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"The Australian people can see straight through that." Sky News Transcript




SUNDAY, 28 MAY 2017

SUBJECTS: Gonski Funding; Uluru talks; Adani coal mine

JIM MIDDLETON: Lisa Singh, good to have you with us this afternoon. Now, here is the thing. Labor fought for years and years - right back to the days of Gough Whitlam - for needs-based funding for schools. The Government has accepted that principle. Secondly, the Labor Party wanted to use Medicare, the Medicare levy, to fund the NDIS. Why is it that as Paul Keating and Anthony Albanese have been suggesting Labor's not shouting from the rooftops that this budget was a Labor victory?

SENATOR LISA SINGH, LABOR SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: Well Jim, the government has been dragged kicking and screaming to be honest to actually now commit to needs-based funding for schools, but it has done it half-baked. And that's the problem with this budget overall. You know, kind of used Labor's words of "fairness" - it's tried to even steal some of Labor's policy ideas like needs-based school funding, dropping the Medicare freeze, but then it hasn't actually funded those things properly at all. And on schools funding, when you've got a policy that is $22 billion short and when you have a government that originally had a “unity ticket” with Labor - to fund completely the Gonski needs-based school funding - to now walk away from that is simply irresponsible and something that Labor cannot support. Now of course we always, always will stand-up for those who need proper funding for their services and that's why we will not support a policy, a proposal by this government in this budget that rips millions, billions indeed out of schools. Indeed in my home state in Tasmania which has some of the most challenging educational outcomes, as does the Northern Territory, we stand to lose tens of millions of dollars. Why should a school in Geelong say, Geelong Grammar, a private school, not have any funding cut, but a local public school down the road have their funding cut? That's just not good enough, and that's why Labor stands very much for the original bipartisan proposal that once the Liberals agreed to, of proper needs-based funding for schools. And that is by not ripping $22 billion dollars out of the system.

MIDDLETON: Now, one of the recommendations of David Gonski that was not accepted by the Gillard Government, or by Kevin Rudd in his brief return as Prime Minister, or by this government, was the establishment of an independent body to judge funding for various schools. Wouldn't it take the argument out of this debate if that were to be agreed? Should Labor support an independent body, or should not Labor, if it's being true to Gonski, agree to and support an independent body to judge a level of fees and the level of funding for schools across the nation?

SINGH: Well Jim, we wouldn't need to be talking about whether to or not to fund another body, an independent body to look at independent funding, if we had a budget brought down that actually properly funded schools in the country. I mean that's the fundamental problem here. We have a budget that's been brought down that rips $22 billion dollars out of our school system and that's not good enough. The Catholic education system has certainly made that clear. In Tasmania my home state we lose $84 million dollars. I think in New South Wales it's some $800 million. It goes on and on across the country about the millions and millions of dollars that the government wants to rip out. And we all know why. It's all because it wants to continue to give tax cuts, some $65 billion now we find out, to the big end of town. Now why should school students, the next generation, why should they have to suffer because this government has got an ideological obsession to give, you know, make the rich richer and give these tax cuts to big companies, big corporations? It's just not something that Labor will support. We want to see our school system funded properly, we want to see the proper delivery of the Gonski needs-based school funding model, and that means ensuring that every school, every child in every school, has that opportunity to succeed, and they can only do that with a properly funded Gonski model.

MIDDLETON: So, in short you don't agree with Anthony Albanese that this was an overwhelming victory for Labor principles?

SINGH: I think there was a victory in this budget for Labor principles but we only have to dig beneath the surface to realize that the government has used Labor words like 'fairness', it's tried to even put in place policies such as needs-based school funding, which is Labor's, it's tried to get rid of the Medicare freeze, which again is Labor's position, but you only have to dig beneath the surface of some of those policy ideas to realize that they actually haven't done what Labor set out to achieve. The Medicare freeze is still there, now we know until about 2020, we're still going to have the Medicare freeze, they're not getting rid of it straight away. Needs based school funding, it's not properly funded. It's still $22 billion dollars short. So because of all of these issues, it's on one hand trying to take some of Labor's ideas, but on the other hand it's only half-baking them. That is the real problem with this budget. It's not full of any kind of conviction. It is coming from a government that has lost its way and it's thought, "well what are we going to deliver, we'll steal some of Labor's ideas but we'll only half-bake them". And that's not good enough and the Australian people can see straight through that.

