Interview with Andrew O’Keefe and Angela Cox on Weekend Sunrise – Saturday 19 March 2016


SUBJECT/S: Safe Schools Program; Malcolm Turnbull

ANGELA COX: It has been a mammoth week as Parliament sat for the last time before the scheduled May 10 Budget, including a record-breaking 40 hour Senate debate, where we all even saw pyjamas come out. For the latest we are joined by Major Projects Minister, Paul Fletcher and Shadow Minister for Communications, Jason Clare.
Good morning to you both, now first you Paul. The Government says it will change elements of the Safe Schools anti-bullying program after a review deemed some of the activities inappropriate. A lot of concern here, has the Prime Minister just caved to the Conservatives?

PAUL FLETCHER, MINISTER FOR MAJOR PROJECTS: Look absolutely not, education Minister Simon Birmingham has done an excellent job responding to some community concerns about whether there was some age inappropriate content, whether there was some political advocacy here. Look it’s very important that our schools are tolerant environments, safe environments for all children including those who may be struggling with sexuality issues.
At the same time we need to have age appropriate content, so Education Minister Mr Simon Birmingham engaged America’s Professor Bill Louden, Education Professor, very well respected, he’s done a review. He’s recommended some changes to remove some age inappropriate content but the Safe Schools program is very much going to continue. So Simon Birmingham has done a good job reflecting community concerns. The program will continue but some inappropriate elements have been removed.

ANDREW O’KEEFE: This community concern has really been whipped up and fuelled by elements of your own Party. The Safe Schools program was announced under your Government Jason and implemented by the Abbott Government. So why now?

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the people that are stoking the fire here are Tony Abbott supporters. They’ve said to Malcolm Turnbull, you can have the Lodge, but we’ve got the power.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that Malcolm Turnbull’s middle name is Bligh, named after Captain Bligh from mutiny on the bounty in the Rum Rebellion. He was mutinied twice and Malcolm Turnbull has already been rolled by his party room once a couple of years ago. These Conservatives, the right wing in the Liberal Party, have said do what we want you to do on climate change, the republic, same sex marriage and on this program, or we will give you the boot.

O’ KEEFE: Paul, just leaving aside the merits of the implementation of the Louden Review of the Safe Schools program, it certainly does add to the perception that the Prime Minister is being forced to cave on every issue by a rebellious backbench.

FLETCHER: Well that’s absolutely not right. It’s not a question of leaving aside the merits, this is about responding to legitimate community concerns. Our schools must be tolerant and safe places for all children including those working through issues of sexual identity. At the same time if parents are concerned about content, we need to respond to that, that’s why we’ve had an independent review by a very well respected Professor of Education. He’s produced some recommendations…

O’KEEFE: So do you agree with the Professor Jason?

CLARE: Well gay kids are six times more likely to attempt suicide. I saw a report the other day that said suicide rates amongst teenagers are the highest they’ve been in thirteen years…

O’KEEFE: So what elements will be stripped out of the program then?

FLETCHER: Look there was some material there that was age inappropriate, not right for the kid that it was targeted at. There was some inappropriate political advocacy….

O’KEEFE: But what are those elements? You keep saying that but what are those elements Minister?

FLETCHER: The important thing is politicians shouldn’t be making these decisions. A respected Professor of Education has had a look at it and he’s come through with some detailed recommendations in relation to what was in one particular lesson or another. We’ve accepted those recommendations, Education Minister Simon Birmingham has responded to those concerns and he’s come forward with them.

O’KEEFE: I would just love to know what these elements are, because what I consider age inappropriate for my children may be completely different to what someone else considers age inappropriate.

CLARE: Exactly and the way you talk to adults is different to the way you talk to teenagers…

FLETCHER: Let’s ask a respected Professor of Education to make a judgement. That’s what we’ve done, he’s given us some recommendations and we’ve gone with them.
CLARE: But the bottom line is that gay kids are more likely to be bullied than other kids. Seventy-five per cent of gay kids are bullied, most of it happens at school, which is why this program is so important. But what seems to have happened is that Malcolm Turnbull has been bullied by the right wing of your party Paul.

FLETCHER: That’s why the program is continuing.

O’KEEFE: Ok moving on shall we?

COX: What do you think of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership? Do you think this shows a sign of weakness and what does it mean for his future?

CLARE: What I’m hearing from people is disappointment. Every body expected Malcolm Turnbull to be better. I thought he would be better. What we’ve seen, whether it’s on climate change or even tax cuts, we were promised when Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister that we were going to be having big income tax cuts, now that’s been dropped as well. I think people are starting to say what’s Malcolm Turnbull all about? Why did we put him in place in the first place if everything that we thought he would do, he is not going to do.

O’KEEFE: So Paul, much was made of the Innovation Nation, I guess and that’s really been the centrepiece, I suppose, thus far of the Turnbull Government. What else?

FLETCHER: Look what Malcolm Turnbull is about, what the Turnbull Government is about, is jobs and growth. Malcolm Turnbull is a very experienced businessman and that’s why he committed to the Innovation statement, 1.1 billion dollars. We’ve got the Defence White Paper that came out just a few weeks ago, again billions of dollars of spending, including innovation in defence.
We’ve got fifty billion dollars of spending on infrastructure, the Pacific Highway, Bruce Highway. We’ve committed to the Western Sydney Airport. We’re committed to jobs, growth and we are committed to a government with confident economic management, rather than just reflecting the agenda of the unions, which is what Bill Shorten does.

COX: Having said that, he doesn’t seem to have done anything about any significant tax reform so far. He’s taken everything off the table by the looks of it.

FLETCHER: What we are doing is working through those issues carefully, unlike the Labor approach of coming out with something before they’ve thought about it properly, their negative gearing approach. Australians know, if you take a third of the buyers out of the market, you’re likely to see house prices fall. Homes are Australians biggest assets, Labor hasn’t thought through their policy on negative gearing properly and what we are doing is working through seriously and carefully our economic policy, including tax reform.

O’KEEFE: Ok gentleman, that’s all we have time for this morning. Thanks for the pitch.