Christopher Pyne Australian Agenda

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17th October 2010, 03:45pm - Views: 1782

Australian Agenda


October 2010

Christopher Pyne 

Sky News

Australian Agenda

Christopher Pyne 


October, 2010

Interview with Christopher Pyne, Shadow Education Minister

Australian Agenda program, 17th

October, 2010

Peter Van Onselen:  Hello and welcome to Australian Agenda.  I’m Peter Van Onselen.  Well

the week started of accusations of bastardry and bitchiness, and next week the parliament will

debate the war in Afghanistan.  To talk about those issues, we’ll be joined shortly by the

Manager of Opposition Business, Christopher Pyne.  And a bit later in the program we’ll be

speaking to world renowned environmentalist and scientist, David Suzuki.  But let me start by

introducing the panel, senior columnist for The Daily Telegraph, Piers Ackerman, columnist and

author, Niki Savva, and editor at large at The Australian newspaper, Paul Kelly.  Thanks all for

your company.  Let’s bring in now the Manager of Opposition Business, Christopher Pyne,

who’s with us out of the Adelaide studio.  He’s one of the people that has been using some of

this language against Ms. Gillard.  Mr. Pyne, thank you very much for your company.

Christopher Pyne:  I’m sorry for the technical difficulties that have made it impossible for me to

be with you until now.

Peter Van Onselen:  That’s okay.  Thanks for outing that to all of our viewers; we were trying to

cover that up!  But we’ll move straight into the interview.  I just wanted to play something for you

for the benefits of our viewers, about what was going on with some of these comments by

yourself and others.  Let’s have a listen, then we’ll come back for the interview.

Tony Abbott:  It was, I think, a carefully laid political ambush.  I mean that’s

essentially what it was.

Christopher Pyne:  Trying to create the impression that Tony Abbott didn’t want

to visit the diggers in the field was not just an act of political bastardry, but also

back alley bitchiness.

George Brandis:  It was manipulative, it was dishonest, it was Machiavellian, it

was utterly not a decent thing for her to do, and it was in my view sub-prime

ministerial behaviour. 

Peter Van Onselen:  Mr. Pyne, let me ask you.  Put us out of our misery.  Is this an orchestrated

campaign?  Or is it just serious annoyance on the part of three senior members of the Coalition

acting independently?

Christopher Pyne:  I don’t want to rake over the old coals from last week, Peter.  But the truth is

that Julia Gillard’s performance over what should have been a relatively minor incident shows

that she is not prime ministerial material.  Unfortunately we have a Prime Minister who has not

grown into the role of being Prime Minister.  Kevin Rudd, John Howard and prime ministers of

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October 2010

Christopher Pyne 

past years have grown into the role of being Prime Minister, and people have been proud to

have them representing us internationally.  Unfortunately Julia Gillard is still a scrapper.  She

still sees her role as pulling down the leader of the opposition, and she would’ve known full well

that Tony Abbott was going to Afghanistan the week later, and yet she tried to create the

impression that somehow her commitment to the troops was greater than his.  Now there are

some taboos in Australian politics – one of them is not to play politics with soldiers in the field. 

Julia Gillard crossed that, because unfortunately she is not up to being Prime Minister.

Paul Kelly:  Just on that point, Mr. Pyne, we’ve got the Afghanistan debate coming up in

parliament this week.  How much is this debate a test of Julia Gillard’s ability as Prime Minister

to handle foreign policy and strategic issues?

Christopher Pyne:  Paul, the real test is whether she will support the objective of the mission in

Afghanistan, or whether she’ll simply adopt the same words that Simon Crean adopted when he

was leader of the opposition, when he didn’t really support the action in Iraq and said that he

supported our troops in the field.  We all support our troops in the field.  The question is, does

the Australian government support the objective in Afghanistan which is to stop Afghanistan

from being used as a place for terrorist activity by the Taliban?  That is why we are there, to

remove Afghanistan as a training base and as a source of funds for the Taliban, who took

responsibility for the bombing of the World Trade Centre.  The test for Julia Gillard is whether

she can actually support the Australian government’s objective in Afghanistan, or whether she

will simply use the weasel words of supporting our troops in the field in order not to offend the

Greens, with whom she is in alliance at the national level.  That goes very much to this whole

new arrangement we have, where the Labor Party is in lockstep with the Greens, adopting

much of their ideological agenda, because of course in my view the Labor Party doesn’t stand

for anything other than getting and holding power.

