David Bevan: Let’s welcome Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, South Australian Liberal Senator… good morning to you…

Simon Birmingham: Good morning.

David Bevan: Labor Senator and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong, good morning to you…

Penny Wong: Good morning.

David Bevan: and Rex Patrick in our studio… Centre Alliance Senator for South Australia, one of the old Xenophon Team — it’s now called Centre Alliance… good morning to you…

Rex Patrick: Good morning.

David Bevan: but, Simon Birmingham, Bill Shorten says, if he’s elected, South Australia gets to employ an extra 645 new teachers — now, putting aside my personal interest in this, that’s got to be a good thing, doesn’t it?

Simon Birmingham: Well, South Australia can already employ new teachers, if the South Australian Government wants, from what is record and growing levels of school funding — there’s some $486 million going to the South Australian Government for government schools, this year; under our plan, that grows to $531 million next year, it’ll be $846 million in 10 years’ time, on current projections, so it’s very strong growth, the funding for government school students grows in excess of six (6) per cent per student per annum on average across the country — that’s significantly faster than in the non-government sector and the thing that Bill Shorten has done and he keeps doing, week in week out, is announced multi-billion dollar extra spending commitments on top of what is already record funding and growth and that of course is going to be paid for by your listeners through higher taxes and that's what they have to question, going into the next election: how much higher taxes are they willing to pay to sustain the spending habits of a potential Bill Shorten Labor Government?

David Bevan: Penny Wong, there must come a point where we stop pouring money into teaching?

Penny Wong: Well, look, we think an investment in our kids is good for them, good for the economy, good for the country but, let’s be clear, this is the funding that Tony Abbott said he would provide, until he broke his promise, so this is the funding that in 2013 there was a unity ticket, I remember, not a… not a… not a…not a… not a… no difference between the Liberals and Labor on this, everyone was told in 2013, and then Tony Abbott cut it and what we have said, what we have always said and what we will continue to say is this fair funding, a needs-based funding system, is the right thing for our kids, right thing for the country and is good for the economy. We ought to be…

David Bevan: So, in terms of policy, this just takes us back to that 2013 promise? It’s no more or less than what we were promised by both parties back in 2013?

Penny Wong: It is delivering that promise. Now, over the years, when Simon was Minister, obviously, they presided over the reduction in that promise — we now know what that means: under a Labor Government, you’ll get more teachers, 645 more teachers in South Australia’s schools; that’s a good thing for our kids. We still have a situation where the most likely indicator of how well you do at school is your postcode — we don’t actually think that’s reasonable and it’s not… it holds the country back. We should allow… ensure everyone has the opportunity to be the best of who they are, to achieve their best — good for them, good for the country.

Ali Clarke: But what about the back end of this, Penny Wong, because we can talk numbers and 645 new teachers sounds great but that’s a quantity — what about the quality of teachers and also the support that they would then receive, in and around schools?

Penny Wong: Look, of course you’re right and this is an indication of what this funding could provide in schools but it’s not the only thing that’s required and, in fact, schools could decide to use this funding for other things or in part use it for teachers, in part use it for other ways in which to support students, for example teacher’s aide or kids with… extending kids or children who have learning disabilities, so, you know, there are a whole range of ways in which funding could be used. I always find it interesting, Ali and David, when the Liberals talk about ‘oh, you know, the money doesn’t matter’ — I haven’t met a parent who doesn’t think that resources in schools matter.

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham?

Simon Birmingham: Well, as I said before, funding for government schools across the country is already growing at an average of 6.3 per cent per student per annum over the next few years — that’s far, far faster than inflation or wages growth, it means there’s real extra dollars each and every year already going in for state governments to be able to invest more and what you can hear from Penny’s answer, there, is: the Labor Party’s just committed to spending more money; they don’t really have a plan or an idea on how it will be spent. What we did, while I was Education minister, and released was a thorough analysis, led by David Gonski, around how our extra school funding can be invested — that’s now the basis of a school agreement, that Education ministers have agreed can be taken forward to COAG, that looks at reforms in schools in terms of how we measure progress of students, how we ensure that’s embedded in our curriculum, how we give the tools necessary to teachers and it’s all fully funded, in our current budget, with record funding that’s already growing, without the type of additional extra taxes that Bill Shorten is going to impose on people’s wages, their retirement savings, their small businesses, to be able to fund spending for which they have no idea what particular purpose they want to see it deployed for.

