SUBJECTS: School funding; Australia-Indonesia relationship; Governor-General’s republic comments.
CHRIS KENNY: We want to go to Christopher Pyne, the Education Minister and leader of the Government in the House of Representatives, who joins us live from Adelaide. Thanks for joining us, Christopher.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Chris, good to be with you.
CHRIS KENNY: I want to start off on your portfolio areas. And there's been this news breaking in the newspapers this morning relating to the Gonski deals. Now, we know going into the election that you, as the Opposition education spokesperson, promised to match the Gonski funding agreements that the Labor Party had reached with the states and with the various education sectors.
But we read today that a lot of this has not been signed up, that there are no signed detailed agreements between the Federal Government and the Catholic education sector, for instance. And I understand some of the states, such as Victoria – how much of this has been bedded down and how much are you still negotiating?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, unfortunately, Chris, it's a complete shambles. We've inherited a total Labor mess. Bill Shorten was the Minister for Education at the end of the Rudd and Gillard Governments. You're quite right. The National Catholic Education Commission never signed their agreement with Labor, in spite of Julia Rudd – that's a bit of a Freudian slip – Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd and Bill Shorten.
CHRIS KENNY: It would have made it easier – it would have made the last six years a lot easier if it was just Julia Rudd, wouldn't it? But the point here is though that you made broad undertakings to match what the Government – the then Labor Government – had promised to all these sectors. Are you going to stick to those commitments, the large funding parcels, if you like? Or are you now renegotiating all this because you don't have those agreements in writing?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: What we'll definitely do is maintain the same funding envelope that Labor promised for the next few years because that's what we said we would do. What we do have to do though is we have to make the system workable. Labor has left it in a complete shambles and, tragically, I have to go back to the drawing board essentially and try and create a funding model that can be implemented.
The funding itself is not at risk. What we need to change is the way the model will be delivered. So, for example, Victoria and Tasmania had never signed final agreements with the Federal Labor Government. They didn't have bilateral agreements in place. The National Catholic Education Commission never signed an agreement with Labor, in spite of them trumpeting this as a great breakthrough.
So, in effect, there are ten jurisdictions which could sign up, and Labor managed to achieve four of them. That isn't a national model, and it's very difficult for us to implement the complicated, confused, very dense model that they came up with because of Labor's predilection for prescription and regulation. Now, we have a different emphasis. We want less regulation, less prescription from Canberra, and that's what I'll set about trying to put in place when we can do that.
CHRIS KENNY: It's a bit convenient though, isn't it, saying it's all a shambles and we have to renegotiate it. Bill Shorten is already suggesting that you're breaking election promises. Are you guaranteeing that each of these sectors that you are doing the detailed negotiations with won't be dissatisfied, won't get any funding cuts and will get what you rhetorically promised them during the election campaign?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: A bit audacious. You've got to give him a gold medal for audacity, for Bill Shorten, who's created this mess, to now turn around and try and mug the people who are trying to fix it. And now, honestly, we would be breaking an election promise if we weren’t putting the same funding envelope forward. But we're not in the least bit interested in cutting funds to education—quite the opposite. But we do have to implement a school funding model that works.
We need to sit down with the states and territories, the Catholics and the independents, and make that happen. We're not going to implement a school funding model that doesn't work. That wouldn't be common sense. But that sounds like what Bill Shorten thinks we should be doing. And, of course, that's the problem with Labor for the last six years—they always put politics ahead of policy. Now, Shorten created the shambles. It's up to me to try and fix it. And I think we're adult enough to be able to set about doing that whilst still maintaining the funding envelope that we promised before the election.
CHRIS KENNY: I just want to move on to what I think is, we can fairly say, is the political or international issue that is – should be – at the top of the agenda for the country at the moment. It's our prime sort of national difficulty at the moment, and that is the Indonesia-Australian relationship. I don’t think it's too much to say that it is definitely a diplomatic crisis. Do you agree that it's a diplomatic crisis? And, if so, how will it be resolved?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, Chris, you've had a lot of experience of diplomacy over your working life, and we do have relationships that have their ups and downs. There's no doubt that the revelations that have been published of what occurred on Labor's watch in 2009 have made the new Government's relationship with Indonesia much harder than otherwise would have been the case. But Tony Abbott is definitely the man to repair that relationship. He's offering very courteous, very respectful regret to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono about these allegations that have been made.
We want to make sure that Indonesia and Australia continue to have a very strong relationship. As Marty Natalegawa, the Foreign Minister in Indonesia, has already said, we’re like family. We live next door to each other and we do need to get along. But also we want to get along. We don't want to just get along for the purposes of – because we're neighbours. We should have a strong relationship. We have very much in common, particularly in our relationships in the Asia Pacific region. We almost always find ourselves on the same side of every argument internationally.