Peter Van Onselen:  Mr. Pyne, can I ask you, the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, has

indicated that he would like to see Labor MPs free to express their opinions free of party

discipline on this issue of whether we should or shouldn’t be in Afghanistan, in this debate

coming up next week.  Are you going to allow the same sort of freedom of discussion on the

part of Liberal MPs?

Christopher Pyne:  Members can say whatever they feel like in a debate, especially a debate of

such national significance as one on our soldiers being in a military engagement overseas.  I

don’t know if there’ll be a vote on this particular debate, because I’m not sure what we’d be

voting on.  If the Prime Minister moves a motion, we’ll see what the motion says.  But we have a

position as a Coalition where we support the action in Afghanistan, we support both our troops

and our objective and the mission, and I would assume most members of the Coalition would

agree with that position.

Piers Akerman:  Mr. Pyne, aren’t the goals of the mission becoming somewhat blurred now,

given that the US says that it’s in some sort of talks with some sort of representation from the

Taliban?  If the US is acknowledging representatives of the Taliban at a sufficient level to have

talks with them, what exactly are we doing there?  Are we out to remove these people?  Or are

we there solely to support the US alliance?

Christopher Pyne:  Piers, I think it was Franklin Roosevelt said there was a time for ‘war war’

and a time for ‘jaw jaw’.  In these kinds of activities, there’s always a time for military action and

there’s a time for talking.  I’m sure the United States, its NATO allies and of course ourselves,

will not withdraw from Afghanistan until the objective has been achieved, which is that

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October 2010

Christopher Pyne 

Afghanistan will not be able to be used as a base for terrorist activity again.  I’m not sure what

the specific nature of the talks are with the Taliban, but I’m quite certain that the United States

would not invest so much blood and treasure in a war in Afghanistan, to withdraw from it without

having achieved its objectives.

Piers Akerman:  But Mr. Pyne, the US has already said that it’s to begin withdrawal next July. 

So no matter what the investment of blood and treasure, as you mention, is there already,

they’re looking to draw down their troops, regardless of whether the ultimate objectives have

been fulfilled.  Our Defence chiefs have talked about a continuing Australian involvement for

four to six years from now.

Christopher Pyne:  The Americans have a huge engagement in Afghanistan, obviously in troops

and equipment, far beyond the Australian involvement.  So when they say they’ll be drawing

down on their troops, they’re not saying they’ll be withdrawing from Afghanistan until the job is

finished.  If that involves negotiations with the Taliban, as long as those negotiations don’t put

the Taliban back in control of Afghanistan, then the objective will essentially have been

achieved, which is to make sure Afghanistan is not a base for terrorist activity directed at us.

Piers Akerman:  Mr. Pyne, I don’t understand how we can ask our troops to kill Taliban, at the

same time as we’re talking to Taliban.  Which ones do we target?

Christopher Pyne:  Piers, in a war situation there is both time for military activity and time for

negotiation.  I’m not privy to, and I don’t think any of us on this panel are privy to exactly the

nature of the talks with the Taliban, but eventually that will become clearer.  But certainly the

United States and its allies, Great Britain, Australia and others, have not lessened their military

activities in Afghanistan.

Peter Van Onselen:  Mr. Pyne, if I could ask you to stay with us, we’re going to take a break. 

But when we come back, I’d like to talk to you about a range of other issues – the story about

Peter Slipper during the week, whether you think David Hicks should in fact receive royalties for

his new book, and a host of other issues attached to parliament coming back next week. 

Please stay with us, but we’ll take a break.  We’ll be back in a moment.  You’re watching

Australian Agenda.

Peter Van Onselen:  Welcome back.  You’re watching Australian Agenda, where we’re joined

out of Adelaide by the Manager of Opposition Business, Christopher Pyne.

