the agenda, as far as he’s concerned.

CREAN: Well, it is when he comes into a studio like yours and says it’s on the agenda and they’re looking at it. But there’s no commitment to it. Now, he’s been in government now for over six years, John. You would’ve thought he could have made up his mind on this issue by now. Why have they got divisions within their own ranks on this issue? Why hasn’t he been able to bring forward a constructive proposal? Why hasn’t he been able to respond to the Pru Goward report? This is a government not governing. It’s a Prime Minister that simply says he’s looking at things and then hopes we forget abut it. Well, we’re not forgetting about this issue. This is of fundamental importance to working families. It is about allowing families and mums, particularly, more time with their kids. And it’s one of those things where government should be playing a role.

Governments have to make a commitment, a commitment to work with the private sector to develop the best model. And we’ve already made the further commitment that we will not be making small businesses pay the cost of this. I’m convinced that we can work out a solution here. We’ll continue to consult about it. We’ll come forward with the details down the track. But it is only the Labor Party that’s committed to introducing paid maternity leave.

McNAMARA: What about women who decide to stay at home and look after their kids? Are they entitled as well?

CREAN: Obviously, there are initiatives already in place that recognise the women who do stay at home. This so-called baby bonus that the Government has introduced - which we’ve labelled now the ‘baby bogus’, because it’s not giving $500, as a minimum, to every woman who has a first child or, since it comes in, the last child - that was what the Government promised at the last election and the figures that have come out since the financial year ended showed that people are getting a lot less than that. So, it’s an ill-conceived scheme. By all means, let’s look at the existing arrangements by which payments are made for people staying at home, let’s

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see if they can’t be made better. But I think that that has to be part of the broader picture built around the notion of paid maternity leave.

McNAMARA: Paid for, I mean, you mentioned small business, they wouldn’t be up for a cost?

CREAN: Yes.

McNAMARA: What about big business?

CREAN: Well, it’s very interesting …

McNAMARA: Where’s the delineation as well?

CREAN: But there are delineations for small and big business. We’ve done it, for example, in the guarantee that we’re making for paid worker entitlements, you know, the protection of workers entitlements, the trust fund that we’ve set up. We’ve exempted small business. I’ve got a Private Members Bill in the Parliament about that, and it exempts small business. No difficult getting the definition.

So far as large business is concerned, John, I think it’s very interesting. Many large businesses that we’ve been talking to are realising that they’re going to have to go down this track. They want to keep skilled women in the workforce, they want them to come back but they recognise it’s important for them to have the opportunity to be with their children at the critical stages post-birth, etc. They’re looking to extend schemes. That’s the precise climate that we should be trying to tap into - working with those larger businesses, seeing how we can put programs together that involve government contributions and where they’re prepared to move to. I think it’s an important part of any sensible discussion as to how we implement this effectively.

McNAMARA: Simon Crean, just moving on to Telstra. The WA Farmers’ Federation issued a media release, I think it was yesterday, saying, look, they’ll support the full sell off of Telstra if there’s a trust fund set up, 25 per cent of the net proceeds then go into that trust fund to continue the improvements to rural telecommunications infrastructure in perpetuity. Now, if you’ve got the WA Farmers’ Federation coming onboard, you know, but establishing their own line to cross, and that kind of thing, but getting onboard, it’s coming closer, isn’t it?

CREAN: Well, you may think so. Let me just say this; first of all the Government has not committed to any money being put into infrastructure, none whatsoever. And, secondly, if that argument’s right, John, why don’t they lobby to have a proportion of the ongoing dividends from retaining 51 per cent of Telstra going to the very purpose. Now, I noticed a report today saying that Telstra was expanding the roll out, in terms

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of broadband infrastructure, going to be increased by a third, I think, in the next few years. Could you really believe that happening if it was fully privatised? Do you really believe that would happen if it wasn’t for the pressure that they’re now under to improve the services to try and get themselves to a position of sale?

McNAMARA: So, you think that ends as soon as the full sell off occurs, those kinds of rollouts?

CREAN: I’ve got no doubt it’ll end. It will only end if there is the community commitment and the requirement to service the whole of the community that can only come from a community service obligation. We even hear the Government talking about the need to legislate that community service obligation. But what protection is there for it in the end? Now, the point is …

McNAMARA: Legislative protection, the law, L-A-W.

