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Transcript of interview with Fran Kelly: Radio National: 29 October 2012: Australia in the Asian Century White Paper; Maxine McKew; SA ALP conference

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Subjects: Australia in the Asian Century White Paper; Maxine McKew; SA ALP conference

HOST: Prime Minister Julia Gillard joins us now on RN Breakfast from our studio in parliament House. Prime Minister good morning and welcome to Breakfast.

PM: Thank you very much Fran, good to be with you.

HOST: You said yesterday the world economy is coming our way and this is what this blueprint is all about.

Now to some extent this is not news, but can you describe for us the scale of the change occurring in our region; the world’s biggest middle class emerging?

PM: To give you just a few little snapshots Fran, in the first half of this decade in our region, 100 million people were being lifted out of poverty every week.

If we look at a nation like India, it had two TV stations in 1990; now there are more than 800 TV stations.

When we look across the region in which we live, 2 million people are being connected to the internet each week.

I think those statistics give you a sense of the scale of the change. What it means is that Asia - the region in which we live - which has so long been associated with being a producer of cheap goods, is actually going to become a middle class consumer of high-quality goods.

And that’s what gives us the Australian opportunity of selling those high-quality goods that the growing middle classes of Asia will want.

We’ve got a down-payment in our economy now through the huge demand for our resources. The focus of the white paper is on what Asia is going to demand next and how we can seize those economic opportunities.

So this is a plan for the nation’s future to grow opportunity and to share opportunity.

HOST: Let’s talk about how we seize those opportunities, because in your own words it’s an ambitious plan to ensure Australia is the winner in the Asian century.

So if this is the road map, I think a lot of people want to know who’s driving the car. How do we make this happen?

PM: Well I’m driving the government car, but this white paper is actually a challenge to all of us - to businesses, to trade unions, to civil society, to media organisations to embrace the opportunities that come with this century.

Put simply, it’s about keeping our economy strong and making sure that we are ready to seize the opportunities in Asia.

It’s about our population being skilled and being Asia-capable, and it’s a about businesses having the capability to also reach out to Asia and get into the supply chains, get into the markets, get into the opportunities for growth.

HOST: Is it recognition that in Australia, culturally, we’re not Asia-centric enough, we’re not looking at the countries nearest to us and the opportunities within and what’s changing within it?

Are we still too focussed on the US and Europe?

PM: We are engaged in our region, and we’ve worked hard over the last 30 years as we’ve opened our economy to the world to engage in our region, but Fran, yes we need to do more.

We need to do a lot more. People like me, people like you grew up with this image that Asia was largely a place of poverty, that they were going to compete against us on cost, that they would always be the low-cost producers and they would challenge us in our traditional markets like the US and Europe.

Now all of those assumptions are getting turned on their head. Asia is going to be home to the world’s biggest middle class.

We will be competing in the markets of Asia against the US, against countries in Europe, to sell high-quality goods. But we’re the ones with the advantage of adjacency; we’re right here in the region.

So whether it’s selling wonderful food, wonderful wine, great tourism, high-quality education services, health services, legal services, elaborately transformed manufactures; we’re right here, able to seize this opportunity if we make the right decisions now and have a clear national plan.

And yesterday I gave the nation that clear national plan.

HOST: With respect Prime Minister, it’s not news to most of us really that there is this emerging middle class, that the economies in our region are changing and you’re not the first Prime Minister to talk about that and to talk about developing a way to position Australia for it.

Is this an admission that we have failed to re-orient ourselves, our policies, our business focus, our schools, our manufacturing and our markets, and how are you

going to do that now in real terms, because one of the immediate responses is this document is certainly light on dollars if not actual policy detail.

PM: This document is charting a long-term plan. It talks about how some of the policies that this government has delivered are putting us in the right position to seize the opportunities of this century, for example, a National Broadband Network.

But there are new policy initiatives in this document which will make a very big difference.

Looking at having our population Asia-capable; I do want to see every Australian child in every Australian school having the opportunity to study a language in our region.

I do want to see the people sitting around the boardroom tables of our great companies being Asia-capable and Asia-literate.

I do want to see us being in the top five places in the world for doing ease-of-business and focussing on our innovation system and getting in the top ten for innovation systems, because if we’re going to compete in this century, then we’re going to have to keep getting better and better and better, and that’s about innovation.

