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Transcript of joint doorstop interview: Western Sydney: 21 February 2012: Education; Gonski Review; Australian Labor Party



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Transcript of joint doorstop interview, Western Sydney

TUE 21 FEBRUARY 2012

Prime Minister

Subject(s): Education; Gonski Review; Australian Labor Party;

PM: I’m joined by Minister Garrett, the Minister for School Education and by David Bradbury, our local member here in Lindsay.

Can I start by saying a very big thank you to everybody who’s made us so welcome here today. To the principal, to our student leaders, to the students that we’ve met in the classrooms to the students who are probably still over there making pancakes and to the parents and teachers that we’ve had an opportunity to talk to - thank you very much for a big welcome.

And we’re here today to talk about the future of education in Australia. We’re here in a great school and it’s always wonderful to walk around a great school and to see kids who are happy and enthusiastic and going about their learning.

But when we look at our education system overall, whilst we’ve still got a good education system by the standards of the world, there are worrying signs that our standards are slipping behind. We’ve watched some kids learning their maths today and enjoying learning their maths. But we know from international testing that the average 15 year old maths student in Australia is more than two years behind a 15 year old in Shanghai.

That is part of the evidence that tells us four of the top five school systems in the world are in our region and we, Australia, are starting to slip behind those standards. So in reading over the last decade we’ve slipped in international testing from equal second to equal seventh. In maths we’ve slipped from equal fifth to equal thirteenth. This means we do need to address how in our nation we can be lifting standards, lifting quality and making sure that every child gets a great education because the same set of data tells us that there is also a big gap between the education that a top performing child gets in Australian schools and those children who come from the poorest backgrounds.

So yesterday we announced the first major review of school funding in basically 40 years. That review comes on top of a big reform agenda in education that we have been driving to lift standards and we’ve had the opportunity to talk about some of those reforms here today and the difference that they’ve made to this school. The difference that new school capital has made through Building the Education Revolution, the focus on literacy and numeracy, the focus on teacher quality, the focus on giving more resources to disadvantaged schools, our additional $200 million of investment into the needs of students with disabilities.

But now, following the release of the Gonski review yesterday, we are asking schools like this one and school communities, parents, teachers, principals, to now get involved in the discussion our nation needs to have about the future of our education system and the future funding for Australian schools. We want every child to get a great education; working through a funding model for the future is a key part of that.

It’s been great to be here today, I’m going to hand over to Minister Garrett for some comments on the Gonski review and then to local member David Bradbury who is very familiar with this great school.

So Peter if you’d like to go first?

MINISTER GARRETT: Thanks Prime Minister.

Yesterday’s release of the most important review on school education funding and our work today and from this day on to make sure that parents can be confident that their kids are getting the best education that they can is right at the centre of what we need to focus on as a nation and its right at the centre of our agenda as a Government and I was really pleased to see a wide range of groups bring forward positive comments about this important education review finding. Whether it’s the Business Council of Australia, the Independent Principals Association, the parents’ councils, the education unions - everybody recognises that this is an important and urgent task and everybody recognises that there is a lot important work to be done.

Nothing in this education review release says that we want to reduce support for schools in Australia. In fact, this is all about making sure that the resources that we apply to schooling give our kids the best education that they can get and we are literally rolling up our sleeves and getting stuck into that work not only by coming into great schools such as this one and spending time with the students and the parents and teachers, but also sitting down with our state colleagues, getting those working groups underway so that we can refine, develop and test the proposed model that Mr Gonski has recommended that we consider.

We have a strong track record of significant investment in education. We have existing programs where we’re focusing on teacher effectiveness, on literacy and numeracy. We have a national curriculum for the first time which we agreed with the states and we’re now looking forward very much to continuing to work with the states on these national education reforms that are so central to our future prospects as a nation.

BRADBURY: Well thanks very much Prime Minister and Minister Garrett, it’s great to have you out here in St Mary’s at Our Lady of the Rosary and can I take the opportunity to thank Mr Mark Geerligs, the principal here at OLR.

This is, I think, one of the finest Catholic schools in that great tradition of Catholic schools. This was a school that was actually established by Mary Mackillop, St Mary of the Cross and here we see so many years later those fine traditions being carried out in the work that’s being done here.

I want to thank the staff, the students and the whole school community for the very warm welcome that they’ve given the Prime Minister out here today. It’s wonderful to see.

