MICHAEL ROWLAND: (inaudible) scrap the Education Tax Refund and replace it with the direct tax payment for parents?
JENNY MACKLIN: We had around a million parents not getting the full benefit of the Education Tax Refund, whether it was because people had to pay upfront and didn’t have the money at the time, or it was too much to expect busy parents to be collecting their receipts. So we decided it would be better to give parents the money upfront, when they need, it at the start of the school year and then in the middle of the year when they might be buying winter uniforms. Give the money to parents when they need it and give it to them upfront.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: But of course there’s no way of actually guaranteeing this money will be spent on educational expenses?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well I’ve haven’t met too many parents who don’t make sure that they’re watching every dollar, and certainly at the start of every school year when they’re having to buy a new uniform, buy some new shoes, get all the books together. Parents need this extra help and we’re very pleased that we can do it.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: But of course that leaves you open to criticism from the Opposition. We had Christopher Pyne, the Opposition Manager of Business, saying parents could equally go out and spend this money on plasma TVs, booze or the pokies. Unlike the Education Tax Refund there is no way of quantifying what you’ve spent the money on?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think that just shows that the Liberals are completely out of touch with the needs of families, the needs of children who are going to school who do need that extra pair of shoes, who need a new uniform, who need their school books. Parents are managing their budgets carefully and of course will welcome this extra support that the Labor Government will provide in tomorrow night’s Budget.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay before we move on to another subject, why not simply call this, ‘Fiscal Stimulus Mark II’, as opposed to calling it an education benefit where it won’t necessarily be spent on education purposes?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well we’re making sure that it is available when parents need it. So we’ll make it available in January, half the payment, and another half in July, at the times when parents are really putting money out to pay for the essential things that their children need at school.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: And of course that’s one of the goodies. We’ve had Chris Richardson from Deloitte Access Economics talking about the Government having to achieve spending cuts of up to $6 billion to achieve that surplus next year. Is that more or less the ball park we’re looking at?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well you’ll have to wait until the Treasurer brings down the Budget tomorrow night. But we do know how important it is for the economy to make sure we bring the Budget back to surplus and the Treasurer will do that tomorrow night, but we’re doing it in a Labor way. We’re making sure that we help families as we bring the Budget back to surplus with our Schoolkids Bonus, making sure that parents get that extra bit of help that they need to make sure that they can help with the cost of schooling.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Now you’re bringing forward some of the first payments for this kids bonus to next month, I believe, despite the scheme not starting in full until next year. Is this nothing more than a way of ensuring that surplus is achieved next financial year?
JENNY MACKLIN: No. You’ll also be aware that we’re making some major changes to the tax system from the 1st of July, so a lot of low and middle income people will be paying less tax. A lot of lower income people won’t be paying any tax, and so we want to make sure that we get this payment out of the tax system and deliver it to families as quickly as we can. So I’ll be putting legislation into the Parliament this week and I call on the Opposition to support us as we put this legislation through the Parliament, so that parents can get this much needed money.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Just going back to the very large spending cuts you’ll have to achieve to get to this surplus, are you worried those spending cuts will be, by definition, unpopular, and therefore further damage the Government’s electoral standing?
JENNY MACKLIN: I think we’ve got to do two things in a Budget. One is to be economically responsible and the Treasurer is certainly doing that by bringing the Budget back to surplus at this time with Australia’s economy the way it is. But we also want to do it in a way that delivers to the people that really need it. So parents of school children, we know that we’ve got dental waiting lists that are too long, so we’ve put aside some extra money to help people who’ve been waiting on dental waiting lists for too long. This is a Labor Budget, we will do the right thing by those families that need our help.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: And there are a lot of Ministers (inaudible) and talk about this Budget being a Labor one and full of Labor values. It is fair to describe it as some observers have, as being a Robin Hood Budget, taking from the rich and giving to the poor?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think it’s about making the hard decisions to bring the Budget back to surplus, and the Treasurer will demonstrate how we’re doing that tomorrow night. But we also know that there are people in some parts of Australia who need this extra assistance and we think that’s particularly so for families who do have children at school. We want to really support those families who are helping their kids at school, and that’s why we’ll deliver this new Schoolkids Bonus.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Now another area under your general portfolio control is Indigenous Affairs, and we’re learning this morning, care of The Age, the Government is going to commit $6 million on community based suicide prevention strategies in the Kimberley. How important is a spending measure like that?
JENNY MACKLIN: It is very important that we provide additional assistance, particularly in those communities where we are seeing serious levels of suicide and suicide attempts and unfortunately that is the case in different parts of the community. So we really are wanting to not only provide this extra funding but also to be as responsive as we possibly can as we see suicide take place in unfortunately pretty terrible levels in many parts of the Kimberley.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay Jenny Macklin in Canberra, thank you very much for your time this morning.
JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you.
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