FRIDAY, 5 MAY 2017
SUBJECTS: School funding; Adani; US-Australian alliance
PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: Thank you for coming today, I just wanted to say very quick thank you to the principal of Our Lady of Help here in East Brunswick, Phillip Cachia, Deputy Principal, Patrizia Rinaldo and also the school captions, Adrian, Grace and Greta for showing us around today to a wonderful school. And it really has great results, top six per cent in NAPLAN in the state which is fantastic and a real testament to the hard work and dedication of the principal and all the teachers and staff. I'm very pleased to have Bill Shorten, the leader, here today, and my Parliamentary colleague, David Feeney, the Member for Batman, as another demonstration of Labor's commitment to education, because education is a key that opens all the doors to opportunity.
I grew up in a housing commission, and Labor governments gave my migrant family access to affordable housing, quality healthcare, universal healthcare and of course access to a quality education. It allowed us as well as millions of migrants and millions of Australians, regardless of our postcode or our background to get that real equality of opportunity that we talk about and make a positive contribution to this wonderful country.
And yet we've got Malcolm Turnbull who, just a few days ago, jumped on the dive board, did a triple twist contortion with a backflip and landed in a bellyflop with a $22 billion cut to education, and on the way through, did a nice swipe against all the Catholic schools in the education system. In contrast, we've got an alternative Prime Minister in Bill Shorten, a shadow Education Minister in Tanya Plibersek, and a united Labor team that is actually developing policies for the long term national interest in the benefit of all Australians.
So whether it’s on negative gearing, affordable housing, whether it’s protecting Medicare or whether it is about giving parents a choice in education and funding education, Bill and the Labor team are all about making sure there is equality of opportunity and making sure there is the best possible quality of life, best possible standard of living for all Australians, for as many Australians as possible.
And that is why I am so pleased today to have Bill in the seat of Wills here in East Brunswick, to hand over to Bill, thank you Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks. Good morning everybody, it is great to be at Our Lady Help of Christians in Brunswick and I'd just like to acknowledge the calibre of the teaching staff I met and of course the students who are so keen to learn. I am here today with David Feeney, the Member for Batman, and Peter Khalil, the Member for Wills, because we will stand up for needs-based education in this country. We are parents, we want the best for our kids, and we want the best education for everyone's children. Mr Turnbull’s $22 billion in cuts to education need to be opposed. Not the least for the clear attack they are on the autonomy of the Catholic education system.
We think that Mr Turnbull's education mess is starting to unravel. We have got Tony Abbott leading an insurgency against these cuts to education. We have even got his Deputy Prime Minister, the acting Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, trying to crab-walk away from the sudden and shock announcement of cuts to Government schools and of course to Catholic schools.
See, the numbers don't lie. This is $22 billion less than our education providers, our teachers and our schools were expecting over the next 10 years. $22 billion less. Or put another way, Mr Turnbull's cuts mean there will be 22,000 less teachers in our classrooms over the next 10 years.
I had the chance to talk to the people who run this school, the teachers, the educators, the administrators, and they have made it very clear, Mr Turnbull's cuts to local Catholic parish primary schools mean at this school, parents will have 165 per cent increase in the fees they pay. Or, in straight dollar terms, it is about $2,600 increase in fees extra for every family who sends a child here. Mr Turnbull seems to be under the misapprehension that if parents choose to send their kids to local Catholic primary schools, somehow they are well off and don't need support.
The Labor Party stands for the proposition that people who pay their taxes to Canberra, parents who pay their taxes to Canberra deserve to see some of that money come back in the form of investment in their children's education, regardless if parents choose to send their children to government schools or Catholic schools. Labor will not rest until we ensure that our children, their parents and teachers get the best possible support.
And I say to Mr Turnbull, perhaps for once, try listening rather than talking. Get out and consult with the Catholic education authorities rather than just telling the people in the classrooms they are wrong. I find that you never go wrong by consulting and listening. My money is on backing the people who are on the coal face in the classrooms every day. If they say these cuts are bad for their schools, well I am going to back the teachers and the parents and the administrators over an out of touch Mr Turnbull in Canberra.
We're happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Is there anything worthwhile about the reforms to the Catholic education sector?
SHORTEN: Not that the Catholic education sector has told me. Why does Mr Turnbull think he is such an expert that he wants to meddle in a system which is the second largest provider of educational services in this country? The Catholic education system in this country educates daily nearly 800,000 students.
And let's not fall for the sort of Greens' propaganda that somehow these cuts are only aimed at 24 elite schools. If Mr Turnbull and the Greens have a concern about that, well we will work with them on that, no problems. But when it comes to taking a sledgehammer to the cost of living of parents who choose to send their children to Catholic primary schools, we are on the side of parents who want to see their kids get a proper quality education and be funded for it.
