THURSDAY, 4 OCTOBER 2018
SUBJECTS: Labor’s National Preschool and Kindy Program; Liberal division on climate policy; gas; TPP; Victorian emergency services; Indigenous affairs; population policy; Russia
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Hello everyone, it’s great to be here at Monash Childcare, meeting all the kids and the hardworking early childhood educators. It's great to be here with Premier Dan Andrews and his State Minister and State Members of Parliament. Accompanying me of course my Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek, our spokesperson for Early Childhood Education Amanda Rishworth and Labor's dynamic candidate for Chisholm, Jennifer Yang.
I am really proud to announce that if Labor is successful at the next federal election, we will guarantee universal preschool access for every Australian three year old and four year old child. We believe that the best start in life we can give our kids when they go to school is giving them two years of universal access to preschool, all of the experts agree, all of the international studies show, other countries have already done this - if we give our three year olds and four year olds access to preschool education then we are giving them the best jumpstart at school. All of the results show that children who are able to get two years of preschool education, preschool learning, just do better in school. Australia’s been slipping back in the rankings, in maths, science, in writing and reading. One of the things which is influencing that is that the rest of the world has been moving ahead and been implementing universal access for three year olds to preschool, what we want to do is give Aussie kids the same chance to be the best they can be in life. We want to hand on a great deal to the next generation of Australians. Today’s announcement is good news for kids, good news for their parents, because it helps with their cost of living, and it’s actually good news for Australia’s future. I’d like to hand over to Dan Andrews to talk a bit further about Victoria and what they’re doing for preschool kids.
DAN ANDREWS, PREMIER OF VICTORIA: Thanks Bill. First of all thanks so much for being here today and I want to thank Bill Shorten for the leadership that he’s offering in terms of a federal government if Labor’s successful at the next election and being a proper partner in giving our kids the best start in life. Today’s announcements are all about giving every child, every chance to get the best start in life and providing a big help to household budgets. If Labor is re-elected on 24 November we will provide universal three year old kinder, right across our state, so that every three year old can get those skills, that learning, be ready for school and get all the benefits later in life that come from a proper early childhood education. This is a substantial reform, and one that we are absolutely delighted to offer as part of the choice that voters will make on the 25 November. We know that 90 per cent of brain development in our kids occurs before the age of five and we know that families are doing it tough as well, so many families - 50,000, 60,000 kids - are locked out of three year old kinder currently across our state because of the prohibitive costs, that’s if you can find a three year old kinder close to where you live. We’re going to change all that, we’re going to roll out progressively so that by 2022 every single three year old across Victoria will have access to at least five hours of three year old kinder each week. Some will have more because they’re already offering some services, and then through the balance of the decade we will roll it out so that every single three year old, all 80,000 of them, will have access to 15 hours of three year old kinder. It will be offered on the same basis that four year old kinder is offered, where there’s up to a 65 per cent subsidy, saving hardworking families around $3,500 each and every year. Put simply, this is about giving every child every chance at the best start in life and providing a really big help to household budgets. I think we’re more than happy to take your questions now.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) what’s the criteria for those families?
ANDREWS: So there’s a number of pre-existing criteria that operate for four year old kinder, so whether it’s concession card holders, Indigenous families, those lower-income families will be able to receive three year old kinder on the same basis, a quarter of them, on the same basis as four year old kinder is offered. The rest of those kids and their families will receive a 65 per cent subsidy, exactly the same as four year old kinder is offered.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, can you just outline how the $1.75 billion will be spent, over what period, and does it seem like a lot of money, are you only just talking two years or are you making the states do the bulk of the heavy lifting. Is that what this is about?
