FRAN KELLY: Christopher Pyne, welcome to RN Breakfast.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Good morning Fran.
FRAN KELLY: The PM says your state South Australia has been awarded first prize with this defence contract but isn’t it more a consolation prize to make up for the damage done for the Government’s broken promise that it would build the submarines in Adelaide?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No because that project, the submarine project, has not yet been decided so there has not been any broken promise and Labor quite frankly has zero credibility on this because in six years they didn’t make one ship building announcement that awarded a contract to a domestic shipbuilder. Every shipbuilding contract they made they sent overseas so I don’t think they have any credibility on this subject whatsoever.
FRAN KELLY: I am just wondering why South Australians though will believe you about this Frigate project because you keep saying no decision has been made on the submarine fleet but the Government has this process in place – competitive not sure the term…
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Evaluation process.
FRAN KELLY: Evaluation process. But the subs won’t be built in Adelaide by the ASC, that is not going to happen – it is not going to be that size project in Adelaide whatever element is there, is it?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well the ASC themselves have said they can’t build submarines. So the truth is that the only people that can build a submarine is the ASC working with a partner, a German, French or Japanese partner. The ASC have said that they can’t build a submarine on their own so that is really quite a moot point.
FRAN KELLY: Well not really, the Government promised that the subs would be built in Adelaide. Are you saying that it is still likely that whoever is building them, that the subs will be built in Adelaide, that promise is going to honoured, is that what you are saying?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well every part of the evaluation process, the shipbuilders, Japan, Germany and France need to give us a number of options. One of those options is an entire domestic ship build in Australia.
FRAN KELLY: And is that what you are going to go for? Because the only promise so far is 500 jobs, isn’t it?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Fran, I don’t know why you are being so aggressive over the submarine project when I thought you would be actually happy today that we awarded $40 billion of naval shipbuilding in Adelaide creating 2,500 jobs and saving those jobs, those 1000 jobs that Labor Party would’ve seen on the valley of death. I’m happy to talk to you about the subs but rather than today attacking the Government, I would’ve thought you would’ve been pleased with the Government, but nevertheless...
FRAN KELLY: Well I don’t mean to attack anyone I am just probing because as ASPI – the strategic think-tank - has described this announcement – they say it is a big step, a multibillion dollar gamble, $40 billion worth in fact. ASC the company that will build the Frigates, according to the Government at Osborne in Adelaide I think it is. The former Defence Minister, David Johnston famously said that he couldn’t trust that company to build a canoe. So there does seem to be some inconsistencies here from what we have heard from the Government in the last couple of years.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No there is absolutely no inconsistencies. Yesterday was an historic announcement - the first continuous naval shipbuilding in Australia since 1901. It is a most significant naval announcement in Australia’s history and the ASC is now getting into a position where it is much better placed to be able to deliver such a large contract and yesterday was a decision, it wasn’t a promise, it was an announcement of a decision being made. So it is quite a different matter to what you painted it. It will mean 2,500 jobs in South Australia, mostly in South Australia, some might be spread around but the vast majority will be in South Australia. It actually creates an entire new industry for Adelaide at a time where the South Australian economy is being seriously hit by all sorts of changes in transitions in manufacturing. It is great news for Adelaide and I am absolutely delighted as the Cabinet Minister to have delivered it to my State.
FRAN KELLY: It is great news for Adelaide, absolutely no doubt about that. Do you think though it will make up for what some have seen as a broken promise on the subs - you say that is still pending - the closure of the local car manufacturing, Government’s attack on wind power when wind turbine is producing I think nearly 50 per cent of South Australia’s energy, Cabinet being there in Adelaide for the past few days, making such a significant announcement as this. Finally realising that it has got a problem in South Australia?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, not everything is looking through the prism of politics and winning seats, Fran. Governments make decisions based on what is the right thing to do and I think the public recognise that. The hysteria that is surrounding the issue to do with the submarines created by the Labor Party and the media has been just that. There has been no decision made not to build the submarines in Australia, no decision at all. And what we have announced in the last couple of days is an $89 billion naval shipbuilding programme. $40 billion of it being spent on Corvettes and future Frigates to be built here in Australia, primarily in Adelaide. The submarine decision will be made at the appropriate time – that can only be good news for Adelaide as well because even if the submarines aren’t built in Adelaide from the ground up, more than 50 per cent of the cost of submarines is maintenance and sustainment and that can only be done in Adelaide. So even if the supposed worst case scenario occurs according to the Labor Party and the media the submarines aren’t built in Adelaide, not that Labor ever made a decision to build the submarines, by the way, at all.
FRAN KELLY: No but you did make a promise.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Over 50 per cent of the cost of these submarines would be in Adelaide. So this is all good news for South Australia. It means lots of jobs, lots of investment and a much more prosperous State than what we were looking at under the Labor Party.
