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Transcript of interview: Meet the Press with Hugh Riminton: 4 November 2012

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HUGH RIMINTON, PRESENTER: Hello and welcome to Meet The Press. Now how much money goes into Australia's schools each year? If your answer is that you don't know, you’re right. Incredible as it seems, the sources of funding are so disparate, no-one knows exactly how much is going into our schools. The best guess from the Gonski report is a little more than $40 billion a year. Around $8 billion of that is from private sources, including fee-paying parents. But the Prime Minister is certain about one thing:

JULIA GILLARD: We are so focused on driving our schooling system into the world's top five.

HUGH RIMINTON: Into the top five, well from her entry into Parliament, Julia Gillard has wanted to carve out a personal legacy in education.

JULIA GILLARD: Not only economists but ordinary people understand that the future of Australia, and the future of themselves and their children, is tied to educational success.

HUGH RIMINTON: But is Labor ready for the reforms that Productivity Commission chairman Gary Banks among others says are necessary? Raise university scores for teaching courses, let principals hire and fire, and pay teachers more money.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: It's absolutely remarkable that at a time when Julia Gillard was giving a speech about the importance of education, the Government was sharpening the knives to slash education in MYEFO.

HUGH RIMINTON: Then there's the billions required to meet the language ambitions in the new Asian Century White Paper.

PETER GARRETT: We do need to make sure that our kids in schools have got Asian cultural literacy, and the opportunity to study Asian languages as well.

JOE HOCKEY: We've got an Asian White Paper with no money - another plan, but no money.

HUGH RIMINTON: So what is the gap between reality and rhetoric?

PETER GARRETT: And this is the future, and this Government is preparing for it now.

HUGH RIMINTON: We will grill the Minister for School Education, Peter Garrett on the show today. And later - The Greens are not done yet - forming yet another minority Government with Labor in the ACT. And they've forced a new deal on pokies.

RICHARD DI NATALE: It's a small step forward. It's a long way from where we need to be.

HUGH RIMINTON: But have they lost their electoral mojo? We will speak with Senator Richard di Natale, as The Greens hold their National Conference this weekend in Sydney. And you can join the conversation at #MTP10. Education and your kids - coming up next, stay with us.

Segment 2

HUGH RIMINTON, PRESENTER: Welcome back, this is Meet The Press, and our guest is Education Minister Peter Garrett. Good morning, Minister.

PETER GARRETT: Morning, Hugh.

HUGH RIMINTON: Now, I wonder if you could address yourself to a parent of a new-born child, or perhaps a toddler. What is your promise to them about their child growing up learning an Asian language?

PETER GARRETT: That they would have the opportunity for the child to be offered an Asian language from primary school continuously all the way through to the time they finish high school, and that in the National Curriculum, which we’ve already got underway in part, that Asia cultural literacy would be a part of the delivery of the curriculum in every school in the country.

HUGH RIMINTON: Okay, we’ve got about 10,000 schools, just short of 10,000 schools across the country - how many teachers are you going to need, to meet that goal?

PETER GARRETT: We’ll need more teachers, Hugh. You’re absolutely right. But it’s not only about getting more teachers and working with the state education governments and others, it's also about looking at ways which we can use technology to deliver teaching into classrooms that may not have a teacher standing in the classroom, but can get access for example to a great teacher in another town or another city, and start leaning languages that way as well.

HUGH RIMINTON: So every week within the school curriculum, from primary, first day, through to Year 12, at the very least, every child will have an opportunity to sit and perhaps through technology sit in on a class that’s going to come in from elsewhere? That's the minimum standard?

PETER GARRETT: That’s absolutely right, and young people still have an opportunity to learn languages through the community languages centres that are set up, but we believe, and the Prime Minister made it very clear when we launched the Asian Century White Paper, that this region to the north is so important for us. Many of the jobs of the future will be jobs that involve interacting with China, with India and the like. And so the opportunity for every

child to learn that language from when they start primary school will be a part of our national plan for school improvement.

HUGH RIMINTON: What is the message you’re getting from the states about their capacity to deliver?

PETER GARRETT: Look, we're in negotiations and discussions with the states. I had a good meeting by phone with education ministers last week, and we’ve all agreed that advice will go up to the next meeting of the Council of Australian Governments - that’s when the Prime Minister and the state premiers meet - and so the national plan for school improvement that we want to advance, of which this is a part, is considered a part of that advice. Of course there are going to be issues about teacher supply, teacher training. They will have to be worked through with the states. But I think anybody recognises that we live in a time when the economies and the nations to our north are so important to our future, we need to give our kids these opportunities.

