SUBJECTS: Gas prices, Education Plan and Regional Infrastructure investment.
Matthew Doran: Well, let's bring in our Thursday political panel now and we've got a pair of Queenslanders joining us on the programme today. Labor Frontbencher and Assistant Minister for Education and Regional Development, Senator Anthony Chisholm is with us. He's in Toowoomba this afternoon. And Coalition frontbencher and Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert also joins us. He is on the Gold Coast. Gentlemen, welcome to both of you. I want to start with the big issue of the week at the moment, and that is this debate over gas and energy. Anthony Chisholm, let's start with you here because there is a real fear that these rising gas prices, and more broadly the rising power bills facing all Australians, are going to particularly hit heavy industries quite hard. And your state would be among those that would feel it quite profoundly. Do you agree with your colleague Ed Husic when he says that these companies, these gas companies in particular, are profiteering here and aren't reading the national mood?
Anthony Chisholm: Well, there's certainly no doubt they're profiteering when you see the profits that some of these companies are returning and they're taking advantage of the international situation. The reality is that this gas, and a lot of it comes out of my home state of Queensland, belongs to Australians and it's developed by these gas companies, but they need to be cognisant of the impact it has on Australian workers if there isn't affordable gas and available gas for heavy industry. So I think it's something that the companies have had a lot of warnings on now. They haven't acted. And I think Minister Husic is reflecting the views of the Government in that we want the companies to be doing the right thing by Australian workers.
Matthew Doran: Ed Husic made quite a strong claim this morning on the ABC when he said that some of these companies are now charging prices much higher than what was foreshadowed even just a couple of weeks ago when they had those new heads of agreement that were negotiated with Madeleine King, the Resources Minister at the table. How concerning is that sort of behaviour?
Anthony Chisholm: Well, it's concerning because the heads of agreement went to supply and the agreement was that there would be enough supply to meet the demand. But it's not much good if it isn't at a cost or a price that is affordable and ensures that these companies can continue to employ people long term and create the economic opportunity that we want them to. So I suppose that's the message that Minister Husic was delivering and that's one that I support him on.
Matthew Doran: Stuart Robert, let's bring you into the conversation here. The coalition has been fiercely critical of this situation, again and again accusing Labour of not having a plan here to actually deal with the set of circumstances. Do you think we're at a situation now where market intervention is the only option because of the actions of these companies?
Stuart Robert: There's always an opportunity for intervention. That's why we put in place the trigger mechanism. But when Mr Dutton speaks about an absence of a plan, he spot on. If there was a plan, if someone could point me to it, that'd be very helpful. But there's not. And if the Government had a plan, then we would look sensibly and seriously at whether we need to support them or otherwise. But having Minister Husic just throwing rocks at large corporations, and I am no apologist for them, that is not a plan that’s a tirade, it's a tantrum. Sober heads are needed. Gas is an internationally driven price for the most part, and those companies have invested decades and decades of shareholders money developing it. They're well taxed in Australia, both at the corporate tax, the PRRT, and in some cases at a state level. It would help if states and territories lifted their moratorium on developing gas. Minister Chisholm is spot on. The State of Queensland has done well over numerous governments from both sides developing resources. If other states followed suit, we'd be in a much better position, I think.
Matthew Doran: But isn't that the problem here, Stuart Robert, in that supply isn't actually the problem at the moment. You've pointed to other states not developing their gas reserves. A lot of attention on New South Wales and Victoria with their fracking bans. The Narrabri Basin in New South Wales. Just an example there. It doesn't seem like supply is actually the problem here. Certainly, according to Ed Husic, it's the fact that there is still a significant proportion of those gas supplies being shipped offshore at a considerable profit.
Stuart Robert: That's right. On long term contracts. And long term contracts need to be honoured and absolutely it's a supply problem. In WA, of course, with the domestic reservation, they're not seeing anywhere near the prices. We are here because of the work done by successive governments in Western Australia, A to develop supply and B, to ensure that there is a domestic supply available. If there was greater supply, domestic long term contracts, wrong. International long term contracts can be met and honoured, as you expect from a first world nation, and domestic provision of service can also be honoured. So absolutely it's a question of supply domestically.
