Actions speak louder than words, results more than rhetoric. Peter Costello summarised it perfectly this morning. Wayne Swan really is out of his depth. Last year, Mr Swan promised no less than 500 times that he would deliver a budget surplus this year.
Senator Scott Ryan spoke in strong opposition against the Gillard Government’s attempt to regulate the media and stifle free speech in Australia.
Monday, 20 February 2012.
Topics covered: Labor leadership, Gonski review into education funding
Lyndal Curtis: David, has Kevin Rudd done anything that would be deserving of a conversation aimed at pulling him into line or a sacking?
David Bradbury: I’m certainly not going to engage in discussions about these sorts of matters. If I’ve got a particular view, I will raise it with the individuals involved and to be honest that is the appropriate way to handle these things. I think we all should be very much focussed on the job at hand. I thought what we saw today with the release of the Gonski report was a Government that is serious about tackling the real challenges our country faces.
Curtis: We’ll come to Gonski in a minute, but does the issue, as some of the Prime Minister’s supporters have said privately, need to come to a vote and if Kevin Rudd doesn’t pull one on, does Julia Gillard need to?
Bradbury: Julia Gillard is the Prime Minister, she has my 100 per cent support and she continues to have the very strong support of the caucus. There is a lot of speculation going on, and I have to make the point, and reaffirm my support for the Prime Minister, because I keep reading newspaper articles that suggest that I’m undecided – invariably articles written by people who have not spoken to me – and frankly over the last several weeks, I have reaffirmed my support for Prime Minister Gillard somewhere in the order of about a dozen times. There is a lot of speculation going on, but the reality is we’re a government that is focussed with getting on with the job and I think you saw in the major reform process we initiated through the release of Gonski today, that we are going to get on with that job. I support the Prime Minister in her efforts to continue to lead a Government that is tackling major challenges that our country needs us to confront.
Curtis: And do you believe, as the Prime Minister said, that she has the majority support of caucus?
Bradbury: I certainly believe that to be the case. The reality is, it doesn’t take a lot of noise behind the scenes by anonymous people to create a lot more noise out there in the media. But the reality is that the overwhelming majority of people in the party room are behind the Prime Minister, they want to get on with the job of implementing the reforms that we’ve announced and that we are part way through delivering and get on with the job of tackling those reforms that we are yet to confront – that’s the reality, that’s the bottom line.
Curtis: Scott, there’s chatter in the Labor Party about leadership, the election is still more than a year away, Tony Abbott, at the end of last week, added some ballast to your economic team appointing both John Howard’s former chief of staff, now senator, Arthur Sinodinos, and MP Jamie Briggs to the shadow expenditure review committee. Is that a sign over the confusion of economic policy a few weeks ago, that the economic team needs a bit more heft and direction?
Scott Ryan: Lyndal, all that shows is the depth that the Coalition has in its ranks and us preparing for an election campaign to make sure we have a plan to present to Australia. David is pretending here that what we were seeing over the weekend and what we saw this morning are some minor, anonymously sourced articles. What we have here are ministers attacking other ministers, backbenchers attacking other ministers and backbenchers. The Labor Party is like Days of Our Lives at the moment, you can tune in year-after-year and it is the same old characters having the same old fights.
Curtis: But if we look at the comments from your economic team a couple of weeks ago, you had people saying completely different things over things like the budget surplus. Is the appointment of Senator Sinodinos to the expenditure review committee on your side a sign that things aren’t going as well as it could be and it needs some help?
Ryan: Lyndal, what it shows is that the Coalition has people in its ranks that can contribute to making a plan for Australia, to putting that before the people, and once again giving Australia a grown up government that is more concerned with the jobs of all Australians than with the Labor Party that is just trying to protect their own jobs.
Curtis: And is the appointment of Jamie Briggs a sign that Mr Abbott knows he needs to bring in some of the new talent currently being kept out of the frontbench by the former Howard ministers he so often champions?
Ryan: Not at all Lyndal. What it goes to show is that the Liberal Party has a lot of people with the ability to contribute to designing the policies and selling them to the people, to show the people that we have a plan and we are going to be focussed on their needs, not the political interests of factional powerbrokers.
Curtis: If we could go now to the Gonski review into government funding (sic), David Bradbury, the report overall paints a worrying picture of education in Australia, Australia is slipping down the international rankings; in later school years there is a growing number of students who don’t meet even the minimum standards, while the government says the school system in Australia is still a good one. Do we need to do more to be able to compete, particularly with countries in Asia that are leaping ahead of us on the rankings?
