Interview with Kieran Gilbert, AM Agenda: education reform

  • Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education

3 December 2013

Subjects: Foreign affairs, education reform, Temporary Protection Visas

Kieran Gilbert: …with me this morning, the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Matt Thistlethwaite and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Education Minister, Senator Scott Ryan. There’s a lot to talk about with the Gonski issue, I first want to play you and our viewers David Johnston, the Defence Minister’s comments to a defence and industry roundtable. The media wasn’t allowed in, this is a covert recording that the West Australian has managed to obtain, let’s play it.

[Clip: David Johnston]

Kieran Gilbert: The Defence Minister there was asked about the Snowden leaks of course, and the prospects of more to come. He says we’ve got to assume the worst and when it comes to the five nations who share intelligence, that we can’t take a backwards step. Is that sort of comment appropriate to members of the industry, that’s not a statement made internally to government or the intelligence agencies, which was made at the Press Club.

Scott Ryan: Well, I don’t think there was anything surprising in that particular recording that I just heard, and I read this morning. In most of that material, most of those comments I’ve read from journalists over the course of the last week. The Government has made clear that we will deal with any particular stories or allegations as they come about.

Kieran Gilbert: Is that a fair response? Because a lot of what Senator Johnston said is common sense, isn’t it?

Matt Thistlethwaite: Well, it’s long standing policy not to comment on national security matters and there’s good reason for that Kieran, we don’t want to damage the reputation or the safety of Australians working overseas. So, the position is that Labor doesn’t comment on those matters and we’ll offer bipartisan support for the Government to get through this difficult period.

Kieran Gilbert: What about in the setting of the industry round table at the Press Club, is that an appropriate thing to be discussing?

Matt Thistlethwaite: Well they’re certainly interesting comments, but that’s something for the Defence Minister to justify. We believe that there’s no interest at all in Australia commenting publicly on these issues.

Kieran Gilbert: Is there a different standard for those comments that you make in front of a camera, like on this program, or those comments you might make to industry representatives like Senator Johnston did yesterday?

Scott Ryan: I think it’s entirely appropriate to tailor one’s comments to the audience, there’s an appropriateness for whether you’re speaking to a large group of school kids or appearing on Sky News, Kieran. Nothing that I heard in that recording then is something I haven’t read over the course of the last week written by journalists on the second floor of Parliament House.

Kieran Gilbert: On the education funding issue, it’s been messy hasn’t it? A double back flip, three different positions in the last week.

Scott Ryan: It’s been a mess that Labor left us. What yesterday was about Kieran, was about the Coalition Government fulfilling its promise and actually restoring the $1.2 billion that Labor cut in the dying days of the election campaign and that only became obvious because of the Charter of Budget Honesty. It has been a mess that we’ve had to clean up.

Kieran Gilbert: Haven’t they neutralised this issue now, and honoured the commitments made? They said they’d provide dollar for dollar, the Prime Minister came out yesterday and has committed to exactly the amount that Labor would’ve spent.

Matt Thistlethwaite: Let’s be very clear Kieran, yesterday was about taking pressure off Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott. You see, this is the fourth position that they’ve had on this issue in four months, it’s a position a month. You go into the Liberal Party Caucus Room, there’s a big policy chocolate wheel up the front and they give it a spin every morning and they work out what their position is going to be on education. You can’t run your education system like this. Labor understood in government, we had a policy vision for where we wanted to take Australia in terms of education. We wanted to end this blame game that existed between the private school sector, the Catholic schools and the public schools.

Kieran Gilbert: But what they’ve got is a national deal, and that’s something that Labor didn’t have. They’ve got all the states now on board.

