Doorstop Interview - Townsville - 10 May 2016

SUBJECT/S: Labor’s plan to fully fund Gonski; asylum seekers; Greens and Liberals preference deals; RBA document on negative gearing reforms; Liberals’ retrospective superannuation changes; Liberal disunity.

CATHY O'TOOLE, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR HERBERT: It's really wonderful to have Bill Shorten here today with Kate Ellis to talk about education, which is so very important to our community. Today, Bill will talk to you about what Labor will do for education. We know that in our community, we have a very diverse community, we have lots of schools in low socio-economic areas, and they desperately need the funding that Labor will provide. So thank you very much, Bill, for coming to Townsville to talk to us about education. And thank you, Kate.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks, Cathy. This is Cathy O'Toole, Labor's very competitive candidate for Herbert. She's competitive because only Labor is choosing to put our schools, our kids and their taxpaying parents first. This election is rapidly becoming an election about education. It is a referendum on the sort of schools we want to have in the future. Kate Ellis, my Shadow Minister, and I have worked hard to be able to fully fund a deal which means that the schools in this electorate will gain an extra $48 million. What that $48 million practically translates to is it means that every school and every postcode throughout this big electorate, that children get every opportunity and the same opportunity to be the best they can be. It means there will be more support for stretching the bright kids in extension classes. It means that children with special needs or from poor backgrounds will get the extra attention they de serve, to give them a fighting chance in today's modern economy.

Labor has fully-funded policies which are actually the basis of our economic plan for prosperity in Australia. I'm spending a fair bit of my time in North Queensland to start off with because I will be a Prime Minister, if elected, who governs for all Australia, not just the cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. And the best way you demonstrate you're bona fides is by putting education first, by prioritising the proper funding of schools. By contrast, Mr Turnbull's Budget speaks all about his priorities. He wants to give a tax cut to large multinationals. He wants to provide a tax cut for people who earn a million dollars, a tax cut of $17,000. By contrast, I want to have a country which prioritises education, schools with proper funding. I would now like to ask Kate Ellis to speak a little further about our fantastic policies for this school and every school in Australia.

KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Well thank you very much, Bill, and it's fantastic to join Cathy who is such a staunch supporter of education and of this local community. The data that Labor is releasing today clearly demonstrates that every student and every school community will benefit from Labor's education plans. We know that in this electorate alone there will be an additional $48 million over just two years, supporting students, supporting principals and teachers. Across Queensland, that figure is $725 million additional over those two years.

But of course we know that this debate isn't just about funding figures. This is a debate about giving principals, giving school communities, the funding that they need so that they have the resources for the additional support. So that they can put in place additional literacy and numeracy programs. So that we can make sure that those students who are at risk of falling behind have the support that they need. And importantly, so that students with disabilities and special needs have the support, have the programs in place.

Only Labor is promising this. Malcolm Turnbull may want to talk about youth and jobs. But let's be very, very clear, you don't care about youth and jobs if you don't care about an adequately supported, quality education system. The OECD themselves have pointed out that one thing that Australia could do to boost our future economy is boost our education system and make sure that we have more graduates with the skills that they need for the jobs of the future. This is about students, this is about principals and parents, but this is also about Australia's economic growth, and you do not grow the economy unless you support our education system.

SHORTEN: Thanks, Kate. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, can you articulate what Labor's policy is regarding boat turnbacks at sea?

SHORTEN: We will support boat turnbacks where the border forces deem it to be appropriate. As part of our general plan, we will, after July 2, if elected, keep the people smugglers out of business. This is one issue, this is one issue which the criminal syndicates in Indonesia need to hear loud and clear. Regardless of who wins the election, we are not going to allow ruthless criminal syndicates to exploit vulnerable people, put them on unsafe vessels and then confront with the risk and reality of drownings. We will be compassionate in the way we treat refugees in this country, but what we will never do is re-allow the opening of the dangerous seaways between Java and Christmas Island.

JOURNALIST: Cathy O'Toole, can I ask if you support that? What's your response to what should happen, should we have boat turnbacks?

O'TOOLE: I want to be really clear. I 100 per cent support the Labor policy.

JOURNALIST: But can you articulate what that is?

