SUBJECT/S: Pre-Budget leaks; Liberals failure on Western Sydney public transport; education funding; Budget repair

KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda. With me now, the Shadow Minister for Small Business and Citizenship, Michelle Rowland. Let’s look at the infrastructure issue to begin with, if we can. It’s a $5 billion spend. $2.2 billion of that goes to New South Wales, a big chunk of it will benefit Western Sydney, your neck of the woods.

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR SMALL BUSINESS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM: Well the first thing Kieran, is that Bill Shorten at the end of last year actually announced 10 projects that Labor would fund and one of them specifically was about rail in Western Sydney and specifically opening up those employment lands. Meanwhile what we’ve seen from this government is a $50 million bureaucracy being set up. No actual money going into it.

GILBERT: This is actual money, they’re saying this is funding going to the specific projects. Beyond that, the other idea of the infrastructure bonds, this is direct investment.

ROWLAND: Well this is what you need to remember though, Kieran. This is a government that has ignored public transport for the last two years. All of a sudden it sees an election coming up, it rediscovers Western Sydney as it does before every election, but has ignored things like public transport, ignored the reality of people in Western Sydney and they’re talking about building infrastructure. We have a State Liberal government for example that can’t even build lifts at train stations and yet they want to be trusted with funding massive infrastructure projects in Western Sydney. 

GILBERT: But on those issues, the SydneyMetro project and the Parramatta light rail, these are two initiatives, how can you be critical of those because that is specifically what you’re talking about here. 

ROWLAND: We’ll wait to see whether this government actually delivers on it but the important thing to note Kieran, is that this government having ignored public transport and at the same time saying ‘we’re going to build all these roads and all these other projects,’ let’s remember the reality of people who live in my part of the world. Just to get to work in the morning they’re already paying 4 tolls. This government is now going to put on an extra toll, on an existing road, on the M4. People already see the toll plaza going up.  It’s a government bereft of an integrated plan, calling it ‘Smart Cities’, but actually there is nothing smart about what this government is doing. 

GILBERT: Let’s look at the schools funding issue. The government again says it’s committed to the Gonski ideals but it’s got to be funded and they’re providing an extra billion dollars plus over the out years of the Gonski model and they’re saying your additional $3 billion, well, they’re asking where it’s coming from and they’re pointing out that it’s not necessarily the amount of money but how it’s spent that is the key thing here. 

ROWLAND: Well the interesting thing to note here is I’m sure we have people saying ‘well, this is a case of déjà vu.’ Before the last election this government promised to match Labor’s funding, to match needs-based funding dollar for dollar. And they went to the 2013 election on that platform and yet they broke it very shortly thereafter. It is only the Labor Party who is actually proposing, and has committed, not only committed but we have funding committed, to make sure that we have true needs-based funding. On one hand this government talks about believing in needs-based funding, on the other hand it says ‘we don’t need more funding, it’s just how you spend it.’ Well the reality again, on the ground, and to use my area as an example, in Western Sydney we have Rooty Hill High School that can point to the specific aspects of improvements that have been made in terms of making sure that students have learning plans, having additional support teachers. And I go to schools now and schools are reaping the benefits. 

GILBERT: Yeah, but, it’s still in terms of the trajectory of spending the government’s not reducing it, they’re adding to it even further aren’t they? 

ROWLAND: But they’re not matching what is actually required in out years. On one hand they’re talking about ‘well, we don’t need that extra money. It’s how you spend it.’ That sort of an argument is exactly the opposite to what parents know to be true. If you’re going to have education as a real transformational device, as something that is able to lift people out of poverty and bearing in mind, we’re talking about real needs-based, children coming from families that might be second or third generation not having jobs in their households. It’s important that we break that cycle and if we don’t do it now and keep talking the kind of rhetoric that the government has been going on with, talking about innovation for example, but not making sure we fund our schools properly needs based for the future, then Australia will be worse off. 

GILBERT: I want to ask you about the broader political landscape in which we talk this morning and that is ahead of the Budget, the Prime Minister to go to the Governor General at the end of the week and then we’re into this marathon campaign. In terms of this Budget tomorrow, do you accept that it is going to be a challenge for Labor to say where your dollars are going to come from in terms of the Reply, because while you’ve funded various initiatives at the moment, there’s still no commitment to Labor to return to surplus any time soon. 

ROWLAND:  This is a government that’s been bereft of an economic narrative, Kieran. And they’re going into tomorrow night’s Budget having said for how many years ‘we’re not going to do anything on multinational tax,’ ‘we’re not going to do anything on high end super.’ They ridiculed Labor’s proposal to increase excise and now they’re trying to talk about superannuation as though they’re the champions of it, when all along they’ve been the people that have opposed the measures that we’ve had.

GILBERT: The bottom line for Labor doesn’t matter?

ROWLAND: Of course it matters, which is why we have had and we’ve had announcements of very significant reforms including our negative gearing plan. We have on one hand very well thought out, very well designed and costed policies in order to pay for commitments and address budget repair. This government on the other hand, a purely political document and you don’t need to go any further than seeing their day before the election tax sweetener. 

GILBERT: Michelle Rowland, thanks for your time.