SUBJECT/S: Safe Schools Program; Labor’s plan to fund health & education – and balance the Budget; Senate voting reforms





PATRICIA KARVELAS: From Parliament House in Canberra tonight, the new Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Material Dan Tehan, and the Shadow Minister for Small Business and Citizenship and Multiculturalism Michelle Rowland. Great to have you back on the program. I’ll start with you, Michelle. Do you have any concerns about the implementation of the Safe Schools Program, Simon Birmingham the Education Minister says it’s essential that all material is age appropriate – is it worth making?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR SMALL BUSINESS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM: I think it is worth making, sure it is, but I think that had already been factored into the entire program and I took the opportunity today to refresh myself with the materials that are being used and the purpose of the program and it is quite apparent, firstly, that the schools need to opt-in, that the teachers who are providing this information to students need to be trained. I note that it is under the auspices of the Foundation for Young Australians which is a most reputable group, that Labor approved the funding for this and it’s the current Government actually launched it, so it has enjoyed a wide level of support. And I think that the concerns about age appropriateness are ones that have been factored into the program already so I would be very concerned if Cory Bernardi’s comments, somehow alluding to be some sort of Marxist conspiracy, if they were being taken into consideration and given undue weight. I think it’s really important particularly for young people who may feel marginalised who are starting to understand their sexuality to know that they have support, that it’s not okay to be bullied and that there’s people they can talk to and help to understand their feelings. It’s hard enough, when I cast my mind back, it’s hard enough being an adolescent full stop and I think having an extra burden of that bullying, which many people are unfortunately subjected to at that age, is really unfortunate. And lastly Patricia I note that the program came about because it was identified that there was a lack of resources in this area, so it was actually developed to fulfil a need. I see the testimonials that have been made from teachers, parents, principals, principals associations, and the positive way in which it is being received, so I would be very concerned if calls for a review into this were being used to undermine what appears to be not only a program that has had cross party support, and I note the comments of Simon Birmingham in that regard, but also to undermine something that is there to support young people who need it.

On RN Drive, I’m having a bit of a political debate between two people. You’re just listening there to Michelle Rowland, she is the Shadow Minister for Small Business, Citizenship and Multiculturalism and just coming in now – you probably heard him coming in, I did – is Dan Tehan, the new Minister for Veterans Affairs and Defence Materiel. He was on the backbench, now he’s gone straight to the frontbench and he’s joined us now. I reckon that’s why he was late, because he is a minister now, they’re always late. Hi Dan, it’s true isn’t it?

DAN TEHAN: Hi Patricia, good afternoon to your listeners. I apologise for running a little bit late, I’ve been doing some meetings with relevant people to the new portfolio and they went a little bit back to back so I apologise.

KARVELAS: I’ll bring you straight into what we were just talking about which was the Safe Schools review. Michelle says she thinks all of the approvals were already made, that it was appropriate for young kids, for early high school, do you have an issue with this program?

TEHAN: I think the important thing is here that it is being reviewed. The Minister for Education has said that he’s happy to review it and I think that’s important. I think we have to see what that review says and so we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. I assume that what the review will look at will be here’s the material that’s being used age appropriate for the students -

KARVELAS: But Michelle makes the point, and I think it’s really relevant, that to get federal funding it’s already gone through these hoops, you can’t get federal funding unless all of the materials have been approved so what is it that you’re looking for?

TEHAN: I think what we’re looking for is to make sure that the material that is being provided is age appropriate and if parents are coming and saying that they don’t think that it is then I think the right thing to do is to have a look at it. I don’t think that anyone should be concerned by us saying all right, we are getting feedback on this and therefore we need to make sure that it’s appropriate, let’s have a look at it. Since when have we been concerned if issues are raised of having people examine something and say okay is it doing what it’s meant to be doing and I think we all need to calm down and make sure we look thoroughly at the review, what its findings are and then obviously decisions can or can’t be made based on that review

KARVELAS: What’s the scope of the review, who will conduct it? Do you have any of those details?

TEHAN:  I think the Minister for Education would be the best person to answer that, he’s obviously the right person to be looking at this issue and making those types of decisions and I must say I’ve got a lot of confidence in the Minister for Education, I think he;s done an outstanding job since he’s taken over that portfolio and I’m sure -

KARVELAS:  And he’s been defending this program, you realise? Until now he’s been defending this program, I’ve heard him say it.

TEHAN: He has decided that there needs to be a review, as the Minister for Education he’s obviously said this is a program which has been rolled out, it’s there to help address bullying in schools, but he has also now taken the decision to say all right, let’s have a look at it. It’s based on feedback that he’s been getting, and other members of parliament have been getting, and I think that that’s appropriate. I don’t think anyone has anything to fear from this being reviewed.

KARVELAS: On RN Drive we’re having a bit of a debate with Dan Tehan and Michelle Rowland. I want to change the topic because we’re going to be having a debate about the Safe Schools issue later on in the program so I don’t want to take up too much more time on it. Dan Tehan, when the PM said this in Question Time yesterday:

TURNBULL AUDIO CLIP: … Increasing capital gains tax is not a part of our thinking whatsoever.