Paul Kelly:  Mr. Pyne, we’ve had a furious reaction during the week to the release of the Murray-

Darling Basin report, farmers and irrigators and rural communities complaining about the extent

of water which will be returned to the river.  As a South Australian can I ask, what’s your

response to the report and to its recommendations?

Christopher Pyne:  Paul, it’s always been my view as a South Australian that we need to have a

balance between environmental flows and economic and social activity in the Murray-Darling

Basin.  Three years ago the view of experts was that we needed 1,500 gigalitres of water

returned to the Basin in environmental flows.  This report says we need 4,000.  I don’t know

what’s happened in that three year period to have changed views so dramatically, but I think

that needs to be really closely examined.  I think the politics of this are very interesting.  On

August 10th, Penny Wong and Julia Gillard came to Adelaide in order to curry favour, particularly

with Greens voters, and said that they would purchase every drop of water that was

recommended in environmental flows by the Murray-Darling Basin plan, which of course had not

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October 2010

Christopher Pyne 

yet been released.  They said it didn’t matter how much the cost was, they would do exactly

what the plan said they would do.  They’ve recoiled in horror this week in the face of the reality

of the plan, and because they have won government again, and completely backed away from

that promise.  Now they have to be held accountable for the promise they made during the

election.  Are they going to fulfil that promise of implementing the plan in full?  Or are they going

to back away from it?  Are they going to support the Greens, the Greens agenda, which Sarah

Hanson-Young has outlined very clearly this week, which is to support the plan, which they said

they’d do during the election?  Or are they going to back away from it?  This is the government’s

problem.  They wanted to be in government, and they’re in government with the Greens.  This is

going to be a very important test for how they perform in terms of supporting our economy and

supporting our people.

Paul Kelly:  But this is also the opposition’s problem.  Some senior opposition figures have

made it absolutely clear that they won’t wear this report, they believe these recommendations

will decimate some communities.  Do you endorse those sentiments?

Christopher Pyne:  Paul, we have never said that we would endorse the plan in its entirety, as

Labor did.  We never said that we would implement the plan in exactly the way that it came

through.  We said that we’d look at the plan, we’d be consulting with communities and we would

decide what could be done realistically.  If you went to a shopping centre in my electorate in

inner Adelaide and said, do you want to keep the Murray mouth open for 92% of the year, they

would say yes.  If you said, that will cost us the Riverland, we’ll have to close the Riverland

down, they would say, is this a trick question?  The commonsense approach is to balance the

environment with the economy and with the social fabric of the Murray-Darling Basin.  That can

be done, and the Howard plan of 2007 would have achieved it, especially through infrastructure

where we were putting $5.8 billion aside for infrastructure in water efficiency measures.  I note

the government has spent an amazing $400 million.  They don’t put their money where their

mouth is in their actions.  They are all talk and no action.  They have been using far too much

money for water buybacks, and not enough money for long term infrastructure improvement in

the Basin.  Now we’re going to pay the price.

Niki Savva:  Mr. Pyne, obviously everybody wants to see a balance between the environmental

security of the Basin, but also the economic safety of people around the Basin.  Do you think the

government has gone about this the right way?  Do you think they should have led the debate

more?  Or do you think that using the bureaucrats as human shields maybe fired everything up,

and they should have been out there rather than sending the bureaucrats out there to try and

explain what was going on or what was being planned?

Christopher Pyne:  Well Niki, your question really goes to the heart of the basis of this

government.  Kevin Rudd got elected because he wasn’t John Howard, essentially.  That was

their pitch from Labor.  They said ‘vote for Kevin Rudd because he’s Howard-light’.  Julia Gillard

got selected by the trade unions because they thought she could win an election, and now she’s

been selected by the Independents because they think she won’t go to an election.  So this is

not a great basis for a government in the 14th largest economy in the world.  Using the

bureaucrats is what the government does when they don’t have any ideas of their own.  Since

the plan has been released, Tony Burke has disappeared from view.  Why isn’t he fronting the

public meetings in Deniliquin and Renmark and Griffith and other places throughout the Basin? 

