Sky News Live

E&OE:

KIERAN GILBERT:…Liberal Frontbencher, Paul Fletcher. Paul, thanks so much for your time. Minister for Infrastructure and Cities, the-

PAUL FLETCHER:
Well, actually, Minister for Families and Social Services.

KIERAN GILBERT: Oh, sorry. Okay. Old advice was given but anyway, let's look at the issue today facing the Parliament…

PAUL FLETCHER: Yeah. The fast moving environment…

KIERAN GILBERT: It is. We- changing prime ministers every few months. But anyway, let's take a look at the Parliament. Not a great way to finish the year, would it be, if you lost a vote and lost control of the House.

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, what we're focused on is across the range of areas where we have responsibilities to the Australian people; taking forward our agenda for example, our agenda in relation to national security and encryption and being able to require communications companies, internet companies, to cooperate with our national security agencies so we've got legislation there that we are taking forward.

That's something we have a…

KIERAN GILBERT: But on the offshore processing, as you heard Richard Di Natale, that he's confident he's got the numbers and if you lost that vote, that's quite an embarrassment to finish the year, isn't it?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, let's be absolutely clear. The issue here is whether Labor is prepared to support the maintenance of Australia's strong border protection regime.

Labor went to the last election saying that their policy on border protection was the same as the Coalition’s.

If Bill Shorten and Labor vote with the Greens and the crossbenchers today, as you've just heard the Prime Minister say, that is a very significant weakening of Australia's border protection system; and the risk is, that as a consequence, the people smugglers will start up again and we will be right back where we were under the previous Labor government where we had 50,000 unauthorised arrivals, 1200 deaths at sea that we know of. So, this is what is at stake.

Labor tries to tell the Australian people that they can be trusted on border protection but if Bill Shorten today votes with the Greens and with the crossbenchers, then he is contributing, Labor is being part of a very significant weakening of Australia's border protection system. That is in nobody's interests and that is something that we will be strongly arguing against.

LAURA JAYES: Minister, how was this as weakening when we know the Government has been quietly bringing children to the mainland anyway?

PAUL FLETCHER: So, we have very extensive resources on Nauru to provide the medical treatment where it's necessary to remove children for medical treatment that is occurring. But it's very important that as part of that we have a proper security assessment rather than what is proposed here, which is that any two doctors could make this decision.

That's a very significant change to the present system. And as the Prime Minister has said, as the Immigration Minister has said, that presents a very significant threat to the current arrangements and it’s the Government…

KIERAN GILBERT: Given you’ve moved so many children off Nauru already why would that be such a weakening….

PAUL FLETCHER:…It’s the Government’s strong view based…

KIERAN GILBERT: …why would that be such a pull factor or a question?

PAUL FLETCHER: It is the Government's strong view based upon the advice of our security agencies that this is a material weakening of Australia's border protection system. And bear in mind, we have worked so hard since we came to government in 2013 to fix up the terrible situation we inherited from the previous Labor government…

KIERAN GILBERT:…but if it’s a weakening, it’s a weakening because you lost control of the House of Parliament, House of Reps. That’s why. That’s to eventuate today is a loss of control.

PAUL FLETCHER: The merits of the policy decision that Bill Shorten and the Labor Party are taking today.

They are walking away from the position that they say they hold, which is to support a strong border protection system. They went to the election in 2016 claiming that there was no difference between the Coalition's position and Labor's position when it comes to border protection.

If Bill Shorten and Labor vote today with the Greens, they will be showing what a sham that claim was and you know who is really at risk here, the people who are at risk are the people who are likely to be enticed onto people smugglers’ boats as a consequence. So that is why the Prime Minister has been very clear, the Immigration Minister has been very clear, our government is very clear, we do not support this bill based upon the advice of our security agencies and that is the point we are making very clearly. And as you heard the Prime Minister saying earlier to Alan Jones, we will be making every effort to continue to make those arguments today in relation to this matter.

LAURA JAYES: Minister, if the Government can afford to give further income tax cuts to workers across Australia, shouldn’t it also be able to afford a boost in the Newstart payment?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, let's be clear, the 99 per cent of people on Newstart also receive additional benefits such as Commonwealth rental assistance or energy supplement.

Our focus when it comes to people on the Newstart is getting people off the welfare rolls and into employment.

Since we came to government in 2013, there have been 1.1 million new jobs created; in the last year, 100,000 new jobs secured by young Australians; and the number of people on the welfare rolls – 230,000 less than when we came to government. So, every time somebody moves from the welfare rolls, moves from unemployment into employment, that’s a personal victory for them in terms of the sense of contribution, sense of self-esteem; of course better financial outcome for them, and a better financial outcome for the nation. And so that's why what we're focused on is creating more opportunities for people to move from welfare to work.

That's our focus when it comes to Newstart.

KIERAN GILBERT: Well, surely, it's time to increase it though. John Howard says it; ACOSS says it; the Business Council of Australia make the same point; when will the Government see that?

PAUL FLETCHER: Our focus is, first of all, on people who are presently unemployed assisting them to move into the workforce and that is our priority when it comes to Australians who are unemployed.

We want to get as many people back to work as possible and at the same time provide that important safety net through Newstart, through Disability Support Pension, through Parenting Payment, through Carers Allowance. All of the payments that form part of the $176 billion a year we spend on our social security system – a system that must remain sustainable. Under the previous government, the total amount we're spending on social security and welfare was growing at twice the rate that government revenues were growing. Completely unsustainable.

We've turned that around but we've got more work to do to get the budget back to balance.

KIERAN GILBERT: Minister for Families and Social Services, thanks very much for your time.

PAUL FLETCHER: Thanks, Kieran.

KIERAN GILBERT: We’ll talk to you soon.