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Abbott Says It’s Situation Normal: A Government Without A Senate Majority

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says there is nothing unusual about the situation his government finds itself in with the Senate.

Abbott

Abbott said there was nothing unusual about a government not having a majority in the Senate. He pointed to the 13 years of the Hawke and Keating governments and all but one of John Howard’s four terms as examples. “No, we have got situation normal which is a Senate where the Government does not have a majority in its own right,” Abbott said.

Abbott spoke at a media appearance in Sydney a day after the Senate rejected a bill to repeal the Carbon Tax. The government was embroiled in a dispute with Clive Palmer and Palmer United Party senators over amendments to compel energy companies to pass on savings from abolition of the tax to consumers.

Abbott said: “I want to say to the Australian people, look, there’s been a lot of colour and movement in the Senate over the last few days. This is the kind of thing that you could expect with a new Senate, with people coming in who don’t have a lot of parliamentary experience, but we are carefully, purposefully, steadily and methodically getting on with the job of running the country and I am confident that we can have another go at scrapping this pernicious tax, this toxic tax, this tax that only the Labor Party and The Greens still love, that we can get rid of this tax when the Parliament sits again next week.”

The Prime Minister appeared to hold back from suggesting that a double dissolution of the parliament was likely in the short-term. He was also careful not to criticise Clive Palmer.

  • Listen to Abbott’s media conference (14m)

Transcript of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s media conference at the Novotel at Brighton in Sydney.

ABBOTT: It’s really good to be here at the Novotel at Brighton here in the electorate of Barton. I’m with Nick Varvaris, the hard-working local member, I’m with Luke Hartsyuker, the Assistant Employment Minister who has particular responsibilities for the Restart programme.

The good news is that this programme is available now to the employers of Australia who want to take on someone aged 50 and over who has been on a social security benefit for six months. If you do that, and if you keep that person on for two years, that’s $10,000 that the Government will pay to you, because we are determined to change the economics of employing older people.

We think it will be good for business to employ more older people, we think it will be good for older people to be making an economic contribution as well as a social and cultural contribution, we think it will be better for our society and for our economy because we do need to boost our participation, we do need to see more older people in the workforce making the most of themselves and making the most of their ability to contribute to our community in the years and decades ahead.

So, this is a $500 million-plus programme over four years and it complements a range of other unemployment programmes at both ends of peoples’ working lives. We are determined to make a difference. We want to keep people who want to work in the workforce for longer. We want to try to ensure that young people have the best possible start in their working lives and we’ve also got the Job Commitment Bonus, relocation payments for young people who would like to move off welfare and into the workforce.

I want to assure the people of Australia that this programme is in place now and it’s there for the employers of our country who want to do the right thing by themselves and who would like to help an older Australian back into the workforce.

I’m going to ask Luke just to say a few words and then I might ask Nick to talk about how this programme is helping people in his electorate.

LUKE HARTSUYKER: Thank you, Prime Minister. The Restart programme is a commitment of $524.8 million over four years to encourage employers to unlock the productive potential of our older workers. The way the scheme works is that it pays up to $10,000 to support employers to put on that older worker. The payments work that if a person is employed who has been on benefits and income support and unemployed for a period of six months or more, at the end of the first six months of employment a payment of $3,000 would be made. If that employment arrangement continues to the 12 month mark, there’s a further $3,000 payment, a $2,000 at the 18 month mark and a final $2,000 payment at the two year mark. So, a potential $10,000 payment. There is also arrangements with regard to part-time work and that payment can be pro-rated for jobs that involve 15 hours or more work, so there are benefits for putting on part time employees as well.

This measure complements a range of other measures that we have in place, such as the revamped Work for the Dole scheme aimed at imparting on young jobseekers those necessary basic skills that so many of them lack. Employers tell me as I get around the country that many young jobseekers present at their workplace without the necessary basic skills to get a job. A revamped Work for the Dole scheme will assist them to get those skills. We also have the Relocation Assistance programme to encourage jobseekers to go to where the jobs are and then we have the Job Commitment Bonus encouraging young people to get and keep a job.

So, we have a range of programmes aimed at encouraging jobseekers into work, aimed at supporting employers on taking on those jobseekers, all aimed at increasing participation and bringing so many more people to the benefits of work rather than the despair of welfare.

ABBOTT: Nick?

NICK VARVARIS: Thank you, Prime Minister, and thank you Minister for launching such an innovative programme in the electorate of Barton. This programme is important to the electorate of Barton because 28 per cent of people who are in long-term unemployment are people who are mature age workers, so we’d like to now obviously support a programme such as this which is aimed at trying to get people into the workforce and participating and improving productivity in local areas.

I’d also like to thank Simon McGrath, the Chairman and CEO of Accor Group for being such a keen supporter of this programme and we need people such as Accor Group and other employers who are willing to participate in such a programme and give mature age workers a fair go and a chance to get back into employment and a productive lifestyle.

Thank you once again and it’s great to have you here in the electorate of Barton.

ABBOTT: Thank you, Nick.

Ok, now we’ll take some questions and let’s see if we can have some questions first up on the Restart programme.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, I think there’s only one topic on everyone’s mind today – was it wrong to push for a vote so early on on carbon? Did that end up backfiring for the Government?

ABBOTT: I’m determined to get on with governing and this Restart programme is an important element in this Government’s determination to produce a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia. We need to remember that the best form of welfare is work. I want to stress that – the best form of welfare is work and this is a programme that is specifically designed to ensure that the economics of employing older people change so that we can get older people off social security, into the workforce and keep them in the workforce for longer. Now, the question if you wouldn’t mind repeating it?

