Sky Television News AM Agenda
Kieran Gilbert and Nick Champion MP
20 February 2012
E & OE
This is AM Agenda, thank you for your company this morning. Joining me now from Melbourne, Liberal frontbencher Senator Mitch Fifield, and from Adelaide Labor MP Nick Champion. Gentlemen, good morning to you both. Nick Champion, first to you. Simon Crean this morning on Melbourne radio says that clearly, Kevin Rudd has been disloyal. He’s referring to the comments made by Andrew Wilkie, and Mr Crean says Kevin Rudd’s got to put up or shut up. Do you agree with him?
I haven’t seen Simon’s comments so it’s a bit hard to comment on your version of his comments. But personally I think it
would be better if everybody saved their direct comments to each other for caucus, rather than communicating through the media. I think it’s very important that people can be candid with each other, but they should do it in caucus, and they should do it directly to their colleagues, rather than communicating through the media. I know it’s a special set of circumstances but I think that would be best.
What do you think about the overall notion of this needing to be resolved, though? Surely the distraction from the education review today, from other things the Government is trying to do, that’s damaging, enormously damaging.
I don’t know about damaging, but it is certainly a distraction, and there is certainly two parallel worlds going on in terms of the public dialogue about these matters versus the legislative achievement of the Government. We’ve means-tested the private health insurance rebate last week, and the abolition of the ABCC which are very important reforms for the country. This week we’ve got a major review of education which I think the whole country wants to discuss properly and in-depth, and there is this parallel discussion going on which I think is sadly sucking oxygen from what are the Government’s legislative achievements and its programs.
Is it frustrating to you as a backbench member of the Labor Government that the Government is not getting credit for some of the progress that it’s made?
Obviously it’s a frustration. I’m just a humble backbencher so you can’t really get too irate about it. We set out to do our job out in the electorate. I do it to the best of my ability given the environment that I operate in.
But Kevin Rudd’s going nowhere, is he? This needs to be resolved doesn’t it, one way or the other?
I think as I said before it would be best for everybody if these matters were directly discussed with one another rather than through the press. I think that’s really the first step. Rather than going on radio or on twitter or any of that sort of stuff, directly commenting about these matters it’s probably best to discuss it with your colleagues first. So I think that’s the first step. Prime Minister Gillard is an admirable figure she abolished WorkChoices, she abolished the ABCC, she’s supporting car workers in my electorate. I think everybody should probably just cool their jets and let her get on with the job at this time.
Senator Fifield, I suppose this is just a gift for the Coalition. It has been for a number of weeks now. But as Nick Champion said there, the Government has been able to get some runs on the board legislatively, last week and then today with this major education review the largest in 40 years.
They may have some runs on the board in a legislative sense, but they’re all bad. Abolishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission that’s bad. That gives a green light to militant unionism. Abolishing the private health insurance rebate or means testing it I should say for a number of Australians that’s bad. That’s going to put pressure on people to drop their private health insurance and to go into the public hospital system, which will be an added burden on that already over-stretched system. But the real problem with what we’re seeing at the moment is that governments are meant to be focussed on the people’s business. But instead, this Government is consumed with the Party’s business. What we’re seeing is no longer a government, what we’re seeing is a taxpayer funded reality show. What we’re seeing is the survival instinct at its most naked and its most ugly. The answer here isn’t to swap leaders one more time in the government. The answer is to have a general election to give the Australian people the chance to choose a Prime Minister. To give the Australian people the opportunity once and for all to put this farce of a government to an end.
Nick Champion, on the Gonski Review, the major release today does the Government need to be cognizant of the concerns of many in the independent school sector? What are you hearing in your electorate from those sorts of schools who are worried that they’re going to lose funding in all this?
The important thing is that nobody is going to lose a dollar, and I think ultimately there’ll be some form of indexation for all schools. But the important thing here is that we’re having a discussion about education which is following the strong reforms that we’ve already built the national curriculum, the school stimulus which built many important school facilities in both private independent and Catholic schools as well as public schools has been a tremendous success despite the rhetoric of people like Mitch. This will build on that. It’s the first substantive review in 40 years, and the community should have a discussion about it as the Parliament should have a discussion about it. Stakeholders obviously will bring their own concerns to the table, that’s understandable and part of the process of discussing it is to work through those concerns. People won’t always agree and there are antagonists in this debate, but it’s important that we have the discussion because what we know is and I know this from my own electorate that disadvantaged schools, kids from disadvantaged communities, don’t get enough of the resources at the moment to really get them properly into the job market. So that’s always been my number one concern. I think as a local MP it would be nice for the nation to be able to discuss that and have the time to discuss it in a sensible way, and not have the hysterics of the Opposition clouding that.
Senator Fifield, some of those points that Nick made would be a fair course of action, wouldn’t it, when it comes to education reform? The argument on equity and improving those schools which are struggling at the moment? Additional funding for them over some of the independent schools, that would make sense wouldn’t it?
We don’t see the current system of school funding in Australia as broken. The Government clearly do. It’s important that any school funding system gives the emphasis to the public education sector, which the current school funding does. At the moment, on a recurrent basis, it’s about fourteen and a half thousand dollars that goes toward each kid in a government school, it’s about half of that going to each kid in an independent school. Each kid in an independent school in effect saves the taxpayers money. But we will look closely at the Gonski review. There could well be some good recommendations from it, but we want to study those, we want to consult closely with stakeholders. And our response to the review will be informed by wanting to make sure that parental choice is supported, by wanting to make sure that there is encouragement for private investment in education, by wanting to make sure that we have a system where we rely on objective data, and also making sure that any system is based on need. They’re the important criteria, and we’ll be judging the Government’s response by those.
It’s been long-overdue hasn’t it? Apparently the Gonski Review is going to find that the current system is illogical and not transparent in its structure. It has been many years since this sort of root and branch analysis has been done, Senator Fifield?
I think the Government’s overstating it when they say that this is the first time in forty years that there’s been a review of school funding. There have been many review over the years. But we think that we have a pretty good system. We don’t think it’s bust, but we are very happy to look at the recommendations of Mr Gonski. There may be some good ones there. But I’ll tell you Kieran what my real fear in all of this is that Labor might have in their bottom drawer, as they always do, a schools hit list. I hope they don’t open that drawer and pull it out, but it’s always a great temptation for the Australian Labor Party, who, when it comes down to it, when you scratch them, there’s always the politics of envy. And we want nothing to do with that sort of politics. We want to give parents choice. We want to encourage private investment in education. We want students regardless of the school they go to to get a fair go.
Nick Champion, finally on that issue of a school hit list, we’re not expecting anything along those lines are we?
Just understand this Kieran. There is no hit list, right. There is no hit list. Just understand that full stop. What there is a demand for and a need for is fairness and transparency and I think most Australians they’re pretty solid guidelines for the funding of the school system. Fairness, putting resources where they’re needed on one hand, and transparency so everyone knows what everyone’s getting on the other.
Nick Champion, Senator Fifield, appreciate your time this morning.