10 October 2018




DAVID BEVAN: Let’s welcome Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, South Australian Liberal Senator. Good morning to you.


BEVAN: Labor Senator and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong, good morning to you.


BEVAN: And Rex Patrick in our studio, Centre Alliance Senator for South Australia, one of the old Xenophon team, now called Centre Alliance, good morning to you.


BEVAN: Simon Birmingham, Bill Shorten says if he is elected, South Australia gets to employ an extra 645 new teachers. Now, putting aside my personal interest in this, that’s got to be a good thing doesn’t it?

BIRMINGHAM: South Australia can already employ new teachers if the South Australian Government wants from what is record and growing levels of school funding. There is some $486 million going to the South Australian Government for government schools this year. Under our plan that grows to $531 million next year and it will be $846 million in 10 years’ time on current projections. So that’s very strong growth. The funding for government school students grows in excess of six per cent per student per annum across the country. Now that is significantly faster than in the non-government sector. And the thing that Bill Shorten has done, and he keeps doing week in, week out is announce multi-billion dollar extra spending commitments on top of what is already record funding and growth, and that of course is going to be paid for by your listeners through higher taxes. That’s what they have to question going into the next election, how much higher taxes are they willing to pay to sustain the spending habits of a potential Bill Shorten Labor government.

BEVAN: Penny Wong, there must come a point where we stop pouring money into teaching?

WONG: We think an investment in our kids is good for them, good for the economy, good for the country.

But let’s be clear, this is the funding that Tony Abbott said he would provide until he broke his promise. So this is the funding that in 2013 there was a unity ticket on. I remember no difference between the Liberals and Labor on this in 2013 and then Tony Abbott cut it. And what we have said, what we have always said and what we will continue to say is this fair funding, a needs-based funding system, is the right things for our kids, the right thing for the country and it is good for the economy.

BEVAN: So in terms of policy, this just takes us back to that 2013 promise? It’s no more or less than what we were promised by both parties back in 2013?

WONG: It is delivering that promise. Now, over the years when Simon was Minister, obviously they presided over the reduction in that promise. We now know what that means. Under a Labor Government you will get more teachers, 645 more teachers in South Australia’s schools. That is a good thing for our kids.

We still have a situation where the most likely indicator of how well you do at school is your postcode. We don’t actually think that is reasonable. It holds the country back. We should ensure everyone has the opportunity to be the best of who they are, to achieve their best. It’s good for them, good for the country.

ALI CLARKE: But what about the back end of this Penny Wong, because we can talk numbers and 645 new teachers sounds great, but that’s a quantity. What about the quality of teachers, and also the support they would receive in and around schools.

WONG: Of course you’re right, and this is an indication of what this funding could provide in schools. It’s not the only thing that is required, and in fact schools could decide to use this funding for other things, or in part use it for teachers and in part use it for other ways in which to support students – for example teachers’ aid or extending kids or children who have learning disabilities. So there are a whole range of ways in which the funding could be used.

I always find it interesting Ali and David when the Liberals say the money doesn’t matter. I haven’t met a parent who doesn’t think that resources in schools matter.

BIRMINGHAM: As I said before, funding for government schools across the country is already growing at an average of 6.3 per cent, per student, per annum over the next few years. That is far, far faster than inflation or wages growth. It means real extra dollars each and every year already going in for state government to be able to invest more.

What you can hear from Penny’s answer there is that the Labor Party is just committed to spending more money. They don’t really have a plan or an idea of how it will be spent. What we did while I was Education Minister and released, was a thorough analysis led by David Gonski around how our extra school funding can be invested. That’s now the basis of a school agreement that education ministers have agreed can be taken forward to COAG that looks at reforms in schools in terms of how we measure the progress of students, of how we ensure that’s embedded in our curriculum. how we give the tools necessary to teachers, and it’s all fully funded in our current Budget with record funding that is already growing without the type of additional extra taxes that Bill Shorten going to impose on people’s wages, their retirement savings, their small businesses, to be able to fund spending for which they have no idea what particular purpose they want to see it deployed for.

