TUESDAY, 10 MAY 2016
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s plan to fully fund Gonski; asylum seekers; hung Parliament.
HOST: Things are heating up in the election campaign. What will you be announcing for Townsville and our region today?
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I'm doing a number of events today but the centrepiece is talking about how Labor will put the schools and the kids and their parents first, in this region. We're going to announce the specifics of having needs-based funding in all our schools. What needs-based funding means is that regardless of what postcode a child lives in, regardless of how wealthy their parents are, regardless of how big or small the school is, Labor wants to make sure that each school is at an adequate level of resources to generate excellent academic outcomes for the kids who attend these schools. I mean, that translates to homework clubs, more teachers' aides for kids with special needs. For the bright kid who need stretching, more extension classes. It will provide a focus on the needs of a child so that we give them the best education possible so they can compete for the jobs of the future.
HOST: How has North Queensland’s schools been comparing around the country, how much of this focus will happen in our region?
SHORTEN: Well, quite a bit. In the electorate of Herbert, which covers Townsville and surrounding areas, this is a provision of an extra $48 million. Now, the number in itself is significant, but what that translates to practically for parents who are listening, perhaps taking their kids to school right now, is what it will mean, is that there will be more individual attention for your kids at school. What it will mean is if you've got a child with special needs, there will be more support. If your child's doing really well and needs to be stretched in mathematics or in languages, they will get that chance.
Now, we've chosen to prioritise the funding of schools, because we think that's a great economic plan for Australia. Mr Turnbull by contrast, has chosen to spend scarce taxpayer dollars by reducing the taxes of big business. So it comes down to priorities. We can have affordable improvement to our schools. Mr Turnbull chooses to spend the same taxes on providing tax cuts to larger businesses. It's a matter of priorities.
HOST: How quickly could you roll something like this out in the schools? When would we see this type of assistance being provided?
SHORTEN: Next year. Next year.
HOST: It would take that short a time? Would you need to have more staff, would you need more facilities at our schools to do all of this?
SHORTEN: We've provided a 10-year plan for the funding of education because we think that the kids who are enrolling in prep and grade 1 and grade 2 deserve to have decisions made which give their whole educational experience that sort of continuity and support. We've spoken with the Queensland State Government. We've spoken with the non-government sector because I should also stress here, that our funding proposals are sector neutral. It doesn't matter if you send your kids to the local Catholic primary school or the local government school. What we want to make sure is that kids get a proper level of resources for their education.
By contrast, Mr Turnbull has, to my surprise, to be honest, just said that he won't try and match us here, and said instead he has gone down the path of saying the way we'll kick-start Australia is by tax cuts to business, in particular big businesses. I've got a different view. If we want to make sure Australia has a bright future, make sure we properly fund our schools, our TAFE, our universities. Because that way you give people control over their own lives rather than waiting for large companies to decide whether or not they'll remit the benefit of lower taxes to foreign shareholders, or provide the necessary gain for all Australians.
Now I happen to think that if you give a kid a good education, that's the best start we can give any Australian in their life and that gives them the best prospect for a good job.
HOST: Mr Shorten, will you based in Townsville until Thursday? Will this be your headquarters for some time?
HOST: Tell us why, why are you doing that?
SHORTEN: Because we think that regional Queensland deserves the same sort of attention that Brisbane gets. The strength of Queensland is that it's not a 'one large city' state. My wife's a Queenslander. She's taught me a lot about Queensland. And I spent a fair bit of time here in the past representing workers.
I get that when Cairns or Townsville or Mackay or Rockhampton or Gladstone are doing well, or Bundaberg, then Queensland's doing well. I understand that if we look after the large regional centres and the towns, and you provide good health care, good schools, good TAFE, good infrastructure, then what that means is that the whole quality of life of North Queensland moves ahead.
HOST: As I said in the introduction, it's been a tough year to start with for the Townsville community it in particular, but North Queensland in general, with the mining jobs downturn. Will you be able to focus during this election campaign on some of those big-ticket items that this region needs, whether it be a stadium, whether it be new dams, job growth that is specific based on projects for this region?
SHORTEN: Well, I'm a big believer in the value that projects can do to generate local work. I will just say that promising to spend extra money on our schools is actually an economic driver. Promising to back up our Medicare system and defend bulk-billing actually helps make sure that sick people get to see the doctor when they need to, which actually is good for business.
