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Transcript of interview with Fran Kelly: ABC RN Breakfast with Fran Kelly: 25 October 2018: Labor's Asian language announcement; removing discrimination against LGBTI students and teachers; refugees and asylum seekers

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SUBJECTS: Labor’s Asian language announcement; removing discrimination against LGBTI students and teachers; refugees and asylum seekers.

FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: Labor has pledged to boost the numbers of school students studying Asian languages should it win the coming federal election. The $32 million plan to be unveiled this morning aims to better prepare young Australians to take advantage of the business and the cultural opportunities of the so-called Asia century. Their plan would include a new scholarship program for students while the number of Asian language teachers would be boosted. It's all aimed at addressing a quite worrying decline in second language teaching in our schools. Tanya Plibersek is the Deputy Opposition Leader and Shadow Minister for Education, Tanya Plibersek welcome back to breakfast.


KELLY: This policy is aimed squarely at Asian languages, not French, not German, not Spanish. It's about our region. Are you saying - is it your view - that all Australian children should learn an Asian language if they're to have a hope of getting ahead, that just speaking English is really no longer enough?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we know that learning a second language - no matter what the second language is - is good for kids, it's good for their brain development. But the simple fact is that the economic opportunities of the next century are right on our doorstep in Asia. Nine out of ten of the next billion people who will enter the middle class live in our region. That's a great opportunity for Australia if we can take advantage of it; and taking advantage of it means having more Australians who speak an Asian language and more Australians who understand Asian culture and doing business in Asia.

KELLY: And as you say, we know that and yet, we don't do it. The number of students studying any foreign language, not just Asian, in our schools has been in decline. One figure that we found seems to sum up the problem - in New South Wales in 2005 there were around 1,500 students learning Mandarin, ten years later, that number had almost halved to 832. Most students - more students, in fact, were studying Latin at the time. I can recall, I think, at least four Australian governments coming up with a policy to boost Asian language studies in our schools, what's gone wrong?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it hasn't been consistent. You're quite right, I mean I remember back to the Keating Government, Paul Keating made a very convincing case about the importance of Australian engagement in Asia, there was a significant boost at the time to a focus on Asian languages but ...

KELLY: Brendan Nelson did the same, I think, in the next Government.

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think there was a bit of a lull during the Howard years, I think, to be fair and ...

KELLY: But the plan was enunciated is what I'm saying.

PLIBERSEK: And the reason we see fewer and fewer people studying Asian languages is we have fewer teachers that are able to teach those subjects. It's a compounding problem.

KELLY: Is it just about the teachers? I mean, in most OECD countries, kids finish school with at least one other foreign language. We just do not here, Asian or any, why do we have this monolingual mindset?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think you know Australia is very lucky in so many respects, English is our first language, you can do business and travel all around the world with English; and European countries - people have, you know, an hour to drive and they're speaking a completely different language - you know, there's a lot of that around the world where, you know, if you're living in a country and ...

KELLY: So it's proximities?

PLIBERSEK: ... next door has a different television station that's beaming into your lounge room and you're speaking French or Italian, you can see how that happens - but we are an island, we're a long way from anywhere - that's the way we feel. We need to focus on our region, though, and the opportunities that it presents us.

KELLY: So what are you going to do, what's the plan you're going to launch today?

PLIBERSEK: Well, one of the most important elements of the plan is a - scholarships for about a hundred teachers every year; so, people who are native speakers of a

language or who have done really well in year 12 at a particular language - we'll be supporting them to study teaching at university. We need to boost the number of teachers. We also need to look at school leadership, we need to make sure that principals and other school leaders are Asia literate themselves. That doesn't necessarily mean going back to school and learning a language from scratch, but it does mean being able to do things like set up sister school arrangements with schools in Asia. I've seen some great examples of that, schools that are deeply immersed in the culture of a particular country, they have sister school arrangements, they organise for their students to do trips there; and then they focus on teaching that language and that culture in that school. We're looking at having an advisory council that would look at the best ways of providing resources and teaching of Asian languages in schools - working with the states and territories to set ambitious targets and so on.

KELLY: This plan you're announcing today if you won Government - $32 million - it's a relatively small amount of money, isn't it? Do we still lack ambition here?

PLIBERSEK: No, I think it's still important to remind people that we're spending $14 billion extra over the decade in our public schools, alone. We support the restoration of funding to Catholic and Independent schools - that gives schools the opportunity to employ teachers who have Asian language skills. What we need to do, is make sure there is a pipeline of teachers available.

KELLY: Okay, you will say today, though, you want to set ambitious targets and goals for Asian languages. Should we have mandatory Asian language teaching from kindergarten through to 12. Is that what we should be...

PLIBERSEK: Look, I don't think we need to make it...

KELLY: …shooting for?