Penny Wong: Can I just respond to that? I’d just make two very quick comments, because I know that Rex is on the line, too. The first is: Simon, you won government promising this funding and then you broke your promise, so, if it was good enough to tell people to get their votes, why isn’t it good enough to deliver…

Simon Birmingham: Well…

Penny Wong: so I’d make that point. Now, the second: he makes the point about wages — can I just point out that the income tax cuts that Bill announced, in the Budget Reply, actually ensure that 10 million Australians will pay less tax under a Shorten Labor Government, so, let’s be clear, we are prepared to make hard decisions to fund things we think matter and that are good for the country.

Simon Birmingham: And, if I can just answer Penny’s question there, which is that, at the last election, we actually promised a level of school funding that is less than what our Government is delivering today, so Malcolm Turnbull, when he was Prime Minister, and myself, as Education minister, increased the level of school funding that’s flowing into schools, today, relative to what was on the table at the 2016 election, that of course our Government won, and that’s just going to be continued growth into the future.

Penny Wong: So it rubs out the broken promise in 2013? There you go!

David Bevan: But, hang on, Penny Wong, how can you spend more and people pay less tax?

Penny Wong: Oh, look, it is absolutely the case we are taking tax changes to the election. I was making a point about income tax, because Simon talked about wages — we’ve made clear and we’ve been upfront about it and I think we’ve spoken about it on this program but can I finish… excuse me, can I finish my answer?

Simon Birmingham: And under your school education policy…

David Bevan: You’ll increase… wait, wait, wait, wait … let’s just stop for a moment, pull everybody down, pull everybody down. Penny Wong, how can you spend…

Penny Wong: I was halfway through an answer to your previous question…

David Bevan: Yeah, yeah, and I… and we’ll re-ask the question…

Penny Wong: I hadn’t finished the answer, if I may.

David Bevan: Well, I’ll ask the question again and…

Penny Wong: Well, I heard the question the first time and we have been clear that we will…

David Bevan: Yeah but… Penny Wong…

Ali Clarke: I forgot what the question was, so let’s go here, okay.

David Bevan: Come on Penny, let’s just start again, alright? Now, how can you spend more and tax less?

Penny Wong: Ah, and I was answering the question, I was referring to the income tax question: it is absolutely the case we are going with tax changes — we have been upfront, for many years now, about changes to negative gearing, about changes to capital gains tax, changes to dividend imputation and I think I’ve been on this program, before, talking about them. Now, I… we just think, if you’re going to make the investments in schools and hospitals that you need, if you’re going to make the economy work for Australians, then those are higher priorities than giving an investor a tax break on their seventh house.

Ali Clarke: Alright, well, at school, we do learn to take turns. Rex Patrick, Centre Alliance Senator for SA, you have been listening to all of this.

Rex Patrick: Yeah, look, my view on this is that we need to have quality teachers directed at the right places and that’s the fundamental thing that we need to do and we also need to make sure that we don’t simply make announcements, that we actually fund them — it’s easy to spend taxpayers’ money; much, much harder to spend it wisely.

David Bevan: So do you want more teachers or…

Rex Patrick: We would like to see quality teachers directed at the right places. Now, if there is a requirement for more teachers, then there should be more teachers — it needs to be needs-based.

David Bevan: But it’s not clear to you that we need more teachers?

Rex Patrick: Well, I’m not an expert in education, I don’t know the nitty-gritty details of exactly where we might need more teachers, but the general principle is: you need to have quality teachers and you need to have enough teachers to meet the demands at all the different schools that we’ve got.

David Bevan: Alan Jones… Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator from South Australia, did Alan Jones get a lesson, in the last few days, of just how limited his power is?

Simon Birmingham: Um, I don’t know, David. I’m not in the psyche of Alan Jones and I can’t say that I follow the ins and outs of his thinking or his programme terribly closely. If you’re talking about the horse race, that’s a huge Melbourne Cup-style event happening in Sydney that’s been promoted via the Sydney Opera House, well, that was something that Anthony Albanese, Luke Foley the Labor Leader in New South Wales, others, were saying should happen before, I think, Alan Jones uttered a word on it, so I’m not sure I understand… there’s lots of talk about Alan Jones, at present, but I’m not sure how relevant it is to anything.

David Bevan: Well, I suppose that is the question — that is, if you have a person who can threaten somebody’s job and demand that advertising goes up on an icon like the Sydney Opera House and the State Government in New South Wales buckles and does exactly that only to have people come out and protest and make him look foolish, is it a reminder to Alan Jones that it’s not his town, it’s not his country? His power falls away very sharply outside of Sydney and I wonder if political parties who are so Sydney-focussed need to remember that.