CHRIS KENNY: Exactly. We tend to, on regional issues, find ourselves trying to run the same arguments. Therefore is it appropriate for Australia to tap the phone of the Indonesian President?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, no-one has admitted that that is the case. No-one has confirmed it or denied it. Security…
CHRIS KENNY: So would have been a step too far?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, national security should be a bipartisan issue. Protecting the citizenry of our country is our Government's primary responsibility. And, usually, the Opposition assist the Government in doing that.
CHRIS KENNY: We'll get to the Opposition in a moment. But is it appropriate to tap the phone of the Indonesian President? Or would that be a step too far for Australia?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: What is always appropriate is putting the interests of the Australian people ahead of everything else, and that is exactly what the Government will continue to do. Previous Governments have done it in the way that they think is best. John Howard did it. But while I'm not going to enter into a political conversation, if you like, that could cause any embarrassment to our Indonesian friends or, in fact, to either Governments of Liberal or Labor persuasions.
CHRIS KENNY: Okay. Let me put it the other way round. Do you assume, as Minister and leader of the House in the Coalition Government, do you assume that your mobile phone – your personal mobile phone – is not secure? Do you assume that other nations – be it Indonesia, China, the US, whoever – might be listening in on your mobile phone?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, that's a good question. I mean I've assumed for a very long time that if you want to have a private conversation you need to do so face to face because it's just so easy, of course, to intercept people's phone calls or, in fact, emails obviously. So I've always maintained the view that you shouldn't put anything in an email that you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the newspaper. And phone calls – you should be very careful about your conversations.
CHRIS KENNY: In fact, I think we've seen some of your emails turn up on the front page of the paper, but I don't want to go to that issue…
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: They're all very undone.
CHRIS KENNY: …I don't want to go to that issue now.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: They're all very undone.
CHRIS KENNY: What's your view of the ABC's role in this dispute, in breaking the story in the first place and in the way it seems to have amplified Indonesian criticisms since?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I think the ABC made a very bad judgement call in publishing these emails. Obviously, they were leaked emails. They were very security sensitive. And I think the ABC made a bad judgement call in airing them publicly.
CHRIS KENNY: Do you think, therefore, that you ought to review or withdraw the extra $200 million funding, as some people have suggested, even from your own party, that goes to the ABC to help it broadcast into the region? In effect, taxpayers are paying additional money so that the ABC can broadcast these damaging stories into our own region.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, Chris, nobody in the Government has suggested that we should be reviewing the ABC's funding or any of their contracts. There certainly was a very negative series of stories this year and last year about the Australian network tender and the way that the – Stephen Conroy, the previous Minister for Communications, handled that matter – and also, in fact, the previous Government – but there's been no suggestion within the Government that those matters should be reviewed.
CHRIS KENNY: Now, I just want to move on to our Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, who, as it happens, turns out to be a republican. Do you think she would have been appointed to be Governor-General if she'd said at the outset she was a republican?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I think probably she would have been. She was appointed by the Labor Party, but…
CHRIS KENNY: You'd think – you seriously think Australia would appoint an overt republican to be the Queen's representative?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Yes, I do. I think many of the governors of various states are republicans. And I'm sure that Quentin Bryce is not the first Governor-General who's been a republican. So I think she probably would have been appointed, yes. Whether she should air those views now in the role for both same sex marriage or the republic are matters for her. As you say, she's retiring in March, and she may have decided that now is the time she's going to do that.
But she's a free citizen. She's entitled to have her views. She's entitled to be disagreed with. But, as you said in your introduction, she's not really entitled to be disagreed with by members of the executive Government or the Prime Minister because that's quite inappropriate. So you can have that conversation. You're free to do so. It's very hard for me or for Tony Abbott or others like us to be able to get involved in that conversation.
CHRIS KENNY: Why should she use the authority of this position to push these points of view though, especially when they – if they don't divide the parties. I know we have differing views on both these issues either side of the political aisle, but these two issues certainly divide the Prime Minister and her son-in-law, the Opposition leader. Obviously, no matter what anybody thinks about the technicalities of this, there's no doubt this would – these views would have been better expressed after she left the job rather than being in there, in the job, using the job as a platform.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, Chris, you may say so. I couldn't possibly comment.
CHRIS KENNY: But you reckon that I, as a republican, could be Governor-General.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Absolutely. I'm sure you could be. I think the difficulty is that…
CHRIS KENNY: Well, I'll tell you what. I'll put my name in for the job. No. I wouldn't be that hypocritical. But I'm sorry, Christopher we have run out of time.