ABC 24 Capital Hill with Lyndal Curtis – 2 October, 2014

LYNDAL CURTIS: To talk about what was happening with his legislation. I was joined in the studio a short time ago by the Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews. Welcome to Capital Hill.

MINISTER ANDREWS: Thank you.

LYNDAL CURTIS: You told the Parliament this morning that the government had had success, but it’s success isn’t it because the Labor Party has supported you?

MINISTER ANDREWS: What we’ve been doing is negotiating with all the parties in the Senate. We took the view that we would start with any measures that the Labor Party would support and that Bill that went through the House today represents those measures. Now there are other measures which we are now continuing to negotiate with the other parties.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Mathias Cormann, the Finance Minister, told me yesterday that there was a measure axing the seniors supplement that he said in his words the Greens had indicated they are happy to support. But the Greens have told me this morning that they have made no agreement to get the Bill through. Is there still a big question mark over what is I think a billion dollar’s worth of change?

MINISTER ANDREWS: We are continuing to talk to the Greens as we are with the other crossbenchers. The reality is there’s a variety of measures in these Bills and there’s particular interest from particular senators in certain measures and others in other measures. So that’s one of the reasons why we decided to split the bills the way that we’ve done, reintroduce them so that we’re not getting one senator supporting one measure but somebody else not supporting it and in the end getting nowhere. So we just have to deal with the Senate that we confront….

LYNDAL CURTIS: But Mathias Cormann was reasonably confident saying the Greens would be happy to support it, but they…

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well I’m continuing to support, I should say I’m continuing to talk to all the senators, including the Greens and we will continue to do that. But as I said, it’s no point in me trying to provide a ball by ball description as to what’s going on in terms of discussions. It’s important that we go into these discussions as I’ve been doing in good faith with all the senators who are involved and that’s what I will continue to do.

LYNDAL CURTIS: You said – you told a press conference you’re packaging these Bills in a way that may make them more attractive to discussions in the future. Now the budget was in May. It’s now October. You’ve had months to convince senators, but you haven’t done so yet?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well, the government’s had a whole range of everybody measure and we’ve been treating them one at a time. So the time came around for me to work with the senators in relation to these Bills. That’s what we’ve been particularly doing over the last couple of weeks. So there’s no timeframe on this…

LYNDAL CURTIS: Have the negotiations really only begun on these measures which are worth billions of dollars of savings, only begun in the last couple of weeks?

MINISTER ANDREWS: We had preliminary discussions with the crossbenchers. But then you get to a point until a Bill is in the Parliament and the reality is until something has been decided in the Senate then the senators tend to be concentrating on other matters, particularly with the new crossbenchers and I’m not being in any way derogatory about that, I’m just saying there’s a lot of legislation and people are tending to treat it as it comes to the Senate. So we’re dealing with it that way.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Can you name one non-government senator who supports your proposal for a six-month wait for the dole?

MINISTER ANDREWS: I think the important thing about that is that I haven’t found anyone who doesn’t support the proposition that we should be getting people into work…

LYNDAL CURTIS: But no-one, as I understand it, supports the six-month wait?

MINISTER ANDREWS: We haven’t finalised any of those discussions yet.

LYNDAL CURTIS: But there are …

MINISTER ANDREWS: We are continuing to have the discussions.

LYNDAL CURTIS: But the senators have stated their positions publicly. Labor and the Greens and Palmer United Party are opposed and Bob Day and David Leyonhjelm want a one-month wait.

MINISTER ANDREWS: What we found is that people have said certain things but as discussions go on, then they’re resolved one way or the other. So as I said I won’t give a ball by ball description to what’s going on but we are in discussions. And I’m confident if we start, as I’ve said to you before, with the principle that it’s important to get people to work, well then we can hopefully find a way a we’ll get to a position that we can support.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Are you prepared to vary a measure like the six-month wait for the dole to get something through?

MINISTER ANDREWS: It’s the government’s proposition that’s on the table at the moment. Now, if somebody comes along and says look, how about this or that or something else then we in good faith will have that discussion with them and that’s the purpose of this…

LYNDAL CURTIS: Are you prepared to consider that change?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Look I’m not going into any particular change because I don’t think it’s very helpful for this process for me to be discussing broadly publicly what particular permutations or combinations there may be but we’re having discussions and that’s just realistic in the current political environment with the make-up of the Senate.

LYNDAL CURTIS: There has been some reporting about whose idea that proposal was. Was it your idea?

MINISTER ANDREWS: It’s the Government’s idea.

LYNDAL CURTIS: So you’re quite happy with it?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Look, obviously there’s a whole range of discussions that go into putting a budget together. We have those discussions. Every government has those discussions. At the end of it, the government adopts a budget. We’ve adopted a budget and we believe it’s the appropriate way to go forward.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Have you been asked at this stage to look at any alternative savings in case you can’t get some of these budget measures through?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well alternative savings, or future savings, are a matter for the next budget process. And as you know the budget process usually starts about eight or nine months before a budget is delivered. So some time in the next month or so, I will, like all other departments and Ministers, be turning their minds to the 2015 budget.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Will you have to consider alternative savings, cutting somewhere else if you can’t get these measures through?

MINISTER ANDREWS: The reality is that we inherited a legacy of deficit and debt from the Labor Party. And they can deny it all they like but the reality is that we’ve got to get the Commonwealth finances under control again. It was one of the four key things we promised to the Australian people and we’re determined to deliver on that. And that means that we do have to find some savings if we’re going to get that debt and deficit under control. We’re not going to be in a position where we’re paying a billion dollars a month in interest alone.

LYNDAL CURTIS: One final question arising from your press conference, you told the press conference you don’t like the burqa because it is demeaning to women, there are plenty of other things that are demeaning to women, being paid less to do the same job at the same skill level as a man is demeaning to women. Are you doing anything about that?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well if you look at what the government is doing in terms of things for women, the Action Plan for Women and their Children – the measures against domestic violence – which I’ve spoken about on many occasions, yes, we are doing things about that. And we are committed to that and this is a country, and the point of this is, a country like Australia and our western liberal civilisation, equality between men and women is something which is an important component of the way in which we live. And I think that’s important and we should uphold it.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Kevin Andrews, thank you very much for your time.

KEVIN ANDREWS: Pleasure.