MONDAY, 19 JUNE 2017
SUBJECT/S: School funding; Finkel Review; Adani; Gungahlin.
DAN BOURCHIER: Here to discuss federal politics is Canberra Liberal, Zed Seselja and Labor MP for Fenner, Andrew Leigh. Good morning to you both.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Morning, Dan.
ZED SESELJA, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: Good morning.
BOURCHIER: If we can just start on school funding, I want to get both of your views on these reports that One Nation is set to back the Liberals in this schools fight as the headline says this morning. We'll start with you, Senator Seselja.
SESELJA: We'll see how it goes this week. There are obviously negotiations going on with all of the minor parties with the Labor Party having indicated that they are going to vote against the reforms. So Minister Birmingham is obviously working very hard and working hard to get these changes through the Senate but I wouldn't want to predict what might happen in the Senate. I've seen the Senate in action now for a few years and I think sometimes you'd be a mug to try and predict what's going to happen from one day to another but let's wait and see.
BOURCHIER: And Mr Leigh?
LEIGH: I think Zed is certainly right about the predictability of the Senate. But in terms of the substance of the policy, we're talking about a policy which rips $22 billion out of Australian schools so the Coalition can give $65 billion to big companies. No jurisdiction is worse hit than the ACT where growth over the decade according to the Government's own numbers is 1.6 per cent. That means that schools funding in the ACT will grow more slowly than the inflation rate. So ACT schools are seeing a real funding cut under the Government's plan just so they can give more money to multinationals.
BOURCHIER: Now Andrew Leigh, specifically on the One Nation plan, what do you make of that?
LEIGH: Again I'm not a commentator on what's going on in the Senate. You've got this unusual -
BOURCHIER: You're a politician, I'm sure you'd be keen to weigh in on a significant policy debate?
LEIGH: Dan, my focus is on the policy outcomes not on being a pundit. You can see Chris Back at the moment shares those same policy concerns. He's worried about the impact on Catholic schools, you've got ACT Catholic Schools very concerned about the fact that some of these schools will be going backwards under this plan. This is a plan of cuts to schools and so we can give more to multinationals and that's not the way to build future economic prosperity in Australia.
BOURCHIER: So you've got no specific view then on the One Nation compromise plan?
LEIGH: I want to see Australian schools get more resources. Tanya Plibersek has committed that a Labor Government would see that $22 billion funding go into our schools. We place that as a high priority for Australia not just for equity terms but also for efficiency terms. If we want to lay the ground work for a strongly growing Australian economy we have got to make sure that our schools have great literacy and numeracy outcomes, you've got those specialist coaches that I've seen in local ACT schools when I've visited and all of that is at threat by the Coalition's plan to cut $22 billion out of our schools.
BOURCHIER: Senator Seselja, how do you respond to that?
SESELJA: There's no doubt that there is not a cut of $22 billion, that's not the case. It's an extra investment of $18.6 billion. Let's be clear on that, the Labor has been running this line but it is simply not true. All I can do is respond with the facts. We've had discussions about the ACT and I've made a number of representations in that and Minister Birmingham has had productive discussions on that. But in terms of the overall policy, that is simply not true. It is an extra spend of $18.6 billion over ten years.
BOURCHIER: On another topic, there has certainly been a lot of debate about the Finke Report. Senator Seselja, where do you sit on this?
SESELJA: The Government is considering its position and I'm a part of the Government so I sit with the Government on that. What we're doing is looking at what is a very substantial body of work but looking at it from the perspective of how we can achieve three very important goals and broadly in this order. We want to make sure the lights stay on, we want to make sure we have reliable energy, we want to make sure that our energy is affordable as possible so we can keep downward pressure on prices for households and for industry because it is so important for jobs that energy prices stay as low as possible and finally of course, that we meet our international obligations. The Finkel Review is a very important part of this discussion, obviously it was presented to the Coalition party room and Cabinet will be going through a process where we look at it but it is all about that, it is not about the ideology of saying we can only use this form of energy and not that form of energy. In the end, people want to see that energy is reliable, affordable and Australians expect that we will meet our commitments to reducing emissions.
BOURCHIER: It certainly appears that this is somewhat about ideology given the sorts of comments we have seen from some backbenchers within the Government?
SESELJA: I reject that. Everyone in the Coalition is coming at it from those three broad goals. Of course there is going to be debate about how you best achieve those three goals. But on the other side the Labor Party is saying we have got to rule out coal even though if you look overseas the way that many of our competitors have reduced their emissions is by building new and efficient coal fired power stations often using Australian coal. We sell it overseas, it's very efficient, it's new efficient plants and it's one way of reducing emissions. It's not the only way of course, you do it through a mix of renewables and other energy but if you get obsessed and say coal is evil and therefore we can't do anything then what you're going to lose out on is you're going to lose out on the affordability and the reliability and that's what we're seeking to avoid. I think it is an important discussion, we're treating it very seriously but we will never lose sight of those three goals.
BOURCHIER: Andrew Leigh, what do you make of that?