O'TOOLE: I can say to you that Labor will put money into the UNHCR to ensure that we are supporting people and not being left in camps for decades.

JOURNALIST: But you don't support boat turnbacks?

O'TOOLE: I support the Labor policy which says that we will not be allowing people to put their lives at risk, to be exploited, and to come to this country when we can make an alternative arrangement for them.

JOURNALIST: Do you still believe in onshore processing?

JOURNALIST: What about relocation from Australia to Nauru? What should happen to those people?

O'TOOLE: I'm really here today to talk about education with Bill Shorten and Kate Ellis but what I will say is, and I'll be really clear, I support Labor's policy. It is the best option that we have. We will honour the United Nations Refugee Convention and we will always seek to ensure that people are treated humanely.

JOURNALIST: How do you reconcile that with a photo on your Facebook page campaigning outside Ewan Jones's electorate office holding up a sign saying, "Let them stay"?

O'TOOLE: I have been a member of Amnesty International for many years. What I was saying at that point in time is, very clearly, and I'll say it again, I support the humane treatment of people, regardless of whether they're refugees or not. We treat people humanely. I do not support people making extreme amounts of money by extortionate measures and risking people's lives.

JOURNALIST: Is offshore processing a humane treatment?

O'TOOLE: I think what we need to look at is, and Labor's policy is, looking to put the money into the UNHCR, to go back to the source, to say how do we support people to get them out of these lengthy detention camps where they are sitting for decades. I've met many of those people here in Townsville.

JOURNALIST: Do you still want those people to come to Australia though?

O'TOOLE: I think what we need to do is, our policy is really clear, and that is support people in a humane way, let us ensure that people are not being drowned at sea. Let us ensure that people are not being exploited and paying extortionate amounts of money that put themselves and their families at risk.

SHORTEN: Thanks, Cathy. With respect, I was happy to have five questions to Cathy. Cathy's made it clear she supports our policy, and let's also go to the nub of this issue. Mr Turnbull is desperate to talk about and misdescribe Labor policy. We will oppose the people smugglers. I wish the Liberals had been honest enough to support Labor in Government with the Malaysian settlement which would have saved the lives of hundreds of people. We will not be lectured by an opportunistic Government who are actually sending a message to people smugglers, that somehow there is division in Australian political government after July 2. I will put the safety our human beings first, of people.

But what I'll also do is, we know that as we talk about schools, Mr Turnbull has no plan for education. He has no plan for Budget repair that is fair. He has no plan for climate change. He has no plan for healthcare. He has no plan for protecting bulk billing. We understand this is rapidly becoming an education election, a referendum on education. Today we are here in this marvellous school talking to pretty impressive grade six kids. They've got another six years of school ahead of them in secondary school. They deserve a Government in Canberra, as do their parents, which will be as optimistic and brave about the future as they are.

That is why only Labor has got a positive plan to properly fund our schools, and we will do this by making sure that multinationals pay their fair share. If you have to choose, as a political leader, between giving big companies $50 billion of taxpayer money back in cuts or if you choose to prioritise our schools, I choose the schools and the kids of Australia every time.

JOURNALIST: On the Greens, would you be prepared to form a partnership with the Greens to form minority government?

SHORTEN: No, I wouldn't. Let's be very clear about what's happening. The Greens and the Liberal Party, in some sort of unholy deal, are talking about preferencing each other ahead of Labor. We're in the centre. We're progressive. We're in the centre. You've got the Greens on the extreme left and you’ve got Mr Turnbull's Liberals on the extreme right, and they are proposing to preference each other which basically means if you're a Liberal voter in the inner city, your vote will be going to the Greens. It's a vote for the Greens. If you are a Green voter in the suburbs and regions of Australia, when you vote Green, your vote will be going to the Liberal Party.

Only Labor has a positive plan, which is well funded. We can actually explain how we pay for things, which the Greens never do. And we can explain how we'll ensure fairness and growth. Mr Turnbull's been talking a lot about his plan. He uses the word 'plan' in an almost hypnotic way to hypnotise people. If he uses the word 'plan' enough, then it sort of convinces people that he has one. Well, it doesn't. He says there is a choice between economic growth and education. I disagree. Unless you've got proper funding for schools and education you can't have economic growth.

