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Transcript: Christine Milne and Cate Faehrmann joint press conference

Christine Milne 28 Mar 2013

Subjects: Gonski, asylum seekers, carbon price, Tony Abbott, ACT

CHRISTINE MILNE: The whole nation has been talking about the chaos in federal parliament last week, and rightly people have been shaking their heads and saying what on earth do they think they were doing. But that rapidly lead to a conversation about, 'let's get to an early election' and gave Tony Abbott a huge leg up by making the focus of budget week essentially a no-confidence motion. But I'd urge people before they get enthusiastic about an early election to think what it means to so many schoolchildren, their parents, teachers, education communities around the country. We have an opportunity now, between now and the federal election, to actively implement a fair funding model for Australia schools. This is something people have been campaigning for for a very long time. It's what Labor said it would do in 2007 and it is appalling that Julia Gillard has left this critical issue of education reform until the last gasp of this government. Nevertheless we have got an opportunity to do it. We need to make sure that state governments don't now mess around with Tony Abbott and frustrate the process so that we go into an election without fair funding. For too long Australia's most disadvantaged schools have been missing out. We've got students with disabilities, we've got students who desperately need more money out there and we are holding them to ransom if we do not put money into education right now. Already some of the state governments are staying well we'll just go through the motions and we'll talk to Tony Abbott. Well Tony Abbott has said he will not implement a fair funding model. He says he will stick with what we have got which is grossly unfair, unfair to the overwhelming majority of Australian school students and particularly to students in disadvantaged schools.

So I'm calling on Barry O'Farrell to show some leadership here. He's already cut education funding in New South Wales, then turns round and says he wants more money on the table from the federal government. Well stop playing games Barry O'Farrell, the school students of New South Wales and right across the country deserve better. We cannot have education funding made an at-risk proposition of the election. We need to legislate it and then we need to throw down the gauntlet to Tony Abbott and say we have put in a fair funding model and now are you serious about repealing it?

CATE FAEHRMANN: So here in New South Wales, where we have some of the poorest public schools, and what we've seen by the O'Farrell Government is a cut of $1.7 billion to the education budget over four years. And then what we are seeing now is political posturing by the O'Farrell Government, by the Education Minister Adrian Piccoli over Gonski. What we desperately need this election year is to see the state government working with the federal government to get this right, to implement Gonski before the federal election, no more political posturing. We know that New South Wales public schools are doing it tough, they cannot afford budget cuts, it's ironic that on one hand we have got the O'Farrell Government cutting $1.7 billion to the Education Department and then looking for Gonski to top that up. What we need is a commitment by both levels of government for a world-class education system, that's what Gonski can deliver if we stop political posturing, if both levels of government commit to this this election year.

CHRISTINE MILNE: Global competitiveness also means not only investing heavily in education and research, particularly, we also have to be investing in the transition to the low-carbon economy. Today we've had a report from RepuTex saying quite clearly that the Coalition are going to stop renewable energy in its tracks if they try to get rid of emissions trading. They will drop the price to the point where we will see wind energy completely stuffed. We need a commitment from Greg Hunt and from Tony Abbott that they will stick with the 41,000 gigawatt hour target that is in the renewable energy target. Let's just stop all this messing around saying they commit to 20 per cent - do you support 41,000 gigawat hours and when will the O'Farrell Government reject these ridiculous guidelines that they are proposing to try and stop the roll out of wind in New South Wales. Wind is one of the best ways we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in this state, particularly as the coal-fired generators are the main source of emissions in New South Wales. So why would Barry O'Farrell follow his Victorian counterparts and destroy the renewable energy industry which brings jobs, which brings reduced emissions and which brings a whole lot of energy and new innovation into rural communities.

JOURNALIST: Coming back to Gonski, any agreement struck now have any worth given that we are heading towards a federal election and all things are up in the air?

CHRISTINE MILNE: An agreement on Gonski is critical, an agreement to get a fair funding model for Australian schools is not only necessary but it's achievable. It just means that at the COAG meeting where the state governments get together with the federal government they need to go there with a willingness to get an outcome because we have got time to legislate it before a federal election. That's the key thing, we have got time but it will require co-operation from the state governments and a commitment to increasing education funding. Nothing is more critical to the success of Australian children and young people in this century than investing in education.

And if Barry O'Farrell won't put up the money and if the other state premiers muck around in the hope that they can delay this, not get it legislated and maintain an unfair funding model then they are stealing from the future potent and capability of Australia's next generation. That is a complete disgrace.

JOURNALIST: We haven't heard though, from the federal government have we, what they're prepared to commit, I mean the states are saying they're going to go into this is kind of like the blind leading the blind.

