SKY News, the Dalley edition - Interview with Helen Dalley

Release Date: 
22 June 2015

HELEN DALLEY: Alan Tudge, thanks very much for joining us.

ALAN TUDGE: Pleasure.

HELEN DALLEY: This state-federal education funding change raised in a discussion paper from the PM’s own department. This came up today and became a big issue because it was leaked. Now Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne both ruled out any of the options before the discussion paper had even been discussed. Why would they do that?

ALAN TUDGE: Well Helen this was a draft of a discussion paper that has been written in consultation with state governments. The option which they ruled out was state governments, in essence charging fees for state schools. That’s something we don’t support in principle and we don’t think should be implemented. However, there are a number of other options which are outlined at least in the draft of the discussion paper and they will be debated over the weeks ahead, there may be other options which are added to it before the discussion paper is released more formally to the Australian public.

HELEN DALLEY: Alan Tudge you’re putting it on the states, which is what your leader did today too. This is a paper that’s come from the PM’s own department. Why allow it to come out if he then supposedly squashes one of its options immediately?

ALAN TUDGE: Let’s be clear. This is being written in very close cooperation with the state governments and indeed, Premier Jay Weatherill has been calling the Commonwealth to lay out some broad options and that’s exactly what’s been done in the draft discussion paper. The particular proposal which has been discussed today was an interpretation of one of the drafts and we just want to make absolutely clear that we don’t in-principle support fees being charged at state schools and in practice, we don’t have any jurisdiction to be able to do that in any case. So we just want to stop that there, so that we can focus on what the broader options will be in the schools area which include a re-alignment, potentially of responsibilities, that’s what we want to have a debate about.

HELEN DALLEY: But this option four, it does say the Feds would still be the dominant funder based on student need but it raises the possibility that families, depending on their capacity to pay, might pay for something towards the education. So a means testing of public school parents. That’s what you’re now saying you’re not for but it’s totally up to the states?

ALAN TUDGE: Well it doesn’t quite say that in the draft at least that I’ve seen. Now let me be clear about what this option does say. This is one of the options in the draft of the discussion paper which presently outlines the Commonwealth potentially being the major source of funding for state schools…

HELEN DALLEY: Right, that’s what I said…

ALAN TUDGE: …in a similar way that it’s the major source of funding for non-government schools. Therefore, the state governments would be the minority funders of state schools just like they are today the minority funders of non-government schools. This would allow, potentially, a greater consistency of funding across the board. Now that’s just one option, the other options provide a different combination of jurisdictions if you like, and responsibilities, with the overall aim being that can we have school funding done in such a way that there’s cleaner lines of responsibility, and therefore greater accountability to the Australian people.

HELEN DALLEY: The Prime Minister says that means testing public school fees is up to the states but he didn’t rule out changes to the way the federal government funds schools beyond the forward estimates. In a sense, he is putting it in the states laps isn’t he, saying ‘you go right ahead and do it’?

ALAN TUDGE: Well we’re having a discussion with the state governments over federation reform. By definition that involves both the Commonwealth Government and the state governments. At the moment Helen, as you know, there’s almost no area, particularly state government responsibility that doesn’t have some federal overlap. The overall intent of the federation white paper process, is as much as possible to ensure that there are cleaner lines, such that governments if you like are, sovereign in their own sphere. So that one level of government as much as possible is accountable and responsible for a particular service. That’s the overall objective.

HELEN DALLEY: Sorry Alan Tudge I just want to get it clear, does the Federal Government think it would be a good idea if states did charge parents something, if they did means test parents, wealthier parents who send their kids to public schools?

ALAN TUDGE: No, we do not think that’s a good idea. In-principle we oppose that concept and in…

HELEN DALLEY: So why did the Prime Minister say if the states want to do it, go ahead?

ALAN TUDGE: Well at Question Time today he basically said very clearly that in-principle we oppose that concept, and in practice, even if we did support it, we have no ability to implement that in any case. State governments are the owners of state schools, they operate the state schools, they fund the state schools, and only they have the ability to make changes such as the one you’re alluding to.

