Peter Dutton will target education as a key political battleground for the Coalition as it seeks to reassert Liberal Party values following its election loss, calling for a debate over the national curriculum that he says is at risk of being hijacked by unions and activists. The Opposition Leader has also flagged a fresh economic and energy policy agenda that he intends to roll out early in his leadership as he sets about rebuilding the party’s supporter base. After five weeks in the job, Mr Dutton said that while economic conditions and the energy crisis would dominate the immediate contest, education reform would be a key foundational values-based issue for the Liberal Party to fight on. He said the transition to opposition was “brutal” but flagged an early policy agenda to give Liberal members and supporters something to “fight for”.

“We have to have a broader discussion in this country about what is being taught and about involvement and engagement with parents because there is a lot of non-core curriculum that is being driven by unions and by other activists that parents are concerned about,” Mr Dutton said. “We have a strong belief in parents having choice, which is why a lot of parents are making decisions about sending the kids to schools that reflect their own values and the education they want to influence their children.  “In the education space we believe very strongly in families having that choice and making sure we have respect for all and discrimination against none. “There has been a bewilderment by some parents in terms of what they see their kids coming home with. At the same time education outcomes have declined in our country. This is a debate parents want to have. We want to contribute to that based on the values of our party.

“I’ve always believed very strongly that we don’t discriminate on any basis but people on the left have to have respect for those that don’t share every one of their views. We are in opposition. We are not a government in exile, so we can support good policy where it is there but we will oppose bad policy.” Mr Dutton said the defining values of the party as it seeks to reconnect with voters would be based on “choice”, which he said was reflected in the release of the pension policy last week. In a break with the traditional approach to opposition after a long term in government, Mr Dutton said he would be releasing a series of policies, on the economy and on energy, over the coming months, in a bid to re­establish what the party stood for. Families, small business, taxation, welfare and energy policy would be the focus.

“One thing I’m very conscious of doing is reasserting the values of the Liberal Party to the next generation and for people to understand as Liberals what we believe in, to emphasise that we are not a conservative party, we are not a progressive party but the Liberal Party,” he said. “I think over the GFC and over Covid, we have been able to bridge the economic pain and people haven’t truly appreciated the value of the strength of the Liberal Party particularly in managing the budget.  Dutton has foreshadowed the national curriculum is going to be one of the “big debates” in the next parliament. “I think the national curriculum, the values argument, is going to be one of the big debates over this parliament,” he said. “The economy is in a strong position now, and it’s probably part of the reason people decided to change government this time around as they did in 2007 – because it wasn’t an issue.

“We have to ensure people don’t take that for granted. I fear over the next couple of years people are going to see Labor make decisions that means there is going to be greater pain than would otherwise be the case. “In the Liberal Party we believe in choice and we have expressed that through the pension policy. It’s about giving aged pensioners and veterans the choice to work and keep more of the money they work for. That reward for effort is a key value of the Liberal Party.” Mr Dutton flagged his intention to keep the pressure on Labor over energy and climate policy claiming it was a “rolling debate”. While acknowledging that the market was directing change in the energy mix, he said the Coalition would maintain its current position on “sensible” emissions reductions that didn’t harm the economy.

Dutton says any attempt by Labor to “walk away” from the nuclear submarine program would be a “travesty”. Mr Dutton said the AUKUS arrangement was the “security underpinning for our nation for the next four or five decades”. “This is a rolling debate and we have to respond to it appropriately in our country’s best interest bearing in mind the economic realities we face,” he said. “Labor has no chance of delivering on their $275 reduction in energy bills promise and Chris Bowen walking away from that in the past few days is an appalling break of an election promise. “At the same time I think they are pulling the wrong levers and making the energy mix more uncertain. Through the government’s own actions, this will continue to be a problem for them and for our country and we are in favour of sensible targets but we are not going to close the economy down and bankrupt families and small businesses.

“It’s an evolving situation particularly with what’s happening in Europe, and the government’s own claims here about rolling out transmission lines and the rest is a fantasy to be honest and I don’t see that being realised any time soon. “I don’t bring an ideological view to the table on this. The fact is that the market has already spoken on this, every board of every publicly listed company in our country has already made decisions in this space and the incentives there to invest in renewables and new tech have driven the market both under Labor and Liberal governments. “The question about legislating the 43 per cent target, in my mind, is why would you lock yourself into legislation at a time when the US is talking about going into deep recession and the repercussion here.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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