Interview on Sky News AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert
Topics: Schools funding, Batman by-election, South Australian election; Labor’s changes to imputation

Kieran Gilbert: Let’s turn our attention to politics now, and it was a big weekend, of course, the South Australian election, also the Batman by-election. Now, this morning The Australian reports that Bill Shorten spoke to the Catholic Education Office in Melbourne and thanked them for their support on Saturday night. Now, the Catholic school system sent out letters to some 5000 families, warning about the impact of the Coalition’s policies in terms of Catholic education funding. This morning, I spoke to the Education Minister Simon Birmingham.

Simon Birmingham: Well, I think Batman is an electorate that the Labor Party have held continuously since 1936, for more than 80 years, and it’s no great surprise that a Labor MP was re-elected there. I’d go on to make the point that the Government didn’t contest that by-election. It would have been a waste of our time and resources to do so because it is such an entrenched Labor seat. Now, in terms of Catholic school funding, Catholic Education Victoria is receiving an extra $100 million this year, and next year there’ll be a further extra $100 million, and that will keep growing in the future …

Kieran Gilbert: But the chief executive says that Labor will provide $200 million on top of that. So, that’s why they’re running this campaign.

Simon Birmingham: So indeed. So, Bill Shorten has walked away from any commitment to needs-based school funding and for him school funding is now all about how many votes can he buy, it seems. Well, that of course is a complete abandonment of any sense of principle by Bill Shorten. It’s all just about stitching up deals, it seems, from him.

Kieran Gilbert: But it could hurt you electorally if this is any example.

Simon Birmingham: We’re in terms of Catholic education, I’ve made the point about growing funding. We’re also reviewing the socioeconomic status score calculations, which is an area they’ve had concerns about, and we will finish that review by the middle of this year. We’ll respond to that. And I’d say that across the rest of the country, Catholic education is engaging very constructively with us in relation to that review.

Kieran Gilbert: But not in Victoria. But not constructively in…

Simon Birmingham: Well, there’s always somebody who can be bought by a few pieces of silver. But ultimately, we’re going to get a solution here in terms of ensuring that we have school funding that is principled, needs-based, and built on formulas that are robust and data that is proven. That’s fair, then, to everybody, whether it’s a Catholic school, another faith-based school or a government…

Kieran Gilbert: So, you won’t be spooked by this?

Simon Birmingham: We won’t abandon our principles. We’re going to make sure that we stick by the concept of needs-based school funding. We will make sure that it works for every school community across the country in a fair way, rather than what Bill Shorten is doing. And the other point…

Kieran Gilbert: But there were 5000 families affected in that seat alone and I know there’s been a big focus on the dividend …

Simon Birmingham: And it was a Labor-Greens contest.

Kieran Gilbert: Sure, but in terms of the dividend tax issue – we’ll get to that in a moment – but on this issue if this…

Simon Birmingham: We’ll certainly get to that at the next election.

Kieran Gilbert: If this group – the Catholic Education Office in Melbourne and in Victoria – can run this across every seat, that could be devastating for an election.

Simon Birmingham: Well, Kieran, this is a bit of spin coming out of the Labor Party, clearly, because they’ve managed to beat the Greens. And now the government won a couple of by-elections at the end of last year quite convincingly. So, you didn’t see any of this in relation to the Bennelong by-election, where John Alexander and the Liberal Party had a strong win against the Labor Party. We weren’t even in this race, we chose not to stand, so I think to try to create this spin is rather disingenuous. I’d also make the point, and you just raised it then, that of course, come the next election, there’ll be a full suite of policy issues and I can assure you that every Australian will hear about the extra $8000 on average that Australians will face in taxes under a Bill Shorten-led government. We will make sure they hear those messages.

Kieran Gilbert: But that dividend tax plan that Mr Shorten has announced, that doesn’t seem to have hurt them at the weekend.

Simon Birmingham: Against the Greens, who are an even higher taxing party.

Kieran Gilbert: But who oppose this policy.

Simon Birmingham: At the – well, who knows what the Greens position was, and the Greens themselves have admitted their campaign in Batman was basically dysfunctional. But, what we will make sure is that Australians understand it’s a choice between a lower taxing alternative under Malcolm Turnbull, where there will be lower taxes on your superannuation and your savings, on your income, on your housing, on your electricity, on businesses, on investments. Ultimately, Bill Shorten has now announced tax increases across around half a dozen areas of the economy, totalling more than $200 billion extra of additional taxes he wants to collect and suck out of Australian homes and businesses and workplaces, which will mean less income for people, more expensive options in terms of the costs of living that they face.

Kieran Gilbert: But he could deliver this huge revenue boost to the budget, while also inoculating himself politically, with the report today in the Fairfax papers, industry super saying that they’ve done some numbers, which suggest if you put a cap on it of $1000 rebate, then you would inoculate hundreds of thousands of pensioners.

Simon Birmingham: If Bill Shorten wants to go to the next election, promising to raise more than $200 billion of extra taxes across Australian households and businesses, and then spend that trying to buy off votes everywhere, go right ahead. We will be ready for that fight and we will be making sure that the Labor Party feel the pain as every household and every business across the country come to understand just how much extra tax they wold be paying under Bill Shorten and what that would mean in terms of fewer jobs, lower wages, higher costs, higher taxes; pain that would hurt every Australian household.

Kieran Gilbert: You’ve had a good result on the weekend. You were with Steven Marshall, the incoming Premier. After 16 years in the wilderness, it must feel good as a South Australian Liberal to have won that at the state level. What are the implications in terms of energy policy? Do you feel that the government will now secure the National Energy Guarantee as put forward by your colleague Josh Frydenberg?

Simon Birmingham: An outstanding result in South Australia and congratulations to Steven Marshall and the state team. It’s only the third time in about the last 25 years that a state opposition has won government from opposition whilst their party has been in power here in Canberra. So, it demonstrates, indeed, that the Liberal Party is winning campaigns on the ground out there around Australia. It also was a campaign centred with the Liberal Party running hard on lower taxes and lower costs. So, areas that are analogous to how we will make sure the next campaign is run in Australia at the federal level. In terms of dealing with Canberra, look, Steven Marshall will stand up for South Australia. He won’t be afraid to disagree with Canberra when he has to, but he won’t do it for political reasons like Jay Weatherill used to. He will ensure that he’s standing on policy grounds, and when it comes to energy, I’m sure that we have seen somebody like- who, in Jay Weatherill, stood against the National Energy Guarantee just to have a fight with Canberra, while Labor states in Victoria and Queensland were happy to cooperate.

Kieran Gilbert: So, it’s a done deal now?

Simon Birmingham: I’m sure Steven Marshall will cooperate. He’ll make sure that the policy stacks up. He’ll make sure that it works well in conjunction with his electricity policies to build an interconnector, but ultimately, it of course, stops having somebody around the COAG table who just plays politics with it and gives us another partner who will work constructively on the delivery of sensible energy policy.

Kieran Gilbert: The Education Minister, Simon Birmingham. I spoke to him earlier this morning.