PLIBERSEK: No, I don't think we need to make it mandatory. I think we'll work with the states and territories but ideally we show parents and school communities the benefits of this. Like I say the jobs of the future are on our doorstep, we need to prepare our young people for the Asian century. Learning a language, understanding an Asian culture is a really good start to that.

KELLY: You've got kids, are they learning languages?

PLIBERSEK: My daughter's doing, the oldest one’s doing, her HSC this year and she's studying French, but you know here's the thing Fran, I think my kids would be really up for studying Asian languages if they had more opportunity to study those languages. If the school that you go to doesn't offer that language, what do you do?

KELLY: You're listening to RN Breakfast, it's 17 minutes to 8. Our guest is Tanya Plibersek, Shadow Education Minister and also Deputy Opposition Leader. On another issue, for parents and pupils too to some degree, very large degree, the amendments to

the discrimination laws, to make it clear that students can't be expelled from private or religious schools on the basis of their sexuality and gender choices. The Prime Minister said last week the Parliament will address this matter in the next fortnight, that deadline runs out today. The Opposition, I understand, has now seen a Bill the Government's prepared, will you vote for it?

PLIBERSEK: We only saw it late last night, the Attorney General received it late last night and I haven't had a chance to look at it, we'll go through our proper processes with it. We are very eager to put beyond doubt that children shouldn't be discriminated against. We'd also like to extend that protection to teachers and other school employees, we don't really see a case for discriminating against teachers or other school employees either. Now we accept that religious schools are able to teach in the tenants of their faith, what doesn't make sense to us is that whole classes of people should therefore be discriminated against.

KELLY: So the Government's Bill won't deal with teachers and other employees, only students I believe, if it doesn't will you try to amend it? Would Labor accept that as a first step?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we just need to have a look at the legislation. We received it, as I say, late last night, we'll go through our proper processes, examine the Bill, have a discussion within the Labor Party, decide whether we are able to amend it and make our decision methodically.

KELLY: Okay, I'm going to ask you the same question about another issue that’s been in the focus since Wentworth by-election, and the weeks before that and the situation in Nauru, the Prime Minister has rebuffed Labor's offer to pass the New Zealand travel ban legislation with amendments that you wanted, the major parties really just seem incapable of coming to a bipartisan agreement on the 1,300 people still on Nauru and Manus. Why not just pass this Bill and get at least some of these people moved to New Zealand?

PLIBERSEK: So first of all, well let's go back to the beginning of this question. We believe wholeheartedly that the people on Manus and Nauru have been there too long, they have been there for years.

KELLY: Everyone agrees that.

PLIBERSEK: Well no, do they? Really?

KELLY: Yeah, I think everyone agrees it but no one seems to have a plan for getting them off.

PLIBERSEK: Well the Government could accept New Zealand's offer tomorrow if they wished too. This offer...

KELLY: And they will if you pass their legislation.

PLIBERSEK: Fran, what their legislation says is that no one who has ever come to Australia on a boat for example, doesn't matter where they move to in the world will ever be allowed to even visit Australia on a tourist visa, they could have a dying relative in Australia they wouldn't be able to visit. They could join the Olympic Team of their adopted nation, they wouldn't be able to visit, they could become the President or the Prime Minister of that country and they would never be able to come to Australia. It is ridiculous, absurd, overreach. We have said that we will support their legislation with some amendments. First of all, the Government should promise that if we pass this legislation, they'll actually accept New Zealand's offer, they haven't made that commitment. We've said that this should be restricted to the visa class that allows free movement between New Zealand and Australia, not to capture every person whose ever tried to come to Australia...

KELLY: But this Government won't come to that, the Prime Minister has made that clear, he's already rejected that.

PLIBERSEK: Well why won't they Fran? Because they would prefer to have a fight than a win, they are desperate to keep this...

KELLY: Well what about Labor? Would you prefer to have a fight than have action?


KELLY: Why not just pass this?

PLIBERSEK: Because it is ridiculous overreach that would destroy our relationships with other countries, if we say to them this citizen that you have accepted into you nation now is never welcome, even to visit Australia for a 24 hour period - and in fact it's very interesting that the New Zealand Government, Winston Peters is saying they don't want this legislation, they don't want two classes...

KELLY: Jacinda Ardern says it's still on the table though.

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, the offer of New Zealand is still on the table but Winston Peters has said they don't want two classes of New Zealand citizen. But let's go back to the kids who are on Nauru now, we say that they should be brought here if there's medical advice, that they should come to Australia - the Government could resolve this today by allowing them to go to New Zealand and accepting New Zealand's offer.

KELLY: The number of children is now down to 52, it's been happening quietly and quite quickly in the last few weeks, we now know without a lot of fuss, do you think the pressure just finally is working, progress is being made?

PLIBERSEK: I hope so. I mean these children and their families have been on Nauru

for too long and the men who are on Manus Island have been there for too long. It is abject failure of this Government not to have found new homes for these people.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.