Minister Shorten doorstop interview in Adelaide


SUBJECTS: Police Home Care Services; OEC data on Australian’s tax burden; cost-of-living relief; rate of JobSeeker; Muslim community calls for review into terrorism laws; violence against women; Changing Places initiative  

MARK CARROLL, SOUTH AUSTRALIA POLICE ASSOCIATION: Well, thanks everyone for coming today. Obviously, we're very excited to be able to partner with Lifestyle Plus Group to launch Police Home Care Services, an NDIS and My Aged Care business that will support members and the police Association and their families in the years to come. So, we are very thankful for having the Minister here to launch it on our behalf. Along with the state Minister of Nat Cook and the Member for Adelaide, Steve Georganas. So, the Police Association has a long history in starting things when there is a critical need. Back in the 1930s, we started police health because we needed health insurance for our members. In the 70s, we started the police credit union because our members couldn't get a loan, believe it or not. And so out of a need, we started things, and this is what's happening today. We are launching Police Home Care Services. There is a need for police association members and their families in this space to make sure that we have people that look after them and care about their welfare more than the dollar, and that's what we're going to achieve with Police Home Care Services. And we're thrilled that we've partnered with someone like Lifestyle Plus Group, who have been in this sector for ten years. It's been a long conversation to get us here today. And again, I say thank you to the Minister for launching.

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS, AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Great to be here at an exciting new initiative. I'm here with Nat Cook, South Australia's Minister for Disability and Ageing, also, Steve Georganas, the Member for Adelaide. I congratulate the South Australian Police Association for launching a national initiative, which I'm sure other people and other work areas will look at and consider following. For many South Australian police officers now and their families, this announcement means that at the end of their service, if they need assistance with disability care and need assistance with aged care, then they've got that service from their own union. This is what forward thinking unions do. This is what forward thinking state jurisdictions do. So South Australia will be leading. The South Australian Police are leading a national initiative to provide disability and aged care. Disability could be any of us at any time. Ageing is a fact of life, so what we need to do is ensure quality care and this is an exciting initiative. Today I'm happy to take any questions on this. And then if there's any other matters which you wish to raise. Over to you.

JOURNALIST: On another matter?

SHORTEN: That's okay if there's no question Mark and I sort of covered that pretty quickly. You were here for the speeches.

JOURNALIST: Minister, OEC data today, out today, shows Australians have been slugged with the world's biggest average tax increases. How is that fair on Australia's struggling with a cost-of-living crisis?

SHORTEN: Well, this government is very motivated to assist people with the cost-of-living crisis. Let's be clear about taxation. Compared to many other nations, Australia's tax burden is actually lower than comparable First World nations. But in terms of the cost-of-living crisis, I think that the tax relief, which is coming on 1st July, you know, can't get here quick enough. That's over $100 billion of tax reductions, which will go straight back into the pockets of our 13.9 million Australian workers. The tax package on 1st July, I feel, will be noticed by citizens. It's a significant tax relief. Everyone who goes to work after 1st July will be paying less tax. The other challenge, of course, is the independent Reserve Bank and their increase to mortgage rates. What we're doing in the budget, and we'll see more on the night, is Treasurer Jim Chalmers is making sure that we're creating the economic circumstances to see, hopefully, the Reserve Bank looking at what the rates reductions might be in the next 12 months. Um, we've seen that since Labor has come to power, inflation has been basically halved. We're now seeing the first movement in real wages. So, there's no doubt that people are hurting with cost of living. There's no doubt that people are doing it hard with the interest rate rises. There's no doubt that people on fixed incomes are doing it hard. But this government is always focused on how we can help people. And when you look at the fact that superannuation has gone up, a disability carer who we are just talking about today might be on - two years ago was on $70,000 between the 11.2% increase in wages and the tax cuts, they're probably going to be taking home several thousand dollars more than they were two years ago. But it's a difficult global set of circumstances. Clearly, there are some things out of the control of the government, like the terrible conflict in Ukraine and in the Middle East. But this is a government who every day is trying to work to improve the deal for working people.

JOURNALIST: Are there any unexpected tax changes coming in the budget, things like an increase of GST or any property tax changes?

SHORTEN: Not that I'm aware of, no.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, I've just got one more. Anglicare today released a report that shows essentially no rentals are affordable for people on JobSeeker. It's renewing calls for the government to raise JobSeeker in the budget. Why won't Labor lift it?

