Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Transcript of joint press conference: Penrith: 29 August 2013: The Coalition's policy for schools; costings; Medicare Locals; the Coalition's commitment to paid parental leave; Syria.



Download PDFDownload PDF

1

JOH

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WARRINGAH

29 August 2013

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WITH THE HON. BARRY O’FARRELL MP, PREMIER OF NEW SOUTH WALES AND THE HON. CHRISTOPHER PYNE MHR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR

EDUCATION, APPRENTICESHIPS AND TRAINING, PENRITH, NEW SOUTH WALES

Subjects: The Coalition’s policy for schools; costings; Medicare Locals; the Coalition’s commitment to paid parental leave; Syria.

E&OE...........................................................................................................................................

BARRY O’FARRELL:

Fantastic to welcome Tony Abbott back to western Sydney. Fantastic to be here with Education Spokesman Chris Pyne announcing what I think is one of the most important policies of this election campaign - the federal Liberal Nationals policy for education. Tony.

TONY ABBOTT:

Thanks very much Barry. It is great to be here at the Penrith Christian school with Christopher Pyne and with the Premier. This a great school and it's an honour to be here. It's a school which is very well supported by both sides of politics, Labor Ministers and Labor local Members have been here frequently too. This school has made good use of funding programmes that have been put in place by the current Government and current Government Ministers have been to this school frequently to celebrate the successes of this school as I do. I celebrate the successes of this school and I am determined, Christopher Pyne is determined, the Coalition team is determined to try and ensure that every Australian school is a better school and that as many as possible of our schools can be great schools. That's what we want. We want more great schools and we want all schools to be better.

The school debate in this campaign shouldn't be about funding because we will spend exactly the same over the forward estimates, save for the modest additional amounts that Christopher Pyne will announce today. We will spend exactly the same over the forward estimates as the Labor Party so Mr Rudd's scare that the Coalition is going to cut money out of education is simply false. School funding stays under us and it grows under us as it does under the current Government.

What we want to try to do is give every school the opportunity to make more of the money that it gets. We want every school to have more opportunity to be closer to its best self and that means, over time, more autonomy for schools, more independent principals, it means more improved teaching methodology, it means better teachers. So that's really what we're on about in this election campaign. We're on about

2

producing great schools through more principal autonomy, better teaching, better teachers, stronger curriculum and I want to thank Christopher Pyne for the work that he's done. I think he's done outstanding work not just as the Manager of Opposition business but as the Shadow Minister for Education and I now call on him to formally speak to the policy.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Well, thank you very much Tony. It’s great to be here at the Penrith Christian school with you as the leader and of course with my good friend, Barry O'Farrell, the Premier of New South Wales. Today we are finally launching our schools policy. I've given many speeches over the last four and a half years, written many opinion pieces but we've brought it all together into this policy document today, put the students first, the Coalition's policy for schools.

Fundamentally, the debate in Australia can get caught up on school funding. So Tony Abbott and I made a decision some weeks ago that we would ensure that the debate about education moved to a higher plane by matching Labor's funding model dollar for dollar. So you can vote Liberal or Labor and you'll get exactly the same amount of funding for your school except you'll get $120 million more from the Coalition because in this policy today we are announcing a number of measures, modest measures, prudent measures, but ones that will address some of the key issues that we think are important. We want more independence in State schools. We want more characteristics from the non-Government sector and the Government sector because we've seen in Western Australia and in other states where there's a pilot programme here for example in New South Wales that that works. So we're going to put a little bit of money into that, a new independent schools fund.

We're also going to have a review of the national curriculum but we're not going to throw it out holus-bolus, we want to keep improving it all the time, keep reviewing it. Most importantly, we want to focus in this policy on teacher quality because a very good teacher can produce excellent results in any school in Australia but a poor teacher obviously cannot do so. So, we want to invest in our teachers both in the undergraduate level and then in professional development throughout their teaching career. Our policy is about more independence in State schools, it's about a stronger and robust curriculum, it's about quality teaching and leading to more parental engagement where parents feel they have a real say in their children's education. I recommend the policy, there's many aspects to it. Those who wish to study it can take it away and study it but that is the central focus of this policy we're announcing today.

TONY ABBOTT:

Ok, do we have any questions?

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, the Government is releasing minutes as we speak from Finance and Treasury which it claims show that you've got a $10 billion hole in your $30 billion worth of costings, are you sure about those numbers?

TONY ABBOTT:

Those numbers have been produced by the Parliamentary Budget Office and they've been validated by three distinguished public finance experts, Peter Shergold, Geoff Carmody, Len Scanlan - former head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet - former Treasury official and Access Economics founder and former Auditor General of Queensland. Just on that point, let's be very clear - Mr Rudd has got all of his own figures wrong and now he's getting our figures wrong too. When it comes to Budget figures, if Mr Rudd's lips are moving, you know he's not telling the truth.

