Interview with Sabra Lane
TUE 04 SEPTEMBER 2012
HOST: Prime Minister, good morning and welcome to AM.
PM: Good morning Sabra, and happy birthday AM.
HOST: The conservative states aren't happy with your plan. They've had an expectation that you would outline where the money's coming from, and New South Wales says you've just been plain antagonistic.
PM: I've got an expectation that with the premiers we'll be outlining where the improvements are coming from Sabra, because that's what this is all about.
Yes of course money is important, but money is an input for change.
What matters here is the quality of education that our kids are getting, and how they're achieving - how well they're reading, how well they're writing, how well they're doing in maths and science.
And that's the national ambition I want to pursue with the premiers.
HOST: But you can't have improvement without money and the Gonski figures are now $6.5 billion extra that needs to be put into the system.
The premiers - the Liberal premiers - are most unhappy; is that what you want, a dust up with them as part of your campaign roadmap to the next election to distract from the carbon tax?
PM: I want change in Australian schools and since this government was elected in 2007 we've been bringing change in Australian schools.
And that means we're at the point Sabra, where we don't just outline plans we think will work, we outline school improvement measures we know will work.
We know they'll work because we've already been delivering them in a number of schools around the country through our national partnerships approach, where we've worked with the same state governments you're talking about now to deliver change on the ground.
So kids do better at reading and writing and attendance, do better at getting to year 12, teachers are higher calibre and quality, principals are more empowered to get the job done.
We've already done that in a number of schools around Australia and my plan is about rolling that around the country to 9,500 schools.
That's what this agenda, this crusade, is all about.
HOST: Queensland says it can't afford the Gonski bill. Tasmania's coffers aren't exactly overflowing and Western Australia says its base funding formula per student is higher than what Gonski actually recommended.
Is this a grand plan that is unaffordable and effectively dead on arrival?
PM: This is a plan that I will be pursuing step by step, and I outlined that yesterday.
Let's just go through what I outlined yesterday: the legislation of a national ambition to make sure that our kids are in schools that are within the top five in the world.
I am not going to sit by as Prime Minister and watch our schools fall behind the standards of the world, which means we will be headed towards being a low-wage, low-skill economy. We need to address that for the nation.
Yesterday I outlined a school improvement plan and I am determined that those improvements are delivered in every school around the country.
And I outlined a new funding system which puts kids at the centre of how funding works - their needs; rather than any of the old politics about public versus private, we are focusing on the kids.
So that's what I'm going to take to the premiers. That's what I'm going to take to the Catholic and independent schools and that's what I'm determined to keep arguing and campaigning for, because it's about our children.
HOST: Prime Minister, but it's also about cash. You said in your speech yesterday that you want Australians to understand that you're not only asking them to support your goals on education, but the tough budget choices that come with it.
In short, will you cut more so-called middle class welfare to pay for it?
PM: Budgets are about choices and they're about what you value and I am going to ask the nation to make some decisions, some tough decisions, about how we will fund the things we should truly value the most.
As Prime Minister I'm driven to make sure our economy's strong.
That's the lynchpin, you can't do anything else unless you're keeping the economy strong and keeping Australians in work.
I want to make sure we're doing that work, getting Australians jobs, helping their family members.
But then I am saying unambiguously to the nation our priorities should be our kids and their future, which is the same as our nation's future.
And our priority should be a better deal for people with disabilities.
Now that is going to require choices and people can judge us on the preparedness we've shown in the past to make tough choices, ones that were the subject of some bitter political campaigning when we first outlined them, but we got them done.
HOST: You pointed to the cuts to the private health insurance rebate as an example of the tough choices, one of the tough choices you've made in the past.
What else could go? Axing the first home buyers grant, cutting superannuation tax breaks or even lifting the Medicare levy?
PM: Oh look I'm not going to play silly rule-in, rule-out games, and I well expected them Sabra. What you will see from the government is-
HOST: They’re the types of things your alluding to aren't they?
