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Transcript of doorstop interview: Melbourne: 24 July 2013: Better Schools Plan; Investment in La Trobe; Asylum seekers; Economy; Development assistance; Debate with Opposition Leader



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PRIME MINISTER TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP INTERVIEW MELBOURNE 24 JULY 2013

E & O E - PROOF ONLY

Subjects: Better Schools Plan; Investment in La Trobe; Asylum seekers; Economy; Development assistance; Debate with Opposition Leader

PM: It’s great to be here at Brentwood Park Primary School. I'm here with Laura Smyth and she's our local member. And this is a great Australian state school.

We're here to talk about the Better Schools Plan and our investment in schools right across Australia, including here at Brentwood Park.

I've just had a look at some of the investments we've made at this school in the past, including this fantastic multipurpose facility.

And what we're talking about now is how we invest further in the future.

This is an important plan for the country. The Better Schools Plan is about lifting the standards for all Australian schools, lifting the standards for all Australian school kids, so that there is enough funds to provide for that special one-on-one attention when you need it: if one of the kids is falling behind a bit or needs a bit extra for them to surge forward.

Now, I've been talking to the kids and the teachers here who are learning Chinese, this is a great thing.

It's important that they're doing so because it reminds us that our schools are part of the world. And there's a bit of a competition going on around the world as to which kids are going to emerge with the best skills in the future.

Here in our part of the world in Asia, four of the top five school systems in the world are just next door. Really. Hong Kong, Korea, and Shanghai in China and in Singapore.

And so under the better schools plan we want Australian school kids to be able to match their competitors, match the other kids from these schools into the future.

Just to underline that one more time. What we want is for Australian school kids to be able to compete properly against kids graduating from schools in Korea, in China, and in other parts of the world like Singapore.

Why? Because we want our kids to get the best jobs possible and for their living standards in the future to be high as well.

Across Australia we're putting out this Better Schools Plan. This represents, if we get agreement across the whole country, a further $15 billion investment into Australian schools.

This is a huge investment. It will apply to Government schools, to Catholic and independent schools.

Yesterday, Bill Shorten and I announced the agreement of the Australian Catholic school system to support the Better Schools Plan. The Catholic school system has 1700 schools across Australia, they educate 20 per cent of the kids in this country so I welcome them coming on board.

The independent schools have done the same. State Governments in New South Wales, and South Australia and Tasmania have done the same.

And yesterday, I sat down with Premier Napthine to see if Victoria could come on board as well. Victoria is a big state, it’s the second biggest one in the country.

You’ve got more than half a million kids in school in Victoria and I want them to benefit from the Better Schools Plan and we want them therefore to have the best resources for the future.

In Victoria, if Premier Napthine signs up, you will see a $4 billion additional investment in Victorian schools.

That is a lot of funding in order to make schools like Brentwood Park be the best they possibly can, and providing those extra resources to help kids, who might be falling behind a bit or if you really want to turbo charge a few kids who are doing particularly well, a bit of one-on-one to make sure they become the state's best.

Let me give you a practical example. If Premier Napthine signs up to the Better Schools Plan, this school here at Brentwood Park would be $2.8 million better off over six years.

That represents a 48 per cent increase per student in terms of the overall school budget. This is not just a small amount, it's actually a large amount.

It's designed to make the job of our teachers and our principals easier than it is, raise the standards, extra resources and produce better outcomes for our kids.

So my challenge though is not just to Premier Napthine, with whom I had a good conversation yesterday. My challenge is also to Mr Abbott who puts himself forward as the alternative Prime Minister of Australia.

Mr Abbott has decided to be 100 per cent negative about this plan to invest $15 billion extra into the Australian school system. I think Mr Abbott needs to be asked why.

I don't know a single mum and dad in the country who could understand why you would not want to invest more in our schools. It’s so important for our kids’ future.

I think Australians are sick and tired of such wall-to-wall negativity on things such as that.

The last thing, before taking your questions, is just to reflect also on what Laura has been doing here in the local community more broadly.

I mentioned this multipurpose facility, which has been built here at Brentwood Park. In fact, in the electorate which she represents, we've made similar investments in around 61 schools and we've had a total of $110 million investment through the school improvement program.

