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Transcript of interview with Jon Faine: ABC Melbourne: 29 October 2012: Australia in the Asian Century White Paper; Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook; Maxine McKew; SA ALP conference

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Subjects: Australia in the Asian Century White Paper; Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook; Maxine McKew; SA ALP conference

HOST: Prime Minister good morning to you.

PM: Good morning Jon, I think this is the first white paper on the Asian century, this is a plan for our nation to be a winner in our region of the world during an era of incredible change.

HOST: Every Prime Minister I’ve interviewed in the last sixteen years doing this job, Julia Gillard, has released a document of similar complexion and surely, we’re entitled to be sceptical about this latest one.

PM: Well Jon, I’m going to disagree with you about the facts.

Yes, prime ministers in the past have released white papers, but this is the first white paper to take an over-arching look at our nation’s future during the century of change we’re living through.

And what it brings together is some of the Government’s current policy directions, which have been deliberately about positioning us to seize the benefits of the changes in our region, as well as putting forward new goals and aspirations and policies.

Things like making sure kids have got access to things like studying an Asian language. Things like-

HOST: It’s all been said before though, Prime Minister.

I mean you’ve just cut $750 million from universities in the MYEFO, you’ve just cut foreign embassies and the budget of the foreign affairs department and you’re asking us to judge you by what you say rather than what you do.

PM: Oh please, judge me by what I do.

There is more money in Australian universities under this government than there has ever been before in the nation’s history, and it will continue to grow year on year Jon, that’s the facts.

We have funded universities so well that they have expanded by 150,000 places, and there will be more growth in the future.

HOST: You’ve been Education Minister before Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister, languages and Asian languages have declined on your watch, not increased.

PM: Certainly Jon, we have a problem with the study of Asian languages now, and what we’re going to do is to take a whole of schools system approach.

I think this has been part of the problem, that studying Asian languages has been the top-up, it’s been the extra program that you load on top of what schools do.

We are going to do this differently. As you know, we are in the market for changing the way that schools are funded.

We had the first over-arching look at how schools are funded in many decades.

We are working hard now with states and territories and Catholic and independent schools to have a new way of funding schools from 1 January 2014, associated with a national school improvement plan to drive up quality, and I want at the centre of that plan to be the ability for kids to study an Asian language.

Then we are bringing to bear tools we haven’t had at our disposal in the past when people have talked about Asian languages even as recently as five years ago.

The penetration of new technology into our schools and the further penetration to come from the National Broadband Network means that you can teach languages will and competently without every school having a language teacher sitting at a desk in front of a classroom doing the teaching face-to-face.

HOST: Talking about a thousand scholarships and opportunities for young Australians to go and work in Asia, I remember Alexander Downer making exactly the same commitment and promise about the equivalent of an Australian peace corps. It never happened.

PM: Well you’ll have to interview Mr Downer about things Mr Downer has said.

HOST: No but Prime Minister, governments make these lavish promises but they don’t follow through.

PM: Jon, let’s actually deal with the facts. We are already offering a record number of scholarships for people from the region to come and study here.

People talk about the Colombo Plan. What we now do today dwarfs the Colombo Plan.

Now it was pivotal - the Colombo Plan - to that era of Australia’s development. What we do today dwarfs it.

And what we are looking for in the future is 12,000 Australia in the Asian Century scholarships which will not only enable people in our region to come here and study, but kids from here to go and study in parts of Asia.

This is making sure that our young people are Asia-capable and Asia-ready for the opportunities of this century.

HOST: What are you going to do, Julia Gillard? Are you personally going to do anything?

PM: Well I’m leading the Government, and we’ll deliver these policies and plans.

HOST: Are you going to learn an Asian language, for instance? You’re asking us to.

PM: No I won’t be Jon, because I am already more than full-time deployed. But I do regret that-

HOST: So is everybody else. Everybody’s busy and you’re telling us we’ve got to squeeze in these extra commitments and priorities.

PM: Well I think, Jon, let’s really unpack this. We’re talking about kids at school having the ability to access language training.

We create schools and we fund schools because we want kids to learn in them.

When I went to school, which is admittedly quite a long time ago, but when I went to school we were streamed and if you were in the top class you studied French and German; if you were in the bottom class you studied Indonesian.

I mean what a crazy set of incentives and messages to have sent kids, that if you’re smart-

HOST: But wouldn’t it send a signal that if the Prime Minister took half an hour of Indonesian language lessons a week, wouldn’t that send a signal?

PM: I think the thing that sends the signal is for me to deliver a national plan and then get on with its implementation, rather than me spending half an hour learning a language myself Jon. I don’t agree with you.

HOST: Speaking of sending a signal, the South Australians have sent a signal to Penny Wong. Is it sexist for them to demote her from the top to second position on the senate ticket?

PM: Well South Australian state conference has voted, and it’s voted so that Penny Wong and Don Farrell are in positions which mean they will be returned to the next parliament.

Penny Wong is a fantastic contributor.

I am the Prime Minister who promoted her into being Minister for Finance, and I did that deliberately because I wanted her at the heart of the Government’s decision-making and deliberations.

HOST: Do you agree with Anthony Albanese that it’s an indulgence to put the factions ahead of every other factor?

PM: Well state conference has voted to have two senators - Penny and Don - in spots where they will be returned to the next parliament.

HOST: I’ve read Maxine McKew’s book over the course of the weekend, and she’ll be a guest on this show shortly.

She writes with insight, she writes with passion; do you accept her bona fides that she says she cares about the Labor movement?

PM: Look, I’m not getting into an exchange with Maxine. She’s written a book, she’s entitled to do that.

I am not focussed on Maxine’s book, I’m focussed on delivering what we need for us to turn up a winner in this century.

Over the last week Jon, what I’ve done is delivered the Asian Century White Paper yesterday, a plan for our future.

On Friday I delivered a landmark announcement for the future of the Murray-Darling Basin, and earlier in the week the Government delivered the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

These are the things that are shaping our nation and its future, and they’re the things I’m focussed on.

HOST: Prime Minister, selamat pagi, sawadee and xie xie.

PM: Thank you very much Jon, in every language you want to say it.

HOST: Thank you for your time this morning.

PM: Thank you.