Transcript - Sky News PM Agenda - Wednesday, 21 June 2017

SUBJECTS: Gonski 2.0; citizenship test.


DAVID SPEERS:  Let’s bring in our panel this afternoon, Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon, the Government’s Craig Laundy.  Good to see you both gentlemen, thank you for joining us this afternoon.


SPEERS:  I have done this accidentally, I think I have done this twice in a row here.

FITZGIBBON:  I do not believe that.

SPEERS:  I don’t know it is not quite maroon.

FITZGIBBON:  It is close enough.

CRAIG LAUNDY:  You sit on the fence you get splinters Speersey.

SPEERS:  We might come to State of Origin at the end. Gonski though.  This is going to come to a crunch tonight in the Senate.  It looks like you guys have got just enough votes to get this through, but gee if anyone on your own back bench wanders across the aisle you’ll be in trouble.  Do you think all Coalition senators will hold the line?

LAUNDY:  Look I expect so, I don’t actually, to be brutally honest, the Senate lives very separately from Joel and I.  The day that Joel and I can give you a sensible commentary on the Senate would be a cold day in hell wouldn’t it?

FITZGIBBON:  I’d give it a go.

LAUNDY:  Obviously Minister Birmingham has done an amazing job, worked extremely hard.  There has been a big scare campaign out there which I found unfortunate, especially in my neck of the woods.  But it has drawn a lot of people to us, asking a lot of questions and that gives you the opportunity to explain what that actually means and it allays some fears.

SPEERS:  The Greens this afternoon seem to have got some concessions from the Government but they have just said they are not going to vote for it because there is a special deal for Catholic Schools.  Now the Government says not a special deal for Catholic Schools.  It comes down to how you define it I suppose but is that a good thing or a bad thing the Greens not backing you in?  Some might say it is a good thing. 

LAUNDY:  Look we have said from day one, Minister Birmingham has said and we have proved this before, not just in this policy space, if you are prepared to sit with us in the Senate and negotiate in good faith and not deal yourself out  - we will talk to you.  However, what we found here was the Labor Party from day one dealt themselves out.  But the Greens wanted to continue the conversation and Minister Birmingham kept talking to them. Where it has finished, I actually didn’t know that they have ruled it out.

SPEERS:  Yes, they have said no because there is going to be a 12 month review of the funding model and a bit of extra money I think for all sectors though over the next 12 months while that happens including the Catholic sector.  Joel Fitzgibbon at the end of the day Labor is going to be voting against more money for schools.

FITZGIBBON:  Craig is speaking from old “speaking notes”.  Now, this idea that the Labor Party dealt itself out of the game, remember when everyone was saying -

LAUNDY:  I actually don’t speak from “speaking notes”.

FITZGIBBON:  - the Labor Party has done the wrong thing standing by our commitment to Gonski 1.0 I suppose you would call it.  No we didn’t – and now as this thing unravels I think people can see we did the right thing and stood by our principles -

SPEERS:  But here is what a lot of people won’t get - here is more money here for schools, you would think you would take it and if you think there should be even more, you go to the next election saying that?

FITZGIBBON:  David, Gonski established the School Reasonable Standard.  He said this is the amount of money you need to get there, that’s the money we allocated and committed ourselves and why would we walk away from that?  Why would we fund it to a lesser extent?

SPEERS:   Because this is -

LAUNDY:   -that would be fantastic if it was right.

SPEERS: [inaudible]

FITZGIBBON:   How is it wrong Craig?

LAUNDY:  Gonski didn’t determine the money, he came up with the model, you determined the money, and you did it by running around the country and signing up 27 separate politically expedient deals.

FITZGIBBON:  Craig if you -

LAUNDY:  Joel, there was no mention of money in his model.

FITZGIBBON: If you tell me I have got to drive for a thousand kilometres I know how much fuel I will need to put in the tank mate.    

LAUNDY:  Joel -

FITZGIBBON:  He set the standard -

LAUNDY:   You just said –.

FITZGIBBON:  We know how much money -  

LAUNDY:   No he didn’t – there was no dollars – he set the model.  You attached the dollars.

