The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development
Transcript of interview with Lisa Wilkinson
Today Show, Channel 9
Subjects: Qantas, Holden, School Funding
Lisa Wilkinson: Well the Government insists it won't rush into bail out Qantas even as the national airline announced a $300 million loss yesterday and the need to axe 1,000 jobs in the coming year.
Joining us now to discuss this and explain his backflip on Gonski is Education Minister Christopher Pyne and Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek joins us as well. Good morning to both of you. Christopher Pyne, if I can start with you, is there a case for the Government to step in and bail out Qantas?
Christopher Pyne: Well Qantas has a unique problem which most other private companies don't have in Australia and that is it's restricted by legislation in terms of its foreign investment, who can invest in Qantas.
Now Virgin doesn't have that restriction which means Qantas is hide bound really so we have to think about whether the taxpayer directly supports Qantas or whether we remove those restrictions and allow it to get foreign investment which also means that it might not necessarily be entirely Australian owned. So it's a problem and we have to sort through it, which we will.
Wilkinson: Is the Government feeling sentimental about this Australian icon or do you think you really have to start doing business now?
Pyne: Well there's a whole host of reasons why Australia needs to have a national carrier. But it is a global world and at the moment Qantas can't compete as easily as it should because it's got this 50% restriction on its ownership.
Wilkinson: Christopher's right, Tanya, I mean there's not an even playing field at the moment between Qantas and Virgin. Virgin has got 63% foreign ownership that really does help them in their funding. Do you think those restrictions should be loosened?
Tanya Plibersek: Look, I think it's important to have a look at anything that Qantas is proposing to help them operate more effectively. My dad spent the last 20 years of his working life working at Qantas and I think I do and many Australians do have a very strong attachment to Qantas as an Australian brand and carrier. I think we should have a look at what they're suggesting.
Wilkinson: But it's a heart versus head thing, isn't it?
Plibersek: Well absolutely. I think the emotional attachment is certainly there. You get on a Qantas plane coming back from overseas and hear those Australian accents, it's always so wonderful.
Pyne: I think there's a sense of almost bipartisanship about this issue. I mean I don't think you can make much politics out of Qantas because it's an icon for Australia and that's a good thing.
Wilkinson: And 1,000 people facing job losses.
Plibersek: Absolutely, and right before Christmas. The important thing there is to make sure we give those 1,000 people the support they need to find new jobs as quickly as possible.
Wilkinson: Speaking of Aussie icons, Holden, there's talk that it could close its operations here by 2016. Is this another case of the Government having to step in?
Pyne: Well, Holden - well GM really in Detroit - needs to let Holden compete internationally. One of the problems for Holden in Australia is it doesn't seem to be given the freedom to export and if it's not exporting the market here in Australia isn't big enough. And because we allow so much overseas cars into our market, which is a good thing for competition and for consumer choice, Toyota and Holden and Ford need to export whereas GM and Detroit puts all sorts of restrictions around Holden's capacity to export.
It hasn't invested in the equipment that it needs to invest in and if Holden make that decision it will be a decision of Holden's. We in the federal Liberal Party want to support the car industry as much as possible but at the end of the day Holden make a decision, a commercial decision, it's not something that we can make for them.
Plibersek: Well Lisa, I mean Christopher's skated over the fact that the Liberal Government's taking $500 million support out of the car industry and I think it's very important that we keep car manufacturing here in Australia.
There's a 9 to 1 multiplier effect. For every dollar we put in we get $9 back and if you look at the support for the Australian car industry, compared to the US or Germany, the Americans put in about 14 times as much per person as we do, even the Germans that would be acknowledged as having a very strong car industry, they get about 5 times per person as much support going into their car industry as we do here in Australia.
Pyne: But even with all the support that Labor's been putting in over the last 6 years, Ford's already decided to leave, even with all that support. Holden's operations here in Australia, even with all the support, made a loss again last year. When General Motors looked at their entire international operations, the Australian operation was the one
that was making a loss so all that money's been flowing into Holden and Ford and they're still making losses or deciding to leave in the case of Ford.
Plibersek: But the point is Christopher, we're not putting in a lot compared with other countries that have car industries and we're talking about 200,000 jobs and also the spin off for research and development and innovation that comes from having a car industry. I think it's very important that we keep it here.
Wilkinson: Alright, we'll have to move on. We need to move onto you, Christopher Pyne.