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, let's wait to see what the budget is. But the bigger issue is, we've increased JobSeeker, but it is tough. It is very difficult. What we're seeing is some city rental markets are being squeezed by a combination of a lack of supply, where you’ve got a lack of supply and more people coming in that's going to force upward pressure on rents. Secondly, the Airbnb industry has taken a lot of stock off the market where landlords are seeing they can get more money there than through the standard rental arrangements. The government also recognises that we've got an issue with our foreign student numbers, and that's putting pressure and competition on existing rentals. So, I think it's very difficult to be a renter right now. The government's focus is about increasing supply. At the end of the day, if you've got more supply coming onto the market, then that provides pressure to help restrain the growth in rental increase rates. When you've got congested supply, then you're ignoring the real problem, which is supply.

JOURNALIST: So, are they going to be any changes in the budget shows that there's going to be more supply, or Labor's going to help put more supply into the market?

SHORTEN: I know there's an old saying that you're only as good as your next announcement, but I don't want to gloss over what we've already done. I just want to remind people that when you look at the amount of investment we've made in the Housing Reconstruction Fund, we want to increase the supply of housing. Logically, when you think about it, if there's more housing and more apartments, then that decreases the pressure on rentals. But you can't build a whole, you know, hundreds of thousands of houses overnight and you can't build tens of thousands of apartments overnight. This has been a long problem in the making, with constricted supply. You can't turn it all around in a short period of time. But we have made real steps. We've got a long way to go. But when you think about it, we've got the real wages moving, lifted some of the social safety net, we've got the tax cuts coming in for everyone who works. We've also made sure that we're investing in building more supply. But it does take time. And in the meantime, it's really difficult for people, I’m not going to sugarcoat it.

JOURNALIST: Top economists have come out and said there'll be three more rate rises this year. Can Australians handle another one, let alone three?

SHORTEN: Oh, well, I don't know if some of these economists are headline hunting for their consultancies. I don't know if there will be, but - and they know the rate is set separately. But the whole debate is generally that when you've got very high inflation. That's when you look at increasing rates. We've just about cut in half the inflation rate. So personally, I don't see the case made for rate rises. But I'm not a Reserve Bank governor. People are doing it tough. And these economists who go around scaring people with their doom and gloom, you know, just - words have meaning, words have impact. And when you reduce the rate of inflation, when you're finally seeing - I mean, we're at 3.8% unemployment. The circumstances I don't feel are there for a whole lot of new rate increases. But hey, I'm just another opinion in this. It's set by the Reserve Bank, and they will work it out using all the evidence. But these economists, you know, I don't know if they're boosting their consultancies. I don't know what's going on with it.

JOURNALIST: Minister, you've said that you wanted to get the backlog of Centrelink and Medicare claims to normal levels by mid-year. Are normal levels acceptable, or will you be seeking to appoint more people to reduce wait times?

SHORTEN: Without sort of boring of some fun facts on Centrelink, I'll just go to the heart of the story. 10, 12 years ago, the Department of Human Services had about 37,000 people dealing with the needs of 22 million Australians. Excepting for the Covid time, where there was an extra injection of resources for that terrible crisis, we're down, Labor's come into government, we're down to under 30,000 people dealing with a population of 26 million. Centrelink is trying to reduce the waiting times for both time it takes their payments and time it takes them to call answered. But it's deeply frustrating for people at the moment. We've put on an extra 3000 staff, 3000 extra people. But every year we're getting over 10 million people visiting Centrelink offices. Fair enough. Every year we're getting nearly 60 million inquiries online. We're doing 1.1 billion transactions, individual transactions, in our Medicare and social welfare system. I want to reduce the waiting time for payments. 20% of the calls that people are making where they're getting delayed are because of delayed payments. We've got to - there was a backlog because of successive staff cuts which I've outlined already, we've got 1.3 million payments outstanding by really hiring the extra staff. We're really trying to smash the waiting list of payments, because that then reduces the number of people who need to ring up and say, where's my money? We are not where we should be. But in the last ten weeks when we've had the staff trained up, it takes a while to train up to 3000 new people, I am pleased that the backlog has gone from roughly 1.3 million outstanding payment claims to about 800,000. That's still 800,000 too many, but it's heading in the right trend, and we do want to reduce waiting times on phones as well. We're just working at it every day.

JOURNALIST: And I'm just on another issue. The Australian Muslim community is calling for an urgent review into Australia's terrorism laws to eliminate religiously motivated terrorism and to look into what led to the arrests after the raids. Is this something you would support?

