WEDNESDAY, 6 APRIL 2016
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s ‘Your Child. Our Future’ plan; Malcolm Turnbull’s abandonment of Australia’s public schools; Proper funding of our healthcare system; Tax reform; Australia’s future fleet of Submarines; Arrium
DR MIKE FREELANDER, LABOR'S CANDIDATE FOR MACARTHUR: Hi everyone. It's really great to see you all here and to have you here. I am Mike Freelander, I am the Labor candidate for the Federal seat of Macarthur. It's really fantastic to have Bill Shorten out here today to talk about education and really to show us his support. He is a great leader and it's a fantastic thing for him to come all the way out to Macarthur to see us. I'd like to thank Michelle Ralph and Mr Peter Brady, the director of schools for the Wollongong diocese. Michelle being a long standing principal of this school which is one of the iconic schools of Macarthur. I have worked out here as a paediatrician for the last 32 years. I have a strong interest in children with disabilities and in education, as well as health. Our Lady Help of Christians has been a fantastic support to me and to my patients over almost 30 years.
Education is the key to our future. Every school that I go to, every school principal, every school councillor says thank god for Gonski, he got it right. And it is absolutely fantastic that the Labor Party is committing to continuing the Gonski funding in the principles that Gonski espoused for the future and the future of our children. Your Child, Our Future is a fantastic policy initiative and I am extremely grateful to the Labor Party and to Bill, for continuing the funding for the reforms that have made a dramatic difference to our children. I'd like to introduce Bill and to thank him once again for coming out here.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Mike.
That's Dr Mike Freelander, Labor's great candidate for Macarthur. A distinguished, modest, paediatrician who has been helping families out here in Sydney's South-West for the last 32 years.
Labor is really pleased that our policy, Your Child, Our Future, ensures that every school, every child gets every opportunity in the future. It is sector neutral, it provides funding certainty for 10 years for Catholic, other independent and government schools which is what parents want. And in fact, this is why today, I am launching our campaign to protect schools funding from the Federal Government to the state system to schools across Australia. I, and my colleague Kate Ellis, are writing to every school. We are indicating that we will fight for public education, we will stand up for proper schools funding. It's not that Mr Turnbull and his Liberals can't afford to fund schools in Australia; it's that they choose not to. We do not want in this country a two-tier education system, where how much money your parents have determines the quality of school funding that you get. The choices couldn't be any clearer. On one hand, you've got Labor who's committed to fully funding schools across Australia, government schools across Australia, for the next 10 years. Schools, parents, teachers, require this sort of certainty. On the other hand, we have a Liberal Government who's washing their hands of public education in Australia and not providing any certainty about schools funding. Just how out of touch does Mr Turnbull have to be? After all, parents, parents living in the great South-Western suburbs of Sydney, they commute every day, they pay their taxes, they rely upon the schools to deliver quality education to their children. They are battling cost of living pressures and what they have is Mr Turnbull sorting out his national Budget problems by inflicting out-of-touch policies on household budgets. But even more than that, what it means at the next election, when the schools of Australia turn into polling booths on Saturday, July the second, or whenever Mr Turnbull has the election, the choices couldn't be starker for Australians. You can put a number one next to Labor and know that you're getting extra funding for every child in every school in every postcode in Australia. You put a one next to Labor, what you get is you get the staunchest defence of government school education in Australia and the importance of school education in Australia. But if you put a one next to Mr Turnbull and his Liberal Party, you're voting for $30 billion worth of cuts and an attack on the role of the Commonwealth to help fund government schools across Australia.
The choice really couldn't be clearer. A vote for Labor, and making sure that our kids get the best start in life, a vote for Liberal and dreadful cuts to the education of every child in Australia. Mike and I are happy to take any questions that people have.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the election could be what, 80 days away - will you guarantee you'll restore all the funding that the Turnbull Government says that it may take away or it says that funding didn't exist in the first place?