But when it comes to the Townsville Stadium, last year, we've said that a Federal Government I lead will provide $100 million towards the cost of the project. We've also said, and I was here barely a month ago, our commitment to the upgrading of the Bruce Highway in particular, but not just between Townsville and Mackay. This generates jobs. I'm also keen to make sure that when there are large national defence contracts, that some of that work flows to local contractors and subcontractors within the national contract decision. You know, you hear the stories about road builders from Perth or Melbourne up here doing the work. That's not the answer to Townsville's economic challenges. We should be able to allocate some of the taxes that people in North Queensland pay back to North Queensland.
HOST: What do you think of your chances of winning the seat of Herbert?
SHORTEN: We're competitive. Nationally, we're the underdog. But really when you look at the last number of years of having the Liberal Government, not a lot has happened. I think that the disappointment that the nation feels with Malcolm Turnbull is repeated with the disappointment that the nation feels in the LNP in Townsville.
There was nothing in this Budget for North Queensland. It was just simply forgotten. It was as if North Queensland did not exist. By contrast, we've made it clear that we aren't going to support tax cuts for big businesses, we think now is not the time to provide people already earning an income of a $1 million a year with a $17,000 tax cut. We think our priorities have to be in making sure that our Medicare system is working well, that the people on fixed income pensions or self-funded retirees are not getting the raw end of the deal by Government decisions. If you properly fund TAFE, and if you properly fund our schools, and you make sure that kids get the best start in life and adults seeking to retrain, we can set things up properly. If you build the Townsville stadium, if you commit to get on and build the road projects which help generate jobs in the downturn from the mining boom, that's practical work which helps everyday North Queenslanders.
HOST: We're talking this morning with Bill Shorten, the Labor leader, who is in Townsville today and will be campaigning in the northern city for a number of days. Mr Shorten, if I could move on to a wider issue and that is the issue of asylum seekers. Your local candidate for Herbert, Cathy O'Toole has been a vocal proponent for better treatment for refugees. This seems to be a common sentiment in the party at the moment. Can you explain Labor's solution? You say you want a more humane approach. What does that exactly mean?
SHORTEN: We're an immigrant nation. Other than Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders, we all came from somewhere else. It’s not a crime to want to come to the best country in the world. My family are immigrants. I've got unsuccessful gold miners in the family from the 1850s, I even have a couple of convicts who came out here. Although they didn't have as much choice.
The point about it is, we're all immigrants. But what we can't do, and immigration has been on balance good for this country. But what we can't do is reopen that deadly sea way between Indonesia and Australia. 1,200 people died. What happens is you have vulnerable people who are exploited by criminal gangs. They get on unsafe boats and they drown. Now that is not a humane policy. But what is also happening is that this Government is undermining the strength of offshore processing by taking so long to process the people at Manus and Nauru. We can't have a system where you stop the drowning at sea by having indefinite detention. Labor and Liberal, regardless of who wins after July 2, will not reintroduce onshore processing for people who come by boat from Indonesia. The people smugglers will stay out of business.
HOST: If that is the case, what's the solution then? More money for Nauru, for facilities there?
SHORTEN: I think the solution ultimately is to get these people in those places resettled in third-party nations, other places, and this Government has been very slack at doing that. We've also said that we'll take more refugees overall but we're not going to have them come here in an unsafe means, ferried by criminals. But what we also need to do is make sure that when these people are in Australia's care, directly or indirectly, that they're treated in a humane fashion. I don't think any reasonable Australian would disagree with that. The real answer is though that we won't have the boats coming here by sea. But by the same token, for the people in our care, they have to be treated humanely.
HOST: Are you having those discussions already with other nations that could be those third-party places in place of Manus Island?
SHORTEN: Other nations will deal with the elected government of the day. It's very hard for them to deal with an opposition. But what I do know is that we've spoken to experts around the world, about the best way to deal with this situation. I have no idea that a Labor Government will be tough on people smugglers but humane in the treatment of any person who comes within the care of the Australian Government directly or indirectly.
HOST: Aren't voters right to be a little bit cynical about a Party if candidates are saying one thing and the leadership is saying something else on a matter like this?
