THURSDAY, 12 MAY 2016
SUBJECT/S: Labor announces $1.8 billion of funding to regional schools; Asylum Seeker Policy; Preselection in Fremantle; Liberal divisions; Labor’s plans for Australian schools; Malcolm Turnbull’s links to the Panama Papers; The media reach rule; 7/Eleven; Bill Shorten’s birthday present.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSTION: I would like to thank Frenchville for introducing us to their school children. Today, Labor is very proud to announce that, as part of our commitment to making sure that every child, in every school, gets every opportunity, that 1.5 million Australian school children outside of our capital cities are set to benefit from 1.8 billion dollars of extra funding. When we talk about this extra funding, the Labor Party is declaring today that we are the party of regional Australia. We understand that, for too long, schools and children in regional Australia have suffered an educational divide from the kids in the big cities. And we intend to end this once and for all. The best thing that any government can do is back up the parents of Australia by making sure that the children of Australia get the best education that we can possibly provide them.
Today, we saw bright kids with stars in their eyes - kids who want to go on and do science and mathematics, English and history - what they deserve is to get the best chance in secondary school and primary school. Only Labor has got positive-funded policies to make sure that schools in regional Australia, the kids in regional Australia, can bridge the academic gap between them and city kids. I don't believe in Australia that you have to be a country where only in the cities can you get quality education. Now, this school here is doing a great job. But imagine what it will do with the extra resources that Labor will provide. I can make a promise today, a positive promise - to the parents, the teachers, and most importantly, the children of regional Australia, that a Labor Government, if elected after July 2, will make it the case that, no matter where you live in this marvellous country of ours - big cities or indeed along the coast of Queensland or inland Austral ia - that your children will get an equal opportunity in life for education. And just imagine how this will turbo charge our jobs future and our economic future.
When I look at these kids here, I don't just want them to be the equal of what happens in Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne. I want Aussie kids to get an equal education to the very best in the world. I would like to hand over to Kate Ellis to talk further about our marvellous news for regional Australia.
KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Thank you very much, Bill. We know that one of the biggest issues in the Australian schooling system is the gap between the schools which are high performers and those which are falling behind. The gap in the Australian education system is wider than the OECD average. And it continues to grow. Now, sadly, it is students outside of our capital cities that are too often paying the price for this inequity. We know that students in regional schools can be up to a year behind their city counterparts when it comes to English and when it comes to maths. Sadly, the figures are even worse when you look at remote schools, where students can be two years behind. Labor has a clear plan to bridge this gap, to make sure that every child, at every school, in every post code across Australia, whether it be city, whether it be country, can receive a great quality education. Today, we make a significant announcement. We annou nce that $1.8 billion of the $3.8 billion dollars in additional funding will flow to schools outside of our capital cities. This is because we believe in needs-based education. We believe in providing the additional support where it is needed most. And I should say that that figure includes $31 million dollars in additional funding for the electorate of Capricornia over and above what the current Government is promising. Now, you don't have to listen to Labor to hear that this is required for country students and country schools because the National Party themselves know that and have stated it on the record. Our Deputy Prime Minister, the leader of the National Party, Barnaby Joyce, stated, and I quote "Without a shadow of doubt we will continue to commit to Gonski, past the first term." Of course, that turned out to be a lie. The National Party and Barnaby Joyce sold out the students here and they sold out the students right across country Australia. We have also heard from the NSW National Party Minister, Adrian Piccoli, who when asked why he was such an advocate for Gonski funding responded: "Because I'm from the National Party and country students will benefit the most from these reforms." Today, we make it very clear there is one party that has a clear policy to benefit and give a fair go to regional Australia - that is the Labor Party.
SHORTEN: Thank you. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: Do you need to instil more party discipline around your asylum seeker policy? A candidate in Western Sydney has likened the offshore processing centres to Nazi concentration camps. Do you need to be willing to lie… and I ask, what is your stance on this policy?