Matt Thistlethwaite: But importantly the states can do what they want, the states can take the money and run. You see Labor’s vision was based on the Gonski reforms and that was that there needed to be co-contributions from the states, there needed to be growth in funding and there needed to be a needs based model. We were focusing on ending the blame game and focusing on the needs of the students, the kids from a disadvantaged background, the kids from Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Island backgrounds, the kids from non-English speaking background that were falling behind, and ensuring that Australia internationally was slipping in international comparisons. We focused on needs, the Government is focusing on taking the heat off Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott and on short term political gain…

Kieran Gilbert: …he has had a good run here, you can respond to all of it, I will let you respond to every single comment that he made as Parliamentary Secretary to the Education Minister. I suppose the issue is, are the states getting this with no strings attached? That’s the big point here.

Scott Ryan: What Matt talked about there was Labor’s vision, but like everything the last Labor government did, it firstly can’t be trusted - it’s a fact they stripped the $1.2 billion out of education during the election campaign. On the issue of tying the states, the only state that is actually cutting funding to education is the South Australian Labor Government, which signed up to Labor’s so-called deal…

Matt Thistlethwaite: … That’s not true, Queensland is closing schools. Campbell Newman is closing schools and you’re going to give him a bucket of money and say “mate go ahead, here’s your money, close your schools”…

Kieran Gilbert: … Let’s hear Senator Ryan

Scott Ryan: Labor’s glib one-liners here is an attempt to divert attention from their funding cuts. South Australia signed up to Labor’s deal, the one that Matt’s so proud of, yet it’s cutting funding to education. Western Australia actually funds above the level of Labor’s own reforms, yet they were going to be penalised because they invested more in education. A fair deal is one that says to a kid in Western Australia and a kid in Victoria “you’re going to get funding based on need.” That is what the Coalition delivered yesterday, and Labor is just trying to divert attention from, yet again, another political disaster that it left for the Coalition to clean up in office.

Kieran Gilbert: How do you reconcile the comments made last week that this was a shambles, that this was un-implementable? Previously, before the election it was as “Conski”, then you agreed to it, a unity ticket, now you’ve finally agreed to pay the money, after last week saying that “no, it wasn’t there,” you weren’t going to provide it.

Scott Ryan: It was a shambles when you don’t have the whole country signed up to it. It was un-implementable as a national deal without three of the jurisdictions signed up to it. They were statements of fact, and yesterday the Prime Minister and the Education Minister said that they are committing to putting the extra money in, to match the four year funding deal that Labor didn’t have - they had a promise, they took that money out, we’re actually restoring money.

Kieran Gilbert: Why did they waiver then last week? Why was there a wobble on this? Because it certainly looked like it.

Scott Ryan: I can’t talk to any particular private conversations, but when you have to get multiple states and jurisdictions on board, that takes a bit of time. The Coalition needed to ensure that we could actually fund this, and that was the commitment the Prime Minister gave yesterday.

Kieran Gilbert: Well that’s what they’ve done, they’ve done that now, and they’ve actually provided what Labor didn’t provide before the election, because you didn’t have the signatures on the paper. They’ve got more than a billion dollars going to those particular states, and those that were already signed on get what they wanted anyway. That is a win for students and the schools, is it not?

Matt Thistlethwaite: No it’s not, because you can give the money to a state like Queensland and then they can go ahead and close schools. You’ve got a growing population in Queensland, and Campbell Newman is closing five schools. Now, how is that in the interests of our education system? Why should a federal government sign up to a system like that? We’d be crazy to. Now we took on the recommendations of the Gonski panel, which said that you needed growth in funding, and that you needed a needs based approach, and they were the conditions that we put on the states in signing up. Now they’ve trashed those conditions, they’ve allowed the states to take the money and run…

Kieran Gilbert: …Alright, I want to move on to Temporary Protection Visas, because I’ve got Tony Burke coming up a bit later, I touch on that with him as well, as our viewers saw with Scott Morrison discussed this at length. But I want to get both your thoughts on this issue, start with you Matt Thistlethwaite, surely the Government has got a mandate for this, regardless of what Labor thinks about it, because the debate’s been done, they won. Surely they’ve got a mandate for it?

Matt Thistlethwaite: Well, you could make the same argument for the “turn back the boats” policy or the “buying back the boats” policy, but gee that’s worked well for the, hasn’t it? That policy is now in disarray…

Kieran Gilbert: …that’s a bit of a diversion, I’m asking you about Temporary Protection Visas, which they say work, and they want to implement.

