ST CATHERINE'S CATHOLIC SCHOOL
10:45 AM THURSDAY
1 AUGUST 2013
SUBJECT/S: Better Schools Plan, Tobacco Excise, Australian Labor Party
BILL SHORTEN: Good morning, everyone. It's great to be at St Catherine's in the electorate of Bonner with Labor's candidate for Bonner, Laura Fraser Hardy.
Today marks the start of Literacy Week in Australia, so I've had the opportunity to read one of the short-listed prizes for the Australian Children's Book Council prize, Herman and Rosie. It's also good to be able to talk to the school community of St Catherine's, who are doing great things for their students.
Under Labor's Better Schools Plan Australia's Catholic schools stand to receive the largest injection of Commonwealth funds in one go than they ever have. What this means to children in the non-government schools in Queensland and Catholic schools is that they will receive the sort of resources they need in their school communities, which will allow them to get individual support for the kids who are struggling. It will help lift them up to the standard that the parents want for their children. For the kids who are doing really well, this will allow them to explore their borders and boundaries of imagination and creativity.
It is incredibly saddening that the Queensland LNP government look set to reject a possible injection of $2.5 billion of extra resources to Queensland government schools. Because of the siege mentality of the Queensland Government not prioritising education in the same way that Federal Labor will, children and parents of children at government schools in Queensland will receive less money than non-government schools.
The Federal Government is proposing a two-for-one deal. Put plainly to the parents of children in government schools in Queensland, Federal Labor has a plan where we want to provide two extra dollars for every extra dollar that the Queensland Government provides because we think education's important. Federal Labor has the same forensic passion that parents have for their children.
We know that children every day won't have a good day, but we know that if - what we can do is - by the time they finish school they have got a good education they can deal with adult life with the best possible start in life.
That's why we call upon the Queensland Government to find some more resources, to match Labor's offer, because the best thing politics can do, state and federal level, is make sure that our school children in Queensland in government schools get the same start that children at non-government schools in Queensland get and children at government schools in New South Wales are getting as we speak.
QUESTION: How would you describe negotiations between you and Mr Langbroek?
BILL SHORTEN: Oh, they're perfectly cordial discussions. But negotiating with the LNP has been a frustrating experience, because we've come with the best of intent, with resources to help every child. There's something like 1700 government schools in Queensland, well over 700,000 children at government schools in Queensland.
We want to see every child get that individual support which parents want for their children, so they get the best start in life. It is frustrating that even when we're offering to match every Queensland dollar in education with two Commonwealth taxpayer dollars we can't even get them to look at reconsidering their position.
I'd just ask the Queensland Government, this is not about having a state's rights argument with Canberra. This is about making sure that Queensland children get a world class education equivalent to what children are getting at non-government schools in Queensland, equivalent to what children in New South Wales and other states and territories are getting. We can work together here, but unfortunately the Queensland Government is suspicious and reluctant to change their priorities to suit the school children of Queensland.
QUESTION: The talks have eventually come - have essentially come to a standstill, though, haven't they? I mean, you had a meeting yesterday that lasted twenty minutes.
BILL SHORTEN: Well, let's be clear. The talks are going nowhere. We've made an offer. The LNP haven't budged from their initial position. We've dealt with some of their arguments about autonomy for Queensland schools. Canberra doesn't want to run schools in Brisbane. I mean, if the Catholic Education Commission of Queensland is satisfied that the Commonwealth Government doesn't want to run Catholic schools, why is the paranoia existing with the Queensland Government that somehow this is a Canberra takeover? It's not.
We are the only deal in town when it comes to better funding of government schools in Queensland. The Coalition has had many multiple positions on education reform, none of them sustained - sustainable. We are the only people offering the parents and children at government schools in Queensland greater resources. The parents' groups in Queensland want the extra resources we're offering. The Education Union, the Teachers' Union, believes it's a good idea. The Catholic Education Commission in Queensland believes it's a good idea. The Independent Schools Council of Australia believes it's a good idea.
The LNP government is out of step with most people in Australia about improving the resources to Queensland schools. It is very disappointing. But I can't see the LNP shifting before a federal election now.
BILL SHORTEN: Oh, just the tobacco there's been…
QUESTION: The Coalition, do you accept what they say, that it's going to be low income earners that are the hardest hit?