QUESTION: Was it wrong to push for a vote so early on on carbon? Did that backfire for your Government?

ABBOTT: We are determined to get the carbon tax scrapped as quickly as possible and let’s never forget that every single member of the crossbench was elected on a platform of opposition to the carbon tax. So, we certainly expect the carbon tax to be gone. We want it to be gone as quickly as possible and we’ll keep working with the crossbench senators to ensure that this happens as soon as we can manage it next week.

I want to say to the Australian people, look, there’s been a lot of colour and movement in the Senate over the last few days. This is the kind of thing that you could expect with a new Senate, with people coming in who don’t have a lot of parliamentary experience, but we are carefully, purposefully, steadily and methodically getting on with the job of running the country and I am confident that we can have another go at scrapping this pernicious tax, this toxic tax, this tax that only the Labor Party and The Greens still love, that we can get rid of this tax when the Parliament sits again next week.

QUESTION: How will you know that Mr Palmer won’t have a new set of demands next week?

ABBOTT: Well, I’m confident that in the end he does want to scrap this toxic tax because, like me, he knows that it’s a 9 per cent impost on power bills, it’s a $9 billion handbrake on the economy, it’s a $550 a year hit on average households, so why would you keep it? I mean, why would you keep it? I mean, I know that the Labor Party and The Greens love this tax. I know that 25 Labor senators and 10 Greens senators voted just the other day for higher power prices, but Mr Palmer and his colleagues were elected on a platform of scrapping the carbon tax and that’s why I’m confident that the tax will be gone pretty soon.

QUESTION: Mr Abbott, you said before the election that you wouldn’t be making any deals with minor parties or Independents. Isn’t it a fact that you’re going to have to do that?

ABBOTT: Well, that particular question and that particular issue was about forming a government – a minority government – relying on The Greens and on people like Craig Thomson to stay in power. But obviously, all governments have got to negotiate their legislation through the Senate. There’s hardly been a post-war government that hasn’t had to negotiate its legislation through the Senate. The Hawke/Keating Government had to negotiate its legislation through the Senate, the Howard Government – but for one term – had to negotiate its legislation through the Senate, the Rudd/Gillard government had to negotiate its legislation through the Senate. There’s nothing unusual with having to negotiate legislation through the Senate; just about every government has had to do it just about all the time.

QUESTION: But aren’t we in a situation right now of a de-facto hung parliament which is something that you railed against?

ABBOTT: No, we have got situation normal which is a Senate where the Government does not have a majority in its own right. As I said, the Howard Government, but for one term, had to negotiate its legislation through the Senate, the Hawke/Keating Government throughout its life had to negotiate legislation through the Senate. Even the Menzies government going back a long, long time had to negotiate its legislation through the Senate and funnily enough, the Menzies government lost a few votes in the Senate, including on a number of occasions lost a few of its own members in the Senate.

QUESTION: Well you’re saying its situation normal, but this week the Senate has ripped $10 billion from the Budget and stopped the carbon tax repeal. It’s not a good look for your Government, is it?

ABBOTT: Well again, it’s perfectly normal for governments to have to negotiate elements of their Budget through the Senate. Every government has had to negotiate elements of its Budget through the Senate and it’s by no means unusual for some elements of a Budget to still be before the Senate six months, 12 months or even 18 months later. I know that there was some of the former government’s private health insurance changes which took I think two or three years to finally get through the Senate. So, look, I don’t want to underestimate the complexity and the time-consuming nature of the task ahead of the Government. It will be quite a complex task, of course it will be that, but we’re up for it, we will sit down patiently and purposefully with a clear objective in mind with the crossbench senators to do the right thing by Australia.

QUESTION: If the legislation gets knocked back – the carbon tax legislation gets knocked back again next week – what’s the likelihood of a double dissolution?

ABBOTT: We were elected to govern the country, not to go back to another election and I don’t expect the carbon tax repeal legislation to be held up indefinitely, because as I said at the beginning, just about every single member of the crossbench was elected on a platform of opposition to the carbon tax. They have commitments to the electorate just as much as the Government does and again, let me stress, sure there were three Palmer senators who voted to keep the carbon tax yesterday, but there were 25 Labor senators who voted to keep the carbon tax yesterday and if there’s one person who is still in denial about the election result, if there’s one person who wants everyone’s power prices to be higher it’s Bill Shorten. He is the person who is standing between you – the people of Australia – and a $550 a year bonus payment.

QUESTION: How many amendments are you willing to make to the carbon tax legislation to get it through?

ABBOTT: We’re willing to do what is reasonably necessary to secure this good outcome for the people of Australia. Get rid of the carbon tax and you would get rid of a 9 per cent impost on power prices, a $9 billion handbrake on the economy and a $550 a year hit on the average household’s Budget. So, getting rid of this is very important for the people of Australia. I say to the people of Australia that this Government will not let you down. We will get rid of this toxic tax as we promised time and time again and we’ll keep working until that happens.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, I was just wanting to know what your response to The Daily Telegraph cover is today? Would you say that Clive Palmer is a wrecking ball ruining your Budget and your plans?

ABBOTT: Look, it was another, I think, pretty powerful headline from a paper which is very good at powerful headlines, but the point I make is that we are going to deliver for the people of Australia. We are going to deliver for the people of Australia. We know that the carbon tax is hurting you, we know that it will keep hurting you until it’s repealed, that’s why we are determined to scrap it and if we have a difficulty one day, we’ll work patiently to overcome that and come back the next day to fix the problem, because that’s what sensible governments do.

Thank you.

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