SHORTEN: I don't accept the language that was used at all by our candidate. And let me again state the Labor Party's dealt with this difficult issue at our conference last year. We have made it perfectly clear that after July 2, on the issue of people smugglers trying to get back into business, to ply their criminal trade of exploiting vulnerable people, putting them on unsafe vessels and then making the case that they will then end up drowning at sea - Labor will not put the people smugglers back into business and that is one thing which not only Australians need to hear but the criminal gangs in South-East Asia need to hear. Australia, be it Liberal or Labor, are united in our resolve to stop the drownings at sea. Our candidates understand that the issues of the mishandling by the Government of regional processing and semi-indefinite detention on Manus and Nauru, that legitimately upsets many Australians. But when it comes to the fight agai nst people smugglers, we are 100% determined to stop them plying their evil trade.
JOURNALIST: Can you articulate whether you support boat turn books? In the past you've said you don't.
LEISA NEATON, CANDIDATE FOR CAPRICORNIA: I never said that I don't. I attended a national conference. I watched the debate there. I can assure you it was a very emotional debate and the Labor Party, I'm proud to say, has its debates out in the open with nothing to hide. We heard everybody's voice and at the end of that time we adopted a policy position and that is the position that Bill has articulated this morning and that is also my position.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, what do you read from Tony Abbott's arrival in North Queensland to campaign and are you now campaigning against two leaders not one?
SHORTEN: There is one united Labor Party with one leader, campaigning against a divided Liberal Party with two different leaders. I think most people north of Brisbane were surprised when Malcolm Turnbull got as far as Brisbane and then turned around and went south again. Now, I think some of the LNP have asked for the bloke they supported, Tony Abbott, to come up and try and patch up some of the problems. Today, we are announcing and drawing attention to Labor's commitment to country kids, to regional kids. Today we are declaring that when it comes to education the Labor Party is the country party of Australia, that we are going to stand up for the bush and make sure the kids who grow up outside the big capital cities get an equal go to the Australian goal of a great education.
JOURNALIST: Do you regret that Chris Brown was chosen as a candidate for Fremantle considering he has now disclosed his criminal past?
SHORTEN: I am very disappointed by this set of events. The Labor Party has acted and we're moving on from it. The National Secretary has made a recommendation to me. When I received the formal report I have made it clear, I endorse the recommendation and that is, the party is going to make its decisions today. They will do so and I believe that Josh Wilson, the deputy mayor of Fremantle, will be a very good candidate in Fremantle.
JOURNALIST: He also does appear to be against the asylum seeker policy of the Labor Party. What do you say to that?
SHORTEN: Well, I would just refer to my previous. Let's be clear here - it's not just people running for Parliament. There are many Australians who are deeply concerned with the mishandling by this Government of the treatment of people on Manus and Nauru. I am concerned too. But let's not confuse that with what the Government wants to do to take attention off their lack of positive policies for the future. The Labor Party and every candidate recognises that our policy will be to stop people smugglers. Now, stopping people smugglers does not mean that you can condone the mishandling and the long waiting queues and the lack of effort by the Liberal Government to process people currently indirectly in our care or directly in our care. So I understand the frustration with this Government, but I also know that every Labor Party candidate knows that we are determined to stop the drownings at sea and in that regard Australians should be ple ased to know that both political parties have a very resolute commitment to defeat the criminal syndicates in South-East Asia.
JOURNALIST: Does the MUA have a point that what Chris Brown did was a very long time ago and it was a spent conviction?
SHORTEN: What has happened is the national secretary became aware of some issues which he indicated to me he would investigate a few weeks ago. It is clear that the party processes were not followed on very important matters. The party has made a recommendation to me that he should not be the endorsed candidate and I have absolutely supported that decision, 100 per cent.
JOURNALIST: On education, Mr Shorten – the author of the OECD report you've been quoting to back your education plan says there won't be an immediate boost from the funding but Labor is saying it will happen straight away. Who is right?