FRAN KELLY: Can I just divert to the politics of the South Australian Liberal Party and the Government’s standing in South Australia for a moment though, because we did speak to the Independent Senator Nick Xenophon yesterday. His ‘Nick Xenophon Party’ is promising to stand in all eleven lower house seats at the next election. We mentioned polling by the CFMEU which showed that Nick Xenophon could get 38 per cent of the primary vote in your seat of Sturt that would compare to a 30 per cent of the primary vote for you. How seriously do you take this threat?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well the CFMEU is the most discredited organisation in Australia…
FRAN KELLY: Well they didn’t do the polling to be fair - ReachTEL did the polling.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: It is a criminal organisation with associations with bikie gangs, illicit drugs, thuggery…
FRAN KELLY: They didn’t do the polling though, Minister.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well if you want to quote the CFMEU, Fran, go right ahead but I think quoting a discredited organisation who are pushing a particular agenda is not the right thing to do. In terms of Nick Xenophon, look this is a democracy. As many candidates as want to run can run against me or any of my colleagues. But Nick Xenophon would want to guard against being a professional critic and being a positive contributor. Now I want to be a positive contributor and I think I have been for the last twenty two years and yesterday’s announcement is just another example of what I am delivering for South Australia as the Cabinet Minister in this great State. But democracy is a democracy. I mean I am happy to put myself up at the next election in my electorate of Sturt and let the people decide. So far they have elected me eight times, and I am confident they will re-elect me again because they think I am the best representative for this seat.
FRAN KELLY: It is sixteen to eight, our guest is the Education Minister, South Australian Minister too, Christopher Pyne. Minister, the Prime Minister said Bronwyn Bishop’s career in Parliament is quote “substantially at an end” – he made that comment yesterday. Do you agree with some of your Liberal colleagues who say that Bronwyn Bishop should retire within weeks, and allow a by-election in Mackellar perhaps on the same day as the by-election in Canning?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well I think my colleagues who want to give that kind of free advice, if they want to do it they should put their name to it. I think it is particularly cowardly to say things like that off the record to brief the press, attacking a great woman of Australian politics in Bronwyn Bishop. Sure she has made a mistake; we have all made our mistakes over the years, Fran. But he who is without sin cast the first stone, as they say. But if any of my colleagues want to give Bronwyn that advice they should do it to her face or they should put their names to it in the papers, and I think they would have a lot more credibility and respect if they did.
FRAN KELLY: Bronwyn Bishop told the Fin Review that she will recontest – is that a good idea?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: That is a matter for Bronwyn. If the people of Mackellar want to re-elect Bronwyn Bishop, they should do so – I hope they will, if she runs as the candidate. And she has indicated she is going to run as the candidate, I hope she wins the preselection. I mean Bronwyn Bishop has a made a great contribution to Australian public life. I don’t think we should get into this Salem witch trial situation because Bronwyn made a mistake that somehow everything she has done over the last thirty years is suddenly discredited I think it is quite wrong.
FRAN KELLY: Can I just ask you, it is all about expenses. Bronwyn Bishop says her use of them is within the guidelines. Labor’s Tony Burke is under pressure over some of his claims flying for instance with his family business class to Uluru. He too says that is within the guidelines, have you ever flown members of your own family business class anywhere?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Fran, I am not going to get into this Salem witch trial situation around members’ entitlements. All of my taxpayer expenditure has been entirely correct over twenty two years. Any error that has ever been made, the Department has admitted it an error on their part. I am happy to respond to specific allegations but I am absolutely certain I have never broken the rules in any way and I think if we want to get into this ludicrous situation it is a bad thing for Australian democracy and I am not prepared to play the game.
FRAN KELLY: Okay, Minister, can I just ask you a question on your portfolio – the latest NAPLAN results released today showed that students have stagnated – certainly high school students anyway – since the tests were introduced seven years ago. Does that mean that NAPLAN is failing when it comes to showing you know what is working and what isn’t – the Government is perhaps not responding with the investment they need – what is happening here?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: It doesn’t show that NAPLAN is failing, it shows that NAPLAN is doing exactly its job, which is to show what the results are, and how we are progressing so NAPLAN can’t be failing – NAPLAN is a test, and NAPLAN shows how the students are performing. What it shows is that we have to focus on curriculum, teacher quality, on parental engagement, on school autonomy because they are the four things that will make a difference in Australia to the outcomes for students. It also shows that in spite of spending 40 per cent more on school education over the last ten years our results have stagnated so it is not about money, it is actually about the basics of school education as I just said, curriculum, teacher quality, parental engagement and school autonomy.
FRAN KELLY: Minister thank you very much for joining us again on Breakfast.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: It is always a pleasure. Thanks Fran.