Subjects: Subjects: Terrorism; indigenous affairs; Budget 2017 ; education.
DAVID LIPSON: To discuss these issues and the rest of the week’s politics, I was joined earlier by Industry Minister Senator Arthur Sinodinos and Shadow Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese for our late debate. Gentlemen, welcome to Lateline.
ARTHUR SINODINOS, INDUSTRY MINISTER: Thank you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, OPPOSITION INFRASTRUCTURE SPOKESPERSON: Good to be here.
DAVID LIPSON: Horrific events this week, not just in Manchester but also in the Philippines: martial law declared, a police chief beheaded; and Jakarta: twin suicide bombings there as well. Are we doing enough, are we focusing enough on what’s happening on our doorstep, Arthur Sinodinos?
ARTHUR SINODINOS: Well, David, these incidents are a reminder that the war on terror in all its manifestations is ongoing. I remember one president of the United States, George W Bush, once saying it was going to be a pretty long campaign. I don’t think he had any illusions about it. And look, we should be optimistic about our capacity to ultimately deal with all of this. But we have to be realistic and but recognise on the way through there will be incidents. We do everything in our power to prevent incidents from happening. We rely on the cooperation we have with, among others, the Muslim community to help in this regard.
In the case of Indonesia in particular, Malcolm Turnbull has a strong relationship with the Joko Widodo and we use that to always encourage the Indonesians in their anti-terror campaigns. And they have done a lot to help us in that regard and vice versa.
DAVID LIPSON: Anthony Albanese, what have you taken out of this week?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I think Duncan Lewis, the head of ASIO, has said that we’re at the end of the beginning, rather than the beginning of the end of the struggle against terror. And that is a dire warning, really, but a reality check for all of us. We have to be vigilant. We have to ensure that we respond to this as a nation, not as political parties. And I must say that, in my time, both in Opposition and in government, that has certainly been the case.
We need to make sure that, when an incident occurs, we have an examination and then we have a response; and any further reforms that are required occur. But on a positive note, I look at what happened in Manchester: that incredible tragedy. But I also look at the response of the Mancunians who gathered in their hundreds of thousands to say: “We’re not going to go away. We’re going to celebrate our freedom. We’re going to demonstrate that case by publicly gathering in the centre of that city.”
And that empowering image, I think, is very important for us. So part of what the terrorists would like is for us to be fearful. We need to celebrate our freedom, whilst being vigilant and making sure that we do whatever we can and have ongoing responses.
DAVID LIPSON: Also this week, we have seen Indigenous leaders meeting at Uluru, trying to resolve this very tricky question of how to proceed on the issue of constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians. Arthur Sinodinos: firstly, I mean, do you think we need to change the constitution? Not everyone in your party believes that there should be a change.
ARTHUR SINODINOS: Oh, I think for a long time – certainly from the time of the Howard government onwards – there have been these moves to better recognise the role of our Indigenous people in our constitution, as part of the reconciliation process. It’s true to say Indigenous people remain the most – on the whole – the most disadvantaged group in our community. And there’s a whole series of complex reasons for that. And over the years we have tried all sorts of ways to remedy that and there’s still more to be done. But we mustn’t underestimate the power that comes from having proper recognition in our constitution.
DAVID LIPSON: Should it go further? I mean, there are some calls from Uluru for a treaty?
ARTHUR SINODINOS: But the point is this, whatever comes out of it is: we have got to be able to have something that can unify Australians and bring Australians together. It can’t be a process which then gets cherry-picked by various groups in the community who have their own agendas. There must to be one agenda: how does this bring Australians together?
DAVID LIPSON: And it really need bipartisan support. I mean, do you have a preference, Anthony Albanese, in terms of the change to the constitution and whether there should be more a treaty or an Aboriginal body that advises government policy-makers?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I think in part our responsibility as policy makers is to listen to those people directly affected. It is unfinished business. But I’m very hopeful that, just as after the national apology it was a unifying event – it was my proudest moment that I have experienced in the national Parliament – the constitutional recognition will be an important step forward.