If we get this right, what it means for Australians is higher skills, more jobs and higher incomes.

Our aim is to get into the world’s top ten in terms of size of our economy and that means a growth in our average incomes for Australians of more than $10,000.

HOST: It’s twenty to eight on RN Breakfast, our guest this morning is the Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Prime Minister, let’s zero in on a couple of examples. All students from their first day of school through to year 12 will have continuous access to a priority Asian language.

That’s one of the promises in this white paper. Mandarin, Hindi, Indonesian and Japanese are the four; how many more Asian language teachers will have to be trained and employed to cater for this demand, and how quickly can we do that?

PM: Well Fran, we will need more teachers but I actually think we’ll need different ways of working.

As education minister, I had a very good insight into how difficult it can be to grow the study of languages. We did have a program to grow Asian language studies and we hit a few constraints.

One of the constraints is the number of teachers; another of the constraints is whether we've sent the right message to our kids about how important it is for their future and the careers that they will choose for them to have Asia language capability and general Asian literacy and understanding of the region in which we live.

Now I think we’re at an age where we can do a lot better on language teaching. This cannot be a vision of having in every school someone who is expert in Indonesian, and expert in Japanese, and expert in Hindi.

It’s not going to work like that, we haven’t got enough teachers of Mandarin for one to be popped in every primary school and every secondary school.

HOST: So how is that going to work?

PM: We live in an age of different learning possibilities and choices. What we can do through the National Broadband Network, what we can do through having the world’s first online national curriculum, which is what the Australian curriculum is.

It means we can get a deeper penetration of language literacy and learning-

HOST: Could you explain that a bit more to us, just a bit beyond the line of ‘with the NBN?’

What does that mean? Kids in the classroom in a suburb in Melbourne learning down the line from a teacher somewhere else, is that what you’re saying?

PM: Absolutely. And if you’ve ever clicked onto one of the websites that has educational products on it, a website like TED and watched talks from experts around the world, people that you and I are not in the same room with, but you can look and learn from them, and then of course the exchange on the NBN doesn’t have to be one-way. It’s not like watching TV.

It can truly be two-way where the language teacher is interacting with every child. And we want those children interacting with kids in a school in Asia, and I’ve seen that happen myself.

I’ve been to a school in Korea, which is buddied up with a school in Australia and the kids get to know each other, they then take that connection from the formal in the classroom, through the broadband to being on Facebook together, being on Twitter together, actually getting to know each other and something about each other’s lifestyles.

And I think if you can do that, then you can help inspire the passion of children to say ‘I really want to get to know about that country, part of getting to know about it is understanding the language.’

HOST: And we have had trouble with this in the past, and again you’re not the first leader to commit to extending the teaching of foreign languages - Asian languages - in our schools.

Kevin Rudd introduced a $62 million national Asian languages and studies in schools program and the money’s due to run out in December. Is this your first test - will you extend that funding?

PM: No we are going to do something far broader and far more systematic than that.

Fran, as you are aware, we commissioned the first over-arching review of school funding in four decades.

We are working hard now with states and territories and the Catholic and independent school systems to say yes, we are prepared to do better funding arrangements for schools but tied to a national school improvement plan. I am going to put-

HOST: So come January, will that kick in?

PM: No, I am going to put this access to Asian languages at the centre of that national school improvement plan.

These funding reforms will be on the ground for school funding from calendar year 2014.

HOST: Business is key, obviously, to us maximising the potential of an Asian middle class, a growing Asian middle class.

Another promise in your blueprint is that one third of board members on our top 200 companies will have a deeper relationship with Asia. How do you make that happen?

PM: Well people respond to signals Fran. They respond to aspirations and goals.

I think if we say to our business community we want to work with you to make sure that you are well-positioned to seize the opportunities of this century, to understand what it is to go into the markets of our region, to integrate into the global supply chains that are developing there, to do that it’s a good idea to have people on your board who bring that knowledge and that capability, then I think we can work with the business community on that.

And if the business boards of today send a strong message that the people they will be asking to join them tomorrow will be people with that capability, then of course people with aspirations in the business community to be on boards will respond.

HOST: Business says this is the right vision, but they doubt whether you have the determination, the resources needed to make it happen.