HUGH RIMINTON: Absolutely no doubt, it seems to be absolutely bipartisan agreement that we are definitely part of Asia, and that we need to connect with it on every level, but this goes down to the practical realities, because publicly, for example, Queensland is not only complaining about a lack of consultation in this process, but saying there is already a severe shortage of qualified language teachers. And Victoria is saying that there's been no engagement at all with the states of those Asian language ambitions. It's about getting the wheels on the ground isn’t it, and delivering your promise of ‘from day one, to Year 12,’ these Asian languages?

PETER GARRETT: Yeah, look, I saw some of the comments, but I also did meet and have that hook-up with education ministers, and they have agreed to take this forward. By the way, Victoria already has a requirement for compulsory Asian language learning in its system. So I don't think we’ve got any other alternative, Hugh. We need to work with the states. And remember, when we talk about responding to the Gonski panel on education, when we talk about a national plan for school improvement, we are willing to commit additional substantial investment. Of course, we do expect the states to pay their fair share, but we can work these things through the states. I'm confident that we can, and we’ll do that in the coming months.

HUGH RIMINTON: Do you think there's value in an idea of, say, creating a new visa class, or using the immigration system to bring in native speakers with teaching qualifications from China, from India and so on, so these language skills can be put in place?

PETER GARRETT: Look, it's something we could have a look at down the track. I'm not sure that it’s right at the front of our needs at this point in time, and the reason for that is that one of the things that we want schools to do is actually to establish a brother/sister school relationship with a school in Asia. Now some schools do that already. Leongatha School, for example, has got a relationship with a school in Asia, and many schools can do that through skyping, you know, through online web-based communications. And I think one of the things that's really important in all of this is that as a country, we are located in Asia, of course we know that. But our history has been a history, apart from our Aboriginal history, which has been very much connected to Europe and America. Now, obviously that will continue. But in the future, our eyes will much more be looking north. And that happens in conversations around the kitchen table, it’ll happen when people are going and doing business and sport and tourism and the like.


PETER GARRETT: And for young Australians, to have that language facility or cultural facility just makes their options that much better in the future.

HUGH RIMINTON: The political reality is that we’re in an extremely tight Budgetary position, as you know well enough. You’re going to legislate, in this final sitting week for the year, of the goal of getting our education system into the top five by 2025. Are you going to put anything in there about what it might cost, and where the funding is coming from?

PETER GARRETT: The legislation that goes into Parliament this year, Hugh, will be enshrining the principles and the objectives of the plan, and then we'll continue to work through with the states and the independent school sectors what that delivery might be like, and what that quantum is, and that will be added in over time. But just one thing quickly - Mr Pyne’s comments that you ran the head of the program are completely wrong. This is a Government that’s nearly doubled investment since the previous Government was in power, and we are committed to making sure that no school loses a single dollar as a part of the implementation of any program, and we will see additional money flow into schools as a result of our plan.

HUGH RIMINTON: Okay, well we might get into those issues when we come back with the panel. We’re going to take a quick break now. We’ll be back with the panel in just a moment. By the way, if you are a teacher watching this, we want you to know that we love you.

MITT ROMNEY: I love teachers, and I’m happy to have states and communities that want to hire teachers. I love teachers, but I want to get our private sector growing, and I know how to do it.

BOB SCHIEFFER: I think we all love teachers. Gentlemen, thank you so much.

Segment 3

HUGH RIMINTON, PRESENTER: Welcome back, we're joined now by our panel - Patricia Karvelas from ‘The Australian’ and Michelle Grattan from ‘The Age’. Good morning to both of you.


MICHELLE GRATTAN: Good morning. Mr Garrett, there does seem a certain vagueness in the talk about language in the White Paper. I wonder if you could be more precise. At the end of this whole process of giving people the opportunity to learn an Asian language, what proportion of students would the Government like to see doing an Asian language at Year 12?

PETER GARRETT: Michelle, a greater proportion than we have now. And there've been figures bandied around. But I think the key thing about this commitment is that we want to have a funded national plan for school improvement which embeds language learning and makes it absolutely possible for any child to access that language learning. Now, that’s going to build over time. Our figures are pretty low. As you know, we sit on around a six per cent

figure - it's flatlined in terms of language learning. So there’s a long way to go. Now, figures have been spoken about to the level of 40 per cent and the like. I think we'll need to sit down and work that through with state education authorities, and with the training institutions as well, but it's absolutely appropriate to cast it in this way, and have it as part of the plan that we want to bring in on education.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: One problem for example with students learning mandarin, is that there are now a lot of Chinese speakers, native Chinese speakers, in this country, and their children obviously also can in many cases speak the language. Is there a difficulty with non-native speakers competing in the school system, and won't people be discouraged for the reason that they can't compete?

