Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts.These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Meet The Press -

View in ParlView



13TH February 2005


MEET THE PRESS PRESENTER PAUL BONGIORNO: Hello, and welcome to Meet the Press. Everything from sex
education, Year 12 exams and flagpoles is on the blackboard. Today, Dr Brendan Nelson's
controversial agenda. And the Cornelia Rau case - Human Rights Commissioner Sev Ozdowski's concerns
over our detention practices. But first, what the nation's press is reporting this Sunday, February
13. The Sydney 'Sun-Herald' leads with "Niece offers hope for recovery." Cornelia Rau's 8-year-old
niece Alexandra visited her in hospital in the hope of dragging Ms Rau out of her terrible mental
state. The Adelaide 'Sunday Mail' has "Sex spy ring bust." ASIO has uncovered a sex spy ring in
Canberra after tailing a diplomat and suspected agent from the Israeli Embassy. The Brisbane
'Sunday Mail' reports "Lonely path for ailing Latham." The former Labor leader has cut himself off
from friends and colleagues to recover from the illness that forced him out of politics. The
'Sunday Telegraph' in Sydney says "Random tests keep our schools drug free." Sydney's most
exclusive private schools are conducting random drug tests to crack down on substance abuse by
students. Well, Dr Brendan Nelson is certainly a very active federal Education Minister, forging
new frontiers for the national government in Australia's schools and last week, raising the States'
hackles in the process. Welcome back, Minister.


PAUL BONGIORNO: Before we go to some of those issues, what do you think of the idea of random drug
tests in private schools, do you think they should be extended to Government schools?

BRENDAN NELSON: Well, I think most importantly it needs to be a choice that's made by the school,
the teachers, the parents and indeed the students themselves. I think where it's been applied so
far Paul, it's applied common sense. You've got students and their parents working in consultation
and agreement with the school as far as random testing is concerned, and often these are students
who have been experimenting with drugs, and it's one way of making sure that they're on, if you
like, a drug-free regime and also they're able to remain in the school. But I don't think that - I
certainly wouldn't be supporting some sort of universal Government edict - because all schools, all
communities, all parents and all children are different.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Do you have any concerns about maybe creating a climate of distrust in schools with
random drug tests?

BRENDAN NELSON: Well, look, I think it's generally a positive initiative so long as the conditions
I've just outlined are being met. The reality is that for our children growing up in Australia
today, a significant minority will use currently illicit drug at some time during their
adolescence, and if all of those children that were detected were to be immediately removed from
those schools, well, of course, that would precipitate an educational and indeed an emotional
crisis amongst those children in the broader community. So, I think drug testing as it's currently
being applied in a common sense environment as part of a broad suite of measures, in an environment
where there is zero tolerance towards drugs in a school community is plain common sense and we
ought to applaud the initiatives that are being undertaken.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Minister, you've called for a national exam for Year 12 students, claiming the
present State tests are too easy. The Shadow Minister Jenny Macklin had this to say during the

about? He's put this idea out there and now seems himself to be backing away from it, because he
realises it's completely impractical. Yet another example of this Government arrogantly saying that
it wants to control what goes on in our schools, but of course, take no responsibility for the
proper funding of the schools.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well Minister, Ms Macklin of course has raised a number of issues there. Just going
to the Year 12 exam, you are on the record as saying that a national curriculum would lead to
mediocrity. How do you have a national exam without a national curriculum?

BRENDAN NELSON: Certainly through the compulsory years of education I'm opposed to the idea of all
our kids being taught the same thing on the same day of the week in every part of the country. But
I'm Australia's Minister for Education and also a parent. We're living in a country where we've got
eight different educational jurisdictions within one country and 84,000 school-aged kids who moved
interstate last year. Those numbers are growing exponentially. I can't with any confidence tell you
the standards across Australia are uniform, that a chemistry exam in Brisbane is of the same
standard as it is in Western Australia. Defence families are paying the highest price for this
inconsistency. But increasingly, so too are everyday families, particularly those that are in key

PAUL BONGIORNO: But don't our universities work that out? If you get Year 12 in Victoria you can
still get into the ANU in Canberra or for example, or Sydney University?

