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Transcript of press conference: Wednesday, 26 August 2009: rollout of Digital Education Revolution in NSW schools; Youth Allowance; award modernisation;

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The Hon Julia Gillard MP 

Minister for Education. Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations 

Minister for Social Inclusion 

Deputy Prime Minister 

26 August, 2009  


Transcript â€ Press Conference â€ 11AM Wednesday 


ISSUES: Rollout of Digital Education Revolution in NSW schools; Youth Allowance; Award Modernisation;

JULIA GILLARD: Well can I say it’s a great pleasure to be here today at Fairvale High School with my NSW colleague, Verity Firth and with our local Federal Member, Chris Bowen. We’re here today to see the computer technology that students in New South Wales schools will be having rolled out through our Computers in Schools program.

We promised at the last election that we would bring a Digital Education Revolution to Australian schools, to years 9 to 12, to children who are in upper secondary school. We commenced that program last year. And already around the country there are 79,000 computers operating that have been delivered through this program.

This is a $2.2 billion investment over five years. Here in New South Wales in government schools, it’s bringing an investment of $386 million. This is to enable students in upper secondary to have access to a computer, to make sure that they’re learning with the learning tools of the 21st century.

Whatever the students we’ve met today decide to do in later life, the world of work in the 21st century will be a world into which computer technology is integrated every step of the way. It’s hard to imagine a job that people will perform in the future that won’t require familiarity with computers and it’s hard to imagine how people would live their day to day lives without mastering computer technology. That’s why it’s so important that children in our secondary schools today are learning with the learning tools of the 21st century. And that’s why it’s so important that our Digital Education Revolution rolls out through secondary schools around the country.

I think this is an exciting program making a difference to children’s lives. Today we’ve met some children who don’t have access to a computer at home or don’t have access to computers with this degree of sophistication, so having that access at school is vital to their learning.

With those words, I will turn to our Education Minister in New South Wales, Verity Firth, and then we’ll be very happy to take any questions.

VERITY FIRTH: Thank you. Thank you very much, Julia. Look I’m incredibly excited to be here today. This is amazingly exciting. Exciting not only for our students, but for our teachers as we see the Digital Education Revolution being rolled out into our schools.

One of the things that’s unique about the approach that we’ve taken in New South Wales is we have a wholly laptop model and it’s a model that been developed very closely with the Secondary Principals Council, hand in hand with the teachers and principals that work in our schools every day.

It means that we’ve also been able to add with some New South Wales Government funding to provide laptops for our teachers and also to provide ongoing professional learning for our teachers, so that they can make the very most out of this technology, using it as a great teaching tool in the classroom.

It also means that we’ve been able to do a magnificent deal on the software that we’re able to provide to our students. Each computer has $5,500 worth of software on it. Our kids will be getting access to Microsoft 7, probably amongst the first people to gain access in the world to Microsoft 7, and of course the full suite of Adobe publishing materials.

What all parents will now start to receive, as their kids receive a laptop, is that they’ll receive a pack. The pack will have a whole lot of information for parents. It will include a laptop user charter that both parents and students sign which talks about responsibility for the laptop and making sure that kids look after their laptop and use it appropriately.

We’re going to be providing information material for parents and a parent internet site so parents can go on and I suppose go on this Education Revolution with their children at the same time.

We also have incredibly comprehensive security mechanisms on these laptops - quite amazing - it’s called Computrace, and it’s already been shown to work. One of our teachers took her laptop to New Zealand over the holidays to do all her lesson plans that was traced back to the Department of Education. The light went off and they actually sought out the laptop knowing that it was overseas and being used. So it’s amazing technology. If a laptop is stolen or goes missing, it’s able to be remotely shut down from the Department of Education, literally so it becomes useless. That’s even if a whole new operating system is supplied onto that laptop. So great tech in terms of their security which I can talk to you about later.

And what I would just close my opening comments with is we of course did a trial on three of our high schools’ test drive. We did a test drive at Bathurst, at Arthur Phillip High School and at Cherrybrook Technology High School. And the feedback already from our kids has been absolutely fantastic. I thought I’d share some of the comments with you.

First - “There was so much we could do in lessons that we couldn’t do before.” “It’s changed my headspace - it made me enjoy some subjects I had hated”

“We have this great new resource and I didn’t want to miss out on one day of using it.”

And I think probably our favourite - “Give Kevin a big hug.”

So the kids are clearly loving these laptops. We know it enables teachers to engage with kids to keep them interested and inspired at school and we really couldn’t be happier to be here today thanking the Federal Government for what is going to be a truly revolutionising tool that will bring learning into the 21st century for our children.

