Transcript of Sky News People's Forum
Period of Service: 24/06/2010 to 27/06/2013
Release Date: 22/04/2013
Release Type: Video Transcript
Transcript ID: 19262
E & OE - PROOF ONLY
David Speers: Hello and welcome to everyone here at the Burvale Hotel and those watching elsewhere. Welcome to the Sky News Herald Sun People's Forum and please make welcome Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Last week Opposition Leader Tony Abbott attended one of these People's Forums with us in Geelong in the most marginal electorate in the country, Corangamite. We are here in the second most marginal electorate in the country, Deakin. It's held by Labor on a margin of just under 1%, one of those very important seats for Labor to try and hold in this upcoming election. Now, the Prime Minister has agreed to take questions on all sorts of issues, whatever you've got in mind this evening. So we can't tell, the Prime Minister doesn't know what those questions will be. We'll find out right now because we're going to get into them very shortly. First I'll just invite the Prime Minister to make a few opening remarks.
PM: Thank you very much David and thank you to everybody for coming along tonight. I was actually here in Deakin with our Labor member here, Mike Simon, who's just over at the side here last Wednesday for a community cabinet which was an opportunity for community members to come along and to ask any question that they wanted to, and we're doing the same tonight. This is your opportunity to ask questions and I'll do my best to answer them for you. What I found at that community cabinet and what I went away thinking is that there were lots of issues on people's minds but there was a really strong sense of community and pride in community here, and I'm sure a lot of that's going to show tonight. I don't know what you're going to ask. I suspect some people are going to ask about jobs, some are going to ask about health, some are going to ask about education. I just briefly wanted to explain what we've been working on as a Government and then it's over to you.
First and foremost, we've been working to keep our economy strong during what has been a very difficult period for the world economy, the global financial crisis, and that's required all of us to work together and I think we should be pretty proud that as a country we've managed to keep growing jobs, almost a million of them, while 28 million jobs have been lost around the world. It hasn't been easy but that's been an achievement. What that means is we can now look out and build for the future, and I think this is a really interesting and, indeed, full of opportunity time in our history. We live in the region of the world that's going to see the most economic growth and I want to make sure that we get that strength and we bring it home here in Australia to this electorate, to every part of the country.
To do that the future doesn't just shape itself, it's never assured, you've got to build it. We've been working on building that future of strength and prosperity, making sure we're ready for it by investing in infrastructure, the traditional kind as well as the new infrastructure like the NBN, working on it by building a clean energy future, working on it by developing our nation's skills, including having more apprenticeships out there than ever before. Working on it too by now focussing on the quality of our schools, something I am very determined to make a difference to because I want every child to get a great education to reach their potential to be able to get one of those high-skilled high-paid jobs in the future. And if we can keep our economy strong it means that there are opportunities to share and we can also finance the things that are important to all of us, a good health care system, and then for the future too, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, disability care, so we can do better for people with disabilities in our community and we all know that if something happened to us or to a family member in the future that they would get the care and support they need.
So that's been our agenda but this isn't about our agenda. It's about anything that's on your mind. So I'm very happy to take questions and do everything I can to answer them. Thanks David.
David Speers: All right, thank you Prime Minister. Let's get straight into the questions. I'll invite our first question at the microphone, and if you wouldn't mind just telling us your first name and, if you're comfortable, what you do to give us some context behind the question you're asking. Sir?
Bernard: Yes, my name's Bernard, I'm retired now. Prime Minister, now that the United Kingdom and New Zealand have joined the many enlightened countries of the world to legislate for all their adult citizens to have equal right of marriage, can you explain what prevents your Government now from following their lead and grasping the mettle, reinforcing Australia's image as a country of a fair go for all?
PM: Thanks for your question. And this is a debate that I think the nation's been very focussed on for the last few years but it has got a new impetus because, you know, we hate it when New Zealand does something in front of us, let's be frank. So that's brought it back onto the national agenda in a big way, not that it ever really left. What we're doing is - you know, I've got a view about this and my view is pretty well-known. But I'm not seeking to impose my view on anybody else. We have a conscience vote on the Labor site of politics. What the New Zealanders managed to do was have a conscience vote across their parliament. So Prime Minister Key, John Key, he's a conservative but his political party had a conscience vote. We need to see that across all of the political parties in the Australian Parliament because it's only that, I think, that is ever going to be able to assure people that the Australian Parliament is dealing with this with people voting in accordance with their beliefs. So we've got there for the Labor side of politics, I hope the other side of politics gets there too. And then whatever the outcome at least you know, whoever you sent to Parliament they're voting in accordance with their conscience and that can obviously be informed talking to their local community.
David Speers: PM, can I just ask: why do you personally oppose same sex marriage?
PM: I do know when people look at me they think maybe that's a pretty eccentric view for someone like me to have, because as people know I'm not a religious person so it's not a religious reason. For me, I've always thought that our nation and its traditions, we inherit and keep some that have been forged over time and then we add to them new ones that we develop and purpose-create and they guide us for the future. And I have thought in this area that we should develop and purpose-create something new that guides us for the future so that there would be marriage in its very traditional form and then there would be other ways of recognising relationships which are full of love and full of significance. But I know a lot of people don't agree with that view.
David Speers: All right. Bernard, I think you might be one of them. But thank you for that question. Let's get to our next question.
Kevin: My name's Kevin and I'm a university student. Firstly, I just want to say thank you for coming out tonight and providing us the opportunity to ask the questions that matter to us. My question is: the Government has recently announced $2.3 billion funding cuts to universities to help fund the Gonski reforms. If indeed the Gonski reforms does help provide a better primary and secondary education, will these same students not go on to receive an inferior university education? And secondly, Dr Emerson has recently stated that we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to - sorry, getting a bit nervous - once-in-a-generation opportunity to make sure that every young child in Australia receives a higher quality education. So does this liberty not extend to university students also? It appears from my perspective that you're robbing Peter to pay Paul.
