ABC News Radio

Subjects: education reforms, Julian Assange.

Transcript, E&OE

20 August 2012

MARIUS BENSON: Well let's go to politics now. The Gillard Government has moved to seize the initiative on education by revealing plans to boost funding for all private schools. That move came as the Government put off its formal response to the Gonski report on education funding. That response was expected this week. Now it looks like not coming until next month. For a Government view on that and other political issues at the beginning of another full week of parliamentary sittings, I am joined by Labor's Trade Minister Craig Emerson. Craig Emerson, good morning.

CRAIG EMERSON: And a very good morning to you, Marius.

BENSON: Now, good news for private schools today from the Prime Minister: in a speech she's going to be outlining plans that will see them all get more money.

EMERSON: Well, this is a fundamental reform, in the Labor reforming tradition. There are two dimensions to it, Marius. The first is that every child in Australia deserves to get an excellent education. That is not occurring at the moment. This is a needs-based funding model, so that those young people who have the greatest needs will get the support that they deserve as citizens of this country. Related to that, it's essential that our education system produces outcomes for young people to make them continue to be competitive with our Asian competitors in this, the Asian Century, so that they can have access to the splendid diversity of career opportunities that is on offer in the Asian Century. That can only happen with an excellent education. That's what Labor is committing to provide.

BENSON: But can Labor find the money at a time when there are tight constraints on the Budget to provide more money for all schools?

EMERSON: It is expensive – there's no doubt about that. And it's not just about providing more money; it is about important reforms to make sure that the quality of education, especially for those who are disadvantaged, is lifted. There's been decades of governments talking about putting more money into schools. That's a necessary condition for improved education outcomes, but it's not sufficient. What we need to do is ensure that that money has been wisely spent; that we are ensuring that teachers have the capacity to teach particularly those young people who are from disadvantaged backgrounds. And this has always been Labor philosophy, and we'll be implementing it through these reforms.

BENSON: You're stressing disadvantage there, but one of the most striking aspects, perhaps, of the Prime Minister's speech today is that there'll be more money for all schools – even the most advantaged. Now, the Australian Education Union, amongst others, will say that actually goes against the Labor tradition. Why are you giving more to those who are already best off?

EMERSON: Well, we don't want to see any schools or any students become worse off as a result of reforms. I think the …

BENSON: Even the best off?

EMERSON: … Australian people would expect that. And what will happen is that those who are disadvantaged under a needs-based funding model will get extra support. [Inaudible] …I know

BENSON: But those who are advantaged, as I understand it…

EMERSON: I know, but just let me say, Marius …

BENSON: Can I just narrow the point down: those who are advantaged will also get more – is that the case?

EMERSON: That's right – that funding will rise. And the Prime Minister will detail some of that today. And the suggestion that the reforms have all been delayed: certainly, it hasn't come to my attention that there's been a delay. We will be implementing these reforms. We want to make sure we get these reforms right. It's not about setting one school against another, or one Australian against another. What we're doing is making sure that we lift the overall performance of our education system, but with a special emphasis on the disadvantaged. That's what Labor does.

BENSON: Just quickly, on Julian Assange: he spoke overnight. What's the Government's view on him: hero or villain?

EMERSON: We don't make moral judgements about these sorts of matters. This is a matter that has arisen between the UK, Sweden and now Ecuador. The extradition relates to alleged sexual misconduct of Mr Assange in Sweden. It does not relate to Wikileaks. We are offering consular assistance to Mr Assange but it is not for me, or for anyone else, to prejudge that particular case. The extradition relates to alleged misconduct, and those processes have been put in place; the legal process has been put in place. And it is now a matter between Sweden, the United Kingdom and, given that he's been given asylum, Ecuador.

BENSON: But Kim Beazley, our Ambassador in Washington, has been pressing the US Government about their extradition plans. Do you believe the US wants to extradite him?

EMERSON: We have no evidence of that, and what I'm indicating is that Mr Beazley – if he's been doing that, and I'm not disputing that he has – is just putting the Australian Government in a position of knowing of any developments along this front. But there have been no developments, and there is no evidence of the United States seeking to extradite Julian Assange. I'd simply add that in some debates in which I've been involved it's been pointed out that there is an extradition treaty between the United Kingdom and the United States. If that was the case, why wouldn't … and the United States were seeking to extradite Mr Assange, why wouldn't they do it through the United Kingdom, rather than waiting for him to be returned to Sweden? So I think there's a logical breakdown there in the argument that this is all a plot from the United States to extradite Mr Assange from Sweden. If they were interested in extradition, why wouldn't they do that from the United Kingdom?

BENSON: Craig Emerson, thank you very much.

EMERSON: Okay. Thanks very much.

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