ABC 7:30 WITH LEIGH SALES
TUESDAY, 26 NOVEMBER 2013
SUBJECT/S: The Abbott’s Government’s Broken Promise on Schools Funding; Indonesia.
HOST, LEIGH SALES: The Education Minister Christopher Pyne was unavailable for an interview but the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten joined me earlier here in the studio.
Bill Shorten, welcome to the program.
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION, BILL SHORTEN: Good evening.
SALES: Let me ask you to clarify a few things straight away that Minister Pyne has raised today. Is it accurate that neither Victoria, nor Tasmania nor the Catholic schools sector formally signed up to the school funding arrangement?
SHORTEN: No. The Government today has broken a promise it made with the Catholic education system, the Victorian and Tasmanian governments. They signed a Heads of Agreement. They absolutely did a deal to make sure their children at the schools that they run got the extra funding which Labor was promising, so that every child gets funded according to need.
SALES: So there is an actual written deal then that binds the Commonwealth to that arrangement?
SHORTEN: There are signed, well first of all with the government system, there's a national agreement, then there is Heads of Agreement as well, signed between the jurisdictions. So the answer to the government systems is yes there is. In the case of the non-government sector, their funding base is outlined in the Act. The Act went through Parliament. We had meetings, I had meetings directly myself with the independent schools and also extensive meetings with the Catholic Education Commissions, both nationally and some of the states. They publicly committed to a deal, so did the Government, and the then Opposition said before the election there was a unity ticket on education, that whatever the funding envelope was that we'd agreed to would be happening. Now, 10 weeks later, this is not the Government that people thought they would be and what's happening is they're now breaking a promise to every school parent in Australia.
SALES: I'll pick up on some of those points in a second but let me ask you to clarify one other point that Christopher Pyne raised. Did Labor cut $1.2 billion out of its mooted education funding because Queensland, WA and the Northern Territory didn't sign up for the deal?
SHORTEN: No, Labor increased funding for education across Australia during its term. We wanted Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory to sign up to our reforms. They wouldn't guarantee us that they wouldn't cut their own Budgets and just replace it with Commonwealth money. But everything we have done was spelled out in Budget updates before the election, and also the Opposition said before the election in black and white that they will honour the agreements and the arrangements which Labor has struck. Now they are saying that they're going to renegotiate all agreements. This is crazy and this is a broken promise to every parent in Australia.
SALES: Okay, you said before that voters are not getting the government that they elected. But they are the government, they can do what they like now they're in possession of the full information and full briefings from Treasury and the Department of Finance?
SHORTEN: I think this goes to trust. This is now no longer just an education issue. First of all, there are 3.6 million schoolchildren in Australia. Their parents, their teachers reasonably expect that the government of the day will stick to its election promises. This government is not sticking to its election promise. They said there would be a unity ticket before the election. Everyone knows that the Liberals were vulnerable on one issue in this election, that was their education credibility. They hadn't done the work, belatedly they scrambled to catch up. Their spokesperson and I appeared on your show at this very desk and the Liberals said to my frustration, there's no difference between Liberal and Labor. Now what's happened is they've reneged. But there's a deeper issue here. It goes to trust. 10 weeks in, the Coalition Government cannot be trusted to keep their election promises they made before the election. This is a most serious issue.
SALES: Let's turn to the diplomatic crisis with Indonesia. Tony Abbott has inherited this mess due to actions that were taken under the former Labor Government, that's right, isn't it?
SHORTEN: I believe that this issue is a very difficult issue and it be difficult for whoever was in government.
SALES: That's a statement of fact I've just made, isn't it?
SHORTEN: But let's go through this. This is a very difficult issue for any government. You know as well as I do that there's a convention about people not talking about intelligence matters.
SALES: Have you asked the relevant Ministers at the time if they were aware that DSD was bugging the phones of President Yudhoyono and his wife?
SHORTEN: I have to say that when it comes to national security we're going to respect whatever briefings have been provided to my predecessors.
SALES: But we're in a major diplomatic crisis now. It occurred thanks to actions when Labor was in power, you haven't asked the relevant Ministers at the time what was it done, why was it done, were they aware of it?
SHORTEN: Leigh, I think you appreciate as much as anyone else that what we have here is a situation where there's a breach of security.
SALES: You don't have to tell me what they said, I'm just asking do you know, have you asked?
SHORTEN: I'm not privy to National Security Council matters of that type.
SALES: Why haven't you asked the Ministers at the time what was going on?
SHORTEN: Leigh, what we're talking about is very clearly a massive breach of security.
SALES: That's all I'm asking why you haven't asked for some detail?
SHORTEN: I understand that, I appreciate your question. What I’m saying very clearly is that Labor, like Liberal, will respect the security conventions about not talking about intelligence matters.
SALES: Have you considered asking Kevin Rudd, because he was Prime Minister at the time this occurred, to be the one to make an apology to President Yudhoyono?
SHORTEN: If the Government wants the help of the Labor Party in whatever form we are ready to assist the Government.
SALES: Would it be appropriate for Kevin Rudd to offer that to help out?
SHORTEN: I respect that if the Prime Minister wants the Opposition to assist it in this matter we are happy to assist in whatever format that our diplomats and our security advisers recommend.
SALES: Would you yourself be prepared to offer an apology on behalf of the former government?
SHORTEN: First of all I'd have to know everything that had happened which I've told you I don't, but I am prepared to do whatever the Prime Minister and the others think will be of assistance to help repair the relationship. This is a bipartisan matter.
SALES: On this point that you want a bipartisan approach, you've had some of your ministers come out and say things that aren't exactly bipartisan. The Labor Shadow Minister Brendan O'Connor said today the Australian relationship with Indonesia had gone backwards because of the Government's failure to respond adequately and quickly. On the weekend your Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said the Government's performance haven't been terrific. Are you having trouble exercising leadership over your frontbench in this matter?
SHORTEN: I think Brendan O'Connor and Tanya Plibersek are outstanding spokespeople in their areas.
SALES: They’re not in step with you on this issue are they?
SHORTEN: Yes, we all are because what we recognise is that the Government needs to resolve this matter in the speediest fashion possible.
SALES: They're not taking a bipartisan approach though?
SHORTEN: No, I think you will find that they too want the Government to resolve this matter.
SALES: Why are they criticising the Government then?
SHORTEN: I think it's legitimate to say what you may think in terms of policy propositions and emphasise the need for speed, so I do believe though that if anyone was to challenge Labor and say that Labor is not willing to support the Government resolve this matter, that would not be correct.
SALES: Mr Shorten, thank you very much for coming in.
SHORTEN: Hey thanks.
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