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Shadow Minister discusses computers in schools; education; Joel Klein; Rupert Murdoch's Boyer lectures; full fee paying university students; and anniversary of Rudd government.



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Sky News

Sunday Agenda

Christopher Pyne, Shadow Minister for Education

23 November 2008

Interview with Christopher Pyne, Shadow Minister for Education Sunday Agenda program, 23 November 2008

Helen Dalley:

Tomorrow marks one year since the election of the Rudd Government. It started with hope and change we can believe in, but has hit a major road bump along the way, namely the global financial crisis. And his second year begins with Kevin Rudd on an overseas trip. A frequent flyer, he has made more such trips than any other prime minister in his first year. Kevin Rudd has many promises to keep too, among them an education revolution. And joining us to talk about that and the year of 'Kevinism' is the Shadow Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, from Adelaide. Mr Pyne, welcome to Sunday Agenda.

Christopher Pyne:

Good morning, Helen.

Helen Dalley:

Now, the Rudd Government has promised an education revolution, a computer on the desk of every Year 9 to 12 student. As the Shadow Education Minister what sort of grade would you give them for their first year?

Christopher Pyne:

Well, I think the education revolution is more of a 24-hour uprising which is now well and truly over. I don’t think they will have passed the test of parents for their education revolution. One big part of the education revolution was supposed to be the computers-in-schools program. That program is essentially in free fall across the country. They promised $1.2 billion to be spent on that. And estimates of the services and infrastructure costs to keep those computers running is between 2.4 billion at the lowest estimate and 4.8 billion at the highest estimate. So we’re seeing New South Wales pulling out of the computers-in-schools program. The Australian Capital Territory and South Australia are saying that they’re simply replacing old computers with new laptops; Western Australia complaining bitterly about the cost, and Queensland; and we’re finding in fact that the computers-in-schools program is much more of a damp squib than the massive change to education that was promised before the last election.

Helen Dalley:

But are you saying that you don’t actually agree that it’s a good idea to put a computer on the desk of every Year 9 to 12 student?

Christopher Pyne:

Well, there are lots of things we need to do in education, Helen. Putting computers on the desks of Year 9 to Year 12 students is one good idea, although, of course, it was one laptop for every student during the election, and now it’s access to a computer. At some stage it was one for every two students. So the promise has already been massively diluted. But that’s just one idea. There needs to be an enormous investment in primary school education as well so that we don’t need to pick up the problems later in schooling in higher education. Computers in schools sounds great but the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, New South Wales, Western Australia, they’re all saying that the services and infrastructure costs make it almost prohibitive for them to be part of this computers-in- schools program. So the education revolution has rather turned into something of a damp squib in comparison to what was promised during the election.

Helen Dalley:

All right. Well it’s probably no doubt going to get worse for those States because with the financial downturn, federal government coffers won’t be as full this year. Now, do you accept that with that downturn, the federal money for education might not be able to be delivered as promised in the election?

Christopher Pyne:

Well, I noticed in the media in the last few days there’s been a backtracking by both Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd about support for the States in both education and in health, but I would make the point that the global financial crisis has been with us for a couple of months. The Rudd Government’s been in power for a year. The Rudd Government can’t try and blame every problem that faces Australia and their government on the global financial crisis. At least for the first 10 months of this government, they weren’t fulfilling expectations already: in education, in health, in the Fuel Watch scheme, (which has now been abandoned), Grocery Watch, the Asian Economic Community the prime minister announced many months ago, which has completely disappeared. So Labor can’t try and blame the global financial crisis on not meeting their promises.

Helen Dalley:

All right. Well let’s . . .

Christopher Pyne:

They made a lot of promises for the last election. They raised a lot of expectations. And for the first 10 months we basically had government by committee and summit.

Helen Dalley:

All right. Well, let’s stick to education. Now the government has said the aim of their revolution is to ensure that every child gets a world class education. The government is hosting the visit this week of the Chancellor of the New York City Education Department, Joel Klein, to show Australian educators how to get students to reach their full potential. Now, surely that’s a good idea, isn’t it?

Christopher Pyne:

Well, I’m meeting with Joel Klein this week and I think Joel Klein has some good ideas for New York education. I do make the point that, in fact, Australia’s literacy and numeracy and educational outcomes are already higher than those in New York and those in most of the

states of the United States of America. So while he has some good ideas Australia also has excellent ideas about education. And some economies closer to home, like Singapore, have some terrific ideas about world class education. Now, if we’re going to have a world . . .

Helen Dalley:

So do you think it’s a waste of time to bring him down here, that we can’t learn anything from him?

Christopher Pyne:

No, I wouldn’t say that, Helen. I think it’s always good to have a cross-pollination of ideas, whether they’re from the United States, from Europe, from Asia, even our own locally home-grown ideas. It’s very important that we listen to lots of different people about lots of different ways of educating our young Australians. So I think it’s a very useful visit, but I make the point that it doesn’t hold the Holy Grail of all the answers for education in Australia.

Helen Dalley:

Rupert Murdoch, in the fourth of his Boyer lectures today, says he believes the key to good schools is that they must pursue success and not just avoid failure. He says when he travels to India and China he doesn’t hear excuses for mediocre schools and that they set high standards and expect those standards to be met. Do you agree that’s the way to go?

Christopher Pyne:

I think Rupert Murdoch’s Boyer Lecture should be compulsory reading for public policy-makers and educationalists around Australia. I think it’s terrific.

Helen Dalley:

Why?