PETER GARRETT: Look, I think that does happen a bit now. But I was out at Moreson Public last week, and there they start teaching kids Mandarin actually in kindy, certainly in Year 1. That's a mixed school, with many, many kids who are really passionate about their language learning, and the fact is, I think all of us know, whether we're parents or in families around us, if you start children early with language, and they’ve got that facility underway, they pick it up so quickly when they’re young. And I'm pretty confident that over time, even when they come into a school setting with, for example, pretty good Mandarin speakers, it won't turn them off learning.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Mr Garrett, you told Hugh earlier that you see an online model being one way you could deliver this if you can’t find the teachers for it.. How are you going to create a level playing field if some students have a teacher from far away on the computer screen and others get to have a teacher in the room? Surely the experience will be quite different, and some will have an advantage that others won’t.

PETER GARRETT: Look, I'm not sure that's the case, Patricia. I think that we’ve got a generation of kids that are growing up online. So for them, I think, looking at a teacher in the room in front of them, and in front of the whiteboard, and looking at them on a screen and relating to them in that way, won't be such an obstacle. But the substantial part of the answer is also that teachers will teach to the national curriculum. Remember, we never had one. I mean, the last five years, the national curriculum, Myschool website, national professional qualifications for teachers - these things link up to make sure that however a child is receiving that language learning, and wherever it is, it is at that same high standard.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So it will be received differently across different schools, that’s what you’re saying though.

PETER GARRETT: Well, it might be received through a screen, or it might be received through someone standing in the room. It might be kids going and being in a video conferencing arrangement with other schools. There’s lots of possibilities through it. The NBN will roll out, that’ll give us greater facility as well. But it's really about the effectiveness of the teacher, and teacher quality, not whether the teacher is standing in the room or not, that I think will make the difference.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: How were these languages, these core languages, chosen? Hindi, for example, does seem to be a rather strange choice in this group, because, after all, much of the business is done in English with India. Why Hindi as a core language?

PETER GARRETT: Well, Michelle, as you know, India is a fast-growing economic power in our region, predicted in some ways to even overtake China as we go over the next decades. It's going to be incredibly important that Australians have a greater facility, cultural experience, and language experience where they can with Hindi. Yes, you’re right - English is spoken widely in India. But Hindi is an important language, and I think that Chinese Mandarin, Japanese, Bahasa Indonesia, and Hindi - it's a choice that students can make. You know, kids that love cricket may decide that they perhaps want to learn Hindi. Those that have travelled to Bali or to Indonesia may decide that it’s Bahasa Indonesia that takes their fancy. The point is we’ve never had an objective like this, and we’ve never said that we need to make sure that every single child gets that opportunity. They don't have to take it up, but they do need to have that opportunity.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Mr Garrett, putting on your hat as Minister Responsible for Early Education, the Government has promised big reforms to the childcare sector. I want to know if you’re willing to fund this $1.4 billion pay rise for childcare workers, considering the competing big priorities on your agenda with Gonski?

PETER GARRETT: Well look, we're in discussions with that sector, Patricia, as you know, and we acknowledge the claims that they've made. But at this point in time, we just want to continue those discussions constructively. I heard the senior Leadership say that that's what they were prepared to do from that sector. Recognising that we’ve already got a number of initiatives under way to help them, important initiatives. We’re providing -

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you think they need a pay rise, and are you willing to deliver it?

PETER GARRETT: Well, I acknowledge that it's an issue for them, but it's not the thing that I wanted to refer to in this question. What I wanted to say is we'll continue to have discussions with the sector, as we should, recognising that we’ve already got record levels of investment in early childhood care and education, about tripling what we had under the Howard Government, and also a number of other measures out there - HECS fee relief, the opportunity for the provision of university places, and the national quality framework as well, being introduced.

HUGH RIMINTON: Okay, Peter Garrett, thank you very much for your time today.

PETER GARRETT: Thanks, Hugh.

HUGH RIMINTON: We'll take a break. Richard di Natale of The Greens is coming up next. David Pope in the Canberra Times saw a Halloween theme in Labor’s decision to unearth the Howard Government plan excising all of Australia from the migration zone.

JULIA GILLARD: Ah, for goodness’ sake, Chris. Surely by now you’re used to him?

