Transcript of Interview with Leon Compton, ABC Statewide Mornings
FRI 01 MARCH 2013
Subject(s): Tasmania’s economy; Vodafone jobs; Forestry agreement; Education reforms; Poker machine reform; Federal election
HOST: Prime Minister, good morning to you.
PM: Good morning Leon.
HOST: And thank you for talking with us this morning. Prime Minister, you know the figures that surround Tasmania well – a small population, a large land mass, economic indicators on health, on education, on unemployment.
As you look at these trends and the future in front of us, are you concerned that Tasmania might be on the road to becoming unviable financially?
PM: Certainly not. Tasmania has been going through a difficult period of change and transition in the economy.
Part of it is because of what’s having an impact across the Australian economy, and that is – we came out of the global financial crisis well, seeing a big mining boom, as a result very strong Australian dollar. That’s got its upside, but one of its big downsides is that it puts pressure on manufacturing and tourism, on export industries.
So put simply, someone who used to come from overseas to Tassie for a holiday, now has to spend more of their own currency to come here for the same holiday.
So that’s putting pressure on the Tassie economy.
You’ve at the same time had that combined with the big transition that we are seeing in forestry. So, the economy has been doing it tough here, but I actually think when you look to the future there are some very big upsides emerging.
Number one, with the National Broadband Network rollout here first; that will develop jobs.
Number two, as manufacturing and tourism get used to the high Australian dollar, we can find ways of doing things that enable us to still sell our produce and sell our wares overseas.
Number three, I think here in Tasmania as a result of [inaudible] we can see mining playing an increasing role in the economy.
There are strengths here in this economy that can be grown and nurtured for the future, and can be strengths that are really competitive in today’s world in the growing Asian region, servicing the burgeoning numbers of middle class consumers.
HOST: Why then Prime Minister, given all of that, has it taken so much federal and state subsidy to get 750 extra jobs here from Vodafone today?
PM: I don’t accept the premise of your question. We’ve invested $4 million and the State Government has made some resources available too.
HOST: And if you divide that up that comes to more than $6,000 a job. Why did that subsidy have to happen?
PM: Well I think that’s a great value for money proposition to get 750 jobs here, which is a huge injection into this economy.
HOST: On the issue of forestry; the proposed peace deal that you will fund and that Simon Crean talks with us about repeatedly, it’s still seriously contentious as you would no doubt know. It might not pass the Upper House.
Does the Federal Government have a Plan B if the bill doesn’t pass?
PM: We’re not talking about Plan Bs, we’re staying on track, staying on course to work with Tasmania to maximise the future here.
I would remind – because I think this is often forgotten in the debate – this is not a process that the Federal Government started.
We did not sit in Canberra and try and make decisions about Tasmanian forestry.
The parties here in Tasmania who have been at war of so long sat around a table and said can we find a way through this, and then approached the Federal Government to come and assist with the transition the industry was having and with enlivening the agreement that they had made between them.
Now, it’s been a hard old road, but absolutely clear, and the legislation is still in the Tasmanian Upper House.
But the studies are in and it’s also very clear that there will be less job loss and dislocation if the agreement and the legislation goes ahead, than if it stymied.
HOST: Prime Minister, you would broadly understand no doubt the literacy rates that are so low in Tasmania, also our low completion rates of year 12.
Your Government at the moment is proposing serious education reform, commonly called Gonski reforms.
When will the Tasmanian Government – when will the people of Tasmania – clearly understand what this is going to cost the State, and how the reforms are going to work in the state and private system here, because that is still unclear at this stage.
PM: Well, firstly we’ve been working with Tasmanian schools and bringing change to Tasmanian schools since we were first elected as a Government.
So in Tasmania today there are schools teaching the new national curriculum. In Tasmania today there are schools with better buildings because of the Building the Education Revolution program.
There are schools with more computers, there are schools that are participating in our national partnerships which are putting money into teacher quality and literacy and numeracy, and into disadvantaged schools. So that’s at work today.