WONG: Can I just respond to that? I’ll just make two very quick comments because I know that Rex is on the line too.

The first is that Simon you won government promising this funding, and then you broke your promise. So, if it was good enough to tell people to get their votes, why isn’t it good enough to deliver? I’d make that point.

The second is he makes a point about wages. Can I just point out that the income tax cuts that Bill announced in the Budget reply actually ensure than 10 million Australians will pay less tax under a Shorten Labor Government. So let’s be clear we are prepared make hard decisions to fund things we think matter and that are good for the country.

BIRMINGHAM: And If I can just answer Penny’s question there, which is that at the last election, we actually promised a level of school funding which is less than what our Government is delivering today. So, Malcolm Turnbull, when he was Prime Minister, and myself as Education Minister increased the level of school funding that is flowing into schools today relative to what was on the table at the 2016 election that of course our Government won and that is just going to continue to grow.

WONG: That cuts out the broken promise in 2013.

BEVAN: Penny Wong, hang on, how can you spend more, and people pay less tax?

WONG: It is absolutely the case we are taking tax changes to the election. I was making the point about income tax, because Simon talked about wages. We have made clear, and we have been up front about it, and I have spoken about it on this program…

BEVAN: Penny Wong, how can you spend..

WONG: I was half way through an answer.

BEVAN: And we will re-ask the question.

WONG: I was half way through the answer.

BEVAN: I will ask the question again.

WONG: I heard the question the first time and we have been clear..

CLARKE: I forgot what the question was, so let’s start again.

BEVAN: How can you spend more, and tax less?

WONG: And I was answering the question and I was referring to the income tax question. It is absolutely the case we are going with tax changes. We have been up front for many years now about changes to negative gearing, about changes to capital gains tax, changes to dividend imputation and I’ve been on this program before talking about them.

Now, we just think if you’re going to make the investments in schools and hospitals that we need, if we’re going to make the economy work for Australians, then those are higher priorities than giving an investor a tax break on their seventh house.

CLARKE: Alright, well at school we do learn to take turns. Rex Patrick, Centre Alliance Senator for SA, you have been listening to all of this.

PATRICK: My view on all of this is we need to have quality teachers directed to the right places, and that’s the fundamental thing that we need to do. And we also need to make sure that we don’t simply make announcements, that we actually fund them. It’s easy to spend taxpayer’s money, much, much harder to spend it wisely.

BEVAN: So, do you want more teachers?

PATRICK: We would like to see quality teachers, directed at the right places. Now, if there is a requirement for more teachers, then there should be more teachers. It needs to be needs-based.

BEVAN: But it’s not clear to you that we need more teachers?

PATRICK: I’m not an expert in education. I don’t know the nitty-gritty details of exactly where we might need more teachers. But the general principle is you need to have quality teachers and you need to have enough teachers to meet the demands of all the different schools that we have got.

BEVAN: Alan Jones. Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator from South Australia. Did Alan Jones get a lesson in the last few days of how limited his power is?

BIRMINGHAM: I don’t know David. I’m not in the psyche of Alan Jones and I can’t say that I follow the ins and out of his thinking or his program terribly closely.

If you’re talking about the horserace that is a Melbourne Cup style event that is happening is Sydney that is promoted by the Sydney Opera House well, that was something that Anthony Albanese, Luke Foley, the Labor Leader in New South Wales, others were saying should happen before I think Alan Jones uttered a word on it. So I’m not sure I understand; there’s lots of talk about Alan Jones at present but I’m not sure how relevant it is to anything.

BEVAN: Well I suppose that is the question. That is if you have a person who can threaten somebody’s job and demand that advertising goes up on an icon like the Sydney Opera House and the state government in New South Wales buckles and does exactly that only to have people come out and protest and make him look foolish. Is it a reminder to Alan Jones that it’s not his town, it’s not his country? His power falls away very sharply outside of Sydney and I wonder if political parties who are so Sydney focused need to remember that.

