Bill's Transcripts





18 JULY 2013

SUBJECT/S: Better Schools Plan, Asylum Seekers, Australian Labor Party


BILL SHORTEN: Good morning everyone.  It's lovely to be here at Sam's Market in St Albans in my electorate at Maribyrnong.  It's important that members of Parliament get out and talk to the voters about the issues that are affecting them.  But one of the biggest issues affecting voters is making sure that their children get the best education possible in life.

So I'm pleased that the Federal Labor Government continues to negotiate constructively with the Victorian Government about the Better Schools package, which will see greater individual resources provided to every student in Victoria.

I'm pleased that we're still negotiating very constructively with the Queensland Government.  In addition, there are very good talks, exceedingly good talks, under way with the National Catholic Education Commission.

The Better Schools program; it’s really important that we grasp the opportunity of Federal Labor's commitment to better funding in schools.  We want to make sure that the state governments don't miss the opportunity to get valuable extra resources to ensure that school children in Victoria and Queensland get the best start in life and get that individual support which they need.

If you're a student who's falling behind, that extra support in skills and literacy.  If you're a really bright student who really needs to be pushed and have their borders and their imagination expanded, individual resources for those children too.

So there's a lot that's good that's in our Better Schools program and this government remains committed to making sure that every child in Australia gets the education that they deserve to put them, when they reach adult life, in the best start for life.  Happy to take questions.

QUESTION: How close are you to getting the Catholic schools to sign up?

BILL SHORTEN: The National Catholic Education Commission has to seek instructions from all their state commissions.  But I have a great deal of confidence that in coming days the Federal Government will receive the ongoing support of the National Catholic Education Commission.  We've got some final details to work out.

My interest, and the interests of the Federal Labor Government, are that seven-hundred thousand children whose parents choose to send them to Catholic schools throughout Australia get the best start in life.  I'm confident that we should be able to close a deal with the National Catholic Education Commission in the next few days, but there is some still ‘T’s to be crossed and ‘I’s to be dotted.

QUESTION: What about Victoria and Queensland?  How close are they?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, I've had something like seven or eight direct meetings with representatives of the Victorian Government and representatives of the Queensland Government.  They're in slightly different positions.  I have no doubt that Premier Napthine is interested in the extra resources which the Commonwealth Labor Government is offering every school child in government schools in Victoria.  But we need to make sure that the Commonwealth taxpayer dollars, which are focused on making sure that children get educational resources regardless of their postcode, that the principle is maintained of providing extra support for schools.

We've still got more detail to go in Victoria but I've got no doubt of the interest of Premier Napthine in securing a great deal for every school child in Victoria, which is good news for the parents of Victorian school children.

With regard to the Queensland Government, there seems to be some scratchiness in negotiations.  Let me use this opportunity to reinforce to the Queensland Government what the Prime Minister and I said to Premier Newman and their Education Minister last week.  We respect that Canberra doesn’t run schools, that the national Commonwealth doesn't run schools.  We respect the right of be it the Catholic education system, or the Victorian education system or the Queensland education system, who manage the schools, to run the schools.

The Commonwealth does not want to take over school education in Australia.  Rather, we want to make sure that school children in Australia don't just have a Queensland class education, they have a world class education.  All I'm interested in doing is making sure that the parents of every child in Queensland, get the same extra resources that are on offer in other parts of Australia.  We want to make sure that Queensland schools, which are good schools, are world class schools.

We want to make sure that every child who goes to a government school in Queensland gets the extra help in practical terms.  The homework coaches, the extra resources in schools, to help every individual child do well.  We want to see school communities empowered.  We regard our proposition on Better Schools to help individual children be the best they can be as a partnership between the Commonwealth and state government.  And the beneficiaries should be the children and parents of children going to these schools in Queensland and Victoria.

QUESTION: Do you have any further meetings scheduled with Queensland?

BILL SHORTEN: I've extended the invitation to the Queensland Government that I would happily get on a plane and fly up and see them.  I respect that the Queensland Government has got to balance its budget.  I respect that they've got financial challenges.  What I would also just – in the politest and gentlest possible way – is say to them, when you've got another level of government offering to provide two extra dollars for every extra dollar that you invest in children's education in Queensland, this is a good deal.

When you've got a Federal Government saying to Queenslanders, we respect your education system.  We don't wish to run your schools, but we certainly would like to be partners in making sure that Queensland school children get the best start in life that we can possibly give them.  It doesn't matter if you're parents or politicians, we should be united at every level of government and in our community to make sure that school children get the best start in life and that's why we want to have better school.

QUESTION: Are you going to have to extend the deadline again?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, let's hope that – the money offers are pretty clear.  What we've got to do is iron out the objections that perhaps particular jurisdictions have.  I and the Prime Minister are very positive and pragmatic people.  We don't wish to take over Queensland schools.  We wish to partner with the Queensland Government to give Queensland school children the best start in life.  It doesn't matter if you're at Indooroopilly Primary School or a primary school in Mount Isa.  It doesn't matter, frankly, what your postcode is.  We want to make sure that you and your teachers at those schools get the best resources to allow individual children to fulfil their potential.