SHORTEN: No, I think you will find that the general sentiment when you strip away from the gotcha moments of the media, is people want to see humane treatment. But we know in Labor, and we debated our issues publicly at our national conference, so it was there for all to see, we know that the people smugglers cannot be allowed to come back into business with their deadly and fatal consequences.
What I can assure Australians, but on this occasion even more importantly the criminal gangs in Indonesia, is if Liberal or Labor are elected are a July 2, and it will be one of those two, you're not back in business, full stop. We are not going to let you risk and drown people at sea just so you can make an evil dollar.
HOST: Bill Shorten, my guest this morning here on 630 ABC North Queensland. I wanted to ask you about another issue. Last night on Q&A, in response to a question from the audience, Adam Bandt from the Greens said he'd be willing to form a partnership with Labor in the event of a hung Parliament. This was the question that was asked and the response on the show.
Q&A QUESTIONER: My question is to the panel is: across much of Europe, it's very common for progressive parties to form coalitions in government. What's the likelihood of in the future Labor and the Greens taking on this path?
ADAM BANDT: Working with Labor, I think the big question will be whether Labor wants to do it. We're up for it. And I think you'd want an agreement that delivers a stable and effective and progressive Parliament, and everyone would have to give a bit, because it would have to be reasonable. It means no-one's won by definition. But it's certainly, I think, it would help us kick-start, for example, clean energy.
HOST: That's from Q&A last night. Bill Shorten, would you be prepared to form a partnership with the Greens to form Parliament?
SHORTEN: He's dreaming. Labor will fight this election to form its own government and to form a government in our own right. If you want a progressive government, if Australians want a progressive government, the that tackles waiting lists at hospitals, that will make sure that your children, regardless of the wealth of their parents or the postcode they live in, get a good-quality education, if we want an Australia where it's Medicare care not your credit card which determines the quality of your health care, then vote Labor.
Labor will not be going into coalition with any party. Mr Bandt is saying these things because they've been caught out. The Greens and the Liberals, arch enemies on every political issue, are doing preference deals where the Liberals would preference the Greens, even though the Greens are further away from what the Liberals think on many issues even than Labor. So the Liberals are going to preference the Greens ahead of Labor. And then what's happened is the Greens have said that they are going to look at preferencing, or giving half their preferences, in marginal seats where Liberal and Labor are head-to-head to help the Liberal candidate get elected. They're trying to draw attention away from the fact they're doing a deal.
If you want to a progressive government in this country, if you want real action on climate change, if you want to have Australian jobs promoted, if you want to defend penalty rates, there's only one party to vote for, the Labor Party. We will be forming a government, if we win, in our own right.
HOST: But as we know, a hung Parliament, from recent examples, it's not out of the question. Is it something you're thinking about?
SHORTEN: Well, I can't be any clearer than the answer I just gave you. And in Australia, we have a system where the worst thing that could happen for working people, for middle -class people, is that that the progressive vote splits. And the Greens don't really care about beating the Liberals, they're just competing with the Labor Party. Let’s be clear, the Greens aren't running seriously in any seat against the Liberal Party. So this is an argument where they try to say to Labor voters, you can have your cake and eat it to, you can vote for us and really it's a vote for Labor. It is absolutely not. A vote for Greens, in marginal seats in Victoria for example, will be funnelled to the Liberal Party. And a vote for Liberal in the inner-city seat also be funnelled to the Greens. It's politics. It's cynical, it shows the Greens are a political party.
But more importantly, in my conversation with Australians, and they're the ones who've got a weigh up what's in their interests after the election, a vote for Labor is a vote for real action on climate change, it's a vote for proper education funding, for schools, it’s a vote for Medicare and hospitals and health funding, it's a vote for Australian jobs, it's a vote for the regions. It's not a coincidence that I'm the leader who started my campaign in northern Tasmania, I'm basing myself for nearly a week in North Queensland, because I understand that the future of this country isn't just in three big cities on the east coast, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane. It's in strong regions. It's the quality of life you get in North Queensland which I want to hang onto.
HOST: How many more times will we see you in this region during a very long election campaign?
HOST: Bill Shorten, thank you for your time this morning.
SHORTEN: Great to talk to you, thank you.