Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Joint press conference: 30 June 2008: Mackay, Queensland: Community Cabinet; tax changes; Education Tax Refund; Childcare Tax Rebate; computers in schools; July 1 Measures; tax cuts; emissions trading scheme; Gough Whitlam.



Download PDFDownload PDF

Prime Minister of Australia

Interview

Joint Press Conference with the Treasurer Wayne Swan, Mackay, Queensland

30 June 2008

Subject(s): Community Cabinet; Tax Changes; Education Tax Refund; Childcare Tax Rebate; Computers in Schools; July 1 Measures; Tax Cuts; Emissions Trading Scheme; Gough Whitlam

E&OE

PM: Well it’s great to be back in Mackay and it is great to be back here with the Cabinet, the Cabinet of the Australian Government. It’s taken 108 years for the Australian Government to bring the Cabinet to Mackay and we made it. And I’m pleased that we’ve done so in the first 6 months of this new Australian Government.

We’ve committed to our Community Cabinets every couple of months or so around the country. We think it’s a good way for the Government to engage the community. And whether its here or whether its in Western Sydney, the outer suburbs of Brisbane or the southern suburbs of Perth where we’ve been so far, it’s for us a very important way of hearing what the community is saying to Government about their needs.

Also its great to be here at St Francis Xavier School in Mackay and to look first hand at the great work they do in their after school care program but as it is today their vacation care program as well.

It’s also good to be here today on the Treasurers birthday. Happy birthday Treasurer.

TREASURER: Thank you.

PM: He’s an end of financial year Treasurer, is that right? I’ll talk about a few things. One is the importance of what starts up on the 1st July. What starts up on the 1st of July for helping with the education costs faced by Australian parents, and also what starts up on the 1st July in terms of the tax cuts for so many Australians and the Treasurer will talk about that in

a minute.

First of all: Education Tax Refund. The message to Australian parents is that from the 1st July please start keeping your receipts. Because the education tax refund starts to kick in as of this coming financial year.

That means you should be keeping receipts for what you spend on Laptops, home computers and associated costs, home internet connections, printers, education software. Also trade tools for use at school, textbooks, stationary.

And remember Education Tax Refund is to help parents meet the costs which they face in educating their children, particularly in the age of the digital revolution. And there’s always a demand for new software, always a new demand for a new printer, always a demand for something which is necessary by way of the computer upgrade.

So what does this provide? For up to $1500 a year for secondary school students - keep your receipts. Submit them and there will be a tax refund of 50% on that. And for primary school students $750 a year and for again a 50% refund on that.

So for the Education Tax Refund the message is keep your receipts from the 1st July, because this is really important for the future. From the 1st July we’ll be helping parents meet these additional costs for educating their secondary school and primary school kids and it will be important for all parents to keep their receipts.

Second thing I’d talk about also from the 1st July is the increase to the Child Care Tax Rebate from 30% to 50%. This centre here at St Francis Xavier I’ve just been told is a fully accredited centre and therefore parents here have access to the Child Care Tax Rebate.

From the 1st July the Child Care Tax Rebate goes up from 30% to 50%. From the 1st July it goes to a ceiling of $7,500 and that means that you have that additional help in meeting the child care costs and wider therefore education support

Page 1 of 6 Prime Minister of Australia - Interview - Joint Press Conference with the Treasurer W...

1/07/2008 http://www.pm.gov.au/media/Interview/2008/interview_0337.cfm

costs of your children. And certainly those whom we’ve spoken to here this morning appreciate the fact that this additional assistance will be provided.

The third thing I’d talk about is of course our computers in schools program. This is an important way of preparing the next generation of Australians for the digital revolution. We don’t want to see Australia with a digital divide between those who have access to computers and those who don’t.

We want kids in our secondary schools across the country from year 9 above to have access to computers in their classrooms. That’s why we have committed to a national program to bring in access for kids for computers from year 9 and above, year 9, year 10, year 11, year 12.