SHORTEN: Listen, I am really pleased you asked that, Eliza. What the OECD makes the observation is if every adult in the work force now had received the sort of quality education which we are outlining will be our promise in the future, we would have a lift in economic performance right now. The truth of the matter is, let's go out and talk to the parents of Australia. I have not run into a single parent, in the big cities or the small towns or the great provincial cities of Australia like Rockhampton where they've come up to me and said, "Gee, Bill, we don't want to see more money for our kids in education. " Nothing could be further from the truth. Secondly, is there a serious argument being mounted by some conservative commentators who want to maintain a two-tier education system in this country that not spending money on this country is not an investment in the future? Why does Mr Turnbull's Liberal Party always describe funding of education as a cost, not an investment? It's in the DNA of every Aussie parent to give their kids the best education they can. It will be in the DNA of my Government, if elected, to give every kid in the country the best education they can. Is the rest of the world sitting around saying we must cut education budgets, that we must provide less resources in our school? It is a dark ages argument to say that some that somehow providing equal opportunity for every kid in education is somehow going to hold our nation back. If we did nothing else as a nation, Governments, oppositions, industry, community, parents, if we did nothing else as a nation, but in the next 10 and 15 years give our kids the best education possibly, then we would be doing our jobs as leaders of this nation.
JOURNALIST: Why should Josh Wilson replace Chris Brown if he personally is against boat turn backs and off-shore detention?
Because he’s is a very good local candidate and he will end up supporting Labor policy if he is preselected. Let's be clear about this issue - the Labor Party, I think, quite straight up with the Australian people, debated these issues. We debated them last July. There is grave disquiet in the community about the treatment of people on Manus and Nauru and I think there's legitimate disquiet. But there is 100 percent resolve amongst the Labor Party and I actually believe the vast bulk of the Australian people, to stop the drownings at sea.
JOURNALIST: Can I just clarify something - you said that you didn't, that you have never argued against boat turnbacks but on your Facebook you said despite a compelling case prosecuted well by the left today the vote did not go our way on the party floor. How that is that not saying you didn't support turnbacks.
NEATON: Well that debate was all about people seeking asylum. It was a long debate and I didn't have a vote in that debate. I was a participant. Once preselected there is a party position and that’s the position I take.
SHORTEN: I am just going to supplement this proposition. The Labor Party, if we are elected, has got a very clear policy which we will be sticking to, a very clear policy. But I think we need to ask ourselves - why is the government trying to talk about everything, talk about anything but education? Where is the Turnbull government's policies on backing in regional kids in Australia? You know, in seven or eight weeks' time many of the schools around regional Australia will be the polling booths which Australia will choose which party forms the government in Australia. It's sort of ironic, isn't it, that people will be going to vote in the schools and in fact what they will be voting on is the future of those schools. The future jobs for the kids who are attending those schools, the economic livelihood of the small towns and the big provincial centres of Australia.
Let's be clear - this government who is deeply divided on many, many matters, are trying to say that Labor's policy isn’t what it is. Our policy is to stop the people smugglers full stop. But we’ve got other positive policies too and the government doesn't want to talk about that. You don't hear the government talking about their Budget anymore, do you? You don't hear them trying to justify to you and insult the intelligence of the Australian people that their priorities of giving millionaires, people who earn a million dollars in a year, an income tax cut of $17,000 is actually good for the kids of Australia? You don't hear them prosecuting the case for giving a billion dollar company a tax cut when they're actually cutting the funding to schools and providing nothing for the vast bulk of taxpayers.
JOURNALIST: You said yesterday that 2.8 percent immediate growth in GDP as a result of your schools policy. Do you stand by that figure and where does that come from?
SHORTEN: Well, in my earlier answer to one of your colleagues' questions, I made it clear, and I will get Kate to supplement this, I made it clear that if every child, if every person in the Australian workforce now had been completed year 12 and got the quality education which only Labor is offering the Australian people, that would give an immediate lift to the Australian economy. And again, are we seriously arguing in this country in 2016 that we have gone somehow back to the past and that only kids from rich backgrounds should get quality educations? Are we seriously arguing in Australia that somehow giving kids a quality education and a well-funded education is going to be detrimental? To be honest I'm a little surprised that there is anyone seriously trying to run the proposition that properly funding our schools, giving those kids you got the privilege to see today, giving them the best resources in secondary school, the bright kids to be extended, the kids who aren’t doing so well the opportunity to get individual attention to keep up. Is anyone seriously arguing in Australia that it is not good for Rockhampton, for Rockhampton kids to get the same quality education or the same set of resources as Brisbane kids, Sydney or Melbourne? I think the case speaks for itself.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, can you explain on Fremantle, exactly what is the problem there? Is it the convictions themselves or the fact they weren't disclosed?
