SUBJECT/S: Labor’s investment in Indigenous students; scholarships for Indigenous teachers; Malcolm’s Turnbull’s $50 billion big business tax cuts; asylum seekers; native title; regional development; National Broadband Network.
BILL SHORTEN: It's a pleasure to be here at Cairns West because it gives me a chance to talk about one of the key issues of the upcoming federal election, education and schools. Now we've started Mr Turnbull's 55-day election campaign. He made it clear yesterday what his priorities are, tax cuts for big business, reduction in the tax paid by highest income earners in Australia.
Yesterday I made clear some of our priorities. Making sure that every child in every school get every opportunity, regardless of their background or the postcode they live in. That's why I'm really pleased today to be announcing at this remarkable school, that as part of our Gonski school funding package which we've announced, that specifically we commit to 400 scholarships for Indigenous Australians to learn to become teachers.
In Australia at the moment, whilst up to five per cent of the school population are from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background, only one per cent of our teachers come from that same background. Labor's committed to providing Australian kids with the best teachers possible, so 400 additional scholarships over the next four years, and that means, I believe, that we're going to have better quality teachers in our schools.
But perhaps even more importantly than that, we're committing to make sure that we do something about the unacceptable statistics in our education system concerning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids. The truth of the matter is that our school system isn't doing as well for these children as it is for non-Indigenous children. The truth of the matter is we need more kids from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background to be finishing Year 12. We need to make sure that the low levels of outcomes in terms of literacy and numeracy are improving.
This is all part of our general economic vision for Australia. We want to have a great economic future for Australia and prosperity. To do that we've got to make sure our schools are delivering on the hopes of parents and dreams of children. And as part of that we want to make sure our education system includes children from all backgrounds, from all postcodes. That's why we're committing to providing a better chance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids to be part of Australia's bright future. I want to make Australia the number one educational centre in our region when it comes to our schools, and Labor has positive plans to back that in.
But talking about positive plans, by contrast, Mr Turnbull, I believe, disappointed Australia yesterday, certainly millions of parents who pay their taxes to Canberra. There wasn't one mention of schools in Mr Turnbull's pitch to be re-elected Prime Minister. There is no plan for schools except cuts. In the Leichhardt electorate in the Cairns region alone, if Mr Turnbull is re-elected there will be $263 million worth of cuts. And when the Liberals say that more money doesn't solve a problem, I was privileged to talk to the teachers of those 5-year-old kids. They know exactly what they can do with a little bit more money. Homework groups, helping ensure that their programs that deliver attendance at school, making sure the bright kids get the extension classes they need.
When Australia works together, when we include everyone as part of our vision of Australia, when we make sure we’ve got great schools, then nothing can stop this country from being a truly great country in the future.
What I would like to do is introduce you to Senator Pat Dodson to talk further about the importance of Labor's positive plans to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids the same education deal that other kids in Australia enjoy. Pat.
PATRICK DODSON: I want to firstly thank the Cairns West staff and students and parents for this wonderful welcome and induction into what goes on up here. The importance of family in the supportive systems for young people to go to school, to ensure they have safe homes, safe places, that they're encouraged to participate, is critical.
Labor is going to look at and support the ways in which young students can be supported in increasing their learning and increasing their participation in schools so good outcomes can take place. And as Bill Shorten has said, there will be support also for teacher training because the importance of having models, Indigenous models, in the classrooms, encouraging young Indigenous peoples to pursue their dreams and aspirations and education is so critical.
Today, as you know, education is a vital component to anyone that's trying to navigate their pathways through our society. We need to be computer literate, we need to understand a whole range of things. Labor is laying that foundation down and committing itself entirely to making sure that all children, all kids around the country, get a fair go and get a fair access to the opportunities. Thank you.
BILL SHORTEN: Thanks, Pat. Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Malcolm Turnbull says the Treasury has modelled that for every dollar of corporate tax they'll cut it will yield a four dollar economic benefit. Would you dispute that? What would you say your counterproposal would drive in terms of growth? Do you have any modelling?
BILL SHORTEN: Mr Turnbull can keep flogging his $50 billion tax cut to multinationals all over Australia. I'm going to keep saying that the best investment we can use with taxpayer money is the education of our kids. I don't need to have some sort of spurious debate with Mr Turnbull about the value of education, just ask every parent in Australia. I am so proud that my party has got such an outstanding policy to properly fund schools according to need. I am incredibly committed to making sure that any child in this country – doesn't matter how rich their parents are, doesn't matter how much income there is in that family – that they all get access, wherever they live, to a quality education.
