ABC News Radio

Subjects: Nielsen poll, education funding, WorkChoices, policy costings.

Transcript, E&OE

27 August 2012

MARIUS BENSON: Let's go to politics now. Labor won't be breaking out the champagne, but they might allow themselves a quiet sense of celebration with the latest opinion poll confirming that the Federal Government's fortunes are on the improve. For a Government view on that and other political news, this morning I am joined by Craig Emerson, the Trade Minister. Craig Emerson, good morning.

CRAIG EMERSON: And good morning to you, Marius.

BENSON: Did you go straight to the Fairfax papers and check the poll numbers this morning?

EMERSON: I did last night, actually.

BENSON: Sure.

EMERSON: I was on Twitter and these figures started coming through from Twitterers, so I had a look at them then.

BENSON: Impressed?

EMERSON: Oh look, they're encouraging – but as you and I have discussed many times, Marius, it's for others to analyse these in detail. Certainly, the trend is a positive one, not just in the Nielsen poll but in various other polls that have been taken – Newspoll. And what's going on in Queensland is quite stunning. People are shocked at the savagery of Mr Newman's cuts. They do understand that Mr Abbott has also said he would have an audit commission, which is simply a device to conceal from the Australian people – in this case the Queensland people – what Mr Abbott has in store for them after an election.

BENSON: So you see there a trend. This is not just a sequence of mildly improved polls?

EMERSON: I think that what's more encouraging for the Government is when we look at other questions that are asked about attitudes to the carbon price. Mr Abbott had to concede on the weekend that he'd greatly exaggerated the impact of the carbon price and certainly that's the view of the community. It's nothing like the terror that he expected or tried to convince the Australian people would occur after the 1st of July. This is what we've been saying all along. He's stuck as a one-trick Tony: all he's got is this destructive negativity. That'd be bad enough in its own right, but what it translates to is a very negative outlook on Australia, a very negative outlook on what he thinks needs to be done, and that is to slash services and slash jobs. It's not necessary; we've got the Budget back into surplus and we'll continue to manage the economy strongly. By the way, that's been endorsed by Mr Howard, who has said that if Wayne Swan and the Prime Minister are saying the Australian economy is doing better than most, he says, quote, "they are right, I agree with them".

BENSON: And John Howard was also talking about industrial relations. Industrial relations reform is an area that Tony Abbott has steered clear of, because any time he raises it the Labor opposition in unison chants 'WorkChoices is coming back'.

EMERSON: Well we should be saying 'NoChoices', because on the agenda are penalty rates: the Leader of the Opposition Mr Abbott talks in terms of extra flexibility and productivity. These are all just code words in truth for a return to the worst elements of WorkChoices. People literally would be given no choice under Mr Abbott. This is not something new. This is a life-time agenda for Tony Abbott, and this particular leopard won't change his spots, just as he won't on the issue of university funding. Way back in 1979 … someone sent me on Twitter an interview, an ABC radio interview, with Tony Abbott where he said that too many people are going to university. It used to be 10 per cent; it's terrible that it was up to 30 per cent, and people needed to do something about that. That's his attitude right to this very day.

BENSON: Labor always presents itself as the education party, but why is it that schools standards, according to world tables, have slipped on your watch?

EMERSON: Actually, they slipped during the first decade of the 21st Century. We were elected in December … November 2007. And so what was put in place was a decline in standards. And relative to other countries, four of the five most successful education systems are in our region now, Marius – that is, the Asian region in the Asian Century. And you're right: we have slipped. That's why we are committed to implementing fundamental reforms of the schools system through needs-based funding; greater transparency; greater autonomy for principals and teachers. All of these reforms are very important. But, again, we've got the Coalition saying it's opposed to the needs-based funding model, and Mr Abbott at the beginning of last week saying that the real injustice is the high level of funding of government schools relative to non-government schools. So wherever you look, he is just for the entrenching of privilege; he doesn't support lifting underprivileged people out of their circumstances. And this goes back to his views way back in university in 1979. I mean, I wouldn't go back there if it weren't for the fact of the continuity of his philosophy, which is to entrench privilege and to make it hard for the underprivileged to get ahead. They do that through this audit commission – the curtain-raiser is going on in Queensland now, with Campbell Newman with his audit commission. And they've actually said that they would not submit their costings to Treasury and Finance. Instead, they would have an audit commission after an election; probably hire a retired Mosman bookkeeper before the election to bodgy up some figures.

BENSON: Craig Emerson, thanks very much.

EMERSON: Thanks very much, Marius.

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