by Alan Thornhill
Malcolm Turnbull declared that his new cabinet “combines youth, new talent, and experience” as he announced its membership at a press conference in Sydney today.
The truth, always, is a little more complicated.
The reshuffle that the Prime Minister had announced, just months before the next Federal election, was not his choice.
It was forced on him by the resignation of a minister, Stuart Robert, who had held the Human Services Portfolio.
Until Labor pursued him relentlessly in Federal parliament.
It alleged Mr Stuart had used his public office to promote the interests of a company that donates generously to the Liberal party.
And that he did so while on a private visit to China.
Meanwhile the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, was cheered enthusiastically at a Labor conference, also in Sydney.
That happened as he explained new tax policies meant to make new home purchases more affordable for young Australians.
Beyond that there was a sense, in the conference room, that Labor’s fortunes might have changed.
And that it might now have at least some chance of defeating the government in the forthcoming elections, even though it has been trailing the Coalition in the polls for several months.
But who has found a place in Mr Turnbull’s new Cabinet?
The Prime Minister congratulated Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash on their respective elections as Leader and Deputy Leader of the National Party, the junior partner in his Coalition government.
And he said:” Barnaby Joyce will consequently be sworn in as the Deputy Prime Minister and he will retain his portfolio of Agriculture and Water Resources.
“His Deputy, Senator Fiona Nash, will be sworn in as the Minister for Regional Development, Regional Communications and Rural Health.”
Mr Turnbull also said:” I’m appointing Andrew Robb as a Special Envoy for Trade between now and the election so that he can support Steven in the transition into the new portfolio and ensure that Andrew’s remarkable range of international contacts will be introduced to his successor.
Darren Chester will take on Warren Truss’s responsibilities for infrastructure and transport. Darren will make a formidable contribution in this portfolio.
He has been one of the younger stars in the Parliament and recognised as such for a long time.
Mathias Cormann will retain his responsibilities that he’s taken on in an acting capacity but he’ll retain them formally as the Special Minister of State in addition to being the Finance Minister.
“As you know, Mal Brough informed me earlier today that he did not wish to be considered for a position in the new executive line up given the fact that the police investigations are continuing and will continue at least for some months, as he understands.”
Senator Scott Ryan will be sworn in as the Minister for Vocational Education and Skills.
Now this ministry was previously, has been held by Luke Hartsuyker and he is not featuring in the National Party’s ministerial line up on this occasion.
‘I want to thank Luke for his contribution in that portfolio.
“He also has made a great contribution to the Coalition in opposition as well and we worked very closely together when I was the Shadow Communications Minister and he was the Shadow Minister for Regional Communications.
“He’s a great parliamentarian, a great coalitionist and he will be missed.”
“Alan Tudge will be sworn in as the Minister for Human Services.
|“Dan Tehan will be sworn in as the Minister for Defence Materiel and the Minister for Veterans’ Services.|
“Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells will be appointed and sworn in as Minister for International Development and the Pacific.
“This is a very exciting promotion for Connie and recognises her extremely successful and very important work as the Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs.
“Senator Matt Canavan from Queensland will be sworn in as the Minister for Northern Australia.
“He will work closely with the senior minister in that portfolio, Josh Frydenberg and the Cabinet Minister.
“This is a policy area of Northern Australia, of northern development which is absolutely central to Australia’s growth and future prosperity.
Mr Turnbulll said the changes ‘in the Assistant Minister ranks would be:-
Keith Pitt will serve as the Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister.
Craig Laundy will become the Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs.
Jane Prentice will be the Assistant Minister for Disability Services working with Christian Porter.
Angus Taylor will serve as the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister with special responsibility for Cities and Digital Transformation. These are two key whole of government areas and they will be taken, continued to be driven through my leadership and my department in the future.
Dr Peter Hendy will serve as Assistant Minister in the Finance portfolio supporting Mathias Cormann and also as Assistant Cabinet Secretary.
Senator James McGrath will continue to serve as my assistant minister but will take on additional duties supporting Peter Dutton as Assistant Minister for Immigration.”