I will back my vision of a better educated Australia to be a real driver of skills and economic growth than Mr Turnbull's, and by the way, my policies are responsibly funded through tough decisions. Does it really take this election for Mr Turnbull to work out that you can give a $50 billion tax cut to multinationals, who will send much of the benefit to foreign shareholders, or we just invest in Aussie kids around Australia, in the regions as well as the city?
JOURNALIST: Labor's candidate for the seat of Melbourne, Sophie Ismail, has contradicted Labor's position on asylum seeker policies, outlining concerns about boat turn-backs and offshore detention. Is she out of line?
BILL SHORTEN: Labor's policy is clear. We will not put the people smugglers back into business. We will not allow policy which sees the mass drowning of vulnerable people seeking to come to this country.
JOURNALIST: Is that a sanctioned leak though, trying to win the seat from the Greens?
BILL SHORTEN: Labor's policy is clear. Unlike Mr Turnbull, who has great trouble leading his party, I debated the issues upfront at the July national conference last year. Labor's policy is clear. It is difficult issue, but one thing I will never do is make sure that the people smugglers get back into business. Australians should be reassured ,and people smugglers and the criminal syndicates on notice, whatever happens after July 2, they're not back in business.
JOURNALIST: Doesn't this show Labor is divided?
BILL SHORTEN: Sorry, I’ll just take this here.
JOURNALIST: The Newspoll out today, do you think the Government has underestimated you as a campaigner?
BILL SHORTEN: Well we are the underdogs. You have to be when you've got to win back 20 seats, don't you, but I think what the Government's done is underestimate the Australian people. The Australian people are sick of three word slogans. Mr Turnbull simply saying "plan" any number of times does not somehow magically create a plan. For instance, he neglected to talk about schools because he has no plan, or the plan he has, he's ashamed of, cutting funding to schools.
Australians in this election, this very long election called by Mr Turnbull, will want to see the detail of policy. I'm really pleased that I and my united Labor team have released 100 positive plans for Australia's future. I think Australians want to see a better political debate. They want to know not what you're going to do for the one per cent of income earners, not what you're going to do for the big banks or what you’re going to do in the way of tax cuts for multinationals.
They want to know that when they need a doctor, can they afford to go see a doctor? They want to know their kids, regardless of the background of the parents or where they live, will get a quality education. Older Australians want to know that their superannuation decisions are safe and free from retrospective decisions. Australians want to know what child care policies are going to happen, they want to know they can keep bulk billing, they want to know there’s real action on climate change.
I am really looking forward to this election because I know that my Labor team have worked on 100 positive policies, and we've got a long way to go but I think Australians are interested to hear a positive debate about the future of this country.
JOURNALIST: Back to your asylum seeker policy, does this latest incident show that your party is divided on this issue given the handful of MPs that use their valedictory speeches last week to criticise the policy as well?
BILL SHORTEN: We understand, and all Australians know that this issue of making sure that vulnerable people are not exploited by people smugglers is a difficult issue. But Labor has made it very clear, and we did it in the open, we did it publically, we had the argument. That's who we are. People can see what's going on and we don't shirk the hard questions. But when it comes to people smugglers, and turn-backs, and not having onshore processing by people who are smuggled here by criminal syndicates, we are not for turning on our policy.
JOURNALIST: Will your candidate be reprimanded?
BILL SHORTEN: Well our policy is absolutely clear and if we're going to talk about party discipline, I want to see if Mr Turnbull has rescued some of his Ministers from lower spots on their Senate tickets. I'm very interested to see that Tony Abbott feels that he needs to campaign like a leader of a political party because he knows, his personal opinion is that Malcolm Turnbull isn't tough enough.
Now when it comes to unity, we've had our debates, we've set our course and we are absolutely committed to stopping people smugglers getting back into business. We will not be party to policies which see the mass drowning of vulnerable people at sea.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] was it a mistake to preselect Sophie?
BILL SHORTEN: Listen, our candidates are good candidates. I'm proud of my united Labor team but I'm absolutely clear what the policy is, as is my team. Full stop.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you and other senior Ministers have previously supported cutting corporate tax as a way of improving the economy. Do you just look inconsistent now that you've switched your position on that?