CREAN: L-A-W which can subsequently be changed. It’s very interesting that there’s this discussion now about the so-called L-A-W in relation to Qantas ownership in the papers today. That L-A-W being asked to be changed. So, you know, I think that people need to look at the totality of it. But I agree with the WA farmers, that what they’re looking for in terms of their needs is access and affordability. They are the key issues in terms of telecommunications infrastructure. What I’m arguing is you’re far better off ensuring that outcome if you’ve got a 51 per cent ownership by government, and if you’re prepared to allocate some of the dividends stream to ensuring that that infrastructure is rolled out. This is a choice that governments have. What the Government wants you to do is to think that there’s a magic solution by selling the rest - selling the rest with no commitments.

McNAMARA: OK. But I understand in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning, Bob Carr’s reported as saying, the NSW Premier, Bob Carr, is reported as warming to the sale of Telstra if rural services improve. Now, that sounds like the repeated refrain of the Prime Minister himself. Is Bob Carr breaking ranks?

CREAN: I was interested in that and I had this checked. His office says he is of the view that the services won’t improve and he is not breaking any ranks with Labor’s position of total opposition to the further sale of Telstra. We’re the only Party that stands for that. We believe the issues are access and affordability and we believe that that can be achieved in better ways through regulation, through requirements to meet certain objectives, through investment in infrastructure. It can be achieved far more effectively that way.

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McNAMARA: Might the Prime Minister get his way, though, in the Senate if the current ructions in the Democrats lead to a breaking up of the Party or a further split?

CREAN: Well, that remains to be seen. But I saw Meg Lees the other day saying it wouldn’t be her vote that sold Telstra. She, after all, together with Senator Murray - dependent upon where he ever ends up - committed, going into the last election, and Andrew Murray, as recently as, well both of them, as recently as eight/nine months ago, that they would not support the further sale of Telstra. Now, wherever they sit, they can’t break trust with the Australian people. That’s the point, John. They went to the election saying they wouldn’t do it. I would assume they would hold true to that view.

In any event, the Government still has to meet the hurdle the National Party put on them - to demonstrate that the services have been improved. And I’ll be very interested to see the terms of reference, who undertakes it, and how serious they are about establishing it. But the Nationals have also put a further hurdle, and that is, they want part of the proceeds to go into infrastructure. No commitment to that from the Government. This is a government that only wants to do one thing - sell Telstra and forget about the rest.

McNAMARA: Phil’s joined us. Good morning.

CALLER: Good morning, Simon. Welcome to Perth.

CREAN: Thanks, Phil.

CALLER: I was going to ask you about that Telstra issue. But apart from that, with this Democrat debacle, are you concerned about voting patterns in the Senate on other issues that the Government may be able to get through?

CREAN: Well, look, it obviously gives the Government some more options in terms of getting its legislation through and we’ll just have to wait and see. But take the pharmaceuticals issue that the Government can’t get through at the moment - the increase in pharmaceutical charges. Both Meg Lees and Andrew Murray opposed the increase in pharmaceutical charges. It’ll be very interesting to see whether they stick to the principle and their commitment on that. I just make this point, though, it’s the Labor Party, again, that will oppose those increases in pharmaceutical charges - the 30 per cent hike - they would be going up 30 per cent this Thursday if it were not for Labor opposing them. But we didn’t just oppose them, we said to the Government there are other ways you can tighten up on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, you can get other savings for your Budget. We challenged the Government to go off and do the work, get the costings, and to this day, some three months later, they still have not come back with the costings.

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What have they got to hide? My point is, they can fix their Budget bottom line but they don’t have to slug Australian families and people who require medication for their health.

McNAMARA: OK, Phil. Thank you very much for your call this morning. Hello, Judy.

CALLER: Hello, John.

McNAMARA: Simon Crean’s listening.

CREAN: Hi, Judy.

CALLER: Mr Crean, on maternity leave. Your discussion seems to hinge on the time that mothers can spend with their children, so therefore, maternity leave is a desirable thing. Well, frankly, what happens to the care of the children when the 14 weeks are over and the mother goes back to work and these children are then put into the care of child minding centres or grandparents? It just staggers me that anybody, anybody thinks that after 14 weeks that time has been spent and that is all that is necessary and the mother can then go off and do it.

In America, they have what is called ‘sick centres’. If you go to work and your child is sick when you wake up in the morning, you ring a sick centre and you send your child to be looked after by a nurse while you go to work. Now, I’m an old fashioned mother and I believe that a child needs constant mother care until it goes to school and I just don’t understand why maternity leave has become such a big thing. Everyone I talk to says, ‘who’s going to look after these children?’

McNAMARA: OK, Judy, thanks for your call.