BRENDAN NELSON: Well, they do have a system of trying to equalise as best they're able across the
jurisdictions the standards that are being met and the standard itself is an issue as you know. For
the NSW High School Certificate, I mean, I struggle to understand how 99.2% of students can pass
the basic literacy exam for Year 12. I'd like to believe it's the case, but as I said to the 'Daily
Telegraph, I stopped believing in the tooth fairy when I was about 8. I announced during the
election that we would move towards an Australian certificate for education. This could take a
number of forms. It could, if you wanted to you could drive total consistency amongst the States.
And by the way, on Friday last week, there was a meeting amongst the bureaucrats to have a look at
that. Secondly, you can build upon the international baccalaureate which is now being undertaken by
20,000 students in Australian schools.

PAUL BONGIORNO: But that baccalaureate, that does have a curriculum?

BRENDAN NELSON: Indeed it does and it's rather interesting that Jenny Macklin who's the deputy
leader of the Australian Labor Party, whilst she's saying those things to Australians and
criticising me in the process, the alternate deputy leader of the Labor Party Julia Gillard has
actually written to me, pleading with me to make money available out of the Howard Government's $1
billion investment in our schools program to get the international baccalaureate introduced in
Victorian high schools to the opposition of the Victorian Government. What we're trying to do,
Paul, is make sure we've got nationally consistent high standards and that parents know they can
get the same consistent education.

PAUL BONGIORNO: It will be interesting to see the model you come up with later, as you said you
will. Just going to sex education, you've asked for information from schools, but you seem to be
most unkeen, if I can put it that way, to make it mandatory. Well, what's the use of the exercise?

BRENDAN NELSON: Well, this is probably one of the most sensitive issues that any of us address,
whether we're parents or indeed as teachers, and Mal Washer who's a very good man, he's one of my
former medical colleagues and is also the member for Moore in Western Australia. He's argued that
we should have mandatory sex education in all schools and wherever people line up, for example, on
the abortion debate, I think they support generally sex education. But this is a very sensitive
issue. What I've done, is I've written to the States and Territories and the Catholic and
independent school providers to ask them what sex education is being provided, how's it being
provided, when's it being provided. And we need to make sure that parents, who are the prime
responsibility for educating kids about sex if you like, that they're working with teachers in
school communities, and don't have something applied by centralised bureaucracy.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, that's fine, but it's in the context of the abortion debate. And what we're
talking about here is responsible parenthood, which is arrived at either by either abstinence or
contraception. The ethos, I would submit, in Australia, is that contraception is responsible, but
it would seem that you could come up against some fierce opposition if you wanted that in your sex

BRENDAN NELSON: There's a whole variety of schools in Australia, Paul. The Balga Senior School in
Western Australia is one of the finest Government schools in the country. When I was there I saw
four 15-year-old or 16-year-old young women who are having their babies cared for while they
complete their education. For some parent communities in Australia that is an anathema. But we need
to have an education environment which allows parents to ensure that sex education and services for
children are provided according to their needs and standards and for those parents who've chosen to
make additional sacrifices to get their kids into Catholic or independent schools, we need to
respect their religious and philosophical views in this process.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Time for a break. When we return with the panel we ask how far should free speech
go in the classroom. And later, Human Rights Commissioner Sev Ozdowski.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet the Press with Education Minister Brendan Nelson. And welcome to the
panel, Eleanor Hall from the ABC Radio and Glenn Milne from the 'Sunday Telegraph'. Last week an
outspoken editorial in the 'Professional Journal of English Teachers' bemoaned the fact that many
young people voted for the Coalition. Professor Wayne Sawyer wrote: "We knew the truth about Iraq
before the election, did our former students just not care? We knew before the election that
children overboard was a crock, but as it was yesterday's news did they not care about that,
either? Has English failed not only to create critical generations, but also failed to create
humane ones?"

ELEANOR HALL, ABC RADIO: Dr Nelson, these remarks obviously upset you through the week, but doesn't
Professor Sawyer have the same rights as any other Australian to express an opinion?