SPEERS:  Why is he now backing this government’s model. 

FITZGIBBON: I don’t think he has backed this government’s model.  

SPEERS:  He stood there with Malcolm Turnbull and said -

FITZGIBBON:  - and backed in the needs-based model.  That’s what he did.

SPEERS:  It is pretty clear that he, Ken Boston, Katherine Greiner, people who sat on that Gonski panel that Julia Gillard set up, are all saying vote for it.

FITZGIBBON:  I didn’t see him recant or walk away from anything he said in his original report.  The original report set the standard, we are determined to fund it.

SPEERS:  You don’t think Gonski wants this thing backed in?

FITZGIBBON:  Craig can spend $65 million giving tax cuts to the big end of town but won’t fund Gonski.  Or funding new coal-fired power generators.

LAUNDY:  Joel, Gonski had no dollars and cents attached to it – it was a model.  You attach the dollars – no, no you attached the dollars and the cents, you did it in an ad hoc, State by State, sector by sector, politically expedient way – absolutely.

FITZGIBBON:  Teachers in public schools are telling me that they are not going to be able to continue the special programs they used, intervening on kids early to give them the pathway -  

LAUNDY:  Why not?  They are getting more dollars next year than this year.  Why would they need to stop anything?

FITZGIBBON:  They are getting less money than they expected -

LAUNDY:   They are not – they have got the current resources now Joel.  Why would they have to stop what they are doing today next year?

FITZGIBBON:  But don’t argue they are not going to get less money Craig.

LAUNDY:  They are getting more money.

SPEERS:  They are getting more than they are getting this year.  They are not getting less money.

LAUNDY:  But David, here’s the thing,

SPEERS: They are not getting less money.

FITZGIBBON:  Schools get more money each year, for inflation.

LAUNDY: [inaudible]

FITZGIBBON: It’s called inflation.

LAUNDY: But David, here’s the – with due respect Joel has just touched on something I get a lot.  Schools saying they are going to have to do something different next year to this year when they are getting more money next year -

SPEERS: Catholic Schools, let’s talk about that Craig Laundy, because you have got Catholic Schools who are saying they are going to have to whack up fees because they are going to be worse off next year.  How worried are you about that?

LAUNDY:  They are not going to be worse off.  So the Catholic Schools in NSW will receive $80 million more as a system than they did receive this year.  Now as I say to the parents in my electorate and others, I have done a couple of others for Ministers who couldn’t get there, the only way a parent’s school fees will change next year is if the Catholic system decides to give their child’s school less money than it did this year.  However the system will receive more money next year than it did this year so there is no reason for them to do that.  Unless they make a conscious decision to do that.

FITZGIBBON:  Your colleague, the Member for Hughes, yesterday in the House of Representatives, accused his local Catholics of lying to parents.  The school has written to the parents warning them of cuts and increases in -

SPEERS:  Would you agree with that Craig Laundy?

FITZGIBBON:  - accused them in the House of telling lies -

SPEERS:  Are the Catholics lying?

LAUNDY:  The Catholics are, they want the system maintained as a system, they have had that undertaking from everyone.  The Prime Minister down, to the Minister for Education, to me that they will get a block sum next year and be in charge of distributing it as and where they see fit.

SPEERS: When they say they have no choice but to put up fees, are they lying?

LAUNDY: If they allocate the money- what they are saying, they are conflating two issues. The calculator that goes with the modelling - that’s the needs-based funding component. It treats every child the same based on the different parts of need, how Gonski determined need would be determined. What they do though is they take their money and use it as a system. Now there may be more well-off schools subsiding less well-off schools.

FITZGIBBON: So they are lying?

LAUNDY: No they’re not lying. They are using their money as a system and next year they will have exactly the same opportunity to do it David with $80 million more than they did this year.

SPEERS: So they are conflating, but not lying?

LAUNDY: They are conflating two issues.

SPEERS: Are they misleading?

LAUNDY: No they are not misleading. They are worried that they will lose the ability to operate as a system and they have been told repeatedly from the Prime Minister down, including by me that that will not be the case. I hope that allays the fears. It tends to allay the fears.