Bradbury: I think that is exactly what the Gonski review is indicating, and that is, that the current funding arrangements, the current system that is in place, is not delivering the investment in education in a targeted and appropriate way with sufficient funds to achieve the sorts of objectives that we as a nation need to be pursuing. As a party, no party in government in the history of this country, has done more to invest in education, so I think people will rest assured that the Labor Party are the party that can tackle this particular challenge. We’ve seen in the time we’ve been in office an almost doubling of the investment we make in schools and I think what Gonski is doing, in I think in a very constructive and useful way, is presenting the government with a range of options that allow us to do what this country really does need to do, and that is to grasp the mantle, to tackle the challenge of more investment and better targeted investment in education, but to do it in a way that is not mired in the old debates, in the old divisions of private versus public, this is very much a set of suggestions, constructive suggestions, that are designed to achieve an improvement and a lifting in the standards and achievements of all of our students in all of our schools right across this country. If we want to be the clever country, that is exactly what we need to do.
Curtis: Scott, does this report show, and the government’s response to it, that Labor has come a long way since Mark Latham drew up a hit list of private schools that wouldn’t get government funding. The Gonski report has been welcomed by the Independent Schools Council and Julia Gillard has said today that she sees, as an entitlement of citizenship, that government should contribute to every student’s funding.
Ryan: Well look Lyndal, we’ve only had the report for a couple of hours, the Government’s had it for two months, so I haven’t had a chance to digest all of it. What I can say though is we haven’t had any specific detail about funding and we haven’t had a guarantee with respect to indexation that would ensure all Catholic, non-government and independent schools do not lose money in real terms.
Curtis: The Prime Minister has said she will continue indexation, that is something she has committed to.
Ryan: We don’t know whether it is indexation in current terms, with respect to the levels they have been frozen at from the last funding scheme. What we do know, as you pointed out, is that Labor has form when it comes to targeting independent schools. In the 70s it was Labor-aligned figures that challenged them in the High Court, in the 80s it was a New Schools policy that didn’t allow the construction of many new schools – people are rightly worried. We have said that we want to have a system that encourages private investment in children’s education and that is needs based, among other things.
Curtis: David, you respond.
Bradbury: You wanted to rip $2.8 billion out of the education system, that’s what you took to the last election. When it comes to investment in education, it is more than a bit rich for the Abbott Opposition to start to throw stones at this Government. We have delivered increases to private school funding and when it comes to private schools in my electorate, I know a number of them that wouldn’t have a trades training centre being built in their electorate (sic) today, had a Liberal government been elected. They went to the election promising to rip out $2.8 billion from our education system and it would have been private schools, like those in my electorate, that would have suffered at the hands of those cuts.
Curtis: A quick response from you Scott.
Ryan: The Labor Party can’t count a messed up school hall program as an investment in education. They can’t count a late national curriculum, you cannot count a botched trades training program where you’ve broken your own promises after you closed down Australian technical colleges.
Curtis: If we could move on quickly. David, the Commonwealth will need the agreement of the states and territories, as well as the independent schools, in order to get this through. Do you think there is sufficient recognition of the need to change across the board to let that happen?
Bradbury: I’m no fortune teller, what I do know is that this report has gone through a very thorough and comprehensive process, it has engaged stakeholders right across this country. I think it presents an opportunity. It is the first major review in 40 years; it presents this country with an opportunity. I would hope that working with all states and territories, working with all schools systems – government and non-government – that we as a country have the maturity and good sense to walk up to the challenges we face and start to make the type of investment in education that we need if want to be the sort of country that we can be. That is the sort of country that has high skilled jobs, that continues to punch above its weight internationally and continues to have a strong economy that future generations require.
Curtis: Scott, if the Commonwealth can get the states and territories on board, can get the independent schools sector, the non-government schools sector on board, does the federal Coalition have to back what comes out of that negotiation process in order to give longer term certainty and stability on school funding?
Ryan: Well Lyndal, we need to actually have time to digest this, as I said. There is a lot in this report, we need to look at it in detail and I don’t think we can be asked to commit to anything today …
Curtis: … no, at the end of a negotiation process?
Ryan: Let’s see where they go because the so-called negotiations for the national health agreement were a farce. It was a take-it-or-leave-it approach and Western Australia still hasn’t joined. They were then re-negotiated and threw away all the principles to which Labor initially committed, so their form on negotiating with states – genuine negotiation, genuine consultation – is not good.
Curtis: Do you think, David, that any agreement that is struck should be a long term one? Should be up to the 12 years the Gonski report suggests?
Bradbury: I think that is a very noble and appropriate aspiration to have, obviously that will be tempered by what is practical and possible when it comes to negotiations with other parties. I think if we can deliver a system that does provide longer term certainty around funding arrangements – provided those arrangements are appropriate and achieve all the objectives we set out wanting to achieve – than I think clearly we would want to be looking at something that is longer term in its approach. We’ve got a long way to go, but we are committed to working with all stakeholders to do the best we can.
Curtis: And that’s where we will have to leave it. David Bradbury and Scott Ryan thank you very much for your time.