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Meet The Press -

View in ParlView


20TH MAY 2007


MEET THE PRESS PRESENTER PAUL BONGIORNO: Good morning and welcome to Meet the Press. The debate
over Australia's chronic skills shortage hots up. Technical education is back in vogue. Now the
hard part - getting young people to participate.

of thousands of young people take a decision to enter the trades, all sorts of trades and
vocational training. We've got enormous opportunity in the country, we have got an ageing
population, there's a great urgency about young people coming to a conclusion that a trade is a
great opportunity for them.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Vocational and Further Education Minister Andrew Robb is our guest. And later,
David Hicks returns to Australia but concerns for his civil liberties aren't over. But first - what
the nation's papers are reporting this Sunday May 20. The Adelaide 'Sunday Mail' leads with "Hicks
jetting in." Convicted terror supporter David Hicks is due to return home today in a private jet
costing taxpayers more than half a million dollars. The Brisbane 'Sunday Mail' reports "$20 million
on homes." PM John Howard's splurged nearly $20 million of taxpayers' funds maintaining two
residences, according to leaked research. The paper says Mr Howard chose early in his prime
ministership to live mainly in Sydney instead of Canberra, despite the cost. The 'Sun-Herald' has
"Blair blind in support for Bush." Former US President Jimmy Carter has attacked outgoing British
PM Tony Blair for his blind support of the Iraq war, describing it as a major tragedy for the
world. And Mr Blair has visited British troops in Iraq to say goodbye and to praise their efforts
and he says he has no regrets about his part in the US-led invasion which removed Saddam Hussein.
The 'Sunday Herald Sun' reports "Abandoned baby breakthrough." Abandoned baby Kathryn's mother has
contacted authorities in Melbourne on a special hotline. She confessed she was too scared to come
forward for fear of facing charges. The Reserve Bank has identified two major restraints for the
Australian economy. Infrastructure like roads, ports and rail, and a chronic lack of skills in the
workforce. That's where Andrew Robb comes in. The PM gave him the job of busting the skills
bottle-neck in January. And welcome to the program, Minister.

ANDREW ROBB: Thanks very much Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Look, if I can just go to David Hicks before we go on to other matters, his return
today, is that the end of the affair politically as far as the Government is concerned?

ANDREW ROBB: I do think in large part the matter has been dealt with. He's pleaded guilty. He now
will be back in the country shortly I understand. And he'll serve out his time and I think we can
all get on with our lives.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Terry Hicks, David Hicks's father, says the Government should take a belting for

ANDREW ROBB: Well, I expect that the father is still fairly emotional about the whole exercise, but
look, the fact of the matter is his son has pleaded guilty, he's now on his way back, he will serve
his time and as I said, the matter's been dealt with and I think that will be the end of it,

PAUL BONGIORNO: So it was an electoral problem for the Government. Do you think the way in which
the Government has in the end resolved it, will mean voters will forget about those concerns?

ANDREW ROBB: I think quite rightly people wanted it dealt with. The Government wanted it dealt
with. No-one when this first happened thought that it would be a protracted - as protracted as it
has been. Of course, for 22 months of that delay, a lot of it was was caused by challenges made by
those prisoners themselves. So, it was unexpectedly long in terms of its settlement, but now it has
been satisfactorily resolved and I think that will be the matter.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Just going to how the Government's travelling, two opinion polls earlier last week,
then the Morgan poll late Friday, have the Government facing a wipe-out. Here's how the leaders

OPPOSITION LEADER KEVIN RUDD (Monday): I'm up against a very clever and cunning politician, that's
Mr Howard. Anything could happen and as I said when we get to election day I think it will be 51,
49 one way or the other. Very close.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD (Tuesday): Ultimately we'll all find out whether it's not all been an
interesting exercise by the Australian public with its innate sense of humour and we'll find that
out on election day.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Minister, as a former Federal campaign director for the Liberals you're no stranger
to reading opinion polls. Are the public pulling the pollsters' legs in your view?

ANDREW ROBB: Paul, I think, firstly I think people are starting too tune out a bit, to be honest. I
think they're looking for a politics-free week or month. We've had a campaign really since Labor
changed leader. It's been very intense and I think people are getting a little bit sick of it all.
But secondly, my sense of the polls is that at this stage because we're in our fourth term, I think
a lot of the polls reflect the fact that people are putting the pressure on the Government to see
whether we're up for another term. Are we on song? Are we focused? Are we ready to do another three
years and do it well? I think that's a rational sort of response of many people. Anyone who's been
- anyone or any group of people running an organisation for a long time, whether it's the local
bowling club or a minor corporation or a government, people look more critically at whether you
know they're still ready for another term. I think we're going through that process. People are
putting the pressure on us and I do think if we respond appropriately, if we keep governing well
and we deal with the big issues, the climate change matters and water and other matters, I think
people will then be satisfied about our intent and our frame of mind, and there'll be a really
critical eye then come on the Labor Party. So for the Labor Party, they've released very little,
it's paper thin , their policies, and they haven't been subjected to any scrutiny of any
consequence yet, but their time will come.

