by Alan Thornhill
Nick Xenophon has a sharp tongue.
The South Australian Independent Senator is presently suggesting that the former Treasurer, Joe Hockey,renounce his parliamentary pension when he takes up his new job as Australia’s ambassador to the United States.
Just to avoid what some would see as double dipping, of course.
So far, there has been no sign that Mr Hockey will comply.
Senator Xenophon will, undoubtedly, make a similar suggestion to Tony Abbott, if current talk of the former Prime Minister becoming Australia’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom proves to be correct.
The Senator will, undoubtedly, find some support for what he had to say about Mr Hockey at the weekend.
After all, no-one spoke more loudly, or more often, about ending what the former Treasurer called “the Age of Entitlement,” while he held that high post.
However the talk around the national capital has become softer – and more measured – since Mr Turnbull seized the nation’s top job from him last month.
Mr Abbott had tried, in his first two years as PM, to rule the country, with a stream of short, pithy slogans.
To the extent that some had started calling him “the slogan bogan.”
That worked better, while Mr Abbott was in office than it did when he became Prime Minister.
In an interview with Fairfax reporters last week, Mr Turnbull confirmed that he is aiming for lower tax rates.
Lower rates that is, along with with a broader tax base.
Or, in plain words, more people with jobs.
Even the overhaul of Family Tax Benefits government has just announced is part of his plan to achieve that.
It saves money that can be spent on child care thus liberating more women, in particular, from kitchen duties.
Mr Turnbull also showed, though, that he is still prepared to criticise those at the big end of town, if he believes that is necessary.
Even the banks.
He said the rate rises that the big four banks have just announced, have the potential to harm a soft economy.
The banks, themselves, had tried to lay some of the blame for those rises onto the government.
They said its requirement that they increase their capital holdings had left them facing higher costs, which had to be covered.
Mr Turnbull did concede, though, that those rate rises were “a commercial matter.”
And his government’s insistence on extra liquidity in the banking sector may still prove to be a wise precaution, in these times of heightened uncertainties – and sudden switches – in global financial markets.
Mr Abbott boasted, after his downfall, that the new government had scarcely changed any of his policies.
That may well have been true at the time, but his successor has been letting it be known since then that he is prepared to do so.
Mr Turnbull is saying that “every single element” of those policies is now back on the table.
Even if that allows his political enemies to run scare campaigns.
Is Mr Abbott among them?
Well, he has been hinting, over the past few days that he still has his eyes on life at the now almost renovated Lodge.
And there is recent precedent.
After all, Kevin Rudd came back as Prime Minister, after he, too, lost that job in a party room ballot.
However Mr Abbott is less likely to do so as memories of his stumbles, while in office, are still fresh.
So who, among the current crop of Liberals, might challenge Mr Turnbull, if he slips a little further down the track?
It is still too early to ask that question, as the haze of success still surrounds our new Prime Minister.
But be assured, though that there are other Liberal MPs who also take short longing looks at the Prime Minister’s official residence in Canberra, on their way to our grand new Parliament House.
by Alan Thornhill
Australian families will be encouraged to play bigger roles in the nation’s work force under new measures the Federal government announced today.
These include “restructuring” Family Tax Benefits to fund a $$3.5 billion “Jobs for Families Package.”
Three ministers sought to explain this complex strategy in a joint statement they issued this afternoon.
The Opposition had made rival claims, earlier in the day, saying it had forced the Federal government to “back away” from its threat to freeze Family Tax Benefits.
In their statement, the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, Social Services Minister, Christian Porter and the Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham, outlined the government’s revised strategy.
They said: “The Turnbull Government will restructure Family Tax Benefit (FTB) payments to give better targeted assistance to families, encourage workforce participation and fund the Government’s $3.5 billion Jobs for Families package.
The Government has already introduced the necessary bill into Parliament to change Family Tax measures first flagged in its unpopular 2014 budget.
The three ministers said their had been extensive talks on the changes proposed now.
“The Turnbull Government is committed to protecting taxpayers by responsibly funding our spending commitments, ” Mr Morrison said.
“We are ensuring that additional funding measures are offset by responsible savings.”
Mr Porter said the Government is committed to helping Australian families in a generous but sustainable welfare system.
“These reforms will give families greater on-going day-to-day financial assistance and will help ensure children get the best possible start in life,” the Social Services Minister said.
These measures will replace the unlegislated 2014-15 FTB measures including maintaining FTB rates, limiting FTB-B to children under six years of age and maintaining eligibility thresholds, he added.
The new measures will provide FTB-B to families with children under the age of 13, encouraging workforce participation for parents with children in high school.
Single parents and grandparents with children over the age of 13 will receive an FTB-B payment of $1,000 a year.
From July 2016, all eligible families with a youngest child under one year will receive an extra $1,000 a year through an increase to their FTB-B standard rate.
In addition, from 1 July 2018, for families with a child aged up to 19 years, the maximum rate of FTB-A will be increased by about $10 per fortnight.
