THURSDAY, 28 NOVEMBER 2013
SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s Broken Promise on Schools Funding; Senkaku Islands; Proposed Sale of Qantas; Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION, BILL SHORTEN: Good morning everyone. It’s great to be at Ainslie Primary School, with Andrew Leigh and Gai Brodtmann; Labor’s team for the House of Representatives in the ACT. We are here today to again reiterate to the Coalition and to Prime Minister Abbott, don’t break your election promises on education. This is a massive breach of trust, not between Liberal and Labor, but between the Coalition and every school parent in Australia, every school child in Australia and every teacher in Australia.
Before the election, Tony Abbott clearly wanted to shut down any points of difference between the Coalition and Labor on education. It was one of the issues where the Coalition was really on the back foot on their education policies – what they did in early August, is they said, the Coalition said before the election and they repeatedly said it in August - before the election they said there is a unity ticket in education between the Coalition and Labor, a unity ticket. The Coalition promised before the election, it didn’t matter who you voted for, Coalition or Labor, they said it didn’t matter who you voted for, you would get the same deal in education after the election. Well that was clearly a lie, it’s clearly a broken promise. Ten weeks since the election the Coalition has surprised everyone and said in fact that the deals that have been done with the National Catholic Commission, with state governments, territory governments are not going to be honoured, that the promises have been broken. And this is a government who said they would be a government of no surprises and no excuses in education the Coalition is now a broken promise, with nasty surprises and pathetic excuses.
Every state and territory has a right to be outraged and angry. Every parent, every teacher has a right to be upset for their children that they look after and want the best for in life. The Coalition Government can’t be trusted on education and they’ve broken a promise which we believe they need to reverse, they need to keep their word, they need to be the Government they told Australians they would be. In fact, since the election Australians are discovering when it comes to education and the best interests of the school children of Australia this is a government who is not what they told Australians they would be after the election.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: When it comes to the funding, the politics of it, would it have been better when PEFO came out to explain why $1.2 billion was coming out of that education funding?
SHORTEN: Oh my goodness. The Coalition since they’ve gotten in [at the] election are acting more like a bingo caller, calling out numbers trying to distract everyone from the substance. I haven’t forgotten, there’s not a teacher in Australia who will forget, there’s not a parent in Australia who will forget, there’s not a Liberal premier in Australia who will forget the Coalition before the election said no daylight, they said you can vote Liberal or Coalition, or you can vote Labor, you get the same deal. That’s a lie. The Coalition has broken its promise to every parent and every school. Remember before the election the Coalition said there would be no surprises and there would be no excuses, now there are pathetic excuses. As Premier O’Farrell has said about the Coalition, this Government’s got to stop acting like an Opposition, and start acting like a government. It’s got to stop breaking its promises and keep its word to every school in Australia, including these great kids here at Ainslie Primary.
JOURNALIST: Why was that $1.2 billion put into general revenue?
SHORTEN: I think that the question here is ,why is the Coalition breaking its promise on billions of dollars? -
JOURNALIST: But why is the $1.2billion –
SHORTEN: I will come to that. The Coalition said that they would honour four years funding exactly the same as Labor - we’re outraged they wouldn’t do the full six years. The Coalition said they’d honour the deals we’d done with the states before the election, now they are saying they won’t. This Government is not keeping its word on education, it’s breaking its promises. In terms of what they say now, Labor said to three governments; Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, we’ve got a good deal for you, you put in a dollar, we’ll give you two extra dollars.
What concerned Labor before the last election and some of your newspapers reported it, so it’s not exactly a secret, you can’t re-wrap August’s present as November’s news when it’s already out there in the paper. What we said is that when Queensland and Western Australia wouldn’t guarantee not to rob their own education systems and replace it with new money from the Commonwealth tax-payer, we said that’s not a deal. We said, how on earth can you say that you’ll take Commonwealth money but then rob the systems of your own state money. That’s not a deal. We we’re very clear. What we won’t do is let the Government off the hook – they said before the election, and your papers and your media reported it.
Unlike Christopher Pyne who criticised you yesterday, we don’t think you’re making it up. On August 4, Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott said you can vote Coalition, you’ll get the same deal as Labor, no worries no problems. They said it again and again and again on their policies on education – this is a broken promise, it’s not just the Opposition saying it. Premier O’Farrell – don’t think he’s voted Labor in the last couple of decades. The National Catholic Education Commission - they’re not puppets of the Opposition, they represent a dynamic, non-government sector of literally millions of Australian school students. They are saying, we expect the Coalition to keep its word. This is not a fight between the Government and the Opposition, this is the Opposition speaking up on behalf of millions of school kids and their families, their teachers and the education systems. What you have on one side of this argument is the Coalition who is breaking their promises. They can’t be trusted.