PM: Thank you for your question, Kevin, and I can understand, you know, there's obviously a sense of passion as you ask it and I can understand that passion. I mean, I first got involved in raising my voice publicly about anything, protesting about university cutbacks way back when under Malcolm Fraser's Government, so I do know that people get passionate about this question. Probably some young people in the audience now all looking at each other trying to remember how long ago that was.
What we've done here is we've needed to work through in an environment where we've got a lot less tax money coming into the Federal Government than used to come in, and that's an overhang of the global financial crisis and that conditions have been a bit tough for business because of that and the high Australian dollar, there's less tax money coming in than there used to be. So, every time you take a decision to spend some money no matter how wise the spend you've also got to look for savings elsewhere in the budget, responsible savings. We need to look for those savings to put some more money into our schools for our kids because so many schools at the moment are below the resources necessary to get kids a great education.
When we looked around what we saw was that in universities we've increased funding by more than 50% since we came to Government. It is 190,000 more people who will go to university because of our reforms. Even with all of that growth in numbers money is still going up per student place. And so what we're asking universities to do is to not take a cut in the sense that they'll get less dollars next year than they've had this year. What we're saying is your funding's been growing like that, what we want to do is moderate that growth rate so one year there will be a 2% efficiency dividend, the next year a 1.25% efficiency dividend. Funding will still go up, it just won't go up as sharply. And we think that that's a fair contribution to making a real difference to what's happening in schools for the future. I want more kids to go to uni, I want more kids to have apprenticeships. We'll still be growing university places, universities will still be quality places to go. We'll keep investing to see more apprenticeships. But we are asking universities to make this contribution now.
Now, I understand it's a tough decision. If I was a vice-chancellor I'd be complaining about it but I've got to make the decisions looking at everything that's going on as to what's the highest priority and the best thing to do and that's the answer we've come up with.
David Speers: Kevin, thank you very much. Let's get to our next question.
Michael: Good evening Prime Minister, my name is Michael, I'm an in-house counsel. My question, Prime Minister, relates to the recent announcement that Government won't be able to meet its budget surplus. My question is thus, when does the Government expect to obtain a budget surplus and how it will go about obtaining that?
PM: We've got the budget coming up in May so it's being worked on now and worked on hard by Wayne Swan and Penny Wong, the team that does our economic work for us. So I'm not in a position to unveil the May budget tonight. What I can say to you is we are working so that when we do say that there are new areas of spending, that we find savings on the budget to match that spending. So, you know, on the spending side of the budget there's been a lot of restraint and there will be a lot of restraint for the future. And it is pretty tough when, you know, you've got a big new proposal like funding schools, you know, better and we've got to look to other areas of the budget to take savings to make that happen. But that's what we're doing.
So if we're doing all of that you might be asking yourself the question: well, how come the budget isn't just coming back to surplus. The problem with that isn't on the spending side because we're taking a very tough approach to spending, it's on the money into Government side. Government doesn't have its own money, we get it either because you pay tax going to work in your pay packet or because businesses pay tax or because we get money through things like capital gains tax. And at the moment we are getting less tax money per unit of economic activity in our economy, less tax money for each unit of GDP than any time since the early 1990s. So that's the result of the global financial crisis impact on business, high Aussie dollar impact on business, they're less profitable, they're paying less tax. Things have been increasing in value less, less capital gains tax. That's what's hitting our budget side of the money coming in. So when you hear Wayne Swan talking about, you know, a sledgehammer hitting the revenue that's what he's referring to.
When you've got that kind of problem with the amount of money coming in you can do one of two things. You can say well, we'll keep cutting and cutting and cutting and cutting on the expenditure side, which would really hurt people, or you can take the approach that we're taking and say well, you know, the revenue coming in will recover over time. The important thing now is to match any new spending with savings. We've got to keep our economy strong. Cutting and cutting and cutting wouldn't help our economy stay strong. It would hurt people. So we're going to work so the budget recovers, keep the restraint on the spending side and you'll see all of the outcomes of that on budget night when all of the figures are produced.
Michael: Thank you.
David Speers: Can I just follow up on that Prime Minister. Isn't spending also an issue here because the mining tax hasn't raised the money it was expected to and yet you're still spending that money. The carbon tax in a couple of years might drop off as well and you're still guaranteeing all the compensation for that.
PM: I'm going to have a little smile at the question in this sense that, you know, I've had to for years and years and years - well, it feels like years and years, but a few years - go to forums where people have said to me "Oh, the mining tax is so big it's going to kill mining" and now everybody goes "Oh, it's too small" and, you know, "the carbon tax is so big it's going to kill the economy", and now everybody says "Oh, it's too small". Well, it just goes to show a lot of the fear campaign about mining and about carbon wasn't right. What we've done with the revenue side and the expenditure side, they're factored into the budget bottom lines. We're factoring in the reductions in what we're getting from mining and you know we'll have to update forecasts at budget time about what we're going to get in through carbon pricing. We do that and we also look at the spending side responsibly. We knew when we created the mining tax that it would go up or down depending with the profitability of mining. That's what it's designed to do.
David Speers: So you will look at the spending associated with the carbon tax responsibly?
PM: Well, you'll see all of the household assistance that's being delivered now staying, absolutely.
David Speers: Why?
PM: We said to people they'd get that assistance. The carbon price that's in place now means people should get that assistance and they'll continue to get it.