Simon Birmingham: Well, I’d make a few points. One is: people protest about all sorts of things — that’s not to say that their protests carry the huge weight of public opinion. The other is, as I said before, senior Labor figures were already calling for the promotion of this major Melbourne Cup-style horse race to go ahead, the New South Wales Government was already working on how it should go ahead — I’m just really not sure that Alan Jones’s opinions on this were particularly valid to the decision-making at all. I think it’s far more likely that, as the New South Wales Government appears to have said, they’d already made their decision and they were working through how they were going to implement it.

David Bevan: Well, Penny Wong, your staffer, Stephen Spencer, didn’t want to talk about this — he says David seems to be obsessed by it. I can only ask that he takes that up with Sabra Lane and the AM program who gave it a lot of attention this morning. Do you think there’s a reminder there, to the shock jocks in Sydney, that their power is limited?

Penny Wong: I don’t know why we’re talking about this bloke — he doesn’t broadcast into Adelaide and I don’t think any of your listeners are that interested, are they?

David Bevan: Well… what, you don’t think people are interested in the Sydney Opera House?

Penny Wong: No. I mean, I have a view about the Opera House and…

David Bevan: You don’t think people are interested in gambling advertising being thrown up on the Sydney Opera House?

Penny Wong: I don’t agree with advertising on the Sydney Opera House — I think it’s a beautiful, iconic building, it’s… I don’t think it should be used for this sort of advertising. I haven’t seen what it looks like. I’ve seen some quite interesting things, on social media, about people suggesting alternatives for the advertising which I thought were kind of fun but, yeah, I mean, I just… I think you talked about Mr Jones having power — well, I think it’s sort of demonstrated by the fact we’re having a conversation about it. I mean, he… as you said and I think this was accurate, David, his power… his influence falls away substantially outside of Sydney.

David Bevan: Rex Patrick, are you happy with…

Simon Birmingham: I hope that all the people who are so outraged over this alleged promotion of gambling, which in fact was a promotion of a major horse race and a major tourism event, won’t be taking time off work to watch the Melbourne Cup or participate in any of those types of activities …

David Bevan: Well, actually, that’s an interesting point.

Simon Birmingham: This is a Melbourne Cup-style event happening in Sydney, it’s got huge international presence, it will bring big extra dollars into their economy…

Ali Clarke: But this isn’t about… but people who are outraged or upset… this isn’t about the event itself, necessarily, this is about the promotion for the event being thrown up on an Australian icon, so…

Simon Birmingham: And if you were telecasting the barrier draw for the Melbourne Cup on Federation Square, in Melbourne, would that be a problem? I mean, what’s the difference?

Ali Clarke: Well, Federation Square is Federation Square; this is the Sydney Opera House.

Simon Birmingham: Sure and the Sydney Opera House has all sorts of things screened across its sails from time to time. This wasn’t an advert to gamble, it wasn’t an advert for the event, it was highlighting the fact that a major tourism event…

Ali Clarke: If it wasn’t an advert for the event, why would they… hang on, if it wasn’t… sorry, Simon Birmingham, I’ll just…

Simon Birmingham: It wasn’t an advert, in that sense. I mean, it’s…

Ali Clarke: Sorry, if it wasn’t an advert for the event, why would they bother doing it to promote the event?

Simon Birmingham: It’s promotion, the likes of which we see that sort of promotion happen all the time in a whole range of different ways across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, as well, you know, right around the country, different tourism agencies look for different ways to get attention for, you know, what are very significant events and, in this case…

Ali Clarke: To advertise the event, mm.

Simon Birmingham: and, in this case, I think you’ve got, clearly, a major event that will bring huge economic activity into Sydney and good luck to them for it but it’s very much analogous to the Melbourne Cup and I’m sure, if this were the Melbourne Cup, people wouldn’t be so outraged; it’s just that it’s something that people haven’t heard of as much, before, but it’s going to have a close to a similar impact in terms of industry and activity in Sydney.

David Bevan: Now, that’s the voice of Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator from South Australia. Before that, Penny Wong, Labor Senator from South Australia. Rex Patrick is with the Centre Alliance group in the Senate and he’s in our studio. We need to ask you about your plans to… we asked Tory Shepherd about this, in the Spin Cycle on Friday, and that is that you’re saying… I’m paraphrasing, here, but ‘look, drop the big French submarine deal and buy them off the shelf, because this thing is going to cost us an absolute motza, it’s going to go… the costs are going to blow out.’ Can you explain, in your own words, though, what it is you’re proposing?

