Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Tony Abbott MP

Joint Press Conference

Monday, 2 December 2013 (All day)

Canberra

Prime Minister

Minister for Education

Subjects:

A fairer funding agreement for schools; national security; GrainCorp; debt ceiling; Qantas.

E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:

As all of you know shortly before the last election, Minister Shorten ripped $1.2 billion out of school funding. And what that meant was that schools in Queensland, in Western Australia, and in the Northern Territory were being very seriously short-changed.

Our problem with the deal as it stood at the time of the election was that it was neither fair nor national. I'm pleased to say that Minister Pyne has been talking to the non-signatory states and territory over the last few days and has secured an in principle agreement to a system which is fair and national – a system which no longer involves the Canberra command and control procedures of Labor's bad deal.

Given that we now have a fair and national deal, the Government will put the $1.2 billion that Labor took out back into school funding over the next four years.

So, not only do we have the $230 million that we earlier put in for next year to ensure certainty and confidence for next year, now, because of the work of Minister Pyne with Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory over the last few days, we are putting the rest of the money back in which means that there'll be full funding certainty over the next four years.

This is a Government which is determined to clean up Labor's mess and to keep its commitments. Not only are we keeping our commitment here, we are more than keeping our commitment. As far as I'm concerned that is the fundamental task of this Government – to clean up Labor's mess, to keep our commitments and that's exactly what we're doing today.

Christopher?

MINISTER PYNE:

Thank you very much Prime Minister. I think the Prime Minister has summed it up well.

The key facts to remember are that we inherited a mess from the Labor Party when we took over. We didn't have a national education funding model, because Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia weren't in it and Bill Shorten had ripped $1.2 billion out of school funding over the next four years.

So, I've set about since the election over the last 11 weeks, talking with all of my state colleagues but particularly those non-funded states to talk about how we might be able to repair the damage that has been left to us and I'm pleased to say that we will now be able to put $1.2 billion into these three jurisdictions. That means there are no second class students because of Labor's cuts before the election. Every student in Australia will be treated exactly the same way regardless of what jurisdiction they're in. I think that is a big achievement.

We promised that we would have Labor's level of funding and we've exceeded it. Labors was $1.6 billion, ours is $2.8 billion. We said that we'd have a national fair model that was fair to all the state and territories and we've delivered that.

We also said that we would dismantle the regulations and red tape that made the model virtually incapable of being implemented and next year we will amend the Australian Education Act to do just that.

So, we've delivered a national funding model that Bill Shorten didn't deliver and we’ve put back in the $1.2 billion that Bill Shorten cut before the election.

QUESTION:

Do you recommit that every single school in Australia will receive dollar for dollar the same Federal funding over the next four years?

MINISTER PYNE:

Well, the good news is because we now have funding agreements or in-principle funding agreements with Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory and because we’ve been able to find $1.2 billion to put back into the model that Bill Shorten cut, we can say that every school in Australia will get more funding and will not be worse off because of anything that the Commonwealth does. As you would know the states in the end apply the model, but what the Commonwealth is doing means that no school, state or territory, can be worse off because of the Commonwealth's actions.

PRIME MINISTER:

We'll go around the circle. Let’s start with you Andrew.

QUESTION:

Mr Pyne, this is your third iteration of this policy in a week, you had $1.2 billion missing, by the next day you found $230 million and a week later you've found $1.2 billion in the back of sofa. How do we know you're not making this up on the run?

PRIME MINISTER:

Andrew, if I may defend and support my Minister here. We want to ensure confidence and certainty in the system, the system that has been so demoralised by the uncertainty which Labor has delivered. So, at the beginning of last week, knowing that there was a meeting of the state and territory Education Ministers, Minister Pyne put $230 million in to ensure that there was certainty for next year. Knowing that we wanted to get certainty for four years, Minister Pyne worked with the non-signatory states and territory to get the in-principle agreement that we've now got. Now that we've got an agreement that will mean that we can have a fairer national system, we've put all of the $1.2 million back.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, where does this, it's a four year deal you're talking about, where does this leave the states who had already signed up and signed up to six years?

PRIME MINISTER:

We've never committed to years five and six. There's $10 billion which the former government promised in years five and six. I don't believe that any of the states thought that they would ever get that money from the Rudd-Gillard Government. I think they all thought that that money was essentially pie in the sky. We will deliver four year funding certainty – funding agreements in education have traditionally been four year agreements. So, we've now got a four year funding agreement in-principle in place and obviously there are reviews built in to the system, those reviews will take place and we'll negotiate a new agreement at the appropriate time.

QUESTION:

In the deals that you've done is there any requirement that the states don't reduce their funding as you increase yours? In other words cost shifting?