CHRISTINE MILNE: The states are playing political games, they know full well what the federal government wants, this has been on the table for some time. The federal government has said they want a 3% indexation from states and all we've seen from Barry O'Farrell is cutting education funding and the hope that the federal government will come in and top up what already exists. This has to be a commitment of lifting education funding at both the state and federal level because Australia has fallen behind in OECD rankings on education and we are falling behind our Asian neighbours. There are at least three Asian countries now with higher education performance than Australia. We will fall behind in this century where education is the basis of success if we don't fund it and that is where the real challenge is to Barry Farrell and indeed the Prime Minister. We need this to be legislated before the election. It would be a disaster if it turned out to just be an at-risk proposition. By that I mean it would be a disaster is the Prime Minister were simply to say if you vote for us you get education reform, if you vote for somebody else, you won't. That is selling out the future of a whole generation. We can't afford that, we can't afford politics either. We need this implemented and the Greens stand ready at the state and federal level to work together to make sure we finally get a fair funding model for Australia's children and give Australian teachers and education communities the resources they need to get the outcomes that will position this nation to be competitive in the Asian century.

JOURNALIST: The state government has previously said that more money doesn't necessarily mean education will improve, what do you say to that?

CHRISTINE MILNE: There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that less funding gets you better educational outcomes. There are certainly ways in which you can improve educational outcomes but fundamental to them is resourcing. You can't get away from that whichever way you look at it. You need to pour money into education and make sure you get the outcomes at the same time.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you what's your message to small-L liberal voters who are disillusioned with Abbott?

CHRISTINE MILNE: The Greens are critical at this federal election. We need to maintain a strong voice in the Senate, a voice that people can trust because we do stand-up for caring for people and the environment. People recognise that Tony Abbott is dangerous, he's dangerous when it comes to moving to a low-carbon economy, he's dangerous when it comes to massive public service cuts, up to 20,000 people are going to lose their jobs in the public service if he becomes Prime Minister. Not only that, he wants to maintain an unfair funding model for schools. The Greens however will stand up strongly in the Senate and in the seat of Melbourne and if we can win other Lower House seats, the same, we will stand up strongly to say we will not repeal the things that place Australia on the front foot in this century. One of those would be a fair funding model and the other is the whole clean energy package.

JOURNALIST: And what do you think your chances are of securing a Greens Senate seat in the ACT? With the infighting?

CHRISTINE MILNE: The infighting in the Liberals by preselecting Zed Seselja, who is to the extreme right of the Liberal Party and who's campaign on rates in the ACT has been shown to be so bereft in terms of any honesty or transparency, I think that positions the Greens really well. And put on top of that, that Zed Seselja will be trying to defend a cut of 20,000 public servants in the ACT, the home of the public service, and he'll also be having to explain why he supports Tony Abbott moving the CSIRO to Karratha or somewhere, why he supports sending the rest of whoever is left in the public service north of the tropic of Capricorn, I think for the first time, you're going to see people in the ACT saying well actually we can't support the Liberal Party and that's where Simon Sheikh, who's an outstanding candidate for the Greens, has a really good chance.

JOURNALIST: There's criticism today from the Opposition about some health treatments, some medical treatments being offered to asylum seekers, do you think this criticism is fair?

CHRISTINE MILNE: What we are seeing from both Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard is that utter and complete race to the bottom when it comes to the treatment of people seeking asylum in our country. For goodness sake why isn't the Coalition standing up for the rights of someone who has been put into permanent detention, who has not known why she is being held in detention, no right of appeal, and she is stuck there indefinitely and her children are being brought up in detention and she has no right to know from ASIO why she is there. Surely this debate needs to be about treating people fairly. Giving them some hope in this country because that's what they are asking for, to be treated decently and to be given some hope of a new future. People are desperate, deterrence hasn't worked and that's because you can never make things worse than the awful situations people are running away from. What we're saying is to Julia Gillard stop bringing in Labor Party temporary protection visas which is effectively what she's doing by flagging the idea that she will put people into the community but not allow them to work and not allow them to access healthcare. And with Tony Abbott, again, stop dragging this debate to the point where Australia is showing such a cruel side of itself to the international community at a time when we ought to be showing some leadership in the region and going out and actually taking the humanitarian intake we said we would take and have not yet lived up to.

JOURNALIST: Scott Morrison this morning was not revealing details or costings on their return back boats policy when asked by the ABC, do you think those, if they are going to consider supporting such a policy, that they should at least know details of it?

CHRISTINE MILNE: The Coalition are able to just stand there at the moment because the Labor Party has been in such complete and utter disarray and collapse that it is allowing the Liberals to get away with being a very small focus. What needs to happen now, we've got several months until the election, Tony Abbott needs to come out and start spelling out his policies. He is saying that he will not support fixing the mining tax, in fact he wants to get rid of the mining tax, he wants to make sure that Gina Rinehart and others don't have to pay their fair share of tax, instead of that he's prepared to take the money out of the pockets of single parents, he won't support an increase in Newstart, they've got a $70 billion hole in their budget allocation and now they're saying they're going to repeal carbon pricing as well, but they're not going to change the tax-free threshold. So the question to Tony Abbott is where is the money coming from? You cannot hide any longer. You can't run away from every serious TV program that there is, you must come out and Scott Morrison had better come out and say where is the money coming from for their policies? That's where the debate needs to move and particularly on education. We need it spelt out now. The Coalition wants to maintain an unfair system, the Greens want to make sure we get fair funding before the election, that's why we have got a Parliamentary Budget Office, the Coalition - go and release your policies and release the costings and then we can have the debate.



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