ABC Radio Melbourne Drive with Raf Epstein

Transcript
  • Minister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education
  • Senator for Western Australia

E&OE

SUBJECTS: Power prices, ParentsNext, China, Victorian election.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Kelly O’Dwyer, joins me in Melbourne, how are you Kelly?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Good to be with you, Raf. I’m going well.

RAF EPSTEIN:

And Mark Dreyfus who is in our Perth studio, welcome Mark.

MARK DREYFUS:

Great to be with you Raf, hello Kelly.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Hi Mark

RAF EPSTEIN:

I’m glad we got you installed in the Perth studio. Look, just briefly, Kelly O’Dwyer, the Government has been talking a lot about bringing electricity prices down. I’m not sure if those announcements are re-heated or not. Do you think people actually trust one side of politics or the other to actually bring prices down?

KELLY O’DWYER:

I think people are very concerned about their electricity prices and I think it’s fair to say that politicians as a class don’t have a particularly high rating right now, but I think that people do appreciate the fact that we recognise that this is a very significant issue for individuals and for businesses – particularly small businesses – and unless you can actually get the cost of electricity down…

RAF EPSTEIN:

Sure. But do you think they think you can do something about it?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Yes, I do, because there are things we can do about it. The Government’s already made a number of announcements – we recently had the Productivity Commission look very closely at what is keeping these prices so high, we certainly know that a number of people who simply don’t look around for better deals basically get hit with this loyalty premium and so they’re paying much more above the odds than they ought to, and we have said that we are actually going to bring that cost down immediately for people from the first of January next year.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Mark Dreyfus, do you think that anybody thinks that either side of politics can bring prices down?

MARK DREYFUS:

I think it would be a triumph of hope over experience Raf. The Liberals have been promising to lower power prices for five years, and in that time power prices have gone up and up and up. I haven’t heard anything from Scott Morrison, from Kelly O’Dwyer, from the new minister for energy Angus Taylor that suggests they’ve got any idea that dragging the big retailers in to a room and wagging their finger at them is going to produce outcomes. This is a Government which has no coherent policy, wrecked what previously existed and replaced it with nothing…

RAF EPSTEIN:

That’s the carbon tax you’re talking about there

MARK DREYFUS:

… don’t care about emissions, and the idea that they have got some magic answer, which is what Kelly seems to want people to believe, on power prices, is frankly, laughable. We’ve seen now from Scott Morrison, he hates renewables, he wants tax payers to fund new expensive coal fired power stations, his Energy Minister Angus Taylor is talking about it again today and I haven’t heard anything to suggest this Liberal Government has got the faintest idea.

RAF EPSTEIN:

I will get to calls, can I just get – I’m sure there are lots of things you want to respond to Kelly O’Dwyer – but the idea that Governments will in some way help people who invest in existing coal fired power stations to insure them against something like a future carbon price, do you think people want a Government to help those who are investing in a coal fired power station deal with the future cost?

KELLY O’DWYER:

I think what people want is they want to know that when they switch on their lights their lights will go on, when they want their heating the heating will work, and when they want their air conditioning that will work too.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Do they want tax payer subsidy for coal?

KELLY O’DWYER:

What they want is they want the Government not to be ideological when it comes to this issue, they want the Government to be agnostic when it comes to the source, but to recognise there are times that the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine and that we need to have reliable power, we need baseload power as well and coal is part of that mix. And for Mark Dreyfus or Bill Shorten or anybody else to claim that it isn’t says that they don’t understand this issue, and to have renewable energy targets of 50 per cent where we don’t have secure baseload power will simply send the cost up even higher.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Mark I’m sure you want to respond but I want to give Jack a go in Jordanville. Jack, what’s your query?

