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Transcript of Joint Press Conference of the Prime Minister with Minister for Education, Science and Training, Brendan Nelson, MP : Prime Minister's Courtyard, Parliament House, Canberra: 22 June 2004: Education; water; Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.



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PRIME MINISTER

22 June 2004

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WITH MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SCIENCE AND TRAINING BRENDAN NELSON,

PRIME MINISTER’S COURTYARD, PARLIAMENT HOUSE

Subjects: Education; water; Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………..

PRIME MINISTER:

Well ladies and gentlemen, Dr Nelson and I have called this press conference to announce that tomorrow the Minister will introduce into parliament legislation to underpin our record $31 billion funding for education around Australia. The important feature of the legislation, which I want to focus on today, is that the payment of that Commonwealth money will be conditional on government schools and independent schools and Catholic schools meeting certain requirements. Firstly, the common starting age for schools in 2010. Secondly, a minimum physical activity requirement of two hours a week for primary and junior secondary schools as an important measure in addressing childhood obesity. Thirdly, greater national consistency in curriculum and testing standards in English, mathematics, science and civics. Fourthly, better reporting to parents, including plain language reports on their own child's progress, reporting literacy and numeracy results against national benchmarks, and meaningful information on school quality including teacher qualifications and overall student outcomes. And also, importantly, a national safe schools framework to help that schools are as far as possible free from bullying and abuse. And we'll also be stipulating as one of these conditions greater autonomy for school principals.

The agenda, which will mean that schools must meet all of these requirements to get federal funding, also includes an acceleration of indigenous education, careers education and transitions, teacher professional development, values education. The documents being released after this press conference contain greater details of all of these announcements, but the purpose is to ensure that all schools throughout Australia meet certain minimum standards and certain requirements, and what we will be saying to state education authorities, to the Catholic education system and to independent schools, uniformly and alike, we'll be saying that in future Federal Government money will only be paid if these requirements are met.

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And I should point out, and Dr Nelson can elaborate on this, that these standards and these principles have been developed after extensive consultation by the Federal Government with parent groups and education groups around Australia. They are what Australian parents want. Australian parents want these standards. Australian parents are fed up the 80,000 children, for example, each year who go from one part of the country to the other, are fed up with disuniform commencement times for schools. They are fed up with the fact that many state schools now do not provide any sport or physical education, and if we are to be serious about things like obesity, we need to have a minimum stipulation that all schools at a primary and junior secondary level provide at least two hours a week of physical activity.

MINISTER NELSON:

Thank you Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has covered pretty much most of it. I'll just flesh out a couple of things. For this century in particular, we're very proud that our children are proud Victorians or Queenslanders or West Australians, but increasingly we're educating them to be Australians and global citizens, and that is why the Government for the next four years, before handing over $31.5 billion in school funding, is ensuring that in order to receive that money, any school throughout Australia - the government state school, Catholic or independent school - will be required to ensure that we have national consistency in the starting age in Australia by 2010. It also means national consistency and common testing in key learning areas of literacy, numeracy, science, ICT and in civics and democracy. From next year, for example, every state will be required to have a common form of transmitting to another state, should a family move, information about the progress of a student through school.

At the school level, every school will be required to make available to the broader community performance in literacy and numeracy against national benchmarks in years 3, 5 and 7; student attendance rates; teacher qualifications; ongoing training of teachers in keeping up to date with modern teaching practices; teacher retention rates; and also teacher attendance rates at school. We'll also require schools to publish the proportion of students who leave secondary school to go to TAFE, apprenticeships, to jobs or on to university. We'll also ensure that at every school, as the Prime Minister says, at least two hours of exercise is provided either in or after school hours throughout the week. The Government will also be requiring that the national values framework, which has now been developed to be prominently displayed in schools, and that every school had a functioning flag pole and fly the Australian flag, and that the national state schools framework, which we have also developed after lengthy consultation, will be prominently displayed in every school, and a requirement of funding will be that every single school in the country will adhere to that framework.

It's time that as parents we receive much more information, meaningful information about the performance of schools, and one of the key aspects of the reform, as the Prime Minister mentioned, is that school principals must have more say over who teaches in a school. How on earth can you offer a quality education to children if you've got no say over who actually teaches in the school? But that's the situation that exists across much of Australia in the government system. And also we are determined to see that parents get plain language reports about the progress of our kids. We're sick and tired of reports turning up at home which are meaningless, with politically correct jargon which mean nothing to parents, and one of the requirements will be that, for example, student progress be reported in terms of which quartile in the class is the student placed, and also at least two reports be delivered each year, preferably the first at the end of term one.