CREAN: Look, they are very good points, Judy, and can I just say this; maternity leave, as important as it is, as the ballast for the package, is not where it ends. I’ve indicated, Jenny Macklin has indicated, that what we’ve got to come up with is a series of policies in that five-year window between just prior to birth and school. We need to look at issues such as childcare. We need to look at greater flexibility in the way in which people can manage their time at work and at home. So, that requires changes in industrial relations practices. There needs to be support and assistance to bring up the family, not just 10 [weeks] for the baby immediately post-birth. But I don’t believe we’re going to get any focus around these issues unless we start with the nucleus of it and that’s why we’ve gone for paid maternity leave. The reason being, there are far many more women in the workforce today than there were 10-15-20 years ago. We have to recognise it as a reality of life. There are pressures on couples to work because of the financial pressures and their desire to give their kids a good upbringing, a good education, etc. Our challenge, it seems to me, is to recognise that

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change and to develop policies that support them being able to exercise choice according to their own personal needs. This is where I do agree with the Prime Minister - one size doesn’t fit all. But you’ve got to have a flexible set of policies by which the individual can make the choice. Whether they choose to stay at home for longer, whether they choose to go back to work on a part-time basis, these are the challenges, I think, we’ve got to come up with. But unless we get the focus around paid maternity leave and show we’re serious and showing we’re using the leverage to get large business on side and a government involved, I don’t think we’ll make any progress. We’ll still be talking about it another 2-3 years down the track.

McNAMARA: Brian has rung in and wants to talk about pensions. Good morning.

CALLER: G’day John. G’day Simon.

CREAN: Brian, how are you?

CALLER: I’m good mate. I met you about 15 years ago at a union meeting over in West Perth when you were President of the ACTU and I was a shop steward with the AMWU. Don’t know whether you remember but I asked you a question - how are we going to keep tradesmen in the trade when they got more money being truck drivers or security guards at the Casino?

Anyhow, I have got another question to ask you. When is the Labor Party and the Liberal Party going to recognise that pensioners such as myself are first class citizens and not fifth class citizens and start giving us monetary assistance? And I will tell you why. I am a single man, I am on $427.60 a fortnight and I don’t get any other monetary assistance from anywhere else. Now, I am trying to pay my house off and my mortgage is $122.50 a fortnight which I pay fortnightly to save insurances $15.00 a fortnight. So that is $137.50 a fortnight and out of $427.60 I have got $290.10 which leaves me $145 a week to pay all my bills, electric lights, gas, car, water and everything and nobody will give me assistance. I have been to the Government, your great Liberal Government, and because I am not paying over $300.00 a month, I can’t get any assistance, but if I was renting a house, Simon, I would get rent assistance. It’s a joke.

McNAMARA: Brian, are you on the old age pension?

CALLER: Yes, old age pension. I am 66 years of age. Also, why doesn’t the Labor Party say, well when we get into power we will cut the GST out for pensioners?

McNAMARA: Ok, thanks Brian.

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CREAN: Well Brian, just on that latter point. You will realise we went to the last election saying we were going to cut it out for a couple of key areas you mentioned - the electricity bills and the like but unfortunately we didn’t get elected. I was going to ask the same question as John but you have answered that and that is you are on the age pension. I was wondering whether you were on any form of superannuation. One of the important things and it doesn’t help your immediate problem.

McNAMARA: Doesn’t sound like he is, if that is his only income.

CREAN: That’s true. But one of the important things that Labor did and I am talking about the future here John is that we did introduce a system of superannuation for the country. There are now nine per cent contributions being made and people progressively in the future will be able to retire on significantly higher levels of income than Brian has retired on now.

McNAMARA: Is that going to be enough, though?

CREAN: Well, let me try and work at it this way. There are going to be a lot more of Brians in the future. Why? Because people are retiring earlier. They are living longer. If we are to look after the Brians we need to ensure that the drain of funds is not going to a much broader sweep of people. It just diminishes the pool. And that is why the growth of superannuation is terribly important in terms of what we can do for Brian in the future.

So, all I say to him, I’m not too sure I have got the details down Brian. We are going through the policy review issue at the moment, the inconsistency you talk about between home ownership and rental I think is an interesting area for us to consider. I am happy to take the issues you have raised on board and consider them as part of the review.

McNAMARA: And just as an aside, the First Home Owners Scheme - I am not sure if Brian qualified or whatever - but there are a lot of older people who have never bought, who have now bought their first house.

CREAN: Well, they would have and should have qualified for the First Home Owners Scheme.

McNAMARA: And they probably did and that is one of the inducements but are they going to caught in the same trap perhaps as Brian has been?