PM: You won't have to guess Sabra. What you will see from the government is budget detail every step of the way.
Every budget we've been very clear about our priorities, about what we've been prepared to cut and what we've been prepared to put at the top of the queue.
We've cut $100 billion in our budgets in order to fund things that really matter for the nation's future and we'll continue to take that approach.
So you will see budget figures from Treasury, all costed, laid out there for you to judge.
Of course, I want to see the opposition abide by that same level of discipline.
At the moment they're suggesting that they'll keep all of their figures fudged and hidden because they're already in a big mess around a $70 billion set of cuts to things that families rely on.
So, judge us by the figures and you will see the figures.
HOST: And the full figures, given that you're hoping an agreement to this will come at COAG next year, we won't see all the full figures until the budget in May?
PM: You will see the full figures when I have worked this through in discussions with states and territories.
I've got some hard talking to do to states and territories because I am saying I am prepared to lift federal government expenditure, but I've got to see states and territories step forward for their fair share.
So there are discussions to be had, and of course, as we conclude those discussions then you will see the appropriate budget treatment for the government's budget period, for the forward estimates.
You'll be able to see all the details. We'll be very clear too about our long-term funding plans.
HOST: Still on the economy, retail sales came in much weaker than expected yesterday, and other parts of the economy are very strained.
Are you confident about the strength of the economy and your promise to deliver a surplus?
PM: We will certainly deliver a surplus and our economy is strong.
When you look at all of the big indicators of strength in an economy - growth, low unemployment, low inflation, low interest rates, a government budget that's moving to surplus, a government's that triple-A rated, a nation triple-A rated by all the major credit agencies.
Of course our economy is strong. But we've also been very clear with people, it's in transition.
We live in an amazing time of change, huge growth in our region. That's meaning that there's record investment and demand for our commodities, for the things we sell like iron ore and coal.
But it also means our dollar’s very strong, and that is bringing a transition to sectors of the economy like manufacturing.
So when we look around the economy there is a patchwork effect. There are different industries and different regions that are experiencing circumstances that vary.
So I'm here in Perth today, what's happening in Kwinana is very different from what is happening in Port Hedland.
That is telling you about the different forces in our economy.
HOST: But given that commodity prices have been falling, the degree of difficulty in delivering your budget surplus now is increasing at a comparable rate.
PM: We will deliver a budget surplus and we will update all of our economic forecasts in the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook as we always do.
But Sabra, let's be very clear about the true picture of the Australian economy; we have a world leading economy, we came out of the global financial crisis strong, you wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world.
Other leaders, when I speak to them, are full of admiration for what we've achieved together, here in Australia; keeping people working, an economy that's growing, a huge pipeline of investment in resources.
I want to make sure we use this time of change in our economy so that we emerge strong and resilient for the future.
And there's nothing more important to that than making sure we get our schools improving.
We live in the growing region of the world, that's where our future will be defined.
Four of the top five schooling systems in the world are in our region, and ours isn't in that top five.
They're our neighbours, but they're also our competitors and we can't win the competition against them unless we win the education race.
HOST: Prime Minister, on Afghanistan. New Zealand has decided to bring their troops home early, ahead of their planned exit, April next year.
Is there any chance that Australia would bring our troops home early?
PM: Well I spoke directly to Prime Minister Key about this matter when I was at the Pacific Islands Forum. They are working on the timeline that has been in progress for some time.
Prime Minister Key has made it very clear publicly that the timeline has not been effected by New Zealand's recent tragic losses of soldiers in Afghanistan.
For us, our timetable for transition has also been laid out very clearly. We are in transition now, that's a process that will take 12-18 months.
What transition means is we are increasingly handing security leadership over to local Afghan forces and we will see that mission through.
HOST: Prime Minister, thanks for your time this morning.
PM: Thank you Sabra.