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Transcript of interview with Kieran Gilbert: Sky News: 29 October 2012: Australia in the Asian Century White Paper; Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook; Maxine McKew; SA ALP conference; border protection

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Subjects: Australia in the Asian Century White Paper; Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook; Maxine McKew; SA ALP conference; Border protection

HOST: Prime Minister Julia Gillard thanks very much for you time.

PM: Thank you.

HOST: On the Asian Century White Paper, one of the goals is to have all students having continuous access to one of the priority languages - Mandarin, Hindi, Indonesian or Japanese.

Access is one thing but having them chose to take it up is another. How does the nation promote students taking on these languages?

PM: I actually think that’s a job for all of us, Kieran, to send messages to kids about how important it is to be ready to seize all of the opportunities of this century of change and growth in Indonesia.

I was actually joking yesterday during the course of talking to people about the Asian Century White Paper, when I went to school, which is some time ago, but when I went to school kids were streamed and if you were in the top class you were offered French and German - well actually not offered you were told that you were going to study French and German; if you were streamed in the bottom class then you learned Indonesian.

And looking back at it now, I mean what an inverse set of incentives for kids where really we’ve got to be sending to kids the message that being able to speak one of the languages of our region and understanding our region, being Asia-capable, is going to be pivotal to their future and to them enjoying a good career in a century that is going to offer them tremendous opportunity.

HOST: Do you think the nation is yet to grapple with the scale of the transformation that is unfolding in our region?

PM: I think we are still grappling with it which is why I delivered the national plan yesterday for Australia to be a winner in this Asian century of change.

I mean, we’ve been changing our nation for the past 30 years as we’ve opened our economy to the world and of course we’ve engaged in our region in many ways. But

now as the growth of our region is turbocharged so does our engagement have to be turbocharged.

So I’d like to turn on Sky and listen to you knowledgably commentating about the politics of Indonesia or what’s happening in China today or what’s happening in a media organisation in India that you’ve got a link with, that would help all of us get more immersed in the region in which we live.

And across the board I want us to keep strengthening our economy and seizing these new opportunities. I want people to have the skills that they need to engage with the region and I want businesses focused on getting the opportunities that this century will provide us.

HOST: I spoke to a few analysts and academics yesterday on this paper and largely positive but one of the criticisms they had was, while it’s big on vision it’s light on dollars.

What do you say to that?

PM: Well it is big on vision, it is a national plan for the nation, it is drawing together many of the things we have done to prepare for this century; the National Broadband Network, putting a price on carbon, the revolution we’ve been leading in education.

But it is challenging us to do more including giving kids access to language studies at schools, including getting the biggest companies in our nation around the boardroom table more Asia capable; including focusing on our innovation systems, driving the quality or our universities, driving our ease of doing business in this country.

So it’s a vision, it’s going to take some time to deliver but if we get this right, in 2025, what it will mean for Australians is more jobs, higher skills and an increasing income on average of more than $10,000.

HOST: The Opposition has described it, much of the paper, as predictable common sense. That’s a fair assessment isn’t it?

PM: Look, I’ve heard various things from the Opposition. I’ve heard that said, I’ve heard them be very negative about it, I’ve heard them say the Government should spend a lot of money at the same time that they try chide us for spending too much money so I really don’t worry about all of that negativity from the Opposition.

Essentially the contrast in Australian politics is between a Government that’s got a clear plan for the future and an Opposition with no plan.

HOST: Onto a related issue, the prominent economist Chris Richardson often describes our budget as having a ‘Made in China’ sign on it and last week we saw the fact that the mining tax reportedly has brought in no revenue for the first quarter. In that context, the softer commodity prices, what’s the status of the surplus? Is it a guarantee or an aspiration, where does it stand?

PM: Look on that critique about commodity prices and the Minerals Resources Rent Tax, the Treasurer dealt with that last week. We have downgraded the forecasts as to how much will come from the mining tax.

It’s a profits based tax and so you would expect that as a profits based tax to go up and down as commodity prices do but Treasury has given us a new forecast for this financial year and of course we stand by that Treasury forecast and that is part of a Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook which delivers a budget surplus.

