The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Peter Costello

Peter Costello

Treasurer

11 March 1996 - 3 December 2007

Transcript of 01/04/2005

Treasurer

Doorstop Interview

The Royal Women’s Hospital
Melbourne

Friday, 1 April 2005
12.35 pm

SUBJECTS: Maternity Payment, Welfare Reform, Building Approvals, Skills Shortages

TREASURER:

Since its introduction, as announced in the Budget last year, the $3,000 maternity payment has now been claimed by 143,791 Australians and $440 million has been paid out. This has been a wonderful benefit for new mothers, it allows them to cover a lot of the costs that you have with having a new child and more importantly than that the maternity payment is going to increase to $4,000 from 1 July 2006. Many of the hospitals around Australia are now reporting an increase in the number of births and that is a great thing too because there may be some evidence that the decline in the fertility rate has bottomed out. So, this has been warmly embraced by the mothers of Australia, it is a real practical help to them in having their babies and I think it has been welcomed by mothers, children and fathers all the way throughout Australia.

JOURNALIST:

It is available to anyone regardless of whether they are married or not?

TREASURER:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

So why target single mothers and suggest that they should be returning to the workforce, why not all mothers regardless?

TREASURER:

No this maternity payment is available to all mothers, it is not means tested, it is paid on the birth of a baby and as I said since it was introduced 143,791 have received it.

JOURNALIST:

But why treat single mothers differently in terms of urging them to return to the workforce, why not other mothers, married mothers?

TREASURER:

Well that has got nothing to do with the maternity payment.

JOURNALIST:

But you are treating them both equally with…

TREASURER:

Oh we do, we do, yes…

JOURNALIST:

…why not treat them both equally in terms of who you are going to encourage to return to the workforce?

TREASURER:

Oh no, well we don’t treat them equally because single mothers get a benefit that married mothers don’t. Single mothers get the parenting payment that is only available for single mothers. Married mothers would be entitled if they were low income to get the married rate but they are not entitled to the, what used to be called the single mothers pension is now called ‘Parenting Payment – Single.’ But in relation to mothers, yes, I think it is important that all mothers have the opportunity to work and we would encourage those mothers when their children who do go to school, who do have the opportunity to look for work to do so.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Costello, do you think the data released yesterday and today increases the chance of a rate rise next week?

TREASURER:

What we have seen today in relation to building approvals is that we have seen that building approvals have declined, that is consistent with a slowing in relation to the housing market, this is not unwelcome, we have actually been saying for some time that the housing market would need to slow and we were looking at a plateauing in prices and the evidence that we see coming out today is consistent with that. In addition to that, we saw from the Australian Bureau of Statistics a revision to the export figures which shows that exports were a little stronger than expected than as first reported in the most recent balance of payments and consequently the current account was not as large as what was thought. And I also welcome that because it shows that the export performance was strengthening throughout the last quarter.

JOURNALIST:

On the single mums thing, it is not about giving them an opportunity to get back to work though, it is about forcing them to go back to work isn’t it if they want welfare payments or…?

TREASURER:

Oh no, a lot of single parents work. Some even work full-time. And I think that if you can encourage single parents to re-join the workforce it is good for them, it gets them connected with the workforce, it will actually increase earnings in the family and what’s more, I think it will be good for Australia as a whole because we at the moment have record low unemployment, in some critical areas we have shortages of labour and what we need is we need more people for the workforce and if we can encourage more people to get into the workforce I think that is a good thing.

JOURNALIST:

But what will they do with their benefit if they decide not to work?

TREASURER:

No, the requirement on people who are looking for work is that they present for interviews and they seek to find it. If they don’t find it, of course they are entitled to remain on their payments.

JOURNALIST:

The Opposition is saying that your talk of skills shortages in Australia is finally an admission from the Government that you are to blame for that skills shortage.

TREASURER:

Look, unemployment is now at a 30 year low, and when you have low unemployment that means that sometimes you get more jobs than there are people to fill them. This is a good thing for Australia. This is what we have been working towards for a long time. We have been working towards a situation where we have jobs for people who want to work. Unfortunately under the Labor Party regime we had many more people than there were jobs, mass unemployment. That is a sign of failure. Low unemployment, even a situation where you have more jobs than people can fill them is actually successful economic policy. That is the kind of thing that we have been trying to get to now for 30 years and it is great that we have got there. Thank you all very much.