Interview with Leigh Sales
MON 03 SEPTEMBER 2012
HOST: Prime Minister, thank you for your time. How can we take you seriously that school reform is the most important bill of 2012 when you've not given any detail about how it will be funded?
PM: Leigh you can judge me and judge the government by what we have achieved so far in school education and how we intend to build on it.
We are coming to this with a track record of having brought improvements to school which show in student results. Better literacy and numeracy. Better results on national testing.
Overcoming disadvantage in schools around the country that teach some of our most disadvantaged kids.
And today, I've laid out a further program for change, a national program for school improvement, lifting teacher quality, empowering principals to get on with the job, more information for parents and communities, as well as laying out a new funding system which puts individual children at the heart of the system and responds to their needs. So people can judge-
HOST: But you haven’t actually laid out the funding for the new system?
PM: Yes I have Leigh. I have laid out that in the future we believe schools should be funded on the basis of need.
We believe that every child's education should be supported through a school resourcing standard. That is the amount of money that we can show by pointing at what is happening in schools today.
HOST: And who will be putting that money forward?
That money would be put forward collaboratively by federal and state governments and obviously in the private and Catholic systems parents also put in their fees.
HOST: And who puts in what?
PM: And then in addition Leigh, just as part of the system, we would have loadings to get extra resources because of those factors that we know can make it more difficult for a child to get a great education, like coming from a low SES background.
In terms of who puts in the money, current shares are federal government puts in 30 per cent, state governments put in 70 per cent.
I am going to have discussions with state and territory governments about each of us lifting our efforts in order to get this done.
HOST: Will the Commonwealth put in more than the existing 30 per cent figure?
PM: I am going to be discussing shares with states and territory governments so I'm not going to tip my hand on your program.
But clearly, I wouldn't be out there calling on the Australian community to embrace this national crusade with a new vision for schooling and a new aspiration for the national achievement of our kids without the federal government being prepared to step up and put in additional resources, but I'm not giving any free passes or blank cheques to state and territory governments.
They will have to step up too.
HOST: Today's schools announcement brings to around $20 billion the cost of initiatives announced by the government over the past few weeks including a dental scheme, a national disability insurance scheme, and a new asylum seeker policy.
Where's all this money coming from?
PM: Leigh, we’ve got to be clear about the time frames on which we're talking about this new money.
National Disability Insurance Scheme, we put a billion dollars in the last budget, and that's rolling out now to support launch sites around the country.
And yes, we need to provision for the creation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme over time.
On asylum seekers and refugees, we've got some budget adjustments to do to support the work we are now doing in Nauru and PNG and to create 20,000 places.
On this work of school reform, I've been clear there will be a six year transition and I remind you Leigh, the dental policy we announced is better targeted than the one we're getting rid of.
It's getting money to the right people instead of being full of waste.
HOST: But Prime Minister, none of that answers my question of where the money's coming from. The timeframe is irrelevant. The money has to come, whatever the time frame.
PM: You’ve got to make the right budget choices whatever the time frame, that's right.
HOST: What will they be?
PM: We will make budget choices that put resources where we believe they should go the most.
HOST: But I ask these questions in a context where tax revenue is slowing due to weak capital gains in the property and share markets, we've got falling commodity prices, yet the government's wanting to increase spending and promising to bring future budgets to surplus. It just doesn't make sense.
PM: We, over the last few budgets, have found $100 billion worth of savings. That is, we've moved expenditure from areas that we thought were of less priority than some of the things we wanted to get done for the Australian nation.
Judge the budget figures when you see them. I'm very happy for to you do so.
HOST: Is it fair say the government's calculation here is ‘look, it's highly unlikely we will be re-elected so let's just announce these initiatives and hope for a bounce and we'll worry about where the money will come from later’?
PM: Leigh, you will see the budget figures over the forward estimates and you will see me fighting every day between now and the next election to do the right thing for our nation's future and that means putting our children first.
HOST: Prime Minister, I’d like to turn to the war in Afghanistan.
Given that Afghanistan is unlikely to look substantially different in 18 months, why are you continuing to risk the lives of young Australian men?
PM: Because we have a mission, we've got a job to do and we're doing it on the timetable that we know it takes.
HOST: Can you give me that mission in one sentence, please?
PM: Yes I can, we went to Afghanistan to deny terrorists a safe haven for training; we will leave Afghanistan when we have acquitted our mission of training local Afghan people so they can provide security for their own nation that is, that they can prevent their nation once again becoming home to terrorist training.
HOST: In terms of denying terrorists a safe haven in Afghanistan, if we look, for example, at the Bali bombers, they trained substantially in the Philippines, in Indonesia, in Pakistan; yet we're not at war in those countries?
PM: And Leigh if you want to go through the history here, the bomb maker trained in Afghanistan. There was contact between people involved in that Bali bombing and terrorist training in Afghanistan. We lost lives when the towers came down in New York. Contact between that event and terrorist training in Afghanistan.
We know al-Qaeda had free range there and we know that al-Qaeda was motivated to take the lives of westerners, including the lives of Australians. These are facts that cannot be denied.
HOST: But when you talk about this mission, I'm trying to get to what are we actually achieving now.
If you look for example at the latest State Department report on global terrorism, it makes it perfectly clear that al-Qaeda these days is headquartered in Pakistan, so is Afghanistan really the grave threat to Australian national security that the government makes it out to be or does the threat to Australia lie elsewhere?
PM: The al-Qaeda leadership has been significantly degraded not only by the work that is being done by ISAF in Afghanistan, but of course, we've seen Osama bin Laden killed, and a significant number of key al-Qaeda operatives are no longer in business, many of them dead.
This job of making sure we keep Australians safe from the evil of terrorism will have to continue beyond the mission in Afghanistan. But Leigh, that's not an argument that says down tools on that mission.
HOST: Let me come at it from the other end. If the mission is so important as you make out, why aren't we committing more troops and why aren't we prepared to stay longer than 2014 given the state that Afghanistan's in?
PM: We have got the numbers there that our CDF – the Chief of our Defence Force tells me is right to do the job. You obviously wouldn't put in extra men beyond what is required to do the job.
He's given me advice on what the number is and that's the number that's there. The timeline is an internationally agreed timeline. We agree that working with our NATO-ISAF partners, that is, all of the nations who have gone in to Afghanistan.
We have an agreed timetable for transition, agreed internationally.
HOST: Given what Afghanistan looks like today and what it's likely to look like when we do withdraw, have our achievements in Afghanistan honestly been worth the lives of 38 Australian soldiers?
PM: We went there for the right reason. We are acquitting an important mission in our national interest.
Every life, every life lost hits us hard. It's a tragedy for our nation and particularly a tragedy for the families who lose loved ones and I have spoken to a couple of them over the last few days and I will speak to more Australians who've lost their loved ones in the days to come, and Leigh I will end up at a number of funerals as well.
So I know about the cost. I've looked in people's eyes at those funerals, I have seen them wipe the tears away. I'm not in any denial about the cost. I have felt it.
But for our nation, in our national interest, it was right to go, and it's right to stay there to get the job done.
That's a tough call but it's the call I have made and the government's made and it's the right call.
HOST: Prime Minister thank you very much.
PM: Thanks Leigh.