Bill's Transcripts

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
DOORSTOP INTERVIEW


MONDAY, 2 DECEMBER 2013

CANBERRA

SUBJECT/S: The Abbott Government’s broken promise on schools funding; debt ceiling.  


 

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION, BILL SHORTEN: Good afternoon everyone.  I’m here this afternoon with the Shadow Minister for Education, Kate Ellis to talk about the latest saga in the Coalition’s election promise breaking antics in education. Today the Opposition asked no less than seven questions trying to get the Government to confirm one thing. There’s one thing that matters to Australian parents who have got children at schools. Can the Abbott Government keep its election promise that no school will be worse off?

Today after some pretty energetic debate in the Parliament, no Australian is any clearer as to whether the Abbot Government intends to fix up its broken promise. Before the election on August 2, the Abbott Government, when they were in Opposition, made one promise above all else in education. They said that no school, no individual school will be worse off as a result of a Coalition Government’s education policies. Today, I mean we’ve seen this rollercoaster which the Coalition is putting every Australian school child, their parent and teacher on, this roller coaster of, will they support needs based funding? We are are no clearer on that. Will they support proper indexation of school funds by states? No clearer on that. But most importantly, all weasel words, all political debating points aside, all the parliamentary games, there’s one question which Tony Abbott refuses to answer, there’s one promise that he’s clearly not keeping. The Coalition government just need to say now to Australians what they said before the election, that no school will be worse off. The Coalition has broken a major election promise, not to Labor, but to three and a half million kids in schools all across Australia and their parents. It’s not good enough to break your election promises on education. I might ask my colleague Kate Ellis to say a few words.

KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Thanks Bill. This is a Government which is so loose with the truth when it comes to education policy that they’re now not content just to break a very clear election commitment, but now they’re trying to argue that that promise was never made to begin with. Let’s be very clear, this Government pledged that each and every school would get exactly the same amount of funding under their Government then under Labor if we were re-elected. Now they cannot make that guarantee in the Parliament or outside of the Parliament today. They cannot reassure the parents and students of schools right around Australia they will honour their word. Now unless in the latest agreements that they’ve made, they have guaranteed that state governments cannot cut education budgets, they cannot make that promise. Unless they have guaranteed that state governments will make the equal co-contributions that they would have had to make under Labor, they cannot reach that promise. And unless they can guarantee a three percent increase in state education funds each and every year, they cannot make that promise. So what we hear is more excuses, more weasel words, more tricks and games from the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and from Christopher Pyne. What we do not here today as we didn’t hear yesterday, them repeating their promise that no school will be worse off under their Government. They didn’t repeat it because they can’t.

 

JOURNALIST: Bill Shorten you said before the election you would try to restart negotiations with those three hold out jurisdictions. where would have you found the $1.2 billion to put that funding back on the table?

SHORTEN: I think your question recognises that everyone knew before the election, everyone knew before the election, that a majority of states and territories, the Catholic system and the independent school system did have deal with the national government. I’m grateful for your question because in it is the assumption recognised by everyone in Australia, recognised probably by the man on the moon, the only people who don’t recognise it are the Coalition, there were deals done and for the last month we’ve had the unedifying sceptical of every day, a new policy from the Coalition on education. There is no doubt that the latest chapter in the sort of Comedy Channel episodes of the Coalition education policy is you know, yesterday Tony Abbott was saying well you may have thought I made a promise, or you may have wanted me to make a promise, but I will decide the only promises I intend to keep. He’s moved from read my words to read my lips to read my mind –

 

JOURNALIST: Would have you been able to find –

 

