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Transcript of joint ddoorstop interview with Stephen Smith: University of Queensland, St Lucia, Brisbane: 31 January 2007: Encouraging young Australian’s to study & teach maths & science announcement; Tax on Beer; David Hicks; SA Opinion Poll.

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Subjects: Encouraging young Australian’s to study & teach maths & science announcement; Tax on Beer; David Hicks; SA Opinion Poll

RUDD: Earlier this week I announced the need for Australia to have an Education Revolution. And the reason for that is that we’ve got to build long term productivity and the only way we can do that is to invest in our people, invest in the future.

Earlier this week I announced Chapter One of our proposed Education Revolution, and that was our proposal for a national Act of Parliament for Early Childhood Education for all four year olds.

Today, with Stephen Smith, the Shadow Education Minister, we’re releasing Chapter Two of Labor’s Education Revolution - our New Directions for Maths and Science Teaching in Australia.

What’s the problem that we’ve got to deal with? Well, it’s a bit like this. If you’re going to be serious about this nation’s long term economic prosperity, you’ve got to be looking after the drivers of that prosperity. Maths, science, engineering, the enabling disciplines, are critical to long term economic competitiveness. The problem is we’re starting to fall behind our competitors around the world.

Here in Australia the numbers also are disturbing, if you look at what’s been happening in recent years. Right now, Year 12 level, we’re producing something like 40,000 fewer science graduates at Year 12 level than we were in the year 2000. When it comes to maths graduates, 17,000 fewer graduates in advanced

maths compared with what it was back in the year 2000. You can’t keep going in that direction if we’re going to have a knowledge-based economy for the future.

Of course, part of that problem, in turn, goes down to what’s happening among teachers of maths and science themselves. Right now, 25 per cent of teachers of science in our schools do not have a science degree. Twenty five per cent of our maths teachers do not have a university maths major. In fact, 10 per cent of

our maths teachers in schools have not studied university level maths. This is a real problem. So, we need to do something about it. And we’ve got, we believe, to deal with this in practical ways and practical measures.

So, there are two core things that we are announcing today for maths and science.

Firstly, for students of maths and science at university, we want to halve their HECS payments. That is, effectively, a $3000 a year reduction for them.

Secondly, to provide a long term incentive for them to stay in maths and science - teaching preferably - but in the field, more generally, to encourage our young people to stay in maths and science. If they do that after they graduate, we’ll provide a further 50 per cent reduction on their HECS repayments.

This is a double-barrelled incentive to encourage people to pursue maths and science at university level, but more importantly, to keep it going through their careers. Why are we doing this? We need it for the Education Revolution.

If I’m elected Prime Minister of this country, I want to encourage our brightest and our best to pursue careers in maths and science because our country needs it. Stephen, do you want to add?

SMITH: Thanks very much, Kevin. As Kevin has outlined, this is Labor’s double-barrelled approach to inspire and encourage young Australians to both study and teach maths and science. And we do that in two ways: a substantial reduction of their HECS contribution that young Australians have to pay if they study maths or science at a university, and then secondly, halving by 50 per cent, halving their HECS debt if they remain in a maths or science occupation - particularly maths or science teaching - upon graduation.

The paper that we’ve released details what we regard as the appalling state of maths and science study and teaching in Australia. A declining number of students doing maths and science, whether that is at secondary school or a declining number of teachers in our schools with relevant maths and science occupations, and a declining number of people being inspired to go into maths and science occupations, including teaching.

So, it’s a double-barrelled approach: two incentives for young Australians to both study and teach maths and science. We remove the financial disincentive of HECS upfront and we remove, effectively by half, the financial disincentive of paying off your HECS once you have graduated.

Let me make it clear we regard this as one step along the path to inspiring and encouraging young Australians to study and work in maths and science areas.

As the paper details, there are a range of other measures that we are looking at to also encourage young Australians to engage in this area.

Importantly, we make an upfront commitment that the universities themselves will not be disadvantaged by the reduction in the student contribution to universities. We will ensure, when we come to the release of our higher education funding proposals, that whatever the universities lose by way of the reduced HECS contributions from maths and science students, we will make up as part of our overall funding proposals, and they, of course, will be released in due course. Thanks, Kevin.

RUDD: Over to you. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Is it going too far to say that maths and science are dying disciplines in Australia?

RUDD: Maths and science are in a state of crisis in Australia. If you don’t deal with the crisis what follows from a crisis is a slow death. We don’t want that to happen. The Federal Government’s had 10 years to deal with this emerging maths and science crisis across Australia. We’ve reached a fork in the road when it comes to the need for an Education Revolution. We’re proposing practical solutions to what has been a problem emerging now for more than a decade.

JOURNALIST: We’ve heard this week about difficulties with teacher retention. Are you confident that your plan will do enough to retain teachers in the system for maths and science?

RUDD: We’re going to do something practical. And the best practical thing you can do is to help people with their hip pocket. We’re saying that if you graduate in maths and science and you go onto teach maths and science, that will assist you financially to the tune of thousands of dollars by providing a further 50 per cent cut in your annual HECS repayments. That’s if you stay in the system. We think that’s practical and we think it’ll provide some good clear incentives to pursue a career in these important disciplines.

SMITH: Just to make the financial incentives real, if you work on the basis of a three year degree for maths or science, the upfront reduction in the HECS contribution will, effectively, halve the cost of doing a maths or science degree. Currently, the cost under John Howard of doing a maths or science degree over three years, is just over $20,000. Our proposal will reduce that by nearly $10,000. At the other end of the spectrum, if you remain in a maths or science-related occupation, particularly teaching, then the HECS debt that you have to pay off will again be halved. And whilst it’s always difficult to make precise calculations for individuals because the circumstances are different, that

could again be in the order of a $5000 reduction by way of HECS remission.