BRENDAN NELSON: Well Eleanor, Professor Sawyer has every right to hold any view that he thinks is
appropriate. As John Kennedy said in May, 1963, "Dissent is a very important part of democracy,
because it determines whether we use power, or whether power uses us," but what he does not have
the right to do - which is I suspect the case of a minority of teachers in Australia - is to seek
to impose his own view of the world and politics on Australian students. And I think his criticism
is not only of his former students, but also English teachers throughout the country. When you read
his editorial it's a call to arms. He's saying to English teachers across Australia, whatever
you're doing you're not doing it well enough because these former students are returning the Howard
Government. Just maybe, just maybe these kids actually appreciate and respect the idea they live in
a country where they can get a job, they can afford to own a house, we stand up for terrorism, that
we're prepared to protect and defend our borders. Just maybe they appreciate the importance of
living in a country that stands up against a whole range of things in the world that are wrong.

ELEANOR HALL: Whatever you may think of the merit of his words, though, he was expressing them not
in a classroom, but in a trade journal essentially, and the PM has said many times that in
Australia we respect the right to free speech. You virtually called for him to be sacked in
Parliament last Wednesday.

BRENDAN NELSON: Well, of course he's perfectly entitled to express those views if he wants to. I
think he's foolish to do so, by the way, amongst his own colleagues, but I do question whether the
English Teachers Association is well-represented when its leadership is expressing those particular
views. I'd be saying to you also Eleanor, if the same opinion was expressed of the former Labor
leader Mark Latham I would be just as angry. The reality is parents are voting with their feet. The
perception is there's far too much of this going on in Australian schools. They are trying to find
schools where, if you like, a more open view is being expressed. I've had students, by the way say
to me, "We're a bit concerned about what happens here at school because we and our parents don't
agree with what the teachers are telling us."

GLENN MILNE, THE 'SUNDAY TELEGRAPH': Dr Nelson, you say that children are voting with their feet at
their parent's direction. Does that indicate, do you think, Professor Sawyer's remarks reflect a
deeper, systemic problem with the education of our children?

BRENDAN NELSON: One of the things, first thing, Glenn, is sweeping generalisations shouldn't be
applied to any group of people whether it's people in the media, politicians or teachers. The vast
majority of teachers are working very hard and in many cases, sadly, they're the only key influence
in the lives of young children. But I am concerned that there is a problem in the way our teachers
are being trained in Australia. I've currently got a national inquiry into the teaching of reading,
in which we're looking at the way teachers are being trained to teach our kids to read. But I think
there's a case for very clearly and closely examining the way in which our teachers are being
trained and I'll be making an announcement about that very shortly.

GLENN MILNE: What have you got in mind?

BRENDAN NELSON: Well, I think there's a case - I don't want to make any formal announcements until
I have concluded negotiations with my colleagues and with key people in the education sector, but
in the universities themselves there is criticism, in part, in some cases of the standards of
teacher training. There's also criticism of the way in which teachers are being taught, if you like
to use Professor Sawyer's expression, "critical thinking", and how that's subsequently applied in
their working lives. I think it's time we had another look at it. We've just put another $110
million specifically into teaching training and I think we need to look at the way in which the
teachers are trained to make sure they're the very best-equipped people they can be. For example,
only a third of recently-graduated teachers think they're confident to deal with bullying in a
classroom. We know from a recent University of New England test that only a quarter could pass a
Year 8 maths exam. We also know from research done at the Queensland University of Technology that
more than half of the final year undergraduate teachers and early career teachers couldn't identify
from four choices what a syllable is. I think there's a problem and I think we need to look at it.

GLENN MILNE: Can we turn to the subject of HECS now, the estimates committee during the week was
provided with figures from your department which showed, in fact, 108,000 students in 26
universities are going to be affected by HECS increases next year. How does that square with your
assertion that the majority of students would not be affected by the deregulation of HECS?

BRENDAN NELSON: Well, firstly, there's 500,000 undergraduate students in Australian universities.

GLENN MILNE: If you're one of those 108,000, it matters.