This is a matter of honesty. Tony Abbott before the election says, you can have Coalition or Labor on education, no difference. The reality is there is a big difference. We are on the side of every school student in Australia, we are on the side of 9,5000 schools in Australia. The Opposition is speaking up on behalf of state governments; Liberal and Labor without fear or favour. We’re speaking up on behalf of Catholic schools as well as Government schools. It’s not good enough, ten weeks after an election, to break your promise on something as fundamental as education. Education is one of the sources of Australia’s future, it’s important to every parent and the Coalition should not be breaking their promise full stop. There’s no wriggle room here for the Coalition, you’re either going to keep your promise or you’re going to break it, there’s no middle-ground.
JOURNALIST: What is the difference between what was offered before the election from you guys and what they are offering now given that there is $1.2 billion less and they are throwing in an extra $230 million?
SHORTEN: Before the election Labor said that schools should be funded according to need. This was a process of several years of hard work. Before the election we said every child, doesn’t matter if you go to one of the richest schools in Australia, or one of the poorest schools in Australia, doesn’t matter the circumstances of your parents. We said that schools should be funded according to the proportion of kids who don’t have English as a first language at home, according to disability, according to the size of the school, according to regional Australia, according to the circumstances of the community in which the school is based – needs based funding. The first proper overhaul in decades, all the educational experts gave it a tick. Now we know that in opposition, the Coalition did no homework. You know they’d get a FAIL mark for the homework they did on education. Before the election they scrambled to re-group, they said oh well, we’re getting flogged on education, because no one trusts the Coalition on education, that’s true. They said we better quickly borrow Labor’s clothes on education, Labor’s policies, so there’s no difference so there mightn’t be a last minute swing back to Labor. So they lied to the Australian electorate on education. Now what they’ve said on education after the election is actually what we said before the election is we’re going to try and muddy that up, we didn’t really say it. What is remarkable is there’s footage of not just one interview, there’s dozens of interviews, your own media outlets wrote it, and wrote it and re-wrote it. So now they’re saying they will only guarantee funding for the deals for one year. Now you’ve seen the Catholic Education Commission, you’ve seen Barry O’Farrell, you’ve seen Premier Napthine from Victoria say, hang on a second, you can’t have this sort of chopping and changing. Schools are not opinion polls and it can’t change in a 24 hour news cycle. Schools are for the long-term. We were in a classroom full of preps and grade ones. Parents plan for the 13 and 15 years of their kids’ education; two income families, sole parent incomes, trying to work hard to educate their kids over 12 years. We expect parents to plan for their kids futures. We expect governments to plan for their kids future. This Coalition cannot be trusted on education, they are the promise breakers of Australian politics. It’s their problem, it’s their honesty on the line. They need to reverse their position and honour the deals they said they would do before the election.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten in the Senkaku Islands dispute, do you agree with the US defence secretary that Japan is exercising an appropriate level of constraint or do you think Australia is right to be making the comments that it has so far?
SHORTEN: Well, I will start with the second part of your question first. We want the Federal Government to handle its foreign affairs competently. I think it’s fair to say that the Federal Government has got a number of spot fire which have emerged. Indonesia, how they handle this complex situation. The Senkaku Islands. They’ve promised to have a free trade agreement within 12 months with three countries in Asia. We just want the Federal Government to get it right. We think that they should explain their policies to the Parliament and to the Australian people. We’re not going to try and score partisan, political points. We accept they’ve had a rocky start in foreign affairs, we want them to get it right, and we will be a constructive opposition.
JOURNALIST: Have they got it right so far?
SHORTEN: Well, let’s see what their explanations are, I’m not going to throw rocks from the sidelines. This is a complex issue, it’s not a new dispute, there’s been claims to sovereignty debated for a very long period of time. What I do know, I’m the Leader of the Opposition, but I’m an Australian first and I want our Government to get foreign affairs right. I think like most Australian’s I’ve noticed there are a lot of hotspots at the moment. We just want the government to get it right and we’re not going to throw rocks from the sidelines for the sake of throwing rocks. The national interest is important.
JOURNALIST: Should we oppose China’s actions?
SHORTEN: Well I just said I’m not going to start coaching from the grandstands. We’d like to get a briefing from the Government about what they’re doing. I think if you want bipartisanship in foreign policy it’s important that the government work with the opposition, but today I’m not going to be throwing rocks.