Segment 4

HUGH RIMINTON, PRESENTER: Welcome back, this is Meet The Press. The Greens are holding their 20th National Conference this weekend in Sydney. But are they now in decline? The national polling numbers appear to be ebbing, and there was nothing gentle in the way they lost three quarters of their seats in the ACT election last month. Well Greens Senator Richard di Natale joins us from Sydney. Senator, good morning.

RICHARD DI NATALE: Good morning.

HUGH RIMINTON: Do you believe you have lost your electoral momentum?

RICHARD DI NATALE: Well, if you look at the results during the Victorian elections, we did very well there. We increased our vote in a number of regional areas, in the local government area that covers the seat of Melbourne, Adam Bandt’s seat. We increased our representation, had a surge in our vote in some booths, so the news is good. But that’s true, the result in the ACT was disappointing. We’ve now got Shane Rattenbury, who will be a Minister in a new ACT Government, and he’ll inject some fresh thinking and new ideas there.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Are the problems you’re having because you’ve lost Bob Brown?

RICHARD DI NATALE: Oh, I think what’s happened is we've been under attack like never before, there’s no question about that. Both the old parties consider us a real threat now, and they are on the attack. I think your paper, Patricia, has been very clear in its intent to destroy the Greens at the ballot box. We’ve been under that sort of attack like never before. So it's up to us now to communicate the fact that our positions are mainstream positions - when it comes to things like dental care, we want to bring dentistry under Medicare. We do want genuine pokie reform, equal marriage, troops out of Afghanistan. They are all mainstream opinions, there and I think once we communicate those -

HUGH RIMINTON: You are also under attack from former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd this morning on another program, making the point again that the Greens famously didn't back his emissions trading scheme, and there have been consequences to that. Here was Kevin Rudd this morning.

KEVIN RUDD: We would have had an earlier, more effective solution to critical challenges such as climate change had the Greens, as a matter of principle, stuck to their principles, and backed an emissions trading scheme, back then, the period when I was Prime Minister.

HUGH RIMINTON: So was that a terrible failure, given that if Tony Abbott becomes Prime Minister next year, he says day one, carbon tax is gone. So any attempt at coherent climate change policy will be gone with it?

RICHARD DI NATALE: Well firstly, I don't believe Tony Abbott. I don’t think he’ll repeal it. But we’ve got a much better scheme in place - we’ve got $10 billion for renewable energy we’ve got an authority to renew our targets. We’re not going to lock in failure under the old Kevin Rudd scheme. But I will say one thing - we do support the Rudd-backed and Ken Henry-backed mining tax. Now I didn't hear Kevin Rudd talk about our support for his view of the mining tax, which would have brought in an extra $26 billion, had the current Government - Julia Gillard - not caved in to the mining industry. Had we had the original Rudd-backed and Henry-backed tax, we'd be able to fund Denticare and the Gonski reforms, public education and so on. So I think it's a bit rich from Mr Rudd.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: Senator, isn't one of your problems though that you say you’re mainstream, but on a number of issues you've got out of the mainstream? For example, on the whole asylum seeker question, your insistence on frustrating the Government policy on that has meant that it’s been much harder for the Government to address it.

RICHARD DI NATALE: The failures on asylum seeker policy are purely of the Government's making here, and the Opposition. We’ve got a situation where we’ve got a policy that is very cruel and inhumane to refugees, but won't even work, not even - won't achieve what the Government wants it to achieve. It's failing on all of those measures. We’ve tried to improve it. We’ve tried to put time limits on mandatory detention. I’ve got a Bill before the Parliament that would see an independent health panel established to at least try and improve the health circumstances for people in detention.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: So do you think that we should just accept an open-slather policy here, that we can't really do anything about the number of people who come to Australia, and we should say that's all fine?

RICHARD DI NATALE: Michelle, no-one’s suggesting that.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: What are you suggesting?

RICHARD DI NATALE: What we've said is that we need to increase - we need to see significant increase in our humanitarian intake, we need to uncouple the issue of off-shore and on-shore arrivals, so that they’re not competing against each other. I mean, if we put the billions of dollars that are now being spent on this cruel and inhumane treatment towards increasing the access to safer pathways for people in Indonesia and Malaysia, we would go a long way to revolving this issue. Instead we have got this situation where we're in a race to the bottom. And you can't out-cruel the Opposition on this. The Government should stand up, should make a very clear argument that we have moral, legal responsibilities to deal with this issue. And we'd end up with a much better outcome.

HUGH RIMINTON: Okay, Richard di Natale, thank you very much for your time today. Thank you also to Michelle Grattan and Patricia Karvelas. A transcript and a replay will be up on our website shortly, also on Facebook. So until next week, goodbye.