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Treasurer discusses national curriculum; federalism; Telstra; WorkChoices; and Federation Square.

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Interview with Chris Clark

3LO ABC, Melbourne

Friday, 6 October 2006

8.35 am

SUBJECTS: National curriculum, Federalism, Telstra, WorkChoices, Federation Square


Good morning Treasurer.


Good morning Chris.


Do you support Julie Bishop’s idea of a national curriculum for education?


Well what Julie has said is at the moment we have nine different national curricula leading to nine different Year 12

certificates and she has put forward the idea of getting a uniform or a national curriculum which would be useable in

different States, linked to different educational institutions. I think there is a lot of sense in that. It doesn’t have to be one

run by the Commonwealth incidentally, it could be agreed as between the States themselves, but I think if we had more of

a common national standard then people who move around the States, people who want to move from school to another

State for tertiary education I think that there would be a lot more simplicity in relation to that.


She talks about education being hijacked by ideologues at the State level, would it be better if education were hijacked by

ideologues at the Commonwealth level?


It would be better if it wasn’t hijacked by ideologues.


Do you think it is?


There have been a few cases that have been in the newspapers recently. There was a case recently in New South Wales

actually where students in Year 12 were being asked to do critiques of Shakespeare from a Marxist, feminist and racist

perspective, it created a lot of interest. I am sure whatever old Shakespeare was on about he wasn’t writing Marxist

critiques when he wrote the play, Macbeth.


In July you said Federalism had to be completely re-cast. Does that include running a national education programme?


I am concentrating really on the economic perspective and this is the perspective that I know best, obviously.


Sure, but there are similar principles involved, aren’t there?


Well, yes, here is the principle: we are a national economy, we have one monetary policy, we have one principal income

and company tax system, companies distribute and export their goods across State borders and key infrastructure, which is

critical to the national economic effort, is still regulated at a State based level. Now, let me give you the example that I

have been banging on for a while. We are in the middle of a commodities boom, our biggest coal export port up in

Queensland was unable to get increased investment because a State regulatory authority couldn’t decide the terms on

which users would be able to access the port. It held back investment, it held back our trade position, our export effort,

and as the Federal Treasurer, who is constantly asked about our export effort, it would be nice to actually be able to break

through these stoppages. And the point I have made is that having national regulatory institutions in relation to key

critical export infrastructure would benefit our economic performance.


The usual message for getting the States to play ball is to give them some money in exchange for more control at the

federal level, is that what should be done with education?


No, well see, I think that old game is yesterday’s business.


What is the new game?


Well, let’s go back and visit economic regulation. Why should anyone have to be bribed to help the national economic

effort? Helping the national economic effort will be good for all Australians including the governments that do it. And

the idea that somehow you have to pay money to get good policy, my argument is, good policy brings its own rewards and

the old game is saying, ‘well I won’t engage in good policy until such time as I have been paid to do it’ is yesterday’s

game. We need good policy because we want the best outcomes for the people of Australia.


I mean I know that your concentration is on affairs economic, but federalism isn’t just economics of course, it is about

recognising all sorts of differences in this country and the question is, is what is taught in schools and the way it is taught

best delivered by State Governments or best delivered with an overarching national curriculum?


It will always be delivered by State Governments because the State Governments own the schools.


Yes but how the curriculum is taught, what that curriculum should be, is that something that we should agree on



Well let’s go through it. Let’s suppose there were real life differences in Australia between the different areas of Australia

which require children to learn different things. Let’s suppose for example, it was necessary to learn the different

elements of weather patterns in South Australia as composed to Northern Australia. I mean there is a legitimate

difference and you would have room for geographical differences in the curriculum. But let’s ask ourselves another

question. Should the standard of history taught in Southern Australia be different to Northern Australia? Should the

algebra be different, the language theory? I mean, plainly not, and so you don’t actually need separate boards to develop

separate curricula in relation to issues like that. Plainly a lot of knowledge is universal and not a lot of knowledge is

national, there will be a little bit which may vary according to geographic conditions, but you would think that would you

be able to get some agreement nationally on things like history, English, mathematics, science - these are not just national

issues by the way, these are international issues.


It sounds as though you are not particularly interested though in the idea of some sort of takeover.


No, I am not…


You want the States to agree on something, so you are not going to push it that hard.


Yes, and as I said earlier, the States will always run the schools, this is State education systems. The Commonwealth

gives financial assistance to schools at the moment but the Commonwealth doesn’t run them, the Commonwealth doesn’t

employ the teachers, and I can’t imagine a situation where it would. But if you ask me straight out the question, do I think

that the States as between themselves or the States with the assistance of the Commonwealth could agree on national

education standards, I think that would be a good thing, particularly as we are now encouraging students moving from

school to look at universities all around the country.


And do you think the way to persuade the States of your view, or for Julie Bishop to do it is by calling them ideologues

who (inaudible) might share with Chairman Mao?


Well, she is a very…


(inaudible) take that as a no?


…she is a very persuasive person.


Are you going to buy any Telstra shares, Peter Costello?


I am not sure that I am allowed to. Because I am involved with setting decisions in relation…


Let’s take Phil Burgess’ test, would you recommend them to your mother or to anyone else’s mum?


Well, I am too close to my mother to give her financial advice. I haven’t for the last 50 years and I don’t think I will

now. I can’t give financial advice in relation to Telstra because I am close to the sale, I am close to the procedures, I have

been involved in appointing some of the people who will be involved in it and if I were to get involved in that kind of

thing it would be considered infringing all sorts of financial disclosure laws.


Look, one more too, it looks as though there are a few surprises for employers in the WorkChoices laws that nobody had

quite figured out, namely that they will have to pay overtime or penalties to workers who are off sick. Were you aware of

that and if you are aware of it now, are you going to change it?


Look, as you go through these very complicated changes, issues will come up from time to time which will need fine

tuning. Kevin Andrews has said that and if that really is the effect and if it required fine tuning then there is no skin off

anybody’s nose to fine tune it.


Okay, thanks very much Treasurer, I notice also not on Federalism but on Federation Square, you are not particularly a

fan of the new architecture?


Well, if you go down to Flinders Street and Swanston Street corner and you look around, you have got Flinders Street

Station which I think is a magnificent piece of architecture, you have got Young and Jackson which has stood the test of

time, you have got St Paul’s Cathedral which I think is a beautiful piece of architecture and those three corners have been

there for well, probably over a hundred years and then you have got Federation Square. So pick the odd man out.


Okay, thanks for you time, Peter Costello.


Thank you very much.

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