Let me give you a practical example here in Mackay. In round one of the funding alone we have provided an allocation of some $116 million nationwide. What does that mean as far as Mackay is concerned. Three secondary schools already funded here including St Patrick’s College Mackay with 187 computers and Eamon is here as the Principal of that school.

Burdekin Catholic High Schools, 67 computers, Mackay State High, 269 computers. Total computers in this first round for this region alone 523, total cost $523,000.

This is the first step. But it’s an important step and I ran into Eamon last night from St Pats just talking about what that means in his school. And it means in his school which is a year 11 and 12 school only, that they will be able to improve their provision of computers, their ratio of provision through this first round from where it is at present to a ratio one is to two and then over time when we go through further rounds of this process to get it up to the target that we have already spoken about. Which is one is to one.

And when it comes to a school like St Pats, if you got $187,000 it gives you an ability to invest in computers in the classroom and in the library in places like that, this is a sizable step forward.

Of course the implementation of the program is going to involve challenges and complexity, that’s just life. That’s what happens in each individual school community. But the key thing is for the Australian Government to be assisting school communities across Australia prepare their children and our children for the challenges of the information revolution of the 21st century.

Nationwide if I could add this, that $116 million will be provided to 896 schools, supporting 290,000 students across the nation.

I notice today that, I’m advised anyway that Dr Nelson and the Liberal Party of have described computers in schools as a fraud. Well my challenge to Dr Nelson is this: is he going to if he becomes Prime Minister disconnect these computers? Is he going to stop the funding for this computer program? We regard this as a practical support for school communities across the country and my challenge to him is, be positive don’t be negative. Don’t call this sort of assistance as he has done.

What we need to do instead is get behind our school communities for the future. This is a good program, a practical program. I think those school principals who are receipt of the funding to buy these computers appreciate it and we just regard it as the first step in assisting these schools into the long term.

Now Wayne on the other aspects of 1 July.

TREASURER: Thank you very much Prime Minister.

The really important thing about the tax cuts which will commence on July 1 is that for the first time in a long time they will tip the scales back in favour of working families. Because for a long time in this country under the previous Government tax cuts were skewed predominantly to higher income earners.

The very important thing about these tax cuts which commence from 1st July is that they tilt the balance back to working families. I think it’s important just to think about what this will mean for a typical working family.

A typical young family will be $51.54 per week better off as a result of these budget measures which will commence on the 1st July. Let’s just take a look at that family.

A couple with one child in primary school, another in child care earning a combined income of something like $87,000 a year will have an increase of $2680 over the course of 08-09.

That’s made up of tax cuts of around $20 and of course the rest is made up in the additional benefits that the Prime Minister was talking about before. Additional relief when it comes to out of pocket childcare expenses, and of course, the education tax refund. And it is very important that everybody keeps their receipts so they can apply for the education tax

Page 2 of 6 Prime Minister of Australia - Interview - Joint Press Conference with the Treasurer W...

1/07/2008 http://www.pm.gov.au/media/Interview/2008/interview_0337.cfm

refund because these measures are very important.

Given what has occurred with the increases in the cost of living, the tax cuts are absolutely essential to provide some relief to working families who are doing it tough.

And it is the case that earlier this year when we were preparing the Budget, there was a lot of advice to the Government, ‘don’t proceed with the tax cuts.’ Well, we have proceeded with the tax cuts because they had been earned by the Australian people. People who have worked hard deserve some relief, they deserve some incentive. And that is why they are being delivered.

We did bring down a tough Budget, we did cut back on spending, but we made room to deliver the education tax rebate. We made room to deliver addition support for parents with out of pocket childcare expenses, so important to the success of centres such as this that we are visiting today.

This relief enables those parents who are having their children looked after here, to go to work and to contribute to the economy and we need all parents out there participating in the workforce. But they can only do that if they have got the peace of mind and the financial capacity to ensure that their children are being properly cared for at an excellent centre such as this.

