Capital Hill with Lyndal Curtis

  • Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education

[E&OE transcript]


Lyndal Curtis: Welfare paid to young people is also seemingly on the Government’s hit list. Scott Ryan, is the Education Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary and he joins us now from our Melbourne studio. Senator Ryan, welcome to Capital Hill.

Scott Ryan: Good afternoon, Lyndal.

Curtis: If we could start with the advice you received today in the papers from the former Treasurer Peter Costello on the issue of the deficit levy, is that helpful advice?

Ryan: Well I think the main point of the former Treasurer’s article today was to actually agree with the fact that we actually do face a budget crisis. Tony Burke just showed then how ill-equipped he is to hold that portfolio in opposition let alone in government, because he appears to be the only person that seems to the Budget’s ok.

Curtis: But even Tony Shepherd, the head of your Audit Commission said there wasn’t an immediate budget emergency, didn’t he?

Ryan: We have one of the fastest run ups of debt in the OECD. Let’s be clear, Kevin Rudd promised to be a fiscal conservative, he promised to run budget surpluses and we’ve had either the second or third fastest increase in debt anywhere in the developed world. It is unsustainable in the medium term.

Curtis: But the actual overall level of debt is not so high when you compare it to other OECD countries is it?

Ryan: Well firstly that only looks at Commonwealth debt, not state and local government debt and the taxpayer of Australia is on the hook for all of it. And the Commonwealth Government, under the previous Coalition Government, actually was a net saver. It put money in the bank and it ensured that we could pay the future liabilities, such as unfunded superannuation. The challenge we have is that you cannot keep going on borrowing 20 or 30 or $40 billion dollars a year, which is the mess that Labor has left us with.

Curtis: If a deficit levy is imposed on the top income earners, it doesn’t end up raising all that much money, is it worth it to send a political signal?

Ryan: I’m not going to comment on what might be in the Budget next Tuesday, Lyndal. The truth is we’re only just over 174 hours away from the Treasurer going to the dispatch box in the House of Representatives and despite Labor’s hysterical scare campaigns, that’s when we’ll see the Government put forward its plan to bring the Budget back to a sustainable position.

Curtis: Do you know if a decision’s been made on it yet?

Ryan: The Budget will be brought down next Tuesday night by Joe Hockey. As we’ve always said in opposition and in government, it will involve some very difficult decisions. We’ve been honest with the Australian people that the Budget is utterly unsustainable and for the good of our children, for the good of the very services that Tony Burke was talking about, being able to provide health and education in the future, being able to support pensioners, we have to make the Budget sustainable. We cannot keep spending more than we earn as a Government and so I think it’s about 174 hours away Lyndal, that’s when we’ll see the Government’s plan and Joe Hockey and the Prime Minister’s plan to bring this Budget back into a sustainable position.

Curtis: In the wake of the Commission of Audit’s report and with all the speculation about what might be in the budget, we’ve had opinion polls, including today’s Newspoll which have not been kind to the Government. Are those polls telling you you are on the wrong track if you’re going to do those things or are those polls telling you you aren’t explaining it very well yet?

Ryan: Well we always made clear that this was going to be a very difficult Budget, that we had some very difficult decisions to make and that all Australians were going to have to bear some of the sacrifice to make the budget sustainable. But I tell you what Lyndal, it’s a nice change to have a government that sets its budget parameters on the economic numbers and the national interest rather than the Newspoll numbers. The previous government, particularly when Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister, the first time, and then Julia Gillard was Prime Minister, they were always looking over their shoulder and making budget decisions based on Newspoll. We’re going to make decisions in the national interest and we are going to make an effort at convincing the Australian people that these decisions are necessary and we hope to bring them along with us.

Curtis: Given all the pledges Tony Abbott made in the election and what he made of being trust worthy and keeping his commitments, in that process of doing what you say is in the national interest in the Budget, can you afford to break a single election promise?

Ryan: Well the Prime Minister’s made clear, and the entire Government is behind him on this, that trust is an important part of actually repairing the Budget. Because under the previous Labor government, trust on everything, from the level of budget deficits to new taxes, to the level of regulation, it was all broken and Labor shattered the faith the Australian people had in in that government. Bringing the Budget back into balance and doing it by keeping our promises is a commitment of this Government and we will see next Tuesday night the detail about how we’re going to go about doing that.

Curtis: As you say you won’t, much to my disappointment, give us details about what will be in the Budget. But is the principle of this Government, particularly for young people, that they are either earning money or at school learning and they won’t get Government support if they are doing neither of those things?

Ryan: Well we need to make sure Lyndal that incentives for young people aren’t to step away from education, training, or employment. It started under the previous Coalition government when we brought in Work for the Dole. That was a very important program, particularly for young people in giving them the work skills that sometimes they might not have. Under the previous Labor government, in cooperation with the state governments, there were some so-called “learn or earn” provisions that effected people up to school age. Without commenting on what’s in the Budget next week, the comments in the newspapers this morning talk about using those systems in place to push further up the age chain to make sure that young people have the same incentives when they leave school to go into training, further education, or a workplace.

Curtis: But if you do, as the ABC has reported, make school leavers wait for six months before getting the dole, take it to those who are under 19 who aren’t working or studying. There are surely some people who fall through the cracks for that, for reasons that may not be of their own making, they either aren’t in formal learning or can’t get a job. Do you still need to provide mechanisms that support them?

Ryan: Well I think we always have, Lyndal, ensured that we try and catch those that fall through the cracks of any government program. But we should make the point that training and further education are now more widely available than they have ever been and so there are greater opportunities for young Australians to participate in further education, technical, vocational, higher education or to go into the work force.

Gilbert: We’ll have to leave it there. Scott Ryan, thank you very much for your time.

Ryan: Thanks Lyndal.


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