Damaging reports by the Sydney Morning Herald’s political editor Peter Hatcher and Channel Nine’s Canberra reporter Laurie Oakes detailed that the current Prime Minister Julia Gillard argued against pension rises and paid parental leaves.
These are sacred cows in the Australian welfare state, as it was said she directly opposed the 18 week parental leave scheme and the $30 a week proposed increase in single aged pension. The sources of these reports were identified to be members of the current government’s cabinet.
This has raised a firestorm in the erstwhile peaceful campaign of Ms. Gillard. The backlash was so harsh that Ms. Gillard called a press conference to specifically address these allegations. She defended her actions by saying that she admitted questioning the affordability of the leave scheme and the pension hike but she fully supported the measures.
Angered by the claims, Ms Gillard told reporters in Adelaide that “I understand that some might say that if you don’t sign on the bottom line … as soon as a proposal is put in front of your nose, you somehow you lack passion or enthusiasm for it.
“Frankly, I believe that analysis is completely ridiculous and absurd.”
She dismissed these allegations saying that she had spent her entire adult life championing the cause of these measures and the equality of opportunity between men and women. She also sharply rebuked the claim that she opposed the pension rise because of the notion that elderly Australians were not Labor voters.
The Prime Minister detailed that the cost of these programs would add up to more than $50 billion over the next ten years. She had asked, “That’s a lot of money.” When these proposals were made, she also asked, “Were they affordable?” She said she thoroughly studied the measures and she found for herself that the pension rise was affordable in the long run.
This she added is the proper approach to take and it was not for anything else but be pragmatic. “I am not a soft touch. I am going to ask the hard questions. I am going to make sure we run the ruler over every proposal and ask: ‘Is this affordable?'” she said. “I wouldn’t have put this country in a position where we increase the pension and then have to increase taxes,” she further added.
She concluded by saying that this is not the time to be focusing on anonymous reports but on the program outlines of these proposals to improve welfare policy. They need to be affordable and achievable. She would not ask the Australian Federal Police to investigate the leaks nor is she considering them as a Cabinet leak. She said she will focus on the delivery of these welfare services to those most needy and then reported that her government has been able to rise up to the challenge.