Matt Thistlethwaite: Labor’s position has been consistent on this and we’ve done the policy legwork, we’ve analysed what works and what doesn’t. You see, temporary protection visas provide one incentive for people smugglers and for asylum seekers, that incentive is that you’ll set foot on Australian land. You’ll be issued with a Temporary Protection Visa when you set foot on Australian land.

Kieran Gilbert: They want to apply this, as Scott Morrison argued, to the 30,000 plus people that are already here.

Matt Thistlethwaite: Under the Regional Resettlement Arrangement, no one sets foot on Australian land, you’re processed in Naru…

Kieran Gilbert: We’re talking about those already here to be then dealt with, and they want a TPV to be applied to those people.

Matt Thistlethwaite: Labor’s done the policy legwork on this, we understand that you need to put in place a disincentive, you need to take away the product that the people smugglers were selling. The Regional Resettlement Arrangement does that, that’s why it hasn’t been dismantled by the current government, that’s providing the effective disincentive. 95 percent of people that got Temporary Protection Visas under the previous government, ended up permanent residents here and got a long standing visa…

Kieran Gilbert: Senator Ryan, that’s an argument that Labor says that the TPVS, people ended up here anyway, and the vast bulk of people on TPVs under the Howard Government…

Scott Ryan: We heard from Scott Morrison before, Labor put their alliance with the extremist Greens last night before the national interest. Their policies failed. The Labor-Greens border protection policies completely failed, and what the Coalition wants to do is use this as an important part of the suite of policies. For Matt here to say that Labor’s been consistent, I mean Labor’s flip-flopping over border protection over the past six years will be taught in courses of disastrous political management for years to come. They abolished the Pacific Solution, now they’re claiming credit for the so-called Regional Resettlement Package. The real problem here is that they’ve put their alliance with the extremist Greens above the national interest and now they’re not just determined to break their own promises when they were in government, they are determined to try and stop the Coalition implementing its promises. We made TPVs very clear for the last two elections, as a central element of our policy and what Labor doesn’t want is for us to be held accountable for those policies, because last time they worked.

Kieran Gilbert: You raised a question about them claiming credit for the PNG deal but surely they can, can’t they? Because they introduced it.

Scott Ryan: You don’t get to claim credit for putting a band aid over a cut that you made yourself. They dismantled the policies that worked…

Kieran Gilbert: … That’s true, but that’s the system that is working now, isn’t it? That you’re continuing with, at least for those that are yet to arrive.

Scott Ryan: We need other elements of the policy that previously worked and TPVs are a critical part of that. The 30,000 people that came here under Labor’s failed policies, talk to their families, talk to people overseas, and we need to stop them having a product to sell through the people smugglers.

Kieran Gilbert: It seems that Scott Morrison’s going to get around the obstruction in the Senate anyway, he’s going to announce an alternative path to achieve this, so you haven’t really achieved much, have you?

Matt Thistlethwaite: Well we’ve stuck by our policy, and it’s a policy we believe will work and is in the nation’s interest…

Kieran Gilbert: Is it basically to stop an in-fight within the Labor Party? Because we know that you guys have been split for a long time over how to manage this.

Matt Thistlethwaite: No, it’s to reinforce a policy that’s working, the Regional Resettlement Arrangement is providing an effective disincentive, its seeing a reduction in the number of boats coming. If you open the door again, with Temporary Protection Visas, that’s a product of the people smugglers in Indonesia and other parts of the world can begin selling again, that’s why we don’t want to open the door on this.

Scott Ryan: It’s a ridiculous proposition to suggest that TPVs, which were part of the Howard policies that worked, open the door. They shut the door to the 30,000 people here in Australia and the people that they might seek to tell that they can come to Australia.

Kieran Gilbert: The Parliamentary Secretary to Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, Senator Scott Ryan, thank you very much for your time, and then Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Matt Thistlethwaite, good to see you, thank you. 

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