JULIE BISHOP Good afternoon, good to be with you.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN I tested Brendon O’Connor I suppose on a few things that the government had said. I’d like to test you on a few things you have said.
You’ve been accused of verballing both the Indonesian Ambassador and the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea. Peter O’Neill was very upset. Let’s just have a little listen to what he had to say.
Peter O’Neill: I don’t particularly appreciate being misrepresented by others for their own political interests. I am disappointed with some of the debates put forward by some of the leaders in the opposition in Australia. In particular, statements that I’ve alleged to have made to them which are completely untrue.
Julie Bishop, you did say ‘total control’ had been handed over to PNG and that’s not true is it?
JULIE BISHOP Well I’m not going to get into a debate with the Prime Minister of PNG, but it’s quite clear that PNG have been promised something very big from Kevin Rudd and now the deal is unravelling. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said that no one that came by boat after that date would be resettled in Australia, they would all be resettled in PNG.
Well PNG says that’s not the case and now we find that the government is actually building a detention centre in Australia, in fact two. So if no one is going to come to Australia why are they building more detention?
RAFAEL EPSTEIN Look and I think they are significant issues, how much money PNG gets, how it’s spent. But you said at your press conference with Tony Abbott that Kevin Rudd had agreed to hand over total control of the entire PNG aid budget from Australia to PNG, and as much as I think there are significant questions to be asked about the deal, we need to ask of our politicians to be very precise. You could very well be the foreign minister in five weeks time…
JULIE BISHOP I am very happy to refer to Prime Minister O’Neill’s public statements and leave it for others to judge exactly what Kevin Rudd has promised Papua New Guinea. Prime Minister O’Neill used the words ‘the entire aid budget’, he talked about a change in the management of the aid budget.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN He said ‘a change in the management’, but handing over control? You will be in charge nuance and diplomatic language for the country and you’ve completely overegged that pudding, haven’t you?
JULIE BISHOP I disagree with you but I’m not going to get into a debate with the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea about personal recollections of a private meeting.
I refer people to his public statements and what’s more Kevin Rudd’s broken promises. Clearly he made a promise to Papua New Guinea, clearly they have a different understanding of it.
What we need to know is where is the $420 million in extra aid money that we now find has been promised to PNG, where is that coming from? Which programs are going to be cut in order to fund this extra amount that Kevin Rudd clearly promised PNG to get them to sign up to this announcement on asylum seekers?
RAFAEL EPSTEIN Can I ask you to clarify something for me? I don’t want to go into the merits of intercepting boats and what might happen but I just want to have clearly from you – do you need Indonesia’s agreement to have the navy approach boats in international waters and to encourage them to turn around? Do you need a formal agreement with Indonesia for that?
JULIE BISHOP We have had this policy in place since 2001 and as Alexander Downer, the former Foreign Minister, has made clear on a number of occasions he did not seek Indonesia’s agreement to turn boats back around in Australian waters, or indeed in international waters.
But the point we make is we have said to Indonesia that ours will be a ‘no surprises’ policy and we would hope that that would be reciprocated. So if we’re going to take action that affects Indonesia we would let Indonesia know.
Now it’s interesting that Kevin Rudd actually signed a communique with Indonesia saying that he would not take unilateral action and then two weeks later he announced the PNG deal which Indonesia considered unilateral action.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN Look if I can I wanted to ask you about another general area of policy that is not your [inaudible] but of course is very significant given that Victoria has signed up to the Gonski Funding, the package used to be known as Gonski of course, they don’t want to call it that anymore.
There’s no end of statements from Tony Abbott and from Christopher Pyne, your education spokesman, deriding the Gonski deal – ‘it’s a con’, ‘it’s a cut’, ‘it’s not real’, ‘it’s a stunt’, ‘it’s not genuine’. You’ve done a complete backflip and now you’re going to endorse it for the next four years. Again, it makes it difficult for people to know what to trust when a politician speaks, doesn’t it?
JULIE BISHOP No, this isn’t the Gonski deal. That’s the whole point we were making. The Gonski proposal was for a significant increase in funding and we kept pointing out that the government hasn’t got that money. They have borrowed almost to the maximum of the facility. There’s just no more money to keep borrowing unless they increase the debt ceiling.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN So are you saying the criticism was that they were borrowing money and didn’t have it or was the criticism with the deal itself?
JULIE BISHOP Well they don’t have any money. Every program they put forward is on borrowed money.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN Ok, I accept that’s your argument.
JULIE BISHOP It’s not an argument. It’s a fact!
There’s no budget surplus. There’s a huge budget deficit and we now find that the budget is $33 billion worse than they said 11-12 weeks ago.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN I understand budget is a significant area of debate. But that’s not what.. on the 14th of April on Chris Kenny you called the school’s funding deal a cut in funding.
JULIE BISHOP That’s right, we understand that there is a cut to university funding and higher education funding. We said it was robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Well the government has now done deals with certain states that don’t resemble the offers they said they were going to make in the first place. So the government has changed the framework dramatically, the funding framework. But I would be..
RAFAEL EPSTEIN Can I just clarify what you mean there – it was a cut in funding previously but because they’ve added more money you’re now agreeing to honour those agreements? Is that what you’re saying?
JULIE BISHOP We are saying that the funding envelope in education, offered for schools, offered by the government will be matched by the Liberal Party. There’s nothing unusual about that. You often find that you can get to a bipartisan position. In fact I remember in 2007..
RAFAEL EPSTEIN I think it’s pretty unusual deriding a deal for months and then backing it.
JULIE BISHOP What, like the asylum seeker deal where Kevin Rudd was never going to have the Pacific Solution and now he’s instituted the Pacific Solution. Is that what you mean?
RAFAEL EPSTEIN Well I would never say hypocrisy is confined to either party but I am talking about your approach to education laws.
JULIE BISHOP Ok, well on education, I’m a former education minister. I think the issue should be about the quality of education. It should be about teachers’ professional development. It should be about educational outcomes, principal autonomy, community engagement.
We don’t want a debate about the money because schools need certainty and if the government has signed state governments up to a certain funding arrangement then we said we will match it.
That’s a responsible thing to do but our focus and our difference is that we believe it’s not about the funding, it’s about the educational outcomes. That’s what’s important.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN And look if I can ask you the same question. I understand that you need to make every point count but I guess I’m really after a personal reflection. Do you dread or relish the prospect of five weeks of campaigning?
JULIE BISHOP Absolutely relish it. I think the Australian people have been looking forward to an election for quite some time.
Now this is their chance to have a say in who should be the Prime Minister of this country and who should be the leader of the country and which party can be trusted to get the economy back in shape, to get the nation’s finances under control, to provide a strong and prosperous economy and a safe and secure country.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN Ok look, thank you for joining us. Appreciate it.
JULIE BISHOP It’s been my pleasure. Bye.