JULIA GILLARD: Thank you very much. Have we got any questions?

JOURNALIST: Is this the first rollout or have some schools already got them?

JULIA GILLARD: Across the country, we’ve seen 79,000 computers rolled out already. Different schools and different school systems have gone for different models. As Verity says, the model in New South Wales is this laptop model, and I’ll just get Verity to comment on the rollout here.

VERITY FIRTH: So this is the beginning of the rollout in New South Wales to students. Teachers received their laptops, or some teachers received their laptops at the end of Term Two. We did that deliberately so that teachers could have a bit of time to play around and get to know the software. A few schools began to receive them last week. But this is essentially the beginning. We expect to rollout 92,000 laptops by the end of this year.

JOURNALIST: So there was initial talk of them all getting them by the end of July. A minor hold up, has there been a reason for that?

VERITY FIRTH: What we’re doing is we’re staging the rollout in terms of year 9 cohorts. So basically, every year 9 student in New South Wales will have a laptop by the end of this year - 92,000 laptops. Next year will be year 9 2010. The year after, year 9 2011. So that’s the process now and it’s all going very well and to plan.

JOURNALIST: So that one month though, that specified end of July before is there a reason?

VERITY FIRTH: We met the end of July deadline in terms of the teacher rollout, and we also had started the trials in the specific high schools in May. So it was all moving ahead. We’d always planned for Term 3 2009 as the beginning of the proper rollout across the system.

JOURNALIST: Julia, what effect do you think this will have on literacy and numeracy bringing computers into the classroom?

School bell rings

JULIA GILLARD: Whenever you come to a school you’ve got to get a school bell in the background so we’re managing to do that. What the evidence around the world shows us is

that if you integrate computers into the curriculum, so it becomes a core part of the way that the school teaches, that it better engages students and that can help with the development of literacy and numeracy.

I know sometimes in people’s mind, people think that they are somehow in competition - the new technology and the development of literacy and numeracy. Actually, modern educational practice tells us that’s not the case. In order to get kids reading and writing and counting and doing maths, we’ve got to engage and hold their attention. For younger kids, when we are getting the basics right with literacy and numeracy, that can be interactive whiteboards and other use of new technology. And then obviously as kids move through school and start to learn more independently, this kind of rollout can keep them engaged and keep them focused. And even these students we’ve seen today, I think with all of the distractions, that coming to a school like this when politicians visit, with all of the distractions, what I think you’ve seen is kids who are very intent on the task and very focused and engaged, and that’s essential for learning.

JOURNALIST: Do you worry that students will, because they’ve got this resource that they can take home, that there’ll be that temptation to cut and paste stuff from Wikipedia and websites like that and threats of plagiarism?

JULIA GILLARD: Well our teachers obviously in the design of the curriculum and assessment mechanisms understand that new technology means people are going to get information in different ways in the past. So we’re up to understanding how that affects the leaning process and the assessment process.

But can I say in rolling out this technology and realising its potentials, in the world of work today, obviously many people turn to Google, they turn to Wikipedia, and we need, whilst we’re educating students, to educate them about those sources of information - what’s reliable, what’s not, how to think about it critically, how to asses it, how to work out how to use that information, so that in and of itself is part of a learning process that needs to go on today to prepare people for the 21st century, the world of work, and of course our home life. Recreational life today very much involves computer technology and that’s another reason why we want kids, as they’re preparing for the next stage of their lives, to have access to the work tool of the 21st century and something that’s going to be part of their lives in the 21st century.

JOURNALIST: Minister Firth, there’s claims at the moment that a meeting’s being held at State Parliament about Mr Rees’ future. Do you know of any plans to roll him while he’s on holidays?

VERITY FIRTH: Absolutely not. No plans whatsoever. I think the Premier is entitled to one week of private leave. I think that’s absolutely fair enough and there’s absolutely no plans, no.

JOURNALIST: What do you think about the latest speculation in the newspapers?

VERITY FIRTH: I just think, as I’ve said before, I think the Premier is entitled to one week of private leave with his wife in privacy. I think we all are entitled to that and I think there’s absolutely no truth to it.

JOURNALIST: Does Kristina Keneally’s accent damage her chances of becoming premier?

VERITY FIRTH: No comment.

JOURNALIST: Ms Gillard, can I ask about the decision to delay the reforms of Youth Allowance. There’s some complaints this morning that working students are going to be punished for the benefit of only about 5,000 students by that threshold not being raised now until 2012. Has the balance been struck?

JULIA GILLARD: We believe we’ve got a balance right and we believe we’ve got a fair package for Youth Allowance. What the Government has been achieving, seeking to achieve with the Youth Allowance changes is a better and fairer system.

