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Transcript of interview with Marius Benson: ABC News Radio: 29 January 2016: election; Budget; Labor's 'Your child. Our future.' plan for Australian education

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SUBJECTS: Election, Budget, Labor’s ‘Your child. Our future.’ plan for Australian education

MARIUS BENSON, PRESENTER: Well the battlelines for this year’s federal election have become a little clearer over the last day with Labor promising big spending on education while the Government moves to find budget savings. Labor is promising to fund the final 2 years of the Gonski scheme in education at a cost of $4.5 billion. To look at that and other election issues, or election year issues, I’m joined now by the Deputy Labor Leader, Tanya Plibersek. Tanya Plibersek, good morning.


PRESENTER: Can I start by taking up a specific that Malcolm Turnbull just did an interview and he spoke about the election date. He’s talking again, in broad terms he said August, September or October. Do you think that’s when you’ll be going to the polls?

PLIBERSEK: Well I’m not really sure how this Government can deliver another Budget because they refuse to take on the sensible savings that we’ve suggested: cracking down on multinational tax avoidance, cracking down on superannuation tax concessions of very high income earners and so on. They’ve refused to take up those sensible suggestions; they’re going into a budget cycle with only more cuts on the

books and a GST - a 15 per cent GST on absolutely everything - as their options. I think that the hard-heads in the Liberal Party will be telling Malcolm Turnbull that they can’t face another Budget.

PRESENTER: So that’s an election before May on that logic?

PLIBERSEK: Very possible.

PRESENTER: Now can I ask you about those sensible savings you just mentioned, the Labor Party’s sensible savings. In a year, what do they add up to?

PLIBERSEK: Well we’ve announced savings of $70 billion over 10 years, or improvements to the Budget bottom line. So we’ve said that multinationals should pay their fair share of tax in Australia - that raises more than $7 billion. We’ve said that we should crack down on the very high superannuation tax concessions, saving $14 billion. And we’ve said that we want to continue to have the increase in the tobacco excise which raises $48 billion over the decade. That has the additional benefit of course of reducing smoking rates and we’ve seen that that’s been very effective in recent years in reducing the number of Australians who take up smoking. These are just a few examples. We’ve also said of course that we wouldn’t support the Liberals’ new baby bonus, we’ve made other announcements about other savings as well.

PRESENTER: But there is an air of unreality about the claims on your side that we can afford spending measures, the claims on the Government’s side of “where does the money come from, this is money we don’t have”. And you’re talking there of $70 billion in savings over 10 years - that’s $7 billion a year. The budget is running at what, something like $460 billion, 7 out of 460. And the variations in the iron ore price will have that sort of impact on revenues.

PLIBERSEK: Well certainly variations in the iron ore price have been a problem, the commodity prices more generally have been a problem for many years. They were in fact a problem when we were in Government as well and governments of need to take account of those. It makes it even more ridiculous that the Government won’t take up suggestions like reducing the very generous tax concessions to people who already have millions of dollars in their superannuation. And the fact that they’re spending, for example, $160 million on a plebiscite on marriage equality that nobody needs and nobody wants and as Eric Abetz has told us, nobody will take any notice of anyway.

PRESENTER: But all the numbers on the budget forecast are so rubbery, so beyond the control of any Australian government; is there any point in coming down with fine tuning to the point of $7 billion over, in some number of years hence, in a budget period?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it is the perennial problem of government, isn’t it? We couldn’t of predicted when we took government that there’d be a global financial crisis so soon after we came into office. This is what governments are elected to do: of course they are elected to do the things that are predictable, but you need to have governments that

can also deal with the things that are unpredictable. It is, you know, it’s our day job Marius, I suppose is the best way of saying it.

PRESENTER: Yep, it’s an inexact science. Can I go to the specifics of your education proposal and in fact go beyond the Gonski scheme that you were talking about. Spending on private schools was boosted by the Coalition; Julia Gillard maintained that increased model of spending on private schools. Will private school funding be maintained or cut under a future Labor government?

PLIBERSEK: Well our promise is to every child in every school. And when you have a needs-based funding system obviously kids in poorer areas, in poorer schools, with greater needs do better. But there’s absolutely no plan to do anything other than support independent and Catholic schools, they will also see increases.

PRESENTER: And the other point that the Government makes is that this promise of increased spending - the relationship between spending more on education and results is just not there: more money doesn’t produce better results. And they point to the international exam results, in comparison particularly in subjects like maths.

PLIBERSEK: And that’s why our plan is not just about funnelling extra money in. We’ve set some very clear expectations about what this extra money will get us: it’ll increase year 12 completion rates; we’ll make sure that all science, technology, engineering and maths teachers in secondary schools have the proper, relevant tertiary qualifications so we don’t have English teaches trying to teach science; we’ll make sure that all students study maths or science to year 12; we’ll make sure that we’re doing coding and digital technologies in schools. And we’ve set clear definitions of how we’ll judge our success: that we’ll return to the top 5 countries internationally in reading, maths and science, that we meet the OECD definition of a high quality and high equity schooling system. And that all of our schools engage with at least once school in Asia because we need to make sure that our kids understand Asian cultures and languages because that’s where the economic growth is in future decades - we need to be a part of that.

PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek I’ll leave it there. Thank you very much

PLIBERSEK: Wonderful to talk to you, thank you very much.