MIDDLETON: Now turn to another very important issue; at Uluru on Friday, indigenous leaders ditched the idea of symbolic recognition in the Constitution in exchange for a First Nation voice in the Constitution. In other words, giving the indigenous community some say in law-making in the country as well as pushing for a treaty or treaties. Do you think that this can be finessed in a way which unifies rather than divides the nation?

SINGH: Well look Jim, this has been a really significant moment in Australia's history, and I think what I take away coming out of the Uluru meeting is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want their voices heard. Now I am really looking forward to obviously what comes forward from this now. I understand the referendum council will hand down a report to both the government and Labor at the end of next month, with a number of recommendations in that. So there's a lot for us to consider and reflect on. Reflect on in relation to ensuring that we move forward in recognition, in reconciliation, and also for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have a voice in our democracy. So I will be looking forward to seeing what comes forth in the coming month on that, but I think it's been a really significant process. It's a process of course that's been going on now for a number of months right across the country, and there's been a number of submissions made, thousands in fact, so this has been, I think in itself a very galvanizing moment for the country and it's given us as politicians a lot to consider, a lot to reflect on, about what is the way forward to unite us, and to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples voices are heard into the future.

MIDDLETON: Finally, the Adani mine in Queensland, you've been very critical of the process leading up to whether or not there will be government assistance as far as getting that off the ground. The Palaszczuk Government in Queensland has finally agreed that yes if the mine does go ahead the company will pay royalties from the first date but they may be delayed for some time before they actually are required to pay them. It sort of sounds like the royalties you're having when you're not having royalties. Is that good enough in your view, to have a kind of a royalties holiday with them only being required to pay the full freight down the track?

SINGH: Well I think they are matters really for Queensland Labor, for the Queensland Labor Government. But I think Queensland Labor have been very consistent throughout this whole process, and that's really important. It's important for them going forward, but look for me I've made it fairly clear for a long time now, Jim, that I do not support this big new coal mine starting up in Australia. Instead I would prefer to see Adani, you know, create the biggest solar plant in Australia, just like it has done, in fact, in India. And the reason is this mine does not stack up environmentally, or economically, and all of Australia's banks know that. On the environment level we're talking about starting the biggest coal mine in Australia at a time when we should be focusing our efforts on the effects of climate change, on the effects that this will have on the Great Barrier Reef and our environment. So I cannot understand why our Federal government would want to give a billion dollar loan to a billionaire to build a rail lane from the mine to the port instead of actually supporting regional parts of country, agriculture and the like, that I am sure would prefer a billion dollar loan for them, and we only have to look, Jim, at what is going on globally in relation to coal exports - India itself, a country where this company wants to export its coal has said it is phasing out of importing thermal coal in the next two years, it has made the massive commitment to renewable energy with a commitment of 350 gigawatts of solar in the next few years. That's the commitment that India has made. It is a commitment of renewable energy, not a commitment to ongoing pollution and I think if the Turnbull government was serious about supporting India, lifting India out of poverty, providing it with energy security it would support its efforts in expanding its renewable energy sector rather than giving a billion dollar loan to this billionaire company to build the biggest coal mine in Australia, that ruins the environment, has devastating effects on climate change, and destroys our jewel in the crown - The Great Barrier Reef, and we only have to look at India itself, its government, and I've met a number of ministers in the Indian Government, I've had a long love and affection and connection with India. Prime Minister of India, Prime Minister Modi has described climate change as a moral issue and he's talked about the need to protect future generations and that we shouldn't be, I think he refers to it as, we should milk the earth, not kill the earth. You know I think there's a lot that the Australian Government could actually learn from that approach, that the future is definitely in renewables, it is not in building the biggest coal mine in this country. Of course, Jim, jobs are important but those jobs, those regional jobs, need to be long term sustainable jobs, and I just think that the Turnbull government's focus here is very, very misguided. I really encourage the Adani company to invest in Australia, to invest in renewables in Australia, to build the biggest solar plant in Australia, not the biggest coal mine. 

MIDDLETON: Lisa Singh, better let you get off to Canberra, Parliament. Thanks very much for your time.