3

QUESTION:

They say for example you can't put $1.5 billion worth of savings for abolishing the Clean Energy Finance Corporation because it's an off-Budget entity. They say you can only claim $300 million. Have you not got the rules right?

TONY ABBOTT:

As I said, all of our savings have been costed by the Parliamentary Budget office and they’ve been validated by our costings panel.

QUESTION:

The Government says Mr Abbott that the Parliamentary Budget office and Treasury and Finance combined have come up with this figure so how do you reconcile that?

TONY ABBOTT:

I am confident that the assumptions that we have made are the correct assumptions and as I said the Parliamentary Budget office and our costings panel has validated our work and again if I may say so Mark, this from a Government which has got every single figure wrong, whether it was the cost of the computers in schools programme, whether it be the Budget forecasts over the years, they have just got their costings wrong, they've got their forecasts wrong, they've got their projections wrong. Mr Rudd has got all his figures wrong and now he's wrong about our figures too.

QUESTION:

They're telling you one thing and Labor something else?

TONY ABBOTT:

I don't know what different people might have said to the Labor Party. All I know is that our figures have been rigorously costed by the Parliamentary Budget office and they've been validated by our costings panel.

QUESTION:

Are you looking today, though, have you looked today at what's come out, these figures, what the claims are and the reasons for the shortfall or are you just saying that Labor was wrong before so they have to be wrong this time?

TONY ABBOTT:

I am absolutely confident, based on the work that has been done for us by the Parliamentary Budget Office and our costings panel that our figures entirely stack up and, again Tom, at the risk of sounding like a cracked record, this is a Government which has got absolutely every figure wrong, which is why I say when Mr Rudd talks about the Budget, if his lips are moving he's not telling the truth.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, last week you refused to guarantee the future of every Medicare Local. Last night you said you do guarantee the future of every Medicare Local. When did you decide to change your policy?

4

TONY ABBOTT:

What I said was that we weren't closing Medicare Locals. Some time ago we were going to abolish the programme. We then decided on better consideration, that we were going to review the programme and that's what we're going to do. We're going to review the programme.

QUESTION:

But why review it if none of them are closed?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, I don't guarantee that they're all going to stay exactly the same, but our focus is on trying to move money from the back office to front-line services and I am confident that Medicare Locals will flourish, provided they are focused on front-line health services not simply on more health bureaucracy as part of a Government which has now created some 18 Federal bodies quite apart from the Medicare Locals to look after health.

QUESTION:

Just back on your costings again, did the Coalition accept the costings from the Parliamentary Budget office holus-bolus or did the panel make any changes?

TONY ABBOTT:

My understanding is that we have fully accepted the Parliamentary Budget Office costings.

QUESTION:

Are they your final costings?

TONY ABBOTT:

We will have more to say about our overall spends and our overall saves next week because there's still nine hard days of campaigning left and we have a number of policies which are yet to come out. So next week, in good time before the election, we will give you a consolidated list of what we're proposing to spend, a consolidated list of what we're proposing to save and you will be able to see there how the Budget bottom line will clearly be better under a Coalition government.

QUESTION:

And the PBO won’t be the final figures. They might be altered by the panel?

TONY ABBOTT:

No, we have relied on the Parliamentary Budget Office to cost the vast majority of our policies and where we have a PBO costing we are using the PBO costing.

QUESTION:

Have you gone through any of these specific claims today, have you looked through them and said, "That's not going to be right because of this reason?"

5

TONY ABBOTT:

Tom, my understanding is that Mr Rudd's press conference started after this visit so, plainly, I haven't had a chance to analyse every single thing that Mr Rudd has said today.

QUESTION:

So wouldn’t it be better to wait then and look into it?

TONY ABBOTT:

Maybe your question could wait, Tom, but I'm doing my best to be candid with you guys and to state the simple truth which, on the one hand, all of our costings have been put together by the Parliamentary Budget office with the authority of our costings panel. By contrast, Mr Rudd hasn't got a single costing, hasn't got a single forecast or projection right so I'm very confident, I’m very confident to rely on our costings and I think the Australian people, they know who they can trust when it comes to economic management.

QUESTION:

Why is Jaymes Diaz in hiding along with many of your Liberal candidates in western Sydney?