The shadow foreign minister Julie Bishop says the white paper is little more than a grab bag of domestic policies put together by Labor spin doctors. Do you have a problem here that a number of the goals, the rhetoric doesn’t quite match with the action on the ground?

One of those for instance, extending our diplomatic footprint in Asia, and you government have cut back our representation at posts overseas.

PM: Well on the Opposition, you’d expect them to be negative, you know, so it is and so it always will be.

On your broader question, I don’t think anybody would doubt my determination to get things done Fran.

Whether it’s putting a price on carbon; whether it’s a new national healthcare agreement; whether it’s a new national skills agreement; whether it’s the determination to keep improving Australian schools; whether it’s bringing the budget to surplus and what we did through MYEFO last week; whether it’s solving the almost intractable problem of the Murray-Darling Basin which I announced a new approach for on Friday in South Australia, I am determined to make sure that this nation seizes the opportunities on the future.

I am tremendously proud of our country; we’ve got a strong economy now and we should be proud of that. We built it together.

I am now determined that we build on its strengths so it is stronger for the future, there are more opportunities more Australians and so those opportunities are shared too.

HOST: It’s thirteen minutes to eight on Breakfast, our guest this morning in the Parliament House studios in Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Prime Minister, on another issue, your former colleague Maxine McKew will join us on Breakfast after eight. She says in her new book that in the lead-up to the leadership switch in 2010, you were, quote, “not a passive player.”

She writes about you, quote, “she was impatient for the prime ministership and allowed others to create a sense of crisis around Rudd’s leadership. She then cut down a prime minister in his first term and pretended it was in the national interest to do so.”

What’s your response to that?

PM: I’ve dealt with all these issues on the public record before and it’s just simply not my focus. My focus is on this nation’s future and the delivery of the plan that I outlined yesterday.

My focus is on those kids in schools today and whether they’re going to have great opportunities in the future; whether our population is going to have better skills and better jobs; whether we can keep building a stronger economy and whether we can work with business to seize all of the opportunities that this Asian century offers.

Of course my focus is beyond that plan to things like the Murray-Darling, where we’ll be introducing the legislation this week to put money away to make sure that we realise that big change for the nation and for the people of South Australia, so Fran I’ll leave the commentary about these things to others.

HOST: It’s not just commentary though, is it? It’s detail - it’s important to get the details of history right. Maxine McKew writes in some detail about the party research that she says was being touted by your supporters including Brendan O’Connor to convince Rudd supporters to switch sides.

Now, you’ve been asked this before but let me ask you again. Do you recall that research?

PM: Fran, I’ve been asked it before and answered it before, so please feel free to get out the transcript. As I’ve said, I’ve dealt with all of these issues in the past. They’re not my focus.

HOST: We now have one unnamed MP saying you showed that research to him in your office and he regarded it as part of a pitch to switch leaders. Did you do that?

PM: Fran, I’ve dealt with these issues extensively in the past and you can put the question 900 different ways and you’re going to get the same response. It’s just simply not my focus.

I am focussed on the nation’s future and the plan for the nation’s future in this century of change I delivered yesterday.

HOST: Prime Minister, just one final issue. On the weekend, South Australian ALP conference placed the little-known but factionally powerful Senator Don Farrell ahead of the Finance Minister Penny Wong as number one on the South Australian senate ticket.

In your view, is he the number one senator in South Australia, and do you support a move to get the national executive to overturn that decision?

PM: Well the decision that South Australian conference has made means that both Penny Wong and Senator Farrell will be returned to the federal parliament after the next election.

Penny Wong is an incredibly valued member of my team. I am the one that promoted Penny Wong to the pivotal role of Finance Minister because I was so-

HOST: Shouldn’t she be the automatic pick for number one spot then?

PM: Because I was so admiring of her capabilities, I put her at the centre of the economic team. Don Farrell is serving the government well in that pivotal issue of water for South Australia.

HOST: Yes but there can be no comparison really between their profiles and the role they contribute. Shouldn’t the number one senator be on the number one spot?

PM: Well Fran, the decision that’s been made is that they’ll both be in the next parliament. Penny Wong will continue to be right at the centre of this government and a core and pivotal member of my team.

HOST: Prime Minister, thank you very much for joining us.

PM: Thanks Fran.