“Significantly, we’re also increasing the fortnightly rates of Youth Allowance and Disability Support Pension so they’re aligned with the new FTB-A rate,” Mr Porter said.
“This is an important step towards simplifying and harmonising our complicated welfare system,” he added.
As part of the reforms, the Government will phase-out the end of year FTB supplements.
Mr Porter said the end-of-year supplements were introduced in 2004 substantially to help families manage FTB overpayments (because of underestimation of income).
“The great majority of FTB recipients are never overpaid or are overpaid a small amount and this is an issue that will be substantially addressed by technical changes scheduled for 2018-19,” Mr Porter said.
The money saved by phasing out the supplements will be redirected to increasing fortnightly payments and providing more affordable child care.
Senator Birmingham said: “We are investing almost $40 billion in child care over the next four years, including an extra $3.5 billion into the Jobs for Families package, to make child care simpler, more flexible, and more accessible.
“As a result of the new child care package, families using child care services from July 2017, on incomes of between $65,000 and $170,000, will be on average of $30 a week better off.”
Senator Birmingham described increased access to child care as an important productivity measure that will boost workforce participation.
“By better supporting parents who want to work or work more hours, Jobs for Families will encourage an estimated 240,000 families to increase their involvement in paid work, including almost 38,000 jobless families.
“Our Government’s new child care package supports parents as they balance work and family responsibilities, whilst protecting those most vulnerable, and continuing to ensure high-quality early learning,” Senator Birmingham added.
Mr Porter said: “We believe our new package of reforms strikes the right balance between equity and sustainability.”
by Alan Thornhill
Labor is claiming a big win for families, saying it has forced the government to back down on a planned freeze to family tax benefits.
But full details of the proposed changes have still to emerge.
Meanwhile the Senate Opposition Leader, Penny Wong, has issued a statement saying: ”Labor is pleased to have secured a win for families by forcing the Abbott-Turnbull Government to back down on the freeze to family tax benefit rates.”
She declared:“This is a major back down from the government – and it’s all thanks to Labor standing with families since the disastrous 2014 Budget.“
Then Senator Wong cautioned:“…as always with this Liberal Government the devil is in the detail.”
“At first glance it is clear that this package will have some very harsh consequences for some families – including for single parents and grandparent carers.”
“What we do not want to see is hard working Australian families ripped off by out of touch Liberals. “
“I am very concerned about what some of these cuts will mean for families, and we will be seeking more details from the government on the impacts of these cuts on various types of families. “
“Two years after Tony Abbott first introduced these cuts Malcolm Turnbull has now assumed ownership of the Liberal cuts,” Senator Wong added.
“Labor has spent two years fighting for families,” she said.
“The last thing we are going to do is give the Government a rubber stamp on cuts to families”, Senator Wong declared.
by Alan Thornhill
Labor says it will accept the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, after it won concessions on jobs, skills and pay rates.
The Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten and Senate Opposition Leader Penny Wong announced the breakthrough, in joint statement they issued today.
They said they had secured a comprehensive package of safeguards for Australian jobs.
“These safeguards are complementary to the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA),” the two leaders said.
They said Labor had argued for safeguards in three specific areas.
- labour market testing
- protecting Australian wages and conditions and
- upholding workplace skills and safety standards.
“Today Labor has delivered new legal safeguards in each of these areas,” they said.
“Labor has stood up for local jobs and a safety net of decent wages and conditions for all workers.”
So what happens now?
Mr Shorten and Senator Wong said:Having secured these outcomes, Labor will support the ChAFTA enabling legislation in Parliament.”
They said this would will allow Australian exporters to gain improved access to the Chinese market at the earliest opportunity.
“The new obligations will be written into the Migration Regulations, ensuring they are legally binding,” they added.
by Alan Thornhill
The party’s over.
Unions, employers and community groups have had a long, hard look at the risky economic circumstances Australia now faces, as the mining investment boom fades.
That was evident, above all, at the economic mini-summit Malcolm Turnbull called in Canberra yesterday.
All present accepted that the path of consensus and innovation that the new Prime Minister is suggesting might be worth trying, after all.
That spirit, faintly evident in the days leading up to the meeting, strengthened during the three hours the participants spent in the Cabinet room, assessing their options.
The results won’t be immediate, or dramatic.
Tax reform is back on the table.
Employers will be less vocal, in their campaign for cuts to Sunday penalty rates.
But how do the participants, themselves, see what has happened?
Some tax concessions which favour the rich – and sometimes distort markets – are to be reviewed.
Jennifer Westacott, the Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia said: “there was a very, very strong agreement that concessions needed to be looked at.”
A statement that would once have raised eyebrows.
But she didn’t stop there.
“I think the more important discussion we’ve had today though is what is the nature of work … and how you get a collaborative framework for lifting productivity and opportunity,” Ms Westacott added.
The ACTU, secretary Dave Oliver revealed the summit had been his first meeting with an Australian Prime Minister since the last Federal elections.
And the ACTU President, Ged Kearney, described it as “absolutely a step forward.”
The three hour meeting, itself, was of course just the first step in what is likely to be a long process of hard bargaining.
