02 December 2013



SUBJECT / S: Tony Abbott’s broken promise on schools funding; debt ceiling; temporary protection visas; GrainCorp.

FRAN KELLY: Bill Shorten, good morning, welcome to Breakfast.


KELLY: What promise do you think the Prime Minister Tony Abbott made before the last election?

SHORTEN: I was the outgoing education minister. We were closing deals with Victoria. The Abbott Government was scrambling to try and persuade the Victorians not to sign up with Labor and make us look successful. So they said on the 2nd of August 2013, this is Mr Abbott said it: ‘we will honour the agreements that Labor has entered into. We will match the offers that Labor has made. We will make sure that no school is worse off.' I repeat, that Tony Abbott said, 'We will make sure that no school is worse off.' That is what he said.

KELLY: Even in that promise, though, the Coalition was never promising to attain the Gonski funding model, only the quantum of money, do you accept that?

SHORTEN: They have written a 'Bible', an old testament full of quotes where they said that you can vote Liberal and you will get the same things that Labor was offering. Fran, we know the background to this issue, they did no work on needs-based funding, they were happy to rely on the old decrepit Howard model of funding which saw government schools in particular but poorer schools not do as well as we believe they should. We spent years working on a new needs based funding system. We entered into agreements with the Catholics, the independent schools, with five of the eight States and Territories.

The Abbott Opposition knew the one issue in this last election that Labor was street ahead of the Liberals in terms of the electorate was the view about who was best placed to handle education. The Abbott Opposition deliberately went to shut down this major point of difference by saying you can vote Liberal and you get the same deal as Labor. The Abbott Coalition has broken their promise, they've lied.

KELLY: But not even Labor could promise no school would be worse off. The structure of Gonski is that some schools might lose a little and others would gain and it's all about equalising, as the New South Wales Education Minister confirmed last week to us when they implement it next year 200 schools will be slightly worse off and 2,000 better off.

SHORTEN: Fran, let's not try to put a new coat of paint on the Liberals' broken promise.

KELLY: That’s true, though, isn't it?

SHORTEN: No what we said there would an increase in funding for schools. I was involved in the negotiations with the Catholics and the other state jurisdictions. We were putting in a serious amount of money, not because money in itself fixes things, but because we want school communities to be better resourced. We wanted children to be able to have the extra electives and choices. Giving children a good education is the best thing a parent, a teacher or a government can do. The Coalition before the election deliberately said to the Australian people - it doesn't matter who you vote for on election day you will get the same deal on education. Now the Government, the Coalition, has broken their promise. No amount of weasel words, I love the latest explanation, they’ve have had four or five explanations in the last week. One is the Government's attacked me personally, then another day they’ve said the media has got it wrong. Now they’ve given up trying to say that anyone else's view of what they’ve said is right. What Tony Abbott said was that we we're going to keep the promise that we made, not the promise that some people thought we made. Now these guys are saying we didn't hear it. Thank goodness there is digital recording of Coalition promises because these guys have got so much chutzpah they would like to pretend that it never happened.

KELLY: It was your job as education minister in the last few months of the Labor Government to try and sign up the rest of the States, the states who hadn't signed yet. Now Christopher Pyne says you failed and therefore this model is a shambles and a colossal mess. Is it fair enough to say that we can’t really have a national funding model with some States in and some out? That is a mess.

SHORTEN: Oh my goodness me, eight out of every 10 school children in Australia are covered in jurisdictions which went with our system.

KELLY: Yeah but the point is that’s not the others.

SHORTEN: Again, I love this Coalition; I mean I say that tongue in cheek. They said before the election that they will go with the new scheme, initially they said if all States and Territories signed up and then they retreated to say a majority of States and Territories. A majority of States and Territories went with the new scheme, not to mention the one in three children covered by administrations which are not government-run education systems. Eight in every 10 children in Australia. There's 3.6 million kids being dropped off at school this morning by their parents, being taught by quarter of a million teachers, everyone knows what happened. The Liberal Party agreed, they said you can vote Liberal or Labor, you get the same deal on education. The Opposition, now the Government, have broken their promise and it is not a broken promise to Labor, they’ve broken their promise to every child, to every parent and to every teacher in Australia and no amount of words can cover up the truth.

KELLY: It's nine minutes to eight on Breakfast, we're speaking with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Speaking of promises Bill Shorten, the Senate is about to vote on the repeal of the carbon tax, the Government promised for two and a half years it would scrap the tax. Tony Abbott says you are getting in the way of it; you are you government-change deniers. Do you feel in any sense a pressure to get out of the way, give the Australian people what Tony Abbott says would be a pre-Christmas present of $550 a year reduction in their household power bill?

