SUBJECTS: Ruddock Review; the economics of the Liberals’ multi-technology NBN mess; Newspoll.
KIERAN GILBERT: With us now is the Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland. The question is here, Michelle, the government indicating that, yes, it will move to clarify that schools - religious schools - shouldn't be able to ban students on the basis of their sexuality. The question is now will that be extended to teachers as well. What are your views on this particular issue?
MICHELLE ROWLAND MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Well, Bill Shorten made it clear that we support the government's intention in relation to students. And it is a vexed issue in relation to teachers. On one hand, of course, you have particular religious schools who may well expect their teachers to be able to teach a certain religion or adhere to certain values. But it really does get to what was described as the thin edge of the wedge, how close are you getting into personal lives and shouldn't the issue be are they teaching children properly as the primary reason why they are there in that school.
But having met with a number of faith-based communities and bearing in mind that we don't have that full Ruddock Review to be able to digest, we know what the recommendations are. They are quite frustrated that this is a debate that has taken on a life to do specifically with education. And it is a debate that needs to be had but I don't think they anticipated that this is where it would be going. And I'll also say that these groups that I have met with, each of them said that they have never exercised the ability to refuse a student or teacher.
GILBERT: Well, we've got a situation where you've got competing interests and rights and this can happen and it's obviously a very complex thing to manage for legislators, for courts and so on but there is just a strong a need for protection of religious faith in this country isn't there? And that's something that's been lacking by many peoples analysis over many years. It's something that needs to be dealt with isn't it?
ROWLAND: That argument’s been well made, and that's why Labor has been calling for this review to be released. It's completely unacceptable that the government has been sitting on this, and now we have the Minister for Education giving comments essentially in a vacuum for the rest of us. I don't know if he's seen the report. I don't know if it has gone to Cabinet. All I know is that people who are impacted by this haven't seen it. And we are all waiting to see what sort of analysis is there. It's actually very difficult to comprehend some of the recommendations that have been made - those recommendations that have been leaked - without the context of that report and that is very disappointing and does not auger well for a robust and informed debate.
LAURA JAYES: But Michelle Rowland why are you hiding behind this report to an extent? This is a report that was commissioned by Malcolm Turnbull. At the time, many in Labor said this was just a sop to the hard right of his party after the gay marriage vote, and we should remind our viewers that these laws are in place at the moment because they were brought in under the Gillard Government, so why are you waiting for the Ruddock Review to form a position? Why hasn't Labor formed a position already?
ROWLAND: Well to the contrary, Laura, no one's hiding behind anything here. I've made the point that the arguments are now flying thick and fast centring on the issue of teachers and their ability to be in certain schools or for certain discrimination to be capable of being exercised. And the point has been made, even by Dan Tehan, that this is a debate that needs to be had. If you're going to have a full and robust debate for God's sake release the report!
JAYES: What's your instinct on all of this? It was universal when it came to gay students being expelled because of their sexual orientation if they were at a religious school. I don't think many people could stomach that at all. But when it comes to teachers, that has been presented as a little bit more complicated. Why?
ROWLAND: I think for two reasons. Firstly because schools, by and large, as I understand it are upfront about what sort of values, what sort of teachings their school adheres to and sometimes that is self-evident. If you have a school that is a Muslim school or a Catholic school, for example, those are self-evident and you have a requirement for teachers to be able to impart a certain doctrine to not only students, but also to fellow teachers and in many cases wider community. So there's that component.
The second component is, of course, that teachers are making these decisions for themselves. Students aren't making these decisions about where they go to school. It's a decision that's by and large being made, of course, by their parents and by their caregivers. So teachers have the ability to choose where they go and practise their craft and in some cases it may be the case that in order to teach at a certain school you either need to be ready to teach a certain religion or to ascribe to certain values. But where the crux comes is, well, at what point is a school looking at a teacher's personal life that has no regard to their ability to be a teacher. That is the question here.
GILBERT: Okay, let's quickly look at a couple of other issues in relation to your responsibilities in Communications, particularly the NBN. Do you believe it's inevitable, whether it’s Labor or the Coalition, that there will have to be a substantial write-down of the worth of the National Broadband Network?
ROWLAND: I haven't said it's inevitable and Labor hasn't said that. Standard & Poors has basically said it's inevitable in their scathing assessment that they gave of the NBN a couple of months ago. But what is clear, Kieran, is some very hard decisions will need to be made by whoever is in power at the next election and the next election is going to be very close. So whoever is in government will need to make some very difficult decisions because we are really getting to the pointy end of the long-term economics of the NBN. And this was pointed out in that article in The Australian today, the economics, the business case of the NBN is essentially busted. We have a situation where we've got a network that costs more and it does less.
So there are difficult decisions that will need to be made and the main game, as I said in my speech to the CommsDay conference last week, the main game is going to shift to the economics of the NBN, because that dictates and that is impacted by everything from choice of infrastructure to consumer experience.
JAYES: Michelle Rowland, let me get your take on Newspoll before we let you go. Shouldn't Bill Shorten be doing a lot better given the chaos and the revolving door of leadership on the other side?
ROWLAND: It's interesting Laura: everyone says he should be doing better and yet he outperforms every time. I think the fact that Bill Shorten continues to be underestimated is possibly one of his biggest strengths. And he, in fact, makes it known that we all need to work harder. We all need to present ourselves as a credible alternative government and that's precisely what we've been doing under his and Tanya Plibersek's excellent leadership over the last five years.
Whatever happens Laura, the next election is going to be very close. It is going to come down to two things. It's going to come down to policy and it's going to come down to the quality of candidates and Labor is ready for that fight.
GILBERT: Okay Michelle Rowland, thanks so much. Labor's Communications Spokesperson, talk to you soon.