SHORTEN: What this is about is making sure that our three and four year olds get the best start in life, that’s what this is about. Labor federally has made some tough decisions. We’re going to pay for our promises by winding back the unfair features of negative gearing, by making sure that in this country we spend more money on our early childhood education than we do on tax subsidies for property investors. That's how we’re going to pay for it. Over 10 years, the Parliamentary Budget Office, the independent Parliamentary Budget Office, has costed our three year old preschool universal access guarantee at $9.8 billion. In terms of over the Forward Estimates, on top of what's already been budgeted, we would fund an extra $1.76 billion, so when we look at that number, you also have to take into account that there is some money already allocated for next year for four year olds. But let's be clear here: this is about choices. Australians are sick and tired of short-term thinking from their governments. What they want to see is what's the long-term plan, what's the vision? I think the best thing, we all know this as parents intuitively already, but the best thing we can do not only as parents, but as a nation, is to give the next generation the best start in life, that's why I'm so enthusiastic about this plan.
JOURNALIST: Are you confident you can get all the states on board, assuming you need cooperation from the states?
SHORTEN: Well, plenty of states are already thinking about it and the fact that Premier Dan Andrews, in the education state, is already working on their policy to provide for their part of the funding for preschool shows that I think states will get on board. What state premier would want to stand in the way of making sure that three and four year olds get universal access? So what I see the role of the Federal Government, is not to be at war with the states but to be an enabler. What we're saying to parents here today when they say, ‘what does this all mean for us?’, is it means that a good partnership, between Dan Andrews and myself, will take pressure off the family budget, and even more importantly than that, just means that we're making sure the kids get the best out of their educational life. This change in my opinion is akin to lifting the school attendance age. What we are doing is effectively creating the notion, that Australian kids, the next generation, will get fifteen years of exposure to learning and education. I actually came to this kindergarten back in 1971, so I'm returning to where preschool for me started, but what I understand is I want every child to have access to quality preschool.
JOURNALIST: Premier can I just ask you about funding for the state as well, so that's $5 billion over ten years, does that include capital funding? How would you increase the facilities that are across the state?
ANDREWS: It does. There will need to be a massive building program and that's factored into the cost we have provided to you. We will have more to say about the detail of that quite soon, and of course, early childhood education starts and ends really with fantastic staff, so we are going to need to train and recruit many, many additional staff, that's factored into the costs as well, and we will have more to say about that in coming weeks also.
This is a profound shift and to think that we've got in Bill Shorten and Labor the sort of national leadership that our economy and communities and families need, that makes me very proud today. Our costings - all the detail will be there for you to see before 24 November, Matt, but we will have more to say about a massive infrastructure agenda, lots of classrooms to build and lots of jobs that will come from that, and then of course you've got to recruit and train the staff and we'll have more detail to come on that also.
JOURNALIST: So if you both win office, will the Victorian scheme then become redundant if it'll be paid by the Federal Government?
ANDREWS: No, no, we've put forward our costings and our plan based on the current policy settings of the Liberal Federal Government, so we're doing it all. If Labor is successful nationally, then of course we would have a partnership with them, and Bill and I would be able to provide even more for our young kids because some of the money that we've allocated to this task would be able to be invested elsewhere.
JOURNALIST: But the same scheme? But Victoria would probably contribute less?
ANDREWS: Correct. The way four year olds work is ten hours from us, five hours from the Commonwealth. Whilst we welcome an extension of just one year from the Federal Government, one year is not enough. We need to plan for the future, we need to build for the future. We need to give these dedicated staff that are here with us here today and so many hundreds of thousands more the sense of certainty and security that we value their work, we value the skills that they embed and the life opportunities that they fundamentally underpin, so a partnership is always best, and that's what we are very hopeful for. That's a matter for the Australian people and indeed the Victorian community, but these are the positive plans that will be central to the choice that Victorians make on 24 November.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it's feasible to have a similar participation rate for three year old as you have at four year old currently?
ANDREWS: I think it is if you do the hard work. So we are rolling this out in a number of regional Local Government Areas and I think you've got the list. That's principally because they've got the classroom space to be able to do it. That's in 2021 and 2022 - by 2022, every single three year old across Victoria will have access to at least five hours and then we will progressively add to go to ten and fifteen so that roughly all 80,000 three year olds in any given year will be able to get those fifteen precious hours of learning to give them every chance at the best start in life and to help household budgets.
JOURNALIST: What's the saving for parents who were going to have to pay for it otherwise?
ANDREWS: $3,500. It's about $5,000 at the moment if you can find someone in your local area. If you are in that hard-working family with jobs, you're in that part of the cohort, then you're talking about a roughly $3,500 discount.
