SKY NEWS - 22 MARCH 2016

SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull’s plan to save his own job; child care; Safe Schools program

PETER VAN ONSELEN: How do you feel as a working mother, and you’re far from alone in the Parliament, about Parliament being returned for a couple of weeks? For you that would be difficult in and of itself, your child is not at school yet, but it would also be difficult for a lot of the working parents, men and women, when kids are on school holiday in that period in April. Do you think that’s inconsiderate of the Prime Minister?


KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Look I mean I’m not concerned about my personal circumstances. But when it comes to children I’ll tell you what I am concerned about, and that is that the Parliament is returning, yet once again we’re seeing that whilst the Government was elected promising that they would make child care more affordable and more accessible, they haven’t brought on their own legislation for debate at all and the Parliament is returning and they have no intention of bringing it on then either. Which means we will go three years without the Government doing a single thing to assist Australian parents and it just adds to the already created confusion about Paid Parental Leave and just what is the status of the Government’s policy of Paid Parental Leave. There are expecting parents right now who have no idea what support they will be given because these just aren’t priorities for this Prime Minister or this Government and I find that pretty concerning. More concerning than me having to jump on a plane and head back to Canberra.


VAN ONSELEN: Fair enough. Look the other issue though, I mean you were alluding to this for the sake of our viewers, proroguing the Parliament takes everything off the legislative agenda. Something of which you were referring to there, PPL, some of the uncertainty around that. In the lead up to an election campaign, because it looks like we’re going to have nothing on the agenda other that the ABCC legislatively and we’re going to be off to the polls after that, unless the Senate decides to capitulate, which it doesn’t look like doing. Is that a clean slate and an opportunity for an election campaign to be fought without the baggage of the previous Prime Minister, for example, or is it your worry that it means that some things the government is going to try to literally try to keep off the agenda for the campaign?


ELLIS: To be really honest with you Peter, I just think that the Australian Parliament is turning more and more into crazy town every day. The fact that we have a Government who are now obviously desperately trying to get to an early election, but that we don’t have child care, Paid Parental leave policies or certainty, we don’t have a child care piece of legislation before the Parliament, when it comes to the funding of Australian schools the Minister previously has said he’s going to come up with a new school funding model and he will consult widely in doing that, and now we have the Prime Minister today saying he’s going to make an announcement about the future of schools and hospitals funding next week. I mean this is utter chaos and the really sad thing is that all of these issues have huge consequences on the lives of the Australian people but they’re just being viewed as a plaything for this government when they’re desperately just trying to get to an election before their entire show implodes.


VAN ONSELEN: But of course there is COAG I think on the first of April, COAG being meeting with State Premiers, will presumably have a lot to say about health and education as policy areas that is very strongly in the ambit of the states, it may well be with the Prime Minister saying an announcement next week ahead of COAG, that we’re going to see some sort of significant package, it is an election year after all.


ELLIS: Well we certainly know their current position is entirely unsustainable. They currently have the position that if re-elected they will introduce the biggest cut to Australian schools in this nation’s history. It’s not just the Labor Party saying that it’s unsustainable, it’s all the different sectors, all the different systems, principals, teachers, parents across the country, so I hope that we do see a significant announcement. I suspect what we will see is some sort of band-aid to get them over the election, and I also suspect that whatever they say, we know what they said before the last election. They very clearly promised before the last election that they were on a unity ticket and that they would honour school funding agreements, and we saw that go out the window just as soon as the election was over and done with. So why they would have any credibility for anything they announce next week or at COAG or at any other time, I’m just not sure. It is just utter dysfunction. It’s quite extraordinary.


VAN ONSELEN: Do you share Mark Dreyfus’ disgust at the use of proroguing the Parliament and the use of section five of the Constitution the way that Malcolm Turnbull did yesterday?