SHORTEN: Well it is clear that on serious matters the candidate wasn't forthcoming with the truth to the Labor Party. (interjections) Sorry, if I could just, do you mind –
JOURNALIST: He says that he disclosed that four weeks ago to an ALP staffer who said this shouldn't be a problem.
SHORTEN: Well, the National Secretary of the Labor Party, to take you over the ground which I've already given, but it's important, the National Secretary of the party investigated these matters. He found there had been a deliberate misleading. He recommended that, therefore, this person shouldn't be our candidate. I 100 percent back that decision. The National Executive today will pick a new candidate for Fremantle.
JOURNALIST: Can we have your response to Malcolm Turnbull's links to the Panama Papers in the AFR this morning?
SHORTEN: I have seen those reports this morning. The Panama Papers reveal the great lengths to which some very wealthy individuals and large corporations will go to avoid paying tax. Today's media is clearly very serious and there's very serious matters for Mr Turnbull to answer and I think it is incumbent upon him to do so fully. I do not believe that what he said this morning is a full explanation. But to be fair to Mr Turnbull, he should have the opportunity to answer the questions, to explain what he knows, what the extent of his involvement is, and I don't intend to say any more until that happens.
JOURNALIST: What’s your stance on the reach rule?
SHORTEN: The media reach rule? We’ve seen the government fluff around on media reform. Somehow media reform in this country and indeed making sure we have good quality access to media around Australia has descended into a shopping list of two out of three who can own what and the reach rule. What has this government done in this area for a thousand days except talk and talk and then talk again? I get the argument about reforming the reach rule. I have indicated previously in other interviews that Labor and I are open to reforming the reach rule. But this is a government, and I think the reach rule debate shows the futility of much of what this government’s tried to do. They have had a thousand days to engage in media reform but they haven’t come down with a landing on anything. It’s all talk and no action. I think also though, one of the challenges about the reach rule is making sure that the regions get access to the same sor t of quality services that exist in the city and can I tell you when it comes to getting access to quality education in this country, it's only the Labor Party who’s offering equal go for people in the bush to people in the city. It's only the Labor Party with fully funded policies to make sure that kids who go to Frenchville in Rockhampton or go to a school in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, have a comparable level of resources. Labor’s all about regional Australia, that’s why I started my campaign in regional Australia. The Liberal Party need to understand that they shouldn't treat the regions as some sort of vote cash cow where they turn up every three years, the Nats and the LNP, they ask to be voted for and then they do nothing in between.
JOURNALIST: Can I just get a clarification on the 2.8 percent story. Do you think that the economic benefits that will flow from your education spend will come immediately or at 2095?
SHORTEN: Listen, I am not sure if anyone seriously thinks that funding education now means there’ll only be a collect in 2095. What I think is that investing in our schools will have short-term benefits, it will be medium-term benefits and it will have long-term benefits. I've already seen the examples of where needs-based funding is already delivering remarkable results. Every day we don't invest in our kids we’re short-changing our kids. Every day that we don’t invest in our children we're falling behind the rest of the world. I don't know if you're aware but in 2000 Australia was right up at the top of the academic tables. Now we have slipped down in maths, in reading and writing and numeracy and science. We're falling behind. Every day we accept the Liberal plan of inaction, we cheat our kids, we deny ourselves a brighter jobs future and we’re taking Australia backwards.
JOURNALIST: We hear repeatedly that the Federal Government doesn't run any schools. Can you be specific about the strings that will be attached to this money that will mean it's spent in the regions?
SHORTEN: Why don't I get Kate to help answer that because she's been very patient listening to me talk about many areas and we can go through that. It’s an important issue.
