Breaking Politics - 5 August 2013


Andrew Leigh
Member for Fraser


TOPICS: First full day of campaigning, Political donations, School funding

Tim Lester: Kelly O’Dwyer, Liberal MP in the Melbourne electorate of Higgins and Labor MP here in Fraser, Andrew Leigh, welcome to Breaking Politics on our first election campaign edition. Kelly, first to you, how does it feel now that we’ve got a contest on?

Kelly O’Dwyer: Well, look I think it’s terrific that Kevin Rudd has finally named a date, and no longer are the union heavies and Labor hacks going to decide who the Prime Minister is, but instead, the Australian people will get a chance on the seventh of September who it is that they want to lead the nation, which team they have trust in to better build our economy and our country and we’re going to learn that on the seventh of September. I got off to a flying start last night, Reverend Tim Costello conducted a town hall meeting with me, Anna Burke and the Greens candidate for Kooyong, for a number of electorates getting together, and we had a packed town hall meeting. So it’s been busy for day one.

TL; Ok, and Andrew Leigh, your sense, when you heard the Prime Minister was on his way to the Governor General yesterday, delighted, or not.

Andrew Leigh: I share Kelly’s enthusiasm for the political process, Tim, and I would say to any young person, in particular, who’s not on the rolls, you’ve now got that seven-day window to sign up, and it’s so important that everyone has their say. This is an election which is about big choices for Australia, we’ve just seen Victoria sign up to the Better Schools Plan, so now four out of five Australian kids are signed on to that. Western Australia’s signed on to DisabilityCare so that now covers almost all of Australia and we’re seeing big reforms through the National Broadband Network, and through historic investments in roads and infrastructure going out across Australia, so it’s a big election, big choices for Australia.

Tim Lester: Not just sign up to get ready to vote, but the pressure is on from both parties to chip in, put your hand in your pocket and help fund the campaigns. How do you feel about that tendency in Australian politics, Kelly O’Dwyer, that the major parties are saying ‘help us buy our advertising and tell you how to vote?

Kelly O’Dwyer: Well look, democracy’s an expensive business, and we don’t have the union movement, or the industry superannuation funds to help contribute to our campaign, they contribute exclusively to the Labor Party, to the tune of multi millions of dollars so we do have to ask ordinary Australians to put their hand in their pocket, and happily for us, many of them do, not only in terms of putting their hands in their pockets but many of them also volunteer their time and we are very very grateful for that. They do it because they know it’s important for Australia, that we need to change direction dramatically, that this government, that it bleeding three billion dollars a week in only ten weeks since they last delivered the budget is making sure that Australia is totally trended in the wrong direction. That needs to change and that it what Australian will decide on the seventh of September.

Tim Lester: Now the implication I what you just said there is that the Liberal Party doesn’t do nearly as well from donors as the Australian Labor Party, yet that’s counter to Kevin Rudd’s message yesterday of near poverty against the Liberal Party, you need to help us otherwise… if you want us to win, what’s the truth as you see it, Andrew Leigh?

Andrew Leigh: Certainly Tim we know that the Coalition is being supported by tobacco companies, we haven’t taken their donations for nearly ten years now, a period in which the Coalition has taken $2 million from tobacco companies. I think that might be part of the reason that Mr Abbott mentioned the increase in tobacco excise in kicking off yesterday. We also know that big mining companies whose taxes Mr Abbott has also promised to reduce are disproportionately donors to the coalition, as are a big polluters, also a group that Mr Abbott has promised to cut their taxes. So there are these big vested interests in politics, but certainly I agree with Kelly that the lifeblood of politics is the people that help you out in the street. I’m very grateful to the volunteers who have spent many months working with me in our doorknocking, letterboxing, telephoning campaigns and will be out on the streets of north Canberra in the coming weeks with me.

Tim Lester: Kelly O’Dwyer, how much do vested interests, big vested interests have a say in the decision-making of the Liberal Party because they donate, the implication that Andrew was just making.

Kelly O’Dwyer: Well maybe Andrew’s talking from ALP experience because of cause the union movement has an incredibly big say in how the ALP operates, and the decisions that the Prime Minister ultimately makes. They have such a big say that saw them tear down one Prime Minister, and reinstall another. This is the truth of the Labor Party and how they operate, the union movement have got votes in pre-selection campaigns, they contribute money to those campaigns so they have an incredibly big say and we’ve seen quite a lot of union-sponsored legislation passed through the Parliament. But I think it’s also interesting to note that if you want to talk about where the ALP gets its money, it certainly gets its money from the Health Services Union, where we have seen huge scandals, not only in connection with a current sitting Labor Member of Parliament, but also with a number of leaders of the labour movement, people who have been president of the Labor Party only in the last couple of years so I think it is quite a strange accusation from Andrew Leigh, and all I would say to him is that you probably ought to look at the history of the Labor Party and the union movement and the grubby deals that have been done and you need to look no further than New South Wales Labor to know that it is a complete rat-infested nest.

