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Transcript: Christine Milne press conference on Gonski

Christine Milne 15 Apr 2013



Subjects: Gonski, forest agreement

CHRISTINE MILNE: At last we have the news that the Government is moving to implement the Gonski reforms to education. This is something the Greens have been backing for a very long time, a fair funding model for education. If there's one thing that will transform disadvantage in Australia and give all children equal opportunity it is investment in education. I was horrified at the weekend when I heard the Prime Minister say that she intended to rob the universities in order to put the money into schools. It is the wrong way to go. We need to invest in education from early childhood right through the school system, into tertiary education. We had a jobs report out last week talking about the skills set that people would need for jobs of the future and one of the fundamental things in that report was that you had to educate people so that they were in a position to retrain and up- skill throughout their lives because that is the nature of work in this century.

So to imagine that you rob one part of the education system to pay for another is very bad thinking. That's why the Greens have said we need to fix the mining tax. We need to actually take the money from where it is being made and put it into the areas that are going to build the Australia we want for the future.

In terms of Gonski we want to see that legislation not only talked about but actually put through the Parliament before the federal election and we want to see the full Gonski, not a half Gonski, the full Gonski. And I say that because Gonski recommended with indexation $36 billion be spent over that six-year period. What the Government is proposing is less than half of that. So we've got transitional funding on the table, not the full Gonski. So the Greens are saying let's legislate it, get it through the Parliament, let's raise the money through the mining tax, and let's implement the full Gonski for the sake of all Australian students and communities into the future.

JOURNALIST: Will you be supporting these changes in the Parliament?

CHRISTINE MILNE: The two issues - education cuts to higher education and implementation of Gonski will be two separate sets of legislation. The Greens will be opposing the cuts to the universities, I do not believe in robbing one part of the education system to fund another, the Government can find the money through the mining tax and we are sitting there as the Greens ready and willing to fix the mining tax the minute the Government chooses to do so. In terms of Gonski, I have been calling on that to be legislated, in fact I asked that it be legislated before the end of last year, before we came into an election year because I didn't want it to be in any way jeopardised by election campaigning. The key thing is to legislate Gonski, get it right through both houses of Federal Parliament before the election and then throw down the gauntlet to Tony Abbott. Tony Abbott says he will not support a fair funding model, he says that he wants to keep the unfair funding model that we've currently got. Well if we legislate for the new model and the Greens have the balance of power in the Senate, we will block any attempt to repeal a fair funding model for schools education.

JOURNALIST: Can these changes go through before the election? Is there enough time?

CHRISTINE MILNE: One of the big problems we have is that the Senate for example only has three full sitting weeks before the election. That is an extraordinary logjam of legislation that is coming before the Federal Parliament. That's why I have been saying we needed to get it through by the end of last year. But having said that the Greens will do whatever it takes in terms sitting extra hours or extra sitting weeks in order to get Gonski through. Because I'm not prepared to have the schoolchildren of Australia held to ransom by an at-risk proposition. The worst thing that could happen is if the Prime Minister said well if you vote for one side of politics you'll get Gonski, if you vote for the other you won't. Because the opinion polls are showing very clearly that the country is moving to the conservatives, there's overwhelming support for Tony Abbott and that is a prescription for saying that schoolchildren in Australia are going to miss out for another generation. The Labor Party has known we needed to fix school funding since they came to power. Julia Gillard was the Education Minister under the Rudd Government, in 2007 they came power. They have fiddled around for years and it is an extreme frustration to me that they've left it until the last gasp of this Parliament to legislate a fair funding model.

However let's put that behind me, we need to get it through before the election but we need it to be the full Gonski. So I'm calling on the Government to not only put out the legislative timetable so that everyone has the confidence it's going to go through but actually back the Greens in fixing the mining tax to raise the money and to abandon the notion of taking it out of the universities, that is a very bad idea and even David Gonski has come out today saying he never imagined or supports taking it out of universities.

JOURNALIST: The Tasmanian Government will need to find something like $140 million to implement their share of Gonski, are you worried there could be further cuts elsewhere in the budget to help pay for that?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well one of the big concerns having left it to the last minute is that it has to go through COAG. Now COAG, the Council of Australian Governments tends to be a big black hole where things go in and rarely do they come out. So the concern here is whether the Prime Minister can negotiate through COAG in the timeframe to get this legislation agreed. She's given the state governments until 30 June but that is after both houses of Federal Parliament have risen to contest the federal election. So that's why I'm calling on the Prime Minister to put out the timeframe today as to how she is going to manage both the legislative program and the negotiation with the states, as well as where is she going to get the money.

JOURNALIST: If we are to use the mining tax as you're suggesting to fund this initiative, would it be  potential that you could raise enough money that the cost of states having to chip in may actually reduce, making it a bit more attractive to them?

CHRISTINE MILNE: I don't think there's ever going to be a time where the Federal Government isn't going to expect state governments to step up and when you look at state government funding what has happened over many years which is why there is now such a relative difference between private education funding and public education funding is that states have always had the primary responsibility for public education and the Commonwealth has funded private schools, and the states have tended to reduce their funding over time. So I don't think it's unreasonable that the Commonwealth would ask the states to step up. But having said that, we can't hold the children of Australia to ransom while there is squabbling between the state and federal governments. We need them all to recognise that the key to the future is to lift our education investment, get better outcomes for students, get well-funded education from early childhood right through to tertiary and lifelong learning because this century is about knowledge, information, service delivery, capacity-building in the region, all of that's going to mean good education outcomes and the ability for people to retrain and think about other careers in the course of their lifetime.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned for job losses and maybe potential cuts to courses as a result of these funding cuts?