And that includes 15 multipurpose facilities like the one at the back here, it includes building 28 new school libraries across this region, and 20 new classrooms.

At the secondary school level, we've also provided the funding for more than 7,000 new computers to go into the region's secondary schools.

Also, a few kids when they've gone through primary school want to pursue not an academic but a career in the trades. We've actually also invested in building three new trades training centres so that they get the best opportunities possible as well.

The Better Schools Plan I have just mentioned.

One final point about the record here in La Trobe, in the electorate which Laura proudly represents, is that it's not just in schools that we've made this investment, but in health as well.

For example, the Berwick GP Super Clinic, $2.5 billion investment from us. Before it didn't exist, now it does. It’s a very practical thing for us to do for this community.

Also in local infrastructure, roads are important here in Melbourne. We've invested just under $70 million for the Monash Freeway in the Warrigal Road to Clyde Road section.

And also, I remember myself committing to a $30 million investment for the Clyde Road upgrade, which I understand is getting closer to completion. That's our funding as well.

NBN, we will have an investment in this part of Victoria by mid-2016, we should have something in the order of 22,600 homes either under construction with the National Broadband Network connection or already connected in the biggest engineering projects in the country's history.

So whether it's infrastructure and roads, whether it's the new infrastructure, the National Broadband Network, whether it's very practical things like local health services and the Berwick GP Super Clinic or, frankly, the huge investments in schools like Brentwood Park, our mission is to make a difference and to try and make these communities better.

And that's why we are pleased to be able to represent this community through Laura in the Parliament and the Government of the country.

Journalist: What's the latest on the boat that's sunk off Indonesia?

PM: I've just received some advice on that and I think it's far wiser that we leave it to the relevant Minister, Minister Jason Clare to provide a rolling update on the facts.

But I would say that all of our agencies are actively following this and ensuring that everything that can be done is being done.

This underlines the need for policy changes in Australia on asylum seekers policy which sends a very clear message to people smugglers to stop sending people by boat to Australia.

We are seeing too many drownings, too many sinkings, too many innocent people being lost at sea.

Journalist: There is news this morning that there are up to 100 people unaccounted for from a boat that has sunk off Indonesia.

This will take the total of people who have boarded boats since you announced your policy on Friday to more than 400. Is this an indication that your policy is already [inaudible]

PM: Can I just make a very clear statement about this. Number one: the asylum seekers policy we've adopted is about sending a very clear message to people smugglers that if you try to come to Australia by boat you'll not be settled in Australia. Very clear message.

In fact, if you are proven to be bona fide refugees you'll be settled in another country, Papua New Guinea.

That is all about destroying the people smugglers' business model. That's why we're doing it.

Secondly, as I said and others said on the day we launched this - just Friday last week - that the boats would not stop coming straight away. We also said this would take some time. Very clear about that.

We also said that the people smugglers would in fact try to test our resolve to see whether we’re actually able to implement this policy.

I say there is a huge national interest involved in making sure this policy works.

And so you're going to have naysayers, like yourself, saying that - that underpins your question - that there are problems.

I'm saying this is one of the most difficult areas of public policy in Australia. And we have taken a considered decision on what we regard to be the best response to a challenge for Australia.

And it's not been one taken lightly. It also will take time to implement.

Let me add one other thing, though. That's our policy, it’s clear cut. But you've raised the question of asylum seeker policy, let me put to you what the alternative is.

We have said very clearly that we intend to break the business model for asylum seekers by saying to them that if you send people by boat to Australia, you will not settle in the country. It's very simple; it’s a very clear message.

And it's going to be tough in the implementation phase. I’ve said that right from the beginning. People will challenge it and do all sorts of things.

This is a strategic direction for the long term, and there will be bumps on the road - conceded that.

The alternative - because Mr Abbott wants to become Prime Minister and he should be held to account for what he puts forward - Mr Abbott initially welcomed this policy, then on the second day he attacked it and said it wouldn't work.

Well, I would simply say to Mr Abbott: the previous policy adopted during the days of the Howard Government, it didn't work either, you know why? Because their Pacific solution simply became a way-station on the way to Australia - 75% of people who went off to various re-settlement centres ended up in Australia a few years later.

It didn't send any signal at all over time to people smugglers.