Rex Patrick: Alright, so, first and foremost, I do want the submarines built here, in Adelaide, but I believe they can be built much sooner and for much less. This is a program, that, in 2009, was going to cost the taxpayer, all up, $50 billion. It has now moved to $224 billion — that’s inflation-adjusted Defence numbers. We’ve gone from 90-per-cwent local content down to 60-per-cent local content and… that’s what Minister Pyne has said, over the past year or so, but the reality is… and I do have the numbers — they’ve been provided to me in the Senate… the real numbers are less than 40-per-cent Australian content, at this particular point in time. We’ve also got a submarine that was originally going to be in place in 2025 so that it would replace the Collins class. Now we’ll be lucky if it makes its deadline in 2032, so all I’m suggesting is that it’s… noting we’ve got a number of difficulties with the negotiations with the French, at this point in time, that maybe we need to have another look at this. This is a lot of taxpayers’ money — absolutely, submarines, yes; at any price, no.

David Bevan: So you think it’s a dud deal?

Rex Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. It is the most expensive submarine in the world. The French, themselves, are buying six nuclear-powered Barracudas for 9.9 billion euros. We’re paying, from an acquisition perspective… in outturn dollars, we’re paying $74 billion.

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, that doesn’t sound very good?

Simon Birmingham: Well, Rex Patrick is really behaving in a highly irresponsible way, in terms of the way in which he’s undermining South Australia’s credibility, in terms of the building of these submarines, in terms of the work that the Royal Australian Navy has done in contracting and procuring the type of capability that our nation needs for the future. You know, you can’t just go out and buy a submarine from Woolworths or BI-LO; you’ve actually got to go and procure what we need and, for Australia operating in an area in which we need long-range capability… our submarines have to be able to operate across vast distances, they need to… and we want them to be the most technologically sophisticated operating in our region… of course we’ve gone through a thorough process, of course we’ve not just bought the cheapest submarine we can find; we’ve bought the one that the Royal Australian Navy has assessed, in their capability reviews, to be what Australia best needs to meet its future needs and I think it is highly irresponsible that Rex keeps undermining this, which of course undermines the naval shipbuilding industry operation in South Australia, rather than promoting the fact that we, as a government, have backed the capability of SA to build these submarines, to build our future frigates, as well, and are going to create thousands of jobs in SA as a result of that.

Ali Clarke: Rex Patrick, your response?

Rex Patrick: Well, actually, Simon, you haven’t backed SA. If you recall, last year, in May… and this was a decision of Cabinet… you expressly prohibited ASC from being involved in this program. I have a copy of the letter that Minister Pyne wrote, to the French, saying ‘you can do the build, we’re not going to use ASC.’ ASC were involved in the original bid, they were going to be a partner of DCNS, as they were then, or Naval Group, and they have been shunned and, indeed, now it looks like the Government is happy for the sustainment work to be shifted from SA across to Western Australia.

David Bevan: Penny Wong…

Simon Birmingham: That’s… that’s just not true.

David Bevan: We’re going to run out of time, we’re going to run out of time… quickly, Penny Wong…

Penny Wong: Very quickly…

David Bevan: Labor Senator for South Australia, Shadow Foreign Affairs minister, does Labor back the current deal?

Penny Wong: Absolutely and we back the subs being built in Adelaide. I mean, let’s remember, the reason the subs are being built in Adelaide is because South Australians, the community, the Federal Labor Party, to give credit to Simon some South Australian Liberals and Nick Xenophon fought Tony Abbott’s decision to send the subs to Japan, so we’re not going to walk away from it now. Now of course we need value for money and we need to make sure it’s being done properly but we’ve been fighting for over half a decade to make sure the subs are built here.

Ali Clarke: Alright, we will have to leave it there. Thank you very much, Penny Wong, Labor Senator for South Australia, Rex Patrick, Centre Alliance, as well…

Rex Patrick: Thank you.

Ali Clarke: and Simon Birmingham, hats off on the text line for you for referring to the retro BI-LO but there you go.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks, guys.

Ali Clarke: thank you… Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment.

Penny Wong: Ali…

Ali Clarke: Thank you very much.

Penny Wong: Cheers!

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