CALLER JACK:

Thanks Raf for taking my call, yeah, just a question for Kelly, last week I listened to the same hoohaa about fuel prices, this week we’re talking about electricity prices, and all of a sudden, you know, her Government has been in power for such a long time, and no she reckons she can do something about electricity prices, I mean common, the people out there are just sick and tired of all of this, I mean do something about it, do something.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Kelly.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well thanks Jack, and we are. The very actions taken today by Angus Taylor in getting all of the energy providers in the room to say that we’re not going to accept high costs being passed on to consumers where they’re penalised for being loyal to a particular provider means that we will see the costs of energy be reduced. And we also have to recognise that we have had some of the states going it alone on energy policy – we’ve not had a comprehensive national energy policy which has been so necessary for our country – we’ve now got the Labor Party talking up as Mark Dreyfus has done, a carbon tax, or Bill Shorten talking up the fact he wants a 50 per cent renewable target.

MARK DREYFUS:

Come on Kelly, did I mention a carbon tax?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well you said that was so successful and we got rid of it, which only suggests to that you want to see a return to it.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Can I get a brief response to that Mark Dreyfus and then I’ll bring in another caller, just 10 seconds.

MARK DREYFUS:

Kelly wants to re-fight the 2013 election, the nonsense lines we had to put up with from Abbott then. We’re three Prime Ministers’ on Kelly, just to remind you, we’re five years on from the 2013 election, during which time the Liberal Party has done nothing, and the idea as Jack from Jordanville has said, the idea that we should believe anything this Liberal Government suggests on energy prices, or petrol prices, or anything else rather, is pretty laughable. We’ve got a comprehensive policy, we’ve got a plan to lower power prices by investing in cheaper, cleaner power, with 50 per cent of our energy coming from renewables, I think Australians understand that ….

RAF EPSTEIN:

I’ll get on to that Mark Dreyfus, I’ll get on to what Labor is proposing, but I’ll bring on Rhys in Mill Park, with also an energy question and then you’ll both get a chance and Mark can raise what he wants to talk about, Labor’s offering. Rhys?

CALLER RHYS:

Thank you. Nice to talk to you guys and nice to be able to get into the mix. This notion of baseload power is political nonsense. There are so many smart ways to manage the system, whether it’s renewables or not, there’s no need for dirty power at all, none whatsoever. You can have reliable power from clean energy sources by distributing load. If anyone looks at a power curve power is used at its peak at 7am in the morning and then it drops down through industry during the day, and then it peaks again guess when, at dinner time, when everyone is home.

RAF EPSTEIN:

So you’re saying it’s easy to keep it reliable, but you want Governments to be concerned about reliable power?

CALLER RHYS:

Yeah yeah, you can have reliable power, you’ve got batteries, you can decentralise the network, you can use multiple different technologies that all support the same thing…

RAF EPSTEIN:

So Rhys that’s a lot of commentary, I’m not saying you’re right or wrong, but do you want to offer a question to either Kelly or Mark.

CALLER RHYS:

Well I would like the politicians to sort of start considering the fact that just because there’s an ideological debate doesn’t mean that engineers can’t get around it. Engineers are smart people, if you give them a problem they’ll find a solution.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Rhys I accept that engineers are smart – I’m married to an engineer and I completely agree with you that they’re very smart…

RAF EPSTEIN:

Do you think we don’t need coal for reliable power?

KELLY O’DWYER:

What I’m saying is the idea of suggesting that coal will not be part of the energy mix over the next five, 10, 15 years is simply not real world. We’re not prescribing….

RAF EPSTEIN:

But all of our coal fired stations are due to expire by the middle of the century…

KELLY O’DWYER:

We’re not prescribing a particular type of power, but far from it, we’re saying we should use all. Whether it’s looking at Snowy and making an investment in Snowy power, we’ve got hydro power there, I mean that is part of the energy mix, we’ve got renewable there, there’s no need to not have renewables as part of the mix, in fact it is part of the mix, but we’re not pretending it’s good versus evil, one versus another, they’re all important.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Mark Dreyfus I cut you off earlier with Labor’s offering. I don’t know, do you take comfort from Rhys’s comments or not?