David Speers: Even if it's a much lower tax?
PM: We said they'd have it and they'll certainly get it.
David Speers: Okay. Let's get our next question.
Troy: Hello, Prime Minister, my name's Troy, I work in IT so my question is about the NBN. There's rumours about costs blowout and delay in deployment of the network. How are you going to reassure people the fertility of such a large investment into public infrastructure? And also a lot of people don't understand the benefits of a high speed broadband. How are you going to encourage them to adopt and understand the new network?
PM: Thanks Troy. Well, hopefully on the benefits if you work in IT you might be able to do some of that explanation for us. With the National Broadband Network it's a big investment, you know, there's no doubt about it, it's a big investment. But it's the kind of big investment that only Government can do and do properly. Because what you are building, just like years and years ago we built the copper telephone wire network, you're building something that people will then use, will have competition on it. So you'll be able to get your broadband from many retail companies but they'll all be using the same network, the same backbone, just the same way that you can get your telephone services from various telephone companies but for the landline services they're all using the same copper wire.
In terms of the costs for the NBN, they are, you know, what we predicted they would be. With the rollout there's been some delays getting the contracting done for the people who are actually dragging the cable down streets and wiring it up. But that is being worked on and NBN Co. make sure that that's happening and you've probably heard some of that publicly.
Where does it take us to? Well, it takes us to where there will be fibre to your home, to your business around the country, more than 90% of premises getting the benefits of the fibre. That is the quickest broadband you can get.
There are alternatives. The Opposition's put one forward where you only take the fibre so far, you put it in an ugly cupboard that would be on the street and then it connects into the copper network. That's the same as a huge highway then suddenly stopping and a tiny suburban street is supposed to take all of the traffic. It would just choke things up. It's only the fibre into the home that will give people the speeds they want and need in this modern age.
What can you do with it? Well you can create the jobs of the future, the jobs other countries with broadband are creating. You can better provide health and education services, and I've seen with my own eyes things like a dermatologist who is in one part of the country diagnosing a rash on a woman's leg when she is thousands of kilometres away because he can see it well enough through the camera to know what it is. I mean, that kind of revolution in health care for a country of our geography is a tremendous advantage and that's where the NBN will take us.
David Speers: Troy, are you satisfied with that answer? Is this the sort of thing that you want to see?
Troy: Yes, I am, thank you very much.
David Speers: Good on you Troy, thank you. Let's get to our next question.
Ron: Thank you Prime Minister for the opportunity. My name is Ron, I'm a retired engineer and a Bulldog tragic. My query regards lack of publicity of achievement. In June 2010 following a change of leadership of the Labor Party, which I'm sure you'd remember, Kevin Rudd addressed the media and spoke of the achievements of the Government since taking over from the Howard Government. I'm sure that many people like me were greatly impressed with this substantial list and I wondered why I had not heard of this list before. I believe that your Government has fallen into the same pattern. You've achieved a lot but failed to effectively gain publicity for those achievements. Prime Minister, what will you do in the coming months to sell your accomplishments to the electorate?
PM: Thanks Ron. Well, you're right, our footy team got smashed on the weekend so that's a problem to recover from.
On taking the message out, I mean, you can always learn things and do better and I'm certainly prepared to. And then there's I think some things about the way we get information today and the speed of the information and, you know, what's new. We're in a time of real change in the media. It's not just us, it's happening all over the developed world, and I'm not sure that any of us has quite worked out the way of having some really complicated public policy debates during this time. So I often feel like there's a sea of information out there today but it's so much that it's hard for people to pick up what bits really matter to them. And then from the point of view of, you know, the people who do our media, they've got a move, you know, really quickly because to sustain attention in a world where things move quickly they've got to move quickly. So David can't be on at 9 o'clock in the morning talking about the same thing that he's talking about at 9 o'clock that night - and he does work those kind of hours - because, you know, people would say "Oh, we're not going to watch that again". But, you know, some of our really complicated public policy debates, what is the best way of making sure children get a great education? Well, I think I've got a really good idea. But could we do that over 12 hours of TV? I'd love to. But I suspect all of the people in the media would say "No, that wouldn't work".
So there's some things about the cycle of the media now that makes it harder to communicate and get the feedback that we need, ironically even though we live in an age of more information than ever before. And I think we're all still in some ways finding what's the new rhythm for democracies in this age of really intense information. So maybe there's some things that we could do better. Maybe there's some big questions there to think about, about democratic practice and dialogue during the age we live in now where things happen so fast.
David Speers: Hopefully forums like this are a bit of the answer as well in getting some of that policy debate going. Thanks so much for that Ron. Now let's get to our next question.
Greg: Hello, Prime Minister. My name is Greg, I'm a parking officer. Given there's a large number of people who own multiple homes and a large number of Australians who own no home, would you work towards abolishing negative gearing on non-owner-occupied properties and giving tax breaks for owner-occupied mortgages?
PM: Thanks for your question, Greg. We're not intending to change anything about negative gearing because it is an - it is a policy. I mean, people will have their views about the fairness of it and, you know, sort of there's a public policy debate itself, the fairness of it. But certainly if you made any big changes to negative gearing you'd really change the way the property market works, and in particular you'd change the way the rental market works and people's preparedness to invest in the creation of second properties that other people rent and live in. So it's not our intention to do that.
In our system there are a number of tax breaks for the family mortgage, and that's appropriate because we do want to see people owning their own homes and I'm glad that, you know, with interest rates where they are now, I mean over the life of our Government, you know, your average mortgage is costing people $5,000 less a year than it used to. And that's good, that's a good measure for housing affordability, lower interest rates and consequently lower mortgage repayments. And we've also invested too on the side of creating more affordable rental properties because there's lots of people who would like to own, can't own and do need access to quality, low-rent properties. So that's the approach we've taken. We're not intending to change anything about negative gearing.