What the parents of school children in Queensland and Victoria want, what they want from the state government and indeed Commonwealth Labor, is they want the same forensic passion to make sure that kids leave school resilient and well-educated.  The world is a tough place.  The best gift we can give our children is to make sure that when they leave school they've got the educational resources to do as well as they can in life.

Not all parents want their children to be astronauts or Olympic athletes.  But every parent wants to make sure their child is healthy, is happy, is resilient where they can't be happy, and make sure that they've got the ability to take advantage of the changing economy and do well in life. That is why it is important that the Queensland Government and the Victorian Government don't miss the opportunity to put resources into schools and Commonwealth resources so the Queensland education system can be as good as I know it can be.  And we back up our hardworking teachers in the Victorian and Queensland education systems.

QUESTION: The Queensland Education Minister made some fairly strong comments this morning.  Is that a sign to you that they're going to dig their heels in on this?  And do you know what prompted those comments?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, I was a little confused about the level of adversarial nature of some of the Queensland Government's comments.  What I would say to the Queensland Government is, it is difficult running a government.  I get that you've got debt issues to work through.  But, please, do not be confused by the fact that we are from the Labor side and they are from the Conservative side.  There should be no politics in school education.  The Commonwealth Government has a very good offer to provide additional resources.

We're dealing with the concerns the Queensland Government has about will the Commonwealth try and run schools.  That's not our job.  That's not our obligation.  That's the role of the Queensland Government.  But what we also know is that just leaving schools the way they are, denying Queensland school children additional resources, the homework clubs, the maths and science tutors, the extra options in terms of the creative arts, we should be working hard to give our children the broadest possible education with the most creativity and imagination.

So what I say to the Queensland Government is, there may be scar tissue about previous negotiations.  Let's move forward to working together.  For me, the issue is not Campbell Newman, or indeed the Federal Labor Government.  For me, the issue is can we do better for our school children in Queensland?  Can we do better for our school children nationally?  Yes, we can and we should do it together.  Thanks.

QUESTION: Just to close on another public matter.

BILL SHORTEN: One more, yes.

QUESTION: I’ve got two.  One on refugees.

BILL SHORTEN: Two.  Sure, no worries.

QUESTION: Is Kevin Rudd going to walk away from Australia's obligations to refugees?

BILL SHORTEN: No.  Let's talk straight about what's happening.  We are seeing a change in the composition of people who are coming to Australia's borders via people smugglers.  There certainly appears to be a greater proportion of people who are plainly economic refugees.  We take in hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands, of immigrants every year in Australia.  We are a generous nation when it comes to immigration.  But what I also know is that we've got to stamp out people smuggling.  It is an incredibly dangerous way to come to Australia.

What motivates Prime Minister Rudd is maintaining the integrity of our immigration system, is making sure that people do not put to sea in unsafe boats, cruelly and dangerously exploited by people smugglers.  And we know that the composition of people coming to Australia is changing from just straight political refugees to people coming for a much wider range of reasons.  We need to make sure that we have a system which is based on regional cooperation, engaging with our neighbours, to make sure we've got a lasting solution to these changed circumstances.

QUESTION: Minister, could I just ask…

BILL SHORTEN: Sorry, you were just going to ask me another question.

QUESTION: I just have one more on bullying.  I understand you're speaking at the conference tomorrow. The ACTU and the National Centre Against Bullying want national laws.  Are you going to introduce them?

BILL SHORTEN: We will have national laws in terms of bullying.  Bullying is a scourge in our community.  I know some people are saying the bullying problem is exaggerated in Australia's workplaces.  If you think that, then you're not familiar with the individual experiences of literally thousands of people which get reported to us through our parliamentary hearings.  Also bullying is estimated to cost Australian business well north of $6 billion per annum.  These are big issues and it is not enough for governments to put them in the too-hard basket.

The ACTU's submission is one of many, many submissions.  We will do everything that we always do, with the maximum of consultation and respect for all points of view.  But one thing's for sure, if you are a workplace bully, the Federal Labor Government is no friend of yours.

QUESTION: Minister, could I just ask you, there's a third place left on the Victorian Senate ticket.  Do you think that should go to a woman and, if so, who would you recommend?

BILL SHORTEN: I'm not going to get actively involved in day to day pre-selection matters of the Labor Party.  We'll sort these matters out.  We always do.

QUESTION: Do you think it will go to a woman?

BILL SHORTEN: I'm totally sure that we will have a candidate in the third place in the Senate in the not too distant future.  I certainly think that there's an argument to put more women into Parliament.  But I really don't want to get more involved about the day to day matters of the Labor Party when I've got the important work of making sure that we can get the best possible schools for Australian school children.  Thanks very much, everyone.  Please shop at St Albans.