JOURNALIST: Results haven't improved with the money allocated so why is more money the answer?

SHORTEN: The only people who say more money isn't the answer are generally people who already have a lot of money. I don't view investment in education, spending more money on schools, as a cost. I view it as an investment. Parents in Australia, the millions of parents in Australia who pay their taxes to Canberra, have a legitimate expectation that some of the money they pay will come back in the form of resources for their schools. All of the evidence is in, around the world, and in Australia. If kids get the right access to resources, they can do marvellous things. We know there is a scandal in the education systems, government and non-government in Australia, over the way kids with special needs are treated. It pits the parents of children with special needs, to almost have to be forced to become bullies to make sure their child that they love gets the same go as every other child in the classroom. This is a most unfair state of affairs.

When you've got kids from poorer backgrounds, we know that at schools where the parents aren't very well off, they don't get the same options and choices. The musical instruments have to be shared amongst more kids, access to learning languages is not the same as kids at richer schools. So what we want to do is make sure every child in every school, from every postcode, gets every opportunity.

JOURNALIST: You're proposing extra federal funding for schools but how will you ensure States like Queensland which never signed up to the last Gonski deals won't cut their own education budgets or keep it flat-lining into the future?

SHORTEN: Well, there's been a change in the government of Queensland. Campbell Newman, who was remarkably belligerent in his negotiations with us, but fair enough, I think that was his modus operandi, the Government's changed. Anastacia Palaszczuk and her team will sit down because they prioritise school funding. But they know a great school like this in Townsville needs resources. The Commonwealth has a role in education. Remember when Mr Turnbull famously said that in a perfect world the Commonwealth wouldn't be funding state schools but they'd fund private schools? We're not letting the Government off the hook on education funding. We are determined to make this an issue because it is an issue.

JOURNALIST: What would you do if there's a hung parliament?

SHORTEN: The question was what would we do in the event of a draw. Let me make it very clear. Whilst Labor is the underdog, whilst we've got a steep climb to win 20 seats, we're in it to win it and I think as every day goes on in this election, Australians are responding well to our 100 positive policies.

We're determined to make this an election about the issues that affect Australians. The issues that affect Australians, well-funded Medicare, making sure it's your Medicare card not your credit card which gets you the assistance you need in healthcare. We're determined to make affordability for first home owners an issue, an issue which the Reserve Bank, in its notes, demonstrates support for our policies and totally defangs Mr Turnbull's not particularly scary scare campaign. We are determined to make education an issue. Because the best thing we can do to have economic growth in this country is a skilled, productive workforce. The best way we have a skilled, productive workforce is give our kids the best education to be what they can be.

JOURNALIST: The Liberals are poised to do deals with the Greens in Wills, Melbourne, Bateman. What do you think about that?

SHORTEN: Yes, it's outrageous, isn't it? There you go, the Liberal Party. They say that only the Liberals can be trusted and they don't like any of the centre parties, the centre-left parties like us, or extreme left-wing parties like the Greens. Yet what they would do is they would do a dirty deal with the people they say are furthest from their views just to gain power.

The Liberals are only backing the Greens because it's in the Liberal Party's interest. The deal will be in some fashion that the Greens will help or minimise their flow of votes to Labor so they can send Green votes to the Liberal Party. Every time you see a Green politician saying they're against the Liberals, then why are they making easier for Liberals to get elected in the suburbs and regions of Australia? Well can I put it another way to Mr Bandt and the Greens? Tell 'em they're dreaming. No deals with Labor about forming a coalition. No deals.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you were wanting to debate Mr Turnbull in Townsville. Are you upset that he’s instead chosen Sydney as the battleground?

SHORTEN: Well, he’s the Scarlet Pimpernel of debates. They seek him here, they seek him there. He didn't want to come to Townsville so we'll go to him because I want all Australians to hear the issues. But I am disappointed that the people of Townsville and North Queensland miss out on watching Malcolm Turnbull and I go head to head about our competing visions.