Make no mistake, the Catholic education system has been educating kids for a long time, and we would rather trust their judgement on how to allocate scarce resources than some government representative in Canberra.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, will you commit to the additional $22 million [sic] school funding over the next decade?
SHORTEN: I haven't given up on the fight to make sure that the funding doesn't get cut. I'm not going to send up a smoke signal and say that we have given up on fighting to oppose these cuts. And I have got a message here for the Greens. The Greens should not be voting for Malcolm Turnbull's cuts to education.
Now I get that they don't like the 24 rich schools, fair enough. That is their business. We won't stand in that debate if the Liberals and everyone else want to cut them. But if the Greens vote with Malcolm Turnbull, they are turning their back on needs-based education in Australia, needs-based funding in this country. What it means is that the Greens, if they vote for Malcolm Turnbull's legislation, they are voting to increase the school fees of every parent who sends a child to a Catholic school across this country.
JOURNALIST: So you agree that most elite schools, the 24 most elite schools, it is worthy to talk about cutting them?
SHORTEN: If the Government thinks that is the aim of the education, we are not going to stand in the way on that. We are not going to stand in the way on that. But what I understand, unlike Malcolm Turnbull, is the lives that middle class and working class people lead.
Parents who choose to send their children to this school are not all wealthy. 17 per cent of the parents who send their children here are on healthcare benefits. Malcolm Turnbull shouldn't fall for the simplistic rubbish that somehow if a parent chooses to send their child to a Catholic primary parish school, that somehow they are rich and don't need support. I thought this argument was put to bed by Menzies and Whitlam 50 years ago. Frankly, I can't believe we're redebating about whether or not parents who choose to send their kids to the local Catholic parish school should get some proper assistance. And I don't know why Malcolm Turnbull wants to start directly managing every Catholic primary school in Australia. I mean, he just needs to get on and manage the Budget, actually. Goodness only knows what mess he would make of education if he was in charge of every school in the Catholic system.
JOURNALIST: Has Labor pulled back from its commitment to invest an extra $22 billion in the nation's school system?
SHORTEN: No, we are going to fight the cuts. And I can promise Malcolm Turnbull that he doesn't know the fight he is up for. That is why I would ask him, rather than he and his ministers going out and rubbishing the Catholic education system, why don't they sit down and listen?
The first time most Catholic educators, and indeed, most educators, state governments, the education unions, the government sector, heard about this new bombshell was when Malcolm Turnbull gets up and announces it on national television. It is the wrong way to run a Government. This is an out of touch Government.
This week has been a shocker for education in this country. They announced they are going to increase fees for going to university, they are going to lower the threshold at which young people have to start repaying their HECS fees. They are going to cut funding to universities, and if that wasn't bad enough, that they have taken the axe to higher education, now they want to cut $22 billion.
I say to Malcolm Turnbull, go back to the drawing board for goodness sake. Let's not make school funding a political football. Why don't you just take the time to sit down and talk to the Catholic Education Commission and their various representatives. They have been running schools a lot longer than you have, Malcolm. You never go wrong listening to people rather than just talking at them.
JOURNALIST: Can you complain about the Government spending less, when you haven't promised to spend more?
SHORTEN: Let's be very clear here – Labor funds schools, Liberals cut funding to schools. I will back our record at every election. We offer more for parents, more for schools, more for teachers, most importantly, more for the kids.
Labor welcomes a competition with the Government about who is fair dinkum about education and Malcolm Turnbull is off to a very bad start in this competition. He is taking on $22 billion worth of cuts, seeing Government schools receiving less funding than they otherwise would. And he is taking on challenging the non-Government sector and the Catholic parish primary schools.
Why does Malcolm Turnbull want to increase the fees that parents will pay to send their kids to a primary school in the local area?
JOURNALIST: How much can Labor commit to funding?
SHORTEN: We will do so much better than the Liberals. It is not funny –
JOURNALIST: How much?
SHORTEN: To be fair, we haven't even seen their final Budget. And I make a prediction here, this government is going to lose the argument for the sort of cuts they are making to the Catholic education system and they are going to lose the argument about making $22 billion worth of cuts.
And I just want to say to teachers and to parents, we have got your back. We are determined to make sure that schools are funded properly. I want our schools to be the best in the world. I know the Liberals like to pretend that money doesn't make a difference. In my experience, the people who most often say that money doesn't make a difference to schools are people who are already very, very rich and don't need the money.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, will you actually go to the election with a promise of $22 billion?
SHORTEN: We will go to the election with an outstanding education policy but in the meantime, Mr Turnbull hasn't actually called the election, has he? In the meantime, we are going to stop these cuts of $22 billion.