SHORTEN: I haven't seen those calls. When the terrible, murderous rampage happened in the Christchurch mosque, I was very active visiting mosques, and I know Labor and the coalition were very supportive of keeping Australians of Muslim heritage safe. It was a very terrible time. Right now, there's a shocking conflict in the Middle East. We are seeing the rise of threats to social cohesion, the rise of anti-Semitism here, a stain which was 2000 years old we thought we wouldn't see in Australia. The Muslim community, the members of that, are feeling discriminated against or put upon. What we need to do is promote social cohesion. That's what the Albanese government is doing every day. As for the individual calls you refer to, I just haven't seen them, and I'd refer you to our relevant Ministers for that.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned social cohesion, and the Muslim community has also said that they weren't consulted before the raids and arrests. What impact do you think this will have on social cohesion?

SHORTEN: I'm not going to start second guessing the police. I don't know what they're actually specifically talking about. As a general principle, if you're chasing down people suspected of a crime, I'm not sure you go out and consult about how the best way to do the raid is. But I don't know the details.

JOURNALIST: Tax indexation is also looking likely to rise again in June. Can you confirm we will see that addressed in the budget, and will that apply to just current students or past students as well?

SHORTEN: The budget's going to be released, I think two days after my birthday on May the 14th. Stay tuned. Just, you gotta watch that, I know. I know Jim Chalmers, Katy Gallagher and the whole economic team are working hard, but I can't tell you what's in the budget.


SHORTEN: - is not what we want. It should just never happen. So, it's the zero tolerance to the violence, which we've just got to actively pursue. And not all blokes who are sexist, it ends in violence. But that's where it all starts from. So, we need to just be, you know, educating our kids. We need to be talking in our groups. We need to talk to the men we know. We know we need to also challenge the tropes which are creeping back in social media and in some of the games, some of the violence. Anyway, it's a giant challenge.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned social media there. You have expressed concerns that kids are being influenced by social media. Do you think the federal government could use influencers to ship this, this message, as they have done with the anti-vaping campaign?

SHORTEN: The Minister for Communications has been doing a pretty good job in terms of reforming social media. The Prime Minister stood up to Elon Musk very recently. I'm sure there's always more we can do, but we'll be supporting the E-Safety Commissioner, what they're doing. There's no doubt, though, that parents are struggling with the digital health of their kids. Social media can be a very good thing. But also, unfortunately, it's a way that some of the problems that kids encounter at school and outside the home, follow them home. And we've really got to just give parents the resources to help kids cope with this social media, where once upon a time, if you got bullied at school, that stopped when you left the school. But now, the bullies can follow you home and some of the very perverted and distorted people who live in the swamp of the internet can use social media. So, I think societies right across the world are grappling with how to tackle this.

JOURNALIST: Just for Minister Cook, Minister, advocates [illegible] the changing places, a small step in what is a bigger inclusion problem. What's your response to this?

NAT COOK, SOUTH AUSTRALIAN MINISTER FOR DISABILITY AND AGEING: All journeys take small steps to achieve a bigger conclusion, especially in terms of inclusion and advocacy in our community. Before the 2018 election, the then state Labor government started a program of funding changing places programs, facilities, and for whatever reason, that didn't continue under the last state government. Thankfully, we've now got a state and federal Labor government that are working together to increase the supply of changing places facilities. This doesn't happen overnight. It's happening at a pace that we have been offered the submissions for. It's up to local governments as well to provide the space and funding. It's a three-way partnership. So, we've announced two, one is completed and in use. I understand the other one is either very close to or completed. We’ll be announcing more very, very soon and putting out tenders this year and next year. These types of things are really important. And it's a bit like the housing issue. Not so long ago I was standing up saying we haven't had any federal money invested into housing since Tanya Plibersek was the Minister. Now, it's no coincidence that we finally got billions of dollars being invested into housing as well. So changing places, housing, reforms around social justice advocacy, disability, aged care. It's happening now under Labor, and it should happen faster, but it's happening as fast as we can do it.

JOURNALIST: And the advocate that our reporter spoke to says that it's patronizing to have a ribbon cutting ceremony for what is a basic human right, a toilet. What are your thoughts on that.

COOK: I think we should celebrate successes in our community, and we arrived to open this particular facility and we were provided that as a way of celebrating it by the facility convener, which is the City of Burnside.

SHORTEN: Thanks, everyone.