SHORTEN: We can make these following guarantees and we'll reveal more of our policies as we get closer to the election. We can guarantee that we will subsidise students going to university at a much higher rate than the Government. We can guarantee that university students and TAFE students don't get huge debts inflicted upon them. We can guarantee that a vote for Labor is not $100,000 degrees. When it comes to school education, we can guarantee every family, every child going to school, these little grade ones, we can guarantee that if Labor is elected, that from next year they will have certainty of funding for their education right through to Year 12. We can guarantee these things because we've got fully funded policies. We can guarantee also, that we will be tough on multinationals, that we will increase the tobacco excise, we will absolutely cut wasteful Government spending, we will make sure that we change the rules around negative gearing prospectively, not retrospectively, which will deliver Budget repair that's fair. But equally importantly, it will mean that first home buyers are not competing with property speculators in the housing market and those property speculators are being subsidised by taxpayers. It really highlights the difference between Liberal and Labor in the next 80 days. Labor's prepared to make choices. Our choices are that we'd rather fund schools than fund negative gearing going forward. It's an interesting statistic I think that negative gearing tax concessions, subsidised by taxpayers, cost Mr Turnbull's Budget about $10 billion a year. Funding of all schools in Australia from the Federal Government costs about - public schools in Australia - costs about $6.4 billion. It really does show the difference, doesn't it? Mr Turnbull is happy to fight an election on his willingness to subsidise property speculators to buy their 10th house. We want to fight the election on our willingness to make sure that kids who go to government schools across Australia get a fair start. And we will unveil more of our policies. I also, just as a sort of a footnote to what I said, we've released 73 fully funded policies. We're ripping up the rule book as an Opposition and providing alternative funded policies. I think it shows that the Government is in disarray and they're divided, too busy worrying about each other, that they can't reveal many of their policies yet.
JOURNALIST: Some of the State Premiers say, especially Colin Barnett last Friday at COAG, said the States are funding about 90 per cent of the public schools and the 10 per cent difference is really not that much. Don't you think there is responsible on the States to take control of the Budgets?
SHORTEN: Just hear Colin Barnett scream if the Federal Government got out of the funding of Western Australian schools. I don't accept the proposition that the Federal Government shouldn't be in the business of helping school education. The Federal Government relies upon the taxes paid by Australians to subsidise their responsibilities. I understand with the scarce money, which has been hard earned by people and they pay towards the Federal Government in income tax, that you've got to make choices, you've got to make sure one, you're not wasting the money and two, you've got to make decisions about where you spend the scarce resource. Mr Turnbull will fight to the death over the right of property speculators to be subsidised for housing interest payments under negative gearing. I'll fight to the death to make sure government schools get properly funded. Also, education is a fundamental economic driver of Australia. As Dr Freelander just said, in his experience, the best thing you can do to grow the economy is to make sure that we educate future generations of Australians. I dont think like the Liberals, that education is a cost. I think it is an investment. I don't think like the Liberals, that it is good politics to create a two-tier education system in this country. I don't think like Mr Turnbull that somehow funding schools is a drain. On the contrary, I think that shows that he's out of touch. Only Labor's got a fully funded plan to improve school funding in Australia.
JOURNALIST: You talk on negative gearing issues about the Turnbull Government would encouraging property speculators but aren't you essentially doing the same thing by encouraging property speculators to buy new properties, or new housing stock?
SHORTEN: We're following the trend which has been going across State Governments of Liberal and Labor persuasion. The first home owner grants have been moved towards new property because we want to increase stock of property and we want to create jobs. New housing generates a lot of jobs. There's 40 different building trades used when you build a new house. So we're pro jobs, we're pro new housing and pro first home owners having a level playing field. What it also shows is we'll make Budget repair that's fair. We will cut wasteful Government spending such as Tony Abbott's unreal schemes to fund big polluters for poor environmental outcomes. We will be hard on multinationals and we'll be pro schools and hospitals. The problem with Mr Turnbull is he's soft on multinationals but hard on schools and hospitals.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you say your policies are fully funded. How can you claim that when the Commonwealth will run $108 billion in deficits over the forward estimates?
