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Minister and shadow minister debate industrial relations and education issues.

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Friday, 2 February 2007





SARAH MURDOCH: Now to our new political segment we have on today. Joining us at the desk we have federal Health Minister Tony Abbot and Deputy Opposition Leader Julia Gillard.


Welcome to you both.


TONY ABBOTT: Good morning. Great to be here.


JULIA GILLARD: Thanks, Sarah.


SARAH MURDOCH: Before we get started—Tony, can I call you Tony?




SARAH MURDOCH: Julia, can we call you….


TONY ABBOTT: I’ll just call you Ms Murdoch.


SARAH MURDOCH: That’s right.


JULIA GILLARD: He gets called a lot worse things than Tony.


SARAH MURDOCH: Julia, you’re okay with Julia?


JULIA GILLARD: Yes, absolutely.




KARL STEFANOVIC: And you can call me whatever you want.


TONY ABBOTT: It’s a family program; we’ll call you polite things, Karl.


KARL STEFANOVIC: All right, Tony, let’s start with you. Julia has mentioned, during the last couple of months, how difficult it is for women, or particularly a mother, to become the prime minister of this country. If you were a woman could you become prime minister?


TONY ABBOTT: Well, I am not a woman….


KARL STEFANOVIC: And you’re having enough trouble as it is….


TONY ABBOTT: That’s right. I am having enough trouble as a bloke. But it is tough, mothers do it tough. To have kids and to hold down a difficult job, particularly a full-time job, is not easy. But I’ve got to say, a lot of women manage it. It is a tribute to their organisational capacity that they do and, I’ve got to say, I really admire my colleagues such as Jackie Kelly, there are lots of ladies on the opposition side, who’ve got kids and they are also very effective politicians.


SARAH MURDOCH: Right. Let’s move to industrial relations now. We just want to know where Labor stands? You’ve just said to us you want to rip up the workplace agreements but looks like your boss is softening on you.


JULIA GILLARD: Well, this is a very silly debate I think. Whether it’s ‘rip’ or ‘rid’ or ‘replace’ or ‘repeal’ or any other word you want to use, we’re going to get rid of these laws after the next election. So the current law will go, we will repeal it and we will replace it with a new set of laws which basically have more balance for Australian workplaces. And I am hoping too that we can deal with some of the family-friendly issues. I think Tony is right, it is tougher for women with kids. Many of my colleagues, Jackie Kelly, people in parliament, do a remarkable job. There are probably some things we can do to make it a little bit easier and we should be looking to do those things.


TONY ABBOTT: Just on this point of AWAs though, Julia, I mean, is Labor committed to abolishing AWAs? Yes or no.




TONY ABBOTT: Okay. That’s a million AWAs that have been signed over the last 10 years, including a lot that give people very high rates of pay in the mining industry, all gone.


JULIA GILLARD: The AWAs will go. We won’t have statutory individual employment agreements. There are of course other ways of guaranteeing people’s working conditions. We want to have flexibility up—that’s for sure—we don’t the flexibility down.


TONY ABBOTT: But it’s a lot of uncertainty.


JULIA GILLARD:   Oh, I don’t think it is uncertain. We’ll have sensible transition arrangements and people will understand that before the election. No-one will go into a ballot box wondering: ‘What’s going to happen to me under Labor’s industrial relations laws?’ That will be clear.


KARL STEFANOVIC: So Mr Rudd, yesterday, wasn’t softening his stance? He seemed to be moving away from your idea of ripping it up.


JULIA GILLARD: Well, I said ‘rip’ and he said ‘rid’. I am just not sure one….


KARL STEFANOVIC: It’s a little bit softer.


JULIA GILLARD: Well, if you’re getting rid of something … I think we’ll rip it up first and then we’ll get rid of it. So, you know, we’ll rip it up first and then we’ll be rid of it.


SARAH MURDOCH: Well, Tony, talking about federalism—because you’ve already taken over industrial relations, it looks like water and education is also going to be there. Is this something that voters should be aware of?


TONY ABBOTT: The Howard government wants to solve problems. Now, we can’t solve all problems immediately but there was a workplace issue that we’re addressing, there’s a water issue that we’re addressing, there’s an education standards issue that we’re addressing and I think it is very important that we remember that this is a nation first before it is just a collection of states. And it’s very important that the federal government take charge of the water issue because, plainly, Queensland and New South Wales have been ripping off South Australia. They are not going to stop doing that, that’s why the federal government has got to be in charge.


KARL STEFANOVIC: You’re making a grab for education though, too, aren’t you, in light of Julie Bishop’s comments yesterday?


TONY ABBOTT: I think Julie is saying that we need decent national standards. And she was pointing out that something like one-in-five Year 7 kids in Western Australia are functionally illiterate, that there’s been a tripling of the numbers doing soft-option English in Queensland. We need decent standards and we need to make sure they are being met right around the country. Now, the states ought to do this. Surely the states are capable of recognising there’s a problem and meeting it in this area. But if they can’t, well, maybe we will have to do more federally.


KARL STEFANOVIC: All right, that’s an ominous warning there from the federal government.


JULIA GILLARD: Look, we’re happy to see national leadership in important national issues, but one of the problems here is often you get a big headline about something that the Howard government is going to do and it doesn’t actually happen. I mean, Julie Bishop’s actually had these headlines in the past about how she’s going to fix schools, and very little has been done. And on water of course we had the Prime Minister’s announcement last week, but it comes after 10 long years of not getting very much done, and a $2 billion fund being underspent. So let’s actually see it on the ground rather than just in the newspaper.


KARL STEFANOVIC: Just two quick issues before we leave. First of all, the weigh-ins; doctors are saying that’s probably not a good idea for kids to be weighed when they first go to school. It is something you support personally?


JULIA GILLARD: I think it’s important that when kids go to school there’s a full range of sort of diagnostic tests to make sure that they are there and ready to learn. We’re trying to pick up….


KARL STEFANOVIC: But weighing kids?


JULIA GILLARD: Yes, look, I think to give people good feedback about normal body weight is good. There’s got to be ways of doing that that aren’t going to cause anxiety amongst kids. We want to find those right ways but it’s very important when we’re fighting a national obesity problem for people to have a clear understanding about what’s a normal body weight and what’s an unhealthy body weight.


TONY ABBOTT: Why haven’t the states got school nurses? There always used to be school nurses? Why have the states dropped the ball on this? Now, I think it is very important that we tackle the obesity issue. I don’t want to see an explosion of political correctness that means that no-one can be told what their weight is because they might get embarrassed. I mean, plainly we do need to be conscious of these things but I think if the states are serious, if the states are going to be real in the modern world, this is something that they should take up.


KARL STEFANOVIC: Finally, has anyone seen the Treasurer? Does anyone know where Peter Costello is?


SARAH MURDOCH: Where is he?


JULIA GILLARD: I don’t routinely go looking for him so, no, I haven’t seen him.


TONY ABBOTT: I was on the phone to him the other day….




TONY ABBOTT: …and I think he was just finishing up his holidays. I think he is now at an international conference, and it’s important the Treasurer attend these things.


SARAH MURDOCH: It’s all gone very quiet.


TONY ABBOTT: Fight Australia’s corner overseas; it’s very important.


KARL STEFANOVIC: Sarah said, maybe he was off looking for his mojo before.


JULIA GILLARD: He’s still sulking after that leadership stump, I think.


TONY ABBOTT: There’ll be plenty of mojo from the Treasurer next week in parliament, I think.


KARL STEFANOVIC: All right, all right, we look forward to that I think.


Thank you very much for joining us today. We will see you next week.