Senator Hon Katy Gallagher TV Interview – ABC Insiders

Minister for Finance, Minister for Women, Minister for the Public Service

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Katy Gallagher, welcome to the program.


SPEERS: Let’s start with this $5,000 grant, who is eligible to access the money?

GALLAGHER: Well, there’s a range of eligibility criteria, for people to access it, it’s people who are wanting to leave, or have left a violent relationship or a domestic situation with an intimate partner. It’s whether that’s happened in the last 12 weeks or so, there’s a there’s a range of criteria for that payment. If they’re in financial distress. So, it’s had an evaluation done to make sure that over the trial, which was for two years, and then was unfunded, that we were looking at the ways, it best met people’s needs, and I think that’s helped shape some of the reforms and refinement we’ve made.

SPEERS: Just to the point we just heard, is it available to for example, a teenage girl who might have an abusive father or stepfather or indeed partner?

GALLAGHER: So, it’s around intimate partners. So that that’s one of the criteria so people under the age of 18 are not eligible for the payment. But we would have other supports and services that would kick in for a person in that situation. This payment is not, you know, one solution in isolation of a lot of other supports that exist for people who might be in that situation and particularly for young people, and in fact, the evaluation found that the age criteria was appropriate for this payment.

SPEERS: And where do you get it? For those who might be watching us right now? Weighing up what to do, wondering if this is the right thing. How do you get it?

GALLAGHER: I think people these days usually search, you can search for the payment and it will take you there. I mean, even if you go to Services Australia it will refer you. But Uniting Care are the ones that run the program through the trial.

SPEERS: Why was it outsourced?

GALLAGHER: Well, I think that was the former government’s decision when they made that, took that decision, so it was done that way for the trial. I would expect that would continue. Again, the evaluation found that that was an appropriate way and partly because you are going to need to be linked into other support services as well. I mean, you don’t just get a payment and then see you later, wish you all the best. One of the things that the evaluation found was that 80% of people coming for the payment were self-referring and had not had any other contact with other support services. So, part of the reframe of the program is to make sure that we’re doing that.

SPEERS: Your national plan that Clare was just talking about to end violence against women and children. It states women and children should not face poverty and exclusion when leaving violence. Are you willing to lift the rate of the single parenting payment to ensure women aren’t left in poverty?

GALLAGHER: Well, we did raise it in the last budget.

SPEERS: You expanded the access to it.

GALLAGHER: We expanded the access to it to the higher payment. And so that is specifically in response to some of the work that was done around women experiencing violence and limiting choices about how they leave.

SPEERS: But I’m asking whether the rate is enough?

GALLAGHER: Well, you know, these are the decisions we take across the social security system. And it’s not just one payment, there’s other payments like the commonwealth rent assistance, which goes to providing support for many women and many women who are single parents.

SPEERS: So you might raise that one?

GALLAGHER: Well, we look across the board at what is possible, but we’ve made no secret that we want to make sure that women are not, you know that we are driving economic equality for women, women are, do experience financial insecurity. And so, part of the answer is payment system. Part of it is how we address gender equality, and gender pay gaps more broadly, like there’s a whole, I guess, a whole of government response to these issues. It’s not just one thing.

SPEERS: Sure, but I’m just asking whether in the Budget nine days away, there will be some movement on any of these payments, rent assistance or single parenting payment to help women?

GALLAGHER: Well, you’ll need to wait for the Budget, David. I’m not here to announce the Budget. But I think the Treasurer and I’ve made it clear and the Prime Minister that every Budget, we have a look at what we can do with the payment system to make sure that we are providing as much support as we can to people who need that extra help.

SPEERS: Now, what about housing. 96% of women fleeing violence, were unable to get long term accommodation last year. Are you willing to increase funding so that more women can have some permanent accommodation?

GALLAGHER: Well, we’re currently negotiating the housing and homelessness agreement with the states. We’re hoping that we are able to finalise that, obviously that has a huge impact on women and women escaping violent situations, so you know, there’s a lot of work going on, in housing more generally.

SPEERS: That agreement you need to finalise in the next what six or seven weeks?

GALLAGHER: Yes, well, Julie Collins is really putting her shoulder to the wheel on that, we need to, but we’ve also been prepared to put a lot of money into housing, we’ve put about $25 billion into working with the states and territories through different programs to try and increase supply. And part of that is to identify improved access to social and affordable housing, particularly for women who need it and women who are caring for children.

SPEERS: But just to be clear that national housing and homelessness agreement you have with the states, it’s currently $1.6 billion, that will have to increase won’t it?

GALLAGHER: Well, we’re in negotiations with the states. I have no doubt this is one of those areas where we will hopefully land it soon. There’s a lot of goodwill. We’ve put a lot of money in, and we want to reach agreement.

SPEERS: The Greens say you should double it.

GALLAGHER: Well, the Greens say you should double everything. You know, the Greens don’t have to run a budget. So, it’s very easy to go out and say double everything.

