11 June 2014


SUBJECT / S: Abbott cuts to advocacy groups; Australia Post; Paid Parental Leave; Abbott’s visit to the US

CHRIS HAMMER: We’re joined now by Michelle Rowland, Labor Member for Greenway in Sydney’s west. She’s also the Shadow Minister for Multiculturalism and for Citizenship. Michelle, good morning.


HAMMER: Now the Australian Council of Social Services is expressing concern that the government is defunding advocacy groups. Is that a concern you share?

ROWLAND: I can appreciate their concern, Chris, because ACOSS is one example of an organisation that has provided advocacy services but also very strong advice for government to take up as it sees fit. And I think they’re a very well respected organisation. Its concerns seem to be on a couple of fronts: firstly, comments from Minister Morrison that advocacy groups shouldn’t receive taxpayer funding, and we saw what he did with the Refugee Council, defunding that after the Budget. But also in terms of its work with welfare organisations and the fact that it appears they’ve been told by the Minister for Social Services previously that no gag orders would be put in place. So on a couple of fronts this seems quite concerning, and I think it points to what might be a bad trend in not giving a voice to these community representative groups.

But surely it’s up to the Government. If it’s finding advice from such groups is not useful, as it develops policy, surely it’s better off in these tight budgetary times to put its money elsewhere?

ROWLAND: When we seek to have voices, Chris, on issues that affect a diverse range of people, it is important to ensure that it’s not only one sector that’s being heard. Not just business, not just advice that the government wants to hear. And that’s the sort of role that ACOSS and many other groups have performed in the past. Not only for Coalition governments, but also Labor governments. So I think irrespective of a government’s political culture, it’s important to get a range of views and ACOSS is one example of a group that’s provided very full and frank and impartial views in this area.

HAMMER: But the Government is undertaking reviews of policy issues. Now, it may not include all the groups that may want to be included but it is doing the work. A case in point is the McClure Welfare Review, although once again ACOSS is expressing concern that they don’t think the process there is a full and proper one.

ROWLAND: Even on that point Chris, I note again the comments in Fairfax today that this review doesn’t even appear to be taking submissions. Now if that is the case, that would be very concerning. The way we commonly understand reviews is that they involve some sort of consultation on some sort of position paper. And if that is not taking place it is very hard to characterise this as a real review.

HAMMER: Now, moving on. One area where the government is facing problems is with Australia Post. The head of Australia Post is warning that the business model for its letters business is, if it’s not broken it’s in the process of breaking. What should be done to help Australia Post?

ROWLAND: Australia Post, I think, has done a great job in innovation. It’s done an excellent job in capitalising on e-commerce and it started that out quite early. It’s also done, I think, an exemplary job with its parcel business. It’s got quite a few services. You can see for example the pick-up and drop points at places other than actual post offices. So in that sense it recognised the need to innovate, but I think in the process of this review it needs to be kept in mind that we can’t have geographic areas being discriminated against.

HAMMER: Now Australia Post is saying that its shop fronts are doing well, its parcel delivery service is doing extremely well. The problem is the letters business. What would you think if Australia Post proposed going to the New Zealand model which is delivering letters perhaps not every day but every second day, three times a week. Is that viable?

ROWLAND: I think this would need to be subject to community consultation and I would be concerned that such changes, because they would be quite dramatic changes, I would be concerned if they were pushed through without consultation with workers and the business and with the community. So I think with any reform that is being looked at by Australia Post needs to be evidence-based and needs to be based on wide consultation.

HAMMER: But is it such a change they moving to three days a week delivery, not same day delivery etcetera? It’s kind of inevitable.

Look, I think that we recognise that the letter service has changed dramatically. If they are going to be changed I think the public would expect to at least be consulted on this rather than it be pushed through without consultation.

HAMMER: If we can move on to paid parental leave. Some National Party MPs including the Senator John ‘Wacka’ Williams, who proposed a different model to that being put forward to Tony Abbott and the model that Senator Williams proposed is 26 weeks leave, at minimal wage, superannuation included. It’s very similar to Labor’s own model of 18 weeks leave. Would Labor be interested, would you be interested in supporting this compromise model being put forward by the National Party?

ROWLAND: The starting point I think, Chris, is to recognise that we have a paid parental leave scheme already that is working, and is working well. And the fact that John Williams and others are now proposing alternative schemes demonstrates that this so-called signature policy of Tony Abbott isn’t even supported by his own government. Now, I’ve seen compromise positions being proposed. What I would say to that is, if that was such a good idea, then why wasn’t this proposed by the Government when they were in Opposition and the PPL scheme came into place? I think that this is a policy that doesn’t appear to have very many friends and it’s losing them as each day goes by.

HAMMER: It must be very tempting though for Labor to support such a scheme if you could unite with the National Party MPs and split the government?

ROWLAND: Well we know at heart they’re agrarian socialists, Chris, that’s what the Nationals essentially are. But I think again it comes down to the point that we have a PPL scheme in place. It’s been working very well for a couple of years. If these changes are proposed to it I don’t see any evidence-based policy making in what Senator Williams is proposing. This appears to be a reaction by the Nationals to Tony Abbott’s own scheme. I don’t think that that’s a sustainable way of proposing policy. I think that we already have a sustainable and affordable scheme in place at the moment.

HAMMER: Okay. Just finally; Tony Abbott is in the United States. Should he be trying to meet with Hillary Clinton?

ROWLAND: My understanding, Chris, is that normally when there’s a looming election in the United States – and Australia being a deep and long friend of the US – leaders when they are in the United States would seek to meet with front runners from both the Republicans and the Democrats, irrespective of the political hue of the Prime Minister of the day. So if it is the case that the Prime Minister is meeting with Republican front runners it would probably be useful for him to meet with Hillary Clinton. Certainly, she’s a front runner for the Democrats.

Okay. Michelle Rowland, thank you for your time today.

ROWLAND: My pleasure, Chris.