Now over and above, over and above the tax cuts which will commence, the Government also in the budget made provision for additional assistance to some people who are on the lowest incomes in our community and really doing it tough.

For example, we increased the utilities allowance for pensioners, for aged pensioners, disability support pensioners and carers. That is now $500 a year and the second payment for the utilities allowance is now coming through in the next week or so.

That is something like $5 billion has been allocated to the utilities allowance over the next few years and over the forward estimates.

That is once again concrete recognition that many people on low and fixed incomes out there are doing it really tough. So these are also essential measures which are in the system, and providing relief to those out there that are doing it tough, given the cost of living pressures.

PM: Okay folks, over to you.

JOURNALIST: Treasurer, do you have any advice on how much cost of living pressures increases - housing, petrol, groceries - are eroding family budgets?

TREASURER: There is no doubt that there has been a significant increase in the cost of living in recent times. It would be a bit early to be making any accurate predictions of what’s occurred through the increases say in the price of petrol in recent of times.

But just consider this fact. This global oil shock has resulted in, on average, an increase of about 30 cents per litre of petrol since the beginning of this year. So that certainly has an impact on all of those people who are driving cars, doing long commutes, living in regional areas such as this.

You talk to people in this region as we have been doing over the last 24 hours. I mean, people are reliant upon their vehicle to get to work. They do long commutes to work. So providing additional tax relief is all the more important in an environment such as that. But it will have an impact on the overall inflation rate. But of course, our situation is complex. The Government inherited, the highest inflation in 16 years. That was the legacy of the Liberal Party. And in our recent Budget, we put in place the policy settings to reign in spending, but also to make provision for the future, to lift the

productivity of the economy.

That is important, to maintain that discipline through the years. And that fiscal discipline will be very important in putting downward pressure on the domestic inflationary pressures.

On top of that we now have these global inflationary pressures coming in as well. And that makes the environment very difficult for a lot of people.

We as a Government remain determined to tackle the inflationary pressures in the economy because nothing erodes living standards more than a high inflation economy. So we will continue to provide the fiscal discipline that is necessary to tackle those pressures and provide relief where we can.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how will these measures, kicking in from tomorrow, help reverse that slide in Labor’s

Page 3 of 6 Prime Minister of Australia - Interview - Joint Press Conference with the Treasurer W...

1/07/2008 http://www.pm.gov.au/media/Interview/2008/interview_0337.cfm

fortunes that we saw in Gippsland?

PM: Look, I think opinion polls come and go. I mean, and by-elections will come and go. The key challenge is this, to govern for the future. And that means, from 1 July, brining in these practical measures to assist working Australians, working families, pensioners and carers, who are under financial pressure.

On these education costs alone we have got the Education Tax Refund, the first time in the nation’s history. You have a computers in schools program to assist schools with this expensive technology. You have this very large increase from the childcare tax rebate.

And then the income tax measures which the Treasurer just spoke of. These are practical measures to support families under financial pressure, pressure which arises from a series of interest rate rises and on top of that, the global oil shock.

It doesn’t solve all problems but these are practical measures aimed to support Australians under financial pressure.

JOURNALIST: Is the computers in schools program in jeopardy, at the moment, considering what we are reading about, the NSW Government demanding more money, placing demands on the Commonwealth?

PM: We will, of course, continue to negotiate with New South Wales and other states on the details and the implementation of the program. But the program itself will be implemented because it is a first class program to assist schools with practical needs for the future.

This Government is proud of this program. It is a very good program. We intend to implement this program. If I go to those numbers again, already, within six months of forming Government, we have been able to, through round one, approve funding for 896 schools across Australia, supporting 290,000 students. And in a local area like this, three secondary schools already with grants approved. And the principle over here I have spoken to, Eamon, already working out how that

$187,000 at St Pats is going to be used.