PAUL BONGIORNO: One columnist today suggested that July could be D-Day for John Howard if the polls
haven't picked up. He suggested that a desperate party can do desperate things, cited the example
of Labor turning to Bob Hawke at the 11th hour way back in 1983. Is that a possibility in your

ANDREW ROBB: Look, Paul, I think that the strategy for us is to work our hearts out all the way
through, to be continuing to introduce more and more policy, to get on with the job. Often in a
campaign year, the conventional wisdom is that the incumbent, you know, should consolidate and not
make mistakes and all the rest of it. For us I think it's absolutely the wrong strategy. I think we
have to keep doing as we did last week in the budget and that is to work on 100 fronts to keep

PAUL BONGIORNO: So John Howard's safe?

ANDREW ROBB: Absolutely. You know, we've just delivered - John Howard and Peter Costello and the
team have delivered another 300,000 new jobs in the last year, a lot of prosperity, a budget which
has been overwhelmingly well received. We still have got a lot of energy, a lot of focus and a big
agenda ahead of us and you know the team's in very good order. We've just got to convey to the
community that we're ready for another three years and we're better placed than our opponents.

PAUL BONGIORNO: After the break when we return with the panel - the duelling solutions to the
skills crisis and the dilemma of the week forced Peter Costello to leap to a conclusion?

RADIO INTERVIEWER: There are two parachutes, one for you, who would you give the other one to -
Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd?

TREASURER PETER COSTELLO: The plane's crashing?

INTERVIEWER: Yes, the plane's crashing. Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd - which one?

PETER COSTELLO: The plane is crashing, there are two parachutes. INTERVIEWER: You've got one.

PETER COSTELLO: It's me, Julia and Kevin. You know what I'd do?

INTERVIEWER: I don't know.

PETER COSTELLO: I'd jump out!

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet the Press with Andrew Robb. And welcome to the panel, Jennifer
Hewett, the 'Australian'. Good morning, Jennifer.


PAU BONGIORNO: And Peter Hartcher, the 'Sydney Morning Herald'. Good morning, Peter.


PAUL BONGIORNO: Andrew Robb visited a building site soon after the Budget to emphasise the
Government's commitment to technical education and incentives to keep apprentices in training. A
key feature was three new Australian technical colleges to add to the 20 already built and the five
in planning. Labor took a different approach.

OPPOSITION LEADER KEVIN RUDD (May 10): On Tuesday night, the Government stated that it would
establish three, three, new Australian technical colleges across the whole country. Mr Speaker, if
elected to Government, we will make every secondary school that chooses, every one of the 2,650
schools that exist across the country, to enable them to become first-class providers of technical

JENNIFER HEWETT: Minister, he's got a point, hasn't he? You talk about urgency, you talk about the
need for hundreds of thousands of Australians choosing to take up a trade and yet your technical
colleges have, what, a couple of hundred people in them. That's a pretty ludicrous comparison.

ANDREW ROBB: Well look, it was all smoke and mirrors last week by Mr Rudd and of course very
disingenuous, he talked about three colleges, we had committed to three new ones. Of course he
didn't tell you about the other 25 that we've already in train, 20 of which are open. He didn't
tell you about the fact that since we showed a lead at the last election, with the reintroduction
of the old-style technical schools, one of the biggest mistakes we ever made in this country,
closing technical schools around our country, he didn't tell you that State governments, several
State Governments since, have followed suit and that there will be another 25 technical schools
introduced by State governments so that by 2009 we will have within Australia 25 schools, 30
schools introduced by ourselves, at least another 25 by the State governments, somewhere between
16,000 and 20,000 students by 2009 will be back in the old-style technical schools. Now, that is
seriously starting to address a problem that we've had with the status of the trades and the
education of young people who are born with strong technical and vocational skills.

JENNIFER HEWETT: These problems don't come up overnight, do they? You've had 11 years to see this
coming and you're suddenly acting now and your colleges at the moment are the grand total of a few
hundred people in them.

ANDREW ROBB: No, they've got 2,000 in them and by 2009 we'll have between 8,000 and 10,000 and with
the State government initiative following our lead and another 8,000 to 10,000. If Mr Rudd had,
instead of spreading money very thinly across a whole lot of academic high schools around the
country, if he had promised to dedicate the money that he talked about last week to further new
technical schools, the old-style technical schools, we could have in the country, close to 200
technical schools and to close between 60,000 and 100,000 students, back with dedicated specialised
technical training. Now that is a plan to start to deal with the skills shortages. You say we've
done nothing. In 1996 when we took office there were 154,000 people doing apprenticeships. This
year we've got 404,000 people doing apprenticeships. We have been working assiduously to improve
the availability and the opportunity for people to train and including a lot of people existing in
the workforce.