FITZGIBBON: ( Inaudible)

LAUNDY: No for ten years Joel, thanks for asking. For ten years and that’s what I’ve been telling parents in my electorate.

SPEERS: So you’d be happy if they and the independent schools get twelve month of leeway here while they review the model and a bit of top up money on top of what was originally offered?

LAUNDY: Look I don’t want to comment on things that are undergoing negotiation at the moment.

SPEERS: Let’s turn to the citizenship test. We were just talking to Tony Burke and the English language test being too tough. Craig Laundy you represent an area with a lot of migrant families. Is it too tough?

LAUNDY: If you can understand what Burkey was saying, I battled to understand how he was explaining the system. The explanation is what I was battling with not the language he was using.

SPEERS: His point was that you look at some of the questions that meet this band six requirement the Government is talking about. I don’t know if I should read it again? He left it here for me.

FITZGIBBON: It would be a good test for you David.

LAUNDY: I was a former Minister for Multiculturalism and I was in charge of our settlement services in this country and it was a great thrill. We, from the day you arrive to the five year mark work with in the settlement space refugees. At the end of that five year journey, we end up with a 9 per cent employment outcome. Now that’s not good enough. That’s the systemic nature. We need to work on that and what Minister Dutton has done here is strike a balance. This test is already in place for skilled permanent residency visas so this is not reinventing the wheel although there are others out there who would like to say that.

SPEERS: But it is a tougher test right?

LAUNDY: It is a tougher text.

SPEERS: Are you comfortable with that?

LAUNDY: Yes because we need to-  Tony spoke about an underclass of citizens. If you can’t have people immigrating to this country and finding work you end up with an underclass of citizens.

SPEERS: Will it mean more migrant families chose not to become Australian Citizens?

LAUNDY: No. I have five councils brimming every month. We have a net migration of 190,000.

FITZGIBBON: This is not in yet.

LAUNDY: But Joel they are coming across on skilled migration streams. They have already sat the test to get the skilled visa. It’s a furphy and they are trying to mix it all up but the reality is, I get how the system works as I had the honour of administering it. You are seeing on the front lines that people who come on skilled migration paths end up as great Australian citizens. Why? Because they come here with competent English skills and they come and find long term employment.

SPEERS: What do you say to that? That it is only going to help those migrants?

FITZGIBBON: I’ve got a wonderful little coffee shop in my electorate and it’s run by a Russian woman. She is a fantastic citizen and immerses herself in the business of the chamber and what’s happening in town. I went in there recently and I was done up and she said you’re done up today and I said - yes I have a citizenship ceremony to attend and it caused me to think. I asked are you an Australian citizen? And she said, no I’m too scared to do the test. I’m worried I won’t pass. Now, what is she thinking about the debate over the last three weeks? Her English is quite good but she struggles a little. Now what sort of signal is this sending to her? We want her to become an Australian citizen. She is a good leader in the community doing a great job employing people in town. Why is Craig Laundy and his colleagues making it harder for her?

LAUNDY: Joel with due respect, if she’s running a business in this country what visa is she on?

FITZGIBBON: I have no idea, but she is a permanent resident.

LAUNDY: And short sighted too if she thought you looked alright (laughs). Don’t worry mate, if she said she thought I looked alright I would have said the same thing too.

SPEERS: But just getting to the crux of this, to that example of the Russian coffee shop owner, for her to become an Australian, and you say you’d like her to become an Australian as she’s a great citizen in the community and so on, surely it shouldn’t just be a tick a box, it should be that you’re going to have to make an effort.

FITZGIBBON: Are we inviting of migrants or not are we David? How hard do we need to make it? Everyone who applies to be a citizen is a permanent resident. We have already put them through the test and have already come to a conclusion about their credentials and whether they should be appropriately become part of our country. Why are we putting them through this far more difficult second round. And if we really want to radicalise people, make it too hard for them to really become truly one of us. It’s an error.

SPEERS: We’re going to have to go for a break. Go the Blues I suppose.

FITZGIBBON: Despite your tie.

LAUNDY: No I’m with you. Joel Fitzgibbon, Craig Laundy, thanks for joining us. 

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