Now I make that point because it enables people to judge the kind of reforms and changes that we want to bring; we want to bring more of that because we can show from our national partnership schools that’s it’s working for kids’ outcomes, and that they are getting a better education.
On the school-by-school specifics of our national plan for school improvement and the new funding arrangements, we are in dialogue with the Tasmanian Government about that, as we are with the Catholic and independent sectors.
A lot of information has been made available – some information has been awaiting the final crunching of some data that only came through when new census material came through, so it just couldn’t be done more quickly than that.
HOST: The question Prime Minister is when will the Tasmanian Government and the state and private system clearly understand what the potential cost of this will be?
PM: They have been in discussions for a long period of time now building those understandings piece-by-piece.
HOST: But the question again is when will the Tasmanian Government understand clearly what it will cost? When will we know what it will cost? When will there be available answers on that and the negotiations on whether or not we can afford it, be in?
PM: Well I think you are misunderstanding the process. There’s not one day where against a blank page everybody goes ta-dah and rolls back a curtain and there’s something there that no-one has ever seen before.
This is an iterative process going back and forth that has been going on for a long period of time now.
HOST: The question then in the broader community might be, is this something that seems like an excellent idea on paper, but that as a country – as a Government – we can’t afford?
PM: You can’t and will never persuade me of that! You think our nation can’t afford to invest in our children?
HOST: No, but the question is, when will it be actually laid out and budgeted for by the Government? When will you have a timetable for budgeting for this and when will it appear in the Budget papers?
PM: Let me go through it again. We had the reform work done by David Gonski and his panel. That’s been available publically for a long period of time.
We’ve then had very detailed discussions with state government, the Catholic and the independent schools.
Part of the way in which the model is conceptualised is you need to have good information about the socio-economic status of each individual school.
We’ve got updated very recent new material from the census that goes to that question – the socio-economic status of each school. So that most recent information has been worked through and is being made available now and it just couldn’t be made available before.
The new funding system will start for the next school year and you will see the Government in its Budget make all of the necessary provisions and all of the necessary savings to get it done.
HOST: On the issue of poker machine reform Prime Minister, Clubs ACT have deferred their mandatory pre-commitment trial until after the federal election.
Are you sorry now that you pulled out of the deal with Andrew Wilkie on poker machines? Would it have meant on reflection less harm done through poker machine addiction if we had stuck to that deal?
PM: Well I think that’s a re-writing of history. My simple point to Andrew Wilkie was, there were not the numbers – there was not sufficient support – in the House of Representatives to pass the plan that he advocated for.
And I understand he advocated for it passionately, he wanted to see it, he wanted to see mandatory pre-commitment technology. He wanted to see a mandatory pre-commitment scheme, which obviously needs, the technology needs to be on each machine.
But when it came to the House of Representatives, the Opposition said it was going to vote against it. Even with the Government voting for it, there would not have been sufficient support in the Parliament to pass it.
So in those circumstances we continued to work with Mr Wilkie to get change, to minimise harm from problem gambling. And that legislation did ultimately pass the Parliament and it will mean that there are rules so that machines do have to have pre-commitment technology fitted to them.
HOST: The Labor Party feel like they are in the race for his seat, the seat of Denison. Why would a vote for Labor be a better idea than another vote for Andrew Wilkie, or indeed a Greens or Liberal candidate in the upcoming federal election?
PM: Well whether it’s the seat of Denison or any of the federal electorates in Tasmania, or any part of the nation, a vote for the Government is a vote for jobs, a plan for Australian jobs.
It’s a vote for opportunity for the future – most particularly making sure that every child gets a great education.
And it’s a vote to continue and add to our Australian tradition of fairness. Labor is the party that built Medicare, we now want to build the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
So we will present at the forthcoming election as the only political party with a clear plan – not only to support families today – but to make sure our nation seizes all of the opportunities coming through the economic change in our region, and then shares that wealth fairly.
HOST: Appreciate you talking with us this morning.
PM: Thank you.