31 July 2014


SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s Cuts to Schools in Western Sydney; Tony Abbott’s Unfair Budget; Immigration; Middle East; MH17; G20; Anti-terror laws; Internet Tax

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks everyone for joining me and Michelle Rowland at Glenwood High, a remarkable school doing a great job with lots of great students and great teachers. We’re sorry that this school didn’t allow the media onto the premises of the school. The Abbott Government just doesn’t get it, not allowing the cameras and the media in to talk to schools about the unfair Budget and the cuts to schools in Western Sydney doesn’t make an unfair Budget fair. Western Sydney are amongst the biggest victims of the Abbott-Hockey Budget and its attack on school funding. When you look at some of the areas which are missing out, the consequences are staggering. Mount Druitt, $270 million over the next 10 years in money not going to schools in that area. Parramatta, $230 million down over the next 10 years. In the electorate of Greenway, represented by my colleague Michelle Rowland, $220 million.

Put another way, schools in Western Sydney on average over the next 10 years because of this Government’s cruel and unfair cuts are going to lose about $3.2 million on average across the 10 years for that school. Another way to put in really human terms is imagine it’s the funding for one in every seven teachers in Western Sydney. We hear reports that Tony Abbott may be making a fleeting visit to Western Sydney. I hope Tony Abbott has the courage to talk to parents about why he is taking money away from their children’s future.

And indeed, talking about visits, I understand that Australia’s part-time Treasurer Joe Hockey is making a rare visit to Tasmania to try and persuade Senator Jacqui Lambie of the merits of this unfair Budget. Joe Hockey, perhaps in the first week of July when the Senate was meeting, you should have gone to the right island which is Tasmania, not the wrong island Fiji. What we need in Australia is a Government who are prepared to work hard for all Australians, not put their feet up on the couch and go missing in action. This is an unfair Budget for Western Sydney and Labor will fight and fight and fight to ensure the best chance for kids in Western Sydney and indeed across Australia. I might ask my colleague Michelle Rowland to make a few more remarks about this very important issue.

MICHELLE ROWLAND, MEMBER FOR GREENWAY: Thanks Bill, Thanks for coming along today and welcome to Glenwood, the suburb where I live and I’ve had a very long association with this fantastic school Glenwood High School. I want to thank all the teachers who’ve come along and who’ve let us know why this issue of education in Western Sydney is so important. These teachers are the frontline. They know that their job is about employability. Making sure the students whom they invest their time, energy and skills in are actually made employable by the time they leave school. This Budget cut the very programs that went to that issue of employability and $220 million being cut from Greenway alone, from our schools, is an absolute disgrace. So thanks very much Bill for coming to my home town. You have obviously been welcomed very warmly by the school community and justly so. Thank you.

SHORTEN: Thanks Michelle. Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST: It is a bit embarrassing we’re waiting outside next to a van and we’re not inside the school as was planned. Who do you pin the blame on, the Baird Government putting pressure on the school or?

SHORTEN: Ultimately the Abbott Government doesn’t want to talk about its unfair Budget. I think it is crazy to say to the media of Australia ‘you’re not welcome into a school to see what is happening.’ Because just stifling the media’s access doesn’t make a lie true and the lie is that this Government, the Abbott Government said they wouldn’t cut education before the last election and they have. No amount of media censorship by educational authorities will make this a fair Budget. This is an unfair Budget for schools and it is unfair to the children of Western Sydney and across all of Australia.

JOURNALIST: Just to be clear, you’re saying the Federal Government, the Prime Minister, pressured the school or the Department of Education to deny you access today?

SHORTEN: No, these schools are run by the New South Wales directorate of education. But let’s face it, the people who don’t want education funding being spoken about in Australia are Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey. They are vandalising the schools of Australia, cutting funding. Before the last election they lied to Australia: they said there was a unity ticket on education between Liberal and Labor, you could vote for Tony Abbott and you could still get the same deal as if you voted for Labor. The truth of the matter is this Budget shows it was just a lie. The Abbott Government is now lying about the fact they lied and in the meantime time, you have got part-time Treasurer Joe Hockey trying to do a belated patch-up job when he has been missing in action for two and a half months not doing his day job.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, a psychiatrist has just revealed to an inquiry that the Immigration Department recently told her not to publish statistics showing significant rates of mental health problems amongst children in detention. Now should Scott Morrison be sacked for this?

SHORTEN: I haven’t seen those reports. Clearly what you say is disturbing but I haven’t seen those reports. But it is disturbing and it is important that we don’t have a culture of secrecy around our immigration policies. We all know when it is blue sky and the news is good for the Abbott Government, Scott Morrison is rent a quote, but we know he goes missing in action too when the going gets tough.

JOURNALIST: If it is true she has been told not to publish the statistics showing the significant rates of mental health problems, how disturbing is this?