On this particular site we’ve seen tremendous changes occur over the last few years and they have been supported by the Government but also through parental contribution through the Catholic Education Office and their funds. But I know that in the time that I’ve been representing this community, the opportunities that are on offer for young students coming to this school have increased immensely. That’s something I’m very proud of and that’s one of the reasons why I am so proud that as a Government we are tackling the question of education reform into the future because as a country if we are to succeed and to achieve the success that we can, we need to invest in each and every one of us so that we can all realise our potential and when you look at the potential that exists within the young students that we’ve seen today, well, if we can grasp the nettle then this country can only achieve that success.

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So thank you very much to everyone’s that’s invited us along to be here today.

PM: Thank you. Thank you very much Mark and to Peter and Chloe, our student leaders who have looked after us, thank you too.

So, any questions?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister-PM: Yes?

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) standards have dropped quite dramatically - you were point out some statistics there, who’s responsible?

PM: Well I think we’ve seen a problem with underinvestment and not sufficient focus on reform in Australian schools in the past. I have said about the Howard era that it was a waste of a decade when it came to reform in Australian schools.

As soon as we were elected in 2007 we started on a major reform journey of change. Things that people had dismissed as not possible to achieve, like national school transparency through MySchool, a national curriculum, and we’re making investments in teacher quality and the like. They take time to show rewards. We can track some rewards already but they’re going to take more time to show their full reward. Now we want to join those reforms with this debate and approach to school funding, working through what we need to do with resourcing Australian schools because reform matters to drive change, but the money does matter too and now we have to have the national debate about the money.

JOURNALIST: What about the accountability going forward. Throwing money at a problem is one thing but at the end of the day who’s going to be responsible?

PM: Well, we’ve always got to have resources associated with reforms and change which are about driving standards up. We announced yesterday that as we do all of this nuts and bolts work following Mr Gonski’s review on school funding, that we will have a conversation with school communities, we will work it through, but when we make the ultimate decisions about what to do about school funding we will be driven by a number of principles and key to those principles is better results, continuous improvement, lifting quality - that’s what we want the resources to do.

JOURNALIST: So will the government commit that extra $5 billion to education?

PM: Well I think we’ve got to be very clear where that figure came from, and why it’s in Mr Gonski’s report. Mr Gonski himself makes the point that he and his very eminent review panel was working with 2009 information. So they’ve worked with that information, and they’ve created for us some very big insights into how we can design school funding for the future. But on the actual dollars, they say more work needs to be done because they were working on 2009 information and they weren’t able to get a complete picture and do all of the nuts and bolts work themselves. So that’s understandable. We need to do that nuts and bolts work now.

JOURNALIST: How long will that take?

PM: Well we are getting straight into it and we will be driving it intensively over coming months. It will be work with education stakeholders, it will be work involving schools and school communities, and it will be work involving our state and territory colleagues because Mr Gonski’s review is what we asked him to do in the sense that we asked him to look at funding for all children in all schools. Not just look at one school system, the approach of our government has been not to look at school systems but to look at schools - all schools - and every child in every school.

JOURNALIST: So you’re saying that because they’ve working with 2009 figures, it could be greater than the $5 billion [inaudible]?

PM: What I’m saying is I don’t think it is productive for us to be speculating about figures before we do all of this nuts and bolts work. To give you just a very clear example and its one we discussed when we were at the table, the report talks about having a new loading to help meet the educational needs of students with disabilities, and the report then makes the point we don’t even have a common definition around the country at the moment about students with disabilities or what extra they should receive, and that means that students with comparable needs in different parts of the country today can be getting different support packages. And so until you work through all of that, it stands to reason you can’t generate the figures.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’re obviously passionate about this policy, there are murmurings behind the scenes going on, [inaudible] how distracting is what’s going on within the Labor Party ranks is it to you coming out to do this?

PM: For me, I get on with my job and there’s nothing more important to me doing this job than focussing on education. I mean it's key to my vision of our nation’s future; we can’t have the new economy I want to build unless we have kids learning in schools and able to get those jobs of the future. And to give you just one statistic on that, we are creating jobs even today. We are creating jobs in a way that, for every unskilled job we create, we create two and a half skilled jobs. Now if you fast-forward that into the future it means there will be less work and less opportunities for people who don’t have skills. So my focus is on that. Of course I would prefer if all of you had come to the press conference today solely for the purpose of talking about school funding, I understand that from your various bureaus and people you talk to in Canberra, many of you have come for other purposes. So of course I’d prefer that we were in a situation where the only focus was this important national debate.

JOURNALIST: Do you want a pledge of loyalty from the Foreign Minister?

