Christine Milne
Australian Greens Leader

Friday 19 April 2013

Press conference


Subjects: Gonski, marriage equality, GST

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well thanks very much on this very wintry Hobart day. I’m calling on the State Premiers to work really hard with the Commonwealth today to get a resolution and to get movement on Gonski education reforms. It is absolutely critical that the state governments sign up to Gonski, I recognise that today they probably aren’t going to but they must commit to Gonski, we are running out of time.

I certainly have some sympathy with the State Premiers about the process. The Federal Government has had the Gonski reports since February 2012, probably even earlier than that. They had plenty of opportunity last year to form a response to it, to actually get it through the Federal Parliament by the end of last year. They didn’t do it and I understand the frustration that the states have that they are negotiating now in a short timeframe. That having been said though, you have to put all that to one side. You have to think about the future of Australian school children and the support they need to make sure that Australia lifts its educational outcomes to give every kid in Australia an equal opportunity to a good education and therefore the opportunity that this century has to offer. We cannot put the lives of children, their families and school communities really on hold. This is an unacceptable outcome for political reasons. I cannot stand the idea that the Prime Minister would put the future of Australian school children as an at-risk proposition at the election. We have to have sorted this before the Federal election, we must get this through the Federal Parliament and we must make sure that it is authentically what Gonski recommended and that is that the children who are suffering the greatest disadvantage throughout Australia are the ones who get the money, we must make sure we get equality of opportunity really into the education system because we in Tasmania know as well as anywhere that the thing that alters people’s opportunities in life is education. It is the one transformative factor and we know that and that’s why the State Premiers and the Federal Government need to work together today to get a real push on, so we get Gonski legislated before the federal election.

JOURNALIST: State and Territory leaders have sort of made their intentions pretty clear, what do you think will make them change their mind?

CHRISTINE MILNE: I think it’s incumbent on the Liberal Premiers around Australia to say why they would be delaying and why they would be hoping to get an Abbott government in the Parliament and therefore not proceed with a fairer funding model. I think it’s incumbent on Campbell Newman, on Barry O’Farrell, Colin Barnett and so on to actually get out there and say to their constituencies why it is that they wouldn’t want a fairer funding model for students in their own states. There is no excuse for that, absolutely no excuse. One of the main, I suppose key states is New South Wales. Barry O’Farrell has today shown leadership on marriage equality. He’s broken ranks with the Federal Liberals and he’s come out and said that he supports marriage equality which is a big leap forward in that debate in Australia and I congratulate him for that. I would like to think on education Barry O’Farrell will now think about what’s best for the students of New South Wales and then in turn around the country, because whilst states like Tasmania, South Australia and the ACT have said that they are in favour of Gonski, notwithstanding the detail, it requires the Liberal states to come on board and Barry O’Farrell is the key to that happening. So I really am calling on the Liberal Premiers to forget Tony Abbott, forget the fact that he and Christopher Pyne want to maintain an unfair funding model and instead focus on equality of opportunity for all students around Australia. As a former teacher I’m passionate about getting money into schools. This is where we need to have it and it is unacceptable that Australia is falling behind so many other countries in the OECD and a number in our own Asia Pacific region. Australia will fall behind in this century unless we invest in education.

JOURNALIST: Just on the gay marriage issue as well, two Liberal Premiers are now backing that idea – do you think that’s signalling a shift of opinion?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Oh there’s absolutely no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Australians are now saying let’s do it, let’s go ahead and let’s achieve marriage equality in Australia. The New Zealand decision – what a great thing for New Zealand, and I congratulate those parliamentarians for going ahead. And what that’s shown to many Australians is that New Zealanders carried on that progressive tradition that they have had from all those years ago when New Zealand went nuclear free. And really what we’ve got is Barry O’Farrell recognising that the pink dollars are going to leave Australia and head to New Zealand and so he’s moved in to address that. But his intervention is critical and I think we are now going to see a build-up of momentum. The Greens have now got two bills, a marriage equality bill and also a bill to recognise marriages that have been legally entered into overseas. And so the momentum is growing and I’m really calling on the community now to get behind this campaign. Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott are on the wrong side of history. We all know that the Prime Minister’s position is dictated by the backroom boys in the Labor Party, particularly the shoppies union, particularly Joe de Bruyn. That is why the Labor Party’s position as it is in the leadership and Tony Abbott is constrained by his very conservative outlook on life. What we need to do is push for what the majority of the Australian community want and let’s get rid of discrimination once and for all and let’s celebrate as a nation the love between two people.