TONY ABBOTT:

Thanks for asking me about candidates in western Sydney. I think that the Treasurer, Chris Bowen, should stop smearing Ray King and I think that the Treasurer of Australia owes a fine, decorated policeman an apology for the constant smearing, the constant smearing that we have seen of a distinguished New South Wales police officer who has a great contribution to make to the Parliament, should he get elected. Really… I mean you talk about this Government's integrity. I mean here is the Treasurer of Australia who wants his costings and his figures to be believed, making completely unsubstantiated smears against a fine New South Wales policeman. He should apologise.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, last night at the forum when the gentleman complained to you about paid parental leave and said that a fork-lift driver in Mount Druitt shouldn't be subsidising a pretty little lady lawyer on the north shore, you said that a taxpayer - a fork-lift driver in Mount Druitt won't subsidise it because big business pays that levy. How then are you going to stop the 3,000 big businesses paying that levy from passing the tax on to consumers?

TONY ABBOTT:

Because their overall tax burden falls. Simple as that, Latika. Their overall tax burden doesn't increase because there is a cut in the company tax which makes head room for the paid parental leave levy and many of these big businesses Latika, already have their own paid parental leave scheme which they'll no longer have to continue so…

QUESTION:

You're comfortable with those businesses abolishing their own paid parental leave scheme? Isn't that the market at work?

6

TONY ABBOTT:

Latika, I want a better paid parental leave scheme and I want a paid parental leave scheme that is available to every person, not just the people who are working for big business. Now, big business will have a company tax cut provided they're profitable. They will have a levy put on them to fund the scheme but the company tax cut makes head room for the levy. If they've got their own paid parental leave scheme, invariably a much lesser scheme than the one that we've proposed, they won't need to continue it so they will be better off. Every small business will be better off because its employees will have access to paid parental leave administered by the Family Assistance Office not as is currently the case, by the business itself. Every woman in the workforce will be better off and many, many big businesses overall will be better off as well and let's not forget, as well as all this, we're cutting the carbon tax. The carbon tax goes.

QUESTION:

But do you think it's a Liberal thing to do for a Liberal leader to encourage businesses to abolish their own workplace incentives?

TONY ABBOTT:

I think it is a very Australian thing to do to have a fair-dinkum paid parental leave scheme which finally gives the women of our country, the families of our country, the businesses of our country a fair go.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, on your education policy, do you think it's appropriate to announce the Coalition's education policy at a school which on its website says that homosexuality is an abomination?

TONY ABBOTT:

Obviously, I don't agree with that statement. Obviously, I don't agree with that statement.

QUESTION:

Are you offended on behalf of this system?

TONY ABBOTT:

But this is a good school and it's a school which has been supported by people like David Bradbury and Peter Garrett and look I respectfully disagree with lots of things that I said on that particular subject and obviously I disagree with that statement.

QUESTION:

[inaudible] policy then, is that the sort of risk that if you make more and more public schools independent, this the sort of area they can encroach upon and that shouldn't be involved in any public school at all, that sort of policy?

TONY ABBOTT:

The short answer is no and look, the independent public schools in Western Australia, the more autonomous public schools here in New South Wales are obviously bound by overall departmental and Government policy on those sorts of issues.

7

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, should the international community take action against Syria without a UN mandate as the UK is suggesting?

TONY ABBOTT:

What happened in Syria is an abomination, an absolute abomination and provided there is reasonable clarity as to who is responsible, some kind of sanctions, I think, would be merited. No doubt about that. I'm going to get a briefing from our officials on this subject later today and if there's anything more to add, I'll add it then.

QUESTION:

I know you have a bit of British heritage. For our audience at home and watching around the world, how would the world see Australia? How would it be different under your leadership than Mr Rudd and are you a bit concerned that the tough policies on asylum seekers of both you and Mr Rudd are bad for Australia’s image in terms of being branded as cruel and inhumane by some?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, every Australian shares in a British heritage because we speak the English language, we have essentially Westminster institutions, the great tradition of the common law has been taken by us here in this country and I believe improved upon but we're grateful for the inheritance that we get from Britain. Every Australian, as I said, shares in it, in a sense. What I want to do, should we win the election, is to focus Australia's foreign policy on the areas where we can make a difference. It's important to focus your attention where you can actually do good. That's why I say that under a Coalition Government our policy will have a Jakarta focus rather than a Geneva one.

QUESTION:

Is it a fair corollary of what you've said today in your costings that if the Parliamentary Budget Office finds that you've got a $10 billion shortfall, you'll accept that?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, it won't because we are not going to adopt policies which give us that result. We are determined to ensure that the budget bottom line is better under us than under Labor and one of the reasons why you send different things off to the Parliamentary Budget Office for costing is that it might turn out that some are more expensive than you thought, that makes them less likely to be adopted, it might turn out that some are not as expensive as you thought, that makes them more likely to be adopted but all of the policies that we commit to will be, in the vast majority of cases, costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office, certainly the main figures have been costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office or taken from the budget itself and they'll all be validated by our expert panel.