Christopher Pyne:

Well, I though it was a great call to arms for excellence in education and that’s what we need to do in Australia. That’s why the Coalition supports the publication of the outcomes of students’ work every year. It’s why we believe that principals should be given more autonomy to make their own decisions locally about who they hire, who gets paid better than other teachers. Making decisions within the school, more autonomy, will give a greater desire to achieve excellence by that principal and by the whole school community. So we think that there are things we could do in Australia, particularly in primary schools, that would start to aim for the stars rather than simply try to look after the lowest common denominator in schooling.

Helen Dalley:

All right. Well, Rupert Murdoch also has a bit of a kick for our system. He said our schools are failing us and many of the children. We have a 19th century eduction system. Well, your side of politics was in charge of it for the past decade until a year ago. Do you agree with him about that?

Christopher Pyne:

Well, I think that we do need to put greater resources, particularly into the primary school sector, but also into high schools.

Helen Dalley:

Is it a 19th century education system?

Christopher Pyne:

No, I don’t think it’s a 19th century education system and I think that was a good piece of rhetoric from Rupert Murdoch. It’s not a 19th century education system. It’s much, much better than that. It’s one of the best in the world in fact. And it’s a First World education system, but it could always be better. And the Federal Government has to work with the States to achieve, of course, better outcomes. And much of the time when the previous Commonwealth Government was in power we were working with States that didn’t necessarily share our views about return to traditional methods of education, particularly in English, and history and maths.

Helen Dalley:

Okay. Well one of the problems in schools I guess in inner cities of the US and the outer suburbs of Australian cities, and indeed in Aboriginal communities, is that students are expected in a sense to fail. This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. What do you think can be done about that?

Christopher Pyne:

Well, I don’t agree with the assessment that schools in Australia or Indigenous communities are set for students to fail. I don’t agree with that assessment. I think that the education system is designed to try and help students achieve their best. It’s just that we could probably do it better in many instances. I also think that there is a tendency, particularly in the education union, to try and hide the lack of good outcomes in some schools because they’ve said it might stigmatise those schools. Whereas, I would say that, in fact, what we need to do is have more accountability and transparency for all schools so that parents can have more say about the way the schools are managed and developed, and principals can and teachers can say thank goodness that there is now a focus on the needs in schools rather than covering up. But that doesn’t happen across the board. That happens in some situations. Overall, our education system is one of the best in the world, but we think it could be better. We think there could be more independence at the local level; that parents should have more of a say in the way their children are being taught; that principals and governing councils should be able to make more decisions locally in an autonomy way from the central system.

Helen Dalley:

Okay. Why are you opposed to the government’s removal of full-fee paying domestic students from universities? Wouldn’t this move allow more students of modest means, and with the merit, to attend university?

Christopher Pyne:

No, it does quite the opposite, unfortunately, Helen. The removal of domestic fee-paying students from higher education is a foolish, ideologically-driven decision which has no basis in logic. It continues to allow, of course, overseas students to come to Australia and pay full fees and go to university in this country. And domestic fee-paying students were a very

important revenue stream for the university sector. It doesn’t make any difference whatsoever to the demographic of people who attend university. That is a complete furphy. There is no study that shows that a lack of full fee-paying domestic students in Australian universities will make any difference at all, or has ever made any difference, to the demographic make-up of universities.

So it is a backward step driven by a left-wing ideology with universities. And it’s quite the opposite direction in which we should be moving in universities. We should be allowing universities to have more decision making about how they raise revenue; how they spend their resources; how many students they’re able to take, rather than a very rigid system which currently exists in Australia.

Helen Dalley:

Finally, and let’s look more generally, as Shadow Education Minister, could you grade the Rudd Government on its entire program in the past 12 months as we come up to its first year in office tomorrow?

Christopher Pyne:

Well, I think it’s been a “D” for disappointing. I wouldn’t say it’s completely failed, but it’s certainly been a disappointing year for all those people who thought that when they voted the Rudd Government in they would get enormous change and enormous reform. What we’ve really seen is government by committee, by summit, by conference; large ideas like thought bubbles raised by the prime minister that haven’t been followed through; a budget that . . .

Helen Dalley:

So you don’t think consensus is a good idea?

Christopher Pyne:

I think consensus is a terrific idea, but I also think governments need to make decisions, they need to lead. And I don’t think the Rudd Government is leading. It doesn’t have an overall narrative about where it wants to take Australia. The first 12 months have been a waste for the Rudd Government, unfortunately.

Helen Dalley:

Why then do you think Kevin Rudd is so popular in the opinion polls?

Christopher Pyne:

Because he’s still a new prime minister. He was only elected 12 months ago. When somebody buys a new car they don’t want to be told that their new car is a dud. And with Kevin Rudd, I don’t think the public want yet to decide that he has failed. Certainly they think his treasurer and the rest of the government needs to really improve their act. But he will remain popular for some time. The next election is in two years and we’ll see how popular he is by then.

Helen Dalley:

Just really briefly, your counterpart, the Education Minister, Julia Gillard, scored a nine out of 10 rating by The Australian newspaper’s score card yesterday. She gets a big tick.

Christopher Pyne:

Well, I was very surprised because the computers-in-schools program and the education revolution and the process to move to a national curriculum have been utter failures. So The Australian obviously was only marking her perhaps on industrial relations, rather than education.

Helen Dalley:

All right. Christopher Pyne, we’ll leave it there. Thanks so much for joining us.

Christopher Pyne:

A pleasure, Helen.   Media Contact:    Adam Howard  0400 414 833