SPEERS: There’s not enough money for that.

GALLAGHER: Well, you know the Budget has a lot of pressure on it. We try to do what we can every Budget and we think about these decisions deeply. And then we come up with what’s possible for this Budget.

SPEERS: Now on the frontline workers Labor did promise before the election 500 domestic violence workers, how many had been delivered?

GALLAGHER: Well not as many as we would like, I think the last numbers I saw was around 30. We’ve got an agreement with the states…

SPEERS: 30? 3-0?

GALLAGHER: Yes. We’ve made the payments, I think last June and at the end of last year, so the money is there. I think the states’ view is they’re having issues with recruiting. But Amanda Rishworth has been working with her state and territory colleagues to really try and get these workers in place as soon as possible. They’ve signed on to agreement to have the vast majority of them employed in the first half of this year. But they are saying that staff and recruiting staff is an issue.

SPEERS: Do you understand that a lot of people would listen to that, oh it’s the states and it’s the feds. 30 out of 500 that you promised and think this is crazy. Surely someone can sort this out?

GALLAGHER: Well, our job. Yeah. And that’s why states and the Commonwealth are working together on it. Our job was to provide the funding we’ve done that. The state’s job is to be implement it. They’re saying to us that they are having issues with recruiting to those positions.

SPEERS: That’s not an adequate answer, is it?

GALLAGHER: Well, I mean, they operationalise the funding. I’m not going to say that they’re not telling me the truth. They they’re saying that they’re trying to get that money out the door. We’ve provided that money and Minister Rishworth is working with all of them to make sure that that translates into frontline workers, actual frontline workers and my understanding is there’s an agreement to have the vast majority employed in the next couple of months.

SPEERS: Ok. Look on perpetrators, I want to ask you about this as the Minister for Women, there’s been debate about what causes violence against women. What do you think?

GALLAGHER: Well, I don’t think there’s one thing that causes it. What we know is that it’s at epidemic proportions across the country. We know that one in three girls over the age of 15 will have experienced physical violence, one in five will have experienced sexual violence. But it’s not, it’s not something that we just have to accept. So it’s there. It’s at levels that we can’t accept, and we have to work out how we manage that. And I wish there was one answer to it, you know, but there is a whole range of things. Yes, there are men that perpetrate violence against women. There are a lot of men that don’t. There’s a lot of work that we can do about how we shift responsibility from it just being seen as a women’s problem, which is kind of historically how it’s been seen and the national plan as Clare said on the couch. I mean, it didn’t get a lot of coverage when we released that in October 22. And when you look at that and the work that’s gone in to that, years and years of work, I mean, it has those areas of yes, looking at perpetrators, looking at the response, but it’s also about how do we, I guess, get rid of some of the gendered norms, the stereotypes, the attitudes, the discrimination that exists against girls and women across the country as a way of addressing some of those real cultural issues that lead, that can lead to violence.

SPEERS: And when it comes to what more can be done about the perpetrators. And again, this comes back to the states would you like to see them do things like ankle bracelets on offenders who are released on bail?

GALLAGHER: Well, I think the work the states have agreed to do is to look at all of those responses.

SPEERS: What do you think? What would you like them to do?

GALLAGHER: I mean, when I read the cases in the paper, when I read about Molly Ticehurst and others, when I see day after day, every four days in this country at the moment a woman is killed at the hands of a former partner. I think something is not working, you know, and something needs to change. And I think there’s an expectation from the community that, you know, we have to respond to this. And it will be a justice response. You know, that clearly is an area where we need to know more, whether it’s a police response, a court response, the bail response, all of that should be looked at and we should really, I think, grasp the opportunity that comes, to deal with it.

SPEERS: We saw another shocking example of violence against women during the week. That was the attack on 73-year-old Ninette Simons bashed during a home invasion by a group that allegedly involved one of the former immigration detainees. Can you explain why he wasn’t wearing an ankle bracelet?

GALLAGHER: Well firstly to Mr and Mrs Simons, I think, you know, we send our thoughts, very distressing to see her and her husband and what they went through, in relation, you know, and it is difficult because this matter is before the courts and I don’t want to say or do anything that would jeopardise that matter before the court.

SPEERS: The question is ankle bracelets, not a matter before the courts though. Why wasn’t he wearing one?

GALLAGHER: Well, perhaps it’s best if I deal in generalities.

SPEERS: Well the PM was quite specific on Friday, he said it was the wrong decision.

GALLAGHER: We have we have responded, so the High Court has had their decision. These detainees required by law to be released. We’ve put in place laws and responses to manage that cohort. And that is, you know, through the Community Protection Board, through the visas that people are issued, and through the range of measures that we can attach to those visas to keep the community safe.

SPEERS: So, who’s making these decisions on whether someone should wear an ankle bracelet?

GALLAGHER: Well, there’s decisions, there’s advice taken from the Community Protection Board that is provided to the department and then a decision is made.

