FRIDAY, 16 DECEMBER 2016
SUBJECTS: Salvation Army; Les Twentyman; Mr Turnbull’s cuts to pensions; Political activism in classrooms; Headspace program; Eddie Obeid; Federal ICAC; Gonski funding agreement.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody and it's a real privilege to be here with the Salvation Army once again, just before Christmas. You know, they do say thank God for the Salvos, but I think all of us who have just seen the meals and the people that they're helping here, just reminds us that Christmas for as lucky as many of us are, many of our fellow Australians are doing it hard. And that's why every year, and indeed every day of the year the Salvation Army is there when people need them.
So I want to acknowledge the Salvation Army, the volunteers and of course, the people they are helping and this Christmas, as we all sit down to our meals and give presents to our kids, let's just spare a thought for those that are doing it harder and perhaps every Australian can dig a little deeper so that every family and every Australian can enjoy Christmas 2016.
And in that same vein, I just want to acknowledge the remarkable generosity of Victorians who have all put their hand in the pocket to help Les Twentyman who does great work for kids in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne. I have organised a fundraiser today with a range of corporate people and trade unions and we've had overwhelming support both from those attending but even more heartening, many generous people who are happy just to give a donation to Les' organisation so that kids can get a Christmas present this Christmas, they can get textbooks for the new school year.
It has been a real Melbourne Christmas story. Les Twentyman has been there for us and now Melbournians are there for him, and even more importantly the kids and families that Les helps.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: It appears that the Prime Minister is making his own robocalls, it came out overnight, reassuring pensioners that the Government's changes aren't going to impact on them. What's your response to him now making robocalls?
SHORTEN: Malcolm Turnbull is the nation's number one cry baby. I've got a Christmas tip for Malcolm Turnbull - if you don't want people to complain about your pension cuts, don't cut the pension.
He is completely wrong when he says people aren't affected. Last year the Greens political party and the Liberals voted to change the pension assets test which will see 330,000 pensioners lose part or all of their pension from 1 January.
Mr Turnbull is unhappy because people are drawing attention to his cuts to the pension, but doesn't the Prime Minister of Australia have something more important to do than to demon-dial pensioners to say "I'm sorry about cutting the pension"? Malcolm Turnbull is rapidly becoming the nation's number one sook. What he needs to do is get over himself. If he doesn't like people complaining about his pension cuts, don't cut the pension.
JOURNALIST: Can we give you another chance for you to condemn the ACTU on their robocalls on this matter?
SHORTEN: I am not going to condemn people telling other Australians what's going on. The fact of the matter is if a robocall is such a bad idea from the unions, then why is Malcolm Turnbull doing it? You can't say it’s bad when one person does it and then do it yourself.
But the real issue here isn't whether or not Malcolm Turnbull has found time in his busy diary on the Sydney harbour side mansion to start ringing people about his pension cuts. The real problem here is that 330,000 Australians who have paid taxes their whole life; who have now reached the age where they are getting the pension. 330,000 people on 1 January are either going to partly lose their pension or fully lose their pension. Malcolm Turnbull should stop complaining about the messenger and start dealing with the message. Malcolm Turnbull - don't cut people's pensions.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about in NSW, I note a school is being investigated at the moment after students there sent a letter to politicians urging them to release children from immigration detention centres. A, do you think that was appropriate and B, do you think it is appropriate for teachers to encourage that sort of behaviour? Because it is not only happening in NSW, it is happening elsewhere but this case it was in NSW.
SHORTEN: Well I understand the kids are eight. No, I don't think that’s appropriate. I think 8-year-olds should be encouraged to write to Santa. I don't necessarily think they should be told to push a particular political agenda. Now I'm all for the teaching of civics and politics in our schools, and every year tens of thousands of grade six children come to Parliament and they see Question Time - heaven knows what they think about that. The point about it is, I think that there is probably the common sense rule that should kick in, and I'm not convinced getting 8-year-olds to write letters about particular political issues as opposed to just the general teaching of civics is such a good idea, no.
JOURNALIST: So you would back such an investigation to get to the bottom of it, to find out who was actually behind it?
SHORTEN: Well I think if we already know what's been happening, then there is clearly some evidence out there. No, what I would just say is the common sense rule should apply. I am not in the far right of the Liberal Party who want to blame teachers for everything that goes on in schools. I think our teachers do a great job and they've done a great job this year and will do a great job next year. I do probably think a certain degree of common sense has to click in. I probably think at the age of 8 teachers shouldn't be asking kids to get too political. I think that's a bit young.
JOURNALIST: Can I get your reaction to the Headspace report today showing the organisation only provides a small benefit to its clients? What's your reaction to that?
SHORTEN: Could you just take me through a bit more of the report?
JOURNALIST: So Headspace looked at the clients that are getting support for mental health issues. It's something that's been heavily backed by the Government; an organisation that's been heavily backed. And what we understand the headline from that report is that it is only providing a small benefit to its clients. What's your overall reaction to that?