SHORTEN: Thank you for the question. What we're doing is Budget repair that's fair. We believe that this Government should be doing more on multinationals. I think a lot of Australians, small businesses, families, the people who make up the back bone of our country, I think they're white-hot angry that somehow we see large multinationals shoving their profits into other jurisdictions to pay minimal tax, whereas Australians don't have those options, or at least not most of us, to go to tax havens. The truth of the matter is we've seen global taxation scandals, I think the middle class around the world are getting sick and tired, they pay their taxes, but the top one per cent, well they're in a separate game all together and they can minimise their taxes and move their capital everywhere. That's Budget repair that's fair. I think when it comes to negative gearing, current investors who've invested under current laws, they were the rules so they shouldn't be punished but, going forward, why is it that this Government won't support properly funding school children yet they will provide taxpayer subsidies to people who already own nine investment properties? It is all really just a matter of choices. I'm for the middle class and working class. Mr Turnbull, I just think he's out of touch.
JOURNALIST: Is there an argument for the states to take more responsibility for health and school funding though? Should they be relying so much on the Commonwealth each time they need to be propped up?
SHORTEN: We all know the source of that question was Mr Turnbull's sort of thought bubble where he said that he wanted double taxation. Labor didn't need-
JOURNALIST: He's ruled that out.
SHORTEN: He hasn't really. I think if we watched his remarkable appearances, the lack of repentance and contrition over the weekend, Mr Turnbull and his whole Liberal Cabinet doubled down on double taxation. Christopher Pyne belled the cat. He said, "Oh yes, we all think it's a good idea giving states income tax powers." Mr Turnbull hasn't ruled it out. You could see at the Premiers conference last Friday, through gritted teeth, he had this lofty manner where he couldn't understand why the peasant-like Premiers couldn't agree with the magnificence of his ideas. No, Mr Turnbull is unreconstructed. If he was to win the next election, double taxation back on the agenda. 15 per cent GST back on the agenda. And by the way, his great idea is to give multinationals a tax cut so that foreign shareholders profit yet he wants to take money away from schools and hospitals. Mr Turnbull and I, the difference couldn't be starker. I'll show leadership about the things that matter - jobs, education, healthcare, fair taxation, real action on climate change, a proper NBN. Mr Turnbull, he shows leadership on cuts to foreign companies in terms of taxes, talking about double taxation, and of course the 15 per cent GST. For Mr Turnbull, this has only been a setback for him, not the end of the war.
JOURNALIST: But those issues have been ruled out. GST has been ruled out, so called double taxation as you say, has been ruled out. Isn't this simply a Labor scare campaign?
SHORTEN: It is not so-called double taxation, it is.
JOURNALIST: It's not. He's ruled it out. He said there was no consensus and ruled it out.
SHORTEN: The very fact he said there's no consensus shows Mr Turnbull wants to do it.
JOURNALIST: No, what he is saying is he wants there to be reform among the states when it comes to Federal health and education funding.
SHORTEN: Well, I'll tell you what reform for health and education funding looks like; needs-based funding in schools. I'll tell you what reform for hospitals looks like; it means making sure that we provide support to the states to make sure we reduce the waiting lists and waiting times in emergency wards and the waiting times for elective surgery for knee replacements or other vital treatments, knee and hip replacements. No, Mr Turnbull's idea of reform is to give large multinationals a corporate tax cut, take money away from the funding of Government schools. Mr Turnbull's idea of reform is to defend to last drop of blood the negative gearing rights of property speculators going for their 10th property. My idea of reform is not to go to war with the states, it's not to start blaming everyone else for not simply agreeing. This country works best when we work together. We work best when we are united about defending Australian jobs, that's why Labor's been so strong on the bidding of the 12 submarines here. This country works best when we're investing in the future which is kids. This country works best when older Australians don't have inordinate waiting times to get vital medical treatment.
The difference between Mr Turnbull and I is like chalk and cheese. His view of economics is look after the top one per cent and the benefits will trickle down to the rest of us. My view is that if you've got a good healthcare system, a Medicare system where it's your Medicare card not your credit card that determines your level of care, where the kids get needs-based funding. This school here which is doing a great job, gets inadequate support from Mr Turnbull for educating kids with special needs. Under our policies, that will be possible and that will be improved. The big difference between Mr Turnbull and me is I support funding government schools from the Commonwealth, Mr Turnbull doesn't.
Last question thank you.