SPEERS: By who?

GALLAGHER: By a delegate, who makes the decision based on the advice of the Community Protection Board.

SPEERS: Because the Government’s press release says it’s advice and recommendations to the minister.

GALLAGHER: Well, the delegate of the minister, and this is a highly litigious area, as you’d understand. The Minister for Immigration is perhaps the minister most litigated so it is not unusual to have arrangements put in place that would keep those decisions at arm’s length. But this is an operational response to a problem that we have, you know, that has been landed as is the way when you’re in government from a decision of the High Court and we’ve operationalised a response to that and that is being managed by the AFP, by state and territory police forces and through the very hard work of the Community Protection Board.

SPEERS: On the Budget, now nine days away, you’re lowering the indexation rate for HECS debts. Just explain to us, it’s going to save $3 billion or it’s going to wipe $3 billion from the national debt pile. What does it cost the Budget though?

GALLAGHER: Well we will release all that in the Budget, but it’s essentially revenue foregone that we would have received from those HECS debts. But we’ve been made no secret that this is what we can do around cost of living, we’ve heard from young people. We’ve heard you know, the big increase and the impact that that’s had and we’ve responsibly had a look at the way that we can respond to that in a way that the Budget can afford. You’ll see a big focus in this budget is cost of living, obviously dealing with inflation, and then putting down the foundations for growth.

SPEERS: But how does this help cost of living? It doesn’t change someone’s repayments on their HECS debt, does it?

GALLAGHER: Well, it’ll give them relief from the money that they owe. And I think that is what young people have been saying.

SPEERS: But it doesn’t change their repayments though, does it?

GALLAGHER: Well, no, but in terms of the debt that they’re accruing, they won’t be, the indexation will be lower, it will be the lower between CPI or the wage price index.

SPEERS: So, they might pay it off faster, but their repayments right now will be the same.

GALLAGHER: Well their debt will be less because of the indexation will be lower. And that is something that students have asked for. It’s something that came through the university accord review. And we think it’s a sensible way of responding to an area of pressure, but there’s no shortage of them David, in the Budget.

SPEERS: You’ve also found further savings in the Budget when it comes to the use of contractors and consultants. How much savings have you found? Is it getting harder as you go on to find more savings?

GALLAGHER: Yeah, it is getting harder. I think the first two budgets you saw us really lean in and find large amounts, billions of dollars in savings, as we go through, and the pressures increase on the Budget it is harder. But we think this is an area as we rebalance the public service and we employ permanent public servants into those roles, that were perhaps held by consultants and contractors and labour hire, that we can also reduce that amount of expenditure across government. So, I think, in the first budgets, we had a saving of $3 billion over the forward estimates. We will extend that, and we’ll also increase it over the next couple of years.

SPEERS: Are your total savings in this budget going to be more than your new spending in this budget?

GALLAGHER: Well, finding savings is harder David, and I think you’ll see when we when you look at the spending in the budget, I think we should be looking at you know the not only the aggregate spending, but the quality and composition of that spending. There’s a lot of spending that we’re having to do for terminating programs or legacy issues that haven’t been funded or, you know, unavoidable spending.

SPEERS: Like what?

GALLAGHER: Well, you know, things like ICT rebuilds, for example, that you know, need to happen if we’re going to run the aged care system, for example, that are significant costs that perhaps we hadn’t foreseen. So, there are a range of areas, there’s a lot of programs in health, that finish, you know, whether it be, I think there’s some cancer programs, public dental programs, those types of things that I think people would expect are continuing programs but haven’t been funded in an ongoing way.

SPEERS: Does that mean there’ll be more spending than saving?

GALLAGHER: Well savings as I said, are difficult to find and you’ll see the same approach that we’ve got, so you will see some savings, you’ll see some reprioritisation with existing expenditure. You’ll see all of that, but you know, the pressure on the Budget is real and intensifying.

SPEERS: Ok by the sounds of that it may not necessarily be the contractionary budget as economists are saying we need.

GALLAGHER: Well, you’re seeing the Budget will have a focus on inflation in the short term and growth in the long term over the forward estimates. I think that’s been an important part of our decision making.

SPEERS: Will it be contractionary?

GALLAGHER: Well, it’ll be a budget that needs to invest in the areas that we need to and in those areas that are unavoidable.

SPEERS: So not necessarily contractionary?

GALLAGHER: Well, we’ll wait and see on Budget Day.

SPEERS: Well, you need to put downward pressure on inflation though, don’t you?

GALLAGHER: Well, as I’ve said, inflation is a focus of the Budget. It’s been a primary focus of our budget, and you’ll see that the investments we’re making are putting downward pressure on inflation. And but at the same time, we need to get serious about the investments we’ve going to make to grow the economy as well.

SPEERS: Katy Gallagher, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck with the Budget.

GALLAGHER: Thanks very much David.

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