The Prime Minister said his new team would be sworn in on Thursday morning.
by Alan Thornhill
Centrelink’s service standards are continuing to fall, according to the Federal Opposition.
In a statement today the Shadow Minister for Human Services, Doug Cameron said “irrefutable evidence from the DHS (Department of Human Services.). Annual Report, Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) reports, Commonwealth Ombudman’s reports, Senate Estimates answers and citizens’ experiences,” confirms this.
Senator Cameron said: “The number of calls answered by Centrelink (initially by its Interactive Voice Response system) has dropped by 3 million in one year.
The percentage of calls answered dropped by 11.1 per cent.
Centrelink is now only answering 64.3 per cent of calls from customers, down from 75.43 per cent in 2013-14.
Yet the “Minister for Human Services Stuart Robert continues to deny that there are significant service problems at the Department of Human Service.).
“The number of calls answered by Centrelink (initially by its Interactive Voice Response system) has dropped by 3 million in one year.
“And even if they improve on calls answered, that doesn’t mean people’s problems are resolved.
DHS needs to develop, along with Centrelink users, better performance indicators that actually measure the effectiveness of the whole system, rather than just whether the call has been answered.
“We know that dealing with Centrelink and DHS is becoming more, not less, difficult day to day.
The dread of having to try to get them on the phone when you have a problem is palpable.
The DHS Annual Report shows complaints are up 18.8 per cent n last year, and customer satisfaction is down by 8 per cent.
“The evidence is very clear, DHS is not heading in the right direction when it comes to customer satisfaction or the number of calls,” Senator Cameron said.
“And forcing people online isn’t working either – 37 per cent of people using the Medicare mobile app have experienced problems using it. 40 per cent of calls to Centrelink arise because of difficulty using the apps or website,” he added.
“The Minister’s go-to response when faced with these issues is to say that the Government is spending billions on the welfare infrastructure payment transformation program. But they’re only spending $60m over the next four years, and it isn’t due to be completed until 2022.
“It’s very hard to see how wait times or service standards will improve over the next four years if that’s their only response.”
“This Government is incapable of delivering basic services to the Australian public. Despite the change of leadership in the Liberal Party, they continue to focus on each other instead of delivering timely and quality services to the Australian public.” Senator Cameron said.
So far, the government has not replied to his latest statement.
by Alan Thornhill
Australia’s unemployment rate remained at 5.8 per cent in December, on seasonally adjusted figures the Bureauof Statistics published today.
However the Bureau said the rate had fallen by o.1 points, once revisions to the November figures were taken into account.
It also said that the unemployment rate for December 2015 was 0.3 percentage points below that seen 12 months earlier.
In a statement today, the Bureau also said 727,500 Australians were unemployed in December.
That was 10,900 down on the November level.
But the total number of Australians with jobs fell from 11,903,300 in November to 11,902,300 in December.
Annd the work forc participation rate fell from 65.3 per cent to 65.1 per cent over the same time.
by Alan Thornhill
Community nurses, who knock gently on patients’ doors, across Australia, save taxpayers millions of dollars each year.
They do that by treating the sick in the comfort of their own homes, when they might otherwise, have to be in hospital.
The costs of providing a hospital bed now rival those that come with booking a luxurious room in one of the best hotels in town.
Our home nurses have been able to do this because community nursing, has traditionally been supported by adequate, reliable government subsidies.
That has now changed.
A budget conscious Federal government – driven by its perceived need to save money – has been lifting all rocks and rugs as it tries to cut costs.
Some $80 million has been trimmed from health and education spending alone.
So community nursing services have seen their once reliable subsidy money flow instead to big rivals.
Even though they say, those big organisations don’t understand their patients as well as their own small, locally based, ones.
They are not alone.
Other, often small community organisations, have been affected, too.
The NSW Spanish and Latin American Association was among them.
It has had two programs, which provided valuable services in the Fairfield area, defunded, in this cost cutting drive,
They had helped migrants with settlement expenses, in this poor suburb, and guided them towards healthy ageing.