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JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, the Labor Party has announced today that they will pass your schools legislation subject to further details so that schools have certainty in 2005. Are you pleased by that, or do you think that's sort of (inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

What, this legislation?

JOURNALIST:

This legislation.

MINISTER NELSON:

They always say subject to other... further details.

PRIME MINISTER:

We'll wait and see. And I mean, look I would welcome any support that the Labor Party gives to legislation that we introduce. Of course I always welcome the Labor Party supporting legislation. But I am constrained to say if you can support this, why can't you state your position on the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement?

JOURNALIST:

Aren't you just loading schools with a lot of red tape, the kind of red tape that you ideologically oppose?

PRIME MINISTER:

We're not loading them with red tape. We are laying down the sort of standards and benchmarks that Australian parents want. This is a parent driven policy. This is what Australian parents want. And given that we not only provide proper funding, but we provide 44 cents of every dollar, or the GST does, spent by the states on education, we have a direct and intimate involving in the funding not only of private schools but also of government schools.

JOURNALIST:

Isn’t a bit old fashioned, indeed a bit patronising, to insist that schools have a flag pole with an Australian flag?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I don’t, you may think it is Steve, I think Australian parents would be amazed if schools didn’t. No I’m sorry, I think this is something, I don’t think that’s old fashioned at all, I don’t think that kind of symbolism is old fashioned at all, I think it’s perfectly compatible with the attitude of Australians. The display of the national flag by Australians now is far more regular, far more visible, far more apart of life than what it was when I was 30 years younger

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and there is a cultural change in relation to the display of national symbols and far from this being old fashioned, I think it is very compatible and very consonant with what people want.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, what sort of lesson do you think teachers set for their own students when they boo, swear and yell at Dr Nelson to get off the stage yesterday at a public education forum?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well those who did that set an appalling example of rudeness and ill-manners and it is no wonder that parents are from time to time impatient with the quality of the instruction that their children receive. That kind of behaviour, particularly towards an Education Minister who has presided over record levels of funding for both government and non-government schools is not only bad manners, it’s ignorant of the facts and does to the extent that they behave in that fashion, does set a very bad example to children and is not the sort of behaviour that parents approve of.

JOURNALIST:

Could you give us an example please of a politically correct school report?

MINISTER NELSON:

Well Professor Peter Cuttance from Melbourne University with Shirley Stokes did some research in year 2000 commissioned by this government and for example parents said things such as very good, good, adequate and satisfactory, I guess they look nice with ticks in the boxes but it doesn’t say much. If a child is failing they want it said on the report, they don’t want some politically correct thing there, they want to know in black and white how their children are achieving. I have examples of reports that have been sent to me by parents, but for example to tick a box A or AA, A means achieving, AA means almost achieving. So if Pat Farmer’s running from Sydney to Melbourne and Neil Mitchell rings from Melbourne and says how is he going? The organisers are not going to say well he’s almost achieving, Neil will say what does that mean? Is he in Campbelltown or has he got to Albury. Similarly we’ve got reports that say competent, usually, or not yet. Now what does that mean to an average parent? And in fact it’s Aboriginal parents in regional communities who’ve been the strongest on this to me because they have found much to their great distress that when their kids get to 12 or 13 having had reports through schools they can’t understand but they think they’re okay they find their children are barely literate. We have a responsibility to address this and these other measures and in answer to the earlier question all of this information is currently available, just the only people who aren’t allowed to get it at the moment are parents.

JOURNALIST:

… report that if your kid’s doing no good should be a failing?

MINISTER NELSON:

Well I think Matt in plain language as a parent myself if my son or my daughter’s in the bottom 25 per cent of the class I want to know about it. By definition somebody has to be there, but if they’re there they’re more likely to have a problem and if they’re not up to the

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benchmark, if they’re not up to the class benchmark, if they’re not up to the national benchmark as parents we might feel disappointed but my goodness we need to know about it early in education because too often kids are slipping through the education system into early secondary school without the fundamentals.

JOURNALIST:

… my kids have got all these kind of reports, tick the boxes, do they now, from now on will they have to failing on them at the end?

MINISTER NELSON:

Well there are fundamental principles Matt that we’re writing into the legislation, the fundamental principles will require reporting in terms of where your child is in relation to the rest of the kids in the class, not the old from 1st to 50th when I was like at the Christian Brothers a few year back. But rather if your son or daughter is in the top 25 per cent, on average that means in the top seven, you need to know. As parents similarly you want to know if they’re in the bottom seven of the class, the bottom 25 per cent. And if there is a minimum standard that’s got to be set in the classroom parents need to know that their children are not up to it so they can get something done about it, whether it’s with the Government’s new voucher programme for reading problems or a whole range of things, parents want the problem diagnosed and then they want to get some treatment.

