Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM

21 Sep 2018
Prime Minister
Education funding; Papua New Guinea; Royal Commission; Women in Parliament;

SABRA LANE: Good morning and welcome to the program.


LANE: You’ve declared the school funding wars are over, how premature was that given a former Coalition education Minister says you’ve set up a slush fund and a current Liberal State Minister Rob Stokes says he won’t sign because it’s not fair?

PRIME MINISTER: I didn’t make any reference to funding wars yesterday Sabra, they were journalists making those comments. All I did yesterday was I stand up with Dan Tehan and announce that we’d been able to come to a resolution of an ongoing discussion with independent schools and the Catholic school sector to ensure parents would continue to have affordable choice in non-state school education. That’s what we’ve done. In relation to the state governments, there’s no impact on the state government’s arrangements here, the commitment we’ve made to them through those funding arrangements under the needs-based funding arrangements remain completely in place.

So these announcements sit outside of those and they’re true to what the needs-based funding regime is; to make sure we make decisions based on the actual income of parents.

LANE: But Mr Stokes says the agreement doesn’t treat every student with fairness, that’s a Liberal Minister. He’s saying it’s not fair.

PRIME MINISTER: Well I don’t think Rob has yet had the chance to really look at the full details of this. There will be an opportunity for that today and I’m sure once he sees that that he’ll see that those comments don’t weigh up with what we’ve actually announced.

LANE: You’ve been on the record in the past as Eliza mentioned in that package just now, repeatedly saying you wouldn’t do a special deal on education funding. This is a $4.5 billion deal. It sounds like a special deal.

PRIME MINISTER: Two things. First, we had an independent review which said and recommended that for the needs based funding to work, it had to be based on parents actual income. That’s what this does. $3.2 billion is simply implementing those recommendations consistent with the independent review, to be true to those principles. Another important value and belief that we have as a Liberal Party and National Party is that there should be affordable choices for non-state schools for parents. Now, we’re delivering on that belief I think handsomely as well. Because we don’t believe, as I said in Albury, that one set of students have to do worse for another set of students to do better. Everyone here is doing better, there’s more money for state schools, more money for non-state schools, more money for independent schools, more money for Catholic schools. There’s more money for all schools.

LANE: I come back to NSW Minister Rob Stokes, he has put out a press release on letterhead and he says he won’t accept it, because it gives private schools an unfair advantage.

PRIME MINISTER: I’ve had exchanges this morning with the Premier, we’ve had a few text exchanges this morning. I don’t think Rob has the full details and a full understanding of what the package is. I’m sure –

LANE: Was the Premier’s view different?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I’m simply saying that I think the Education Minister in New South Wales, once he has the opportunity to look at the full understanding of the package, he’ll understand that it’s good for all schools to be getting more support. This is a needs-based approach, when it comes particularly to those in Catholic schools and ensuring that the parents’ actual income is what is driving funding decisions. He’d know that in his own electorate, up in Pittwater, in the Broken Bay diocese.

LANE: Let’s talk about this special $1.2 billion fund called the Choice and Affordability Fund. To give funds to independent and catholic schools, how will you actually decide to distribute that money?

PRIME MINISTER: There are a number of priorities. One priority at the moment – and this goes over ten years by the way Sabra, this is not all in one year, this is over the next ten years – so when you’re talking about an Education budget which is in the hundreds of billions of dollars…

LANE: Sure but how will you distribute money from that particular fund?

PRIME MINISTER: Well it’s about focusing on priorities as it’s seen within each of those sectors. Right now one of those priorities –

LANE: What priorities?

PRIME MINISTER: Well let me answer you. One of the priorities I’ve talked to Anthony Fisher about is the priority of supporting children of parents in drought-affected areas across New South Wales, across Queensland and other states that are affected. They share my view about that. So there’s an early opportunity for them to be able to provide in some of that relief. So this is anticipating needs over a decade and it’s anticipating and understanding that no single arrangement can see all the circumstances that come up over the next ten years. This provides an opportunity to respond to those needs and circumstances. The other thing I was to be sure of is that Catholic schools in less fortunate areas, that they continue to get the support. As you know, the Catholic system makes its decision about how it spreads the resources that are provided to it. That’s been a longstanding arrangement. This will ensure that, I think, all of those schools can continue to get the support that their parents would expect them to get.

LANE: Prime Minister onto another issue. Australia already gives a lot of support to our neighbour Papua New Guinea. A regular troop rotation through PNG would ramp up our commitment, why is the Government considering that?

PRIME MINISTER: I don’t go into details about Australia’s national security arrangements and how our troop arrangements, whether it’s troop arrangements in the Pacific or anywhere else. You wouldn’t expect me to do that. We have an outstanding relationship with PNG, and we are strategic security partners of choice. Not just there, but throughout the Pacific and we’ll continue to engage well. I’ve spoken to Peter O’Neill now one a number of occasions and we’ll continue to have a close working relationship. Now right now, we’ve got a particular issue we’re working on and that’s the upcoming APEC Conference. As you know we’ve made some very important decisions to support them in the security arrangements for that important international gathering and that’s a very big deal for PNG. We’re giving them all the support they would always expect from us.

LANE: The Government also is in talks about a new joint military facility on Manus Island. Is that about countering China’s influence in the region or to reaffirm this nation’s commitment to the region?

PRIME MINISTER: Again, you’re talking about speculation in press reports and I don’t comment on national and strategic national security interests in our region on the basis of press reports. So I don’t think you’re going to expect me to respond to that really.

LANE: Still you’re not ruling them out, so –

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’m not going to do that Sabra. I’m not going to play those sorts of games on national security and you wouldn’t expect me to. I don’t think you’d really want to either. We have an outstanding strategic security partnership, relationship, with PNG as we do with countries around the region. We’ll continue to put Australia’s national interest first in how we engage with those and the strategic security of the region.

