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Open Panel
04
Oct 2013

Bill Shorten Visits BPC

September 4, 2013

The Federal Minister for Education, Workplace Relations and Superannuation, the Hon Bill Shorten, visited Buckley Park on the 16th of August, less than a month before the election. For much of the school community it was the first time they had seen the local MP since the official unveiling of A-Block in 2009. Mr Shorten took the time to speak with teachers and students, answering questions about the September elections. Despite the briefness of his visit, Mr Shorten spent the better part of an hour speaking about what the Buckley Park community can expect from a Labor government should they be successful this September.

After a brief introduction from Mr Chisholm, Mr Shorten acquainted himself with the packed VCE common room and got straight to business.

“How many people here are eighteen?” he asked earnestly. “You guys are the people I’ll be focusing on,” he told students as they raised their hands. Mr Shorten was open about the reason for his visit- he was here to talk about the election and secure the support of the voting age students.

The Labor representative worked his audience well, adding humour to his responses, and keeping information relevant to school-age voters. He was however highly critical of Liberal candidate Ted Hatzakortzian, who he never mentioned by name. “How many other candidates have you met? If you meet a candidate you should vote for them.” Mr Shorten alleged that Mr Hatzakortzian had refused to meet him in a debate, conceding to his superior debating talents.

Nadia Levkut of year 12 started the round of questioning, expressing concern for her younger siblings and their education. The topic remained a point for discussion which the MP returned to for all further questions. “If you think public school funding is important you won’t be voting Liberal this election,” he told students. Mr Shorten promised $16 billion in school funding over the next six years, which, he claimed, would mean “literally millions of dollars for Buckley Park”. The money, according to Mr Shorten, will go towards equipment, teachers and support for all students. He also promised more opportunities and assistance for “battling’’ students, who aren’t doing as well at school.

Prompting Mr Shorten to be more transparent on his education policies, James Jeffery asked how the MP could justify the rate of private school funding. “Surely…a private organisation should have to sustain itself,” he told the parliamentarian. The Education Minister explained that the Federal government typically funded private schools more as State government supported public schools, but said that they were “getting the balance right”. A “needs-based funding” approach was assumed by Labor, with “eighty-three cents of every dollar going to government schools”. This, Mr Shorten said, would provide a “lift” to government and non-government schools. University funding was also an issue for senior students, worried about life after year 12. “Getting a lecture about cutting things from the Liberals just makes me laugh,” James Jeffery was told, when he asked if cutting tertiary education was counterproductive. Mr Shorten alleged that cuts weren’t being made, only that the rate of funding increases was reduced.

Students heard that “the Libs” had “rubbished” Labor’s education policies, but having done their “market research” now sought to copy them. “You can buy the counterfeit product, or you can buy the real deal,” he told the year 11 and 12 group, “we’re the real deal.”

When the topic of asylum seekers was raised, Mr Shorten was quick to mention statistics about Australia’s migrant intake, hoping to dodge the real question. This manoeuvring however simply confuses the issue at hand, and helps add to the “queue-jumper” prejudice against asylum seekers. “We don’t demonize people who want to come here,” he said, in blatant contradiction of Labor actions. The Herald Sun newspaper has been running ads for over a month with slogans apparently aimed at asylum seekers. The ads read “If you come here by boat without a visa YOU WONT BE SETTLED IN AUSTRALIA.” But if this isn’t demonising, what is it? These ads are clearly not meant to be seen by asylum seekers, unless the government believes that the Herald Sun is readily available in Indonesia. Their entire purpose is to play to voters so that the government isn’t seen as idle on the issue.

Mr Shorten assured students that enough was being done on the matter, saying a “regional solution” would allow Labor to be pro-immigration, without having a “mass-drowning program.” Despite deliberately confusing refugees with migrants, his sentiment on reducing the death toll must be commended. Allaying concern about asylum seekers, Mr Shorten said that there had been “a reduction by one-third in the number of people coming.” Immigration has made Australia the best country in the world, students were told, but government could not allow “criminal syndicates” to “put peoples’ lives at risk”. The member for Maribyrnong told students that the Liberal alternative of turning boats around would “look strong on [the issue]”, but only Labor’s policy would “break the model.”

Much of the remainder of the discussion was centred on economics, to the delight of Mr Jones’ year 11 economics class. Manufacturing was immediately raised as an issue by Hannah Cross, who asked about the proposed wage freeze at Holden, and whether it was a viable response. “I think it is,” Mr Shorten replied. Though he did admit that manufacturing in Victoria was doing it tough, but said pressure would ease as the “dollar comes down over the next two-and-a-half to three years”.

“If you want to build things in Australia, you’ve got to vote Labour, because we are fair-dinkum about the car industry,” he said.

