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Transcript of joint doorstop: St Columbus Primary School, Glenhunly, Melbourne: 11 April 2007: National Plan on Literacy and Numeracy; ports; infrastructure; terrorism; Afghanistan; telecommunications.

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Subjects: National Plan on Literacy and Numeracy; Ports; Infrastructure; Terrorism; Afghanistan; Telecommunications

RUDD: It’s good to be here at St Columbus School today with Stephen Smith, the Shadow Minister for Education, Mark Dreyfus, our Labor candidate for Isaac, and of course, Michael Danby, our local Member for Melbourne Ports. And we’re here today to talk about literacy and numeracy.

In recent times, Labor has put forward the need for Australia to lift its overall productivity growth. How do you do that? Well we’ve got a problem when it comes to productivity growth for the Australian economy - it’s slowing. It’s been slowing for many years now and one of the reasons it’s slowing is because as a nation we’ve not invested enough in education, skills and training. What’s our

response to that? Our response is we believe Australia needs an Education Revolution.

We’ve said that we need a half billion dollar investment in early childhood education - we put out part of our Education Plan on that already. Another chapter of Labor’s Education Revolution calls for increased emphasis on the teaching of maths and science at secondary schools and also through the universities. We’ve also put a chapter of the Education Revolution out there when it comes to the need for a National Curriculum in English, in history, in maths and in science.

Today what we’re talking about is a further chapter of Labor’s Education Revolution, is a new national action plan on literacy and numeracy. This is critical for the country’s future. Well specifically, what are we arguing? We’re arguing that if we going to lift the overall standards of this country’s productivity in the future, it begins with literacy and numeracy and it begins at the earlier stages of a child’s development. What we want to see is that for each year one child in Australia an assessment of their literacy and their numeracy standards. On top of that, we want to make sure that schools then have the resources necessary to employ additional literacy and numeracy teachers to intervene to help kids who are falling behind. Or on top of that, or in addition to that, or as a substitute to

that, fund the creation of homework clubs or homework centres within schools to assist kids again in their literacy and numeracy. On top of that, we want to make sure that every teacher, when they go through their teacher training, has within

that teacher training, mandatory literacy and numeracy teaching. You see, unless you’ve got you’re A,B,C’s right, unless you’ve got your one, two three’s right, then the rest of your education won’t work - that’s why we believe we’ve got to start with these basics. And the funding for it - we will announce details for the funding of this New National Action Plan on Literacy and Numeracy when we release our full school funding policy which will come out between now and the election.

Finally, I say this. As we approach the events of this Friday which is the meeting of the Council of Australian Governments, a New Action Plan on Literacy and Numeracy must be part of the outcome of what Mr Howard agrees with the Premiers and the Chief Ministers this Friday. This is so basic for our kids and their future, it’s so basic for the future of our economy that we’ve got to get this right. That’s why we’re proud to release this policy today. Before taking questions, I’d ask the Shadow Minister for Education, Stephen Smith, to add to what I’ve just said.

SMITH: Well, thanks very much, Kevin. Today we release our National Action Plan for Literacy and Numeracy. Of all the things we do in schooling and education this is fundamental and absolutely essential that young Australian children are up to the mark when it comes to reading and writing and numeracy. Recent assessments, the 2005 National Schools Assessment shows that too many of our young Australian students are lagging behind and in some respects, more importantly we are now lagging behind other counties in their outcomes.

Kevin has summarised the comprehensive nature and approach. Firstly that we’ve seen the Howard Government do assessments in the past, but we’d hadn’t seen any action or intervention following that assessment. We propose to have assessments earlier on entry to school and then put in place targeted programs and targeted assistance to make sure that early assessment is followed by sensible and comprehensive action. That action can be increasing the literacy and numeracy quality of teachers in schools, of having literacy and numeracy coordinators at schools or even literacy and numeracy coaches at schools. It also sees the involvement of parents, a lot of the evidence and research shows that is we can have parents engaged with their kids in literacy and numeracy, then that has a very beneficial effect, not just on the children, but on the families generally. And Kevin has referred to the prospect of special homework clubs and classes that we’ve referred to.

Another important part of the action plan is we do need to raise the standard of our teachers and for that the starting point is raising the quality and standard of teacher training, enhancing the practical courses that teachers do. But also

ensuring that young Australian university students, when they go to do their education courses, are assessed in literacy and numeracy and in some respects, more importantly, when they emerge as young graduates are also assessed in the skills and expertise and standards and quality that they have in literacy and

numeracy. And for current teachers, also ensuring ongoing professional development in literacy and numeracy.

