Minister Rishworth and Minister McBain press conference in Queanbeyan


Topics: Federal Budget; Support for vulnerable Australians; Financial counselling; Peter Dutton’s negative budget plan; Funding for the regions; Inland rail; Public service jobs

KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER FOR REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Thank you so much for being here in Queanbeyan today. It was a real pleasure to bring my colleague Minister Amanda Rishworth, with me to speak at the Salvation Army Employment Plus office. These people are providing fantastic services for our residents in and around Queanbeyan. They're really happy with the budget announcements that we've made. And we're talking about the difference that that will make to residents right across this region. It was fantastic to bring Minister Rishworth here today so that people providing the services could speak to her about the difference some of our initiatives in the budget will make.

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: It was wonderful to connect with the frontline workers here at the Salvation Army in Queanbeyan. And what we heard from them is they are working with the community in so many different ways, supporting the community if they get into financial difficulty, or indeed providing emergency relief, employment services right along the continuum of crisis support along to financial resilience, and so it was great to speak with all these frontline workers. What we heard was a very positive response to our Budget announcements, including at lifting the profile of the National Debt Helpline. This is the National Debt Helpline that allows people to get that support and advice about their financial situation and connects them in with services like this one. What I heard is lifting the profile of that service is incredibly important. And we're funding it not only to lift the services, but to make the coordination better, and allow more people to get access to that helpline. We also of course in the Budget announced an increase to our NILS for vehicles program, which is no interest loans for vehicles or vehicle-related expenses. We've made sure that that is a continuing program, allowing people that find themselves in financial difficulty to get a no interest loan for a car and as I heard from Kristy, that's particularly important in rural and regional areas where there may be no other way to get to work. If your car breaks down, and you can't get to work it’s the choice between not having a job or having a job. It's important that these loans are available so that people can purchase a vehicle and keep their job. So that's another thing in our Budget. Of course, we also boosted the crisis response emergency relief money and that allows us particularly to respond to natural disasters. What we know is when there is a natural disaster, which many in this region and across Australia face, is we need a crisis response. But we also need to back that up sometime after with things like financial counselling, and so we've also boosted funding that will be available for that sort of response into the future, as well as currently regions here in New South Wales that require it – and one of those regions being Lismore. So our Budget is a very comprehensive Budget, which is really built on two pillars: supporting people are in crisis and with emergency relief, but also promoting resilience and financial resilience. The final thing I would say knowing how amazing these frontline workers are, is that in the Budget, we've ensured that we can continue to get the pipeline of financial counsellors we need through making sure there's funding for the Steps program, which ensures that financial counsellors can finish their work. So this has been a really important investment. But importantly, while it's a national investment it trickles down to communities like the one we are in today and we've heard how that will happen on the ground. I'll now open up to any questions.

JOURNALIST: Amanda, we might start with you. Thanks so much for your time this morning. What have you been hearing in regards to demand for cost of living relief and is there much in the way of criteria for people to be able to access this support you’re announcing today?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: There is a criteria to demonstrate financial hardship. One of the stories that we heard today was making sure people don't go without their medicines. So one of the comments made is along with our 60-day dispensing rule changes that made medicines cheaper, our freeze now for five years on the concession at cost for medicines is a game changer. So yes, there is demand for these sorts of services. But the other thing we heard it here as well as you can't just think you can do a quick fix with this. Often people are coming quite distressed, and this is requires a lot of work and support. And that's what this organization here at Salvation Army Queanbeyan do is they connect up and provide a continuum of support.

JOURNALIST: Just on natural disaster support how much funding has been allocated for that specifically? What are some of the hardships that you hear from those that have experienced natural disasters?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We have committed an extra $114 million for emergency relief. Now that's not all for natural disaster. That includes also supporting people with cost of living pressures as well. But we have what's called the National Coordination Group, and they monitor the demand across the country. And over the last two years since I have been Minister, they've been making recommendations particularly at points where areas of natural disaster need support. So we've tried to be as responsive and flexible as possible, first with the emergency relief, but then waiting until the need arises for financial counselling. One of the clear messages we've got is we don't need all of that at once. You often need an emergency response, but we know communities take some time to rebuild. And often the requirement for financial counselling comes a little bit later. Which is why one of the announcements we're making today is extra funding for some areas that experienced flooding in central west New South Wales and also Lismore and because they are areas that had their disaster some time ago, they did receive emergency relief at that point, but it's now time where it's been identified they need support with financial counselling. So we need to be as a Government very responsive to the needs of communities and actually act when they need it. And so we'll keep monitoring the situation but importantly, what it means with funding in this Budget is that we are now able to respond. That funding did not exist under the previous government and we are now able to respond.

JOURNALIST: On the Opposition Leader’s speech last night – the Budget reply. Were you surprised to not see any obvious statements around jobseeker increases or any welfare support?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I felt the Leader of the Opposition last night had an entirely negative budget reply. There was no positive plan in there. There was no plan about how he might help Australians or support Australians doing it tough. It was negativity, it was criticism and a whole lot of anger in there. So while I'm not surprised, it is disappointing that Peter Dutton didn't outline how he was going 
to support our most vulnerable in our community. But importantly, he didn't really show much empathy for people doing it tough right across the income scale. There was no detailed plans about what he might provide in any of his responses. So look, I think a lot of people would be scratching their head still confused about what Peter Dutton actually wants to do for this country. There's no doubt of what he doesn't like and the negativity and the anger he shows but there wasn't much positive detailed plan in there.