But,with positive assessments like these emerging from it, there is now a real chance that the same spirit will take hold in the broader community.
And that would be a very big achievement, indeed.
by Alan Thornhill
Strikes over a bitter pay dispute are continuing to disrupt Federal public services and they are expected to spread on Thursday afternoon.
The Community and Public Sector Union said in a statement Wednesday that tens of thousands of public sector workers would be out when Medicare, Tax Office staff and others join industrial action that has already hit international airports.
Their half-day action will begin at lunchtime.
It will also involve workers from the departments of Human Services, Employment, Environment, Education, Agriculture, Defence and Veteran Affairs, along with the Tax Office, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Bureau of Statistics.
The uinion’s National Secretary Nadine Flood said: “These workers are extremely frustrated with the Government’s 18-month attack on their rights and conditions.”
She said:“ We are calling on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister Michaelia Cash (who assists him with public service matters) to rethink this failed bargaining policy and work with the union to find a sensible way forward.”
Ms Flood also said: “This dispute was caused by Government policy requiring Commonwealth agencies to go to war with their own workforce.”
Important workplace rights and conditions had been stripped from enterprise agreements.
Ms Flood said the strikers would include “mums and dads working at Centrelink and Medicare who are are deeply worried about the loss of family-friendly conditions.”
“The previous Minister responsible, Senator Eric Abetz, refused to even meet with the union to discuss these concerns since January, 2014,” Ms Flood said.
She said the on-going industrial action is sending a clear message to the government.
“Minister Cash now has a clear opportunity to move away from the failed bargaining policy of her predecessor and instead take a modern, productive approach to public sector workplace relations,” she added.
Ms Flood noted that Mr Turnbull had clearly stated that he does not want to wage war with workers or unions.
“We are calling on the Government to change the way it deals with its own workforce,” she declared.
She said, though, that many government departments still do not have new enterprise agreements..
“Earlier this week workers with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection became the latest to emphatically reject the Government’s negotiating approach to date,” Ms Flood said.
Alan Thornhill has just pubblished hia his e-novel, Weathercoast.
It’s available at
by Alan Thornhill
Big spending cuts imposed on the Department of Social Services are having a “devastating” impact on the community, according to a new report.
The report, by a Senate Committee, followed its inquiry into the effect the cuts – totalling $270 million over four years – are having on the the department’s work.
It looked, in particular, at how the Department is now able to assign the task of representing homeless – and other vulnerable Australians.
In a statement today, Dr Cassandra Goldie. CEO of the peak welfare organisation, the Australian Council of Social Service – ACOSS- was scathing.
She said the homeless – and other vulnerable Australians – are being been hurt by the cuts – which were announced $in the last Federal budget.
And she welcomed the report.
$270m in funding cuts within the Department of Social Services, which are now being implemented.
“The Report confirms the community sector’s view that the commonwealth tendering process of community services, following the Federal Budget in 2014, was the worst of its kind in living memory,” she said.
“During the Inquiry, Senators heard from one organisation after another about the myriad ways in which the tender process had failed: bad process and bad outcomes with devastating impacts.
The Inquiry Report verifies that the extent of the cuts – totalling $270 million over four years – left many people, vulnerable and in need, without critical support and services around the country.
“Based on overwhelming evidence, the Committee concluded that the 2014 tendering process was ‘poorly planned, hurriedly implemented, and resulted in a loss of services.’
It was damning of the process which ‘does not seem to have been equitable and transparent’ and undermined many of the outcomes.
But she added: “We have been delighted to hear the new Prime Minister highlight the need for a more collaborative style of government in an open democratic way. “
This Report sets out how the Government can do so, in the crucial area of community services.
by Alan Thornhill
Speculation about a leadership challenge was, once again rising in Parliament House, Canberra,, today.
That is a politicians’ nightmare at any time.
Particularly so when a by-election is imminent.
Yet that is the situation the Liberals face now.
But Tony Abbott is having none of it.
The Prime Minister said – once again – this morning:” I am just not going to play Canberra games.”
The Prime Minister is letting it be known that he expects to lead the Coalition into the Canning by-election next Saturday – and beyond.
Yet even he must have been shaken by a poll in Fairfax newspapers today, showing Labor heading for the swing of more than 12 per cent it would need to win that seat .
Restive Liberals have been saying little, if anything, on the issue today.
However there was a mood of expectation in Parliament House, Canberra, this morning as MPs and staffers started gathering for a fresh week’s sittings.
The Prime Minister, himself, was in South Australia spruiking big new infrastructure projects.
He, once again, dismissed talk of a leadership spill when he met reporters today.
Mr Abbott said he expects to lead his Coalition into the next General election late next year.
And until then, he and his government would be doing what they had been elected to do.
That is governing for the good of all Australians.
Weathercoast by Alan Thornhill
A novel on the murder of seven young Anglican Christian Brothers in the Solomon Islands.
Available now on the iTunes store.
Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
Private Briefing is updated daily with Australian personal finance news, analysis, and commentary.
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