And then we come to Mr Abbott's new alternative policy, his three-word slogan: stop the boats.

The Australian people want, however, a six-word slogan, which is: how will you stop the boats? That's a legitimate question.

I want to finish on one point and then I'll come back to you. I’ve said I won't be adding to the detail of it because the relevant Minister, Jason Clare, is in contact with the maritime authorities and he'll give you the most relevant update.

The question is about the alternative policy on asylum seekers. And that is what the Australian people are out there considering and what they'll ultimately make up their mind on.

So what I'm saying very simply is this: it is in the national interest that this policy of ours works. Because we need to make sure that the business model of people smugglers is destroyed.

But while it's in the national interest for the regional resettlement agreement to work, it seems to me increasingly that Mr Abbott has judged that it's not in his political interest for it to work.

And so, what I see now is him just changing his language. Nationally welcoming it the first day, the second day attacking it and saying it wouldn't work.

The effect of what he is saying is to muddy the message to people smugglers around the world, because each of them listen carefully to everything that is said in the national debate - including by those who put themselves forward as the alternative Prime Minister.

So therefore the effect of Mr Abbott's statements is to muddy the message to people smugglers, because I think Mr Abbott has reached a political conclusion that he'd much rather see this policy not be effective.

And I say again, very bluntly: that if you put yourself forward as to be the Prime Minister of Australia, the national interest should come first. And partisan politics aimed to, frankly, derail the regional resettlement agreement is just an appalling approach to the responsibilities of the highest office of this land, and frankly causes many people to question whether he is in fact fit to hold that office.

Journalist: [Inaudible]

PM: It’s a responsible thing to ask, to respond to your question about an incident which is ongoing, it’s a responsible thing to say in response to an unfolding incident that - as I am here in Melbourne - the responsible Minister is Jason Clare and he will be in touch with the relevant authorities now.

We take every incident in the sea involving the possible loss of life deeply seriously.

All of the resources of the State are dedicated to do whatever we can, and therefore that is underway at the moment. But if you’re asking me about an incident that is unfolding, then I will not respond for the simple reason that the Minister is in touch with the authorities.

Journalist: Moving on then, has the Government, is the Government looking for an extra $6 billion to make up saving measures for possible revenue shortfalls?

PM: All Governments around the world are facing pressure on their budgets.

The expenditure review committee of our Cabinet wouldn't be doing its job if it wasn't continually looking at the overall shape of the Budget. In terms of its detail work, that's a Cabinet-in-confidence matter.

But we take our fiscal responsibilities seriously. What are they? Number one, keep the economy strong, number two, return the Budget to balance, number three, deal with any challenges on the revenue side and to deal with any way in which we can continue to tighten expenditure.

That's the responsible course of action. And given that we are in the business of alternatives, Mr Abbott's alternative Treasurer said that they have a $70 billion black hole for the Opposition to account for in their Budget numbers.

And by virtue of their position on the fringe benefits tax it's just gone up to $72 billion.

So I'd wait for them to answer the questions about where they'd fund that black hole from.

Journalist: SBS last night, a show described the situation in Manus Island and sexual assaults and abuse amongst detainees. I wondered what your response is.

PM: We take any such reports seriously and they should all be investigated. And I understand that the Immigration Minister is investigating this.

I think he's sought some evidence from the journalist in question when this was first raised a week or so ago. Where that has got to the in represent days, I'm unsure.

But any allegation of this nature should be properly investigated thoroughly and I imagine that will occur.

I go back to the general question of asylum seekers policy. What I’d say is that we have a clear policy direction, which is saying to the people smugglers "if you send people to Australia by boat they will not be settled in Australia".

I'm still waiting to hear what the alternative policy is in detail.

This morning, here in Melbourne, I was interviewed by Neil Mitchell on this subject. And what did Neil Mitchell say? He said “well, if you want to have a debate on asylum seekers, will you do it on my program, 3 AW”. I said "fine, I'll do it tomorrow morning”.

Myself, Mr Abbott explaining our different policies on how to deal with challenge of asylum seekers. People have to right to know.

Our policy is out there, we're seeking to implement it. What’s the alternative apart from a three-world slogan, we don’t know.

Once again on Mr Abbott's chosen grounds for debate, he's refused to show up.