DAVID LIPSON: I want to get on to the politics of this week. We saw the Labor caucus lock in opposition to the Government’s plans for a Gonski 2.0, as Malcolm Turnbull described it. This is what Bill Shorten told the caucus:
BILL SHORTEN, OPPOSITION LEADER: We’re going to have this argument. We need you to help us win this argument. We can win this argument. If the Government want a fight on education and who’s fair dinkum, excellent! Excellent, excellent, excellent.
DAVID LIPSON: He’s clearly relishing the prospect of a fight on education. Anthony Albanese, why block $19 billion in additional funding, just because you want another $22 billion on top of that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: There are 22.3 billion reasons why we’re opposed to what the Government has put forward.
DAVID LIPSON: But why block the first $19 billion they’re proposing?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Our position is that we created the Gonski process. It came out with needs-based funding. It’s good that the Government’s adopted the rhetoric, but they haven’t adopted the substance. And the fact is that, when you have circumstances whereby some of the most disadvantaged schools in Australia – particularly if you have a look at the impact on the Northern Territory, for example – are going to not receive the funding that they need, then this is an inadequate package.
DAVID LIPSON: But the point is: why not accept the $19 billion, as Craig Emerson himself suggested; and then promise to do more than the Coalition? Then promise to go that $22 billion further?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The fact is, of course, that appropriations are made in appropriations bills. The fact is that this package is inadequate; that the Government has adopted the rhetoric but not the substance. And that is our concern. This is an opportunity to get it right for a generation; to stop the divisive debate that’s been going on for many years between whether you should be funding government schools or non-government schools: to move to needs-based funding. But to do that you need the resources to do it. This Government hasn’t been prepared to do that.
DAVID LIPSON: Anth – Arthur Sinodinos, excuse me.
ARTHUR SINODINOS: Some people do call me Anthony.
DAVID LIPSON: Apologies.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Only our mothers can tell us apart.
DAVID LIPSON: The Greens are also moving away from this, it seems. Is there a chance this is going to be blocked in the Senate? Can you get this through?
ARTHUR SINODINOS: Can I come back a step? What’s been good from the Coalition’s point of view in this debate is that we have put a strong position on the table. It involves significant additional funding. It’s gone back to the original Gonski formula, if you like: from the 2011 report that Anthony referred to. It’s a formula, I think, easy for people out there to understand. It’s on a needs basis. And we can demonstrate through the school estimator around the country how many schools are going to do better than this and the circumstances in which some schools lose out, because of special deals that were done over a very long period of time. What Simon Birmingham has done is to clean it all up and put things on a principled basis. And that’s, as you say, $18.7 billion more funding.
Labor can promise more if they want and they can explain how they’re going to pay for that. But for us, it’s a very easy equation, I believe, to sell out there. And I believe most Australians will say, “Well, good on them for getting on, making a decision, putting the money on the table.” And we’re linking that with reform. It’s important to understand: Gonski 2.0 is not just about the money. It’s about a process of consultation, a series of experts with Gonski, out there in the community, trying to find out what is the best way to improve the quality of education. We make the best use of the money. The two are linked.
DAVID LIPSON: Anthony Albanese, you made the case last week for a different narrative on the budget. A lot has been made of your comments, particularly coming off the back of your criticism of that Labor Party ad that was pulled. You said Labor should accept the victories that it’s had in the budget. Now, can you explain for us what you meant in that speech? Because a lot has been read into that, as you know, in terms of your leadership ambitions.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, this has – a lot of the analysis has been examining a distinction without a difference. There’s very little difference between what I said and what Bill Shorten did.
DAVID LIPSON: What is that difference?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, what I said was that the Government, in terms of its rhetoric, has adopted a range of positions that are consistent with Labor’s position. So, for example, they’ve said – and I have said this since Malcolm Turnbull became the Prime Minister – he’s gone out there and said, “I support public transport. I support the Commonwealth having a role in our cities.” What I say is: that’s a good thing.
The problem is that he’s not putting new investment into public transport. The gap between the Government’s rhetoric and what they’re actually doing is vast. And we need to – you can acknowledge that the rhetoric’s changed, compared with – that’s a good example between Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott. Tony Abbott said no funding for public transport, no engagement cities…
DAVID LIPSON: But you were much broader than that in your comments. You said that it was an overwhelming victory: the Government’s capitulation on a range of matters, including Gonski, health…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, I think you’re completely…
DAVID LIPSON: Well, the words were…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I don’t know if you read the speech.