LEIGH: Well Dan, I thought that Zed did a nice job of setting out the principal concerns. We need to do make sure that we’re doing the emissions reduction, that we’re putting downward pressure on energy prices and we’ve got renewable energy jobs. The thing is that since the Coalition came to office, we’ve got our emissions up 5 per cent. We’ve seen wholesale electricity prices double. We’ve seen a loss of renewable jobs. The way in which we need to tackle all of those things is through some form of market-based mechanism. The measure that most of business and industry supports is an emissions intensity target, which has been ruled out by Prime Minister Turnbull under pressure from the far right wing of his party. The Finkel Review’s recommended a slightly different approach, a clean energy target, and Labor’s indicated we’re open to working with the government on that. But any idea that we ought to describe coal as clean energy isn’t a plan – it’s a scam. There’s no private sector appetite for building new coal-fired power stations in Australia. We need to be moving down the emissions curve if we’re going to ensure we don’t see hottest year after hottest year, as we’ve seen over recent times. We’ve got the Barrier Reef under threat, South Australia’s Goyder Line shifting to the south. We’ve already seen conflict in Africa, which the former UN Secretary General said was directly linked to climate change, conflicts like Darfur. So this isn’t just an environmental issue – it’s also a national security issue for Australia to act quickly and use the most efficient and effective ways of getting fewer emissions but also making sure we don’t pay too much for our power.
SESELJA: See, in response to that Dan, this is where the Labor Party is becoming so conflicted. This is why we’re seeing the conflict over the Adani mine. Bill Shorten’s taking the greens, sort of get up line on it. The Labor Government in Queensland says they actually do want to see a coal mine that exports to India. If Andrew genuinely believes that coal is so evil and such a threat to our national security, of course he wouldn’t have any of these mines. He’d close down all of these mines. Of course, we’re not going to do that but this conflict within the Labor Party between the Greens, the deep Greens within the Labor Party who want to ban all coal and those who actually see coal jobs in their electorates and coal exports around Australia is quite profound and Bill Shorten at the moment is unfortunately siding with the Greens.
BOURCHIER: Andrew Leigh, I’ll just give you a chance to respond to that, those comments at the end there.
LEIGH: Well, Bill’s been absolutely clear that he doesn’t believe that taxpayer money should be given to an Indian coal billionaire to build a coal plant. The idea that we should take a fifth of the Northern Australian Infrastructure Fund and give it to a single program isn’t good for development in the north –
SESELJA: [interjecting] It is a loan.
LEIGH: It’s a billion dollars going to a billionaire. And if you want to make the case for that Zed, you’re more than welcome to do so. But I think that’s not in the interest of Australia’s environment, not in the interests of the economic development in the north.
SESELJA: [interjecting] Queensland Labor Government thinks it is.
LEIGH: Bill Shorten’s been absolutely clear on that, that he doesn’t believe that the Adani mine ought to get Government funding and indeed Adani themselves have said that they don’t believe they need government support in order to make this worthwhile. We need to get on with it – I’ve seen those solar projects on the side of the Majura parkway, many Canberrans will have solar PV on their roofs. They’ll see immediately how those solar PV systems have put downward pressure on their power prices at the same time contributing to emission reduction. That’s the sort of solution we need to be looking for in Australia. We need to get beyond the climate wars and need to get into an environment where we’re following the advice of the scientists and the economic experts. And that’s using a market based mechanism in order to deal with the serious challenge of climate change. We’re into winter and again what the scientists say is we could well lose the ski season if climate change continues unchecked. It might just be hobby for many people, but it’s just one indicator of what’ll happen if we don’t take serious action on climate change.
BOURCHIER: My guests are Canberra Liberal Senator Zed Seselja and Labor MP for Fenner, Dr Andrew Leigh. Senator, can you give me an update on the move of our office to Gungahlin, when is that going to happen?
SESELJA: This is my electorate office? Um, yeah, that’s going ahead very soon. I think, I think we’re due to move in there in the next month or two. So obviously the opportunity to move into a growing part of Canberra is a good thing. I don’t think we’ve had a Member of Parliament with an office there, so that’s a good thing. We’re also making progress in terms of moving a small to medium agency to Gungahlin, a federal agency.
BOURCHIER: Where’s that at, because that’s been something that’s been talked about since before the last federal election?
SESELJA: Yes, indeed. So it was a promise at the last federal election and that is being progressed. I gave an update to the Gungahlin Community Council in the last few days on this and the agency has been identified, though it’s not public at the moment because there’s obviously a process to go through with that agency, to be fair to the employees in that agency. We need to go through a proper process.
BOURCHIER: So you didn’t want to tell us this morning what the agency is?
SESELJA: It will be announced in good time, but I think it’s fair to go through those internal processes first and then once that’s finalised it’ll be announced and there will be a tender process to have what would be almost certainly a new office building which would be built there in Gungahlin for these public servants.
BOURCHIER: So when, what’s the timeframe that we’re talking about?
SESELJA: What I outlined to the community council during the week was that we would expect to have that tender process going in the backend of this year.
BOURCHIER: So it won’t be, the office won’t be moved there until at least next year, the very least.
SESELJA: Well look, these things don’t happen overnight and it would be the first time we’re seeing a federal government agency in Gungahlin – I think that’s a good thing, with our town model. I fought very hard to keep DSS in Tuggeranong, to keep immigration in Belconnen and I think it’s fair that we see in Gungahlin’s growing town centre a commonwealth presence there which will really help the local economy.
BOURCHIER: Andrew Leigh, what do you make of that?
LEIGH: Well, I congratulate Zed on this. I think it’s terrific to get that additional economic development in Gungahlin. One of the things that you hear when you speak to local small business owners is that sense that business hums on the weekend, but during the week it’s challenge to keep up demand. So I think it’s important and it comes off the back of big ACT Government investment in Gungahlin, right across the town centre there. So Gungahlin’s an exciting place, it’s growing fast and I hope Zed and his team enjoy one of the great parts of the Fenner electorate.
BOURCHIER: Senator, can you give us a sense of how many people are going to move or how many will be based there out at Gungahlin?
SESELJA: If I were to give you the number, people could deduce the agency, but what we said during the election campaign is that it would a small to medium agency somewhere in the vicinity of about 300 to 600 staff. So it will be in that range.
BOURCHIER: Thanks very much.