PETER HARTCHER: Mr Robb, you've had - we saw the PM announce in the establishment of this set of
technical colleges in the last Federal campaign, at the launch itself. Two weeks we saw the Federal
Government restoring to higher education spending the $1.9 billion it had failed to fund to keep
preexisting levels over the previous 10 years, thanks to Kevin Rudd's threat of an education
revolution. Isn't it true that we only have elections in the Labor Party to thank for the fact that
your government is doing anything at all on further education?

ANDREW ROBB: Again, this is a misrepresentation, a total misrepresentation of the facts. Across all
of higher education we have had a 26% real increase in funding throughout the duration, not just
recently but throughout the duration, of our time in office, the 11 years. In the whole area of
vocational and technical education, we've had a 99% real increase, we've gone from $1 billion to $3
billion in the time of office. We've gone from 154,000 apprentices to 404,000 apprentices. There is
a lot happening but because of the ageing of the population and because we've had more than a
decade of uninterrupted economic growth, there are real pressures on skills shortages. And, you
know, we've got to deal with it on a number of fronts. The Labor response is very one-dimensional
and paper thin. They are not taking any account of the very serious areas that we need to bring
people back into the workforce and train them at every age group.

PETER HARTCHER: Mr Robb, changing the subject to the advertising campaign which the Federal
Government's beginning this weekend on the subject of WorkChoices or what used to be called
WorkChoices, the theme of the ads is "know where you stand in the industrial relations system." How
can Australians know where they stand when, first, the amendments to the legislation have not yet
been put before the parliament and, second, when the Government is refusing to tell us how much of
our own taxpayers' money is being spent on those ads?

ANDREW ROBB: Well, look, again, the Labor Party are running a very disingenuous line on all of
this. We have got a responsibility as a government when there are major changes and we've got the
biggest service delivery responsibility in the country of any organisation, across welfare,
taxation, superannuation, health, education, and including workplace relations. If you listen to
the union ads that have been now run for 12 months, people would think that there are no rules and
obligations which attach to employers in the workplace. Which is totally false. There are very
strict requirements. Now, this advertising, what it will do is to alert people to the fact that
there are a series of rules and obligations, where to go to find that out and it's not only
employees that need to know it, I've got 4,000 small businesses in my electorate. They need to know
what obligations they've got to their employees. This is a very factual campaign.

PETER HARTCHER: Mr Robb, I'm not asking you about what the Labor Party is saying, I'm asking how
you can advertise to the Australian public to know where they stand when the amendments to the
legislation have not been put before the parliament and why won't you tell us how much the
Government is spending of taxpayers' money on these ads?

ANDREW ROBB: Well, as the Minister has said, we will review this on a week to week basis to see
whether people do have a sense of where they can go to find out the information. This legislation
has been in place now for well over 12 months, and the detail that attaches, the rules and the
obligations which are attached to the current legislation and the nature of the fairness test, the
fact that anyone under $75,000 must, if they do enter into a workplace agreement, they must not
lose out in that agreement. There must be a fairness attached to that.


ANDREW ROBB: These obligations are very important to people, know where to get to get this
information, that there is an Ombudsman, a workplace authority, what the number is, how they can
get this information. That's what the advertising is all about.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Minister, the public must be very cynical about this whole exercise. Are you
saying the previous policy was just lousy, or did you never sell it properly in the first place,
again using taxpayer funds?

ANDREW ROBB: Again, we've got 300,000 jobs that have been created in the last 12 months. It's an
unbelievable performance in an economy which is running so hot with such a 32-year low in
unemployment, to still create 300,000 new jobs is testimony to the success of our workplace
relations policy, but we are facing a situation where it is being misrepresented on a daily basis,
it is causing people concern, about their circumstance or the prospects of their children or others
and we have got a responsibility as a Government to properly inform the community about our
programs including workplace relations if we are to make sure...

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thank you very much for joining us today, Andrew Robb, and coming up, Civil
Liberties Australia on the return of David Hicks and the gang from Rubbery Figures with Paul
Jennings doing the voices have this take on the Dalai Lama drama and the latest cartoon from the
'Australian's newspaper's web site.

JOHN HOWARD: I'm here to see the Dalai Lama and talk about his dreams for peace and love.

KEVIN RUDD: No I am here to talk to the Dalai Lama about peace and love.

JOHN HOWARD: Rack off, I was here first.

KEVIN RUDD: Nick off loser.


