SUBJECTS: Election 2016; Labor’s policy for childcare; Newspoll

KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda. With me now, the Shadow Minister for Small Business, Michelle Rowland. Thanks for your time. A few things now to pick up on that interview with the Education Minister. How can Labor justify an extra billion dollars a year for childcare support and you're not means testing it? This goes to those earning millions of dollars a year. It's hardly consistent with your position on other issues like the deficit levy.

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR SMALL BUSINESS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM: Kieran, we know that when middle and working class families are doing well then the economy is doing well overall. And you need to remember that there are certain elements of this package that are quite distinct, for which some people qualify and some people don't. You've got the childcare benefit which is means tested, you've got the childcare rebate which is not and in both of those we're going to be assisting something like a million families with their childcare fees. We've also got, part of our package, is about waiting times. We need to make sure that we have not only accessible and affordable childcare but also quality childcare as well and that's critically important to families. And on the last issue of fees, we want to make sure that we don't have price gouging when it comes to these extra pieces of assis tance being gobbled up in higher fees. So we have proposed some very stringent measures to overcome that. But I'll make this point Kieran, making sure that childcare is affordable, accessible and is quality childcare is imperative for our economic success.

GILBERT: Should those earning a million dollars get the rebate? It just doesn't make sense, does it?

ROWLAND: We know that this will benefit the majority of people who are working families and middle income families, Kieran. That's where the money flows and I know that residents in my own electorate that qualify for this would by no means be calling themselves wealthy. These are people, many cases of course they are women who are going back into the workforce, having children in childcare places. Now I speak to these people all the time and what they are telling me is they are basically going to work and at the end of the week having very little to show for it once you take out the childcare fees.

GILBERT: But I think everyone accepts that's the issue and the government is also making efforts there. The question is about the means testing. Why not means test it, you make the point about now not being the time to remove the deficit levy for high income earners, and yet you're still willing to give them $10,000 a year for childcare rebates when they're earning hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's just not consistent with your rationale on the other policy.

ROWLAND: The point is this, Kieran. There are some elements of childcare relief that are means tested, for which the majority of people who qualify for those are indeed on lower incomes. We also have other elements for which I believe, if you ended up taking these away from the people who currently qualify for it, we are actually going to see a reduction in women’s participation because as I said, I am getting feedback consistently about working families, and particularly affecting women, working women on middle incomes who, if this relief was taken away, would end up dropping out of the workforce altogether. I see childcare as an investment. I see it as an investment, not only in our economy but also an investment in making sure we have an increase in women’s participation in our workforce. That is going to end up benefitting everyone. And I find it incredible that we had the Minister talking before, they've spent three years dithering about in t his portfolio. We won't see any relief for families for another two years and in the meantime they've made atrocious, wasteful decisions. Think for example their nannies pilot. Hundreds of millions of dollars wasted, supposedly going to benefit 3,000 families. The last look it was barely 60.

GILBERT: I want to ask you, just one final time, because it hasn't answered the question why $10,000 rebates should go to individuals who are earning half a million, a million dollars a year. It does not seem to be a smart use of taxpayers money when you say, quite rightly, that other parts of the system are means tested. It's just trying to explain a bit of consistency here.

ROWLAND: It's a smart use of taxpayers money when you consider the fact that the majority of people who actually pick up these benefits are middle class working women. These are middle class working families. This is the reason why they can afford to go back into the workforce. Not everyone ends up claiming the childcare rebate, Kieran. I think that's another thing to bear in mind, but the people who do claim it, who do qualify for it, by and large are middle class working mothers, working families who otherwise would not be going back into the workforce.  That's why it's so important.

GILBERT: The Newspoll today, there was a bit of a boost for Bill Shorten, the last poll now he's fallen back 4 points in terms of his approval rating and a record high for an election campaign, people are now thinking of voting for independents and micro parties. What do you put that down to?

ROWLAND: We always have independents and smaller parties, and I think the rise of this has been reflected in countless studies which show the rusted on-ness of people being aligned to one of the major political parties has been decreasing over time. My view, Kieran, is this, every single Member of Parliament needs to realise that they're not just going into an election campaign every three years. You have to be accessible, you have to be an excellent local member and you have to be able to show and communicate with your constituency for the thousand or so days in between. I take the view, and I know it's one that all of my Labor colleagues share, that you have to put in that effort every day. You have to be engaging with your constituency, and of course there are going to be independents and minor parties that appear on the ballot paper, but if you focus on the people that matter, your own constituents, then I think all these other issues end up becoming quite minor in the grand scheme of things. That's not to say, of course, we are chasing every single vote this election in every single seat. We are looking to maximise every single Labor vote that's out there, and the way that you do that is by engaging with people continuously. And I believe that as we get closer to polling day, of course this is going to be a very competitive election. But I'm very confident that Labor having consulted widely, having listened to the Australian people over the last three years and having taken the time to formulate very well thought out policies, we actually have a platform of engagement with the Australian people. Not the out of touch Malcolm Turnbull and his quite obviously divided team at the moment on a number of key policy issues.

GILBERT: Shadow Minister for Small Business and Multicultural Affairs, Michelle Rowland. Thank you. We'll talk to you soon.