SUBJECT/s: Higher education reforms, Senate negotiations, Shorten allegations, student protests.
ANDREW BOLT: As I said, I think the Abbott Government should just cut its losses with its Budget cuts. Put them up to the Senate, take them or leave them, guys. Do your worst. Instead, this week, more humiliation when the AMA finally offered the government a compromise on its Medicare co-payment, and Labor and Palmer still said, no deal. Same with the Government's plan to deregulate universities and make students pay, not 40% of their fees, but 50. No, said Palmer.
CLIVE PALMER: There will be no co-payment. There will be no changes to the education establishments in Australia. There will be no deregulation of universities.
ANDREW BOLT: The Education Minister and Manager of Government Business in the House is Christopher Pyne, who joins me now. Thanks for your time.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Good morning, Andrew.
ANDREW BOLT: Christopher, end this humiliating negotiation with Clive Palmer, now. Put up or shut up. Agreed?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I'm bringing my bills into the Parliament on Thursday, Andrew, and they'll pass the House of Representatives. I'm happy to talk to Clive Palmer, as a member of the House of Representatives, about amendments he thinks would secure the passage of the bills through the Senate. Then they'll go to the Senate, and I imagine the beginning of the negotiations will start in earnest. I’m looking forward to working with the crossbenchers, I’m even meeting with the Greens this week, to talk to them about how we might be able to come to some arrangement about these reforms, because I they they're really, really important.
ANDREW BOLT: You just heard what Clive Palmer said this week. You really think he’s going to fold?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, the situation in Australia is such that we cannot have no reform to our universities or they'll slide into mediocrity, be overtaken by our Asian competitors. Our international education mark will dry up. Our university students will go overseas thinking that they have first-class degrees, only to find they come 8th out of 8 in every race. And that's not the future we want for universities. We want to spread opportunity to more students. If we don't have these reforms, we won't have that. Rather than presiding over the slow decline of the manufacturing sector, I'll be presiding over the slow decline of the higher education sector, and I don't want that to happen.
ANDREW BOLT: Now, I accept some of these arguments, of course, but the point is, by insisting on them, and you still get Clive Palmer saying no, all you're doing is giving him months and months to act like he's the big hero, you know, the star of the show. Shouldn't you, like I say, put up all your stuff, put up, you know, the Medicare co-payment, put it up to the Senate and just say, you know, "Here it is. Take it or leave it"?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, Andrew, everyone’s at a different stage of negotiation. I’ve been talking to Clive Palmer, the crossbenchers, others for months, and months, and months. Meeting with them, I'm just not conducting those discussions in the glare of the public spotlight, because I don't think that's very useful and that's why I have been talking to them privately and I believe I'm making great progress. I know it sounds probably like hope over reality, but I believe the momentum is with the reforms of the Government in the higher education, and I believe that most of those reforms will pass. I also believe that, you know, this is part of the usual process in
Australia. In the last 40 years, the Government has not controlled the Senate. For 37 of those years, and this negotiation is always part of the budget process, Labor left office with two years’ worth of budget measures, not progressed through the Senate.
ANDREW BOLT: Now, there's a suggestion that, if the Senate says no to your savings, that you'll find other ways to do it that might not need their tick. For example, would you cut research grants?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I think the point of that story in this morning's newspapers is highly speculative, and I don't know where that story came from. I certainly didn't comment on it, which is in the story. I think the point of that story is that if the Senate knocks back the reductions in the Commonwealth grants scheme, savings do need to be found, and the only savings measures that are available to the Government are ones that aren't legislated, which is ones like research. Now, I can tell you, on Friday, I announced $42 million of Australian Laureates in research, our highest award, because the Government led by the Prime Minister, we're very committed to high-level research in Australia. It's the last thing that I would want to do. So, I'm going to talk to the Senate very clearly about the need for the Commonwealth grant scheme reduction, and the need for the deregulation of the fees so that universities can replace that revenue. We're only asking students to pay 50% of the cost of their courses. They're currently only paying 40%. We're hardly asking for the world.