KARVELAS: Did he mislead the Parliament, because his office has since confirmed the government is looking at capital gains in superannuation?

TEHAN: Well look, this is one of these issues where you need to roll the full tape, you need to go back and look at the question before and see what it asked and what it was specific to and then obviously there was a follow up question. I think the Prime Minister  answered this pretty well today in the Parliament when he was asked this question and the relevant member who put the press release out trying to make this link, it said such-and-such, dot dot dot, such-and-such, dot dot dot dot, it was a huge piece of linkage to try and get to the point that the Labor Party were trying to make. What I would say to the Labor Party is, that the tax debate is a serious one. They’ve put out a couple of proposals. One which we think will damage the housing market, another one we think will damage confidence in the small business sector, in the farming sector, these are the type of issues that we shouldn’t be discussing. Not some absolutely technical point that they are trying to get up which has no credibility on whether the PM may or may not have misled the parliament, this is not what the Australian people want us talking about. They want us talking about the real issues which impact on them. How do we grow the economy, how do we create jobs.

KARVELAS: Sure, I’ll bring Michelle Rowland in because they’ve been putting out policies on how to deal with some of these issues. Michelle Rowland,  Labor went hard on this issue, this tax issue, in Question Time today. The PM said it’s all about context which Dan Tehan just really backed up there. If the discussion in Parliament was about CGT for property, and Labor’s policy on that, isn’t that context relevant to working out what the PM meant?

ROWLAND: Patricia, the Prime Minister’s comments in Parliament yesterday were unequivocal and we only have to look at the fact that later after Question Time yesterday, the Prime Minister’s press people then briefed the Gallery and said ‘no, no, no, that’s not what he was saying at all,’ but then we had him being backed in by one of his own Cabinet ministers that yes he has ruled it out. We had his Finance Minister not knowing which way to turn, and we have the talking points today leaked from his office saying ‘everything is on the table’. This is a Government in a complete shemozzle on this matter. Full marks to Dan for backing up the Prime Minister but his performance today was absolutely woeful. Engaging in exactly the scare campaign that he committed he would not engage in. And I will correct Dan on one point, he says that the CGT proposals that Labor has will damage the small business sector, I think he should read Labor’s policy and get informed on that because it does not apply to small businesses. They are specifically excluded.

KARVELAS: Dan Tehan that’s true isn’t it, they are excluded?

TEHAN: As we know there’s flow on effects and there’s always unintended consequences and when it comes to the Labor Party, that’s what they never think through. The PM has gone back to, they did this when they stopped the live cattle exports to Indonesia, they didn’t realise the flow on and unintended consequences to this, had they thought through their CGT policy -

KARVELAS: But isn’t the broader problem for the government that yet again everyone is left wondering what the government is or isn’t doing on tax reform? You can criticise Labor and run whatever scare campaign you like, but you don’t have a policy yet so you’re not offering an alternative.

TEHAN: But we will be. What we will be offering is a policy which is well thought through, one which has dealt with the unintended consequences which won’t be sending shudders through the housing market, which won’t be worrying farmers and small businesses. It will be a policy which is about jobs and about growth. That is what we will be done. We will not apologise for taking time or making sure we get it right. We’re going to make sure that we have looked at what some of the unintended consequences might be of what we are doing and then we can recalibrate and make sure we get it right. The Australian people are looking for certainty. They want to make sure that they get a tax system that when we reform it it’s going to lead to growth and in particular jobs growth and that’s what we’re focused on. We’re taking time, but we have time.

KARVELAS: Do you think maybe you’re taking too long a time because you’re starting to politically bleed aren’t you?

TEHAN: We’ve made it quite clear that we would have a tax policy that we would release either before or at the Budget. We are absolutely on time to do that and the Treasurer is working ferociously to make sure that that package is the right package for the nation and that is the most important thing. Today in Question Time we could have been having a real debate about the various tax alternatives, what the Labor Party are proposing, what we’re considering, yet all we got from the Labor Party was some attempt at some kind of pathetic ‘gotcha’ from Question Time. It’s not what people are wanting. People are wanting to see real leadership on what’s going to secure our economy for the future.

Labor has its tax policies out there, well a couple of big ticket items at least. Are you more focused on highlighting the governments confusion now, more than selling your own policies because the focus was very much on just attacking the character of the PM today.

ROWLAND: What we have been highlighting is the fact that this is a Government without any economic credentials whatsoever. We have very clearly articulated a policy in these areas and we’ve articulated a suite of policies, I think over 50, in the last two and a half years. And we are now getting down to this pointy end of business, talking about budget repair and how we are going to fund the important services that people expect and people rely on. We are also focused on how we create jobs. So we have released a very detailed policy which has been fully costed, independently costed, and we are very happy to have that debate. But what we see from this Government, and I take issue with Dan saying we could have been discussing important issues, he’s got a leader there today who is engaging in the most base form of scare campaign tactics. ‘The housing market is about to collapse, reds under the beds’, this is exactly what Malcolm Turnbull said he would not do.