MARK DREYFUS:

Rhys is making one of the many excellent points that you can make about power in this country, he’s talking about load management, something our engineers have been doing for a very long time, it’s of course something we have to think about. Perhaps to answer something Kelly talked about before, we’ve got very reliable power in Australia by world standards, and the reason we’ve got very reliable power is that we put a lot of effort into managing the system. One of the issues that’s coming up increasingly is that we’ve got load management issue that’s arising as rooftop solar that we have now, particularly in cities, that causes the need to adjust the grid. Another is – there are all sorts of things that could be done. Working on energy efficiency, working on fast start, which is why it’s worth considering small gas fired generators. There’s a whole range of things that can be done, but one thing we need is a policy framework that provides certainty to those who are wanting to invest in any part of our power system and that has been what has been absent for the last five years. And it’s a tragedy, I say as an Australian, it should be a tragedy to anyone watching this, to think of the immense policy uncertainty by a Government that came to office in September 2013 committed to wrecking the then policy settings, they then did that and they haven’t replaced it with anything, we’ve had five years of uncertainty and it’s no wonder that power prices have kept going up and up and up.

RAF EPSTEIN:

I want to get onto the ParentsNext program, Kelly O’Dwyer is with us, she’s the Minister for Women, Jobs and Industrial Relations, we just heard there from Mark Dreyfus who is the Shadow Attorney-General, we’ll get some traffic details, and then if you are part of the ParentsNext program – it’s an effort to try and get parents off their parenting payment, I guess there have been a few odd requirements to send their kids to things like calisthenics, and to even attend story time as a requirement to even get a payment. We’ll get some traffic first.

TRAFFIC UPDATE

RAF EPSTEIN:

I will try to get to more of your calls and texts. I just want to replay party of something one of our callers said to us yesterday. I said to us there’s a new parenting payment called ParentsNext to try to ensure that those who might be at risk of some kind of welfare dependency that perhaps there might be a way to get them off that welfare dependency, it’s just seems to have ended up in some strange places – a requirement for kids to go to either story time, or calisthenics, have a listen to Sarah from Eltham yesterday.

CALLER SARAH:

I’m actually driving to my parent’s house because I haven’t got computer access at my place, to report online that I’ve met my criteria for my ParentsNext program which is currently that I do nothing because I have a three month exemption.

RAF EPSTEIN:

So it's just weird Kelly. People having to go to story time to ensure they get a parenting payment. What do you think's going on? 

KELLY O'DWYER:

So I don't think that's really the full picture that you're getting there Raf and let me just paint the picture for you. The first thing I would say is... 

RAF EPSTEIN:

Well don't paint it too much, because that's clearly happening, people are getting these odd requirements. 

KELLY O’DWYER:

Let me explain about the program. The first responsibility of government is to get the economic settings right so that there can be job creation that people can get a job. We don't want people to be on welfare for a long period of time, so we have a responsibility as a government to help put them in the strongest position to be able to get a job. We don't just have programs in government to go directly into a job, but we have also recognised that there can be people with a lot of disadvantage who actually need pre-employment training and support to be able to access community and support in order to put them in the best possible position so that when they're child actually gets to school age they can be job ready. Now it can include training, it can include education, and it can also include fairly basic things, so in the instance of your particular caller, each person is able to design a program that will help meet their goals and objectives. For that person, it could well be that each week they want to be able to get to their local library where they can have their child read a story and they can have connection with the community, so that could be what that person has chosen to do, it wouldn't be imposed.

RAF EPSTEIN:

You don't see it as a perverse outcome of the program? 

KELLY O’DWYER:

If you're saying it's instead of something else, clearly if something else was something that that person wanted to do ie. education requirements...

RAF EPSTEIN:

But there's lots of something eleses. I mentioned calisthenics, but there's lots of women being told to go and get an educational outcome while they're over somewhere else getting a different educational outcome, that seems like another perverse outcome.     

KELLY O’DWYER:

No that's not something that would necessarily be a requirement. It seems to me like...