David Speers: Is there anything though, PM, that you'll offer before the election to try and tackle this issue of home ownership and affordability?
PM: I mean, our main setting has been if we can keep the, you know, strong economy, tight on the Government budget, you know, the budget AAA rated, all the ratings agencies tight on the Government budget, you give the Reserve Bank space to move on interest rates.
David Speers: So leave it in the Reserve Bank's hands?
PM: Well, on mortgage affordability and then there are things we can do for social housing, low-income housing and we've got a number of those policies. You know, they take a while to set up and to take effect. So it's not a question of short-term changes, it's a question of then being part of the backdrop as investors makes decisions.
David Speers: Can I just test who would like to see both sides of politics doing something a bit more on home affordability? Few hands there. All right. Yes, if you can deal with the banks is the challenge there. Okay, let's get our next question.
Neil: Good evening Prime Minister, thanks very much for this opportunity. My name is Neil, I work as a freelance consultant on technical side. What policies are being prepared to ensure food security for Australia? My concerns are that the Australian population already exceeds the limit proposed by Tim Flannery in his book 'The Future Eaters'. Other nations are buying Australian land for food production for their people. Foreigners cannot buy land in other countries such as Thailand and Japan and, frankly, I think the Foreign Investment Review Board should try a lot harder.
PM: Thank you for your question. I read that book a few years back too, 'The Future Eaters' and I remember all of the - it was the first time I'd really read anything about megafauna and what happened to megafauna in our country, so it was a good book. We're doing a commercial for Tim Flannery's books now, we should stop that but it was a good book.
On food security, look, I think I can be very reassuring about this because I actually think the facts are very reassuring. I mean, we are a nation that makes far more food than we need. We are a huge net exporter of food so we've got farmers who are incredibly productive, have found the way of being productive, even in what can be a, you know, harsh unpredictable land. We make a lot of food, we export a lot of food. We live in a region of the world that's got growing numbers of middle class consumers, you know, more than 3 billion people are going to be middle class and they'll want quality food like the food you and I eat and we get the opportunity to eat here in Australia. So a big export industry for us now and it will be bigger in the future.
In terms of foreign investment in land, yes, it is possible for people to invest in land. You know, they don't get to take the land away so we'll always be, you know, in control and in command of what happens on Australian soil. So I don't think we've got anything to fear there and when you actually look at the statistics as to how much foreign investment there's been in land, it is proportionately very small compared with Australian ownership which is overwhelming. So I don't think we have to worry there either. We do always check, you know, we have rules for foreign investment coming in. We have a national interest test for major foreign investments. It's applied rigorously. But our nation tends to be one that looks for investment, we want to grow. So investment's a good thing. Got to meet national interests tests, we make sure that it does, and I think the settings are right for the way in which we look at foreign investment. I think, you know, the other side of the coin here is if we tightened up, less foreign investment, it would actually mean less jobs, less growth in our economy and we don't want to end up there.
David Speers: Thanks Neil. Let's get to our next question if we can.
George: Thank you Prime Minister. George, I'm a retired teacher. I want to raise the superannuation debate. And as the senior Australian and I have a reasonable income from my superannuation but it's probably not enough to attract the new tax, but my question is I think it is unfair that I do not pay any tax on my 80,000 a year I draw which I would pay if I was still working.
David Speers: Someone wants to pay tax.
George: I'm a socialist at heart.
PM: Well, that's a very unusual question. I've done a lot of these forums and I'm not sure I've ever had anybody come to the microphone and volunteer to pay more tax. So I'll be able to remember this forum very clearly.
We - we're trying to get all these settings right for long-term sustainability because that's what superannuation was about. I mean, if you think way back when, before the Hawke and Keating Governments gave us universal superannuation, superannuation was something that, you know, white collar people got, public servants got, no-one else did and everybody else just retired on the age pension and that was the best people were going to look forward to for the rest of their lives, the age pension and anything they'd managed to put into the bank. We've changed all of that. You know, a Labor scheme, wouldn't be here if it wasn't for past Labor Governments, compulsory superannuation, people looking and the young people around this audience can look forward to retiring with a decent retirement income, and from the point of view of the nation it means that over time, whilst there will always be some Australians who need the age pension there will be less and less of a call from the public purse for the age pension, more people living on their super.
So, how do you get all of that right so that you're balancing the incentives to put money into super? We've worked hard to do that. It is very concessionally taxed when you're in the drawdown phase, when you're retired. I think, you know, we looked at this long and hard. We think we've got the cut-off points right and you are below those cut-off points. So we didn't want to dissuade people from putting money away because they thought they were going to hit a big tax bill in retirement, so we haven't done that.
One thing I'm particularly passionate about is we are boosting up the super of people who have got low incomes because they'll retire on less. They're often women who have taken some time off to have kids and have go back into the workforce part-time. This is contested politics. We want to make sure that there is a continuation of that low income superannuation contribution so that's something that people can think about, but I do want to bolster at the lower end and we've only put taxes on at what is the upper end and you're obviously below that.
David Speers: PM, one of the big complaints is often to both sides of politics, stop tinkering with super. Are you able to give any sort of assurance guarantee that you'll leave these changes now and the super system untouched?
PM: Well we did at the same time that we announced these changes, said we want stability in the system, and we've all - you know, putting in a set of advisors who would, you know, publicly advise on any future changes. I agree this is an area that needs longer-term policy settings because, you know, there are people in this audience who won't retire for 35, you know, maybe 40 years, so with the maximum stability we've got to let them know what the system's going to offer them right at that time in life.