DAVID LIPSON: I have read the speech. The quote was “an overwhelming victory”: the Budget should be seen as “an overwhelming victory”; whereas Bill Shorten had said this budget has nothing to do with Labor?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that this a political party that has, for generations, tried to oppose – they wrecked Medibank when Malcolm Fraser became prime minister. John Howard, in his first…
ARTHUR SINODINOS: Embraced it.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: He did not. He said he would tear it apart, and then undermined it under Tony Abbott. Now, Malcolm Turnbull says that he supports Medicare. It’s good that he says he supports Medicare. It’s a pity that they’re maintaining the freeze on Medicare co-payments for another two years.
If you look at the substance of what they’re actually doing in this budget – whether it’s health, whether it’s education, whether it’s infrastructure, whether it’s the National Broadband Network, where they’ve moved from saying the National Broadband Network…
DAVID LIPSON: But you don’t – sorry to interrupt, but you don’t accept the criticism from some of your colleagues. One of your senior colleagues told me this week that you’re not only damaging your own chances, but you’re damaging Bill Shorten and Labor’s chances?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Not at all.
DAVID LIPSON: You don’t accept that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Not at all. The fact is that I’m a team player. I’ve been out there arguing this case. I’ve been saying, about the cities and infrastructure policy and other policy, the same positions for a long, long period of time.
DAVID LIPSON: Arthur Sinodinos: on your side, considering the big…
ARTHUR SINODINOS: I’m happy to talk about Albo and Bill…
DAVID LIPSON: Considering the large ideological leap that this budget took, Tony Abbott’s been fairly quiet. Do you welcome that? You know, do you think there’s been a change in sentiment there? What’s going on?
ARTHUR SINODINOS: Look, I think Tony, like the rest of us in the Coalition, believe that there was no point after the last election continuing with a series of policies which clearly were not going to be passed by the Senate. So the point was to have a reset. So this budget is that reset. It was pragmatic.
The Prime Minister made it clear after the last election the overriding priority was to be able to get budget repair done. So that meant not only considering spending measures, but potentially revenue measures; and to have a clear path back to a surplus by about 2021, which was consistent with where we had earlier projected we had wanted to be.
So is that being pragmatic? Yes. Is it being sensible? Yes. In this game it’s better to get 60 or 70 per cent, 80 per cent of something than 100 per cent of nothing. And that’s the choice that we faced.
Can I say on these all issues about leadership: the reason there’s been commentary about this, between what Albo has been saying and what Bill has been saying, is because Bill has clearly gone out there, stung by the fact that we appear to have moved more back towards the centre from the right. But we’re coming at the centre from the right. We haven’t gone over to the left.
The point is: he’s been stung by that and he is now going further out in order to differentiate further. That’s the point he’s made – and he’s making, I think, a big mistake. He peaked at the last election. If he is still leader by the next election, he could well face the fate of the Beazleys and others of the world, where you often find opposition leaders do their best at their first election and then, after a while, as people get more and more used to having them around, they start to get a bit shop-soiled
In his case, he’s never led Malcolm Turnbull as preferred prime minister. Clearly the party vote has been different, but it’s pretty clear to us: the Australian people do not have much affection or, indeed, respect for Bill Shorten as the alternative leader.
DAVID LIPSON: We’re almost out of time. I will give you 30 seconds to respond to that.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, what Arthur just said: the most significant thing of what he just said was when he spoke about the policy issues and said that: “We have moved away for pragmatic reasons.” That’s the point that I make: it’s in their DNA that they don’t actually believe in Medicare; never have. They don’t actually believe in needs-based education funding. They’ve adopted some of the rhetoric for pragmatic reasons, but in their core DNA they stand for unfairness. And that’s why this budget gives a cut to people who are millionaires: get a cut of $16,000 in their income tax; but those people on $21,000 or above have to pay more income tax. And that’s the big distinction that we will continue to drive home.
The fact is: the Labor Party is a united party under Bill Shorten’s leadership. We’re all doing the job that we have been given to the best of our capacity. And I’ll continue to do just that.
DAVID LIPSON: We’re out of time. Gentlemen, thanks for joining us on Lateline.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thank you.
ARTHUR SINODINOS: Thank you.