A couple of weeks ago, I said “well, you want to fight the election on debt and deficit, come and debate me at the National Press Club”. He didn't show up.

A week or so ago, I announced that we'd be scrapping the carbon tax and moving to a floating price. He said he wants to campaign on this in the election, I said “come to the National Press Club and debate that, your chosen subject”. Didn’t do that.

This morning on asylum seekers, we're in the midst of the debate which you are legitimately asking questions about. That’s what your job is.

And so what I've said is "put your money where your mouth is, on to a debate offered by Neil Mitchell on 3 AW”. I said I'd be there tomorrow morning and he's declined because he's too busy. Why add this to Mr Abbott?

If you’re too busy tomorrow morning, Mr Abbott, to have a debate on asylum seekers policy on 3AW, you pick the day, any day within the next week, and I’ll come to Melbourne and join that debate.

Hour-long debate, straight Neil Mitchell, myself and Mr Abbott. And Mr Mitchell can be the person in the middle, always gives me a hard time, I'm sure he gives Mr Abbott a hard time as well, good on him, that's his job.

But I go back to the point whether we're talking about the economy, whether we're talking about asylum seekers, if you're serious about being the next Prime Minister of Australia, you’ve got to step forward and engage and say this is what we'd do differently and why.

Journalist: [Inaudible]

PM: Our undertaking through the joint arrangement with the Government of Papua New Guinea is that we will work with their authorities to ensure the safety and security of those who are assessed in Papua New Guinea.

And furthermore, those if they're determined to be bona fide refugees, those who would be settled in Papua New Guinea.

We take those Convention responsibilities seriously. And for those reasons we spent several weeks discussing this with the UNHCR.

Journalist: Does the same debate invitation apply to Jon Faine at the ABC?

PM: Well I'll just take the one I was presented with this morning. There's a pretty clear invitation out there, so let's see if Mr Abbott's response to today is "I'm too busy tomorrow to come to Melbourne to debate the Prime Minister of Australia".

Well, fine, I'm sure he's got a lot of stuff on. I've got a few things on as well. I'm trying to negotiate a new schools agreement with the Government of Victoria worth $4 billion.

But let's just say he's really busy. The challenge is, within one week, name the day, I’ll come back to beautiful Melbourne. Just organise better weather then. And I’ll be up for that debate.

In terms of other programs, we'll take all those in sequence.

Journalist: How much extra will this new AusAID program to PNG cost?

PM: I said earlier that a number of the measures that we've adopted to support our friends in Papua New Guinea will come through reallocations within the development assistance budget. A number may be funded elsewhere.

We've also said that this will be fully accounted for when the government delivers its economic and fiscal statement.

Journalist: Can you give us a round-about figure?

PM: That’s why we have an economic and fiscal statement so it's not round-about.

But I’m saying we already have something in the vicinity of a $5 billion development assistance budget globally.

Secondly, our one with Papua New Guinea is about half a billion dollars.

Thirdly, it will be fully accounted for.

Now that you ask that question, let me flip this into reverse one more time.

Mr Abbott told the Australian people a lie yesterday. He told them a lie. What he said was that the Australian Government was providing unaccountable cash grants to the Government of Papua New Guinea.

That is a bald-faced lie and I would ask those of you in the media to hold him to account for that.

Where is his evidence? Every single dollar that we provide any country in the world through development assistance cooperation is done on the basis of that bilateral agreement, which we monitor the implementation of, to ensure that it is spent on the right purposes: hospitals, schools and the rest.

In fact, as Foreign Minister, I oversaw an independent review of aid effectiveness in 2011, with an independent panel, which concluded that the Australian aid budget was the most efficient and effective budget for development assistance anywhere in the world, with one of the lowest levels of fraud in the world.

So if Mr Abbott is seeking to be truthful with the Australian people today, maybe the national broadcaster could ask him this question: Where's his evidence? Where’s the evidence?

I think it's time we had some truth in the national debate. I've told you what we stand for in asylum seekers policy and there are challenges and difficulties and I've acknowledged all of those.

What's the alternative policy? He's said we're providing cash grants to Papua New Guinea. Where’s your evidence? Where’s the truth? Where are the facts? Or is it a wild political assertion in order to obtain political office.

Thanks for your time.

[ENDS]