This week's double backflip over Gonski. Now a week ago you were Gonski's foremost critic. You said it was un-implementable, this week you've not only backed it but you've found more than $1 billion extra to put into it. Was it just a case of you caved in to public pressure?
Pyne: Well the good news, Lisa, is I found $1.2 billion more for education than Labor was going to put in.
Wilkinson: But was that because of public pressure because you were its greatest critic?
Pyne: It's because I've been spending the last 11 weeks working behind the scenes with WA, NT and Queensland.
Wilkinson: But for 10 weeks of that, you didn’t like it…
Pyne: Well I haven't said much about the school funding model since the election. But I found $1.2 billion.
Wilkinson: Where did you find that?
Pyne: Well the Treasurer and I, and the PM, worked out how we could fund that, which Labor took out.
Wilkinson: Where was it?
Pyne: You will find out in MYEFO, which will be handed down before the end of the year where that money's come from.
And I got WA, Queensland and the NT to sign up, something Labor never did. So I've delivered the national agreement and more money.
Wilkinson: But will you change your mind again because you've changed it about four times now on Gonski?
Pyne: I haven't really. It's where you end the race Lisa that counts, not where you started.
Wilkinson: But we don't know where you end, because we could have said a couple of decisions ago “this was the end”.
Pyne: I've crossed the finish line, I’ve crossed the line. I’ve got the money and the agreement.
Plibersek: It’s great, Christopher was vacuuming the couch and lifted up the cushions and found $1.2 billion.
Pyne: It was amazing.
Plibersek: You’re right Lisa, this is the 4th position Christopher's had and it's not delivering what the Government said they would deliver before the election. They said they were on a unity ticket with Labor.
Our proposal was $14.65 billion extra over six years, this is $2.8 billion over 4 years. There's no requirement, we had a requirement, for every $2 put we put in as a Commonwealth Government the States put in an extra $1. Christopher said to the States “It doesn't matter. We'll put in a bit of extra money but if you cut education funding in your own States it doesn't matter”.
And most importantly, the Gonski model said we give most to the kids who need it most and the schools who need it most, and there's no guarantee that what Christopher is proposing gives that money to disadvantaged kids. You look at the report that came out this week, the PISA Report, and it shows that Australia has one of the biggest gaps in learning between the wealthiest kids and the poorest kids anywhere in the world, and that's exactly what the Gonski model was designed to fix. Put the most resources where they're most needed.
Wilkinson: Part of the problem is we saw those figures this week saying that Australia has really fallen behind in its educational standards in this country. We had 6 years of Labor rule. Why didn't things improve during that time?
Plibersek: Well because these are 15-year-old kids. They've had a whole career in the education system.
Pyne: So it's their fault?
Plibersek: No, I'm not saying it's their fault. I'm saying a good education system starts with top quality childcare, it starts with preschool. Any parent will tell you and Christopher I know you’re a parent, that those early years of childhood are the most important learning time. So we've got to invest from the beginning in preschool, making sure that every child gets a year of preschool and making sure that our whole education system from day 1 focuses on lifting the most disadvantaged kids. The kids who start behind the eight ball.
Wilkinson: Last word, Christopher Pyne?
Pyne: Well Lisa, Labor took $1.2 billion out before the election.
Plibersek: That's not true Christopher, you can't keep saying that.
Pyne: I put it back in. Over six years Labor spent $20 billion more on education and they've achieved the worst PISA result in history.
Wilkinson: The trouble is that that $1.2 billion was never on the table, you can't take something out that wasn't on the table?
Pyne: It was in the Budget, it was in the economic statement of the Treasurer’s before the election but it was taken out in the pre-election fiscal outlook. [Plibersek interjects] You had a lovely long run and I didn't interrupt you. It's not all about money, it's about teacher quality and PISA found the one single determinant in Australia about the outcomes for students was not the school they were in but the teacher they were allocated.
Plibersek: And that's why you need the standards that come with Gonski and you don’t guarantee that. And that $1.2 billion dollars, that’s WA, NT and QLD that refused to take the extra money…
Pyne: So you took the money back.
Plibersek: … because they put politics before kids.
Pyne: You put it into consolidated revenue.
Plibersek: That’s just nonsense.
Wilkinson: Ok, I think you two need to take it out the back. In the meantime, thank you very much.
6 DECEMBER 2013