Subjects: Women’s Economic Security Statement, parental leave pay flexibility, negative gearing, union intimidation, energy prices.
KIERAN GILBERT: Returning to our earlier story of the changes to our paid parental leave scheme with us is the Minister for Women, Kelly O'Dwyer. Thanks very much for your time, I think as Laura and I were discussing earlier, it’s going to be a very popular initiative just giving people at that challenging time of life more flexibility.
KELLY O'DWYER: That's exactly right, I mean there is nothing more joyous than when a child comes into this world. But it is also a pretty stressful time and it’s also a time that is financially demanding for so many families. It's a rigid system right now and it doesn't account for any flexibility at all. You can only take it in 18 weeks and it doesn't really account for how we live. So we are changing it so that families can actually take it in blocks after the first 12 weeks. Whether it’s a day a week or a week at a time, they will have the ability to make the decision that is right for them, and of course that then works for women who might be self-employed who might be running a small-business. It also works for fathers who actually want to spend time in those early years in the two year period, time bonding with their child.
LAURA JAYES: Minister, why didn't you look at raising that $150,000 cap and has there been any push back from business, small business in particular?
KELLY O'DWYER: No, when I have gone around Australia and spoken to many families and businesses, certainly small business women say this is something that they want. They want the financial flexibility to be able to take the leave – the Government funded parental leave payment – when they need it. And of course, that decision will need to be made in conjunction with people's workplaces, but we want to encourage that flexibility in how people return to work. Because we know when it comes to women building their financial security, connection to the workforce is very important. But having that flexibility to remain connected is also critical.
KIERAN GILBERT: Have you thought about also adopting Labor's approach to include superannuation as part of the PPL scheme to ensure that women who receive that payment also get the superannuation?
KELLY O'DYWER: There are couple of things in that. Firstly, you would never rule that out, although there are some real challenges with it. The first is if you pay a superannuation guarantee on a Government funded payment here, then why would you not pay it on every other Government payment? Now of course that would cost the taxpayer billions and billions of dollar. Secondly, you need to talk about whether in fact it will really boost women's retirement savings, and certainly while it can have an effect until you make structural changes to the superannuation system, all of those benefits can be eroded away. That's why I'm calling on Labor to pass the Protecting Your Superannuation Package that is in the Senate right now. It would help around 1.6 million Australian women with low-balance accounts, it would help more than 1.9 million Australian women who have got inactive or low-balance accounts as well, and it would re-unite women with around about $2.5 billion of their own superannuation monies that might be in multiple accounts, through a proactive unification measure with the Australian Taxation Office.
LAURA JAYES: Can you see further reform in the childcare rebate system, Minister, would there need to be further tinkering in the future given that some of the challenges of seeing some women judge that it’s better for them to be out of the workplace altogether?
KELLY O'DWYER: Over the long term for those women who want to build their financial security being out of the workforce doesn't help you earn an income nor save for your retirement. But at the end of the day the decisions about what women do, what families do, are a matter for them. We want to provide more choices for families. We want to give them more flexibility for the decisions that are right for them. Because we know that when Australian women do well, their families do well and our economy and our nation prosper. That's why for the first time I am delivering a Women's Economic Security Statement – a $109 million package that is focused on getting rid of the barriers that interfere with women building their financial security.
KIERAN GILBERT: Building the financial security for young families as well often includes trying to get a home in the first place, a house in the first place. Is the Liberal Party basically, you know, isolating itself from that younger cohort by not supporting some reform to negative gearing? It doesn't have to be Labor's approach but at least some reform that would reduce the competition that people have when going to buy a house with say investors buying their fifth or sixth house.
KELLY O'DWYER: Well the short answer is no. We actually don't think that will in the long term help young people. There are lots of young people who also buy investment properties who actually rely on negative gearing to get their foot on the property ladder. And negative gearing has been part and parcel of the system since the year dot. This is actually a radical change. We also know with the changes that APRA has made in terms of lending and the tightened requirements on investors that of course that has decreased the number of investors who are coming into the market who might be more speculative. That also has an impact. Where we have focused our measures in the Statement today has very much been around vulnerable women who are at risk of homelessness. Those women who might be experiencing domestic violence, who are fleeing those violent relationships and need to build financial security and safety for themselves and their children. And we are doing that by providing $14.9 million to Good Shepard Microfinance for no interest loans, so they can get the bond that they need to get into the accommodation that they need, which is just the latest measure of a whole host of measures worth more than $300 million that we have focused on keeping women safe.
LAURA JAYES: Minister, you spoke of threats and intimidation and bullying against some female members of your Party during the leadership spill. There was a promise that this would be dealt with internally, has that happened?
KELLY O'DWYER: Well, I understand that the Federal Executive of the Liberal Party has determined that each state division have a proper process in place, a confidential and independent rigorous process for complaints. And they are going through that process right now. I think that is a really good thing. I think that certainly sets us miles apart from other political parties that have been wracked by huge scandals. Just take unfortunately what we have heard about the Greens lately. The misogynistic comments that have been made, the sexual harassment that has occurred. When you think about the bullying of who was and still is a senior member of the Labor Government in Victoria. Bill Shorten has been completely silent on that union thuggery and intimidation of one of his own Labor women members of Parliament.
KIERAN GILBERT: One of the ways you change the culture though in a Parliament, in a party is by having more women in it. You would agree with that?
KELLY O'DWYER: I absolutely agree with that.
KIERAN GILBERT: So why not just adopt quotas. There are quotas for the states in terms of representation in Cabinet in terms of so many other appointments. Why not have quotas for women?
KELLY O'DWYER: So let me say Kieran. I absolutely think that Parliament will be a better place if we have more women in Parliament, and I also think it’s important that we have targets to get more women into Parliament. It doesn't matter what political party. I actually think it's a better representation of Australians.
KIERAN GILBERT: Targets don't work do they? You need to enforce them.
KELLY O'DWYER: So long as you measure targets they can work. We have targets, for instance, for the number of women appointed to Government boards. We have been actually able to increase that target because we met it. And we met it because we measured it and people were accountable for it. Targets work incredible well in actually delivering practical outcomes.
LAURA JAYES: Minister, one final question on the big stick when it comes to power prices. Leaked draft legislation shows that Josh Frydenberg, the Treasurer, is asking for some pretty significant personal power to force the big energy retailers to restructure their companies if need be. This would be quite unprecedented wouldn't it?
KELLY O'DWYER: Well look I haven't had the benefit of actually seeing that information and obviously that is a question that you would put to the Energy Minister. But let me say this – we are completely focused as a Government on getting energy prices down. We know that it is a huge cost in household budgets and we certainly know that it is having a big impact with people's cost of living. We need to get it down, there have been rip-offs in the industry for far too long, and we are the first Government that is serious in addressing it.
KIERAN GILBERT: As a Liberal though are you comfortable with that setup? That divestment idea?
KELLY O'DWYER: Well divestment has occurred in the United States for a long period of time through anti-trust legislation where you have got monopoly behaviour. It’s quite proper that you would actually have divestment powers there. I haven't seen the specific divestment legislation you are talking about. But as I said, we are focused on making sure that Australian families are not paying too much for affordable and reliable energy.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister for Jobs and Women, Kelly O’Dwyer, we thank you for your time and are looking forward to your address at the Press Club later in the day. Thank you.
KELLY O'DWYER: Terrific, thank you.