Doorstop interview, Canberra
Ken Boston’s endorsement of the Turnbull Government’s needs-based schools funding plan; Finkel Review; Jail sentences for terrorists

Simon Birmingham:                  Great news this morning to see that Dr Ken Boston, another member of the Gonski panel, has endorsed the Coalition Government’s schools funding reform package. This is strong endorsement because it stands alongside that of David Gonski; coming from Dr Boston, a former head of government school systems in New South Wales and South Australia, urging the Parliament to pass these reforms. 

And why have David Gonski, Ken Boston, the Grattan Institute and many others endorsed this model? They’ve done so because it delivers fair, sector-blind, needs-based funding to Australian schools, because it is a truer implementation of the original Gonski report than what Labor put in place. Ken Boston has previously described Labor’s implementation of the Gonski report as a corruption of needs-based funding. Well the Coalition Government, the Turnbull Government is implementing true needs-based funding through our legislative reforms. We’re putting $18.6 billion of additional investment into Australian schools, but ensuring that it will be distributed fairly according to need. And Ken Boston’s remarks today are a clear message to the Labor Party and to the Senate crossbench that they ought to support these reforms. He’s made it transparently clear that he’s called upon the progressive sides of politics to embrace needs-based school funding as the Turnbull Government is proposing and has before the Parliament. 

Now, I urge Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek to think again, to recognise that they can support the Turnbull Government’s legislation, deliver needs-based funding for Australian schools and if they want to go to the next election promising ever more spending, then they can do that as well. In essence, Labor could have their cake and eat it too, but the Turnbull Government will work constructively – as we are – with all of the crossbench parties and with the Labor Party if they’re willing to come to the table to implement what David Gonski, Ken Boston and the rest of that panel recommended, which is needs-based funding for Australian schools which address decades of distortions and deals and instead puts in place a fair system for the future.

Journalist:                                 Minister, Senator Xenophon this morning has said with sensible compromises we can get it through – regarding the education funding. How much compromising do you think you’ll have to do to get the support of the crossbench?

Simon Birmingham:                  The Turnbull Government’s shown ourselves to be a pragmatic government, particularly since the last election where we have worked constructively with the Senate to get a range of different reforms through and of course we’ll take the same type of pragmatism to our schools reform package. I’m very pleased to see Senator Xenophon’s positive comments which demonstrate, yet again, an impartial voice in this debate that sees that the Turnbull Government’s efforts for sector-blind, needs-based funding are genuine and that they are actually being implemented in a way that truly delivers on the spirit of the Gonski report and the recommendations of the Gonski report. And I hope that we will see more members of the crossbench support us in that regard, but ultimately I hope the Labor Party actually turn around their position and do what they promised for so long and actually deliver needs-based funding for Australia.

Journalist:                                 So how much more negotiating until you’ve got the numbers though? Because realistically it’s the crossbench that will help you get this through, not Labor.

Simon Birmingham:                  Well we will do what we always do which is to have our conversations with the crossbench behind closed doors, treat them with the respect that they deserve as elected members of the Senate and ultimately, hopefully secure their support.

Journalist:                                 Just on another issue: you’re a senior government minister, energy security is a big issue at the moment; Tony Abbott’s effectively saying that the Finkel recommendations are a tax on coal. What do you make of his intervention?

Simon Birmingham:                  Well I’d invite everybody to take a good long look at the Finkel report and they’ll see in those recommendations that there’s no proposal for any taxes or charges; there is a proposal for a model that creates incentives for investment in lower emissions technologies that delivers a potential pathway to address the trilemma that we face in terms of energy policy in Australia. How do we guarantee reliability, affordability, and meet the nation’s emissions reduction targets? Now, the Turnbull Government is determined that we do focus on affordability and reliability in our energy markets and that that comes at the forefront of our policies to meet future emissions reduction commitments.

This Coalition Government can be very proud of the fact that we will meet our 2020 emissions reduction targets without having had a carbon tax or a carbon price. And what we are determined to explore and deliver if possible are the policies that allow us to do so for our 2030 targets, again, without carbon taxes, but with policies that give investment certainty to drive down prices, deliver affordability, and – as a South Australian can I say – the critical point of reliability so that when you turn the switch on, you know the lights are going to come on too.

Journalist:                                 How unhelpful are Tony Abbott’s comments though? Because he’s saying things that are very much against what you’ve just explained and also what the Energy Minister is trying to reassure the public that there isn’t a tax being imposed, whereas Mr Abbott is suggesting there might be.

Simon Birmingham:                  Well I would urge every member to take a look at the Finkel recommendations, to come to understand what is being proposed there and to engage constructively in the debate to make sure that we get the type of certainty around energy policy for the long-term in Australia that can give us reliability and affordability in the future. Uncertainty will not help that. Certainty of policy for the long-term is what the Turnbull Government is working towards; we’re going through a proper process, that proper process involves – naturally as a government – consultation with our party room and that’s what will happen.

Journalist:                                 So his comments are unhelpful?

Simon Birmingham:                  Well I don’t want to particularly focus on any one member’s comments; I want to urge everybody to look at the Finkel report, to consider it and all of those its recommendations in terms of those objectives of affordability, reliability, and meeting our emissions reduction targets.

Journalist:                                 Nick Xenophon says unless something’s done about energy security that business will close and recession is inevitable; do you think he’s being a bit too dramatic?

Simon Birmingham:                  Well I think there are real challenges. And Nick Xenophon and I are both South Australian Senators, we have seen the plummeting business confidence in South Australia as a result of ad hoc state-based renewable energy targets that or course have undermined reliability, led and contributed in different ways to price spikes, to brown outs, to black outs; these are not good things in terms of running a strong economy, creating jobs and investment and opportunity. And so that is absolutely why we need to make sure that energy policy for the future focuses on reliability and affordability as well as emissions targets.

Journalist:                                 There’s calls for clean coal to be included in the target; is that something your party is going to consider?

Simon Birmingham:                  Well I think Dr Finkel has been very clear in his explanations of the policies and recommendations that he’s made, that he’s not proposing an approach that looks at one particular generational source, his proposal is for an approach that sets the types of standards and focuses on the outcomes. And the outcomes are affordability and reliability and what level of emissions reductions you need to achieve. Now, which generation sources are best-placed to deliver that is then something for the energy market to determine and that is, of course, the basis upon which he’s presented those recommendations.

Journalist:                                 And just on another matter quickly, sorry. Senior ministers –including your colleague, Greg Hunt in Cabinet – they’ve launched an attack on the Victorian judiciary. They’re claiming it was advocating lighter sentences for terrorists as part of an ideological experiment. Are those criticisms warranted?

Simon Birmingham:                  Malcolm Turnbull had a very successful meeting with state and territory leaders last week in which we took issues of state law and order policies around parole to those state leaders and made sure that in relation to terrorist offences, they will be considered in future in terms of parole determinations. And we do need to make sure that state law and order policies hold up their end of the bargain in terms of keeping Australians safe. And the Turnbull Government’s demonstrated a willingness to take those issues on with the states and territories and will continue to do where the evidence warrants.

Thank you.