PRIME MINISTER:

We would certainly regard it as very poor form for the states to reduce their funding because they're getting extra funding from the Commonwealth. But what we don't want is to micro manage the states. What we don't want is to try to run public schools out of Canberra and that was the problem with the original deal that the former government did. There were these management plans which the Minister in Canberra could put in place, there were inspectors from Canberra, there was a whole lot of extra data gathering from Canberra, we're going to dispense with all of that, but obviously we want as a result of this extra funding from the Commonwealth to ensure that all schools gain money.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, is that $1.2 billion all from the Commonwealth, and if it couldn't be found on the Friday at the meeting with the Ministers, where have you found it over the weekend? Is this adding to the deficit?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have identified appropriate savings over and above the savings that we identified prior to the election and we will be making clear how we are funding this when the mid-year, the MYEFO statement comes out in December.

QUESTION:

Victoria – they forced you into a billion-dollar backflip?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, that's not true. We have been working calmly, steadily, methodically, purposefully through all of this. As I've indicated, with the ministerial meeting due on Friday of last week, we indicated at the beginning of the week that there would be funding certainty for the 2014 school year, which the states and territories were entitled to, but now that Minister Pyne has been working diligently with his state counterparts to get this in-principle national agreement, we can put the other money in.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, will you honour to the letter the deals that have been struck with NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania over the next four years?

PRIME MINISTER:

That is certainly our intention. I suspect that NSW and Victoria will be happy to lose the Canberra command and control elements of those deals, but certainly the financial arrangements for the next four years will be absolutely adhered to.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister you say you’re cleaning up Labor's mess, do you accept that in the past few days, for voters and parents and teachers, this has seemed like a bit of a mess and now you're trying to clean it up today?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think we've given a candid explanation of what we've been doing. Ever since the election, as Minister Pyne has made clear, we have been talking with the states and territories. We had the ministerial meeting coming up last Friday, it was important going into that meeting that there was funding certainty for next year, but we always wanted to try to ensure funding certainty for the four years and now that we've got the in-principle agreement of the non-signatory states, we can give that. As I think Christopher said in a press conference last week, there's $230 million which is on the table now, which is there now and I hope to be able to make more available in the near future and that's exactly what we've done.

Sid?

QUESTION:

Just on another matter, just given the latest story in The Guardian, are you confident that Australian intelligence agencies have acted in compliance with Australian law at all times in the past few years, and secondly, has Edward Snowden in your opinion acted within Australian law and is Australia thinking of taking any action against him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sid, I think that as far as is possible, intelligence matters are probably best dealt with by way of parliamentary statement. I've asked the Attorney-General Senator Brandis to make a statement in the Senate on these matters when the Senate resumes shortly. If I could make a couple of general points though; first of all, we as an Australian Government – I'm sure this is true of governments of both persuasions – will always act to safeguard our national interest and to protect our citizens, but our security organisations will always act in accordance with the law and they will always act with appropriate safeguards in place, and as you know, intelligence gathering is subject to supervision by the joint parliamentary committee, it's also subject to supervision, very close supervision from the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. I'm confident that we've got all the relevant safeguards in place and I have no reason to think that any Australian intelligence organisation has not acted in accordance with Australian law.

QUESTION:

Just on education funding, what is going to be cut to find this $1.2 billion?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have identified what we think are perfectly suitable savings that won't involve particular difficulties for parents, teachers, students and we'll be announcing those in the MYEFO statement in a week or so’s time. We'll go back around, Dennis?

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, do you now accept that if you hadn't done what you'd done today and announced this $1.2 billion extra that you would have broken an election promise?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. What we're doing today is we are not only keeping our commitments, we are more than keeping our commitments, because our commitment was to spend the same quantum of money over the four years that the former government was proposing to spend and as you know the former government ripped $1.2 billion out a few weeks before polling day. I appreciate that this probably wasn't heavily dealt with during the campaign, which is why perhaps some people were surprised, and look, as far as I'm concerned, we want to keep our commitments in spirit, as well as in letter and that's precisely what we're doing.

Today we aren't just keeping our commitments, we’re more than keeping our commitments and we are doing our absolute level best to keep faith with the Australian people because that was the problem with the former government; they repeatedly failed to keep faith with the Australian people and this Government is not going to fall into that trap. Phil?

QUESTION:

Just back to Mark Riley's question, just to nail this down, with the deals that have already signed with New South Wales, do the exact terms and conditions of those deals as signed with Labor apply for four years, or is just the funding now guaranteed for four years?

MINISTER PYNE:

The funding is obviously guaranteed, in fact we've added to the $1.2 billion for the three non-funded states. We've always said that we would reduce the command and control features in the Australian Education Act, and we will do that, which will obviously impact on all the signatory states and the non-signatory states, and I think that will be welcomed by the states and territories, but there is no plan to alter the way that the model will be delivered in the signatory states into the future.

There was conditionality attached to that of course, that won't apply to Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland and we would expect the signatory states to keep the promises that they've made, but at the end of the day, that is a matter for those sovereign jurisdictions.

But in the model there is an inbuilt review of course in 2015 to make sure that that model is operating effectively and we will adopt that. And, can I just add that this now allows us to focus on the things that matter in education, beyond funding, like teacher quality, more local decision making, the curriculum and parental engagement, in other words, the debate should now shift to quality and standards, rather than simply always being mired in funding.