ANDREW BOLT: So, I just heard you give a veiled threat, I think, correct me if I’m wrong, a veiled threat, that if your cuts don't go through, you might have to cut research funding, did I hear that correctly?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, I was really just commenting on the speculative piece that was in the newspapers this morning. And I didn't put that piece there, and I don't know where it came from, but I think the piece was suggesting that if the Commonwealth grants scheme doesn't cut, doesn't go ahead, the only area the Government can reduce spending is in areas like research.
ANDREW BOLT: Yeah, but I didn't hear you say, "And no I will not, under any circumstance", I didn't hear that bit.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: OK. Well, that's not our plan. Our plan is to see our budget pass.
ANDREW BOLT: I still didn't hear it. I heard, “This is not our plan”. I know it's not your plan, but I didn't hear that bit where you said, "No, we won't."
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, the worst-case scenario, Andrew, is cuts without reform. And I think the university sector gets that, and I want to work with the crossbenchers to make sure that we all understand the high stakes that we are playing for, and I'm sure that they understand that, and that's why I believe our reforms will pass in the end, because I think we'll all be able to work together to get a better future for our universities.
ANDREW BOLT: OK…
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: And some of the best universities in the world.
ANDREW BOLT: Well, I still didn't hear you rule it out. But I'll move on.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, let me say this, I have absolutely no desire, at all, to see research funding cut in Australia…
ANDREW BOLT: Of course you don't. I still didn't hear you rule it out, that's all. But…
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, what I want to see is the reduction in the Commonwealth grant scheme by 20%. But if that doesn't happen, then universities will be able to use that, save… the fact they have stopped that cut, they'll be able to use that money for research.
ANDREW BOLT: Has Clive Palmer done himself much damage? There's some suggestions of internal polling saying that his support in Queensland, which faces a state election soon, has plummeted, are you aware of any of that?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I’m not aware of any polling to that extent, no. I think some of the comments that Clive's made around the Q&A program last Monday night probably didn't help him. But I think, you know, that's a matter for Clive Palmer and the Palmer United Party.
ANDREW BOLT: Bill Shorten, this week, outed himself as the senior Labor Party figure that was being investigated by police over rape allegations, which have now been dropped as having no chance of being proven true, and Shorten denies it. Have a listen.
BILL SHORTEN: Late last year, I learned that a claim was made about me, going back to when I was 19…The claim was untrue, and I do not intend to talk further about this matter.
ANDREW BOLT: Christopher, journalists like me refused to name Shorten while this was happening, didn't want to damage him on unproven speculation. And, your party also didn't name him. Now, do you think the media and Labor would have protected a Liberal Minister similarly accused of rape?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I'd like to think so, Andrew. I think that a lot of these stories swirl around Canberra from time to time about various figures in politics. I'm glad for Bill Shorten that that matter has been laid to rest. I'm particularly glad for his wife and his family, because this must have been a very stressful time. I hope that the media would have treated a Liberal Minister or Prime Minister, or leader in the same way as they treated Bill Shorten. I have to say, I wasn't aware that Bill Shorten was the figure at the centre of the allegations. So, either that means I'm out of touch with social media, or just missed that particular story, and I think…
ANDREW BOLT: Well, I’m astonished that you didn’t know, but, anyway, but whatever. But, Christopher, before you go, students at a protest, this week, tried to burn an effigy of you, again, and again, and again, and kept failing. Maybe they should study some arson degree! You came through, smiling defiantly. Now, I think this kind of symbolic violence is morally offensive, but I enjoyed your triumph over the arsonist. What is the symbolism, here?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Andrew, I’m thinking of doing a YouTube video, showing the protesters how to burn an effigy, because everyone knows you need more cardboard and rag than being able to burn oil corflutes. I think it also says - speaks volumes, when they hung their banner in QandA, they hung it upside down. They tried to wish me an unhappy birthday, but I had a happy birthday, they can't burn my effigy as a corflute. So, I think the students should be getting the message that in fact, what they're protesting about is the election of the Abbott Government. They really don't have the kinds of problems that they are protesting about that deserve the burning of effigies. We're asking them to pay 50% of the cost of their education, Andrew. We're not asking for their left kidney to be donated to medical research, and I think they need to get some perspective and some proportion.
ANDREW BOLT: Well, there's another alternative, OK. Another alternative saving. Christopher Pyne, not for burning, thank you so much for your time.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: It's a pleasure.