Brendan Nelson Speaks To John Laws

The Minister for Education, Brendan Nelson, spoke to radio 2UE’s John Laws following a demonstration that prevented him speaking at the University of Sydney.

This is the transcript of Brendan Nelson’s interview with John Laws on 2UE.

LAWS:

Minister, good morning.

DR NELSON:

Good morning John.

LAWS:

Am I right – it’s a sad day for democracy when you’re stopped giving a speech that is important and probably wanted to be heard by a number of people?

DR NELSON:

Well, sad is probably the politest way of putting it, John, because you’re always polite, but this is a conference that’s been organised by the Australia New Zealand School of Government and it’s actually looking at schooling for the 21st Century and the kind of reforms we need to take. And I was going to speak about the need to drive standards in schooling throughout the country, and international guests had been invited, and the police informed me that there were 50 demonstrators inside the building – the conference was due to start at nine o’clock – 50 demonstrators inside the building by eight o’clock, and they were described to me as, shall I say, your hard-core demonstrators – not the sort that would be easily moved. Further to that there were about 100 demonstrators outside preventing just the normal people who wanted to attend the conference from getting into the building. The police also informed me that they were having scuffles with these normal everyday people wanting to go along to the conference, and so I said to the police, who were prepared to bring in serious numbers of reinforcements, I said, look, there’s no point of people being injured, particularly police. And the police also said to me that while I may get into the building there was serious doubt as to whether the conference would actually go ahead, and even greater doubt as to whether I would be able to get out.

LAWS:

If you did this at a business meeting or an office building somewhere you’d be straight in a paddy wagon. These people seem to get away with it.

DR NELSON:

Well, it’s an interesting thing John that Mark Latham, for example, I see him on television this morning, he goes to Melbourne University, they offer him a cup of tea, the Vice Chancellor is there with a nice smile on his face, welcomes him in and a group of people politely listen to what he has to say. I disagree with what he says but you and I defend the right in this country for people to say…

LAWS:

You bet.

DR NELSON:

…what they want to say, and we respect (inaudible) and we disagree with it. But we are now living in a situation where these people think that they own the universities in this country, and it’s your listeners, John, your shop assistants, your truck drivers, your gas fitters, your plumbers, your policemen, your nurses – they’re the people whose hard work funds these universities, and then these ratbags think that they belong to them and they are preventing me, and whatever your listeners think of me, the democratically elected Minister for Education…

LAWS:

Absolutely, and that shouldn’t be forgotten.

DR NELSON:

Well it shouldn’t, and, by the way, I wasn’t going along there to provide some provocative and inflammatory remarks about students and student unions or any of those sorts of things. I was actually going along to speak about the changes that we need in schooling across Australia if we want to lift and have national standards, and this ratbag element, by the way John, have got into university and now apparently are hell bent on stopping them running a conference there to talk about how we can improve school standards to get more kids into university.

LAWS:

Yeah, it’s extraordinary. They’re frightened, they’re angry with you because of the union thing, aren’t they? I mean that’s what it all boils down to.

DR NELSON:

Well that’s the main thing they’re upset about at the moment. I always think it’s a healthy sign when young people are prepared to get out and demonstrate and show what they think about the people that are running the country.

LAWS:

Nothing wrong with that, but I just don’t understand why they welcome a grub like Mark Latham who’s shot all his friends and supporters to smithereens in order to make his own position in the world better in his mind, and yet they offer him a nice big smile and a cup of tea but they want to throw you out.

DR NELSON:

Well, it’s extraordinary, and the thing that’s got them exercised the most at the moment is that we are pushing and I’m pushing voluntary membership for students who go to university of student unions.

LAWS:

And we live in a democracy, why shouldn’t it be voluntary?

DR NELSON:

Well of course it should, and this is the 21st Century. A lot of your listeners who work so damned hard, who pay for three quarters of the cost of university education, have got their own kids going to uni – these poor kids if they go to Sydney University, John, the first thing they do when they turn up is they get a bill for $590. The rich and the poor pay the same amount and that goes to the student union. And I’m simply saying, well look, when you go to university to get an education, if you want to join the union good luck to you, we encourage people to join political, cultural and sporting things, but you ought to have a choice.

LAWS:

That’s right, and if you don’t want to join the union there will be certain things you’re unable to do, but that’s a decision that must be made by you.