RAF EPSTEIN:

The National Council on Single Mothers think it's happening.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well no, if somebody actually goes to their ParentsNext provider and says I'm currently doing a skills training course or I'm doing an education course, I want that to be part of my goal, that will actually meet their mutual obligation requirements and all they need to do is check in with their provider to let them know that they're still doing that course, that they're still engaged in that course, so we recognise that different people will need different support along the journey and we say that as a Government we're going to be there to help support them.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Mark Dreyfus, I don't know how much you know about the ParentsNext program, but what do you make of what you've heard, both yesterday and from Kelly O'Dwyer has said? 

MARK DREYFUS:

I'm in agreement with Kelly about the need for pre-employment programs. Labor has always supported pre-employment programs that are effectively aimed at helping parents stay in touch with work or with the world of work. There do seem to be some problems with the way in which the Government's, I think it's called targeted compliance framework, is being applied to a pre-employment program of this type and my concern about this is we need to make sure that any program like this whose purpose has got to be pre-employment, getting people back into work, is sufficiently flexible to accommodate the real difficulties that are facing parents, some of them on very low incomes who've got young children, when it comes to going to meetings or participating...     

RAF EPSTEIN:

Would Labor's administration of it be any better? I mean you got whacked about the head for five years of payment programs as well. Maybe it's a government problem, maybe it's not a partisan problem. 

MARK DREYFUS:

I don't think Kelly's suggesting it's easy and I'm not suggesting it's easy. I'm just I suppose, we'd be looking for as much flexibility as possible that recognises the difficult circumstances that young parents are in, particularly those on very low incomes, that caller that you played before who doesn't have computer access at home, having to drive to her mum's place...

RAF EPSTEIN:

Even though she's got a suspension from the program...

MARK DREYFUS:

That's right. Just to say I don't have to do anything, my requirement is not to do anything for three months, that seems to me to have reached some ridiculous level. 

KELLY O’DWYER:

So you wouldn't actually have to do that, and I do want to give a bit of credit to Labor on this. Since I've been in the portfolio I've had the occasion to work with Terri Butler who is my opposite number when it comes to these issues and we have made it very clear in the guidelines that you can call, you don't physically have to go in to see your provider of the ParentsNext program, and there are some very real reasons why you might not be able to if you've got young children, and if you do want to go in you can bring your young children with you, it's actually a friendly environment for that, so I want to give some credit to Terri and to Labor in supporting the changes that we've made to the program that provide that additional flexibility. 

RAF EPSTEIN:

We're actually going to check in. There was someone who was actually going to have a meeting with their ParentsNext co-ordinator this morning so we'll see if we can get a chance to check in with that mother later on in the show. Can I ask you Kelly O'Dwyer, Victoria has signed a memorandum of understanding with China about the belt and road initiative. The text of that deal won't be made public. Does that matter? 

KELLY O’DWYER:

The Victorian Government arrangement, well look I do find it very curious that they've signed an agreement that is largely the domain of the Federal Government. 

RAF EPSTEIN:

Well it's helping to get Australian companies to have part of the infrastructure dollar. China's spending in another country, we get some of the money, that's what it's about. 

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well, any foreign policy initiative would normally be done in consultation with the Commonwealth Government. You take politics and put that to one side and you should have both the State Government and the national Government acting in the national interest. Look, there hasn't been consultation with the Commonwealth Government. There was, as I understand it and based on the briefing that I've received, there was some initial contact with the Department of Foreign Affairs, but beyond that there hasn't been any contact before a final memorandum has been signed. I've got concerns with how that's come about, I think that's not the right way.  

RAF EPSTEIN:

But that's process, you're happy for that to stay a secret?

KELLY O’DWYER:

I find it very odd...

RAF EPSTEIN:

Matthew Guy wants the thing out there, he's the Liberal Leader in this State. But you're happy with it being secret?

KELLY O’DWYER:

I find it very odd that it's come about the way that it's come about. I think it's a matter for the Victorian Government to actually explain what it is that they've signed up to.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Mark Dreyfus, just a quick response. I've got some people with some ParentsNext experience who want to get on the line, but is Labor okay with a deal signed with China by the Victorian State Government being kept secret?

MARK DREYFUS:

Yes and it's consistent with the position taken by the Federal Government which signed an agreement last year with China, pretty much a similar memorandum of understanding to consult on belt and road initiative matters, investment in third countries. If it's okay for the Federal Government to keep it a secret I think it should be okay for the Victorian Government to keep it a secret. 