BRENDAN NELSON: There are about 12 universities that chose not to increase HECS. It also should be
remembered that the Australian taxpayer, the average chippie, truck driver, gasfitter, welder, shop
assistant, is paying for three-quarters of the cost of the university education. Every last dollar
of HECS, which the Government pays up-front, unless the choosing student wants to pay it, every
last dollar goes to the education of the student - employ more staff, build better buildings and
offer a better quality education. And if the Labor Party, by the way, which has spent the last
three years opposing this sort of thing, if the Labor Party is so opposed to it, why have they
dropped their opposition now to the HECS changes? Let's just remember, people who go to university
are more likely to have a job, they earn on average 50% more than people who haven't been to
university. In the very first year after graduation in all but one case they earn more than their
entire HECS debt could possibly be.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Minister, on Wednesday, the delighted PM announced Australia would be hosting the
APEC summit in September 2007 just before the next scheduled election, so is he staying on? It sure
looks like it.

meeting with great skill and great alarm. I'm not going to comment on that except to say that I'll
continue to occupy this position for as long as my party wants me to.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, bad news for Peter Costello?

BRENDAN NELSON: You can read into it whatever you like. But I might also say the PM is probably the
most humble man that I've ever met. So I'll leave it at that.

ELEANOR HALL: What about, you Dr Nelson? Are you humble? Do you have prime ministerial ambitions?

BRENDAN NELSON: (Laughs) I think my mother has them for me. But that's probably about it. I'm just
happy to do what I'm doing.

GLENN MILNE: Can we clarify one thing, though? It's often speculated that if Peter Costello does
assume the prime ministership you'd be a candidate for the deputy leadership, is that right?

BRENDAN NELSON: You use the word 'speculation' Glenn, look, I am privileged to be the country's
minister for education. The leadership of the party, whether it's the PM or the deputy leader, will
be chosen, as you know, by the parliamentary members of the Liberal Party, and at some point in the
future if I was to be considered for any position above where I am at the moment, I would be
honoured but also very surprised.

PAUL BONGIORNO: It's been said that everyone goes into the Parliament with a field marshal's baton
in the knapsack. Have you got one in your knapsack?

BRENDAN NELSON: Not that I can find, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: OK, we're right out of time.

BRENDAN NELSON: You know I live in a shed in Canberra.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thank you for joining us today, Dr Brendan Nelson. After the break - Human Rights
Commissioner Dr Sev Ozdowski. The cartoon of the week looks at the Cornelia Rau case where a
mentally ill woman was mistakenly detained as an illegal immigrant. Bill Leak in the 'Australian'
has two guards in the Baxter detention centre laughing hysterically as they lock up a woman who
looks suspiciously like Amanda Vanstone, saying, "That's nothing, this one says she's the federal
minister for immigration."

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet the Press. And welcome to Human Rights Commissioner, Dr Sev


PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, the jailing of mentally ill Sydney woman Cornelia Rau as a suspected illegal
immigrant has shocked the nation. The Government has announced a closed inquiry into the
circumstances, but is determined to keep it narrowly focused.

into State Mental Health Services and I can understand frankly in some cases why they want that.
That is not the issue here. The issue here, the issue that I'm being asked is, "How did this
happen, that this woman was in Immigration for 10 months?" That is the matter that I want to get to
the bottom of.

GLENN MILNE: Well Commissioner, Amanda Vanstone won't hold an open inquiry. Will you?

SEV OZDOWSKI: The Human Rights Commission can hold inquiries into cases out of its own decision, or
because it's referred by the Federal Government. It's unlikely it'll be referred to us by Federal
Government. I can't speak for other commissioners, but it's also unlikely we'll hold an inquiry.

GLENN MILNE: Why is that Commissioner, because you held an inquiry into children in detention?

SEV OZDOWSKI: At the moment, a different inquiry is taking place. Let's wait to see what happens.
Plus, we've also got a complaints procedure and there could be a possibility of lodging a

GLENN MILNE: From whom?

SEV OZDOWSKI: It could be lodged by family of Mrs Rau or it could be lodged by any other person.

GLENN MILNE: So, I see, if they lodged a complaint, you could then hold an investigation into that

SEV OZDOWSKI: The President will certainly entertain the complaint.