SHORTEN: Can I just add to the question about, is it feasible. I don't know if Australian parents realise, but in other countries around the world they are already doing what we're talking about. The reality is that only 57 per cent of our three year olds are in any form of long day care or preschool, when it's actual particular preschool, it's only 15 per cent. But the OECD average for three year olds is 78 per cent. The reality is that France has been doing this for 30 years, New Zealand adopted this in 2007, the UK has already adopted this too, Norway, Ireland. Australian parents are getting shortchanged by the lack of vision in early childhood education from the Liberals in Canberra.
There was also the point which was made about partnership. I think it is a shame that Treasurer Morrison, now Prime Minister Morrison, has only said there would be one more year of funding for four year old preschool, so there is actually two debates going on. You've got Labor's plan, the vision for the next generation. We're not only going to fund four year old preschool because of our economic reforms, we're going to fund three year old preschool.
But Morrison and his team won't even commit to more than one year funding for four year olds. It's not good enough. I don't expect the Liberals to do everything that we're going to do in preschool because that's just not their priority, but they should at least guarantee the future of four year old preschool funding full stop. It shouldn't be a political football.
JOURNALIST: Premier, where do you find $5 billion?
ANDREWS: All of our commitments will be detailed for you to see before 24 November. We've got a very strong budget, we're running strong surpluses, the real question here is, can Victoria and can Australia afford not to do this. These are not costs, these are profound investments in giving every child every chance at the best start in life and helping families with household budgets that are under very real pressure. This is a really important reform, I think we rank in the OECD, 24 out of 26. I think the World Bank did a study recently, there's 11 countries out of 200 that have such poor investment. We can do much better than this and a Labor Government, if returned in Victoria and certainly in partnership with a Labor Government nationally, we'll get this job done.
JOURNALIST: You don't know where the money is going to come from or you're just not willing to say yet?
ANDREWS: All costed, all funded, and all will be put together for you, every single one of the announcements we make before November 24.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just on cost of living. You've expressed concern about rising gas prices. Have you spoken to Mr Andrews about his policy of not fast-tracking onshore gas exploration in Victoria?
SHORTEN: I certainly think that the biggest problem when it comes to energy prices in Australia in actually a lack of national energy policy. See the real issue is, if you want to look at the number one driver, long before we get to particular projects and particular sources of energy, is why on earth would anyone invest in new energy generation in Australia, when the Morrison Government can't tell you what the rules are? All of the experts have made it perfectly clear: the lack of certainty around investment policy discourages new investment.
JOURNALIST: But talking specifically about gas though in Victoria -
SHORTEN: No I'll come to that - I did say I'd come to gas. But I think it's important that people realise the energy problem in Australia is very complex, there's no silver bullet. And what the major driver of the problem is: is this Morrison Government is at war with renewable energy. They've got no idea how to handle it, they've still got all those deep divisions. I mean we saw the current Prime Minister say that they were going to meet their, you know international commitments in a canter, except there is no science behind it. There's no evidence of that. When it comes to gas I think the Northern Territory is the most promising source of new gas development. Chief Minister Gunner has done a lot of work and a lot of safeguards around that. I certainly think conventional gas offshore is worth considering, but I'm not here to run the State of Victoria, I'm running for Prime Minister.
JOURNALIST: Onshore, onshore.
SHORTEN: Yes, I deliberately picked my words, I said offshore. When it comes to gas development onshore, I'm going to see what the Victorians and let them - you know, they're the people, the stewards of this proposition. But one thing I do know John, is that we can have all the debates we like about a particular state policy. The real problem with energy prices in this country is a lack of policy certainty. That's where Canberra comes in. I mean the Government keep telling us that gas prices, everything is better, everything is going down, no it's not. And I think this government needs to stop its war with renewable energy. Scott Morrison needs to join the 21st Century, get behind the science of climate change. When we have more renewables, you have more jobs and lower energy prices.
JOURNALIST: Just on another topic. Will Labor support the TPP in the Senate?