I say to Malcolm Turnbull, when you're back from America and the chat with Trump, will you please sit down with the Catholic educators, will you sit down with the representatives. The best thing I could suggest to Malcolm Turnbull, other than sitting down and talking to people about what really happens in classrooms, is don't go ahead with that $50 billion corporate tax cut. There is money available to properly fund schools. We shouldn't be having some sort of hunger games which set different sectors of the education system against each other. Drop the $50 billion corporate tax cut to the big banks and multinationals and all of a sudden, we can get over this very unseemly and unedifying debate.
I see the Government time and time again say people are going to be better off. Well, I'm going to back the teachers and the administrators at the schools I am visiting. They have made it clear that Mr Turnbull's cuts mean that if you send your kids to the local primary school, you are going to face a significant increase in the school fees you pay. It is a cost of living issue as well as an education issue.
JOURNALIST: On the Adani coal mine, will you support the concessional loan for railway now that it has had the agreement with the steel works in Whyalla which could potentially be a lifeline for it?
SHORTEN: They are two separate issues, let’s be straight. I have always been a supporter of buying local steel. I think we should do that and I am pleased about that announcement. But I haven't seen the case made to dump a billion dollar taxpayer-funded loan to the Adani coal mine. If this is a good deal, if it stacks up commercially and environmentally, it can stand on its own two feet.
I don't see why, if this is such a marvellous bonanza, why the Government needs to get the taxpayers of Australia to underwrite a billion dollar loan. If it is a good deal it will float and if it isn't, it doesn't deserve a billion dollar loan funded and underwritten by Australian taxpayers.
JOURNALIST: It would support both jobs in Queensland and South Australia now though, isn't that worthwhile?
SHORTEN: Jobs are always worthwhile and that is why we were pleased to announce in Townsville earlier in the week, that we are committed to doing something about water security, giving Townsville long term sustainable access to water and hydroelectric power. That will be great for jobs in Townsville.
And since you've raised jobs in Queensland, I am pleased that Labor is backing in to extend the levee in Rockhampton, that will generate jobs, it will lower insurance premiums.
And indeed, as we announced in southern New South Wales, we want a third bridge across the Shoalhaven River, north of Nowra, that's going to generate jobs and productivity.
Labor is the party of jobs. And that's why on Wednesday, we announced that we were going to further crackdown on 457 visas. We all know that Malcolm Turnbull's heart is not in reforming 457 visas. He doesn't have a long track record in parliament of doing anything about it. We want to make sure that the money we raise from increasing 457 visas to three per cent of what the people are getting paid, we want the employers to pay that into a fund so we can start training up Australians to do, to get TAFE opportunities.
We think the smart way is where there is a genuine skills shortage, use the price of the visas to help invest in training Australians so we don't in the future need so many occupations which are required from overseas.
So in answer to your question, we are the party of jobs and the runs are on the board.
JOURNALIST: Just getting back to the education package again. The Federal Government says this school will actually be better off under their plans. Does that take the wind out of your argument?
SHORTEN: It doesn't surprise me that the Government says that. Who do you really trust? Do you trust some minister in Canberra who has never been to the school or do you trust what the principals in the schools say that this is going to cost parents an extra $2,600 extra each year? If you are asking who do I believe, Simon Birmingham and Malcolm Turnbull or the people who run this school? Well, I'll believe the people who run this school.
Put aside my political argument with Malcolm Turnbull, and my view that he is out of touch increasing the fees, if you want the truth of the matter, go to the classrooms, go to the schools. Parents in Catholic schools face significant fee increases because Malcolm Turnbull is making a $22 billion cut and parents in Government schools will see a reduction in the range of options for their kids as well.
Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals can't be trusted on education funding. Never have, never will.
JOURNALIST: So you will be blocking these, the school funding changes in parliament?
JOURNALIST: Donald Trump substantially cut short his meeting with Malcolm Turnbull. Is that a snubbing, do you think or was that just -
SHORTEN: To be fair to Malcolm, look I am pleased he managed to get into President Trump's diary. I will be honest, I didn't like the look of our Prime Minister being kept waiting for three hours, but I guess there is not much you can do about that.
I hope the meeting was worthwhile, and now that Mr Turnbull has had his face to face with Mr Trump, time to come home and sort out this education mess.
JOURNALIST: The President was very complimentary of Australia today, he even praised our healthcare system –
JOURNALIST: And committed to honouring the refugee deal. Is this relationship back on track?
SHORTEN: I don't think the relationship was ever off track. I think President Trump's just saying what I have said about Australia's healthcare system. It is one of the best in the world and that is why we will oppose Mr Turnbull making any cuts or delaying improving Medicare.
In terms of the bigger picture of the relationship, it has always been on track, it will be all right.
Thank you very much.