These community based organisations, too, had proved their worth,by helping their clients who often had difficulties with English, keep their health, and stay out of expensive mental institutions.
So were these original subsidies wise spending, like the costs of car maintenance, or examples of conspicuous consumption, that might well be cut?.
That, essentially, is the question that the Senate Community Affairs committee has been studying.
The opposition has not been slow to suggest that the government chose to release the committee’s final report last Friday, just as the holiday season drew to a close, reflects the fact that it has something to hide in this matter.
They might well be right.
Yes, Virginia, our politicians do behave like that, at times.
The committee, itself, was blunt in its assessment of what it saw as government failures in this area.
The first of the 12 recommendations, in its final report was that the Department of Social Services must publish its recent analysis of “delivery gaps” to promote transparency and to encourage informed discussion “of a strategy that assures vulnerable people are properly supported right across Australia with no gaps.”
In Canberra, that is very tough talk, indeed.
So tough that Coalition Senators, on this committee, felt impelled to publish a dissenting report, defending the government’s record.
So this debate is far from over.
Until it is, we will keep hearing, harsh words, like those of Labor’s Senator Carol Brown, echoing around the edges of this debate.
Senator Brown, who is Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Payments, said arrangements for funding these valuable services, had now become “utterly shamboilic,” resulting in the “needless” closure of “hundreds of services.”
by Alan Thornhill
The Federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison, insisted that he is taking Australians on “the safe road” to a balanced budget when he published his Mid Year Economic and Financial Outlook document today.
However he admitted that the nation will still face deficits of $37. 4billion in 2015-16, $33.7 billion in 2016-17, $23 billion in 2017-18, and $14.2b in 2018-19.
Mr Morrison said the journey to budget balance needed to be “safe and careful” with the expected date of a return to surplus pushed back another year to 2020-21.
Using the metaphor of the Christmas car trip, he said he expected a lot of Australians to ask “are we there yet?”.
“We need to take a safe and careful route and one (that) does not put at risk our jobs and growth,” he said.
The government has announced extra spending on its humanitarian program since its May budget.
Its decision to permanently accept an extra12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq , in particular, will cost $158 million in 2015-16, and $909 million over four years to 2018-19.
Offsetting savings were announced in today’s mini budget.
These will include removing bulk-billing for pathology services and reducing bulk-billing for diagnostic imaging services and MRI services.
This will reduce spending by $197 million in 2016-17 and by $639 million over four years to 2018-19.
There will also be cuts to childcare.
These will include reducing the childcare subsidy for families earning more than $250,000 a year.
by Alan Thornhill
Speculation on tax reform has peaked ahead of a meeting between the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, and State premiers on Friday.
The Federal government has insisted, in the lead up to this meeting, that “everything will be on the table” as these talks progress.
Labor has responded by alleging that Malcolm Turnbull is secretly planning to increase the GST.
Opposition strategists know that an effective campaign on the GST will be their best chance of defeating the still popular Prime Minister, at the Federal elections expected next year.
Lingering divisions in the Liberal party – mostly flowing from the September coup in which Mr Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, might help.
Especially as Mr Abbott is finding it difficult to remain heroically silent, about his loss.
But Mr Turnbull knows, deep in his political heart, that his own scare campaign, on the carbon tax, is also the best card he has in his hand.
And – perhaps for that reason – he has been reluctant to say – flatly – that his government won’t increase the GST if it is re-elected next year.
There are several good reasons for not doing so.
After all, coalition governments don’t have a particularly good record, when it comes to keeping pre-election promises, particularly on tax.
Why draw attention to that?
Then there would be recalcitrant premiers to convince, if a Prime Minister did want to increase the GST.
Why give them time to organise, too?
Much better to keep mumbling about “everything being on the table” when it comes to tax reform.
There are risks, of course.
That was illustrated – all too well – today when Fairfax newspapers claimed to have a secret document showing not only that massive increases to the GST are likely, but that the Medicare Levy could rise as well.
There is an old game, in politics, called “frightening the horses.”