BILL SHORTEN: The cost of tobacco-related cancers hits everyone already in Australia. 15,000 Australians will die this year due to tobacco-related cancers. It costs the Australian economy socially, economically, the Australian taxpayer, $31 billion. I know that the Coalition, you know, has had sponsorship from the tobacco industry. I know that the Coalition's had sponsorship from the tobacco industry, but in this case the jury's back in.
Tobacco-related cancers are killing Australians. It comes at a real cost. We're determined to try and help meet that cost. Hence Labor's priority in terms of better funding of cancer treatments all around Australia.
QUESTION: It's not just the Liberal Party that's been accepting things from companies associated with tobacco. Apparently Kevin Rudd accepted a return ticket and two days overseas courtesy of the Korber Foundation.
BILL SHORTEN: Well, let's be very clear. A lot of the Labor policy in recent years has been to distance itself from tobacco donations. We're the only major party who has that policy. And furthermore, Labor is standing up to help tackle the scourge of cancer. 30 per cent of all cancers are related to tobacco. 15,000 people will die this year. The cost to the Australian taxpayer is high. This is a difficult decision. But I tell you what, if you've ever had a family member tackle the scourge of cancer, tobacco-related cancer, this is a no-brainer.
QUESTION: The election's coming up, do you think you’ll lose votes from smokers?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, anyone who's had a family member go through the scourge of cancer knows what the priorities should be. Everyone knows that there is a much greater cost caused by tobacco cancer than we are levying on cigarettes. No one says it's straight-forward or easy.
But I have to be clear. When it comes to tackling cancer and tobacco-related cancers, the science is in, the jury's back. The cost of tobacco-related cancers - the cost to Australian taxpayers far exceeds the money which we're raising through these increases.
QUESTION: But is it a health issue, or is it filling a black hole?
BILL SHORTEN: Ultimately it is a health issue. If there's $31 billion of cost to the Australian economy and in the next few years we'll raise five billion dollars, this levy doesn't - the tax, the increased excise - doesn't even begin to ameliorate the cost of tobacco-related deaths in Australian society.
QUESTION: Just back to schools for a second. The LNP government argues that they are coming to the table with their Great Teachers Equals Great Results plan and $500 million dollars for that. What do you make of that?
BILL SHORTEN: Listen, it's a good early step. But the New South Wales Government, indeed even the Victorian Government, in negotiations have prioritised education. When you want to be a leader, when you want to be a government, form a government, you have to make choices about where you spend scarce and valuable taxpayer dollars. Federal Labor makes its decision and we've nailed our colours to the mast.
We think funding schools to provide the best individual resources for kids, to empower school communities, to improve the professional development of teachers, that's just what you get when you vote Labor. That's our brand.
The LNP are not even matching, in terms of the commitment of resources, what we see in other states and territories around Australia. They're a sovereign government, they can make their choices. Clearly they've just chosen not to prioritise education in the same way which Victoria and New South Wales, indeed the Federal Labor Government have. This is not a political issue. It's a Liberal Government in New South Wales.
The very constructive talks we've had so far with Victoria, it's a Liberal Government there. This is not a political issue. It's not even a state's rights issue, no matter how much other people will try and wrap themselves in the state flag and say that we've got to be suspicious of the Commonwealth.
The Catholic education system fiercely guards its independence. They've given a tick to our reforms. New South Wales, Victoria, they're committed to the rights of their own state. The issue here is the LNP in Queensland is out of step with the prevailing majority opinion about what needs to be done to provide our kids with the best start in life. We've got to realise that school children in Brisbane and the LNP are not competing with other parts of Australia. We're competing with the world. And I for one want to make sure that Queensland school children and their parents in government schools are getting the best deal possible. We are the best deal possible.
QUESTION: As a Labor MP, are you very embarrassed about the findings of ICAC in New South Wales yesterday?
BILL SHORTEN: The revelations of corruption by ICAC yesterday in New South Wales about the conduct of some New South Wales - former New South Wales - ministers is - it's hopeless conduct, it's appalling conduct. I completely agree with what our prime minister said. All politics should have zero tolerance for corruption. And certainly, as the prime minister has said, any of the recommendations which are required by ICAC we will be implementing. It is appalling conduct. It's a betrayal of public trust, full stop. Thanks very much, everyone.
Media contact: Andrew Porter 0419 474 392