SHORTEN: Our policy is to support it, but let's be clear, this is a marginal deal. I can see why people are critical of it, and I can see why some people like it. The reality is this TPP is good for farmers, good for higher education, good for some of our manufacturing and steel sectors. But I think it is too slack when it allows people to come into this country to take jobs on a temporary basis which priority should go to Australians. So if we form a government, we're going to fix up the problems with this arrangement. But in the meantime with the farmers in drought we accept that there is probably a case to grab the marginal advantages, and fix the problems if and when we are elected.
JOURNALIST: The AMWU and the ETU are against you supporting it. What do you say to them?
SHORTEN: Well they're entitled to their opinion, and I do share - it's a complex problem. You know currently in Australia there is 1.6 million people with visas which give them temporary work rights. This government doesn’t stand up for Australian jobs in the way I think it should, so I see their concerns. Having said that, I've got to govern for all Australians. On balance my Shadow Cabinet and I have formed the view that there are advantages worth gaining in this agreement, and that's why you should have a Labor Government, because we'll fix up the problems that these slackers currently in government have let go through to the keeper.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you about the Supreme Court just siding with the United Firefighters Union's bid to block the Human Rights Commission report being released? What do you say to the victims who gave evidence and testimony to the Human Rights Commission, and is there a way to resurrect that in some other way?
ANDREWS: Well mate, I take you back to the start of this whole process. The Government referred this matter to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. The Court decision, I think has only just been handed down, only an hour ago, I've not seen the details of that, that may be the subject of appeal, so I won't comment on that, and I think you'll understand why. Not only did we send the reference off to that body, we haven't waited around for this process to come to a conclusion. We are investing additional money and acknowledging that there is significant cultural change that needs to occur in the fire services and in our emergency services, whether that be through recruiting additional career firefighters that are women, additional brigade leadership positions for women. We have a strong track record of action - not just talk, not just admiring the problem - but getting on and doing something about it. I'll let those court processes unfold, but we are determined to continue to drive the important cultural change not just in our fire services but we've seen really significant change in Victoria Police also, and we stand ready to do any further work that is necessary.
JOURNALIST: Is there another avenue for victims to go to though in this process or can they - who should they turn to if they've given evidence and now that's not going to see the light of day potentially? I appreciate the court-
ANDREWS: Again, I think it's important having not read the judgment and not seen the grounds on which the decision has been made, I don't want to run a commentary on that until I know what the specifics are. But we acknowledge and have done for the best part of four years that there are significant cultural challenges within some of our emergency services. We stand ready, not just to talk about it, we are actually delivering significant cultural change and I think that's really important.
JOURNALIST: Premier my understanding of the court decision this morning is that the issue is that the Government referred the matter to the Commission rather than the victims themselves referring it, and that seems to be the - it's almost a technicality.
ANDREWS: Well that kind of makes my point, that I need to be better across the details, it's only been an hour or so since the decision was made. But we don't make an apology for having referred this matter. We thought it was very serious, it is. I think Victorians want their emergency services to be in the best and strongest position, and that is about uniforms and equipment and numbers and budgets, but it's also about culture and that's why we've been driving significant cultural change in the fire services and indeed, through a similar VEOHRC process, driving cultural change within Victoria Police as well.
JOURNALIST: Is there, I guess a plan, part of the plan for your election campaign moving forwards, is there a plan for changes within the fire services to address these issues?
ANDREWS: Not that I'm announcing today. But again, we put forward a very clear agenda to have a single service one, for volunteers and a single service for all of our paid firefighters. That was defeated in the Parliament, you know the history of that. We'll have more to say about emergency services and keeping Victorians safe, between now and November 24.
JOURNALIST: The restructure remains your policy?
JOURNALIST: The incident at Lynbrook, some people have said that PSOs basically stood there and watched it happen, does that concern you?
ANDREWS: Well this is an ongoing matter, one that's being investigated by Victoria Police as we speak, so I direct you to police media.