JOURNALIST: What sort of threat is this to our free trade agreement which we’ve been working on for years?
SHORTEN: Well, the governments made a promise - I guess that’s a little ominous in the light of the education promises they’ve broken - they’ve made a promise to have three free trade agreements ready in the next 12 months. Let’s just see how they’re going, their times not up yet, let’s just see how they go.
JOURNALIST: Treasurer Joe Hockey is flagging a softening of the foreign ownership restrictions for Qantas; will Labor support such a move?
SHORTEN: I and Labor believe that Qantas should stay in Australian hands. We need to have a national carrier. I believe the national carrier is an important part of Australia’s national security, an important part of Australians independence, independent nation in the world. Labor does not, I believe, support changing allowing majority foreign ownership. I would say to the Treasurer these are important matters, they’re also market sensitive matters. I think it’s important; it’s different from being in opposition to being in government. The day of the Coalition thought bubble in opposition, the expansive lunchtime conversation I think needs to be replaced by more disciplined contributions. Are the Government going to change the sale act? Do they have a plan to change the sale act? I think it’s important Australians and the markets know what the Government is thinking. I’ve asked the Coalition to spare us the thought bubbles, just tell us what you’re actually doing, but in terms of Qantas, I and Labor believe Qantas should be held in Australian hands, full stop.
JOURNALIST: Are there grounds of public investment in Qantas?
SHORTEN: Well it is important that we have a national carrier, if the Coalition, if the governments got some ideas and they want to engage constructively they’re welcome to sit down and talk to us about his plans. I think it’s a bit difficult asking the Opposition to respond to every thought bubble. I mean is this a calculated attempt by the Treasurer to flush out the economic dries in his party and try and manoeuvre them to be in the wrong or the right? I don’t know the full agenda of the Government here. What Labor believes is a national carrier in Australian hands, that’s our starting principle we will employ on any issue or proposition which is presented before the Parliament.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Coalition should agree to a code of conduct with Indonesia?
SHORTEN: When it comes to negotiating with Indonesia, first of all we are pleased that at last there’s the first ray of sunlight. It’s been a very difficult time over the last 10, 12, 14 days. We’re not going to give the government advice from the grandstand about how they negotiate a code of conduct. We would expect again, I mean the Coalition wants bipartisanship, we’re happy to give bipartisanship, we’ve been doing that for a period of days, but what we would say to the coalition is if we want to make the Parliament effective, what Australians want is less of what we saw of the negativity, and more about what we can do to work together from a national interest. If there are propositions in foreign policy, they should sit down and talk to us and were going to do them the courtesy of not throwing big rocks form the sidelines about what they should do in the next step. The relationship with Indonesia is important, offence has been caused, let’s hope, let’s hope now that we’re starting to restore what’s been a very difficult last 14 days.
JOURNALIST: Senate Estimates has heard that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is likely to actually make a profit, not a loss, in future years, is there any thought to try to segregate that to within any deal you’d like you might do around carbon tax pricing and so on. Is that going to be a particular focus for Labor?
SHORTEN: Labor offered to repeal the carbon price but in return to make sure its replaced by effective real action in terms of tackling pollution in our environment. We think the Clean Energy Finance Corporation’s been doing a good job. Your own question and the Estimates evidence tends to reinforce Labor’s conviction. Australians know that that with more extreme weather, they know that they’ve seen more extreme weather, each decade has been successively hotter than the last. I am terribly concerned we have a Government in Canberra who repudiates the science, dismisses the experts and has no plan to deal with the future on carbon pollution. So what we are doing with this Coalition Government is we are giving the kids we met today at Ainslie Primary School - the adults in Parliament they rely upon, are not dealing with the tough issues.
JOURNALIST: On Qantas, should there be any tax-payer funded assistance?
SHORTEN: I appreciate the questions as if we are the Government and we have all the answers, what I would say to you about Qantas, is Labor’s principle is that Qantas should remain in Australian hands and it should be a national carrier. If the Coalition is seriously considering amending the act, they should come clean and tell us, rather than send thought bubbles up into the atmosphere. In terms of other propositions they have for supporting the national carrier, I think they need to engage in a dialogue. The Parliament of Australia is where these matters should be discussed, not in thought-bubble lunches. We would just say for the certainty of the Qantas workforce, the people who fly Qantas, for the shareholders in Qantas, we would say to the Federal Coalition Government, let’s not just talk about issues, what’s your plan? What’s your action? Will you guarantee that Qantas will stay in Australian hands?
Thanks very much everyone.
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