SHORTEN: I’m coming to it but there is an important issue here. The important issue very straight forward is it’s Labor whose got the best ideas on education, which is needs based funding. Of course we wanted to do deals with all states and jurisdictions, but also today we saw the Government engaging in some sort of mass hypnosis of the Press Gallery, who they blamed last week for not understanding them, the people of Australia. What they are trying to convince people is they’ve said about education that somehow they’ve had to come and sort it all out. There were three jurisdictions, covering two in every 10 children, who hadn’t yet signed up to the education reforms. What Labor wanted, what Australians wanted, what the parents in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia want, is to know that if the Commonwealth Government going to provide extra Commonwealth taxpayer money, you’re money and mine, we want to make sure there not being treated as mugs and thereby giving money in the front door for those systems and then the state governments take their own money out of it. How does that help kids? How does that increase funding? So what we heard today is the latest panicked move from a hapless Coalition on education. You know they were holding the line, Christopher Pyne said we’ll only guarantee one year’s funding, then we’ll go back to the Howard years, if that was some sort of land of hope and glory. You know, last week they were saying only 2014, they’ve realised over the weekend, their polling shows them that they’re in a terrible position, now they’re trying to Band-Aid together some new education policy. The problem is that if you’re a parent in those states that you just referred to, you’re not guaranteed that the states won’t cut the money, you’re not guaranteed the indexation of funds, you’re not guaranteed to have needs based funding. Education isn’t just about the money Tony Abbott, it’s about making sure that parents are confident that their kids, through needs based funding, get all their capacities developed. I’m a plain speaking person. If Tony Abbott said before the election no school would be worse off, well I’m a plain speaking person, if it was good enough to say to get people to try and vote for you, it’s a good enough promise to keep right now.

 

JOURNALIST: Obviously you are not happy with Tony Abbott’s rhetoric, but he has put in $1.2 billion and there maybe unforeseen events that may happen over the next four years, but what actual promise has he broken as of this moment?

SHORTEN: He promised that no individual school would be worse off. He said that he would match Labor’s agreement. They said they would go with Labor’s needs based funding now the only way he can go with –

JOURNALIST: Did he say they would go with needs based funding?

 

SHORTEN: They’ve said they support needs based funding, and if they’re saying they’re not going with needs based funding well that’s a front page story.

JOURNALIST: But are you saying it’s a broken promise on needs based funding?

SHORTEN: I’m saying they’ve broken the promise, very specifically. They said on August 2nd and repeatedly since then that no school would be worse off. Now what they’re saying is –

JOURNALIST: How can you tell that any school is wore of? They’ve got four years to go.

 

SHORTEN: David with the best will in the world I don’t mean to interrupt your questions with the answer, what I’m saying is they have said that no school will be worse off. What they’re now saying is their not signing up to the needs based funding model, they’ve said they are going to renegotiate agreements. They’ve said to some states that we will give you money with no strings attached. I heard the Prime Minister say no strings attached in answer to a question. Let me decode in Abbott speak what no strings attached means. It means here’s the money, we’re not going to make you go to the standards Labor set. We want to have loadings for children who’ve got Indigenous backgrounds, who have language other than English not spoken at home, if they are at small schools, if they live in postcodes where there is a high degree of poverty. We want to make sure kids get needs based funding.

 

JOURNALIST: So Mr Shorten in answer to the question before, was that Labor would have had to borrow to bring all the states in and the Abbott Government is going to have to borrow. Now you would see it as an investment and I’m sure many would, but what the Abbott has done today has in fact increased the deficit hasn’t it?

SHORTEN: There’s no doubt that the Abbott Government are doing things on the back of the envelope now. There’s interesting questions to ask them. If they were so strong –

 

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

 

SHORTEN: Well, they’re going to have to borrow, they’re clearly going to have to borrow money to pay for something which they haven’t scheduled. But I would say to you this, how is it that this is a government who says they’re going to be calm and act like adults? Last week they had a knee jerk reaction on GrainCorp, now what we see is over the weekend, they had to have read the editorials that your outlets wrote about them, they’d have heard. You only have to open a window anywhere in Australia to hear the cries of outrage from parents and teachers about what’s happening. Now they’re just flinging money at problems. They’ve only been in government for three months and they’re just chucking money to try and Band-Aid issues. All the Abbott government has to do is stick to their election promise. They said before the election, no school worse off, that’s all they’ve got to do. It’s a lot easier if you stick to the truth, then you don’t have to invent all this other stuff.

 

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] Kate Ellis a question on benchmarking, governments making a big issue of cutting red tape. Are they also cutting accountability in an educational outcome sense?

 

ELLIS: Absolutely. I think it’s important that we unpack what is meant by ‘no strings attached’. We’ve already said that ‘no strings attached’ means that state governments will be free to cut funding, and not to invest at the rate that they would have otherwise been required to be. But beyond that, ‘no strings attached’ means no accountability, ‘no strings attached’ means you don’t have to work on teacher quality, you don’t have to work on school level engagement with the local community, you don’t have to meet any of the five areas of reform that were part of the Gonski recommendations. So when you say ‘no strings attached’, that means here’s a wad of cash, do with it what you like, there are no guarantees for parents or for taxpayers that there is any form of accountability in place at all.