So we’re very determined to bring the budget to surplus but on the ‘Made in China’ stamp on the budget, I don’t accept that analysis but I do think that Chris is trying to get us to think about something very important which is what we’ve seen in resources is really a down-payment in our economy of what this century of change can mean for us.

Asia has been saying to Australia, ‘we want your raw commodities, it’s feeding our urbanisation, sell us those raw commodities’. Now we’ve got to be ready for what Asia will want next when Asia is the region of the world with more middle class people than anywhere else.

Where two million people are connecting to the internet every week; where people will want, all of the things that you and I want. Great food, good wine, holidays in interesting places, legal services, financial services, health services, the ability to get kids the world’s best education and Australia will be well positioned with our good universities to offer that education.

Elaborately transformed manufactures; not manufacturing that’s all about cheapness and cost but manufacturing that’s customised and is the identical thing that you want.

This is the future we’re looking for in this Asian century of change and we’re in the right region of the world to seize these opportunities.

HOST: At the start of this parliamentary sitting week I want to ask you about a few other issues around at the moment. We saw a protest in Nauru yesterday, cases of self-harm reportedly as well increasing.

Do you concede it’s going to be a long and problematic detention for many of these asylum seekers, whether it be three, four, five, six years?

PM: Yes, people can expect to be on Nauru or Manus Island for a long time. That is pivotal to the no advantage test that came out of Angus Houston’s review of asylum seeker policy but if you pay a people smuggler, you get on a boat, you risk your life, you end up in Nauru or PNG and you wait the same amount of time you would have waited if you hadn’t moved.

So for many people, they’re going to be feeling the pressure of some of those long hard days. Of course we roll out mental health and support services but we are sending a very clear message to the region here: you don’t get an advantage by getting on a boat.

HOST: Onto Penny Wong being the number two stop on the senate ticket in South Australia. Is that appropriate given she’s one of your key ministers; that she’s number two behind Don Farrell who’s been described as one of the faceless men, one of the union powerbrokers?

PM: Well the South Australian state conference has made a decision here that both Penny Wong and Don Farrell are in positions that will see them returned to the parliament after the next election.

Penny Wong is a critical part of my team, I deliberately promoted Penny Wong into the job of Finance Minister because I’m very admiring of her capabilities and she’s done a great job and she’ll continue to do a great job.

Don Farrell is a Parliamentary Secretary dealing with a very important issue for the state he represents and that’s the issue of water.

They’ll both be here in the next parliament.

HOST: Anthony Albanese’s going to try and have this overturned at the National Executive on Friday. Do you support him in that?

PM: Look, I’m not going to comment on these internal Labor Party questions but as I’ve said, we can look forward to Senator Penny Wong continuing to play a role at the heart of Labor’s team.

We can also look forward to Don Farrell continuing to play the role he is now which is for the people of South Australia working alongside Tony Burke on the issue of water.

And the Government generally has been very focused on this issue of water and the Murray Darling Basin Plan and that’s what enabled me to deliver the announcement that I did in South Australia on Friday.

HOST: Onto the Maxine McKew book, we you’ve repeatedly said your decision to challenge Kevin Rudd was made on the day and I know that you said that on the record and you don’t want to elaborate on it but don’t you think these allegations made by someone who was your Junior Minister when you were Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister, that they should be addressed?

PM: Look, I dealt with all of this extensively on the public record-

HOST: She’s saying that you showed private polling, internal polling to one of your colleagues. Do you deny that?

PM: And I’ve been asked about these questions in the past too Kieran and it’s just simply not my focus. I delivered a major national plan yesterday, a plan for this nation to win in this century.

On Friday, I delivered a landmark announcement for the future of the Murray-Darling. Earlier in the week we delivered the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

My focus is on those things that shape and change our nation.

HOST: I know you’ve got to get going; one final question on the Newspoll. You don’t comment on polls, we’ve discussed that many, many times before but the up-tick in the Newspoll must be encouraging for you.

PM: Kieran, I’m going to say what you’re expecting me to say, which is that I don’t comment on polls.

What I do comment on is things like the plan we delivered yesterday for our nation. As I said to you earlier in this interview, I think there is a contrast in Australian politics.

It’s between Labor’s plan for the future and the Opposition lacking any plan.

HOST: Prime Minister, thanks for your time.

PM: Thank you very much.