So, this is a comprehensive approach raising the standards of all Australian children in literacy and numeracy is important. But very important is making sure that those Australian students who are currently lagging behind have the chance to lift their standards. The only way we will secure that in the future is by making sure that our assessments are done earlier, not just in Years Three, Five, Seven and Nine, but upon entry to school and then most importantly and this is the great failing of the Howard Government, but once we’ve done those assessments, we see targeted intervention.

The program, the plan will occur in cooperation and consultation with the State and Territory Governments, the States and Territories Ministers and I’ll start that detailed consultation tomorrow when I see the State and Territories Ministers in Darwin, and also with the Catholic and Independent Education sectors. Thanks very much for that and I’ll hand you back to Kevin for questions.

JOURNALIST: To the ads been run by the Education Union, more kids are going to private schools, so do you think the money should follow them?

RUDD: I’ve always said that our objectives is to lift the standards for all Australian schools, be they government schools, non-government schools, Catholic schools, Independent schools. We want all of our kids to have a first

class educational opportunity - that’s what this policy is about as well.

JOURNALIST: Are you getting the unions to do your dirty work to avoid a similar situation to Latham’s hit list or private school hit list?

RUDD: What individual unions do is a matter for them. My responsibility is to lift the standards for all Australian school students wherever they go to school - government or non-government schools. And I am confident we can bring about an Education Revolution which benefits all Australian school children.

JOURNALIST: Do you need to provide more money for private schools given more students are going there?

RUDD: We want to make sure that no school is worse off. We also want to make sure that all schools are improved over time as well and that’s why we are backing our plan for an Education Revolution. Education is looming as a

major battleground for the next election and I welcome that fact because it’s

about our kids’ future and it’s about our country’s future and our economy’s future.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) the ports in front of The Australian newspaper with the photograph of all the ships, (inaudible) Commonwealth comments about regulating the port and the ships and being able to make it run more effectively, can we just get your comments on that?

RUDD: Well once again I see evidence of Mr Howard engaging in the blame game with the States rather than actually coming up with solutions to deal with the problem of infrastructure across Australia. Whether it’s ports

infrastructure, whether it’s road infrastructure or whether it’s broadband infrastructure, it’s always someone else’s fault according to Mr Howard. What I’m interested in is solutions. On broadband I put down a plan, $4.7 billion to

build a national high-speed broadband network, I’m waiting for Mr Howard’s alternative plan.

JOURNALIST: Terrorism was a vote catcher last election. Do you think terrorism will be a vote winner for the Federal Government this election?

RUDD: Our job is to put forward positive plans for Australia’s future, whether its on national security, long term prosperity once the mining boom is over, climate change and water and how we deal with that in the real terms, not just pre-election rhetorical terms, and what we do on key things involving the Education Revolution and ending the blame game between Canberra and the States.

On national security, can I say this? I believe in taking a tough line, a very tough line on national security, and that means a tough line on terrorism as well. It’s part and parcel of our credentials for office. I’m confident we’ll have a positive

plan to put to the Australian people on that and other areas of national security come the next election.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, Mr Downer, Alexander Downer, the Foreign Minister, says you’re the vainest man he knows. What do you say to him?

RUDD: I’ve no intention of responding to that remark about that.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, what is you solution regarding the ports, though?

RUDD: When it comes to dealing with national infrastructure, including the ports, number one, don’t engage in the politics of the blame game. Number two: recognise the fact that our national infrastructure needs, first and foremost, an audit. That is, right across the country where are the gaps in infrastructure and the funding deficits in key economic infrastructure, including our ports.

I recently flew across Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay in Queensland, two of Australia’s largest coal export terminals. I flew not so recently over the port of Newcastle. I’ve seen all these ships at harbour and I ask myself this question. Why won’t the national government produce a comprehensive audit of the national infrastructure needs of Australia and produce a plan to fill the gap? That’s the first thing an incoming Labor Government would do, rather than just play the politics of the blame game in the five months leading up to an election.

JOURNALIST: You speak about water but isn’t the situation more urgent than that?

RUDD: Well, why won’t the national government, which is responsible for exports, ultimately, conduct such an audit? It is the first step to getting the decisions right on necessary investment which then must occur in critical infrastructure. You can either play the blame game - Mr Howard and Mr Costello have first-class honours degrees when it comes to playing the blame game with the States - I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in solutions. And part of the solution is what are the current investment needs in our port infrastructure, our road infrastructure, and in our future communications infrastructure, including a national broadband network, and what are the plans to fill those gaps. I put mine on the table when it comes to broadband. I haven’t seen an alternative yet from Mr Howard.

JOURNALIST: Why haven’t you done anything to make sure Queensland has expanded its ports before now?