This is a first class program to help our kids be educated, with computers for the future, and instead we have Dr Nelson and the Liberal Party saying, ‘all this is a fraud.’

Is he going to say that to the principles of all the 896 schools around the country?

This is a first class program; and it’s time the Liberals stop being so negative.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

PM: At our previous COAG meeting the cooperation with the States and Territories on this has an agreed basis. That continues over the course of the next several months in terms of what long term co-investment with the states may still be necessary for the implementation of associated costs on the ground within schools. We understand that, we accept that, that is something we agreed back in March in Adelaide. Those negotiations continue, including with the good state of New South Wales.

JOURNALIST: What is the full cost of your program (inaudible)

PM: Schools program, we have allocated funding for between $1.1, $1.2 billion dollars. And the objective is clear. To make sure that we have got kids in year nine to year 12 that have access to computers at school.

And, for example, again going to the example of St Pats, I was just talking to the principle before, that may mean ensuring that you have got replacement of out of date computers currently in their Library - have I got that right, Eamon - together with what they actually can physically provide in the class room as well.

His objective, through this grant, is to bring the ratio up to one is to two, and then, through further rounds of the program, our objective is to bring one is to one.

JOURNALIST: It doesn’t look good, does it, these documents talk about (inaudible) side deal and other states wouldn’t be aware. What does it say about your Government?

PM: You know something, with the implementation of any program involving the States and Territories there is always something which is called argy-bargy. And this is just normal argy-bargy associated with a negotiation with States and Territories to get good things done.

Can I say, this is a first class program, and I am disappointed that the leader of the Liberal Party would be so negative about what 896 schools across the country, and their principals, have already had grants of funding for.

Page 4 of 6 Prime Minister of Australia - Interview - Joint Press Conference with the Treasurer W...

1/07/2008 http://www.pm.gov.au/media/Interview/2008/interview_0337.cfm

You can either do nothing about the computer needs of our next generation of Australian kids, or you can say, ‘how do you help schools, how do you help principals, how do you make sure that you’ve got the learning platforms of the 21st Century, how do you prepare them to use the information superhighway?’. Well, we’ve got a plan for that. It’s a good one. But there’ll always be argy-bargy on the way through.

JOURNALIST: Have you had similar requests from other states?

PM: Argy-bargy is a national phenomenon. It is not a state specific phenomenon -

TREASURER: It happens everywhere.

JOURNALIST: How are talks going, proceeding in terms of emissions trading (inaudible)

PM: Well, we have been working on our response to climate change since the beginning of the year and since we formed Government. In fact, since we ratified Kyoto as the first act of the Government in December last year.

Tough work, hard work, and it will continue.

We have a Green Paper process to come to next. But that is the beginning of the policy development process. It’s going to take a while. Governments around the world are dealing with this complex challenge, it’s not easy. But we’ve got to put our sights also on what are you doing to prepare the planet for the challenges out to 2020 and 2050.

And if you look at these little kids here today, you can either say, ‘well, it’s all too hard, I’m not going to act’, or you can say, about your kids and your grandkids that in fact we’re going to take the right measures to do something to save the planet.

So, the policy development process is underway. A good process. Still got a long way to go.

JOURNALIST: How much pain will there be to energy intensive industries or to users of petrol, and what can you do about it?

PM: Well, we will develop our policy through the Green Paper process, the White Paper process, in full consultation with industry and full consultation with the community sector as well, because there are adjustments across the spectrum.

But we’ve always said that we’d be providing support to households. We’ve also always said that we’d be providing support to industries on the way through.

But there is a long, long way to go. The purpose of a Green Paper is to provide a platform for further focussed consultation with industry. This is the right way to go. To have a rolling policy focussed dialogue with industry, and the community sector, to make sure that we do the right thing by the planet, the right thing by industry, and the right thing by households. And it is very, very complex, it’s tough, but the Government’s determined to proceed.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, given the complexity, can you meet the deadline of 2010?