DR NELSON:

Well, that’s right and, you know, I’ve got a son who’s an apprentice and he paid a week’s wages to go and play in the local soccer competition. Well good luck to him, but people go to university and they think that all the people that don’t do all these things should be subsidising their activities. And I do think it is an outrageous situation where you find that a hard-core group of students, and I suspect some of them are not even students, are working so hard to stop the Minister for Education basically going along and stimulating an audience to think about the issues that face us in schooling.

LAWS:

Yeah, well what you said is right. You are the minister and you have been democratically elected. Now, like you or dislike you – it’s totally immaterial. That’s your job, you happen to have it at the time, and one can assume rightly that you are doing the best with what’s available to you to do the job very well. Now, as far as this union thing is concerned, I just think it’s outrageous they want to force people to join a union when we live in a democracy. They’re the first ones to scream their heads off about their democratic rights.

DR NELSON:

Well it says a lot about their cause that they would go to these sorts of lengths. And the other thing, John, I’ve got to say is the university management itself – you’ve got to ask yourself what sort of interest are they taking in getting people in and out of universities safely and…

LAWS:

Not too much Brendan, not too much…

DR NELSON:

Yeah, not much at all, and the next time you hear a university Vice Chancellor, John, saying that they desperately need more money for their universities from your hard working listeners, just remind them of what’s happened today.

LAWS:

Yeah, well that’s the point. I bet they’re all unemployable arts students. I mean there wouldn’t be too many from the faculty of dentistry or medicine or law. I can promise you that.

DR NELSON:

Well you’re absolutely right, I mean the vast majority of students at all universities are working hard. They’re working hard at their studies; their families are proud of them; they’ve got part-time jobs. Some of them will go along and join protests that are peaceful, they’ll yell out abuse at me and all that, and all of that’s fine. But when these people become violent and the police informed me that there was every prospect that that’s the way they were going to go today, I have no choice but in the interests of public order to say to the police, look I don’t want you putting in 200 police there who are basically putting themselves on the line so I can go about doing the job and…

LAWS:

But apart from that, all that aside, I mean you’re a married man with a family, you’ve got people around you who care about you. You don’t want to be putting yourself at risk. Why do you want to beaten up by a bunch of filthy students that are probably there on somebody else’s money, all doing arts courses?

DR NELSON:

Well it’s interesting, the last time I went to a university at Edith Cowan university in Perth, John, they had to get the police forces in to get me into the place because I was determined – we’d built at a cost of $7 million of your listeners’ money an Aboriginal education centre to help poor Aboriginal kids get a uni education – and I thought I’d be blowed if I’m going to let these mongrels stopping me from doing my job.

LAWS:

(Inaudible)

DR NELSON:

I said to the police, I said you know you’ve got these horses out here, I said you might get sniffer dogs – they’ll get rid of them more quickly than the horses. And the problem I have is unfortunately I’ve had instances where it does become out of control. There’s a herd and pack mentality. They do become quite violent, not just toward me but, as I say, to the police, and I’ve had a couple of incidents where they’ve tried to smash the cars at the window, and I’ve seen the police beaten to the ground, even using their capsicum spray until the reinforcements turn up, and that’s the kind of thing that unfortunately I understand we were looking at here today.

LAWS:

Imagine, imagine the money that’s been spent to secure these things. I mean we’re supposed to be worried about terrorism and we’ve got (inaudible) the police wasting their time on these clowns.

DR NELSON:

Well yeah, I’m always, when I make decisions about these things, I’m making a judgement, because if they have to pull in 100 or 200 police, for example, they’re police officers that are not out on our roads, stopping our houses from being robbed, and a lot of your listeners would think well, particularly the ones who don’t particularly like me, they might think well why on earth are the police out there looking after Nelson, they ought to be looking after me. But I think, whatever the politics of your listeners, I think that they are and they should be quite concerned when we live in a country where the university management doesn’t lift a single finger to secure the safety of people going onto campus, secondly where the university management is such that they allow this thing to occur, and I think, thirdly, also these are public facilities – your listeners and generations of Australians have paid for them – and anybody, within reason, ought to able to use them and go safely into them and out again.

LAWS:

Yep, quite right. I appreciate your time. I hope your day improves for you Brendan.

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