JOURNALIST: On needs-based funding, how will that actually work? I believe your education policy says that you will, a portion of education funding based on individual needs of individual students across Catholic, independent and State schools, how does that work and why would individual funding go to students at Independent schools as well as State schools? Surely the students of State schools are the ones that are most in need?
SHORTEN: The Gonski report - and I'll take not too long to answer your question but it is a really important question. What do we mean by needs-based funding? Under the previous Labor Government we tried to examine, we did examine, chaired by David Gonski, what level of resources do really successful schools have? Then we worked out the appropriate standard and sat down with the states, with the non-Government sector, Catholic education commission and independent schools, to work out how we could get outcomes consistent with what is viewed to be a really good school outcome through funding. Simply put, we would allocate to the Catholic education commissions in the various dioceses, a certain amount of resources and that would give them - and that would be based partly on their population of kids with special needs, partly their population of kids from working-class suburbs, partly based on the number of kids who've got a non-English speaking background, partly based upon the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, partly based upon the size of the school, if it's a small and remote school. The beauty of a needs-based approach is it doesn't try and have the debate between government and non-government school. Instead it focuses on need. It is fair to say that quite a lot of the resources would go to government schools. That's why I think Mr Turnbull washing his hands of the funding role of the Federal Government with state schools is absolute educational cowardice. What it is, it's washing your hands and saying to the states, it's treating the government schools as a two-tier system and that Mr Turnbull is just saying he's only interested in private schools. We don't need this division in our education policy. As Dr Freedlander said, and as the teachers at this school have observed, what we need is to back up our teachers and parents with proper resources based on need and they're the criteria that I have gone through amongst other criteria. The truth of the matter is parents in Australia, whether or not they choose to send their children to Catholic schools or government schools, these parents pay taxes to Canberra. They do not expect the Government in Canberra to not use some of those scarce taxpayers on the betterment of their children and the school system of Australia. Mr Turnbull just doesn't get how most Australians are organising their lives or the dreams they have for their children's education.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask quickly on submarines, should the Government, before the election, announce where they're being built and who's going to be building them?
SHORTEN: Alright, I did say last question but submarines is such an important issue. There's two issues in submarines. The issue about submarines is that it's only Labor's diligent and staunch opposition to building these submarines elsewhere is the only reason why the Liberals have been dragged kicking and screaming back to the table to build these submarines in Australia. The timing of the announcement shouldn't be based upon Mr Turnbull's tawdry electoral problems in South Australia, which are significant. It should be based upon the assessment of the competitive tender. But for me, what Mr Turnbull can do, without rushing the timing to suit his key fascination which is the date of the election, what they should do is make sure they commit that the submarines will be built in Australia, not a hybrid option, not built overseas. A hybrid option means that you could build the first couple of submarines in another country and eventually build some in Australia. That's not good enough, Malcolm. You've got to build every submarine in Australia. We should also see the Federal Government commit to the maintenance and sustainment of these submarines. This is taxpayer money, it's a manufacturing decision, it's a Defence security issue. I believe that Australians can build these submarines, we've done it in the past. We just need a Government who's as strong as the workforce.
And by the way, when we talk about manufacturing in South Australia, Mr Turnbull needs to pull the finger out about standing up for Arrium and the challenges of the 3,000-strong workforce at the steelworks in Whyalla and related industries. Arrium is fundamentally a good business but what it needs is for the Government to stand up, that's why Labor has a view about the steel industry. It is a vital, irreplaceable industry. We want to make sure that we have better local procurement, in other words, if Governments spent more of their tax dollar buying steel from Australian steel makers, local procurement. We want to make sure that our anti-dumping laws are absolutely the strongest so we aren't treated as mugs by other countries. We need to make sure that we are open for cooperative investment to make sure we can keep investor certainty and bank confidence in Arrium. We also need to make sure we have the highest possible standards for the quality of our steel that goes into our structures around Australia.
I did say last question. I'm going to have to keep that.
SHORTEN: I have just spelled out, in anticipation of your question. I think you'll find that I said procurement, anti-dumping, proper standards and cooperative investment where the case is made out. Thanks, everyone, it's been a nice conference.