The opposition is there, Simon Birmingham is there and the local members of parliament are

there to hear what the public have to say.  Tony Burke is sending the bureaucrats.  With the

Peter Garrett disaster this week on home insulation, of course Julia Gillard blamed again the

bureaucrats.  It was the government that said the home insulation program needed to be rushed

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October 2010

Christopher Pyne 

out in two years rather than five, putting unacceptable pressure on the department.  But Julia

Gillard yet again has turned around and blamed the bureaucrats.  The Westminster system

requires that a minister and the Prime Minister take responsibility for failure.  In this government,

failure is attributed to bureaucrats; success is taken on the shoulders of the Prime Minister and

her ministers.

Peter Van Onselen:  Mr. Pyne, do you continue to hold the view that Peter Garrett should resign

as a minister, given that he’s no longer in a portfolio responsible for the home roof insulation

scheme, he’s now one of the ministers that you’re opposite, in education?

Christopher Pyne:  Peter Garrett should’ve stood down in February of this year, in 2010.  Before

the program that he has presided over, the home insulation debacle, even began, he was being

warned by the National Electrical Contractors Association that this was an unsafe and

dangerous program with which to proceed.  The government put stimulus before safety, with

tragic consequences.  Peter Garrett should have been sacked earlier this year.  He certainly

should not have been promoted by Julia Gillard, as he was in this most recent reshuffle.  It is

really a slap in the face to the families of those people who have died in the home insulation

debacle, the families who’ve lived in the houses that have been burnt, and a slap in the face to

the mums and dads of Australia with their children at school, that she would believe that Peter

Garrett should now be in charge of the national curriculum, of the school programs that the

government runs.  Quite frankly, the most important part of the schools aspect that she has

presided over, the school hall debacle, has been taken away from Peter Garrett and given to

another minister, because that is the level of confidence Julia Gillard has in Peter Garret to

deliver a program.  Clearly he is a minister drawing a salary without any substantive role, and he

should be not part of the cabinet, and a minister who can be doing that job should be given it.

Peter Van Onselen:  Mr. Pyne, can I ask you, in your portfolio area of education, what would be

your solution to what universities are describing as a funding crisis, courtesy of there not being

enough money into the system, coupled with the realities of limits now on students from

overseas because of the changed visa arrangements?  What does the opposition suggest as a

way through this?

Christopher Pyne:  Peter, there is a lot of reform that needs to take place in higher education. 

One of the pieces of misinformation about higher education is the idea that there aren’t enough

places for all the students knocking on the door of universities.  The truth is that there is an

oversupply of places and there isn’t enough demand for places.  The government keeps

announcing more places, because that gets them a cheap headline.  But it doesn’t actually

make a difference to the problem, because every student that wants to go to university in

Australia is able to find a place in Australia.  So what we have to do in higher education is from

the earliest stage give young Australians the idea that they can go to university.  Overseas

studies indicate that that is best achieved through independence and autonomy in the school

system, that those countries where the principal has the greatest amount of autonomy in the

government sector are those countries where there is a high participation rate in higher

education.  That is what we need to do in Australia.  We need to give principals autonomy,

school communities independence, let them decide on their priorities, and stop trying to

centralise every decision.  The reason the national curriculum is falling over at the moment and

has fallen over this week in particular is because it went from being a guide for schools to a line

by line, itemised curriculum which teachers must now apparently teach.  Because unfortunately

with this government, they always believe government is the answer.  They never believe that

individuals or communities have their own solutions.  They always believe a bureaucrat is more

likely to have a better solution than a parent or a teacher.  

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Christopher Pyne 

Peter Van Onselen:  Mr. Pyne, one final question before we let you go, David Hicks’s book is

out just in this past week.  Do you believe after what he’s gone through that he should receive

royalties, even though he’s not allowed under the terms of his prosecution to profit from his


Christopher Pyne:  He should abide by whatever the terms were of his arrangement for the deal

he came to over pleading guilty to some of the crimes with which he was charged.  The

effluction of time hasn’t changed that agreement, and that agreement should be abided by, if he

signed it in good faith and so did the other parties to it.

Peter Van Onselen:  I understand.  Thank you very much, Mr. Pyne, and our apologies to you

coming out of Adelaide for some of the technical difficulties we’ve had.  We appreciate your

company on Australian Agenda.

Christopher Pyne:  No problem.

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