SUBJECTS: BER recognition ceremonies; Coalition’s Our Plan, Real Solutions for all Australians campaign; Labor NT Senate debacle
Steve Price: Governments of both colours I think often fall into the trap of thinking that the money they are spending is actually theirs and not the tax dollars that you and I pay and I raised this tonight after a story earlier today revealing that in this election year, schools around Australia have been instructed to hold formal ceremonies to recognise any spending from Canberra on BER projects. Remember the $6 billion that went out on the Building the Education Revolution projects. Well kits are going out to instruct schools how to get publicity in their local paper for these ribbon cutting exercises. Principals are being told get out and video them and this could happen at up to 1000 schools nationwide. Now I reckon it’s rich for Canberra to in some cases be demanding a pat on the back when many as you know of those projects ended up over budget and in the worst cases things were built that weren’t even required. Now the Opposition's Education Spokesman, Christopher Pyne, according to Bill Shorten shouldn’t be complaining today because he has been at one of these ribbon cutting ceremonies himself. We thought we'd go to the man, Christopher Pyne he's on the line. Happy New Year to you.
Christopher Pyne: Happy New Year to you to Steve.
Price: I think governments sometimes forget that you’re actually spending our money
Pyne: Well I think they get into such a bubble that their reality becomes something of an unreality. The idea that in 2013 there should be recognition ceremonies for Building the Education Revolution projects four years after the programme began when it was supposed to be a Global Financial Crisis response is quite extraordinary and only Bill Shorten of course would want to be invited to 1000 schools to get his name on a plaque, and that’s of course what the guidelines are requiring. It's also embarrassing because as we all know the programme was $16.5 billion and some estimates are that half of that was wasted on overvalued…
Price: I said $6 billion, was it $16 billion?
Pyne: It was 16.5 billion. It wasn’t a slip of the tongue…
Price: I was $10 billion out…
Pyne: Yes. It's only $10 billion, the Labor Government wouldn’t even notice that Steve. But the truth is while no one decries the infrastructure in schools, if half of that had been properly spent, rather than on overvalued school halls that would have been a down payment on the Gonski reform.
Price: What's the tradition with this Christopher? Is an election year normally treated differently by both sides of politics in regard to these things or is that not right?
Pyne: Well of course Members of Parliament are quite entitled to go to their schools anytime and speak to their school communities or turn up to building openings or whatever they wish to do. And as a local member for 20 years some people have accused me of going to the opening of an envelope in my electorate. The truth is in an election year it’s now a bit belated for the Government to be requiring recognition ceremonies in 1000 cases where these buildings have been long – truly finished for some time and they're in use. So they're obviously pretty desperate to try and push Bill Shorten's credentials I assume as the next Leader of the Opposition if Labor loses the election.
Price: Am I right to remember that during the last election campaign there was an argument over whether those economic stimulus plan signs out to stay on school properties that were being used for polling booths.
Pyne: Good point. I mean you've reminded me too that the first amount of money they spent $1.6 million was on putting up the signs at all the schools around Australia before the projects had even begun and in many cases they sat there for a year or more before anything actually happened and during the election campaign because of a complaint I made, the Electoral Commission made the Government cover up the signs. But I mean self promotion is very much part of this Labor Government's spin over substance.
Price: And all these schools will again be used as polling booths and I guess what they are trying to do is reinforce those school communities that if your school has a new shade cloth or a new library, then our Government, the Labor Government paid for it. Well the reality is the hardworking people who paid their taxes in those communities paid for it.
Pyne: Well the truth is that parents and school communities expect their dollars to be spent on worthwhile projects. Now if that is a new library for the local primary school they also expect it to have achieved value for money and not to be ripped off. So the Government is essentially reminding people of a programme that saw potentially $8 billion wiped off the value of taxes that have been paid to the Government by as you say hardworking Australian taxpayers.
Price: And look, unless our, so our audience doesn’t misunderstand this is not just some sort of loose message out of Canberra, there’s a kit that goes out, its sent to every school. I’ve got the media release here in front of me that goes to the principal it says, you know in regards to the local media – send an invitation to the local media you might want to do this by calling them yourselves, the invitation should include the basis of who the VIP will be who’s coming maybe the Deputy Prime Minister. Tell them about unique aspects of the project, send it out 48 hours before follow up just prior to the event, I mean god all mighty.
Pyne: You know it’s compulsory, you know…
Price: I mean you’ve got no choice, you got to do it.
Pyne: They’re treating principals like children. And…
Price: Well they’re treating principals like their own PR firm.
Pyne: That’s true. I mean principals have a lot of better things to do than promote the Labor Government in an election year. But I think the Australian public have got a pretty good meter for this kind of stuff and I think they will be very cynical about them rushing out all these openings in the last sort of eight months of a dying Government.
Price: The political year just before I let you go really fires up again after Australia Day. I think most of the nations finally throws off the holiday clothes and gets back to work. I note that your Leader today has talked about a mini campaign next week with MPs from your side of politics out right across the country spreading your message, what’s that idea all about?
Pyne: Well we want to begin the year on a positive note. We’ve had, this is the third year of a three year Parliament. The first year was very much holding the Government to account, the second year is about planning our own policies for Government and the third year is about announcing those policies and putting our positive agenda out there for the public to see. So from Sunday we’re running a mini campaign which will involve Tony Abbott travelling around Australia, it will involve meetings and it will involve a booklet that brings together the policies that we’ve already announced in many areas and the directions and principles that will inform the rest of our policies in this election year.
Price: Are you concerned that the polls are closer than you thought they might be at this time?
Pyne: Well look it depends on the polls. I mean some polls are close some polls are not so close. As a local Member out there in my electorate I tell you the message over the barbeques over the summer break was that they do not want this Government re-elected and they want the Liberal Party to ensure that we don’t lose it. They want a Government that focuses on cost of living, job security, border protection and economic management and they are thoroughly sick of the Government that seems to focus on denigrating Tony Abbott and talking about us rather than talking about what’s good for the Australian public.
Price: But what you’re doing next week, there is obviously a feeling within the senior ranks of the Coalition that you don’t want any of your colleagues to become complacent, that this election is not going to fall in your lap.
Pyne: Well I’m very excited about this year. I love campaigning, I love policy development and announcement and I’ll be announcing the policies in the education space. We need to make every post a winning post we don’t want to lose an election because we thought we had it in the bag. There’s no election is in the bag until it’s over at 8 o’clock on election night when the votes have been counted, that’s when we’ll get the actual result and we want the public to know when they cast their vote what they’ll get under a Coalition Government, what will be the changes that will improve our country.
Price: Pretty desperate move by the PM to parachute Nova Peris in to that Senate spot, they’re obviously worried about the indigenous vote in the Northern Territory.
Pyne: Well it reminded me of the exploding cigar gag really. The Prime Minister said that she needed an Indigenous Australian, an Indigenous woman and of course Marion Scrymgour who’s the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party in the Northern Territory is an Indigenous woman who was running for the preselection. So obviously Marion wasn’t up to the job as far as the Prime Minister was concerned but she was good enough to be the deputy Chief Minister in the Northern Territory. So I think it is a transparently disastrous handing of an issue by the Prime Minister, I’ve got nothing against Nova Peris but it just confirmed that Julia Gillard has no judgement.
Price: Great to talk to you I’m sure we’ll catch up plenty of times during the year.
Pyne: Thanks Steve.