RAF EPSTEIN:

They could have kept DFAT informed though, couldn't they? They're our top diplomats. 

MARK DREYFUS:

DFAT were informed. DFAT knew of this negotiation taking place and it was very curious that the Foreign Minister Marise Payne and the Trade Minister Simon Birmingham were both positive about the Victorian agreement with China. It's only when the Prime Minister decided that there was some partisan advantage to be gained in the Victorian State Election that he's decided to have a whack at Daniel Andrews. 

RAF EPSTEIN:

I want to go to Cath in Upwey. I think Cath you're not on the ParentsNext but you might be a sole parent. Go for it Cath, what did you want to say? 

CALLER:

Yes I certainly raised my two children who are adults now as a sole parent and I didn't have to go on a parenting payment, but I'm old enough to remember what it was like before women were allowed to leave their marriages and get economic support from the Government. And we're concerned, and I hope Kelly and Mark are both concerned about family violence, if you make it difficult for women to leave their marriages, and most people on those parenting payments are women who have left marriages or relationships. They're not young single girls you think. There are some of those, but most aren't. You make it hard for them, you make it a threat, you punish them with you know saying you're going to take away their meagre money, you force them to stay in a relationship that is awful, or you force them quite often to take up a relationship that may turn awful. The independence of women being able to leave an unsatisfactory relationship is the point of such a program. Yes it's good to get a job and to help people get a job but threats are bad and they're wrong. 

RAF EPSTEIN:

Kelly O'Dwyer, quick response?  

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well Cath can I firstly say as a mother of two small young children, and I have a very supportive husband and I'm very fortunate in that regard. I am in awe of anybody who does it by themselves, so I firstly wanted to say that. Secondly you're 100 per cent right to say that sole parents shouldn't be punished, and they shouldn't be. But that is not the point of this particular program. It's the opposite of that, it's about providing support for individuals who need that support in order to put themselves in the strongest position that they can be in when their child gets to school age so that they can start to build their own financial security. I am passionate about women being able to build their financial security and you cannot build your financial security without having economic engagement. 

RAF EPSTEIN:

Can I just ask you both. We have a state election in two weeks and two days, something like that, is polling day. People will start actually to vote next Monday. Mark Dreyfus, Labor's got its nose in front under Dan Andrews according to the published polls. Do you think they'll actually win? 

MARK DREYFUS:

I think it's going to be close and perhaps you would say I would say this but I think the Daniel Andrews Government deserves to be re-elected...

RAF EPSTEIN:

Probably closest in local seats within your federal seat Mark. 

MARK DREYFUS:

Too right, the sand belt seats, that's my electorate. I've got part of the state electorates of Bentleigh, Mordialloc and Carrum in my electorate and I'm watching it very closely but I think in those particular electorates, being my electorate, there's a very great consciousness that this has been a Government that's got on with the job of building infrastructure for Victorians and has set up a record which warrants it being re-elected. 

RAF EPSTEIN:

Kelly O'Dwyer, can Matthew Guy actually win? There was one poll that had him significantly behind off the back of the federal Liberal brand, sort of 54-46. Can he actually win?

KELLY O’DWYER:

I absolutely think the election is there to be won and I think that Matthew Guy has had his finger on the pulse when he's been out there talking to Victorians about their concerns, particularly to do with crime and safety, the changes that have been made by the Andrews Government in relation to bail, the fact that sentences are not tough enough in this state, the fact that we do have some gang problems here, that people don't feel safe and people don’t feel safe in my electorate of Higgins, where we've had carjackings, where we've had run-throughs of shops where people have been intimidated just going about their daily business of trying to actually buy something from Officeworks. 

RAF EPSTEIN:

Is crime going to get him over the line?

KELLY O’DWYER:

I think there are lots of reasons why people would want to vote for Matthew Guy. That is just one of them and I think as people get closer to the election they'll think very carefully about their vote. 

[ENDS]

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