Steven Stratus raised the issue of sustainable population growth, and how Australia’s growing population will be addressed by the government. “The world is growing at 1.3% in terms of population,” replied Mr Shorten. “It’s just a fact which you may not need for your exams,” he joked, “but if you do you’ve got the number”. Australia, we were told, is growing at the slightly faster rate of 1.5%. Due to “natural growth- that’s babies, and a proportion of immigration growth,” the Australian population grows by around half a million people every year. “We’re getting people in who are skilled, we are getting people in who will contribute to the community,” explained Mr Shorten. A “sensible population policy” was highlighted as the key. “We need to make sure the infrastructure grows,” he told students, in a timely look at the future. The defence land near the Maribyrnong River and Highpoint was singled out for future development, with proposed housing for another “five-thousand people.”

Continuing his spiel on population growth, Mr Shorten ridiculed the east-west tunnel as “not the worst idea” he had heard. Labor proposed improving Melbourne’s train and rail infrastructure. “[Trains] are getting full, well, they are full,” he said. The cause was that the city loop was a “finite amount of track,” which doesn’t allow for more train services to run into the city. “We want to build a new train track around the Loop, so you can bring more trains in and more trains out.” By improving public transport, Mr Shorten hopes that fewer people will use cars, in turn easing congestion on the roads. “You can’t sort out a traffic jam in the suburbs,” he said, “until you sort out the congestion in the middle.”

Edina Sahbegovic of year 12 asked where Labor proposed to find the money to implement both the education and infrastructure schemes outlined. “Every political party is about priorities,” Mr Shorten responded. He admitted that to fulfil Labor priorities, the government was running a “small deficit.” The member for Maribyrnong accused the Liberal party of running a “scare campaign” on Labor’s budget, and said the media “take a certain number and distort it”. Mr Shorten headed off criticism saying “we’ve made promises which we can pay for, we’ve made promises which we can see the costings for,” and encouraged the Liberals to release their own budget for public scrutiny. “Interest rates are at record lows,” he told students, explaining that this would help us purchase homes. While that is true, it is also a desperate attempt to stimulate the economy. Real wages, we were told, are growing at around 3% per year. Mr Shorten also made reference to Australia’s triple-A credit rating, stating that we were rated among the top eight countries in the world in terms of debt. “Sometimes in life you don’t save money by delaying the problem,” he finished, explaining the need to build infrastructure for the future now.

To address cost of living pressures within his own electorate, Mr Shorten said Labor was doing “a number of things.” Maribyrnong is home to more than twenty-thousand pensioners, who Mr Shorten said would receive an increase of $140 per week to their pensions. The increase to pensions in this area alone however will result in almost $3 million of extra spending per week. Electricity companies will also be targeted as a way of controlling the rising cost of living, with Mr Shorten promising to “review how quickly private companies put the prices of power up,” and whether that is “faster than is justified by their costs”. Lastly, Mr Shorten reiterated that his education policies would also help families cope with expenses.

Next on the agenda was mining, which Mr Shorten believes is “a good thing” but would also like to see companies “contribute back to the nation”. He said that the difference between Labor and Liberal in terms of tax is mining, claiming that Tony Abbott “will hand back the tax” and instead raise the GST. Mr Shorten said he would rather not tax “ordinary people” with “less capacity to save” when mining companies are making supernormal profits in Australia. “That is the difference, and it’s a big difference,” students were told.

Mr Shorten said he didn’t believe his changing portfolios under the different leaders was an impediment, noting that his time in parliament has allowed him to learn more about disabilities. As the former Minister for Disabilities, he spoke about the National Disabilities Insurance Scheme, and how giving cheques directly to the affected families rather than via charities will help the money go further. He said that during his time in parliament he has been very active. “There are some people who get into politics and they just sit there and do nothing- they’re conservative,” he said, a clear slight towards the opposition. Mr Shorten has been active with his current portfolio as well, raising superannuation, which he says helps people “get a fair deal”. He told students that the downside to being in parliament was spending so long away from his family.

Alex Paporakis asked the member for Maribyrnong why students should trust Labor, when Labor doesn’t trust Labor. “We want to pick the best team which will attract the most votes,” Mr Shorten said, calling to mind the leadership struggle which has plagued the party for the majority of its time in power. “We believed Julia Gillard would do well in 2010” Mr Shorten said, but that Kevin Rudd is Labor’s “most positive leader” for this election. Mr Shorten told students that he has a “good” relationship with both the former and current PMs, despite playing a major role in both of their downfalls as leaders of the government. “My relationship with Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd is better than my relationship with Tony Abbot,” he told students, to the sound of laughter.

With just a few days until the election, the time has come for the Buckley Park community to decide which party is best for them. The Buzz can happily report that our year 12s are taking their votes seriously and will be making informed decisions at the election.

By Kosta V. 11VM

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