18 March 2014

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It's lovely to see everyone this afternoon. It's great to see the effort that people who care about our children and care about the quality of our education system coming to Canberra with thousands of submissions to explain to the Abbott Government why they shouldn't cut education. Why our children and our hard working teachers and the parents deserve the certainty of six years of funding, not four.

But in particular the importance of what the people who are here today supporting better funding for our children, better outcomes for our kids is that in Western Australia there's a Senate by-election coming up. Because Tony Abbott would not support six years of funding, and because the four years of funding he provided the West Australian state government had no strings attached, Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne gave the green light to the Barnett Government to take state money out of the education system in Western Australia. Or to put it in human terms, the Barnett Government has cut $183 million from education. 360 teachers - gone. 350 teachers' aides and support staff - gone. And what will happen is that Tony Abbott has said that he wants to model his Government on the Barnett Government.

We didn't ask Tony Abbott to make Colin Barnett an issue in this election, Tony Abbott's made him an issue in this election. We didn't ask Tony Abbott to explain to people that he regards Colin Barnett as his role model, and that Colin Barnett runs a very good Government, when in fact he doesn't. And we certainly didn't ask Tony Abbott and Colin Barnett to cut hundreds of jobs out of the Western Australian school system to take money away from children who do require resources to make sure that they get the best start in life.

So very clearly education cuts are a big issue in the Western Australian election and indeed Western Australian school parents in light of these harsh education cuts and job losses want to see the Commission of Audit report. The secret report that the Abbott Government's had from about the 5th of February. It doesn't take 50 or 60 days to read a report. The Abbott Government should at least respect West Australian voters enough to tell them what are the nasty surprises and the cuts that they intend to make to Western Australian quality of life, to the middle class of Western Australia. I might ask my Shadow colleague, Kate Ellis, to say a few words.

KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Thank you Bill, it's fantastic to get a chance to speak to some of the Gonski bus drivers who have been out there driving across the country, speaking to tens of thousands of Australian parents who have been betrayed by the Abbott Government.

Now at the last election, teachers, parents, students were all told that there was a unity ticket when it came to school reform. They were told you could vote Liberal or you could vote Labor, and you would get the same amount of funding for your school. But of course we know that was nothing but a cruel betrayal.

In just eight weeks' time on federal budget day we will see the full extent of the lie that was told. Because if they are to meet that commitment and there is no difference in the amount of school funding, we will see the beginning of the funding for years fifth and sixth of the Gonski agreement. We will see the beginning of an extra $6 billion of federal funding flowing to our schools. But of course we know this is a Government that wants to shirk its responsibilities. Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne would have you believe that they have nothing to do with the West Australian school cuts, but that is simply not true. Under the reforms that they agreed to, that they promised the Australian public, they would stop state governments cutting their school budgets as a condition of receiving federal funding.

But they've shown that they're not willing to stand up to their mates in the west, which is why we need a strong parliament who will make sure that federal dollars will only flow when state governments stop cutting school budgets and start making co-contributions.

SHORTEN: Any questions on education?

JOURNALIST: Wasn't it the case that they did say that, despite saying a unity ticket, they did say it would be four years, the commitment was four years and they would remove the command and control elements. So aren't they doing exactly what they said?

SHORTEN: The Abbott Government, before the last election when they were the Opposition, knew there was one issue, one issue where Labor was streets ahead of the Liberals on. That was education, and support for our teachers and support for our parents and support for our schools. The only reason the Abbott Government chose to muddy the waters and talk about unity tickets is that they wanted to deceive Australian parents, they wanted to deceive Australian school teachers into thinking that you could vote Liberal and you'd get the same as Labor. You're talking about the fine print about what the Abbott Government was being tricky about.

There was no one at the last election who was under any misapprehension that the Abbott Government was saying that a vote for them would be a lesser deal for education. They wanted the voters of Australia to think that it didn't matter who you voted for, you were getting a unity ticket on education. That was clearly a lie. And clearly, what we've seen in Western Australia when we talk about - what Christopher Pyne uses as removing command and control - is really all that he's saying to state education ministers and state conservative premiers is that we will give you money from the federal Government in the front door, and state governments can take their own money on expenditures out the back door.

The kids are not better off - in fact, they're worse off because it's a cut. There's no improvement. The Abbott Government cannot be trusted on education of our children and standing up for our teachers and parents.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten we know the situation after two terms of Labor Governments that only two states and one territory have actually signed official agreements on Gonski reforms. Should Labor accept some of the fault for the fragmented situation we're in now?

SHORTEN: Now please don't accept Liberal propaganda and repeat it as if it's the truth. I personally negotiated with the Catholic education system, with the Independent school's council of Australia, with the Victorian Government and indeed the Tasmanian Government. They had a deal. And when the Abbott Government last year, remember when they tried to run that proposition up the flag pole to see if people would buy it, that in fact there were no deals with Victoria, no deal with the Catholics, no deals with Independent schools.