LANE: How long will it be before the Government outlines the terms of reference and announces the Commissioners for the Aged Care Royal Commission?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, I’ve had further meetings on that this week and I said we’d be doing that over the next few weeks. We’ve had consultations over the course of this week with the aged care sector.

LANE: Sure, but will it be next week or a couple of months?

PRIME MINISTER: When we’re ready I’ll be announcing it. We’re not wasting any time on that and I think we’re making a lot of progress. I didn’t indicate it’d be this week and I didn’t indicate it’d necessarily next week. But we’ll be moving to announce that as soon as those arrangements can be appropriately put in place. We want to get those terms of reference right. We’ve got a website where Australians directly can provide their feedback into what that should be. We want that process to continue so we’re absolutely committed to it. We’ll get the terms of reference right and then we’ll get on with the job.

LANE: Many people have had their hopes raised that this inquiry will look at a broad range of issues like abuse in the disability care sector. What do you say to them?

PRIME MINISTER: As I met with the aged care committee this week, which pulls together people from carers to those representing the workforce and those that are providers, they agreed with the Government that we need to ensure the Royal Commission needs a clear focus. It can’t be Royal Commission into everything. If it becomes that, it loses its ability to be targeted in the recommendations it can make. So those other issues are incredibly important and we’ll continue to pursue those through the normal processes of government. But when it comes to the royal commission, it’s into the residential aged care sector which will also include the in-home care. It will also include young Australians living with disability inside residential aged care settings. Now –

LANE: But will, though, people who are disappointed… there will be people who are disappointed that the inquiry ultimately doesn’t look at issues they’re deeply worried about.

PRIME MINISTER: The Royal Commission needs to be focused in order for it to be effective. That’s also the feedback I’ve had from the sector as well.

LANE: Sure, but what do you say to people who will be disappointed?

PRIME MINISTER: I say I take those issues very, very seriously and we’ll continue to pursue those directly as a Government.

LANE: There have been at least thirteen parliamentary and federal inquiries into this sector in ten years and another two are currently underway right now, excluding the Royal Commission. Why don’t you trust yourselves, politicians, to devise a policy that is in the nation’s interests?

PRIME MINISTER: I think that’s pretty cynical Sabra, to be fair.

LANE: It’s not, you said you wanted to take the politics out of this and that’s why you needed to flick this outside of Parliament.

PRIME MINISTER: No just the way you characterized it, I thought that was a bit cynical. I mean what we’re seeking to do is ensure that Australians who are making some of the toughest decisions of their lives about the care of their loved ones, can have the confidence that through an independent review, through a Royal Commission, that this has been fully assessed and that when they make those decisions about care, the issues they’re concerned about have been fully taken into account. Now I think that’s the right thing to do. What we did, was we put additional resources through the types of reviews you’re talking about. But also, into the policing of standards. What that showed was an alarming increase in areas of noncompliance and risk. When you see that information, you can’t walk past it, Sabra. I mean what do you expect me to do, just walk past it and do nothing? Of course I wasn’t going to do that.

LANE: No, I’m pointing out that there are already capable committees here in Parliament that are looking at these very issues.

PRIME MINISTER: I think the public demanded more than that, simple as that. They demanded more. They are making decisions about their loved ones and I wasn’t going to leave them stranded. They wanted to see more, I believe I wanted to see more. So, I did more.

LANE: You’ve got two young girls, how are you juggling family life now as Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: The same way we’ve been doing that for the last decade and more, even before I went into politics. Every family has to make it’s choices about how it manages the demands they have. I mean if there’s two working parents in a family earning about $120,000 a year, I think their challenges are far greater than mine. Jen and I have always dealt with this as a family and she does an incredible job with the girls and we’re going to keep life as normal for them as possible. Sport will continue, school will be the same, friends hanging out together, that’ll all remain and we’ll keep it as normal and natural for our girls as every parent would want.

But frankly, compared to what other families have to deal with and the pressures on them, I don’t think our challenges compare.

LANE: Given those challenges, why would any young woman want to put up their family lives, disrupt their family lives and put their careers on hold to put their hand up for the Liberal Party and what sounds like a very hostile environment for them?

PRIME MINISTER: I think Kelly O’Dwyer has answered that by her own example. I mean she’s the first Cabinet Minister to actually have a child while she’s been in Cabinet. Not physically obviously.


But during her time as a Cabinet Minister and she’s an amazing mum. Her and John are doing, I think, showing to everybody that this can be done. I applaud Kelly. Kelly is a great example to young women all across the country about what can be achieved.

LANE: But your Party has a big problem in attracting and actually keeping women in Parliament. Look at Jane Prentice, Julia Banks, Lucy Gichuhi, Ann Sudmalis, possibly Julie Bishop. To lose that many women that’s not –

PRIME MINISTER: But at the same time we’ve preselected women in senior positions on our Senate ticket in Tasmania, Amanda Stoker has replaced George Brandis up in Queensland, we’ve got Kate Ashmore down in the new seat of McNamara in Victoria and we’re recruiting more women it come in. So look, I know the media likes to make this point but the fact is it is tough, I think, for women to be in Parliament, it’s a hard life. It is very difficult particularly if you’ve got young families. I know that better than most and through my friends, women in Parliament who have been going through those challenges, I get how hard it is. So you know, it is a challenge for our parties to ensure that we can get the right set of supports and encouragements and preparedness so people can go and do the job. But the best example, the best answer to your question is Kelly O’Dwyer.

LANE: Prime Minister Scott Morrison thanks for joining the program.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot Sabra, great to be here.