BILL SHORTEN: No, the issue here is that if you've got a tough Budget position, if you've got to repair the Budget – and let's face it, Mr Turnbull and his team have managed to triple the deficit, they’ve managed to put in jeopardy our AAA rating – you've got to make choices. The issue about the election is the choices that different political parties make. Wouldn't it be nice to reduce taxation for people? Sure. But the point about it is this country can't afford to give a $50 billion handout to large companies and not properly fund our schools.
When I look at priorities about, do I want to give a big bank a tax cut or make the two special kids who are the joint school captains of this school, give them a better chance in secondary school, it doesn't take me a second to work out the right answer. I am on the side of millions of parents who want to see their kids get the best start. If you get a chance to talk to these really impressive grade six kids, one is a basketball champion, the other is an AFL champion. They’re interested, one of them said they want to become a journalist. They're interested in what's going on and want to have the best opportunities at school.
Don't the kids of Australia, who've got dreams, and hopes and courage, don't they have right to expect the adults and the politicians to stand up and help be as consistent in their policies as these kids hope they would be?
JOURNALIST: How will the scholarships be administered and will it cost anything?
BILL SHORTEN: In terms of the 400 scholarships, it is $4.8 million over the forwards, in terms of the selection, half would be women, half would be men. We’ll work with educational institutions in terms of the criteria, but I'm really proud of the practical policies we're advancing.
It makes sense, doesn't it, when you stop to think about it, that if you've got more role models who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers, then I think that helps engage kids with the educational process, full stop, of going to school. When you think about it, it is an omission in our teaching line up, that only one per cent of our teachers are from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background and five per cent of our kids are. So we've worked out how we pay for it, we've worked out how much it costs, and what we know fundamentally is it's a long overdue idea whose time has come.
It’s another practical example of our positive policies. That’s the choice. Mr Turnbull has no plan to increase the number of Indigenous kids who go and seek teaching as a vocation and a profession to follow. We do.
JOURNALIST: A question about native title and maybe Pat can answer this as well too. The Northern Australia development has been a big subject and topic of conversation up in this part of the world here. It has no chance of getting anywhere unless the Government makes changes to the Native Title Act. What's your position on particularly the Northern Australia and Native Title Act?
BILL SHORTEN: I'll get Pat to supplement my answer but you go to one of the omissions which I think has been occurring in terms of the development of Northern Australia. The north of Australia is quite distinct and special. It's got an essence of egalitarianism, it’s got an essence that it welcomes people who come here, it's got the dream that the fair go is alive and well. And you see a lot of people from the north, move south, and they don't come back and we want to stop that.
But if you're going to have that sort of dream of Northern Australian development, it has to involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in that discussion, and I don't think there's been enough of that. And Pat and I have been talking and one of the things I've asked him to do as my Parliamentary Secretary is help refine and develop our approach to Northern Australia. But if you wanted to summarise it in a sentence, we think the north of Australia works best when we've got all of the diverse interests working together.
Not everyone has to come together thinking the same things. But I think that when you look at when pastoralists, when Indigenous leaders, when Land Councils, when tourism, when the environmentalists come together, there's more goodwill in the room than people realise. But I'll hand over to Pat.
PAT DODSON: I think the reality is that native title is a part of our law system. The reality is that you need to consult with the people who hold native title, who are claimants. And in the main there are many good agreements around Australia that have been struck in complicated areas, in my own area of Broome, of course, we've negotiated an agreement with the State of Western Australia that gives land and some resources to people to leverage up.
The challenge is always balancing the environment, balancing culturally important areas and ensuring that Indigenous interests in the economic field is also upheld, and that there are clearly participants in it. And then to make sure the development does in fact bring all people along, the small business people, the mechanics, the people who run stores but there is a trickle-down effect and it is not simply profits made by large corporations that go overseas and that the regional local people don't benefit from it.
But in terms of changing the Act, I don't know whether that's a necessity. If there are specifics about that I don't fully understand at this stage, but any changes to the Act has got to take into account the capacity of the Native Title holders to leverage their land, their property right in relation to development, and I know there are a lot of discussions going on in relation to that, led by the Human Rights Commissioner Mick Gooda, and people like that. How do you make Native Title fungible without destroying the inherent communal base to it?