David Speers: Even if George wants to pay more tax. Thanks for that question. Let's get our next one.
Jarrad: Hello Prime Minister, my name's Jarrad, I'm a landscape architect. My question is in relation to same sex partnerships. I think that the parliament has failed in its duties to provide order to the GBLTI community because it's once again not passed any kinds of civil relationship recognition. And I think that having a conscience vote, if Tony Abbott isn't going to allow it, is just a political connivance. I was wondering, could the Labor Party possibly go ahead to the next election with not only a vote on civil unions but also civil marriages? In that way, same sex relationships will at least have something at the end of next political term.
PM: Okay, well, what we have done and then what else you're asking us to do, what we have done, and I'm glad we've done it, is we've across, you know, dozens and dozens and dozens of federal laws, we've equalised treatment for same sex couples. So, you know, there was equal treatment between married couples and de facto, heterosexual couples, we've extended that so there's equal treatment for same sex couples. So that's things likes social security, superannuation, immigration rules, all the rest of it, we've equalised treatment. So that has been a big thing to do. My recollection is it was more than 90 laws that's needed changing so that's been achieved.
We've had the vote on changing the Marriage Act to enable same sex marriage. We had a conscience vote. The other side of politics didn't and there wasn't the majority to change the laws.
In terms of what should happen next, I mean, I think this is something that, you know, as a community people might want to put different views but my understanding is that overwhelmingly people are now not asking for a civil union structure, they are asking for a change to the marriage laws and I don't think that people would be satisfied on that side of the debate with anything less than a change to the marriage laws. At the same time, a number of states have got civil union laws so that same sex couples can have recognition under those state laws. So I think we're in a world now, frankly, where the change federally that people will want contemplated, and contemplated again given it failed in this Parliament, is a change to the Marriage Act.
David Speers: I think that's what Jarrad wants. Thank you very much for that question. Let's get our next question.
Donna: Hi, Prime Minister Gillard. My name's Donna and I'm a film maker. I've always voted for the Labor Party as it has best represented my ideals. However, the current position on live exports of animals has me deeply concerned. As our awareness of cruel practises within this and related industries become increasingly highlighted, the pragmatic motive of job preservation becomes severely challenged. Are you and your Government putting pragmatism above important human values?
PM: Thank you for your question and I'm very much exposed to this perspective on the debate. You'd find some friends in my family who put this perspective. What we've tried to do is get a balance right and sometimes when you look to get a balance right in a difficult area there are lots of people on both sides of the debate who aren't happy with you but that's what we've sought to do.
Where this sort of started we had the - got the live animal export trade, cattle and sheep. I think the explosion into public consciousness was around that 'Four Corners' report which showed dreadful acts of animal cruelty. I was actually in and around the Northern Territory not long after that report and spoke to some of the people who raise animals for live animal export and they had tears in their eyes. I mean, they had watched this footage and they're in the trade and they don't want to see animals treated like that. So, you know, I just think we be get a bit black and white on the stereotypes and who thinks what about animal welfare and animal cruelty, but I did see, your know, tough looking men with tears in their eyes because of that footage.
What we then sought to do, we put the ban in place and that was very controversial - very controversial. We put it in place to say we'll have this trade but we'll have it when we can monitor animal welfare conditions once animals are exported and so that's what we're doing now. Now, there are some people who say well, you shouldn't have stopped the trade at all and it all could have fixed itself and you cost people money. There are other people who say it hasn't gone far enough and you should stop the trade. I think where we've got the balance the balance is right, there will be the trade, there will be the jobs that come from the trade, there will be the exports, but there will also be the tracking and tracing so we know how animals are being treated and we can monitor the standards that are being applied.
David Speers: Thanks Donna. Let's get our next question.
Jodie: Good evening Prime Minister, it's an honour to spend this evening with you, despite the fact you go for the Western Bulldogs, sorry. I have two questions that hopefully are closely linked and around tax...
David Speers: Just get your name, sorry?
Jodie: I beg your pardon, I'm Jodie and I'm a primary teacher by qualification but currently a full-time foster carer. I'm aware that faith-based organisations provide numerous services around the areas of emergency relief and welfare. These organisations rely on the current tax structure to - in order to remain financially viable. Have you any plans to change the current taxation arrangements within the next 12 months?
PM: There's been a - there are changes but they're changes we've worked with charities and churches on, and I'd have to say Jodie if you want to follow this in real, real detail I'm going to have to get your address and get some more detail.
PM: What we've tried to do is - there's this part of the Tax Act that's called the deductible gift register. So when churches and charities say "If you give us some money you'll get a tax deduction" they are the ones who are under that register.
PM: There's been some questions about how it works and how fair it is and how we can deal with it in a more rational way because there's some organisations I think we'd all say gee, they should be tax deductible and they're not. So there's been a long process to lead to some new rules. David Bradbury, our Assistant Treasurer has worked on this. I know at one point, to be frank, there were some concerns from some churches and charities about where it was going but I'm pretty confident in saying we've worked to address those concerns and we can get you full details of that.
David Speers: Actually Jodie, would you mind giving us a bit of detail on the concern that you have. Is there a practical charity you're talking about, some...
Jodie: Well, I do a lot of work - I'm involved obviously as a foster carer but also attending a local church and we do a lot of welfare work. And our concern as a - as the welfare arm of that church is our ability to serve really needy members of the community.
David Speers: And you're not getting the tax deductible status?