These are significant financial incentives for young Australians. But also it sends a message that as a nation, we believe studying and teaching maths and science is important. Yes, it sends an individual financial incentive, but it sends a clear message that Australia as a nation, regards these subjects as important to our future economic prosperity and we want young Australians, our best and brightest, to do it and to teach it and to be in those occupations once they’ve graduated.

JOURNALIST: Would you consider raising HECS in perhaps the more popular areas like law to plug the funding gaps now created by lowering it in science and maths?

RUDD: We think that we’ve got a problem when it comes to the affordability of higher education generally for kids from working families. What we’ve announced today are practical measures in areas of national economic

priority - maths and science. When it comes to other areas, of course, Stephen and I will be looking at that in the months ahead. But no, we think there’s a real problem. When it comes to those who designed the HECS system, Dr Chapman, some years ago, he’s come out recently and said it got out of control. It’s got out of control across the board. So, we’ve decided to take one practical step forward today with maths and science and it’s a real step. The 50 per cent halving of HECS for maths and science students, we think, sends a clear signal both for the economy but also for kids from working families who want to pursue an academic careers in this area.

JOURNALIST: What’s this going to cost?

RUDD: We’ve costed this at $111 million and we have been working on that for some time.

JOURNALIST: That’s annual?

SMITH: I’m happy to deal with that. As the paper details, the cost of the HECS reduction from just over $7000 to just under $4000 is costed at $80 million over four years with a start-up date of January 2009. As the paper makes clear, if the timing of the election enables us, then we will look at the start-up date of January 2008.

When it comes to the HECS remission, that’s costed at $30 million over four years. Again, a start-up date of 1st January 2009. But again, If time allows, we’ll look at accelerating that and brining it forward to January 2008.

So overall, it’s a package of $110 million over fours years. We think that is financially responsible, affordable, but also it’s importantly a long term investment in encouraging and inspiring young Australians to study and teach maths and science.

JOURNALIST: Mr Smith, how confident are you that the financial reasons are the main disincentives for people either studying maths or (inaudible)?

SMITH: Well, there are some people out there who say that the level of the HECS debt is no disincentive at all. That’s not a view that Kevin and I share. We are very worried that a HECS debt is a disincentive for young Australians, particularly from working families. That, of course, we acknowledge, as we have in the past. You can’t quantify but there’s been more than one person come through both mine and Kevin’s electorate office to make precisely that point.

So, particularly for young Australians from working families, we think the HECS debt currently, after the Government’s 25 per cent increase a few years ago, can act as a financial disincentive.

And Kevin is quiet right. The designer of the scheme, Bruce Chapman, was out there recently saying that we are now at the tilting point, that if HECS contributions go any higher it will be a disincentive. Now, if the designer and architect of the scheme is saying that, then don’t be surprised to hear from other people at universities, academics and students, saying that that point has already been met and Kevin and I certainly believe that that point has already been met.

But even if some people are sceptical about that point, I then make this point. We want the government of the day, a Labor Government of the day, to send a message that doing maths and science, studying maths and science, teaching maths and science, is important.

We’ve had 10 years of complacency in this area from the Howard Government and we now see study after study, report after report, that we are falling behind our competitors in maths and science. As the paper details, other countries are now leaping ahead of us. We are, effectively, standing still. We can’t afford to stand still because our future economic prosperity is at risk.

RUDD: On maths and science, I’ll just conclude by saying this. A recent study by the World Economic Forum has us ranked 29th in the world when it comes to teaching maths and science - coming after India and after Indonesia. You can’t have an education revolution if you are coming 29th in the world in the teaching of maths and science. And as the alternative Government of Australia we will not stand idly by if you have got a situation where 25 per cent of our high school science teachers and maths teachers don’t have a maths or science university degree. That’s plain wrong and we’ve got to change it. Thanks.

JOURNALIST: Are we already paying too much for beer? Should we be paying more?

RUDD: Like most Australians, I don’t mind a cold beer on a hot day and I don’t think that there should be any higher tax than what people already pay.

JOURNALIST: David Hicks, we’ve heard today, has written a letter to an Australian consular official saying that even though the Australian Government keeps saying he’s OK, he’s not OK. Can we believe what the Australian Government is telling us about David Hicks? And if not, what should we do about it?

RUDD: Mr Howard has had five years to deal with this problem and for five years has failed to deal with it. I’m no defender of Mr Hicks and what he’s done or not done. I am a defender of Mr Hicks’ legal rights and his human rights and they’ve not been honoured and Mr Howard has failed to act. Mr Howard has now said that he expects action from the Americans within days.

After five years, the only reason Mr Howard is acting now, or pretending to act on Mr Hicks, is because the opinion polls have turned against Mr Howard. It takes a bad opinion poll to get Mr Howard to act on this question, like many other


JOURNALIST: There’s a poll in South Australia out today putting you ahead of the Coalition 56 per cent to 44 per cent. Are you heartened by the result, and what do you put it down to?

RUDD: I’m married to a South Australian. Does that help? Look, we’ve got about nine months before we go to the election, a lot of hard work to be put in by my Shadow Ministers, Stephen in this portfolio, and many other portfolios as well. But we sense, across Australia, there is a mood for change. What we’re doing today is giving the Australian people a reason to change in critical areas like education. That’s why we’ve got a blueprint now when it comes to maths and science. We also have a blueprint now when it comes to early childhood education. Action, not words. That’s what the country wants. Thank you.