BIRMINGHAM: Well I’d make a few points. One is, people protest about all sorts of things that’s not to say that their protests carry the huge weight of public opinion. The other is as I said before, senior Labor figures were already calling for the promotion of this major Melbourne Cup-style horse race to go ahead. The New South Wales Government was already working on how it should go ahead. I’m just really not sure that Alan Jones’ opinions on this were particularly valid to the decision making at all. I think it’s far more likely that, as the New South Wales Government appears to have said, they’d already made their decision and they were working through how they were going to implement it.

BEVAN: Well Penny Wong, your staffer Stephen Spencer didn’t want to talk about this. He says “David seems to be obsessed by it”. I can only ask that he takes that up with Sabra Lane and the AM program who gave it a lot of attention this morning. Do you think there’s a reminder there to shock jocks in Sydney that their power is limited?

WONG: I don’t know why we’re talking about this bloke, he doesn’t broadcast into Adelaide and I don’t think your listeners are that interested, are they?

BEVAN: Well you don’t think people are interested in the Sydney Opera House?

WONG: No, I mean I have a view about the Opera House…

BEVAN: You don’t think people are interested in gambling advertising being thrown up on the Sydney Opera House?

WONG: I don’t agree with advertising on the Sydney Opera House – I think it’s a beautiful, iconic building. I don’t think it should be used for this sort of advertising. I haven’t seen what it looks like. I’ve seen some quite interesting things on social media about people suggesting alternatives for the advertising which I thought were kind of fun. I think you talked about Mr Jones having power, well I think it’s sort of demonstrated by the fact we’re having a conversation about it. As you said, and I think this was accurate David, his influence falls away substantially outside of Sydney.

BIRMINGHAM: Can I say to all the people who are so outraged over this alleged promotion of gambling, which in fact was a promotion of a major horse race and a major tourism event, won’t be taking time off work to watch the Melbourne Cup or participate in any of those types of activities.

BEVAN: Well actually that’s an interesting point…

BIRMINGHAM: This is a Melbourne Cup-style event happening in Sydney. It’s got huge international presence, it will bring big extra dollars to their economy…

CLARKE: But people who’re outraged or upset, this isn’t about the event itself necessarily, this is about the promotion for the event being thrown up on an Australian icon.

BIRMINGHAM: Yep, and if you were telecasting the barrier draw for the Melbourne Cup on Federation Square in Melbourne, would that be a problem? I mean, what’s the difference?

CLARKE: Well Federation Square is Federation Square, this is the Sydney Opera House.

WONG: (Laughs) That’s a good answer.

BIRMINGHAM: Sure, and the Sydney Opera House has all sorts of things screened across its sails from time to time. This wasn’t an advert to gamble, it wasn’t an advert for the event. It was highlighting the fact that a major tourism event…

CLARKE: Hang on, if it wasn’t an advert for the event, why would they bother doing it to promote the event?

BIRMINGHAM: It’s promotion, the likes of which we see that sort of promotion happen all the time in a whole range of different ways across the Sydney Harbour Bridge as well. Right around the country different tourism agencies look for different ways to get attention for what are very significant events…

CLARKE: To advertise the event?

BIRMINGHAM: And in this case I think you’ve got clearly a major event that will bring huge economic activity into Sydney – and good luck to them for it – that is very much analogous to the Melbourne Cup, and I’m sure if this were the Melbourne Cup, people wouldn’t be so outraged. It’s just that it’s something that people haven’t heard of as much before but it’s going to have close to a similar impact in terms of industry and activity in Sydney.

BEVAN: Now that’s the voice of Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator from South Australia, before that Penny Wong, Labor Senator from South Australia. Rex Patrick is with the Centre Alliance group in the Senate and he’s in our studio. We need to ask you about your plans to – we asked Tory Shepherd about this in The Spin Cycle on Friday. You’re saying, I’m paraphrasing here, drop the big French submarine deal, buy them off the shelf because this thing is going to cost us an absolute motza; the costs are going to blow out. Can you explain in your own words though what it is you’re proposing?

