Television Interview with Natalie Barr – Sunrise – Friday 26 August 2022

Friday, 26 August 2022

SUBJECTS: Royal Commission into Robodebt; cost of living; new rule at Sydney nightclub

NATALIE BARR: Well, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has announced a Royal Commission into the Robodebt scandal which unlawfully raised debts of at least $1.7 billion against more than 400,000 people. The automated collections system was ditched in 2020 with victims entitled to full repayments, but the former Government never explained who was accountable. For their take, I’m joined by Education Minister Jason Clare and Deputy Liberal Leader Sussan Ley. Good morning, to both of you.


SUSSAN LEY: Good morning Nat.

BARR: So, Jason let’s start with you. This went to court. People were paid back. Why do we need a $30 million Royal Commission?

CLARE: Well, Nat, I think you hit it on the head just there. More than 400,000 Aussies got bills that they didn’t owe. It cost taxpayers more than a billion dollars. People committed suicide. Australians that were hit by these bills that they didn’t owe tried to take their own life. When you think about Government gone wrong, it doesn’t get much worse than this. We don’t know how this ended up happening because the last Government settled this on the steps of court before the case began, and I think Australians have got a right to know how this happened and make sure that it never happens again.

BARR: Yeah, Sussan, this was huge. The Robodebt scheme is a legacy of your Government. Are you going to help get to the bottom of it?

LEY: Well, Nat as people know, these arrangements started in 2011 under a Labor Government. The test of this Royal Commission will be whether Labor Ministers are called as witnesses. Otherwise, it is simply a political witch‑hunt. And here we are again three months into this new Government and where is the focus on increasing power prices, the fact that your mortgage is going to go up again next month and grocery bills are getting more and more expensive? It is still the Albanese Government looking in the rear‑view mirror, and I think that’s the most disappointing thing about yet another announcement that looks backwards not forwards.

BARR: Sussan this was an election promise, I understand, so do you think they should ditch it?

LEY: Look, it’s up to the incoming Government what they do with their election promises. The only promise that I’m focused on today is the $275 broken promise about the cost of your electricity bills if you’re in a household, if you’re in a small business. Now, this was mentioned, gosh, time after time by the Prime Minister during the campaign and he simply stopped talking about it and walked away from it. But right here where I am in my electorate of Griffith, in the Riverina, people live on low and fixed incomes and they need this support but, more importantly, they need a focus from the Government. It is about them, their households, their families and their future.

BARR: Jason, the Opposition says this is a “Get Scomo” exercise because he was Social Services Minister. Is it?

CLARE: Well, tell that to Christie – a university student in Brisbane who got a bill that she didn’t know of – $10,000. She tried to take her own life, ended up in hospital, and she’s still on medication to this day. You know, this had a real impact on ordinary Aussies. The last Government thought every Australian was a crook. The irony in all of this is that they were the biggest rorters of all – rorting taxpayers’ money. Sussan says we should be focused on the cost of living. You bet we are. We’re focused on the bread-and-butter issues that are hitting Australians in their pockets. You see that with the increased prices at Woolies. There was a story on the program just a moment about that, Nat. We’re increasing the minimum wage. The Liberal Party is opposed to that. We’re cutting the cost of child care. The Liberal Party are opposed to that. We want to build affordable rental housing for police, for nurses, for teachers, for ambos, and the Liberal Party is opposed to that. So, if they’re fair dinkum when it comes to cost of living, they’ll support our legislation to cut the cost of child care and to build more affordable rental housing for Aussies that are really struggling at the moment.

BARR: Yeah, let’s talk about rents because they’re rising, as you say, at the fastest rate in 14 years, contributing to worker shortages. Sussan, would you support a rental freeze? That’s what the Greens are calling for.

LEY: None of the things that Jason mentioned have actually happened, Nat, by the way, and the disposable income in people’s pockets is definitely not going up to cover increased prices. Now, we know that people are under pressure when it comes to their rents around the country. Mr Albanese has found time to go overseas, to go on holiday, to go to the Torres Strait, to talk about all sorts of things – 

CLARE: He didn’t go to Hawaii when Australia was burning, Sussan.

LEY: – costs that ordinary families are facing and I think that’s really, really important today and, you know, the Greens propose various things. I always say not many of them make a great deal of sense, but they’ve certainly pointed to cost pressures that families are under, and I think that that needs to come through in the policies that Labor is proposing, and once again we’re just not hearing it. We’re just not hearing it.

BARR: A rental freeze, Jason, how would that work? Is that even at all workable?

CLARE: No, I don’t think it is. Look, one of the good things that did happen during the pandemic is we got the States to pass laws to stop people being evicted during the teeth of the pandemic. That was a good idea. I called for it at the time. I’m glad the States implemented it. But, if we’re really serious about making rents more affordable, the bottom line is you’ve got to build more affordable rental housing and that’s what we’ve promised to do – building more affordable rental housing in particular for cops and teachers and nurses, aged‑care workers, supermarket workers. They’re the people who often have to travel the longest distances to get to work because they can’t afford to rent where they work. We’ve promised to build 10,000 affordable rental houses in the next five years – and guess what? The Liberal Party are opposed to it, just like they’re opposed to our childcare measures to cut the cost of childcare and how they’re opposed to increasing the minimum wage by a dollar an hour.

BARR: Okay.

LEY: Well, Jason, these measures are just talk. They’re just talk – 

CLARE: No, no, they’re in place – 

LEY: They’re just words in your policy documents.

CLARE: Sussan, guess what?

LEY: What’s happening?

CLARE: The minimum wage has gone up even though you opposed it.

BARR: Okay. We’ve definitely got a housing shortage that’s for sure and we definitely need low‑cost housing. We’ll talk about that again another week. But something different to end on a Friday, a Sydney nightclub has been making the news for banning staring without consent. Jason, would that have changed how you met your wife?

CLARE: No, I didn’t meet my wife in a nightclub, Nat. Look, I think every woman that’s watching the program today would have had an experience where some drunk bloke is ogling her or harassing her or worse in a club. I don’t know if this is going to work or not, but at its core, it is about respect, isn’t it? It’s the twenty‑first century, and Aussie blokes have got to show a bit of respect.

BARR: Sussan, your thoughts?

LEY: Well, I’m here in Griffith. Last night I was at the Vic Hotel here in the main street. A few moves on the dance floor. No‑one was staring at me, Nat. I often reflect about the warm country hospitality in rural and regional Australia where I live and work, and I just love it. But, of course, as Jason said, respect is vital.

BARR: Exactly. Well, maybe one person’s stare is another person’s warm friendly look. It’s hard, isn’t it, where that line is?

CLARE: There was a part of that story, Nat, that said blokes won’t be allowed in the club if they’re just there to pick up and my wife said to me last night, “That means there will be no blokes in the club at all”!

BARR: She’s a wise woman. I can’t wait to meet her. Okay. Thank you both. See you next week.


Media Contact: Korena Flanagan – 02 9790 2466