ABC RADIO GIPPSLAND
FRIDAY, 21 SEPTEMBER
SUBJECT/S: Esso Longford memorial; the Liberal’s cuts to education
HOST: The Federal Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten is on his way to Gippsland for the memorial outside the Longford plant and he's with us now, good morning.
SHORTEN: Good morning.
HOST: What do you remember of that time?
SHORTEN: It was a big time. I remember, of course, that two men got killed and another two were badly burnt. I remember Victoria was without gas for 10 days and I remember that the company at the time tried to blame the workforce. And what eventually happened is the workforce was exonerated and they received bravery medals.
So I've got lots of memories actually of the time.
HOST: And you were in a position with the union at that stage, weren't you?
SHORTEN: Yeah, I was with the Australian Workers Union, I was the Victorian Secretary and I was involved in trying to protect the workforce from the unfair blame of the company and trying to make sense of what had happened. And I met some fabulous local workforce at Longford, some have passed, but some I hope to see today at Longford.
So, a lot has happened since then but they were some outstanding human beings.
HOST: And what made you want to come back to Gippsland, to take time out of your schedule and attend this memorial?
SHORTEN: Because I've never forgotten the men I met there and their families, never forgotten them. They taught me a lot about resilience. Imagine when one of the biggest companies in the world wants to blame you for a fatal explosion which caused also great economic upheaval. And imagine having to withstand the pressure of a company who was - you know - their total wealth would make them, I don't know, the 18th largest country in the world - it's a lot of pressure on these Gippsland fellows. That’ the other thing they did is they got on with rebuilding the Longford gas plant, they were fantastic.
They got it up and running really quickly.
HOST: So that's why you're in Gippsland today but I want to ask you about this education funding as well. We've just been talking about the extra $4.5 billion in extra funding for Catholic and independent schools under this announcement from Scott Morrison, do you support that decision?
SHORTEN: Well, the Government is playing catch up with Labor in terms of putting more money back into the Catholic schools system.
The real story here - and you know, they're on their third Prime Minister for goodness sakes and they think everyone's got amnesia - but very quickly, this is the story: Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull cut $17 billion from all schools; government and non-government. What Morrison has done because the Catholic schools have been quite successful campaigning and because Labor has already sorted the issues out with them, is that he's put money back in the Catholic and non-government schools.
But you know they just can't help themselves. They're trying to do education on the cheap. There's still $14 billion that's got to be put back into government schools. I do not know why Scott Morrison is causing a fight between government and non-government schools. I mean the point about education is we want all our kids to get a quality education.
So what he's done is he's done a patch up job to keep one group of people happy but he's ignored all the other government school kids. I think that's a terrible mistake.
If you want to do education, don't treat it as a political problem to put a Band-Aid on, actually prioritise it and put all of the money that you've cut back into the system and don't discriminate against the government schools.
HOST: Yeah I mean, in saying that, you'd support this extra $4.5 billion funding though, wouldn't you?
SHORTEN: We've already said that we would put money back into the Catholic and non-government system but Labor believes in education. So we will put money back into the government schools too.
I think the antics of the last month, where the Liberal Party still hasn't explained why they got rid of Malcolm Turnbull and they just don't get it. Everything is just, you know, patch it up, move on, nothing to see here. Even the Liberal Government in New South Wales - Scott Morrison's home state - has said they're not going have a bar of this education deal.
Do you know, it shouldn't matter where a kid goes to school, parents pay taxes and if they choose to send their kids to government schools, as well as, to you know, your local Catholic school, all parents see some of those taxes reinvested in the education of their children.
The Government does not have a satisfactory explanation why they're putting back, reversing the cuts to the non-government schools but neglecting public education in this country.
HOST: We just had a chat with David Baker, the principal of Gippsland Grammar, and he was saying he gets fed up with this discussion whenever we're coming up to an election and that private schools like his are extremely important in educating kids in places like Gippsland. Do you support those comments?
SHORTEN: Sure. But I actually think Sale Secondary College is also important. For me, I am sector neutral. If you choose to send your kids to government schools, that's good. If you choose to send your kids to a non-government school, that's good too.
Labor is the party of education, that's why we are offering to fix up all of the cuts that the Liberals have made, not just the ones to the non-government schools. What is the answer to why the Government is reversing cuts to one sector of our schooling system and not the other?
HOST: Do you feel like the Australian people though, have lost confidence in their politicians –
SHORTEN: – sure
HOST: – and whenever they listen to yourself speaking or the Prime Minister speaking, they just think this is all spin?
SHORTEN: Well no, fair's fair. I do think that people are very disillusioned, but you can't mark me down because we're willing to properly fund education and just dismiss it as spin. Facts have still got to matter. Do you know what, sometimes some people in the media - and I'm not saying you but others - have got to actually stretch themselves and ascertain the facts. You can't just say every politician is spinning.
We are fair dinkum. We are engaging in tax reform; we're not going to give tax concessions to the super wealthy in this country. That's why we can afford to invest in education.
I think it's more important that the children of the Longford workforce, whatever school they go to, get properly funded. I've spent a lot of time in Gippsland in my working life. I know that it's a great quality life. My mum was a school teacher down at Orbost in the 60s. Gippsland is part of what I know but I know that schools need to be properly funded, government as well as non-government.
HOST: Look, thank you very much for your time this morning, I appreciate it.
SHORTEN: Yeah lovely to talk. And it's going to be great to see some people even though it's marking a tragic event.
HOST: Bill Shorten, Opposition Leader.