CREAN: I think it is an interesting question. I think this whole question of housing and the affordability of housing needs to be looked at from the two ends of the spectrum. One is the circumstances in which Brian finds himself, where he has got to make a choice between buying and renting and distorting circumstances in the market place. But the other quite frankly

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John is how do young kids get a start today in buying a home. You look at all round the capital cities, the cost of housing is just prohibitive for young people and that is why we are looking at a number of policy initiatives, things like nest egg accounts, things like matched savings, things creative things about equity shares in the purchase and in the building of a home and the like.

I just think we have got to be more creative with the way in which our society has changed. Its changed because of the huge cost associated with housing in inner city but it has also changed because we are staying alive longer. Now it’s a great thing but not unless you can live with economic dignity.

McNAMARA: Hugh has rung in with a question. Hello Hugh.

CALLER: Good morning. Look I would like to raise a question. But I will just ask Mr Crean to expand on something first of all - and the question is in regard to Centenary House. Maybe Mr Crean could explain to listeners what the Labor Party’s relationship is to Centenary House then I will proceed with my question.

McNAMARA: Sorry, what is Centenary House? I’m lost.

CALLER: Well, I am asking Mr Crean to explain.

CREAN: I think he is talking about a building that the Labor Party owns and rents in Canberra. I think that is what he is talking about.

CALLER: That is precisely what I am talking about. I am sure you are well aware of it but look I understand the Labor Party when it was in Government rented that out to a then Government agency on a quite lengthy lease with some very high ratchet clauses involved. And correct me if I’m wrong about this, but the rates the Government agency was paying to the Labor Party are far in excess of market values in the ACT.

McNAMARA: Good luck to the ALP in that case.

CALLER: Well, it’s not a matter of good luck because what we are dealing with here is taxpayers money to fund political parties.

CREAN: Well, let me just say on this. This sounds like the hoary old chestnut. The fact of the matter is that arrangement was subjected to an independent judicial inquiry, I understand, and approved, unlike the Wooldridge House little episode where just before the last election Michael Wooldridge not only gave money to the purchase of a - or approved money for the purchase to enable a medical association to build its headquarters in Canberra but got himself a nice cosy little retainer as well which he is now suing them for unfair dismissal.

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CALLER: Well, that’s fine but I mean that didn’t take effect did it? The Government didn’t pass the $5 million.

CREAN: It wasn’t subjected to an inquiry that was made public either.

CALLER: The point of my question is whether government departments should be subjected to paying income to political parties or whether political parties should be involved at all in that area where government departments should be seen as arms length away from the income of revenue raising for political parties?

CREAN: Well, what’s fundamentally important is transparency in the way in which a political party gets its contributions. That is what we are committed to. We introduced the legislation for it. It’s only the Liberal Party that still hides its donations through the Greenfields association, which it never discloses the contributors to.

McNAMARA: Good morning, John.

CALLER: Good morning, John, good morning, Simon. My question, I have got two questions but one of them is why on earth do we need to have paid maternity leave when there is so much unemployment around? Unskilled labour being unemployed and I also think that mothers should be with their kids for the first sixteen years of their lives and maybe there would be a lot less crime.

CREAN: Well, I understand your view and you are entitled to hold it. There are just plenty of people out there that want wider choices than that John and I think that we as a society, an evolving society, have got to give the opportunity for that. Can I just make one other point today, John, because there is another announcement that we are doing later today and this goes to the issue of protecting our kids. Ensuring that kids who are in any form of supervision that parents can be confident that the people supervising them have had appropriate checks.

Now, I don’t think there is any greater problem in the community at the moment so far as our kids are concerned than child abuse. It’s a huge issue and I think we need to come up with practical solutions as to how we can protect kids and give confidence to our parents. We are talking later today with the Anglican Church, who as a result of discussions that we have been having with them, have come forward with the proposal whereby they will be issuing checks for all of the people who work within the Anglican Church with kids. I think it is a great development, it’s something that I called for back in May when I announced we were establishing a Children’s Commissioner, introducing this check system and also saying in relation to Federal funding that is paid to any institution - that if they are in receipt of Federal funding

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they have got to come up with a code of conduct that refers any instances of child abuse off to the appropriate authorities.

Now, this is Government working with communities to protect our kids and to protect our future.

McNAMARA: Is that a sort of written down record or something like that?

CREAN: Yes, you would obviously have to get the complementarity between the State legal systems, Interpol as well for where there are criminal records and we need to talk further about the circumstance in which the record may not have been achieved but the investigation is under way. I think we have got to give security for kids but certainty to the parents. Greater certainty for the parents. It’s a big issue out there and we have to work at a solution together and that is what I am over for here as well today.

McNAMARA: Simon Crean, thank you very much for your time. Enjoy your stay in the West and hope we turn on some more rain for you.

Ends