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Transcript of interview with Joe O'Brien: ABC2 News Breakfast: 20 August 2009: Australia-China relations; Henry Tax Review; Building the Education Revolution.



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INTERVIEW WITH JOE O'BRIEN

ABC2 NEWS BREAKFAST

THURSDAY, 20 AUGUST 2009

SUBJECTS: Australia-China relations, Henry Tax Review, Building the Education Revolution.

CHRIS BOWEN:

Good morning Joe, good to talk to you.

JOE O'BRIEN:

Now much has been made on our reliance on China, the economic strength of China. It really does seem that relations are strained. We've got reports this morning that a Communist Party newspaper is saying that Australia's sinophobic politicians are leading the world's anti-China chorus.

Are you concerned about what's happening there?

BOWEN:

Well the first point to make there would be that in the work that we've seen - the biggest trade deal in Australia's history, between Australia and China, it would be unusual to say that the relationship is particularly strained.

The second point to make is that in any good working relationship, you are going to get disagreements from time to time. We know China would have preferred that we took a different approach on the visit of the recent dissident leader from China but we make no apologies for that. We follow the appropriate procedures and good friends tell each other what they're thinking.

We have a good relationship with China, we say what we think on human rights but we also have an excellent trading relationship and that will continue.

O'BRIEN:

You would think to be seriously concerned though with the Ambassador back in Australia and apparently having cancelled meetings in Beijing?

BOWEN:

Look I understand this is a routine visit from the Ambassador back to Australia - it happened last year, it happened the year before. Of course Ambassadors return to their home country from time to time to discussions with home governments and reports back. My advice is that is what is occurring in this instance.

O'BRIEN:

Now you're a member of the Expenditure Review Committee, can you rule out resorting to personal tax increases as a means of addressing the budget deficit?

BOWEN:

Look what we're seeing here is what we're used to from the Liberal Party which is a scare campaign on tax. The Treasurer, the Prime Minister, we've all made it clear we're not considering any particular tax measures in that regard but we have the Henry Review and the Henry Review should be allowed to get on with its job without daily political point-scoring from the Opposition. I mean the Opposition lectures us on tax reform at the same time they play cheap political games, and calls for us to rule things in and out of the Henry Review.

Well if you're going to let a review do its job, you've got to let it get on with its job. It means not ruling things in or out while that review is being undertaken.

O'BRIEN:

So you may eventually resort to personal tax increases?

BOWEN:

What I'm saying Joe is that we have a very comprehensive tax review being chaired by Ken Henry and the Henry review should be able to get on with its job. That will mean they will recommend some things which are politically controversial - I have no doubt - and the Government will then work through them and respond accordingly. What we're not going to do is give instructions and write instructions to Ken Henry and his other taskforce members about what they can and can't think about as part of that review.

O'BRIEN:

You're looking at saving money wherever possible now - the schools program has been criticised as being wasteful in some areas - is there any prospect of winding that back because apparently most of that money has not yet been spent?

BOWEN:

Well Joe I'd make two points there. Firstly, as a local member, the vast majority of school principals and teachers, parents and P&Cs are absolutely delighted with the Government's Building the Education Revolution program, absolutely delighted with the progress and the resources that under-funded schools aren't getting. You'll find in any huge program, the odd dissident who says it could be done better but I can tell you as someone who speaks to a lot of school principals on a weekly basis that there's a lot support for this and a lot of encouragement coming to the government from the education community.

O'BRIEN:

Well apparently some Exclusive Brethren schools, some of those schools have received funding. The Prime Minister says the Exclusive Brethren is an extremist cult, are you comfortable with an extremist cult getting that sort of money?

BOWEN:

Well there's an education funding formula in place. We came to Office to keep that formula in place. It would be a very unusual set of arrangements indeed if Ministers could pick and choose religions that could run schools and receive funding based on personal preferences. We've kept that formula in place, we've got a commitment to keep it place until a time in the future when we will review it and institute a formula which has been worked through the processes of Government.

O'BRIEN:

Ok Chris Bowen in Canberra, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

BOWEN:

Great pleasure, thanks very much Joe.