QUESTION:

An online book-maker is already paying out on a Coalition victory in nine days' time. If they're right you'll have to work with a range of Government departments including Finance. Finance has found a $2.4 billion hole in your policy costing in terms of the savings that will come from cutting public servants. Will your Government be able to work with Finance and how will it reconcile the $2.4 billion hole?

8

TONY ABBOTT:

Well again, our policies have been costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office and I understand that one in particular has certainly been costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office. Now, I appreciate that different expert bodies can, from time to time, come up with different figures, but we think our assumptions are robust, our assumptions certainly have stood the scrutiny of the Parliamentary Budget Office and the expert panel and that's what they've come up with. As for the bookies, as for the bookies, I'd say more fool them. More fool them. Some of you might remember I once worked for an Opposition that was careering towards an inevitable victory and it didn't happen. It didn’t happen. 1993 is proof that there is no such thing as an unlosable election and I think this election is very, very tight. It's very, very tight. The Government has unleashed the mother of all scare campaigns. The unions are spending $12 million over the last week or so on a series of negative advertisements. Every letter box in Western Sydney is being stuffed with material claiming that the Coalition is going to cut this and cut that - all lies of course. But as we know from a regrettable history, sometimes, sometimes lies sway people and no-one should assume that that this election…

QUESTION:

So do you think that Kevin Rudd is as formidable as Paul Keating?

TONY ABBOTT:

I respect, Latika, anyone who holds the great office of the Prime Ministership. I may not agree with those people, obviously I've disagreed with most Labor Prime Ministers on many subjects but anyone who has held the office of the Prime Ministership is worthy of the respect that we would want the political leader of our nation to have.

QUESTION:

I'm just interested in this independent public schools concept. Aren't you open to the charge that unless every school has the opportunity to become an independent public school that some public schools will be better than other public schools and doesn't that run the risk of entrenching disadvantage by post-code which is what the public system should actually fight against?

TONY ABBOTT:

Sid, I'll say a bit about this and ask Christopher to bring us home, so to speak. In Western Australia we've had the practice of these independent public schools now since the beginning of the Barnett Government a little over four years ago and almost a third of Western Australia's public schools are now independent public schools. They're very popular with the community and it's interesting that for the first interesting that time since figures were kept in Western Australia the proportion enrolled in public schools as opposed to in private schools has increased so these independent public schools are making public education more attractive than was previously the case and that's got to be a good thing, that’s got to be a good thing.

Now, as I understand it, and Christopher will elaborate here, with an independent public school in Western Australia, the school council appoints the principal and then the principal and the school council essentially get a one-line budget item. The quantum of money is no greater than the quantum allocated to any other school but instead of having all the various bills and all the various costs allocated by head office, it's up to the school community to decide how much is going to be spent on any particular thing so the resources are identical. It's the freedom, it's the independence, it's the autonomy which is great. There are some things they can't do, they can't have a discriminatory enrolment policy, as I understand it there are some restriction on who can be employed as teachers in the school but there is no way that there is any way that they are going to be advantaged resources-wise. It's just that they're going to be advantaged independence-wise and if

9

people want to take that opportunity, if people believe that they can make good decisions for their children, for the community at large, why shouldn't they be able to do it?

BARRY O’FARRELL:

Can I just make a point that running, for instance, in New South Wales, all 2200 public schools as though they were located on the north shore or the eastern suburbs makes no sense. Under the former Labor Government here we had a trial about giving to 47 schools greater local control by the principal and school community along the lines of what happens in most non-government schools and that trial meant that last year we decided to extend that across the entire public education system and that means that disadvantage can be picked up even better because instead of decisions being made equally from head office, without regard to local conditions, they're now made by school principals and school communities and Sid, can I make the point our most disadvantaged schools are often in Indigenous communities. We're running a Connected Communities program where there is far greater flexibility available in those schools as exists in non-government schools across the country to try and address those problems and to give Aboriginal kids in our state the same life opportunities as other children.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Well just finally, I think Tony and Barry have covered the subject. The only thing I'd add to that is the experience in Western Australia has been that it is low SES, post-codes as you put them, low SES communities that have embraced independent public schools. It is ambitious principals in the government school system working with their communities to turn those communities around, not so much in affluent Perth but in the lower SES school areas where a school can transform a community and while it's horrifying to the unions in some respects, reward for effort is having an important effect in terms of parental engagement in those independent public schools so it's not the affluent public schools so it's not embracing independent public schools, it’s actually the schools that can see if they had the same kind of decision making power as the local non-government school, how they'd be able to change that school and that community and I would urge you to travel to Perth and see these schools in action because it is quite a transforming experience.

TONY ABBOTT:

Thanks so much.

[ends]