HELEN DALLEY: You said at the beginning of this interview this discussion came out of consultations between the states and the feds. One of your own, New South Wales Liberal Premier Mike Baird says parents will not be charged for public schooling under his Government. It seems a lot of the states and now the Feds are running away from this.

ALAN TUDGE: Well again Helen, the…

HELEN DALLEY: But somebody obviously wanted it to happen or saw it at least as an option for discussion?

ALAN TUDGE: Well again Helen, the particular option is that the federal government could be as an option, in this draft discussion paper, could be the dominant funder of public schools in a similar way that it is the dominant funder of non-government schools, and therefore the states would be the minority funder. Now that’s been interpreted in a very narrow way, that it might lead to a certain course of action that we do not support, the New South Wales Government does not support, I don’t believe any state government supports. However the broad options are there, they’re still under discussion, there may be other options that are added to the draft discussion paper before everybody agrees and that discussion paper is put out to the Australian public.

HELEN DALLEY: Alright let’s move on a little. The $30 billion that Labor claims comes out of last year’s budget from education that even Coalition states are claiming makes education unsustainable. Tony Abbott told Parliament there were no cuts. Is there a mixed message? Who is telling the truth on this? Labor says there are $30 billion in cuts, your leader says ‘no cuts’ but then on the other hand he says ‘well if there are cuts then is Labor going to put them back?’

ALAN TUDGE: Well I think that’s exactly right what the Prime Minister says. Let’s look at the exact funding that we are proposing to schools over our four year budget period. This year, funding to state schools goes up by eight per cent. Next year, it goes up by a further eight percent. The year after that Helen, it goes up by a further six per cent. And the year after that it goes up by a further four per cent. Now how you get that to equate…

HELEN DALLEY: All those state governments who have been saying its unsustainable, they’re lying?

ALAN TUDGE: Well my point Helen is that to say that those set of numbers equate to a cut in funding, I don’t think is correct. That is a 28 per cent increase over that four year period. That’s what that represents.

HELEN DALLEY: What about beyond the four years?

ALAN TUDGE: Well the four year period is exactly what our budget period is. Government only budget for what’s called a forward estimates period, which is for four years. We made commitments at the last election that this is what we would do for that four year period and we are absolutely delivering upon that commitment.

HELEN DALLEY: Alright I want to get you on another issue before we run out of time. The citizenship laws to revoke someone’s citizenship to be introduced probably Wednesday. It does seem there could well be a compromise after the Prime Minister and the Immigration Minister were effectively rolled in cabinet a few weeks ago. It looks like there might be change to the current act so that there would be no mention really of allowing the minister the discretion to revoke someone’s citizenship. Do you expect that to win support from both Cabinet, your party room and then Labor?

ALAN TUDGE: Well the precise mechanism for implementing our objective, it will be discussed tonight, and no doubt tomorrow morning in our party room and then will be released to the public. The overall intent though is absolutely clear on what we’re trying to achieve and that is to prevent dual nationals who are overseas fighting for ISIS to not be able to return to Australia. That is absolutely our clear intent. If they are fighting, in essence, for a terrorist organisation against Australia’s interest then they have relinquished their righto be an Australian citizen and that’s what we want to implement.

HELEN DALLEY: But you also want it not subject to a High Court challenge so that’s where the compromise may come in, yes?

ALAN TUDGE: Helen, we’ve always had the objective, you always have to have the objective, when you are designing legislation that it be constitutional and the risks of it being subject to a High Court challenge are minimised. So we’ve gone through that process over the last couple of weeks, getting official legal advice. It’s gone back to National Security Committee and we will proceed on that basis with a constructive proposal, it will stand up, but it will deliver on that core objective. And by the way that’s the core objective which the Labor Party does not universally share and that’s what our major concern is.

HELEN DALLEY: Alan Tudge, always good to talk to you. We’ll leave it there. Thank you.

ALAN TUDGE: Thanks so much Helen.