SUBJECTS: The week in parliament; Gonski Review; Mike Rann appointment
Marius Benson: Christopher Pyne, this week has seen the offshore processing bill pass, the High Court back Labor on the plain packaging of cigarettes; a pretty good week for Labor would you think?
Christopher Pyne: No Marius, I would describe it as a horror week for the Prime Minister. Let’s face it, the reopening of the Nauru processing centre is a humiliating back down for Julia Gillard. Only six weeks ago she said Nauru would never be reopened, it would not work and six weeks later she was forced to accept one of the legs of the three legged stool of the Coalition’s policy on border protection and the other two; temporary protection visas and turning back the boats where possible will come otherwise the boats will keep coming. Otherwise I don’t think it’s been a great success for the Prime Minister. We hope it will work, but of course without the other two arms of the Coalition’s policy it’s unlikely to work on its own.
Benson: When you say you hope it will work, in narrow political terms it’s great news for Labor if this does work because whatever humiliations you see at the moment, the humiliations of August will be long forgotten at an election 12 months hence and it will neutralise what has perhaps been the most damaging issue for Labor which has been the boat arrivals.
Pyne: I think the most damaging issue for Labor Marius has been the carbon tax and the fact the Prime Minster promised before the last election she wouldn’t introduce a carbon tax. That’s the most damaging political issue and of course it’s been back on the agenda again with Parliament sitting this week.
Benson: Can I ask you about that because you’ve certainly been working hard to put it back on the agenda, but it hasn’t been getting much attention publicly. Have you done yourself harm by exaggerating the impact of the carbon tax? It’s been in six weeks now and some say those claims of a “wrecking ball”, Whyalla being a ghost town, are looking fairly empty now.
Pyne: I don’t think that’s the case at all. I lived through the goods and services tax introduction and of course every time a price rises or a pensioner or a self funded retiree or a family struggles to pay their electricity bills they’ll be reminded of the facts that their bills are higher – groceries and services and power – because the Prime Minster broke her promise there’d be no carbon tax under a government she led. So nobody expected the world to come to an end on July 1st but at election time – whenever that is held – people will be reminded of a Prime Minster without any integrity and cost of living rises that are there because of the Prime Minister’s perfidious breach of her promise but of course they will also be voting on scraping the carbon tax because that will be the centrepiece of the Coalition’s policy to reduce cost of living pressures.
Benson: Ok can I go to another issue that is likely to come up in the next few weeks which is your own shadow portfolio area of education because Labor will be giving its response to the Gonski report. Now you have rejected the central logic of that report as I understand it which is to address inequity in our schools education. You believe am I right, that there is no significant issue of equity or inequity in Australian schools?
Pyne: Well Marius I haven’t rejected any central component of the Gonski review. What I have said is that the government has to come up with a response and the Coalition will respond to the government. But I have also said I don’t think the current funding model is broken and I do believe it is one of the great myths of Australian schooling that the only issue in education is one of equity. In fact the OECD PISA report shows that Australia is a high equity country with high outcomes. Now we shouldn’t base our policy on myth or on knee-jerked reactions, we need to see what the government will come up with and of course how they intend to fund it. Because of course if they don’t come up with $26 billion of new funding under the Gonski review, then non-government schools will be going backwards and parents will have to be find those higher fees in their own bank accounts.
Benson: Christopher Pyne, can I just finally ask you about a story that is running in The Australian today which says that Mike Rann, the former premier of your home state of South Australia, is to be appointed as our Higher Commissioner in London. Do you think that is going to be a good appointment?
Pyne: Well look Marius, I don’t want to sound churlish but certainly seems that Mike has fallen on his feet as he always does.
Benson: Does that make it a good appointment?
Pyne: Well it remains to be seen. I am not really aware of Mike’s longstanding interest in foreign policy and diplomatic matters but I am sure that he will bring verve to the job.
Benson: Are you critical of the appointment or not?
Pyne: I might wait to see what Julie Bishop the foreign affairs spokesperson says before I come and announce a Coalition position. This is the first I have heard of it.
Benson: Christopher Pyne, thank you very much.
Pyne: It’s a pleasure.