But they’re challenges and many good discussions are happening and many leaders are participating in them. I think it's really time for industry and others to come along with that process and enable the participation of Indigenous groups across Northern Australia to be part of the development opportunities.
JOURNALIST: Has treaty come up in any conversations with your leader?
PAT DODSON: We know treaty is a big discussion in the community, we know constitutional recognition is a big discussion in the communities. They're not mutually exclusive matters. There is a process through the Referendum Council that's pursuing further consultations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples about what they want to see in the Constitution or what are their basic preferences.
I think the question of settlement agreement we've seen in the State of Victoria, the State Government engaging with the Indigenous people there around the notion of treaty, and we'll be looking at that closely and seeing how it might be something that people want to aspire to in other jurisdictions.
JOURNALIST: Senator Dodson, how much change do you believe today's education announcement could bring about in your home region of the Kimberley, and what kind of change?
PAT DODSON: I certainly hope it brings about the vision that there could be more teachers in our schools, for instance, that there is more support structures for children going to school to enable those in remote areas to be supported to go to school, and to have the access to the techniques, the technology, because some of those places don't have that, but to have the opportunity to actually meet what it is that's on offer rather than simply seeing that passing by and being denied real opportunities that can be actualised.
BILL SHORTEN: Thank you. Two more questions.
JOURNALIST: Will any of those scholarships be set aside specifically for regional Australia? And why did you start the campaign here?
BILL SHORTEN: I might be bold enough to say, you heard Senator Dodson answer a number of questions, I think we can all see he is going to bring a real focus on Northern Australia, not just for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander,s but his wisdom is going to, I think, give Labor real firepower in the debate about the future of Northern Australia.
Turning to your questions, I would expect some of the teacher positions would go to the regions. We'll sit down and work with state authorities and universities, but part of my view when it comes to the second part of your question, why Cairns, is I understand that Australia is more than three big cities on the east coast. I understand that Queensland has more than just Brisbane and the South-East.
Yesterday I was in Northern Tasmania. Today I'm in Cairns. The future of this country relies upon strong regions connected, not only to our cities, but to the world. Labor has got the best policies for regional Australia. We want to connect the regions, the small business in the regions, with our region in Asia through a better NBN. We want to make sure kids can get a quality education in small country schools in some of the poorer areas around Australia, in the big regional coastal cities of Queensland, just the same as it would be in Melbourne or Sydney.
We're very committed to reversing the dreadful hospital and health care cuts. We want to make sure we don't see, with the demise of bulk-billing for things such as blood tests, dealing with chronic diabetes or dealing with the greatest challenge many Australians have faced, cancer, that people living in the regions are still able to get bulk-billed blood tests in their home towns rather than to having to go to Brisbane or Sydney or larger centres.
So when you think about it, all of policies are tailor-made for regional Australia. From our commitment to funding infrastructure, to our approach on properly funding our schools, to making sure that health care is determined by your Medicare card and not your credit card.
We have got an economic plan for this country, but it puts people at the centre of it. People are the inherent driver of our future. What we do with our people and the opportunities we give them, set up Australia well for the future. The big difference though is that Mr Turnbull thinks you grow the economy by giving big tax cuts, shovelling $50 billion worth of taxpayer concessions by reducing business taxes, to multinationals. I think if I give these kids the best start in life, then that's going to create a sustainable, fairer and more growth Australia. Perhaps one last question.
JOURNALIST: A first-rate fibre NBN, can I ask what that actually means, is it fibre to the premises right the way through the system and do you have any modelling you can point to that will tell us how much that will cost?
BILL SHORTEN: We'll be announcing our NBN policy in coming weeks but it will be a good NBN policy. What I also know is that unlike Mr Turnbull, he promised, and don't let them off the hook because not only was he been in the Cabinet the whole time, he was the Communications Minister. The NBN is the single-largest infrastructure project that that man's ever been in charge of and what's happened? Before the last election it was only going to be $29 billion, then somehow in a bit of Mr Turnbull magic, it's now $56 billion. It's slower, if you have a look at the Liberal literature which was put out to members of the public who voted for them in good faith at the last election, hundreds of thousands more households were promised NBN than have got them. So, we think NBN is one of the key issues in this election and we will have more to say about that in coming weeks. Thanks, everybody.