Last year we reviewed universities. That review was led by Denise Bradley, a well known Australian educator and former vice-chancellor. And she came back and she said to the Government three things. She said universities have been underfunded during the term of the Liberal Party and the Howard Government. We needed to increase their funding and put them on the path of growth so more students could get the benefit of a university education and we’re doing that.

She said to us there should be better support for students from poor backgrounds to get into university because they’re underrepresented in universities now and we’re dedicating almost half a billion to doing that.

And she came back and she said to us that the student financing system wasn’t fair and wasn’t working. We were seeing declining participation by people form rural and regional Australia. At the same time, there were examples of people living at home in very high income households - more than $300,000 of household income - getting benefits. Well we’ve restructured that to make it fairer, to mean that more students will get Youth Allowance, more students will get an increased rate of Youth Allowance. This will benefit over 100,000 students.

I consulted with students and what they told me is they understood the direction of the Government’s reforms; that there was concerns about people caught between the old system and the new system, that is people who left school last year, went on a gap year this year, are going to university next year and need to move to get there. So we’ve made the changes today to address that problem for students caught between the old and the new system. So this does get the balance right and will be a better and fairer system.

JOURNALIST: The Opposition says that you’ve acted like a spoilt child by delaying this decision and providing months of uncertainty for rural and regional students. Why didn’t you act sooner?

JULIA GILLARD: As usual from the Opposition, we hear plenty of personal commentary, plenty of smear - that’s what the Liberal Opposition does. What we don’t hear is we don’t hear any genuine education policies. My counterpart, the Shadow Minister’s only published one speech on education all year and it was a speech that endorsed the Bradley directions on student financing.

JOURNALIST: Why didn’t you act sooner though?

JULIA GILLARD: Can I just say the only reform proposition he’s put forward is to rip $700 million out of scholarships, $700 million taken away from scholarships for kids who need that money to go to university.

What we’ve done is in May, we announced the biggest reforms to university education since the Dawkins reforms of the 1980s. We’ve obviously listened to reaction to that major reform package. I’ve listened specifically to students including earlier this week in Canberra and we have addressed the concerns of the students caught in the change between the old and the new systems.

JOURNALIST: You were aware of that though quite some time ago that there were people being caught so why didn’t you act earlier?

JULIA GILLARD: We obviously wanted to listen and we wanted to work through. We’ve got to listen to students and we have. We’ve also go to be responsible for taxpayers’ dollars. Whilst we’re putting a lot more money into education and a lot more money into universities, with Youth Allowance, this is a Budget neutral package. Taxpayers’ dollars are precious. We want to make sure every dollar does the maximum amount of work. So in responding to concerns raised with us, we wanted to get the balance right and that’s what we’ve done. It’s a very stark contrast to a backward envelope decision by the Opposition to rip $700 million out of scholarships.

JOURNALIST: Is it fair to working students though that won’t have that threshold, the earning threshold raised now for another year, considering that thresholds haven’t been raised since the mid-90s, that they have to wait another year?

JULIA GILLARD: Well we’re getting the balance right. We’ve got to get the balance right for Australian taxpayers. This package has to fit in to the amount of taxpayers’ dollars that we’ve allocated to Youth Allowance - and I would say that that’s billions of dollars of expenditure. We’ve got to get the package to fit in that billions of dollars of expenditure.

So to address the issue for gap year students, those caught in between the old and the new systems, we will make a change. We want students who work part time at university to support their studies to be able to keep more of that income before it affects their Youth Allowance. We will deliver that changed in 2012. We had hoped to deliver it in 2011, but to make sure that this package works, it will be delivered in 2012.

JOURNALIST: There are suggestions now that going forth some rural students will still be caught out because they won’t be able to find 30 hours of work for 18 months in their community and the universities only defer for one year so what’s the Government going to do about people who get caught out in six months time?

JULIA GILLARD: Our restructure of Youth Allowance is to move away from the system where students thought the only way I can get Youth Allowances to become independent of my family and to take a year off. We want to move away from that system. We want to look at household income and for low and middle income families, indeed families with up to earnings of $140,000 odd, we want them to be able to qualify for Youth Allowance, not by taking a gap year but looking at the family income and be in year 12 one year and university the next. Now when you look at that system, it’s better for rural and regional Australia

because on average, people earn less in rural and regional Australia. So a system that’s fairer on family incomes is fairer to people who live in the country.

JOURNALIST: The Greens and the Coalition are talking about making amendments to the legislation to cover for that group that I just mentioned who will get caught out. So what’s your response to that, considering that you need one or the other’s support in order to get your bill through?