SHORTEN: If there are no more federal issues I just want to make one remark in closing about today's announcement. I think it's good that we're going to properly fund universal access for all three and four year old Australian children. It's going to make a big change in future generations and their education experience. But part of what's important about our early childhood education system is the actual workforce themselves. So we will have more to say about getting a better deal for the early childhood educators. They're the ones doing the work, they're the ones to whom families entrust their first out of family contact of their little children. They're qualified, they're doing a great job and we'll have more to say about making sure that the early childhood educators see an improvement in their conditions which I think is part of us taking early childhood education seriously as a national priority.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten how concerned are you Indigenous communities (inaudible) penalised by the Community Development Program?
SHORTEN: The CDP. Listen I'm afraid to say I think the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government's record on Indigenous matters is woeful. They've cut hundreds of millions of dollars from programs. The best idea that Scott Morrison has come up with in Indigenous affairs is to give them Tony Abbott as envoy. I think there are problems with the scheme, we've had our parliamentary committees working on it. I think what would be a good down payment by the new fellow is to invest in remote housing in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland. It's really unusual but the current government have done a deal to help fund remote housing in the Northern Territory but there's remote communities in Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia which the Government literally flies over.
So I think that what we need to do in remote communities is provide real jobs, remote housing programs provide real jobs. I think the Government could make a down payment to closing the gap between First Australians and other Australians by helping provide remote housing which will deliver real jobs and trades in communities.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, sorry, you're in your home state of Victoria and there's a lot of infrastructure projects being promised by the Premier and the Opposition Leader, do you see that Victoria has been shortchanged in that space and are you expecting to contribute to, if you were to be elected Prime Minister, the North East Link, Airport Rail, and Melbourne Metro for example? Do any of those projects tick the boxes in your opinion of what you'd be interested in funding?
SHORTEN: Well first of all the Liberal Government in Canberra has shortchanged Victoria, that's just an objective fact, that's measurable and some of the Victorian media have reported it. The Liberals in Canberra can't find Victoria. When it comes to projects Labor is prepared, if we were elected, to work on funding a program of infrastructure in Victoria. Our approach will be we want long-term decision making not short-term; there's no doubt though that improving road congestion around Melbourne is a crucial priority, you can't do that without investing in rail first, that's what Dan Andrews is doing.
Airport Link has been a missing proposition and we'll certainly consider the other State Government proposals very carefully. In my experience Mr Guy's proposals are incomplete, Mr Andrews' proposals are well thought out.
JOURNALIST: Is it your view that the three biggest cities - Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane - are growing at sustainable rates given the population growth, the growing pains are such a big issue?
SHORTEN: Population is a big challenge. We're an immigration nation, other than our First Australians all of us came from somewhere else, but we've got to make sure that as we grow we do so sustainably. That means making sure that we're properly investing in our infrastructure; that our essential services - our hospitals, our schools - are properly funded.
So there's no silver bullet in population, we've got to make sure we're not growing in an uncontrolled way. One of the big challenges I know from living in Melbourne, but I see it in Sydney and Brisbane, is the fear of over-development in our inner cities. Unfortunately the previous State Liberal Government was asleep at the wheel. There are developments which Matthew Guy approved which now I think have got a lot of residents and communities scratching their head and saying 'how on earth did that ever get approval?'.
So you're right it's an important issue, I think it's one that shouldn't be party political; investing in public transport is fundamental, investing in human services, investing in early childhood learning centres such as we're talking about today, that's all part of the challenge. We want to grow, we've got to do so in such a way we don't create pockets of great disadvantage and people having to travel hours and hours to get to work and get home.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten just on Russia, Scott Morrison and Marise Payne have slammed the country for their malicious cyberattacks, do you stand with them?
SHORTEN: Well I stood with Tony Abbott when he legitimately attacked the shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines plane over Eastern Ukraine, I stood with Malcolm Turnbull when he talked about cybersecurity, I'll stand with the new guy too. Labor's got this track record that when it comes to national security it's above politics, cybersecurity is a very complex area. I worked with Tony Abbott, I worked with Malcolm Turnbull, and I'll work with the current crew too.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that there might be Russian interference in the upcoming Federal Election?
SHORTEN: I think it's something which the AEC and our agencies monitor, but I think that for the upcoming election there's probably bigger issues on my mind than Russian interference.