Interview with Marius Benson ABC Newsradio – Monday, 30 May 2016

MONDAY, 30 MAY 2016

SUBJECT/S: Western Sydney.

MARIUS BENSON, HOST: Jason Clare, good morning.


BENSON: At the risk of invoking a campaign speech, in Western Sydney, education is what the Prime Minister is talking about today. What do you think about the things that are most on the minds of the voters in that region?

CLARE: It’s jobs, education, health. Whenever you talk to people in Western Sydney, or for that matter anywhere across the country they are the three big things. In Western Sydney, education is always going to be prominent. I am a kid from Cabramatta, in Sydney’s west and the first in my family to finish high school. When I finished high school you could go off and get a job pretty easily. Nowadays, if you don’t finish high school and then go onto TAFE or go onto university, your chances of getting a job are so much harder. That’s why what we are talking about with funding the Gonski program and making sure that more kids finish school is just so important. I think the Liberals never really understood that and still don’t.

BENSON: The Liberal position on education in part is to point out that there has been an increase in education spending without getting an increase in terms of the results from the education system?

CLARE: We have got to boost results; we have got to increase teacher quality but anybody who says that investing money in our schools to do that doesn’t matter really doesn’t understand education. Or hasn’t visited, predominately, the public schools in Western Sydney, where you can see the really big difference between the opportunities that some kids have. Come out to Western Sydney Malcolm, have a look at the public schools while you’re there and you will understand why David Gonski said this is so important.

BENSON: Labor has pledged to fund the Gonski scheme in full but the criticism again from the Government was that the funding particularly in the years beyond the initial four years was just pie in the sky, that the funds were never there.

CLARE: We’ve got a choice at this election and I think this is the big question people will ask themselves over the next five weeks. The Government has said they’ve got $50 billion that they want to use to give big business a tax cut. Labor said, no, there are more important things to spend that money on, including investing in our schools and protecting Medicare. There is the choice Marius. People if they want can choose to give big business a tax cut or they can invest in our kids and their future. The most important things in this country aren’t the minerals in the ground, it’s what sits between our ears. If we are going to be a successful country and the Prime Minister last night talked about the rise of Asia and the middle class, what are they going to want? They are going to want services and products from Australia that are going to require a highly skilled workforce. Any business out there that you interview will say we need more skilled workers. The key to that is the investment we make in education.     

BENSON: Another issue that has played out in Western Sydney, substantially in the last couple of elections, is that of asylum seekers and immigration more broadly. People feel the facilities available to us are under-strained and new arrivals come to these areas and we are the ones that bear the brunt of it. And the spending is not there to meet the needs of new arrivals. We don’t want them. Is that a spirit in Western Sydney?

CLARE: I mentioned earlier I’m a kid from Cabramatta, so as a kid in school I was surrounded by children from all around the world. Western Sydney is the heartland for new arrivals in Australia, a home of many different migrants. I often say Australia is the best country in the world for one reason, because we are made up of people from all around the world. All different religions and all different backgrounds. We are an example, I think, to the rest of the country and to the rest of the world of how people can come together and live together harmoniously.

BENSON: Can I ask you this, are you confident that all the party members, all the Western Sydney candidates including Emma Husar in Lindsay, are on board with the Party’s policy on asylum seekers?

CLARE: On this point, Marius, I think Bill Shorten nailed it last night. He said, I am genuinely leading my party, Malcolm – you’re following yours. We changed our policy at the National Conference last year and Bill Shorten led that. By stark contrast, you’ve got Malcolm Turnbull being led by the nose by conservatives in his own party on climate change, on the Republic, on marriage equality. All the things this man said he believed in, now he’s put on the back burner because the conservatives have said you can have the lodge but we’ve got the power. This is the Tony Abbott agenda and you’re going to implement it. We’ve got this sort of try-hard Tony Abbott now reduced to scare campaigns and three word slogans, when most of us thought Malcolm Turnbull would be a good Prime Minister – a progressive, transformative Prime Minister. But all we’ve got is this Tony Abbott-Lite. I think that’s why people are d isappointed and why the polls are showing that support for Malcolm Turnbull is dropping.

BENSON: The conventional wisdom on the election is that Western Sydney is going to be a key area in determining who governs next. There is some polling information, some analysis in the Australian today that backs that up. Do you see it as that key battleground area?

CLARE: It’s one of those. We’ve got a huge mountain to climb, we’ve got to win 21 seats to win the election and those seats are scattered right across the country. Western Sydney is always an important part of that. To give you an idea of how seriously the Liberals treat Western Sydney, there are still four or five seats in Western Sydney where the Liberals still haven’t even picked a candidate yet. We’ve only got just over a week before nominations close and they haven’t even decided who the candidate is.

You’ve got Malcolm Turnbull going out to Lindsay today, the Bermuda Triangle for Liberal leaders. You’ll remember Marius, the night before the last election Tony Abbott made all those promises out there that he broke afterwards. Two months ago today, Malcolm Turnbull was there talking about his great big idea that States should levy income taxes and then when he was last there he refused to go on a street walk that was suddenly cancelled. I think the Liberals don’t treat Western Sydney seriously until the last minute when an election is being held and they think there is a chance to win a few seats.

BENSON: Jason Clare, thank you very much.

CLARE: Thanks Marius.