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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 8 Decmber 2005



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Transcript

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP INTERVIEW,

PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

8 December 2005

JOURNALIST:

(Indistinct) have you any idea of how much might be needed to increase and improve literacy (indistinct)?

DR NELSON:

Well, I think in most cases the recommendations require changes to the way in which current resources are being spent and also the focus that occurs in university training and in schools.

In terms of the resources that will be required from state and territory and the Australian Government, I do have an idea. And I will be working to persuade my colleagues to support a number of initiatives which are in the report. Central to the report will be significant reforms to the way in which teachers are being trained, putting conditions on teacher education faculties which actually not only teach the next generation of teachers about reading and the science of reading, but also testing them on it before they leave the universities. We will be having an accreditation model for Australian university education departments and this will be one of the things that will be attached to it.

I will be asking the state and territory ministers and the non-government schools to support me in developing a literacy plan for every child in Australia and also making sure that children are tested - in a diagnostic way, of course - in those first three years of education, so that we can actually, systematically, follow their path through the learning of reading in those early years.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Nelson, how would that plan - that literacy plan - work for every child, and what

extra assistance would you like to provide to parents to help them learn ... help their child learn how to read?

DR NELSON:

Well, the literacy plan would include testing our children at least twice a year in those first three years to assess their ability to hear, and process what they are being taught. The understanding that they have of the phonics, or the components of words; their ability to manipulate the sounds in words, and their relationship to letters. I would also be requiring - for example, at the moment, we have more children in Australia receiving a school report - I think a part of this school report should be, in those first three years, at least, advising parents how the child is progressing, in relation to the literacy plan.

At the moment, we’ve got a problem where, unfortunately, a lot of teachers have not been taught how to teach our children reading in the most scientific way. We also have a problem in that the basics are not always formally tested in those first couple of years.

The end result of it is we’ve got about thirty per cent of Australian children leaving the school system functionally illiterate, having trouble with the basic grammar, spelling, punctuation, and a range of other things in everyday life.

As far as parents are concerned, the report recommends programs, information sessions, booklets, and a variety of measures to communicate information to parents about the importance of reading to their children.

Over the last twenty years in Australia, for example, we’ve seen attitudes change towards smoking, the wearing of seatbelts, drink driving, and a whole variety of things. We need to start now on a journey of making sure that every Australian understands that parenthood involves a number of responsibilities. One of them is actually starting to read to your children in early life. And, on a day to day basis, let’s envisage a future where the average parent gets up each day and thinks, well, of all the things I’ve got to do today, one of them is read to my child.

JOURNALIST:

Dr Nelson, where are your negotiations over VSU up to?

DR NELSON:

Well, I’m not prepared to discuss negotiations that I’ve been having with senators in relation to the Voluntary Student Unionism Bill. It is still our intention to proceed with the legislation. There are a number of issues which are of concern to some senators, and I have been working through those. It is the government’s policy. Every coalition senator and member was elected on the policy of bringing voluntary membership of Australian university unions to Australia, and we are determined to deliver on it.

There are a number of things I’m discussing with the senators at the moment. But I don’t think it will be helpful to discuss this publicly.

JOURNALIST:

Are you entertaining Barnaby Joyce’s amendments, which would be to allow universities to collect fees?

DR NELSON:

Well, it is clearly government policy that we don’t support a compulsory charge of students for anything other than their education requirements at university. So it wouldn’t surprise you to know that the government would not be supporting the amendments which Senator Joyce has proposed. It’s very similar, of course, to the Labor Party amendment. It’s the situation that currently applies in the state of Victoria. That is not something that is supported by the government.

Nor is it the policy upon which all of us - me, Senator Joyce, and others - were elected.

JOURNALIST:

But (indistinct) with taxpayers kicking in to make up the short fall which students are (indistinct) paid for, under this proposal that’s being considered for (indistinct) payments.?

DR NELSON:

Well, in terms of achieving outcomes in anything, it’s a question of compromise. And I think that the average Australian is comfortable with a reasonable sum of money being made available to ensure a smooth transition in terms of maintaining sporting and recreational infrastructure in universities. In terms of achieving objectives in negotiations, it’s about give and take on both sides.

The government has a policy; all of us were elected on that policy. We’re now in the process of seeking to negotiate its way through the senate. So, we’ll just see what happens.

JOURNALIST:

(Inaudible question)

DR NELSON:

I ... at this stage, we’ll just see what happens. Next twenty-four hours are obviously extremely important in making a decision as to whether we’ll vote on it this week, or whether we’ll do it in the autumn session.

JOURNALIST:

What’s the deadline?

DR NELSON:

Well, that’s not something to discuss at the moment.

REPORTER:

Do you still regard Treasurer Peter Costello as the heir apparent to the Liberal Party leadership, and would you rule out challenging him (indistinct) if there’s a contest after the next election when the Prime Minister retires?

DR NELSON:

Well, as far as I’m concerned, I would like to see John Howard remain in the position so

long as John Howard would like to remain in it. And so, too, the Treasurer, in his position, and beyond what happens after that I have no comment at all.

JOURNALIST:

Do you welcome the developments yesterday, though, where there won't be a challenge for at least six months?

DR NELSON:

Oh, well, I think the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have both done an outstanding job, and I welcome the comments that were made by the Treasurer yesterday.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think the Treasurer is the next leader of the Liberal Party?

DR NELSON:

Well, look, it’s obvious, in the normal course of events, you would expect that in the event of the Prime Minister stepping aside, Peter Costello, being the Treasurer and the Deputy, would move up to fill the place. As Mr Abbott has said before there is an established pecking order that we all are aware of and adhere to and it stipulates that the Treasurer, as the Deputy, is the first consideration to fill any future vacancy for the position of Prime Minister.

[ends]