Jodie: We've currently got tax deductible status, but there's been some discussion around ministers of religion and that tax exemption no longer applying to them. So the concern is around in terms of how smaller churches would be able to continue providing welfare to their local area if that tax exemption is removed from recognised ministers of religion.
David Speers: Okay, that's been looked at by the sounds of...
Jodie: And so the other really boring tax question is - this is more a personal one. As a foster carer I've been caring for eight years and I've in that time missed out on superannuation and all the perks that go with being lucky enough to live and work in Australia. My question is at a federal level. Is there any discussion about the possibility of foster caring being, I guess, viewed as a profession with formal qualifications which would not only potentially attract more carers but also quality carers that have been appropriately skilled and resourced, so that we could actually receive all of the perks that go with being an employee, per se, in Australia? Because right now I get - I'm on a pension and I don't receive anything other than reimbursements.
PM: So you've been a foster carer for eight years?
Jodie: That's correct, yeah.
PM: And how many kids would you have looked after in that time?
Jodie: Prime Minister, of the top of my - I think I'm at 45. But they are beautiful, beautiful kids.
PM: Well done to you.
David Speers: Good on you Jodie.
Jodie: Thank you so much.
PM: Well, that's - well, I think the spontaneous applause says it all. That's an amazing contribution to our nation, so thank you for doing it. The truth is that's a new one on me. So that's two things that this forum, someone wanting to pay more tax and...
Jodie: And I want superannuation.
PM: Yeah, that's right Jodie. We're going to have to take your idea away and have a look at it. So I don't know the answer.
PM: And I'm not aware that there's any sort of plans in progress but you make a really legitimate point. So let's follow up with some details because that's - it is - I mean, I obviously know about foster care and I know how much people do, but in terms of us extending superannuation or anything like that, that's a new take on it...
PM: ...and I'm happy to take it away and think about it, and respond to you.
Jodie: I really appreciate that because they have done that over in Britain, they actually made it a profession so carers must attend university and cover trauma training and things like that that would appropriately skill them to work with these kids that are so vulnerable and so needy and they do require very complex levels of care. But I'd love some super.
PM: Fair enough too.
Jodie: Thank you so much for your time.
PM: Thank you.
David Speers: Well done Jodie, thanks so much for that. Let's see if you can top that.
Michael: Good evening Prime Minister, my name's Michael, I'm a student and thank you for this opportunity. So Prime Minister, as the leader of a political party that purportedly stands for a stronger, smarter and fairer Australia could you explain to me why your Government is seeking to fund its education reforms by cutting university funding rather than putting an end to mandatory detention of asylum seekers, a regime that is expected to cost taxpayers $2 billion over the next four years? Specifically, how does cutting education to fund education promote a smarter Australia? And how does locking up desperate people who have committed no crime for an indeterminate amount of time promote a fairer Australia?
PM: Okay, thank you. I can see you've been out there on the web site reading some of the stuff so that's good, that's a credit to you.
The issue about university and university funding we talked a bit about before. And so I can assure you, you know, every university in the country is going to get more money next year than it's getting this university year, more money the year after than it's getting in 2014. What's going to happen is the rate of growth is going to be slightly slower against a 50% increase. So you might think we still made the wrong decision but that's the decision we've made and I'm comfortable with it.
Michael: So with respect, Prime Minister, the vice-chancellor at Monash University has suggested that this is the biggest cut to university funding since 1996.
PM: Well, I know that there have been emails sent out and where - and look, I know that was reported in the paper and I think maybe you've also got one from Minister Emerson explaining all of this. So look, it - we've made a change to university funding and if the vice-chancellor was going "I was going to get more money next year and now I'm not going to get all of the money I was expecting". If I was the vice-chancellor there, I would be complaining about it too. But if you put yourself in, you know, my shoes, got to make decisions for the nation, universities need money, I want them to have more money, they will have more money, we've given them a lot more money. They need students too and for the future we've got to make sure that, you know, students in the poorest homes, poorest schools are actually getting a great chance to go to university and, you know, that I think is just a foundation stone of us being a fairer country and that's what I'm very focussed on. So we may have to degree to differ on that.
On mandatory detention, asylum seeker, refugee policy, it's in - it's hugely complicated. Reasonable people will take different perspectives on it. My perspective is that we as a nation, number one, have to do everything we can to deter people from getting on boats. People lose their lives that way. People lose their lives in the hundreds that way. We've seen it happen. And people have given money to, you know, transnational criminals to people smugglers and I don't want people who are trying to profit out of other people's misery getting money.
So, how do we get there? Well we got guided by the best of opinion, former Chief of the Defence Force Angus Houston, a wonderful man, a foreign policy expert Michael L'Estrange, a refugee expert from here, from Melbourne, Paris Aristotle, and they came up with a program of action that said what we've got to do is make sure there aren't incentives to get on that boat. So, you know, if you stay where you are and get processed where you are you've got to the same chance of getting to Australia as if you got on the boat, and mandatory detention offshore processing is part of achieving that. I know a lot of people look at it and go, you know, "It makes me feel uncomfortable" but I think it is appropriate for us to do everything we can to stop people, you know, risking their lives getting on those boats and that's what we're endeavouring to do guided by this report.
David Speers: Prime Minister, let me ask you this: eight months since that report and as well intentioned it may have been, do you think offshore processing is working?
PM: I think we need to do everything that was recommended in that report and we haven't been able to because of the parliamentary gridlock. That's the unfortunate position that we find ourselves in. So, you know, I would hope in the lead-up to the next election, we don't have a simple, you know, sort of three-word slogan driven debate about this, it's a complex area. And like all transnational crimes it changes and it mutates. You know, way back when drug smugglers used to put drugs in, you know, briefcases or suitcases. Then they worked out they were going to get caught that way. So then they started getting drug mules to swallow the drugs because they thought that would be evading detection. In the same way a transnational crime like drug smuggling mutates, a transnational crime like people smuggling mutates, and we've all have got to be up to the minute with how to fight it. But I'm confident that the Houston report has given us the up-to-the-minute advice. We've got to get on and implement all of it.