As soon as the cries of  rage came form their own party, from the non-government schools sector, all you could smell was the burning rubber of the Abbott Government chucking their policies into reverse gear and retreating so they are honouring the deals that were negotiated.

The reality is the Abbott opposition did no homework in opposition on education, they were dragged kicking and screaming to improving the funding of our schools and a better future for our kids, and they never meant it then and they don't mean it now and we are seeing in Western Australia the consequences of having a conservative government in Canberra,  a conservative government in Western Australia. What we're seeing is jobs gone, teacher aids gone, money out of the system.

That's why Western Australians need strong Senators who will stand up for them and not be a rubber stamp for Tony Abbott.

JOURNALIST: Should Arthur Sinodinos stand aside while these ICAC claims are being heard?

SHORTEN: Clearly today we've seen and last night, we saw most serious matters raised by councillor assisting in ICAC in New South Wales. I believe that the Prime Minister should address this matter today. The Prime Minister needs to explain what course of action he intends to take.

JOURNALIST: What course of action would you take?

SHORTEN: Well the Prime Minister, Arthur Sinodinos is his assistant treasurer. He's the assistant treasurer who's currently dismantling the accountabilities in our financial planning system  which could lead to a future Storm Financial crisis. Just when we thought that we had he future of financial advice bedded own, so that consumers could be confident that the laws favoured them, we've seen the Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos engage in the wholesale dismantling of oversight which protects our consumers. In terms of what Mr Abbott does with Mr Sinodinos, Mr Abbott's the Prime Minister of this country, Mr Sinodinos is his Minister, I would expect the Prime Minister to come forward today and explain the course of action that he intends to take.

JOURNALIST: Are there grounds for him to stand him down?

SHORTEN: Well you'll have to ask Mr Abbott.

JOURNALIST: What do you think?

SHORTEN: Well this is a problem for Mr Abbott frankly.  Mr Abbott's been quick to give advice to everyone else about what should go on. Mr Abbott needs to explain to Australia what course of action he intends to take with his Assistant Treasurer.   
JOURNALIST: Was it just because of so many Labor people involved here that your running soft on him?

SHORTEN: No, I'm not running soft. Mr Sinodinos doesn't work for me, I'm not the Prime Minister, I'm the Opposition Leader. The Prime Minister needs to earn his, do his day job today and explain what he is going to do. This is a problem for the Prime Minister of Australia to explain what he will do with his Assistant Treasurer.

JOURNALIST: Do you agree with Kelvin Thomson that he should either stand down or be sacked?

SHORTEN: Well I believe that Mr Abbott needs to explain what course of action he will take, full stop.

JOURNALIST: Should he be treated the same way Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper were when allegations were first raised against them?

SHORTEN: Well this is a challenge for Mr Abbott. Mr Abbott's the Prime Minister.  Mr Abbott needs to explain as the Prime Minister of Australia  what he intends to do with his Assistant Treasurer and I would expect that Mr Abbott, because of the clear interest in the community, the clear interest you're showing, that he needs to answer this questions today, the matter should not be allowed to drag on.

JOURNALIST: So if Mr Abbott says he has full confidence in the Assistant Treasurer you will accept that?

SHORTEN: Has he said that today?

JOURNALIST: If he does will you accept it?

SHORTEN: Well why don't we cross that bridge when we get to it. Let's be clear, I'm not going to do Mr Abbott's day job for him, he's the Prime Minister of Australia. What I would like Mr Abbott to do is properly fund education. What I would like Mr Abbott to do is not to dismantle consumer protections in financial advice. Mr Abbott's in charge of his Ministers, Mr Abbott needs to explain will he, what action's will he take in regards to his Assistant Treasurer. This is a job for Mr Abbott to come forward.

JOURNALIST: Why are you linking it with the financial reforms? Do you think there's a conflict there?

SHORTEN: No, I'm just explaining that the Assistant Treasurer's responsible for doing the future of financial advice - these are bad laws they are trying to implement, they're trying to diminish consumer protection. This is an opportunity for Labor to talk to Australians that we are worried that consumers of financial services are seeing their protections watered down. Two more questions thanks.

JOURNALIST: Business groups have come out today and asking for, urging for the mining tax to be scrapped. Have you changed your point of view on the mining tax?

SHORTEN: No, we'll be voting against the repeal of the mining tax. We believe that the principles of the mining tax, that people should have their fair share from resources, from natural resources across this country when companies are making very large profits, is a very sound principle.

JOURNALIST: And just on the Qantas Sale Act, when is Caucus likely to make a decision on that? I know that Alan Joyce is appearing before another committee tonight.

SHORTEN: We look forward to hearing the evidence from Alan Joyce tonight, there's a series of questions in writing and a series of questions that we want to ask Qantas and then we will formulate our position in the Senate about how we handle the Qantas Sale Act. Thanks everyone, see you all in Question Time.