 

JOURNALIST: But if that’s the case, shouldn’t voters blame the state government if the state government does the wrong thing? Why should voters blame a federal government?

 

ELLIS: The voters of Australia were told at the last election that Tony Abbott was on a ‘unity ticket’ when it came to school funding. Now a part of that unity ticket would have been the crucial requirement that state governments do not cut funds, and that in order to get additional federal funds, state governments have to increase their own investment in education. If you do not have those requirements, you cannot guarantee that any school will not be worse off. In fact that is something that Eric Abetz has already admitted in the Senate today, that there is no doubt that if you don’t have those requirements in place, and if you don’t have the same model, there will be schools that go backwards, and those schools are rightly appalled at this Prime Minister for not keeping his word.

 

JOURNALIST: Just to clarify Mr Shorten, you were offering Victoria some tinkering of the regulations around Gonski before they signed up is that right?

 

SHORTEN: Is there any particular, specific –

 

JOURNALIST: I’m just checking with you, were you offering some –

 

SHORTEN: We did a great deal with Victoria. The Victorian Government, and by the way I’m glad you’re asking me about an agreement I did with Victoria which the Coalition says didn’t happen, but you clearly know, as Denis Napthine does, as everyone in Victoria knows, did happen. So can we at least in answering the question, get rid of the fairy tale, from the Abbott book of fairy tales that somehow deals weren’t done. Your question indicates that you to believe there was an arrangement in Victoria. In terms of what we did with various states, is despite their sort of 1970’s rhetoric about command and control, and despite them calling Adrian Piccoli a Marxist or whatever, let’s forget all that student politician rubbish, I’m a straight speaker. What we did with Victoria is they were concerned to make sure that they would administer a needs based system, and we said fine, and that’s what we did. We worked out a deal.

 

It was very interesting that the Coalition in Victoria know their colleagues in Canberra well enough that on the Friday when Tony Abbott said you can trust us, no need to do any deals. On the Saturday Dennis Napthine’s team said ‘Bill, we want to do a deal with you’. Because you know what, they don’t trust the Coalition on education, nor should we. What concerns me about what we’ve seen today is that last Friday, the Education Ministers of Australia stormed out, from the whole rainbow, from Green to National to Liberal to Labor, and from what they heard from Christopher Pyne, they said this is a major problem. Over the weekend, newspapers and the public have said this is terrible. Today you’ve seen an attempt to try and bandage up, you know, the wounded education policies they have. But the Coalition just can’t bring themselves to do one thing that all of us in Australia want. Forget the politics, Australians, I’m a parent, we’re all parents or we know kids at school, we just want the Coalition government to say we’ll keep our promise, we won’t break it, no school will be worse off, as we said before the election. That’s the only test the Coalition, this is not tricky politics, you know who heard what promise when and where. Straight question, Mr Abbott are you breaking your promise, are you going to make sure that schools, or are you going to keep your promise and no school will be worse off. Until he passes that bar, he’s broken his promise, that’s it.

 

JOURNALIST: Would you regard the deals announced today as a national funding system?

 

SHORTEN: Oh what the Liberals are chest beating about, it they’re saying that they’re just going to give money to anyone. That’s not a national system, that’s a national Band Aid. What is the point of handing out your hard earned taxes and not asking the states to do anything for it?

 

JOURNALIST: Just quickly on the debt ceiling, is Labor any closer to a deal with the Coalition on whether to increase the debt ceiling limit or to remove it altogether, given that it looks like they’re in serious talks with the Greens at least?

 

SHORTEN: Well you know you’ve got to love the Coalition. This is not the government that people thought they were voting for at the election. They said that you don’t fix debt by increasing debt, now they want to almost double the national credit card. They said that Australia was open for business, and now the potential purchaser of GrainCorp, they’ve got to get on their bike and go home. They’ve said that there would be no school worse off in education, and now they can’t give that promise. And now on debt, I remember the Coalition saying that the Greens are economic fringe dwellers, they bagged Labor for being photographed with them. Now what you’ve got is, just when you thought there were no more surprises from this Coalition government, now they’re in deep negotiations with the Greens to have no debt ceiling at all. Labor’s view is very clear, we will support a reasonable increase, alternatively just get the government of the day to treat the Australian people with trust, no more secrecy, plain dealing. Labor will always deal with the Government in the national interest but if you won’t tell people what’s going on, if you want a blank cheque, if you want to do secret deals with the Greens, well that’s your business not mine.
ENDS

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