CHRISTINE MILNE: I am very concerned about what will happen to universities as a result of the efficiency dividend and it will come as a big blow to them because they will have been looking at the restructuring that has gone on in recent years, working out how they can remain competitive and it is a highly competitive environment, regional universities like the University of Tasmania are critical to this State. If there is one institution which is critical to the transformation of Tasmania it is our university and I have been one of the people supporting the rollout of the campus in the north-west for example, I'm supportive of the wonderful program with the CRC and the University, the CSIRO and the Antarctic division, trying to make Hobart an even bigger scientific Antarctic research hub, trying to attract other countries like the Chinese to make it our base here -  all that depends on the University being strong and I do not want to see universities like ours anywhere else in the country now having the squeeze put on their funding in order to fund schools. It is a really appalling thing to do and I would hope that the universities stand strongly with the schools, with all the education sector stand together and say we will not tolerate a divide and rule process, we are together, we want proper funding of education and I would hope that they would all agree that now is the time to go after the miners. It's ridiculous that fossil fuel subsidies for example will constitute a greater gift to the fossil fuel industry over the forward estimates than what is being put into education reform.

JOURNALIST: Apparently Norway, their mining super profits tax has just been raised to about 78 per cent -  does Australia need to follow those sort of guidelines given that I think the mining industry over there is going pretty well at the moment?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well the Greens have advocated a sovereign wealth fund for a very a long time and we've taken Norway as one of our models. Norway recognised that they would make a lot of money out of oil and gas in the North Sea, but they recognised that that would run out. And therefore they needed to set up their economy for a future that was different. So they set up a sovereign wealth fund, they taxed those industries and now they have the money to roll out to support their education and health systems and build a whole new economy. That's precisely what the Greens have said Australia needs to do. While we have the mining boom let's actually use it to set ourselves up, to be able to support Australians, not only with education but also with health and aged care. We know they are going to be the main areas that we need to spend money on, so let's actually raise it, save it and use it in that way.

JOURNALIST: Onto other matters what do you think of Adam Scott?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Oh the golfing, well I think it's great.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe having him finally win in the US will see more people take up golf, more kids over here in Australia?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Very hard to see what the future lies in terms of the level of a role model and take-up of golf among young Australians, but it's always fantastic when an Australian breaks through into an arena that perhaps we've struggled in for a long time, we've always had people up there but we've never quite gotten across the line. It's a bit like the America's Cup, we never thought we would do it, we finally did and it lead to a massive enthusiasm around sailing. Well let's hope it's the same for golf, and in the Tasmanian context it couldn't be better because we have some pretty amazing experiences for golf here in Tasmania and if an Australian golfer was able to encourage tournaments and prominent players to our shores then that can only be good for us.

JOURNALIST: The Legislative Council resumes tomorrow, they are likely to be debating forestry, any message for them given that we are now almost in May and we still have no peace deal legislation passed?

CHRISTINE MILNE: I would strongly urge the Legislative Council to pass the forest legislation. There is a report out again today from the Australia Institute showing that there is no future in global commodity markets for native forest woodchips. That has actually been the case since the 1990s. That was message I gave the Tasmanian Parliament early in the 1990s saying we had to get out of native forest logging because the world wasn't going to buy that product anymore and unfortunately what's happened is that we have subsidised the industry for decades and that has been to the detriment of many people working in the industry and the communities in which that industry has been prominent so we need to get on with it, we need that money for regional development in Tasmania, and it's like education funding - if you're going to make a transition out of the old economy into the new economy you have to put money into education, put money into new job opportunities and that's what the regional development funds will do.

JOURNALIST: I'm pretty sure this is the last sitting week before the Upper House rises for the elections in May - do you think it would be wise to defer debate on this legislation until after those elections when there will be some new faces in the Upper House?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well I would like to see the Legislative Council get on with it now, I think Tasmanians are getting a bit frustrated with how long this has gone on, we're going into a federal election period and we need it sorted in Tasmania before the federal election so I don't support any delay because we know that if Eric Abetz and Tony Abbott are running the show in Canberra, there will be no support for a peace deal, we will be back to an uncompetitive industry and Tasmania will miss out on the regional development funding. Had the leadership changes gone differently a few weeks ago where would that have left the forest deal in Tasmania? So my view is that while we have got this bill before the Parliament we should get on with it and we should access that federal funding to help Tasmanian regions as quickly as we can.

JOURNALIST: We're hearing rumours today that Labor may support an amendment by Tony Mulder, one of the Upper House members that would see the amount of forest locked up, given that it's in two stages, first 150,000 hectares and then two years later the rest would come through with the 500,000 - is that something that would change Greens support for this deal given that it's a bit of a hit to ENGOs?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well I'm not going to comment on the detail of what may or may not be put up as an amendment or what the negotiations are going to be a Legislative Council, my absolute appeal to them is get on with it, pass it, because Tasmania needs that investment in the regions, in new jobs, and also keep an eye to the future, recognise that the economies that are most competitive in this century are the ones that have made the transition to the new jobs, the new future, the NBN offers us huge opportunities here in Tasmania as does carbon pricing, this is a whole package of a different way of thinking and I would urge them to recognise you can't hold onto the past longer than it is economically viable otherwise you leg-rope the next generation of children to that past.



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