ABC RN DRIVE
THURSDAY, 20 SEPTEMBER 2018
SUBJECTS: School funding, gender advocacy toolkit, women in politics, housing.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer. Welcome to RN Drive.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks, Patricia. Great to be with you.
KARVELAS: The federal government announced it will adopt a new funding model that uses parental tax data to calculate the school's wealth. That means wealthier schools should get funding and needier schools would get more as well. Does Labor think that's a good idea?
LEIGH: Patricia, we’re certainly open to refinements that target need. Labor's the party that's founded on the notion of fairness and equity. So if we can improve targeting, then that makes sense-
KARVELAS: So you support it?
LEIGH: But the key question here is whether or not the government intends to put the money back into public schools that it's ripped out. I mean, you remember in the 2013 election Tony Abbott went to the election with signs at polling booths saying you can vote Labor or Liberal-
KARVELAS: That's some time ago. The government has actually funded state schools, has delivered on the Gonski model.
LEIGH: No, it hasn't. No. They have ripped $14 billion out of schools and I love the way Josh Frydenberg talks about how he's capping spending and then with the next breath says that he's not cutting from schools. And the fact is their first budget cut $30 billion from schools and then they reduced it to a $22 billion cut, now to a $17 billion cut. Now they've done a special deal for Catholic and independent schools. But 2.5 million Australian kids who attend public schools are still missing out.
KARVELAS: Okay, so if Labor wins the next election will you keep this funding model or start all over again?
LEIGH: As we've said, we'll restore the funding that the government has cut out of schools-
KARVELAS: But I’m talking about this funding model, which is a pretty different funding model to the one that we have at the moment. This one is based on parental income.
LEIGH: Australian kids are always going to be better off under Labor. Labor will always focus on equity. The fine details of the funding system we'll work through. But the fact is that the government has broken their promise that schools would be as well funded under a Liberal government as under a Labor government. We have two and a half million students, five million parents, now in a situation where they're saying why aren't public schools getting a fair deal. Public schools have more kids with disabilities. They serve more Indigenous kids and more kids with special needs. And yet the funding has been ripped out of those schools, which makes it harder and harder for us to do move up on the test scores. Test scores have been slipping backwards in reading and maths and science over recent years. And as you rip money out of schools, you make it harder and harder for Australian schools to do well and for Australian kids to be ready for the technologically-driven jobs that we know are coming in the future.
KARVELAS: Your party argues that funding is a key element in school and student performance. What impact does a lack of funding certainty have?
LEIGH: I've seen in my own electorate where these schools are frustrated by their inability, for example, to hire literacy and numeracy coaches. To be able to invest in the kids who are most needy. You know, we're now in September, schools are planning for next year and to suddenly have the government chopping and changing based on pure political considerations makes it very difficult for schools to plan for the future. It’s hard for them to appoint staff who are going to be there for years and years, building up relationships with kids. 2013 is now five years ago, meaning that the child who started high school under the Liberals will now be just about finishing up and will have gone all the way through high school in this this period in which schools are being used as an ATM in order to fund giveaways to the big end of town.
KARVELAS: On another issue, you've released a tool kit developed by a PhD researcher who was working in your office. It offers advice to people lobbying parliamentarians on women's issues. Why did you do this? What does it seek to do?
LEIGH: One of the things you notice Patricia in Parliament House is that there are many deep-pocketed organisations making their case to parliamentarians. But for those who are working for community groups, such as women advocating around issues of domestic violence, often they're coming in cold and under-resourced. So Joanna Richards worked in my office, engaged with a range of parliamentarians across the political spectrum just to put together a toolkit which is a basic resource for people who want to lobby in parliament. It's available at andrewleigh.com, my website, and I hope people will be able to use it in order to maximize the impact they have and engaging with politicians, whether that's people on my side of Parliament or on the other side.
KARVELAS: So what are you hoping it will do then?
