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Opposition Leader focuses on education on his NSW tour; Prime Minister visits Federal Police headquarters in Perth.

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Monday 2 February 2004


MARK COLVIN: The Prime Minister and the Opposition leader have spent their day on familiar territory, working to their perceived strengths to win votes and media coverage. 


John Howard visited Federal Police headquarters in Perth to announce a plan for a "flying squad" of Federal Police agents to be sent to help struggling countries in our region and, as we'll hear shortly in the program, the Prime Minister took a little time to paint Labor as soft on illegal drugs. 


On the other side of the continent, the Labor leader Mark Latham outlined a plan to reshape school funding, and claimed that his bus tour of eastern New South Wales this week would be a return to "democracy in the raw". 


Matt Brown reports.  


MATT BROWN: Just after the bell rings tomorrow morning at the Wyoming Primary School on the New South Wales Central Coast, the Opposition leader Mark Latham will come through the gate with a ready-made backdrop to press home Labor's policy on funding Australia's schools.  


MARK LATHAM: You need needs-based funding, you need funding that's not about private versus public, school versus school, you need to identify the needs of schools and ensure they can all come up to a decent standard, a decent national standard of provision and results.  


MATT BROWN: But that would of course mean that public funding would be cut from some private schools, and John Howard wants the increasing number of parents choosing a private education to see Latham's Labor as a threat to that choice.  


JOHN HOWARD: I think the current funding arrangements are very good, what they do is provide choice and choice is very important in this area and the great growth in the independent sector has been in the low fee paying schools because people are exercising their choice. But we remain very strongly in support of a mixed system of both government and independent schools, and the aim should be to lift and maintain the standards of all of those schools. 


MATT BROWN: But Mark Latham thinks he's got a way of selling his message that will outflank that attack.  


MARK LATHAM: This whole unnecessary debate of government versus non-government schools, that's not the way of the future.  


MATT BROWN: Mr Latham's strength in communicating ideas lies in part in his willingness to use examples, as he did today at the launch of a documentary about the present day students at John Howard's old school in Sydney. 


MARK LATHAM: There's a lot of good people working really, really hard. You can just see in those extracts from Canterbury Boys that the teachers are stuck in doing good things, but you need more literacy, face-to-face tuition, you need more mentors, smaller class sizes, more time spent with the boys and girls to get it right.  


MATT BROWN: Mr Latham's floated the idea of performance pay for teachers. It might sound attractive to parents who doubt their children are being well served at their school, but it's less attractive for those who'd have to deal with the teachers' union and the realities of education on the ground.  


New South Wales Labor Education Minister Andrew Refshauge can see an immediate problem.  


ANDREW REFSHAUGE: Yeah, the difficulty with performance pay is how you actually judge a particular teacher's extra effort and the results that they're getting, because the students they're dealing with can be so different from one school to another.  


MATT BROWN: Among many media engagements this week, John Howard will attend several morning and afternoon teas as a way of mixing with the public. Mark Latham is about to embark on a bus tour up the New South Wales coast and hinterland, hoping that as the week unfolds he'll look like a man comfortable mixing it up in a robust public debate.  


MARK LATHAM: Anyone who wants to come to the Central Coast Leagues Club at 10:30 tomorrow morning, I'll be there. Come along and we'll have some democracy in the raw.  


MATT BROWN: Mr Latham's hoping that if you tune into the coverage of his trip, it will look like a bit of grassroots politicking. 


MARK LATHAM: I'll be having sort of the equivalent of the old town hall meeting, where anyone can come along, have their say, give me a pat on the back or a kick in the shins, depending on their preference, and I'll be there to respond as best I can.  


MATT BROWN: These sorts of events are still managed media campaigning, with a different backdrop. But to be fair, they mean facing whatever question of complaint gets bowled up, and that's where the strength or weakness of a politician can really be put on show, where Mr Latham should be tested on whether he can grapple with the detail, emphasise, never be dismissive, always listen and avoid the platitudes.  


MARK COLVIN: Matt Brown on Mark Latham.