SKY: Karvelas Interview

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just on this issue of the plebiscite on same-sex marriage which has been obviously the big story of today. I know Labor is pushing for a conscience vote, for a Parliamentary vote. I understand that’s your first position, but if that fails, if it doesn’t get up, if you don’t get the opportunity to have a Parliamentary vote, isn’t it better to have a plebiscite in this term of Parliament than to have nothing?

ANDREW GILES, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR SCHOOLS: I think the whole notion of a plebiscite is pretty extraordinary, Patricia, I mean what we have here is a weak Prime Minister who is prepared to paper over the cracks and divisions in his party room by trashing responsible government in Australia, how our representative democracy has worked for over 100 years. So I think I’d be pretty reluctant to go down another path, but that said, we’ve said we’ll look at proposals that are put before us.

KARVELAS: So does that mean if, as I say, a Parliamentary vote which you attempt fails, you think it is worth looking at this idea of a plebiscite

GILES: I’d be very reluctant to go down that path. Very, very reluctant. We have the cost and we have of course and more importantly we have the hurt. But fundamentally should we be walking away from representative government simply because the Prime Minister isn’t prepared to stand up to reactionaries in his party room? We’ll put a bill into Parliament and that bill should pass because a majority of Senators and MPs support marriage equality. That’s the job we’ve all been elected to do, it’s certainly a mandate I carry from the electors of Scullin at the two times I’ve been elected. Let’s just get on with the job.

KARVELAS: At the end of the day, Greg Hunt put it this way, that you’re afraid of real people having this debate. You mentioned the hurt. Aren’t we having this debate anyway? In fact we’ve been having it for about ten years. What’s the difference?

GILES: Well I think there is a really big difference, and I’m really concerned that Greg Hunt can be so blasé about this. We saw in the federal election in some communities how real hate was fostered over some sensitive issues. I think when we go down this sort of path, we need to make sure everybody’s interests are protected. Particularly when there’s a real body of evidence around potential harms all going to mental health.  

KARVELAS: Just on a few other issues, on pairing which has been a big issue this week. Greg Hunt issued a challenge in my interview with him to Labor, saying how can you not let the Prime Minister go to APEC for instance and that’s one challenge. Do you think Labor should be offering a pair to the Prime Minister so that he can go to an event like that, where you would think we’d want Australian representation?

GILES: He throws down the challenge to Labor, which seems to be I guess, the pattern of this government, to look to others to explain or to blame as necessary. What the Prime Minister could do if he’s interested in upholding the conventions around pairing is concede that he does not have a stable majority government. That would open the way to a different discussion. But what I think we’ve seen from the people responsible for this matter within Labor, is a willingness to look at matters on a case by case basis, I think that’s what Tony Burke said.

KARVELAS: Do you think the whole discussion would be different if the Prime Minister said “ok, it’s a one seat majority, it’s not stable”, would Labor be kinder to the government’s requests if it made that concession?

GILES: Well it would be helpful if Mr Turnbull recognised the realities of the Parliament, certainly.

KARVELAS: I just want to go to the budget strategy. $6 billion worth of cuts, the government wants to put them in an omnibus bill. Now Labor supports all of these proposals, they were your proposals in the election. Why not just support the omnibus to at least get some budget reform and some budget action straight away?

GILES: I think there are a couple of things that could be said there. Firstly, Patricia, I think you’re very generous in calling it a strategy, I don’t think it’s really a strategy, it’s more a tactical gambit. What we put to the election was really a series of saves to fund a series of investments. The saves didn’t stand alone. And that leads me I guess to the real point that we’ve got to work our way through. If the Prime Minister is really serious about negotiations, then it has to be a negotiation not simply a statement of demand and I’m sure that’s something that can be worked through, if there’s willingness to do so.

KARVELAS: Just on your own portfolio, you’re Assistant Schools Minister, Shadow Minister; you’re not in government though I’m sure you’d love to be. On this schools debate I know Labor has now five people in this portfolio, you’re pretty committed to this as a portfolio. But given the recent results we saw in NAPLAN. Given there has been more funding and we’re seeing such poor results, don’t we need to have a bigger recalibration of the way we’re spending money in education? Clearly what we’re doing isn’t working.

GILES: Well I’m not sure that we can say that on the basis of the NAPLAN data that came out a couple of weeks ago, Patricia. I think what we do need to do is to see the My School data, which will paint a picture of what has been happening at a school level and we’ll know that early next year. What evidence there is before us, contrary to what the minister was saying before the election to try and justify walking away from years five and six of Gonski, is that the sort of interventions that needs-based funding is supporting, is dealing with some of these issues that the Gonski report identified as major problems, not just in our education system but in terms of our capacity to meet the economic challenges of the future. We know we’ve got to lift the performance of our lowest achieving students and we also know that we’ve got to give greater support to our highest achieving students and those sorts of interventions require funding. They require funding not just to be thrown at schools, but to be delivered on the basis of need, on the basis of best return. I think we should be very, very reluctant to walk away from a highly evidence driven process that was the Gonski reforms on the basis of one snapshot being NAPLAN. In fact, if that evidence tells us anything, it is that we need to stay this course. 

KARVELAS: Doesn’t it also show you though that perhaps you need to look at the way the money is spent, because the money is not delivering the kind of results that the government had planned when first embarking, back then, on Gonski?

GILES: Patricia, I’m just not sure that’s what the data shows us. It shows that we’ve got some concerns in terms of our performance. But I think we need data at a school based level to be able to tell whether the particular allocation of funds, to go back to your point, is in fact delivering returns. I’m pretty confident that when we do get that data through My Schools, we’ll start to see a basis to refine our policy, but I think it will be around needs-based investments. We’re very confident that’s what the evidence will be around.

KARVELAS: Many thanks for joining me tonight.

GILES: Thanks very much Patricia. Great to be here.


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