QUESTION:

How will the funding actually be applied in those no-one signatory states? I mean will they be an extension of the basic Gonski model, or are you going to be using an SES model? How is it actually going to be worked out?

PRIME MINISTER

What we said was that we would honour the agreements and we would match the offers and they were offers based on, I think it's called the Schools Resources Model… Student Resources Model, so that's the one we're proceeding with.

QUESTION:

In criticising your Government's decision to block the sale of GrainCorp, Paul Howes has said that ‘Ma and Pa farmers’ should get out of the way and make way for large scale conglomerates. What are your views of that decision?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it portrays a certain ignorance of the farm sector and I think it portrays a lamentable contempt for family business and for family farming. A lot of these family farms are very sophisticated operations – multimillion dollar operations – they're highly efficient and they're more than capable of competing on good terms with much larger businesses.

I think there ought to be a place for all sorts of different types of businesses in our agricultural sector; large Australian businesses, large international businesses, smaller businesses and the family farm. I think there should be a place for everyone.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, prior to the election you described the Greens as economic fringe dwellers, but now you seem to be happy to do a deal with them on the debt ceiling. How do you reconcile those two points?

PRIME MINISTER:

Kieran, our challenge as a Government is to clean up Labor's mess and to keep our commitments and part of cleaning up Labor's mess is to avoid the sort of problem which the United States had recently because they were running up against legislated debt ceilings. Now, the former government, in its last published statements said that gross debt would peak at $370 billion. The Office of Financial Management said that you needed a $40- $60 billion buffer of prudence. So plainly, we need well over $400 billion as a debt ceiling just to cope with Labor's debt and having created the problem, Labor were trying to make it impossible to fix the problem. Utter economic and political vandalism –that's what we've been seeing from the Labor Party.

It's really very interesting Kieran, in the last Parliament, we were determined and we fought very hard as an Opposition to ensure that the government kept its commitments. This Opposition is trying to ensure that we break our commitments. I mean it's bizarre behaviour, it is truly bizarre behaviour and the point I make to Mr Shorten is, how can he ever complain about us allegedly not keeping commitments, when he is constantly trying to prevent us from keeping our commitments, of which the most fundamental of all is the carbon tax.

So, we will clean up Labor's mess and that means adjusting the debt ceiling.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott can I just clarify your answer to Sid earlier, are you saying that you're satisfied that the intelligence services have never acted outside of the law and have never overreached, including in 2008 when these latest documents come?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have no evidence that they have.

QUESTION:

You seemed to argue this morning against any sort of loan guarantees for a private company. Is that something you're ruling out?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let's see where this debate goes. I'm not sure that Qantas themselves have put a specific proposal to the Government. They've certainly been unhappy with the conditions under which Virgin has been operating, but I'm not sure that they've put a specific proposal to us. Our fundamental duty is to ensure a strong and competitive aviation market in this country, which delivers the services that Australians need, at the best possible price, and that's what we will be doing our best to ensure we have. David?

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, the Snowden document today centres on collection of raw bulk signals intelligence. Do you think in the national interest there is ever any case for the collection of that sort of wholesale information about raw communications and do you think that there's any case for the sharing of that with allies like the US?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well David, let me make two points; first, you can only get access to the content of communications by warrant under our system. The material that I understand was referred to in The Guardian story today, related to essentially the billing data. Now, that has been available, but there's a big difference between billing data and the actual content of calls, but all of it is subject to a range of very stringent safeguards; the Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence and the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence.

QUESTION:

[inaudible] there should be a review of how the oversight on intelligence is gathered?

PRIME MINISTER:

I very much reject any suggestion that Australian security intelligence services should not gather the information necessary to keep our country safe and protect our citizens and if there's any evidence that we have acted inappropriately, that we have done something illegally, produce the evidence and the matter will be dealt with. But, there's nothing that's in the public arena, there's nothing that I am privately aware of, to suggest that any Australian law has been broken, that any Australian security and intelligence agency has been overzealous.

I want the arms, the long, strong arms of Australia, to be zealous in protecting our national interest and in protecting our citizens and I think we do have very strong safeguards in place, and that will always be the case, but the fundamental objective is to keep our country safe and to protect our citizens. I'll take one more question.

QUESTION:

You said that the SRS will still apply in those signatory states for the next four year, so does that mean now Mr Pyne you are not changing the model under which funding is allocated to those states for the next four years?

MINISTER PYNE:

Well Daniel, we're improving the model in exactly the way that we promised we would before the election. We said that we wouldn’t go ahead, for example, with the School Performance Institute or the Federal Inspectorate of Schools; we wouldn’t keep the implementation plans of the Federal Minister over individual schools. We said we would dismantle the regulation and the red-tape, the Canberra control that was inherent in the Australian Education Act, and we’ll do all of those things and of course we are improving the model too, because it’s now a national model. It includes every jurisdiction, when Bill Shorten left us with a model that didn’t.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks, but we have to go, sorry Question Time.

[ends]