David Speers: But the policy at the moment isn't working, is it?
Well, but we haven't had the ability to put the full policy in place.
David Speers: Do you really think Malaysia would fix everything?
PM: I think Malaysia would make a big difference because it would then - you know, people would want to come here and end up somewhere else very quickly.
David Speers: Okay.
PM: And we are returning people, that's the other thing that does make a difference. So we've returned over a thousand to Sri Lanka. That's an important message too.
David Speers: Michael, thanks for the question.
Michael: Thank you Prime Minister.
PM: Chatting amongst ourselves.
David Speers: Let's get the next question.
Sharon: Good evening Prime Minister, my name's Sharon, I'm currently a stay-at-home mum and I have two young girls in the public school system. I was wondering if you would be able to share with us a few improvements that Labor may be looking at improving to the public school system as it is today.
PM: Thanks Sharon, and what ages are your girls?
Sharon: Seven and five.
PM: Seven and five, so they've got a way to go in their schooling.
Well, to give you the story sort of quickly, what we did when we first came to office, I was Education Minister, is we made transparent what was happening in schools. That's what My School is about. First time ever that you can know, even a Federal Minister for Education could know what standards are being achieved in schools and what resources are going into that school. For all schools, public, Catholic, independent, we've never had that information before. Now you can of it the same way I can have it on My School.
Then we used that information to target a number of schools for national partnerships and in those schools we've proved that if you bring some more resources and you tie it to some new ways of working you'll lift the standards for those kids, and those new ways of working include empowering principals so that they get more of a say over what's happening in their school, boosting teacher quality so the teachers aren't just, you know, there's your class, do your best. They're supported every day in what is a really tough job. Introducing into those schools the abilities to have specialists, maybe a literacy coach who can sit and watch the teacher's classroom practice and then give them real feedback: what you're doing well, what you need to work on. Maybe a librarian, maybe a language specialist or an extra maths teacher or someone who can really inspire in science, more resources to do those sorts of things. Then engaging parents in school because all of the evidence shows great schools have great school communities in there working with them alongside them. So they're kinds of the big reform directions: empowered principles, better teaching, access to specialists, community engaged, all of it transparent that we want to achieve through our new school funding reforms. So schools that have more resources and they'd have to have an improvement plan that brought these elements together and then everybody, not just me, but everybody here through My School would be able to hold the school to account for getting it done.
For the kids, what does it mean? Well hopefully where we get to is every child gets their own learning plan, and that sounds like jargon but what it basically means is that the child who's falling behind does get the reading recovery support they need and the child that's streaks ahead and bored gets the extra hard work that's going to keep them engaged. So it's not one size fits all. You sit at the back of the class not understanding what's going on and no-one comes and helps you. You sit at the front of the class bored because you've already done the assignment in 10 minutes when everybody else in the class is still struggling with it. That every child gets something that engages them and pushes them towards their full potential.
Sharon: Thank you.
David Speers: Sharon, thank you. Let's get another question.
Graham: Good evening Prime Minister. I'm a retired professional engineer and my name's Graham and I hope you don't think this is a set-up from the last question. I have five grandchildren and they attend a Catholic school, and I'd like to vote Labor if you can tell me why they'd be better off under Labor.
PM: Well, I happily can tell you that, so there we have it. What we're doing with these school funding reforms that we've just talked about with Sharon and that agenda for improvement, we're focussing on every school, public schools, Catholic schools, independent schools. We're creating a new school resource standard. So how much money, how many resources do you need in a school to get every child a great education in the school? To do that we know that there's an amount per student you need because we've worked this all through national partnerships schools, reference schools, which is what I talked to Sharon about as well. But we've also worked out it's not one size fits all. You need more money, a loading if kids are disadvantaged. You need more money, a loading if kids come from non-English speaking backgrounds. You need extra support if kids have got disabilities. You need extra support because it costs more to have schools in regional Australia. You need extra support if you're going to have a small school because there are fixed costs and there are less kids to absorb those fixed costs. So we want every school to have this school resource standard inclusive of the loadings that have been worked out for the kids in that school.
For Catholic education over the next six years, what that means is an extra $1.4 billion above what they get now in base funding, and it means around an extra billion dollars more in indexation. So a big increase in funding. Why is that fair? Because many Catholic schools have made it their mission to teach some very poor communities, or ordinary communities - I mean that in the nicest way - communities that don't have a lot of money. And so they should get federal support, they should get money to make sure their schools are coming up to the school resource standards, and under us they will.
Graham: So you're basically saying that you're going to treat everyone the same. But except you're going to give the good ones more help and the bad ones more help as well.
PM: What I'm saying is every school would have - it's a six-year transition. Every school would end up with the amount of money in that school to get those kids a great education. For public schools that would be a mix of federal and state government money. For Catholic and independent schools that would be a mix of federal money, some state money and the money that you pay in fees. How would we work out the money you pay in fees, or your...
PM: ...the parents of your children, so your son or daughter whoever it is.
Graham: Trickle down.
PM: Yeah, that's right. How would we work out how much is fair? Well, the same way we do now. There would be a, you know, capacity to pay socio-economic loading the way there is now, socio-economic status. But, you know, because there are many schools I can tell you many schools in the Catholic system who are below the school resource standard they would look forward to more money. There are some schools that are above the school resource standard, not many but there are some. Those schools would get the same funding deal they would have had if we hadn't changed the system.
