23 June 2021


SUBJECTS: Childcare; climate change; NSW COVID-19 outbreak; vaccine rollout; political panel with Fiona Martin MP.

JADE MACMILLAN, HOST: Time now for our political panel. I'm joined by Liberal MP Fiona Martin and Labor's Alicia Payne. Let's start on that issue of childcare funding, it sounds like it was a pretty heated discussion in the party room meeting yesterday. Fiona Martin, how would you describe the contribution of those male MPs to this issue, were they mansplaining?

FIONA MARTIN, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR REID: Well, look, I think it's really important that we have discussions around childcare and I would say early childhood education, because we know from the research that investing in early childhood education produces better outcomes in young people, particularly in the areas of social emotional skills, the evidence is very clear there. And it is so important also, of course, for workforce participation and having that flexibility and choice. And the quality of care is incredibly important for all Australian families. So I'm all supportive of the, and it went through, obviously, and really supportive of the outcomes of the budget investment into childcare.

MACMILLAN: Do you have any concerns that there is a view from within the Coalition that there instead should be more support for stay at home parents?

MARTIN: There's always going to be a diversity of views within a political party and I, you know, obviously encourage debate because that's what our democracy is all about. We represent so many different seats across our great nation. And certainly the majority, the vast majority supported the investment into our future, which is our children.

MACMILLAN: Alicia Payne, what's your view on this? And is there an argument to be made about more support for parents who stay at home?

ALICIA PAYNE, LABOR MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Well I'm just gobsmacked by this and it's another example where the Government just wants to drag us back into the 1950s. You know, the last thing that Australian women need right now is to be shamed by their Government, no less, for wanting to work and put their children in childcare. So Labor's policy that we announced would see 97% of families better off. Childcare fees have gone up 35% under this Government, and it's a really big issue facing Australian families. So our policy would do that, the policy that the Government have announced doesn't benefit as many families but at this point I don't know that we could even trust them to deliver that policy, given the division in their ranks on this issue. 

MACMILLAN: The Government is, as far as I'm aware, committed to that policy, though, that was announced in the budget and it's in turn accused Labor of being too generous towards high income earners. What's your response to that?

PAYNE: No, well Labor's policy is that ultimately we would like to see universal, you know, support for childcare. Because it's not a policy about welfare, it's a policy about productivity. We want to see more choice, as Holly Hughes was saying. We want to see both mothers and fathers having more choice to balance work and family and the Government has a really important role in supporting that.

MACMILLAN: Let's move on to the return of Barnaby Joyce this week to the role of Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister. It's prompted a lot of questions about what this will mean for the Government's longer term commitments on climate change. Fiona Martin, do you believe that the Government should be committing to a net-zero by 2050 emissions target? 

MARTIN: Well, firstly, it's always been our view to get to net-zero as soon as possible, preferably by 2050 and certainly that's what I support. And that's what the Farmers Association supports, that's what BHP supports, and that's our position. But we want to do that, by not taxing Australians, not taxing Australian families. We want to do that through investing in technology.

MACMILLAN: As you say though the Prime Minister has used that phrase 'preferably', there is a lot of pressure internationally for Australia to actually lock in a target should that target be locked in before the Glasgow talks later this year?

MARTIN: Australians set the policy for Australians, not other countries. And Australians want affordable and reliable energy, they also don't want to be taxed. They want investment in technologies and renewables. 

MACMILLAN: Do you think though that there will be increasing pressure on the Australian Government to set a formal target before those talks?

MARTIN: We're doing it as soon as possible, we're working our way through it and we're investing in technology and renewables. We're doing that now.

MACMILLAN: Alicia Payne does Labor face its own divisions here on climate change? We've heard from Joel Fitzgibbon today criticising the vote in the Senate last night on the ARENA issue. Is this an issue that Labor also faces its own internal problems on?

PAYNE: No well our leadership has been really clear on that issue, that our commitment to climate action is unequivocal and we are absolutely committed to net-zero by 2050. And this is just not good enough from a Government, they are in Government and here we are arguing about whether we can even commit to net-zero by 2050. They've changed Deputy Prime Ministers this week over this issue when the rest of the world is committing to it. Labor is actually starting already to do the work on how we would get there. We have already announced policies like our $20 billion 'Rewiring the Nation' policy that would enable our grid to get up to date so that mass renewable energy, which is more affordable, could feed into that grid. So we are already doing the work and Australia is really stuck behind the world on this issue. It was incredibly embarrassing at the G7 to see the rest of the world, not only committing to net-zero by 2050, but bringing forward a lot of their commitments and we are still here on this issue.