And our politicians – on all sides – are quite good at it.
by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government says its new child care package and related tax bills will encourage workforce participation and provide a more flexible, accessible child care system.
The Minister for Education and Training Simon Bimingham said the savings from the Family Tax Benefit bill would be used to fund the $3.2 billion Jobs for Families Child Care package.
Senator Birmingham said these measures would provide better support Australian children.
“Families using child care in 2017 on family incomes of between approximately $65,000 and $170,000 will save an average of $30 a week on their child care bills,” he said.
“The Jobs for Families Child Care package provides the highest rate of subsidy to those on the lowest income levels and more hours of subsidy to those who work the most,” he added.
“Our priority is to increase access to care for those families who need it most, particularly working parents.”
“We know the cost and accessibility of child care is a barrier for parents who want to work or work more.”
“Since the Jobs for Families Child Care package was announced in the Budget the Government has consulted widely with parents, child care providers and businesses,’ he added.
“We have modified the child care subsidy for two reasons.”
“The first being feedback that the previously announced subsidy rate was too generous for high income families and the second being the fact this package was to be funded through Family Tax Benefit reform, where savings have not been realised.”
“Accordingly we have reduced the subsidy rate for families on incomes of more than $250,000 and reduced the subsidy floor for higher income families from 50 per cent to 20 per cent.”
Senator Birmingham said the package represents the Government’s response to the recommendations from the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Child Care and Early Childhood Learning.
“The Commission found the current child care system with its numerous payments, is unnecessarily complex and that poorly targeted programs are failing to support families to be in jobs or provide additional support where it is needed.”
“The package includes a strong safety net that will provide additional learning opportunities for children in low income families or at risk or in the care of their grandparents.”
“The package will also support learning opportunities for all pre-school children,” he said.
Meanwhile the Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter, said the Family Tax Benefit bill would put more money in family pockets each fortnight, through increases in the maximum rate of FTB Part A, Youth Allowance, and Youth Disability Support Pension
“These are real and sweeping reforms – but they need to be paid for,” Mr Porter said.
“That’s why we are restructuring family tax benefits and redirecting the funding.”
In addition, the FTB Part B standard rate will be increased by $1,000 each year for eligible families whose youngest child is aged under one year.
The Government also said it would ensure that single parents aged over 60 years and grandparent and great-grandparent carers with a youngest child aged 13–18 years will be eligible to receive FTB-B at the standard rate.
But it also said the end-of-year supplements would be phased out, given they are no longer fit for purpose.
“The supplements were introduced to fix a FTB debt problem that’s largely resolved,” Mr Porter said.
“It makes sense to redirect the money from the supplements back into families but in a way that allows parents to re-enter the workforce.
“He said research had shown that is the single best way to increase family wealth and prosperity.”
by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government says a new child care package it will bring into parliament this week will help an estimated 3,900 grandparents who care for 6,300 children.
If passed, it would take effect from July 2017.
In a statement today, the Minister for Education and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham, said that grandparents on income support who provide primary care for their grandchildren would, themselves get subsidised child care under the new Child Care Safety Net.
“One of the greatest practical challenges for grandparents raising grandchildren are the costs associated with that care, which includes child care,” Senator Birmingham said.
He said families on incomes of between approximately $65,000 and $170,000 a year who use child care would be be around $30 a week or $1500 a year better off in 2017, under the proposed legislation which is to be introduced this week,
However the Shadow Minister for Education, Kate Ellis, said the new package would leave one family in four worse off.
She said too, that the package breaches the Coalition’s pre-election promise not to introduce income tests for child care rebates.
“Nothing in the Government’s announcements today changes the fact that as a direct result of their child care package, one in four Australian families will be worse off, “ she added.
“The inconvenient truth remains that this is a Government who is spending billions of dollars to make families go backwards when it comes to accessing affordable child care.”
“We know, through the only modelling that is available – conducted through NATSEM – that thousands of Australian families are going to lose child care subsidies as a result of the Government’s actions,” Ms Ellis said.
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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