GLENN MILNE: Do you think the treatment of Cornelia Rau makes the case for a bill of rights in

SEV OZDOWSKI: I think it does, but it also does make a case for major overhaul of our mental health
services. They are certainly in crisis. I've been conducting with the mental health council
consultations for the last few months. What we heard is just unbelievable. There are not adequate
beds, there is difficulty in access to mental health practitioners. There are people who are dying
needlessly, there are people who are going to prison or sleeping on the streets because simply our
mental health services are not up to scratch. Simply, there is not enough money there, not enough
energy. It must be improved.

ELEANOR HALL: Obviously with Cornelia Rau, she's come at the nexus between the mental health crisis
and the immigration detention system, but isn't it the case that the Immigration officers were
simply carrying out their duties according to the law, because she did present as someone who could
have been an illegal immigrant? She said she was German. Weren't they just doing their job?

SEV OZDOWSKI: Her case clearly raises both issues. It raises the mental health issues because she
was schizophrenic and it raises the issue of immigration laws which we've got in our country, which
have got mandatory detention provisions. You see, her problem was that she declared herself to be
an illegal migrant. If she had declared herself to be Santa Claus, she certainly wouldn't be given
the elves, she certainly wouldn't be given a Christmas tree and sled, she possibly next day would
be sent to a magistrate to have a look at her, and the magistrate would say that she requires
hospitalisation or she needs to go to hospital for assessment. Because she declared herself to be
an illegal migrant and there was some evidence, so to say, supporting it, she was bilingual, so
basically the Immigration officials formed a belief that she may be a suspected illegal
non-citizen, she may be an illegal migrant. So consequently they lock her up and our laws
unfortunately do allow for it. My report on children in immigration detention very clearly pointed
out that the mandatory detention laws are breaching human rights.

ELEANOR HALL: Do you think it's likely then that there are other Cornelia Raus, other mentally ill
people who are being locked up in detention centres by mistake?

SEV OZDOWSKI: That I can't answer, but I know there is quite a number of people who are locked up
in different prisons, who are sleeping on the streets. However, my report has shown very clearly
that what immigration detention does, especially long-time immigration detention does, is it
traumatises people. There were children developing mental illness in detention. I remember the case
of a boy who was diagnosed with mental illness in 2002, and there were some 20 recommendations from
mental health officials to release him with the family because he couldn't be treated in
immigration detention. What's happened? Three years later he was released with his family because
he was found to be a refugee and he was given with his family temporary protection visa. There are
many people in immigration detention who are traumatised.

GLENN MILNE: Can I ask you, to be clear about this, you are saying that our detention centres are
literally driving people insane, is that right?

SEV OZDOWSKI: What I'm saying is that there's enough evidence to say that if you are long enough in
immigration detention there is a possibility you will develop mental illness.

ELEANOR HALL: Is there a way that you can change that system, say, get rid of the detention within
the detention system to stop that?

GLENN MILNE: The isolation units?

SEV OZDOWSKI: The isolation unit, the key problem with our detention system is that there are no
legislative guidelines how they should be run. If you look at States which have much more
experience with prisons than the Federal Government, all States have got legislation. Some of the
States do have inspectors which regularly inspect prisons. For example, Western Australia. Some are
built into State legislations, a statutory charter of rights for prisoners. On a federal level it's
everything, a question of a contract between the GSL and the Department of Immigration and some
internal rules, but there is no legislative supervision. It needs to change.

PAUL BONGIORNO: There seems to be no mood for change, does there?

SEV OZDOWSKI: Well, it's difficult to comment on what I simply don't know what they are. I must say
that when my report on children in immigration was released there was some positive action from the
Government. Children were released, the conditions improved, children were allowed to go to schools
outside detention centres. So there was some improvement.

PAUL BONGIORNO: So that's probably why people would be looking to you to do an inquiry into mental
health, which you haven't closed the door to today, have you?

SEV OZDOWSKI: Well, we conducted consultations on mental health. I really do believe it's time for
action, not for another inquiry.

PAUL BONGIORNO: We're out of time. Thank you very much for joining us today, Human Rights
Commissioner, Dr Sev Ozdowski. And thanks to the panel, Eleanor Hall and Glenn Milne. Until next
week, it's goodbye from Meet the Press.