PM: Look there are many reports about this today. For me, it is what I’ve just said to you. It’s about getting on with the job. I answered a lot of these questions yesterday and to be frank with you I really don’t have much to add.

JOURNALIST: But Prime Minister, will you be holding talks with Kevin Rudd about the leadership [inaudible]?

PM: Well look I’d refer you to my last answer. My focus as I’m standing here today with you is on this important report into the future of school education.

JOURNALIST: Were you involved in those secret talks, the secret discussions?

PM: Well look I think you’re referring to some newspaper reports today and I’ve seen those reports and you know, my approach here, I couldn’t be clearer about my focus. It’s about getting on with the job. I’m not going to be engaged in running commentary about multiple reports in different newspapers about different things.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

PM: Look, I did speak to Darren yesterday and that’s a private conversation and I’ll keep it private.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe you have the numbers [inaudible]?

PM: As I said yesterday I enjoy the strong support of my colleagues.

JOURNALIST: But Mr Rudd yesterday was accused of disloyalty to the Prime Minister. [inaudible]

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GARRETT: The Prime Minister has my full support. She always has had and I think it’s really important to recognise that people rightly are concerned about the way in which we can get the better education system happening in this country in the way in which we fund schools. That’s why we’ve come out here today, and that’s what I’m going to be focussed on and I know that that’s something which the government is very focussed on as well. That’s the most important piece of work for me to be doing today, and I have no more to say about that matter other than any other questions on education.

BRADBURY: Can I be very clear about this, and say what I have always said, publicly and privately, to anyone that has asked me. And that is that I support Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and in fact it would be fair to say that I am one of her strongest supporters. But I read in the paper today as I’ve read on a few occasions in the last couple of days, that I am somehow listed on a list of so-called undecided people. Can I make this point, that in relation to each of those articles not one journalist has asked me for my view. Now as I said both privately and publicly I have stated that I support the Prime Minister. She’s doing a great job in difficult circumstances. As a government we need to do what Labor governments are here to do and that is to reform education to deliver the services that people in our communities want. Now I don’t know what I have to do to go beyond that, if it means getting a tattoo, I’d consider it. But somehow I think my wife might object to that. But frankly I think that I’ve said all that I can say. The Prime Minister has my absolute support.

JOURNALIST: How does it make you feel when you read these reports that you’re undecided?

BRADBURY: It makes me frustrated with the journalism that underpins these stories. Frankly I am accountable for all that I do as a Member of Parliament and that is appropriate, that’s right. But if people are going to write stories where they haven’t even bothered to pick up the phone and to ask you a simple question... Any journalist, and I defy any journalist in this country that has spoken to me about this issue, that suggest that they had anything other than a definitive answer of my support for the Prime Minister to come forward. There won’t be one person that will come forward and say that. Yet these things are printed in our newspapers for whatever purpose. But frankly I support the Prime Minister; I think it’s about time that we just allowed her to get on with the job of tackling these challenges that are too important to the students that we saw here today, that have a great contribution to make to our country. And we want to get on with giving them the policy settings and the funding that they need so that they can achieve that.

JOURNALIST: Mr Bradbury, Lindsay is a marginal seat. Does this sort of instability make you nervous about your job, when the election comes around?

BRADBURY: Well, disunity is death. That is a principle in political life. And frankly, there is no reason why there shouldn’t be complete unity behind the Prime Minister. I think she has the overwhelming support of her colleagues. In fact, I am certain that that is the case. I think it’s important that as a government we have the opportunity to do what we can do and that is to build the better Australia that children such as those that we met here today expect us to get on with building.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, [inaudible] distraction though from these policies, so isn’t it in your best interests to resolve it and bring it to a head?

PM: Well I’m very focussed on these policies and that’s what we’re here to talk about today.

JOURNALIST: David Bradbury just made the point that disunity is death, [inaudible] do you stand by what he’s just said?

PM: My approach as I’ve outline to you is to be very determined about getting on with the job. We’re here today to talk to people about the future of Australian schools. Last week in parliament we delivered a private health insurance rebate - changes long fought for. Over the course of last year we delivered nation-changing reforms, not all of them popular or easy, but reforms that will make a long-term difference for the prosperity of this country and for opportunity within this country. That’s my approach and my determination. Thanks very much.

Page 3 of 3 Transcript of joint doorstop interview, Western Sydney | Prime Minister of Australia

30/10/2012 http://www.pm.gov.au/press-office/transcript-joint-doorstop-interview-western-sydney