And more important than what he thinks and what I think, I want to hear from the people of Townsville. I want to hear from the people of the great cities of regional Queensland about the issues affecting them. And I think these Town Hall meetings aren't just a question for us to show our arguments, it is a chance for us to respond to people. I want people to get to know me, I want people to get to know our hundred positive policies. I really regret that Mr Turnbull would rather stay in Sydney and debate me, than come to Townsville where a lot of people legitimately have an expectation of hearing both of us.

JOURNALIST: Scott Morrison has said that the RBA's notes were prepared in 2014 re negative gearing. What's your response to that?

SHORTEN: Well I think that poor old Scott Morrison has blundered from one mistake to the next. He said in Parliament this year that there were excesses in negative gearing, but as soon as Labor actually came up with a dynamic policy which is not retrospective, which is forward-looking, which does Budget repair that's fair, which allows first home buyers compete on a level playing field with property speculators, just as the Reserve Bank is saying, now they're immediately trying to bag the evidence.

It's not just the Reserve Bank, it's Jeff Kennett, it's Joe Hockey, it's Saul Eslake, it's the McKell Institute, it's the Grattan Institute, it's the Reserve Bank, it's Labor, it's the parents of first home buyers. Why is it that Mr Turnbull, whenever given a choice, always chooses the big end of town over the rest of us?

JOURNALIST: Your superannuation policy is retrospective too right?

SHORTEN: Oh no, wait till you, I think as people have examined the fine print of this Budget, you know, they are quite shocked by what Mr Morrison and Mr Turnbull have proposed. Australians know a dud when they see one. They know this Budget was a dud and they are certainly up in arms about the retrospective changes which are clearly articulated in Mr Morrison's Budget speech.

You could have knocked me over with feather, because Tony Abbott has said that the one thing you can trust the Liberal Party, it was almost like the last promise they hadn't broken in the last three years, because let’s face it, they've broken every other promise, but the last promise is they said there would be no changes to superannuation. But you've got these amateurs, you've got Turnbull and Morrison in there undermining the superannuation system.

We have said our changes will be prospective. We do not think that the rivers of gold that Howard and Costello handed away to the top end of town in superannuation concessions were sustainable. But what we said was the changes should always be prospective. Australians are sick of people changing the goal posts. And what we've seen here is Morrison and Turnbull have taken a hammer blow to the confidence Australians have in superannuation, and their radical proposals, which are ill-thought out could undermine the integrity of the whole system. Perhaps one last question.

JOURNALIST: On Eric Abetz, would you support, some of his Tasmanian colleagues say he should be back in Cabinet, is that a good idea?

SHORTEN: There they are again. There's the Liberal Party arguing about the spoils of victory that they haven't won.

SHORTEN: [plane overhead] Probably Eric on a plane, soaring high. We know one thing about July 3, the day after the election, the Liberal Party will be able to get back to doing what they really want to do, an all-out rumble against each other. The Abbott supporters, Abetz versus Turnbull, the Turnbull supporters. This current Government cannot govern itself. And that makes a big difference, and the fact we're seeing Senator Abetz trailing his coat for a promotion, when we know that Prime Minister Turnbull thinks of him.

They are a very deeply divided mob and I have no doubt that we'll see more of the policy problems inherent in their position. That's why Malcolm Turnbull can't back what he thinks on climate change, or he used to think, who knows what he thinks anymore on that. That's why he can't back his position on marriage equality, although he's discarded that in the pursuit of power. And now we've got a Budget which reflects the most Conservative values of Mr Turnbull and indeed the Abbott camp, when it’s give a tax cut of $17,000 to people who earn a million dollars, when it's give a tax cut for a companies who have a billion-dollar turnover which helps foreign shareholders, but when it comes to this very good school and the schools of Townsville and Australia, this Government is missing in action. They're missing in action, just as I think that chap on Q&A summed it up very well last night, Duncan. You know, this is a Budget, the Turnbull Budget is a Budget which gives a lot of taxpayer money to people who don't need it, won't notice it, and the people who do need the support of the Government, they're getting cuts to the things that matter. Thanks, everybody. See you a bit later.

ENDS

BILL SHORTEN
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG

THE HON KATE ELLIS MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD
MEMBER FOR ADELAIDE