JOURNALIST:

… mateship or can you give us an example of what the national values framework that schools are going to have to display is about?

MINISTER NELSON:

Well the national values framework which we have developed after more than two years of consultation will require schools to examine and sit down with their communities, their parents and their broader communities and work out what is the schools ethos, what is its mission, what is its, for example a number of schools don’t even have a school motto for example. Secondly that the school has to focus on building resilience in children and civics and civic responsibility, and thirdly that teachers in their ongoing professional learning and also in the way they behave in the classroom on a day to day basis meet and reflect the values being taught in the school in terms of responsibility, respect, caring and compassion which we’ve set out in the national framework.

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m quite sure mateship and concepts related to it would emerge from those discussions. Two more questions then I better let you go. Alison Carrabine.

JOURNALIST:

Thank you Prime Minister. Was there lengthy consultation with parents regarding the physical education requirement or was that inserted late in the piece after obesity became a matter…

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PRIME MINISTER:

Well I mean Brendan can talk in the detail of the consultations if he wishes, but I can assure you that the issue of declining opportunities for sport and physical education, particularly in government schools, has been something that has been bothered me for a long time, it’s not something, I mean it’s obviously something that’s come into sharper focus as a result of the debate on obesity but it’s been something that has been of concern to me for a very long period of time and at the recent Prime Minister’s Science Council meeting last week Robert de Castella gave a very eloquent and quite vivid portrayal of the problems, particularly, and I think they were reported in one of the broadsheets, particularly in some of the government schools and certainly in the context of the debate on obesity it’s a relevant consideration but it’s not something that’s just come certainly into my mind as a result of the debate on obesity. One more question.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, would you like to have the national anthem sung on schools every morning?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I wouldn’t mind that, I mean we’re not requiring that particularly as this but I think the notion of that kind of thing is certainly something that appeals to me. But I wouldn’t be so prescriptive as to say that part of the civics is that. But I think as far as the flying of the flag is concerned, I mean people, Mr Lewis, who I respect greatly has said that it’s something that… there you are, now I’ve got him really, I mean you should stop asking questions at press conferences Mr Lewis, they always get you into trouble. But I just think, I don’t think there’s anything old fashioned about the display of patriotic symbols, the younger generations embrace those things far more may I say with great respect than people aged between 35 and 50. I mean 30 years ago I wouldn’t have wandered the shores of Gallipoli with an Australian flag draped around my shoulders, I don’t think any of you would. But I tell you what, my children would and many of their friends do and this is a change and that is why it is not trite and irrelevant and old fashioned to say you’ve got to have a flag pole so you can fly the Australian flag.

JOURNALIST:

… water, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Water, yes.

JOURNALIST:

You said last night a make or break opportunity this Friday.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

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JOURNALIST:

Were you putting the future of the federation on the line if you like?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, the future of the federation is in the hands of the Australian people.

JOURNALIST:

But you said today, you’re tying schools funding to the states coming on board, are you doing the same thing with water this Friday, is there…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they are different issues but the Commonwealth has a lead role, the Commonwealth must set a national framework. The Australian people want the Commonwealth Government, the Australian Government, their national government to set national benchmarks and

national standards. We may, as I said last night, have started off as a collection of colonies, but we are in 2004 a nation far ahead of being a collection of states and our loyalties must be national loyalties and I believe very strongly that we have a role. I hope the Premiers and the Chief Ministers and I can reach an agreement for the benefit of the nation on Friday, but it’s a huge challenge to the federal system to come up with something that is workable and in the national interest and addresses a long term problem. I mean this water issue has been around for a long time now, it’s getting worse, people are worried about it, people of South Australia

are quite desperate about it and we need an outcome that meets their concerns.

JOURNALIST:

So what happens if Queensland and New South Wales don’t come on board?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Mr Lewis you are being mischievous in asking questions…

JOURNALIST:

… Labor’s decision to back your PBS changes?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s a bit late, but better late than never. I mean why didn’t they do it, I mean why didn’t they backflip 12 months ago? I mean it is a backflip but it’s a welcome backflip. I mean some backflips are welcome if they produce good policies. I mean I am not opposed to sensible backflips by oppositions, I am not opposed, I think there’s a lot to be said for them but this one, I mean this is a sort of a retro-backflip in a way isn’t it because wasn’t it originally the Leader of the Opposition’s policy to do something about the PBS scheme? I hope that he might now be willing to do something about the disability support pension

because he, when he was not possessed of leadership responsibilities, was in favour of reform in that area so maybe we can look for a backflip in that area as well.

Thank you very much. [ends]