ELLIS: I think it reeks of desperation, absolutely. I think it shows the sort of chaos that the Government is in at the moment. I know some commentators will say it’s very clever, I think it’s pretty tricky, and I think that a lot of the Australian voting public view it as that. This is a Prime Minister who’s expressed views previously about double dissolutions, has expressed views previously about using sneaky parliamentary tricks. What we do see, and if we’re really honest about it, we’ll say that the reason that we can recognise what’s going on internally in the Government at the moment, is because we saw it in our own show when we were in Government, and you can see that every single time that Liberal and National party room members are all in the one building in Parliament House the chaos is just escalating, the level of division is escalating, I don’t think you can say division is escalating but you know what I mean, and we are just seeing that they are falling apart more and more, to the point where we saw members of the Prime Minister’s backbench signing petitions against him last week. I think that the Australian public can see that this is a Prime Minister that is just trying to get past the election before that show collapses altogether. Because they’re so busy fighting each other to pay any attention for what they should be fighting for the Australian public.


VAN ONSELEN: And I’ll get to Safe Schools with you in a moment, there’s a lot to talk about there, it got overshadowed a bit with the announcement yesterday. But when you say it’s ‘tricky’ and what he’s done, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this or not, but Paul Keating in 1993 used proroguing as a way to shut down the Senate after he called the 1993 election, the Senate of course would have been free to continue sitting after that but he called the election when he did, he shut it down, first time in 68 years Kate Ellis that that has been used, not since 1925. Do you look back at that and think gee I tell you what was Paul Keating doing being so tricky?


ELLIS: Well perhaps if I wasn’t a high school student at the time I would have been on Sky News saying that that was tricky too but I wasn’t involved in the discussions or in the tactics…


VAN ONSELEN: But now that you know, now that you know, you must think that it’s a tricky play…


ELLIS: I’m appalled, I’m absolutely appalled…


VAN ONSELEN: Appalled okay, alright.


ELLIS: My view of Paul Keating will never be the same again, no that’s not true. I mean I think this, what we’re talking about here, is also in the context of the circumstances and the context of the current environment within the Liberal Party room and the National Party room and I think that when you have a look at that you can see that this is just a desperate trick.


VAN ONSELEN: Let me ask you about Safe Schools, because it was a massive issue from last week, we have seen a change by the Government off the back of that petition that was circulating courtesy of George Christensen signed by a majority of the backbench it seems. We’ve talked a little bit about this before, how do we bring together the reality that I think that there are legitimate questions that can be asked about this, the problem is, the people that seem to be spruiking it the hardest are pushing questions I would argue with, at the very least, as much of an agenda as they suggest people that instituted Safe Schools in the first place might have had on the other side of the ideological spectrum. How can the people in the middle get together to be able to say, let’s have a rational discussion about whether it is worth changing some of the program without losing the essence of what it’s trying to do?


ELLIS: Well I think we need leadership. We need leadership in the debate and in the discussion and we need someone i.e. the Prime Minister standing up when people are making claims which are not just untrue but are grossly offensive, pointing that out. What we’ve seen I think with the Safe Schools discussion is that we see someone, we see some people who have very extreme views and are of the extreme right of the conservative movement, but we now have, I think many people who are quite level-headed who are genuinely concerned because they’re hearing all of these rumours, they’re hearing all of these accusations and they don’t know what’s true and what’s not anymore. And I think that’s where it’s really sad that both the Prime Minister and indeed the Education Minister failed to stand up and actually put the facts on the table about what this program is, about what it does and about some of the false claims that have been made. Now they got bullied into doing an independent review of the program and perhaps people that do have concerns should have a look at that independent review because when the Minister announced their actions last Friday, as George Christensen said, ‘they went much further that he was hoping for and gutted the program’, that wasn’t in line with what the independent review actually found and the independent review pointed out that these materials were age-appropriate, they were in line with the National Curriculum and they were being used sensibly. So I think if somebody could actually stand up from the government and put the facts on the table and allay some of the concerns that reasonable people might have about the program that would really help to take the heat out of it.


VAN ONSELEN: And just quickly Labor hopes to make housing more affordable with its negative gearing policy. How much do the property values of people with mortgages have to fall by for that to fall into line?


ELLIS: Look we know that property prices will not fall as a result of this policy. But certainly what we want to do is make sure that those people who are at auctions, who are going to try and buy their first home aren’t disadvantaged by the fact that they have investors buying their seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth home at the same time who are getting much more government support, that is clearly unfair and we want to help people to get into the market for the first time who are increasingly being locked out.


VAN ONSELEN: Alright Kate Ellis, we appreciate you joining us on News Day, thanks for your company. I’ll let you get back to your child.


ELLIS: Thank you. It’s always a pleasure Peter, thank you.