JOURNALIST: If it should happen could we revisit it in this Parliament do you think?

CHRISTINE MILNE: We can absolutely revisit it in this Parliament. The Greens have got a live marriage equality bill in the Parliament and we’ve also got legislation we’re about to introduce to recognise same-sex marriages that have been legalised elsewhere in the world. So yes it could happen but it requires the political will and that’s where I’m calling on Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott to put it up again and this time Tony Abbott should give the Coalition a conscience vote – let’s actually see what the Parliament really thinks, not just a reflection of what the shoppies union and the Australian Christian Lobby think because that is the position that Julia Gillard holds.

JOURNALIST: Is there any reason to think the result could be different this time round?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Absolutely the result would be different this time round, the only reason that a number of Labor Party MPs voted against marriage equality was not because they didn’t believe in it, but because they didn’t want to be seen to be disloyal to the Prime Minister. It’s as simple as that. Just before the ALP National Conference where their decision was made on this particular issue, the Christian Lobby came out and made it clear that what they wanted was the Prime Ministers to come out ahead of the ALP National Conference and say she didn’t support it because they all acknowledge that 80 per cent of the Labor Party was in favour of marriage equality but people would vote against it out of loyalty to the Prime Minister. If you got rid of that out of the equation then you would see the overwhelming majority vote for marriage equality and how great would that be.

JOURNALIST: What about the Coalition vote?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well because Tony Abbott has refused to give the Coalition a conscience vote on this there are not clear numbers but I know from talking to people in the Coalition that there are people who would support marriage equality, just as there have been right across the world. I mean here’s Barry O’Farrell, changed his mind in New South Wales and of course conservatives in New Zealand equally supported it. So this is something that goes beyond party lines, this is something about ending discrimination, about celebrating the love between two people and I’m really keen to see it happen federally and I would love it as leader of the Greens to be in the Parliament and see marriage equality finally achieved in Australia.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that the Australian Parliament is mature enough to deal with it as a true conscience vote, we’ve seen in the Tasmanian Parliament recently a few conscience votes which the Labor Party has suggested have been not true conscience votes and the Liberal Party tends to vote along party lines – do you think that might happen in this debate in the Federal Parliament?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well the issue is whether Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard say to their own party members that it’s a genuine conscience vote, that it won’t be seen in any context as loyalty or otherwise for the leader. It’s really a question of leadership. Seven out of the eight leaders of political parties in New Zealand came out strongly in favour of marriage equality. That’s the preferred position. I am confident that if the Prime Minister or Tony Abbott changed their minds you would see an overwhelming switch in both their political parties in favour.

JOURNALIST: And just on the Gonski reforms again, Premier Lara Giddings has said if these changes to the GST funding model, although she supports Gonski she’s not sure that Tasmania would be able to foot the bill. Would you be urging the states not to be changing that GST model?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well the Greens have been very strong supporters of saying that the GST has to be fair and it’s very clear that Tony Abbott would seriously disadvantage Tasmania if he became Prime Minister, because he has been all over the place. When he’s in Tasmania he says he’s not changing the funding formula, when he leaves Tasmanian and goes to Western Australia he’ gung ho in favour of a per capita model. So I wouldn’t trust Tony Abbott on GST funding at all. But I do congratulate Nick McKim as the Education Minister and Lara Giddings as the Premier for the fact that they are genuinely supporting Gonski. They want an authentic funding model that actually provides money to the most disadvantaged schools and good on them for doing that and good on them for getting behind it. Yes they’ll be negotiating details around other aspects of the package but Tasmania has shown leadership in saying let’s get a fair funding model for schools. Other states – South Australia and the ACT are also in principle on board. It is the Liberal states that are the big problem and again it’s going to come back to Barry O’Farrell. If New South Wales changes its position on Gonski then I think the other Liberal states will fall into line. Therefore there’s big pressure on him to change his mind and support fair funding for students around Australia, a better education system, just as he has changed his mind and now supports marriage equality.

Christine Milne Australian Greens Leader