Tim Lester: Just before we leave you on this issue, though Kelly O’Dwyer, specifically on the question of tobacco and its potential influence in Liberal Party policymaking, what do you say?

Kelly O’Dwyer: Well they have no influence in Liberal party policymaking, and to make that kind of accusation, and allegation is just dishonest.

Tim Lester: Ok, Andrew Leigh?

Andrew Leigh: Tim I’d much rather be supported by representatives of workers’ interests who are responsible for the eight-hour day, for annual leave, for a fairer, more family-friendly workplace, and for safer rates to keep our roads safer than to be receiving large amounts of money from tobacco firms, which are marketing basically the only legal product in Australia, that kills half its users if used as intended.

Tim Lester: Just to touch on policy before we leave you, the Gonski announcement re negotiations with Victoria over the weekend, Kelly O’Dwyer, what does it say that a Liberal state government has warmed to a deal with the Federal Government on education funding, has accepted the Federal Government’s formula this close to a Federal Election in spite of all the angst this might have caused federal Liberals?

Kelly O’Dwyer: Well it’s a completely different deal, I think that’s the first and most critical point to note, it’s not the Gonski deal, in fact, none of the deals that have been put to the states and territories are in fact  what Gonski recommended. Gonski recommended in his report, six point five billion dollars each and every year in new funding for schools. They have never once proposed that, so never have they been looking to implement the Gonski recommendations. They deal that they put initially to the states and territories cut three hundred million dollars of funding over four years to schools, they deal that they are now putting to states and territories is to increase some of the funding they’ve been doing special deals with each state and territory and we’ve said, well if you’re comfortable that you’re going to provide more money for schools that we would in fact sign up to that, and that’s what we’ve done.

Tim Lester: Andrew Leigh, what do you think it says that the Victorian and Federal Governments have managed a deal, right at the eleventh hour before we go into the election campaign caretaker period?

Andrew Leigh: I think It’s terrific that the Victorians have come on board with this Tim, we know the old school funding model is broken, everyone except Mr Abbott I think, understands that, and we’ve now managed to strike a deal that covers about eighty per cent of Australian kids, signing up five of the eight Australian jurisdictions, the independent sector and the Catholic sector, because I think people recognise that it’s time to have a funding model which is based on the needs of the students, which provides more money to remote, Indigenous and disadvantaged kids, and make sure that every Australian school can be a great school. But yet Mr Abbott has described this as a con, the same term he used to describe climate change. I just think it’s time he brought out an education policy maybe at the time he brought out a health policy, and was very clear about whether or not he was willing to put in this funding, and if so, how he’ll make the target saving to do it - because government is about choices.

Tim Lester: But he has brought out an education policy to the extent that he has accepted your funding levels, hasn’t he? I mean surely you welcome that?

Andrew Leigh: If Mr Abbott was signing onto the better schools plan rather than calling it a con, Tim, I’d be delighted to accept that, but it’s very unclear where Mr Abbott and Mr Pyne stand on this. They’ve spent the last couple of years trashing the school funding deal, standing by the old, broken funding system, which contains old grandfathering clauses from more than a decade ago and really not recognising that in making sure our school systems are run best in the world is the most important productivity measure we can put in place.

Tim Lester: Kelly O’Dwyer to close, perhaps you might tell us how you feel about what appears from the surface, at least, was quite a sharp about-face from Mr Abbott on education funding to accept Labor’s formula, at least in terms of funding, lock, stock and barrel.

Kelly O’Dwyer: First let me say, you did sound rather negative there Andrew, and I’d hate to think that you’re playing the politics of negativity there, but let me respond to the question that Tim just put, do we need to provide a solid stable funding level for schools to ensure that they can plan in security in the knowledge as to the funds that they have year on year, the answer to that of course is yes. The latest funding iteration that has been put by the government is very, very different to the first iteration and I think that Andrew should be very upfront about and be clear that this is very different to the first plan that was put to Australian schools, very different to the plan that was first put to the independent school sector, the Catholic school sector and the state school sector as well. That is why we have said we are comfortable with what has now put and we will provide the security that schools need to plan with confidence.

Tim Lester: Kelly O’Dwyer in Melbourne, Andrew Leigh here in Canberra, I look forward to discussions throughout the campaign.

Andrew Leigh: May it all be positive, Tim.

Kelly O’Dwyer: Terrific.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.