SHORTEN: I'm probably a bit more positive about Headspace than that question. Youth mental health is a real challenge. A lot of people develop mental health challenges in their very early years, in their youth. And there's been a real gap in services until Headspace came along. But I don't think that Headspace alone can be expected to solve all the challenges of youth mental health but I have a pretty good opinion of them from what I've seen actually.
JOURNALIST: The report also said that some clients are going backwards in the Headspace program. Is it time for further scrutiny of Headspace and the funding and support it receives?
SHORTEN: Anyone who receives public funding should also receive a degree of analysis and review. But I'm not immediately going to start condemning Headspace. I think, on balance, they do a good job; they do a very good job. The challenge of youth mental illness and youth suicide is more than just I hold one organisation responsible for. Suicide and youth suicide and youth mental illness is far more prevalent than people realise, and I think that it's going to take not just existing services but a greater effort from all levels of government and the community to destigmatise mental illness.
JOURNALIST: It is obviously a serious issue and needs to be addressed but have politicians been too keen to back this organisation? I think they are going to be opening more than 100 centres around Australia. Have pollies been too keen to back Headspace and would money be perhaps better spent elsewhere?
SHORTEN: Resources are spent in mental health on a range of services but certainly from what I have seen of Headspace, they are doing a good job.
JOUNRALIST: Do you support a federal anti-corruption commission following the Eddie Obeid case?
SHORTEN: Well I deplore corruption wherever it occurs, be it in business, or be it in politics, in public life. Eddie Obeid is where he belongs - in jail. In terms of a federal anti-corruption commission, I said during the election that if Labor had been elected we would reconstitute a Senate committee looking at the various forms of a federal anti-corruption body, and certainly if Malcolm Turnbull is interested to work with me on that I'd be open to a Senate inquiry looking at the efficiency of these bodies, looking at the efficiency and effectiveness of what already exists at the national level and what improvements need to be made.
JOURNALIST: How much damage has Obeid done to Labor?
SHORTEN: I think the damage he's done has been done years ago. It's a bit like when the Victorian Liberal director who is now serving time in jail. Periodically people emerge in the political system who are corrupt and crooked. The best way to deal with them is to put them in jail full stop.
JOURNALIST: The Education Ministers are meeting for COAG today. Do you think needs-based funding is necessary to better education outcomes across the country?
SHORTEN: Absolutely, we have seen Australia go backwards in educational standings across the world. What I mean by that is that when you look at the results of Australian kids a number of years ago in core subjects like maths and science, we are slipping down the charts compared to other countries. And frankly, if our performance at the Olympics had fallen as much as our educational performances have fallen, there would be royal commissions all over the place. So I do believe needs based funding is important. I call upon Malcolm Turnbull to reconsider his opposition to properly funding education in Australia. I absolutely believe that kids in the regions, kids with disabilities, kids from poor backgrounds need more support to make sure that they get the best start in life. The best thing we can do is invest in our kids, and properly funding education is probably the best single thing a government can do to help the future generations of Australians.
JOURNALIST: Should funding be based on NAPLAN and international outcomes?
SHORTEN: I think funding should be - the tests you're referring to measure how we're going. I actually think it should be based upon need. I think there is four or five criteria which helps how you allocate scarce taxpayer resources. If a child has got a learning impairment, that requires more resources than a child who doesn't. If you live in small towns or the regions, you have got a tyranny of distance, but where you live shouldn't determine your resources so therefore you should get extra support.
I think kids who come from suburbs where there is greater disadvantage, where there's less wealth amongst the parents to invest in the educational system, I think those kids need to get extra resources. I think our first Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids also require additional support to make sure they get an equal start.
So I do believe in needs-based funding, a strong curriculum and teacher quality. Why is Malcolm Turnbull so out of touch that he keeps arguing that putting extra money doesn't make a difference? The only people who argue that more money in schools doesn't make a difference are people who already have a lot of money.
And this is the whole challenge as we approach Christmas 2016 with a Turnbull Government. They are happy to give a tax cut to a millionaire. They are happy to give $50 billion worth of tax cuts to large companies and big banks but by the same token, they are not supporting first home buyers and they're keeping negative gearing incentives in place, they're cutting the pension, they're cutting Medicare and they're being dragged kicking and screaming to properly fund education. The Turnbull Government's priorities are all out of whack. You know we've got the AAA credit rating under threat.
I want to give a Christmas present to Malcolm Turnbull and the offer of a compromise. If he would simply drop his $50 billion tax cut to large multinationals and if he would simply reform negative gearing so we stop providing taxpayer-incentives to people to buy their tenth house and thus keeping first home buyers out of the market, he would save $80 billion over the next 10 years to the Budget, protect the AAA rating and I think this country would be doing a lot better.
JOURNALIST: So therefore would you agree that the Turnbull Government should fund years five and six of the Gonski agreement?
SHORTEN: Well I do believe that the government should be making provision for funding years five and six. This sort of fiction that the Turnbull Government has that you need to make short-term funding decisions and therefore you can sort of, kick the can down the road on education or other services doesn't help long-term planning, doesn't help this nation. We we've get to do is get over the 24 hour news cycle, the short-term thinking and start planning for the long-term. Our kids expect nothing less from the leaders of the nation. Thanks, everybody.