SHORTEN: They are very disturbing points you are making to me about a suppression of these matters, but again I haven’t seen them so I am unable to comment further. But let’s face it, we all know that the Abbott Government, when it is good news, they are out and about and you can’t open your front door without seeing an Abbott Government minister but as soon as the going gets tough, be it education, the Budget or immigration, this Government is missing in action.

JOURNALIST: Clive Palmer claims that we risk losing our AAA credit rating and as you know, he has been calling for a mini-budget. What do you make of those two claims and comments from him?

SHORTEN: First of all, the Budget was left in reasonable shape at the last election. We see that the AAA rating is intact. We believe in sensible reforms over medium term to our Budget, but we don’t believe that any case has been made by Joe Hockey or Tony Abbott to engage in incredibly difficult cuts to education such as the schools we are at here today. Australia’s teachers work hard. They don’t need to be undermined by a lazy Government who lied at the election and are breaking their promises. In terms of a mini-budget and the prospects for that, I think everyone, everyone in Australia except Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott know that their Budget is grotesquely unpopular. No amount of last minute trips to talk to crossbench Senators makes this unfair Budget anything other than totally unfair.

JOURNALIST: Malcolm Turnbull says Israel faces extinction if it doesn’t defend itself against Hamas. Do you agree Mr Shorten?

SHORTEN: Every country has got the right to secure borders but like I think most Australians, the images we have seen today are deeply, deeply disturbing. Again I reiterate my and Labor’s earlier calls for an immediate ceasefire. The path for peace, the path for security rests through peace.

JOURNALIST: But do you agree with Mr Malcolm Turnbull’s comments?

SHORTEN: I haven’t seen the full context of Malcolm Turnbull’s comments. What I do know is that Labor supports an immediate ceasefire. The only way you can get security will be through peace.

JOURNALIST: Okay then, do you agree with a number of your MPs who have signed a petition saying Israel’s attacks should be condemned?

SHORTEN: What I believe is that we should have an immediate ceasefire. I deplore the scenes that we have seen this morning and I absolutely again reiterate our call for an immediate cease fire. The way for security is through peace.

JOURNALIST: So do you think that we should be leveraging on our UN Security Council seat or should we be more active in calling for that? I mean we haven’t heard too much on that apart from a couple of media releases here and there.

SHORTEN: I know that Government has its hands full pursuing appropriately the disaster in Ukraine. Labor’s position though is unequivocal, it is black and white and an immediate ceasefire is what we want to see in that part of the world, straight away.

JOURNALIST: On Ukraine, Tony Abbott, in the last hour or so, said he hopes that Vladimir Putin comes to Australia for the G20 and he’s seeking to separate national security and the economics. Do you think it fair to do that, given what Russia has been accused of doing and given the high number of Australian dead that seen in that plane crash?

SHORTEN: This disaster and the consequences and the tragedy it has wreaked on people will continue to be felt not just in the next days and weeks but months and years ahead. I am pleased there will be a memorial service in Melbourne on August 7. That is an important part of the grieving process. In terms of events in eastern Ukraine, Labor has not allowed an inch of daylight between the Government and ourselves. This matter is above the standard fare of politics. I support the call and Australia’s priorities to recover the victims’ remains and to be able to make sure that our police personnel in that part of the world are safe. That is the only game in town as far as Labor is concerned. We won’t speculate about all the other political ramifications and machinations. For me and for Labor it is the return of the victims’ remains and it is making sure our personnel engaged in that process are able to do this safely.

JOURNALIST: As far as you’re concerned Putin is welcome in the country?

SHORTEN: As far as I am concerned there is only one order of business; this is the recovery of the victims’ remains. This is making sure that our police and other personnel are safe and secure in doing that process. That is all I care about, full stop.

JOURNALIST: Back to the petition, it says Israel’s attacks can’t be compared to the imprecise rockets coming from Gaza. Do you agree with that and can Israel afford to lose this war?

SHORTEN: What I think is important is that there is an immediate ceasefire. I think that before anything else, the first order of business has to be peace, it has to be a ceasefire and it has to be the safety of everyone in that part of the world full stop.

JOURNALIST: Just a very quick question on the proposed anti-terror laws that George Brandis has been talking about. How important do you think it is balance national security and with freedom of speech? He is talking about speech that is seen to incite some kind of violence. How wide you think that definition can be? Is there a concern that this might put some limitations on freedom of speech?

SHORTEN: That is a pretty long question and it is referring to comments from Senator Brandis which I am not sure I have seen the full text of. What I can state unequivocally from Labor’s point is this – of course we support the promotion of national security and in the digital age that is a more challenging task than it has ever been before. At the same time though, talks of an Internet tax I think, are well wide of the mark. And like many Australians, I am concerned that the Government gets the process, gets the outcome we want right, but I am concerned if after we have got a GP Tax, after we have got a Petrol Tax that all of a sudden we get an Internet Tax. That would be the third leg of a lie-fecta which this Government shouldn’t be allowed to get away with. Thanks very much everyone.