KARVELAS: It is a scare campaign though isn’t it Dan Tehan, and you’re probably taking it on because they are often very successful, we’ve seen them before and they work.

TEHAN: Patricia, the interesting thing and it goes to the point that you were just making, the Labor Party have released two policies. One on capital gains tax and one on negative gearing. You would think that they would be spruiking them and that’s what they would be looking to do in Question Time in the media at the moment. Rather, they’re trying to pick up on some technical inside the beltway point this week. To me, that shows they’ve already realised that their policies have real flaws in them because they don’t want to seem to debate the substance of them. All they want to do is pick up on this technical issue with the PM. I don’t get it. When we release our tax policy I can guarantee you, we will be championing it for weeks and weeks and weeks because we will know it’s going to grow the economy and it’s going to grow jobs. I just wonder why the Labor Party aren’t doing that with their policies.  

KARVELAS: We look forward to seeing your tax policy. I want to ask you quickly, would you like to see a double dissolution election?

TEHAN: What I want to see is in the lead up to an election, whenever it is, a proper policy debate. I want to see alternatives which can be put to the Australian people so there is a clear distinction: do you want Bill Shorten’s policies, or do you want Turnbull Government policies. That’s what I want to see.

KARVELAS: But how do you feel about a double dissolution election cause that’s my question.

TEHAN: I’m happy to go to the people on our record any day. And when that may be, bring it on as far as I’m concerned. I’m happy to put Malcolm Turnbull up against Bill Shorten any day of the week when it comes to economic management, when it comes to national security management, when it comes to securing our borders, any day of the week I’m happy to put Malcolm Turnbull up against Bill Shorten.

KARVELAS: Michelle Rowland, Labor will oppose the government’s Senate voting reforms, are you putting self-interest ahead of voters interest in transparency, because our system has been found to be broken.

ROWLAND: I’ll firstly take an issue with the transparency point, and I heard the Prime Minister talking yesterday about how these changes would make the system more transparent. The first thing to note here is the process by which this Bill has ended up in the Parliament is the most back room of back room deals. A cosy deal stitched up between the Government, the Greens, and Nick Xenophon. That is what it is.

KARVELAS: It was released publicly, we’ve all gotten to see it so you can argue it’s a back room deal but it’s a deal that’s been announced to the public and we’ve all seen it.

ROWLAND: It’s been announced and it’s been done. The votes have been counted, Patricia. This will end up going through the Parliament. There is no doubt this will end up going through because it’ll get through the Reps and it’ll get through the Senate with the support of the Government, the Greens, and Nick Xenophon.

KARVELAS: The ALP secretary George Wright supported reform in 2013, pointing to the serious and unique distortion occurring in some of the outcomes being produced in current Senate ballots. You thought there was a problem but now you’re saying there’s not a problem anymore.

ROWLAND:  I’m not against Senate reform. What I’m against is a system which is biased towards electing Liberal Party members and bear in mind too, you asked whether this is self-interest opposing it. If I was going to be self-interested, I would actually be supporting it. I would actually say ‘yes, I’ll have this because bigger parties, Labor, would actually probably pick up more seats’ but what I’m concerned about here, I have four main concerns. Firstly, the deal which I just talked about to get it here thus far. Secondly, informal voting. Where I live, the electorate I represent in Greenway, has one of the highest informal votes, consistently over elections. Whether or not this is going to be accompanied by an education campaign remains to be seen because if we’re going to an election this year under these new rules, there is very little time.

KARVELAS: You’d imagine there would be. You can’t just start a new voting system without telling people how it worked.

ROWLAND: How effective is that going to be though? When you have electorates with informal voting over 10 per cent consistently which is what we have in Western Sydney, it’s a serious concern. The last point I’ll make is this is getting rammed through the Parliament. They want it through by this week and they will get it through because they have the numbers.

Dan Tehan, what do you say to voters that support smaller parties, and we know they increasingly do, they support small parties and independents and they say you’re rendering their votes worthless just because the current Senate crossbench is refusing to rubberstamp your legislation, that it’s a reaction to the fact that you failed to get some of your reforms through the Senate.

TEHAN: The point here is to stop parties and individuals gaming the system. This is about empowering the voter and this is what these reforms will do again. So the voter, empowered, will be able to vote for small parties, minor parries, larger parties, medium sized parties. What it’s about though is to stop the gaming of the system. People were shocked with how the system was gamed at the last election. This is about addressing this and we need to do that because we want to make sure that the voter remains to have confidence in our electoral system and particularly when it comes to voting in the Senate. You’ve got to remember that these reforms came out of a bipartisan joint committee report which the Labor Party supported, and they have been thought through, they’ve been well considered. They do deal with the problem of informal voting, so that has been taken into account. There are specific provisions to address that and in the end we need to stop the system being gamed because it was making a mockery of our Senate voting system.

KARVELAS: Thanks to both of you. You’ve made your arguments robustly, I think you’ve both given each other a bit of a tickle up but you’ve been pretty fair, thank you to both of you.

TEHAN: Patricia, a pleasure.

ROWLAND:  My pleasure, Patricia.