PM: Oh look, our commitment is clear cut from our pre-election statements on this, absolutely clear cut. And, we will be putting that through the Green Paper process, to industry, and to the household sector.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, are you confident that you’ll be able to educate the public about emissions trading and allay the fears that they might have about how it will affect their lives and the economy?

PM: You know, what I would hope for is that Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition would actually regard this as a bipartisan challenge for the nation. I would have thought trying to do something to save the planet, trying to do something to prevent the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef here off Mackay, trying to do something to prevent 80 per cent of the Wetlands at Kakadu from drying up, trying to do something to avoiding a further intensification of drought in south-eastern and south-western Australia, is the right course of action.

Of course, you can choose to go the cheap populist road and run a fear campaign. And our political opponents began that in the last week of parliament. But you know, we intend to act in the long term in the right interests of the planet and the environment and to do so in a responsible manner which is mindful of the nation’s economic interests and mindful of the financial needs of Australian households.

I think we can get the balance right, Dennis, in answer to your question. It’s going to be a tough debate. A really tough debate - I understand that. But, this Government doesn’t resile from tough, tough choices.

Page 5 of 6 Prime Minister of Australia - Interview - Joint Press Conference with the Treasurer W...

1/07/2008 http://www.pm.gov.au/media/Interview/2008/interview_0337.cfm

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how was Gough Whitlam when you went to see him?

PM: In good spirits, yeah. Gough’s in his 90s, and we had a good yak, and Gough was full of advice as he normally is on each occasion that I meet him. But, he’s been there for a little while, so I’m sure we all hope that he’s on the way to recovery.

JOURNALIST: What’s wrong with him?

PM: I’d rather not comment on his specific medical condition.

JOURNALIST: Was there any particular advice that he gave you?

PM: None that I’m going to tell you. (Inaudible)

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) Just quickly, stepping back to Community Cabinet. Why are we in Mackay?

PM: Look, pre-election we said this Government, if it was elected, would engage the community through Community Cabinet. The Australian Government has never done that before. And the reason for doing it is that it is a great way to put Cabinet Ministers directly in contact with local communities, particularly in regional Australia, because the needs here are often quite different to those which are presented to us by our public service advisers in Canberra.

Why Mackay? Well, this bloke here, James Bidgood the new Member for Dawson, was in my ear as of about 24 hours of the election saying -

TREASURER: It wasn’t that long.

PM: Okay. Twelve hours. Saying, ‘when are we going to have the first Community Cabinet here?’ So, we’re here. And it’s good to be here.

I was here just after the floods in February. Wayne came up some time ago as well. So you’ve had a couple of Prime Ministerial visits, you had a Treasurers visit. It’s an important part of Australia and the challenges in Mackay and the wider region on housing, on infrastructure, on roads are important for this region. But we’ve got to get them right for the long term because this part of Australia is important for the nation.

You look at those huge potential developments which have been spoken about in the resource sector, and the needs which flow from that in terms of infrastructure, and the needs which flow from that in terms of housing, you’ve got to get it right now just for local people here, but getting it right here means getting it right for the nation as well.

TREASURER: Could I just add to that, because I came here last year, I was shocked to find out that my predecessor had not been here. Or if he had been here, it was, sort of, a very long time ago.

This is a central part of our national economy. Vitally important to some of the key industries upon which our prosperity is build. We understand that. And what’s why we are moving right around the country, particularly through regional Australia, to get an on the ground appreciation of what the challenges are.

Whether it’s Gladstone, whether it’s Mackay, or if it’s right around the coast, the great sunbelt communities that are building and growing along our coastlines are a critical part of the economic future of this country. And, this Government, this Cabinet, is absolutely determined to be in touch with those communities.

PM: Thanks folks.

Page 6 of 6 Prime Minister of Australia - Interview - Joint Press Conference with the Treasurer W...

1/07/2008 http://www.pm.gov.au/media/Interview/2008/interview_0337.cfm