ELLIS: Fantastic. In terms of the funding for regional schools, we have made very clear that this funding will only be directed towards the evidence-based programs which we know lift student outcomes and make a real difference. The only people that were interested in sending a blank cheque when it came to school funding was the current government when they wrote to the States and Territories, said that funding for schools would be no strings attached and that they would remove control and command. Well the Australian people deserve to have accountability and transparency and to know that every dollar in their schools are being well directed.
JOURNALIST: So how will we see evidence of that? Will it be made public?
ELLIS: Absolutely. There was already accountability mechanisms which were written into the current agreements. This government said that they would let the States and Territories and therefore the schools off the hook when it came to accountability mechanisms. Well we’re being very clear that taxpayers deserve to know that every dollar is being well spent. Equally, parents deserve to know that that money is going towards the programs which are going lift their child's student outcomes.
JOURNALIST: Are you in favour of specific programs like phonics which this government has prioritised or is it up to the states and the schools to decide which programs they want themselves?
ELLIS: We think that there is a really important role for phonics, obviously. We think it's also really important that politicians recognise that it should be up to our educators to come up with the best learning plans for students. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to Australian schools and there shouldn’t be. But what we are saying very clearly is it is absolutely time that we made sure that every program that’s being rolled out in our schools is being done so with the evidence to back up the fact that it makes a difference and it will lift outcomes. There are phonics programs which absolutely form a very important part of that.
SHORTEN: Mr Shorten, just on the issue of exploited workers, what are Labor's plans to protect exploited workers like those we have seen working for 7-Eleven, explicitly apply to small businesses, given the exposure draft of the Private Members Bill released earlier this year exempted some of those small businesses from the higher penalties which could see franchises like those from 7-Eleven not have to face those sort of penalties?
SHORTEN: Your question goes to several points and so I’ll be as brief as I can. The 7-Eleven scandal has taken a new and disturbing twist in the last 24 hours. We know, and the reports are, that thousands of temporary guest workers in particular, but not exclusively, were being underpaid on average half of their wages. In other words, for 20 hours rather than 40 hours. This is exploitation on an industrial scale. Now 7-Eleven put in place an independent panel. The problem is that the chair of the independent panel, Professor Allan Fels, very respected, has been removed. He has been sacked. So now what we see is that after the Senate inquiry into 7-Eleven concluded, 7-Eleven and the government hasn't – 7-Eleven’s acted and the government hasn't acted.
The details of these scandals are 400 claims have been processed. An average of 20 hours not paid out of every 40 hours worked. There’s about $12 million. I understand that another 2,000 claims have been put on ice. I understand now that the company's decided they will just check these matters out themselves. I also understand that they're going to set a higher standard for evidence than the reasonable standard which Professor Fels and other independent people were using. We hear reports about threats to the 7-Eleven workers making claims. I am deeply disturbed at this turn of events. And what is the government doing about it? They said at one stage they were going to have a taskforce, well we don't see any more about that. Let's be clear what this government's view is on industrial relations – go after unions. But you never see them talking about low-paid workers. You never see them talking about the 7-Eleven workers. There might be t he odd crocodile tear on television but really, it doesn't extend beyond when the camera switches off. So the question is about Labor's private members bill. Only Labor has put forward propositions to improve the protection of workers. What we’ve said is we want to significantly increase the penalties. What we’ve proposed if elected is we’ll put protections in for people on temporary work visas in Australia so we don't get a global reputation as mistreating the people who come here temporarily. Labor’s got a plan to stand up for the low paid, Labor’s got a plan to tackle the sort of rorts and the scandals we see.
JOURNALIST: Would it apply to those small businesses like franchises?
SHORTEN: We are absolutely looking at how the franchisor seems to absolve themselves of responsibility and leaves it all with the franchisee. I think the franchisor has got a lot more explaining to do. One last question and then I’ll finish up.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, on your asylum seeker policy – you said the other day that in particular circumstances you supported boat turnbacks. What other circumstances, if there was a boat full of women and children, for example, is that a circumstance –
SHORTEN: Our policy is the same as the government's. I did get asked one little question I said I would wrap up, Tim, I will get a chance to talk to you a bit later.
I got asked the question on the present. I think I'm being asked did I get a present. My present’s standing right next to me. It sounds like a happy note to finish on.