RUDD: Last time I looked, I’m not the Prime Minister. I’m not running a government at this stage, Mr Howard is. And, therefore, it’s important that Mr Howard show leadership, audit the needs of these ports, work out where the funding gap can be met, and to plan ahead accordingly. Because it’s not just a question of infrastructure that we see gaps across the country.

What’s the other major gap across Australia at the moment, the availability of skilled labour. And in both these areas - skilled labour and economic infrastructure - you see a complete lack of appropriate national planning by the Howard Government over more than a decade. What’s the consequence? We now see that these gaps are creating problems for business, both at the big business end and the small business end, not enough skilled labour and problems with over-taxed infrastructure.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, your education plan, do you have a ballpark figure for that, and how much of that do you expect to be borne by the States?

RUDD: This is a significant initiative for the nation. You can’t get more basic than getting literacy and numeracy right. Stephen is right when he

says he will now engage the States and Territories on a detailed discussion about the quantum and about how that is shared between the States and Territories and it will form part of our school funding policy which we’ll release prior to the next election.

COAG happens this Friday. Education is one of our most important national priorities. My challenge to Mr Howard is let’s not leave it until a week or two before the election. Show leadership now at COAG and bring about a truly national outcome on literacy and numeracy. Our kids’ futures depend on it and so, too, does the economy.

JOURNALIST: A year 11 student has been kicked out of a private school here in Melbourne for selling drugs in the playground to dozens of classmates. Does that behaviour disturb you?

RUDD: Any behaviour of that type disturbs me enormously. I have a completely hardline, uncompromising attitude when it comes to drugs and those who are associated with the drug trade. I don’t know the details of the case. As a matter of principle, I have an unqualified position when it comes to that.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, do you think that terrorism and Afghanistan are being well-handled by Alexander Downer and the Federal Government, Alexander Downer in particular?

RUDD: On the question of Afghanistan, from day one, in 2001, Labor has consistently supported the overriding objective of eliminating Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Why? They were

responsible for these murderous attacks on our allies back then - the United States. And secondly, Afghanistan was the training ground for the terrorists who murdered nearly 100 Australians in Bali in October 2002.

In terms of the conduct of the war in Afghanistan, my consistent criticism has been this. We were there in the field in 2002. Then at the end of 2002 when we had Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda on the run, what did Mr Howard and Mr Downer do? They departed the field. Why did they do that? In order to send those troops off to Iraq, a war which is still continuing. Now, the problem that has arisen is that Osama bin Laden, effectively because of that and the decision by others to draw down their troop commitment in order to feed Iraq, Osama bin Laden and others were let off the hook. Therefore, we must recommit ourselves to the task of eliminating this terrorist supremo who, five years after the murderous attacks on September 11, apparently remains alive and well.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) buy drugs in our schools. Does more need to be done at the federal level to prevent teenagers becoming addicted?

RUDD: All governments, national, State and Federal, need to combine in a united war on drugs. I know how hard this is. I know the supply questions are very complex. When you look at ice, when you look at the ice epidemic across Australia, this is above politics, it’s beyond politics. Coordinated action across all levels of government is necessary and our kid’s lives are at stake.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned the Government may strike a deal with Telstra to reduce competition and make it not beneficial for customers?

RUDD: I haven’t seen the detail of that particular report. What we’re concerned about with the telecommunications market generally is that it’s competitive, it’s accessible, and it’s cost-friendly to consumers. They are our benchmarks. When it comes to any non-competitive deal, we’d have some real problems.

Can I just say more broadly on telecommunications and communications in general, again, the challenge for Mr Howard is the challenge for the 21st century is to lay out the railway network of the 21st century, which is a high-speed national broadband network. I wish Mr Howard would rise to that occasion. The nation needs it. This is about educational facilities such as this: E-education; tele-medicine; all these things critically depend on a high-speed, reliable national broadband network. Regional and rural Australia are crying out for it. I was in the Sunshine Coast recently in Queensland. Small businesses are crying out for it. It’s time for action, not words.

JOURNALIST: The Australian Education Union is pressing the Howard Government on funding of public schools. Will you commit to providing more money to government schools if you win the election?

RUDD: We want to raise the standards in the quantity of investment and the quality of education for all schools, be they government or non-government. We’ve got to raise the standards. It’s parent’s choice where they send their kids to school, whether it’s a wonderful Catholic school like this one

here at St Columbus or to the sort of State school that I was visiting yesterday in Mr Howard’s electorate of Bennelong in Sydney. These are great schools. They all need the helping hand from government. My job is not to choose where parents themselves choose to send their kids. My job, as the alternative Prime Minister, is to make sure that all those schools have got the resources they need to boost the standards of the education provided to their kids. Thanks for your time.