JOURNALIST: For Kristy, in terms of regional development, we heard some criticism from people like David Littleproud. He says the federal Budget doesn't necessarily have any obvious targeted infrastructure for, say inland rail or dam upgrades. Do you think the Coalition is provided any alternatives?

KRISTY MCBAIN: What you won't see out of our Budget is colour-coded spreadsheets and that's exactly what the National Party and the Liberal Party are after. That's not how we govern. And that's not how we work as a Government. We're there to govern for all Australians, and that means providing cost of living relief for every Australian across the country, regardless of their postcode. 13.7 million Australians are receiving a tax cut. That is a huge game changer for people who can now earn more and keep more of what they earn in their own pocket. Every Australian connected to the grid is getting an electricity rebate. We are not going to take lectures from the National Party on how to do Budgets or grant processes, because all we saw in a wasted decade of the former government was colour-coded spreadsheets and a whole bunch of rorts. We're not going to follow their lead. What we're going to do is methodically work through how we fund projects across regional Australia, including for example, tripling of the bulk billing incentive where we've seen across regional Australia 555,000 free doctor visits because we have increased that for the first time in a long time. That Medicare rebate that our GPs get. We know GPs are in shortage across regional areas, which is why we're funding the first ever medical school in the Northern Territory. We know people want to be able to train where they live, and then they want to work where they live. I heard from Barnaby Joyce and David Littleproud, a whole bunch of bleating about how there weren't enough doctors in regional areas. If only they were in a position to do something about that in their wasted decade in government. We are actually getting on with the job of putting positive plans in place. To increase the participation in the workforce across rural Australia. We're also making sure that we're incentivising GPs into rural areas. We're making big investments by doubling roads to 
recovery for every council across the country. We don't need colour-coded spreadsheets or to find out who represents which electorate but we’re governing for the entire country in this Budget. This is a Budget for every Australian across the country.

JOURNALIST: On inland rail from Canberra to Sydney. Why wasn't there any funding for a feasibility study into perhaps getting that project over the line and making improvements to that rail line?

KRISTY MCBAIN: We made some significant announcements in rail particularly upgrading and replacing rail tracks between Albury in Sydney and other rail in Queensland as well. There were significant investments in rail across the board as well as a number of key transport corridors and freight routes. You know, there was $20 million that went into the Barton highway, an additional $5 million that went into the Hume Highway corridor planning. We've got significant investments in Nowra in Mount Ousley in Wollongong, where there are a whole bunch of investments in transport and rail across the board? We will continue to work with the New South Wales Government on planning for the Sydney to Canberra rail line and we will do that in a methodical way.

JOURNALIST: Why if the ACT government did put in the request for funding for a feasibility study in the Budget, why perhaps wasn't it a feature in the Budget?

KRISTY MCBAIN: There are always going to be Budget pressures. We receive from every state and territory government a whole range of projects that they want to get off the ground. Unfortunately, we can't fund every good idea that we'd like to because we have to make sure that we've got a balanced Budget and for the first time in close to two decades we've had two surpluses in a row. We are a Government that is responsible. We are taking measured decisions that are right for the times, but we're setting ourselves up for the future. And that's what you'd expect of a responsible government.

JOURNALIST: What would it take from the New South Wales and the ACT Governments to get funding for a feasibility study?

KRISTY MCBAIN: I’m sure that there is work happening between the ACT, New South Wales and the Commonwealth and those discussions will continue. But as I said, you know, we, if we could fund every good idea we would, but we need to make sure that we're taking a measured responses to the times that we're in. We've created two Budget surpluses by making sure that we're getting rid of the waste and the rorts that the previous government had. We've effectively turned a $77 billion deficit into a $22 billion surplus last financial year. We're on track for a nearly a $10 billion surplus this year.

JOURNALIST: What would be the benefits of having a line from Sydney to Canberra for the regional parts that it would run through and was there perhaps a missed opportunity to get the ball rolling on this?

KRISTY MCBAIN: We’ve got a rail line between Canberra and Sydney now. It's in operation it's effective. We need to make sure that we are planning for the future. I remember back to the 2019 state election when we had a former government promise faster rail and never deliver it. So if we're going to do something, we're going to plan it methodically and actually deliver it rather than just issuing press releases.

JOURNALIST: On Peter Dutton criticisms about funding for the APS. What do you make of that? And if funding was pulled from the APS, What sort of impact would that have for the ACT?

KRISTY MCBAIN: I mean, what a joke. Peter Dutton cannot be serious that he's going to pull money out of the APS when he effectively had a 54,000-people shadow workforce, costing the Australian people billions of dollars. This is a former government that spends billions of dollars on consultants rather than creating expertise that we employ directly. We're not going to take lectures from this guy about how to employ people to run services in our country. We want to make sure that we fund places like Services Australia to deliver for people in our communities, the most vulnerable people, those people in desperate need following a natural disaster. We’re not going to take lessons from a guy who basically wants to slash public service jobs, but at the same time, create a whole bunch of consultancy jobs.