JULIA GILLARD: This is a balanced and fair package and if either the Greens or the Coalition want to stop around 100,000 students benefitting in the next academic year from qualifying for Youth Allowance for the first time or getting an increased rate of Youth Allowance, then I suspect they’re going to have some explaining to do to those 100,000 students who are going to get benefits out of that package. This is a balanced and fair package. The Opposition alternative rips $700 million out of scholarships - clearly unfair and would hurt students. This package is balance and fair and what the Senate should do is it should get on with the job of passing the legislation expeditiously so students know exactly where they stand.

JOURNALIST: Are you willing to negotiate then with the Greens and the Opposition on protecting this group of rural students who be forced to (inaudible)?

JULIA GILLARD: I will be saying to them this is a balanced and fair package. I don’t agree with ripping money out of scholarships, so that’s the Coalition amendments done and dusted. This is a Government that won’t support taking money out of scholarships for students no matter what the Liberal Opposition says. And the Greens, as I understand it, are suggesting changes that require more taxpayers’ dollars to be spent. Well we’re a Government that is prudent about taxpayers’ expenditure. It’s our responsibility to make sure that the Budget is in good repair and that’s what we’re doing with this package.

JOURNALIST: Tanya Plibersek yesterday called for more to be done to stop domestic violence after the reports of what happened to Jodie Campbell. Is that an issue that you think needs addressing?

JULIA GILLARD: This is a Government that’s acted on issues of domestic violence. Certainly my ministerial colleague Tanya Plibersek is someone very passionate about this issue. Prior to entering Parliament she actually worked assisting victims of domestic violence and we have tried to put a spotlight on this issue and put more resources into it. On the personal circumstances of Jodie Campbell, all I’d like to say and I’m sure I would be echoing sentiments of my Ministerial colleague Chris Bowen and for Verity Frith is that we personally wish her all the best.

JOURNALIST: With regard to award modernisation, I’ve got a couple of (inaudible).

JULIA GILLARD: Somehow at a press conference we never have a journo say I’ve got a really unimportant one.

JOURNALIST: I think you’ll think this issue is important too, with respect. You’ve promised that no employee will be worse off and no employer will face higher costs under award modernisation. Do you still stand by it?

JULIA GILLARD: We’ve set those aims for the award modernisation process. And I just want to remind people about the history here.

For more than two decades, employers have said to government there’s thousands of pages of award regulations, indeed there’s thousands of awards. Could you sort that out and make it simpler?

Now the former Government, the Liberal Government, tried on a few occasions and it was always too hard for them - they never got it done. So then they went down the Work Choices route and said well awards don’t matter anyway, you can just rip conditions off people.

Well we’ve actually stepped up and said this very complex job that has defeated governments for more than two decades; we’re going to get it done. We’re getting it done through our industrial umpire, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, over two years. The Commission overwhelmingly is doing a fantastic job to take more than 4000 and create 130 odd simple, modern awards for the future.

Yes, there have been some concerns in the process and as those concerns have been raised, I’ve responded to them. But we’ve got to remember this is a major reform which will benefit employers around the country for years into the future. When instead of working through a telephone book of awards to see what’s going on, they’ll be able to look at a modern, simple award.

JOURNALIST: Do you still stick by that promise though not to remove any benefit to both employees and employers and isn’t that an impossible task without pretty much leaving the situation as it is, someone has to give, surely?

JULIA GILLARD: Well the Commission’s been working through it and overwhelmingly doing a fantastic job. And I meet many employers and many unions whose award has bee modernised. They know what it’s going to look like from the 1st of January next year and everyone’s happy with it. What comes to public attention inevitably, and I understand that, is the areas where there’s some disquiet and where there have been problems where I thought didn’t hold true to the principles of my award modernisation request - and you are referring to those principles - then we have intervened.

JOURNALIST: So with the case of horticulture, for example you stepped in for hospitality, do you know if you’re going to intervene for horticulture and also the horticulture industry says that it’s going to be too costly for them - isn’t that against what you’re saying about not putting higher costs on employers?

JULIA GILLARD: Can I say on horticulture, we’ve been in intensive discussions with representatives of the horticulture industry, including for example the Australian Industry Group. They’ve raised a set of concerns with us and I am considering those concerns.

But I am concerned that fear has been raised amongst people in horticulture that something is going to rapidly change. I just want to reassure people I am considering the concerns. Simple, modern awards come into effect on the 1st of January next year and there is a full five year phase in arrangement available. So any fear that is in people’s minds that somehow, something is going to change very, very quickly, they can put that fear aside. That’s not what

our system’s about and representative organisations like the Australian Industry Group have raised with me the concerns of people in horticulture and I’ll work through those concerns.

Thank you very much.


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