PATRICK: Alright, so first and foremost I do want the submarines built here in Adelaide but I believe they can built much sooner and for much less. This is a program that in 2009 was going to cost the taxpayer all up $50 billion. It has now moved to $224 billion, that’s inflation-adjusted Defence numbers. We’ve gone from 90 per cent local content down to 60 per cent local content and that’s what Minister Pyne has said over the past year or so. But the reality is, and I do have the numbers – they’ve been provided to me in the Senate – the real numbers are less than 40 per cent Australian content at this particular point in time.

We’ve also got a submarine that was originally going to be in place in 2025 so that it would replace the Collins-class. Now we’ll be lucky if it makes its deadline in 2032. So all I’m suggesting is that, noting we have got a number of difficulties with the negotiations with the French at this point in time, that maybe we need to have another look at this. This is a lot of taxpayers’ money. Absolutely submarines, yes. At any price? No.

BEVAN: So you think it’s a dud deal?

PATRICK: Yeah, absolutely. It is the most expensive submarine in the world. The French themselves are buying six nuclear-powered Barracudas for €9.9 billion. We’re paying, from an acquisition perspective – in outturn dollars, we’re paying $74 billion.

BEVAN: Simon Birmingham, that doesn’t sound very good.

BIRMINGHAM: Well Rex Patrick is really behaving in a highly irresponsible way in terms of the way in which he’s undermining South Australia’s credibility in terms of the building of these submarines, in terms of the work that the Royal Australian Navy has done in contracting and procuring the type of capability that our nation needs for the future. You can’t just go out and buy a submarine from Woolworths or BI-LO, you’ve actually got to go and procure what we need. And for Australia, operating in an area in which we need long-range capability – our submarines have to be able to operate across vast distances – they need to, and we want them to be, the most technologically sophisticated operating in our region.

Of course we’ve gone through a thorough process. Of course we’ve not just bought the cheapest submarine we can find. We’ve bought the one that the Royal Australian Navy has assessed in their capability reviews to be what Australia best needs to meet its future needs and I think it is highly irresponsible that Rex keeps undermining this, which of course undermines the naval shipbuilding industry operations in South Australia rather than promoting the fact that we as a Government have backed the capability of SA to build these submarines, to build our Future Frigates as well and are going to create thousands of jobs in SA as a result of that.

CLARKE: Rex Patrick, respond?

PATRICK: Well actually Simon you haven’t backed SA. If you recall last year in May – and this was a decision of Cabinet – you expressly prohibited ASC from being involved in this program. I have a copy of the letter that Minister Pyne wrote to the French saying “you can do the build, we’re not going to use ASC”. ASC were involved in the original bid, they were going to be a partner of DCNS as they were then or Naval Group, and they have been shunned. And indeed, now it looks like the Government is happy for the sustainment work to be shifted from SA across to Western Australia.

BIRMINGHAM: That’s just not true, Rex.

BEVAN: Penny Wong, Labor Senator for South Australia, Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, does Labor back the current deal?

WONG: Absolutely and we back the subs being built in Adelaide. Let’s remember the reason the subs are being built in Adelaide is because South Australians, the community, the Federal Labor Party, to give credit to Simon, some South Australian Liberals and Nick Xenophon fought Tony Abbott’s decision to send the subs to Japan. So we’re not going to walk away from it now. Now of course we need value for money. We need to make sure it’s being done properly but we’ve been fighting for over half a decade to make sure the subs are built here.

CLARKE: Alright, we will have to leave it there. Thank you very much Penny Wong, Labor Senator for South Australia, Rex Patrick, Senator for Centre Alliance as well and Simon Birmingham, hats off on the text line for you for referring to the retro BI-LO, but there you go, thank you Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. Thank you very much.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.