Matthew Doran: I want to move on to another topic and Anthony Chisholm, I know this is something that you are particularly interested in today because you are, of course, the Assistant Minister for Education and this is the plan that's being put forward by your senior Minister, Jason Clare, trying to boost the number of teachers that are across the country. Jason Clare saying that many are burnt out, many aren't finishing their university degrees, and that this has been a problem bubbling away for some time now. If it's a problem that severe, how quickly can you turn the ship around?
Anthony Chisholm: Well, I think that's why there needs to be multifaceted and that's why there was 28 points in the draft plan he released today. Some of them go to the immediate challenge and then some of them go to the longer term. Ultimately, we want teaching to be an attractive profession so that we've got a really strong pipeline of people who want to go and study and become teachers and be those dynamic performers in the classroom that drive that into the future. So part of that is recognising the significant role teachers play in the community, but it's also about ensuring that we've got the right foundations in place so that it's an attractive course for people who want to study or if they want to transition out of another area of work and become teachers, that there's support for them to do that as well. So I think the Minister has been working really hard with state and territory counterparts, with the broader education community to ensure that we're working collaboratively across jurisdictions to get this plan in place and to help alleviate short term challenges, but have the longterm plan that fixes this into the future.
Matthew Doran: Stuart Robert, the Minister today, was quite keen to say that teachers have been copying a bad rap, that they've been attacked for maybe not being as committed to the cause as they otherwise should have been and pointed to some comments from your coalition colleagues. Do you think that teachers have copped a bad rap over the last couple of years?
Stuart Robert: Not at all. And it's hard to disagree with what Minister Chisholm has just said. Anything we can do to support our teachers is welcome. Remember, the Grattan Institute found that if we lifted teacher quality or initial teacher education by 10 per cent would see a rapid improvement, because results, as we know, looking at the PISA results, have slipped over the last 18 years. Like, we've gone from fourth down to something like eight in reading, down to 27 in mathematics. So we have to look at how we support our teachers. Any work being done on initial teacher education and in discipline in classrooms is very welcome. We also have to ensure that the current 10% of students studying teaching that are failing the literacy and numeracy test for initial teacher education, the LANTITE test, are receiving the support they need, because we can't have teachers graduating who can't place or can't pass basic literacy and numeracy and Grattan supports that entirely as well. If the Minister's heading in those directions, he'll find a very supportive opposition.
Matthew Doran: Just briefly, because we are running out of time. Gentlemen, I do want to pick up on the issue of infrastructure in the budget. Anthony Chisholm, the Coalition spent a lot of time attacking Labor for cancelling or delaying or whatever adjective you want to use there are a number of infrastructure projects in regional Australia. Do you think regional Australians feel hard done by the budget?
Anthony Chisholm: I was just speaking at a regional Australia event in Toowoomba just now and I received strong feedback that the budget is a good one for regional Australia. I ran through a list of projects that we're supporting already in regional Australia and also the two funds that we've got that will help fund regional infrastructure into the future. And the important thing about those funds is they're going to be accountable, they're going to be transparent, and communities can understand when and how you can apply it. And that's in vast difference to how the National Party operated in the previous government, where the Deputy Prime Minister of the day ran around sparying money with no actual transparency or accountability around it. So I think communities in regional areas will really welcome this new level of funding, but they'll also welcome the transparency and accountability that goes with it.
Matthew Doran: In 30 seconds. Stuart Robert, the Coalition was bagged repeatedly by organisations such as the National Audit Office for the way in which it allocated money to regional areas. Is this not simply a rebalancing of what should actually happen with regional funding.
Stuart Robert: Except $2.2 billion to the metro inner-loop there in Victoria, where the Victorian Audit Office has bagged it infrastructure Australia has not recommended it and the return on dollar is like $0.58. So you can't say in any breath that that is a reasonable use and expenditure of money. Good on Minister Chisholm for getting out and about, but he isn't going to say that the budget was bad, but at least he's out there and I'd encourage him to keep travelling and keep listening.
Matthew Doran: Stuart Robert, Anthony Chisholm, thanks for joining us today.
Anthony Chisholm: Thanks for your time.