DALAI LAMA: Lucky they will both be re-born as cockroaches.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet the Press. David Hicks by all appearances is not a hero but he is an
Australian citizen who was left to languish in a dubious legal hell at Guantanamo Bay for five
years. Under election year pressure, our Government arranged for him to return home after he
pleaded guilty to providing material support for terrorism. He's expected to arrive in Adelaide's
Yatala jail any time soon. The PM isn't celebrating.

PM JOHN HOWARD: That's a matter that should not be a cause of national celebration or observance.
He is somebody who confessed to training with a terrorist organisation, and I don't regard it as an
important national event. I think many Australians would share my view.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Joining us now Dr Kristine Klugman from Civil Liberties Australia, good morning, Dr

KRISTINE KLUGMAN: Good morning, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, David Hicks did plead guilty to aiding terrorism, and he is coming back to
Australia, be out by Christmas, or New Year, rather. Isn't that the end of the matter?

KRISTINE KLUGMAN: No, it's not the end of the matter. David Hicks is important as an individual,
but his case is a very important test case for this government. The Government has as you said left
him to languish for over five years in a hell hole, there was no evidence against him. The American
commission was found to be illegal under the US Constitution and he finally pleaded guilty to get
out of a hell hole.

PETER HARTCHER: Dr Klugman, David Hicks had from the very beginning admitted to training with a
terrorist organisation, he does represent a potential threat, should he be put under a control
order once he returns to liberty in Australia?

KRISTINE KLUGMAN: No, I don't think so. I think that he will be very much under surveillance in any
case. I can see no threat at all from David Hicks.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Dr Klugman, you said that he did nothing wrong. Clearly he did train with a
terrorist organisation. Shouldn't he pay some price for that?

KRISTINE KLUGMAN: I think he has paid a price. He's paid a very high price and I fear for his
mental stability having been in isolation for all those years. Imagine if it were your son or your
brother and the Australian Government did nothing to help them.


KRISTINE KLUGMAN: It was a terrible situation.

JENNIFER HEWETT: So if we now turn to the whole idea of APEC and what's going to happen there,
obviously there'll be some very strict rules brought in to try to prevent a terrorist incident. Are
you concerned about those, particularly given the idea that most of the public will say that that's
a very good thing to prevent the threat of any terrorist incident happening?

KRISTINE KLUGMAN: There's obviously got to be high spending on security at such a huge
international conference as APEC in September. The spend on it is enormous. I think the problem is
that people take things too far. The spending on it is enormous. I think the money could go
elsewhere and I think Australia is far more of a threat because of our involvement in Iraq.

PETER HARTCHER: The Government...

KRISTINE KLUGMAN: Sorry, we haven't - we haven't had to have - we have the level of security fear
here that it's not evident in New Zealand or in Canada.

PETER HARTCHER: The Government is still thinking about whether to allow foreign security forces to
carry guns in the streets of Sydney. What do you think about that, will you support that?

KRISTINE KLUGMAN: No, not at all. Not for a moment. I think the last thing we want here is to
import a gun culture like the US.

JENNIFER HEWETT: But are you saying that's really money, there's too much money being spent on
security? Given what's at stake, don't you think that's a reasonable way to spend money, to try to
prevent anything like a terrorist incident?

KRISTINE KLUGMAN: There has to be a balance in all these things. But I think that the Government's
gone overboard - there are 50 pieces of legislation that have been brought out in the anti-terror
laws, these are grave infringements of our civil liberties involved in these. As Professor Simon
Bronnitt said, let the criminal law deal with criminals.

JENNIFER HEWETT: But if you've got a situation for a few days where obviously the threat level
would be extremely high, and the risks grave, don't you think that the majority of the Australian
population would be prepared to suspend some of the civil liberties they would normally expect?

KRISTINE KLUGMAN: They may well and they may well be right, but I think this government is using
fear as a weapon. I am afraid that there will be raids by ASIO on Muslim homes prior to the
elections and I think this has to be decried.

PETER HARTCHER: So you're telling us that you think the Government is planning to use a
deliberately planned security scare as a political manoeuvre in the next few months. Is that what
you're telling us?

KRISTINE KLUGMAN: I have no evidence of that but one only has to look at the 'Tampa' an as can be
used in the preelection period.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Do you think one of the arguments - it's a very fine balance between liberty and
security and it is difficult to get it right but people would rather you err on the side of
security rather than liberty?

KRISTINE KLUGMAN: Yes, probably, but ASIO has had its staffing and its funding trebled. How do you
manage that number of people? They'll have to find something to do with themselves. The management
of this whole area that I think is of concern as far as civil liberties are concerned.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thank you very much for being with us today, Kristine Klugman and thanks to our
panel. Before we go, we note the death of Peter Charlton, a long-time 'Courier-Mail' journalist and
regular panellist on this program. We express our sympathy to his family and colleagues. And please
dig deep for the Salvation Army's Red Shield appeal. Until next week, goodbye.