MACMILLAN: The Nationals have floated the idea of saying that any net-zero by 2050 commitment should include financial rewards for farmers, do you think that's something the Government should consider?

PAYNE: Well the National Farmers Federation are committed to net-zero by 2050 and farmers are already seeing the impacts of climate change on their farms and their livelihoods. And I think they would want to see the Nationals really, you know, supporting them on this issue on committing to net-zero and getting on with climate action before it's too late.

MACMILLAN: Let's move on to the unfolding COVID-19 situation in New South Wales. Fiona Martin, you're a Sydney MP. How concerned are you by the situation in New South Wales at the moment and has the Government gone far enough in restrictions it's announced today? The state Government.

MARTIN: Yeah, so obviously the restrictions, new restrictions that have been put in place today need to be followed, and I congratulate the people of New South Wales for getting tested and continuing to take up the vaccinations. That's very important. I think today we're at over 6.7 million Australians vaccinated which is about one in four Australians that are protected now against the virus. We need to continue to follow the advice of particularly for people in my electorate that follow the advice of the New South Wales Government and wearing masks and following you know, the health advice and hygiene strategies to ensure that we continue to be protected against the virus.

MACMILLAN: Should the New South Wales Government instead have announced a short lockdown as has been done in other states recently?

MARTIN: Well, I think it's important to keep the economy moving. I know we've heard from people in Victoria how devastating, you know, complete lockdowns have been on you know restaurants and cafes or small businesses in the city area in particular. But also the impact on people's mental health, which is devastating. The continual lockdowns do have an impact on people's mental health so it's very important that we make these decisions very carefully in the interests of all Australians.

MACMILLAN: Alicia Payne, unfortunately until a higher proportion of the population is vaccinated, we may continue to see outbreaks like this one. There was a major change to the vaccination programme last week, Pfizer now recommended for anyone under the age of 60. What kind of feedback are you getting? Do you have any concerns about people potentially in their 50s, who've already had their first AstraZeneca vaccine, about them not wanting to get their second?

PAYNE: Yeah, well we're in this mess because the Federal Government has not managed the vaccine rollout properly. If, as Labor had called for they had invested in multiple vaccines, rather than putting all our eggs in the AstraZeneca and Pfizer basket, we would not be in this position where this latest change has meant that now, the states are worried about not having enough Pfizer to vaccinate.

MARTIN: Now hang on a minute, if we had a crystal ball, if we had a crystal ball, we would have known in advance. But of course, we followed the advice from the medical experts right from the beginning. And that's really important in all of this is that we make decisions based on the evidence.

PAYNE: I'm not of course criticising the Government for following health advice, but we wouldn't be in this position if we'd taken a broader approach and invested in more vaccines from the start. Where now we're struggling to have enough. 

MARTIN: We have a portfolio. We have a portfolio of vaccines.

PAYNE: We are well behind the eight ball on.

MARTIN: We've got the AstraZeneca. We've got the Pfizer and we've got Moderne coming in September/October. We do have a portfolio, we've invested in a range of vaccines. We didn't have a crystal ball at the beginning, no country did. We followed the medical advice. I think we're doing the right thing in what we're doing. And we are acting as the advice comes in from the medical experts.

PAYNE: Well I think that the Federal Government needs to step up on getting the vaccine rollout right. Why haven't we seen a national advertising campaign so that people know that they need to get these vaccines and how to get them? They need to step up on quarantine because hotel quarantine and leaving it to the states is not been effective. We've seen all the outbreaks have come from hotel quarantine, this is a Federal responsibility. We need to see the Federal Government, you know, step up on this issue. And it's always easy to blame the state premiers but they're going to continue to be faced with these decisions to go into lockdown and put on restrictions until we have a majority of Australians vaccinated and we're not seeing the action that's needed.

MARTIN: One in four Australians are vaccinated. So six, over 6.7 million Australians are vaccinated. That's a pretty incredible, remarkable achievement. And I think that Australians are doing a really good job at, you know, the uptake of the vaccinations. We just need to keep going. And we will get there. Right from the beginning we've worked together as a nation, states and territories have worked together, national cabinet was introduced. We need to do this together as a nation.

MACMILLAN: All right, we'll have to leave it there but Alicia Payne and Fiona Martin thanks very much for your time.