LEIGH: I think many people find Parliament incredibly daunting and if they're seeking their first meeting with the politician, they're not sure how many people they should bring along, what they should bring, how long they should they should expect to meet. This toolkit aims to demystify much of that, to emphasize the importance of building up relationships with parliamentarians, the role of advisors, the way in which you might want to have a simple one-page summary to leave behind. None of it is rocket surgery - it's demystifying the process and making parliament more porous, more accessible, particularly for women's groups lobbying on issues such as access to safe abortions, gender equity. We know that these organizations often struggle to be heard. We've had a significant debate around the role of gender in politics as it happens over recent weeks and so I think Joanna’s toolkit is a timely resource in the debate.
KARVELAS: Is the release of this toolkit meant to add fuel to the discussions around women in politics in favour of Labor? Are you trying to make women's participation in politics a partisan issue?
LEIGH: It's aiming to put fuel in the tanks of women's organizations that are lobbying on important causes, to provide them the resources that will allow them to have their have their voices heard. I really enjoy chatting with local community groups where they take the time to come into parliament, but I know that many just aren't quite sure how to navigate the process. They can't afford to pay lobbyists and so this toolkit is there as a resource for them to use to maximize the impact that they can have in parliament.
KARVELAS: If you're concerned about the issue of women in the Liberal Party, because this has been such a big issue, why not support the women who are already there? Because it seems like a hyper partisan environment at the moment, to show up the Liberal Party rather than to kind of work towards making sure that all parliamentarians are kind of able to do their best work.
LEIGH: I think it is really important that we as parliamentarians support one another, Patricia. I am involved in a range of bipartisan parliamentary friendship groups - and in fact one of these had their launch last night. Recognising that the role of the role the culture plays matters as well. But the fact is that the Liberal Party really has struggled to preselect people through its appropriate channels and the share of women in the in the Liberal party room now is lower than it was two decades ago, could fall according to a Fairfax report this week to as few as five or six after the next election. So I think the spotlight is appropriately on the Liberal Party. But you're quite right - we need as parliamentarians to make sure that the culture is appropriate and keeps up with changes in modern workplaces around Australia.
KARVELAS: Just another issue which is, certainly lots of people who are listening right now would have noticed, house prices particularly in Melbourne and Sydney have been falling and they're projected to drop by as much as 9 per cent in some areas. Does Labor need to think about changes to its policies around negative gearing, given they’re designed to lower house prices and clearly that's already happening. Could that have a pretty dangerous impact on the housing market?
LEIGH: Patricia, our aim was to change the mix of house buyers, to ensure that we're getting more first home buyers being able to beat out investors at auctions rather than the reverse, which we've seen happening over the course of the last decade. The house price to income ratio is still high by historic standards. In the early 1980s, the average house was about twice the average income. Now it's about five times the average income, even after some of the recent moderation. But it's not appropriate to have so much tax relief being given to people buying their tenth house and so little being provided to people buying their first house.
KARVELAS: Okay, but do you reassess policies as change has happened in the housing market. That's reasonable isn't it? Isn't that good policy sense - when you announced your negative gearing changes the housing situation was very different.
LEIGH: This wasn't an aim of smoothing the cycle. If you want to use an economic growth analogy, this isn't about smoothing the peaks and troughs. This is about making a long term systematic change. That's why the changes are grandfathered, Patricia. So if you're negatively gearing at the moment, you won't be affected by these changes. It'll only affect new purchases after the election. Now some people criticized us for that and they said we ought to have brought it in immediately, to which our response was we don't think that's fair and we don't think that the shock that that might have on this system is sustainable. So both the capital gains and the negative gearing changes are prospective only. We’d restrict negative gearing to new built homes, which is the way in which we do things with the First Home Owner Grant and with foreign investors. We direct them towards building new homes. Labor is just doing the same with negative gearing.
KARVELAS: Andrew Leigh, thank you so much for your time.
LEIGH: Thanks so much, Patricia.
Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.