David Speers: Does that convince you Graham? You said you would be happy to vote Labor if you could be convinced on this?
Graham: I'm sorry, I'm - I'll think about it.
David Speers: You'll digest that. Okay, fair enough Graham. Thanks so much. I think we've got time for one or two more questions. Let's try and squeeze them in. Thank you.
Kitty: Good evening, Prime Minister. My name is Kitty. As most of us here are immigrants somehow to this nation, I'm glad to know that there are assistance to help those to enter the workforce. As you talk about tonight, about building skills, developing the future, there are significant number of Australians relying on associate benefits, for instance unemployment benefits and have been facing difficulties in getting the experience required to get jobs. So how are you going to provide opportunities to those that are unemployed and living on the benefits to breach the skill gap to gain employment?
PM: Okay, thanks Kitty, that's a really good question. I mean to - we do have people who are unemployed. By the standards of the world given all the economic turmoil there's been after the global financial crisis we've got a low unemployment rate compared to the US or countries in Europe. But there are still people who are unemployed, they want work, they don't have work and so we've got to be thinking how can we help them. The work we do is directed at trying to help people get job opportunities. So got to keep the economy growing, creating new jobs and then we've got to focus on people's skills and we've got a range of programs through our employment services to help support people to get the skills they need to get into work. Now, for some people that's a shorter journey. For some people it's a much longer journey. I mean, there are some people obviously who need assistance with English language or they went to school in Australia, they're English language speakers but their school failed them, they failed at school, they never learned to read or write or do maths. So you know, most of the jobs today people have to be literate and numerate. For some it's about getting them an apprenticeship opportunity. For some it's about supporting them with a university place. There are a range of programs to try and help people get the skills they need to get work-ready, good qualifications that can get them a job. So there's no just one quick answer that I can give you that, you know, it's tick this box. It's customised for the individual through employment services.
David Speers: Is the level of Newstart Allowance fair?
PM: I think it's incredibly tough for people on Newstart. I'm not going to try and pretend anything else, yes, it's really tough. But, you know, Newstart is there. It's not a - not a lifetime payment. It's there to tide people through until they get back to work and so, you know, there's a choice to be made about how much you invest in the payment, how much you invest in creating the work opportunities. They're never easy decisions.
David Speers: Kitty, thanks so much. I think we've got one more question, our last question. Thank you madam.
Valentina: Good evening, Prime Minister. Thank you for the opportunity. My name is Valentina and I'm a disability pensioner. My primary issue and concern is in the public health department in which I find there is a great shortfall. The primary care is relatively good around the nation. You can go to a doctor, bulk billing clinic and the services are readily accessed. But when it comes to continuing treatment you then are on a waiting list, sometimes months, sometimes even years, and going from personal experience I know how painful certain conditions can be, and it's very, very hard waiting for someone to offer you a bed or procedures to alleviate your condition. Now, as I said before, the primary area is very accessible and a lot of people that can well afford to pay do abuse it. I know from personal experience that they do abuse it, and perhaps if a fairer system was put in where everybody across the board paid a certain amount, like a levy or contribution, whatever you might choose to call it, whether then that better health care would be available to all Australians, hospitals would then be better staffed and you wouldn't have to wait so long on the public waiting list. Would Labor considering implementing such a procedure?
PM: Well, thanks for that question. When we look at our health care system, I mean, people do pay a levy. You pay your Medicare levy and then the, you know, the rest of health, because the Medicare levy doesn't pay for all of health, the rest of health is funded out of our taxation system. So company tax, capital gains tax but also our progressive personal income tax system with higher income earners paying more tax than lower income earners. And we've actually reduced the number of people paying tax, a million less pay tax now because we've made a system where you don't pay tax at all now unless you earn more than $18,200. So that's, you know, where the money comes from.
In terms of how it should go into the system, this is - this is a big values call and the way Labor has made it, and we made it when we created Medicare and we made it when we created the free public hospital system, is that the best thing is to have a universal system that everyone's in. Yes, some people go to private hospitals, have private health insurance, but a universal system that everyone's in, because that's the best way of making sure it's a high-quality system. I would fear that if we created a dual-track system, so they're the hospitals that the lower income people go to and over here are the hospitals that the middle and upper income people go to, that over time the hospitals the poorer people go to would end up being very, very second-class places. And if you look at some American TV, I think there's a reason for thinking you could end up there, I think that's in part where America's ended up with many of its health care debates. So Medicare's a universal system, anyone can get bulk billed if they go to a bulk billing professional. Anyone here could go to the hospital emergency department and get treated if there was something wrong with us.
What can we do to then increase the quality of the system and the number of beds and places? Well, it's about some more money and it's also about reform. We're putting in a lot more money, 900 million here in Victoria over the next four years extra money, so on top of the billions that already go in. And we're trying to use that money to leverage change through the state governments that manage the hospitals to reduce waiting lists and to reduce emergency waiting times. We've got more to do there because you haven't seen waiting lists go down in this state despite there being more money. So we're going to keep the pressure on so that people do see the benefits of those waiting lists reductions.
David Speers: Valentina, thank you very much for that.
Look, we are out of time for questions. The great thing about these forums is their unpredictability and we've certainly covered a wide range of topics tonight, from school funding to the NBN, food security and foster care as well. So well done to all of you and thank you so much for coming along and taking part in this.
Before you leave, don't forget your wristbands and your opportunity to vote on whether the Prime Minister has won you over. If you support PM yes, no, or still undecided, there are three boxes there, so don't forget to do that.
But before you leave, please would you thank Prime Minister Julia Gillard.