SHORTEN: Unlike Tony Abbott, Labor has always believed we should do something on climate change. We have a Coalition and a Government who are climate change deniers, that’s a much bigger issue than any of their slogans. Carbon pollution is having a big impact on Australia. We see it affecting our agriculture, our oceans, our environment. Labor wants to ensure that Australia is not left doing nothing on pollution. We have said that we would vote to repeal a carbon tax and replace it with something that works genuinely to tackle the challenge of carbon pollution. The Coalition have no sound or sensible comprehensive strategy to tackle pollution. The Abbott Government, you know, they've run up their white flag on election promises for the kids, they've run up their white flag on election promises to be serious about carbon pollution and climate change. There is not a single credible economist or expert who thinks that they have good ideas. Labor will best always be guided Fran by what is the best science available about our future.

KELLY: Can I get you on the record on a couple of quick issues that are coming before the parliament this week. Lifting the debt ceiling to $500 billion, the Government is now talking about scrapping that debt ceiling altogether, if the Greens and they can come to an arrangement. Is Labor open to that?

SHORTEN: Oh my goodness, fresh from their atrocity in education broken promises and ignoring climate change, this is a Government who said that the Greens are an anti-jobs party, he said that their political fringe dwellers but these guys will say and do anything to get their propositions through. I mean, this is the most cynical new administration ever in the history of Federation, they say about the Greens they are economic fringe dwellers. Now they want to get the Greens to give them a blank cheque to lift debt. Our proposition is to left the debt cap but to $400 billion. Let’s not ignore the Parliament, this Coalition don’t like Parliament, they don’t like scrutiny, they're a secret Government who are not willing to countenance the day to day analysis which a big decision like lifting our debt to half a trillion dollars or creating an unlimited credit card for Australian with no limits, these guy are desperate to do whatever they want, regardless of the consequences.

KELLY: So that’s a no to scrapping the debt ceiling altogether?

SHORTEN: Our position is clear; we don't believe that’s the right way to go. But if the Liberals want to play hold hands with the Green, a party they have lambasted – remember it Fran, you know you and I at least have a memory longer than the last three seconds. They used to carry on, they gave all these rancid frothing at the mouth speeches, oh the Greens are terrible, the Greens are running the Government. Well, hello, in the Senate what do the Liberals do when they get in? They are cynic’s, please, Greens we like you now.

KELLY: What about on asylum seekers? They’re not going to like this very much, the Senate will today vote on a disallowance motion from the Greens to overturn temporary protection visas. Would Labor support that motion?

SHORTEN: The issue on temporary protection visas is we’ve got an effective scheme in place which is PNG. That is the regional resettlement plan which is discouraging people from taking the risky journey on boats. Labor has always had a principled position in Government that we don't believe that temporary protection visas in fact solve the problem that the Government allege. In fact, if you’ve got people on them, then what happens is families cannot by any other means get to be with the person whose in Australia. So a TPV creates incentive for women and children to board unsafe boats, there's a PNG solution and as much as the Government want to huff and puff and say that you know, their good on boats, we have seen the farce of their buyback the boats policy, not a single boat which has been purchased, we’ve seen their tow back the boat policy, that hasn’t been a success story. The PNG solution where Labor sent the message loud and clear that if you go on one of the unsafe people smuggler boats you’ll be dealt with and processed in the region but not in Australia, let's stick to what’s working and the Coalition should stop trying to find wedges and red herrings to take our eye off the main game.

KELLY: So that you will support the Greens' motion then?

SHORTEN: Our policy is very clear, Fran, and we will stick to it.

KELLY: And just finally on GrainCorp, you're critical of the decision, why should this takeover have been approved? In your view where’s the national interest in this deal?

SHORTEN: Goodness me, I mean, whilst the business community publicly doesn't want to criticise their friends, the Government, privately Fran as you know and as many people know, people have gone how can this Government who says to they're open to business start to discouraging investment in agribusiness.

KELLY: Can you explain now for people listening now where you believe the national interest in this deal was?

SHORTEN: The real concern was a foreign company would gain access to monopoly infrastructure in Australia the real issue is the monopoly infrastructure and I think what the Government said by their GrainCorp decision is that they don't believe that the current rules and laws are sufficiently able to govern monopolies. The identity of who runs the monopoly to me is a less important issue than making sure that people have got people have got access, the grain growers have got access to terminal infrastructure and export infrastructure which doesn't behave in a monopolistic fashion, that’s the real issue.

We all know, Fran, that Joe Hockey and the city Libs have given way to pressure from the National Party. And you can't run a foreign investment strategy in Australia based on opinion polls. That is just short-term thinking. The real test will be for them not this decision but what are they going to do when the next group say well we don't like a decision?

KELLY: Bill Shorten you’ve got a busy couple of weeks ahead of you, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.

SHORTEN: Thank you Fran.