SUBJECTS: Visit to the Northern Territory; Cuts to education funding; Gonski 2.0 report; NAPLAN; Environment.

WARREN SNOWDON MP, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR LINIGIARI: Good morning and welcome. Look it's my pleasure, absolutely pleasure to welcome Tanya Plibersek here, who is our Deputy Leader most importantly and also Shadow Minister for Education, and that's why she's at this school with my two colleagues behind me, Sharon and Andrew. Sharon's from Newcastle, Andrew's from Melbourne. They're here as part of our team and work closely with Tanya and myself, but Tanya's had I think a wonderful opportunity to visit some extraordinary places over the last 36 hours, including Yuendumu yesterday and today we're visiting Sadadeen and Centralian College. You don't want to hear from me though, so I'm going to pass over to Tanya so she can say a few words and answer a few questions.

TANYA PLIBERSEK MP, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much Warren. It is such a pleasure to be here with you and Sharon and Andrew visiting an absolutely fantastic school. Sadadeen Primary School has, you can see around you, it's a beautiful school, with very happy kids, we've been hearing from the children about what they love best about their school today, and I've been talking with the principals, with teachers and the education support workers here about the approach they take to learning, making sure that school is a safe and happy place for children so that they can do their very best learning while they're here. I think seeing the brilliant work that the teaching staff are doing here, seeing the way that the children are responding, it makes it even more difficult to understand why the Federal Government is cutting school funding. Because this is a great school but it could do so much more with the $420,000 that's been cut over the next two years alone from this school. You think about that, the difference that extra money would make. Parents work really hard to raise a bit of extra money for the school here and there, but they're never going to be able to replace that $420,000 that Malcolm Turnbull has cut from this school. And it makes it even more difficult to understand why you'd have school cuts at a time when the Federal Budget is about to give $80 billion to big business in the form of tax cuts. Now over the next two years, the Northern Territory will lose $70 million of Federal Government funding for its schools. Sadadeen, as I've said, will lose $420,000 over two years. We're off to Centralian next. They lose about $840,000 over the next two years compared to what they were under their original funding package with Labor. Yesterday we were at Yuendumu and Yuendumu loses $530,000 over two years. You think about what these schools could do with this extra funding, the way that they could invest it to help their kids, and it is just inexplicable that Malcolm Turnbull is prioritising big business tax cuts ahead of properly funding our schools. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: So New South Wales has called for NAPLAN testing to be scrapped. Do you agree?

PLIBERSEK: No. We need to make sure that testing is not high stakes, that we're not sending kids to school sleepless and sick in the morning because they are so worried about their tests. It is ridiculous that parents are getting tutors and putting pressure on kids or the teachers feel like their whole teaching is being judged by this one test, so we do have to make sure that people understand this is a diagnostic test, it shouldn't be high stakes, and it should be used just to make sure we know that kids aren't falling behind. If they're struggling or if schools are struggling, that's where we direct our extra help, our extra support and resources. So, if the test needs to changed in a way that reduces the pressure on kids, that's terrific. What I wouldn't want to see is a return to a time where we couldn't compare, we didn't know whether some schools were letting down their students, we didn't know that some schools were really knocking it out of the park, were really doing a great job with their kids, so we can go to those schools to find out the secret of their success. It is important to have transparency in the system so that we can learn from how different kids are progressing and how different schools are progressing.

JOURNALIST: Just on transparency, do you think Government needs to look at how NAPLAN data is being reported?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think newspapers have to stop trying to come up with league tables that pretend that NAPLAN is the only measure of a school’s success. Now we need to be very clear that this is one test, once every two years, and it tells you a little bit about how kids are doing and how schools are doing but we need much more information about how kids are progressing and how schools are doing to make a really good judgement about where we need to invest extra help and where we can learn from the success. So I think it is important for media organisations not to build this up into the be all and end all, to understand that it's one measure of progress, it's not the only measure and it should be used to help us to determine where we give extra help, not to beat up any school or any teacher let alone any child for results.

JOURNALIST: Less than 200 Indigenous students graduated year 12 from government schools in the Northern Territory last year. First of all what do you make of that number and secondly what would Labor do to boost year 12 completion rates?

PLIBERSEK: I'll tell you what we wouldn't do is cut $70 million from Northern Territory schools because to have a properly funded school education system is the very first step in making sure that our kids are engaged and learning. There's so much work we need to do. We need to make sure that children have a variety of options, they need to have options that keep them closer to home for some kids, and for other children they're interested in moving into town even moving interstate for boarding - we have to give them that choice as well. Different choices for different kids and different families and local decision making because I saw yesterday at Yuendumu and I've seen in my travels across the Territory over many years with Warren that local communities have a lot of wisdom about what their kids need.

JOURNALIST: Should school funding be attached to attendance?

PLIBERSEK: It is important that children are attending school. Missing days is bad for kids' education and where kids are missing time for important family reasons, there are important family reasons why children might miss school, making sure that they are catching up is absolutely vital too. Now one of the important things recommended in the recent Gonski report is that children need more one on one attention and more attention on making sure that they are progressing through every step of their learning. Well that take more one on one attention, that takes more funding, so actually continuing to do what we said we'd do - fund schools according to need - is absolutely critical to making sure that the children are learning every day. It is interesting that the report does say that teachers will need less face to face teaching with kids and more time for preparation or taking kids out of the classroom to work with them more intensely. The Gonski report recognises that that's important and it will require extra resources. We've got a Federal Government that's cutting $17 billion over the next decade from our schools, so what is the point of a report that tells you we need to increase schools' resources to a Government that is determined to cut them.

JOURNALIST: Another recommendation was that students perhaps be graded by ability rather than age?

PLIBERSEK: You have to be careful, it not exactly grading students' viability, it's making sure that we know where each child is in their learning progression. Now I've just come out of the staff room here at Sadadeen and they're doing exactly that right now, they know exactly where their children are on their learning journey because kids who are struggling with a particular area of their learning, they need extra help to catch up. Kids who are really good at something you don't want them bored in the classroom, you want them extended. So it is important to know where kids are in their learning and that teachers have the time to plan for every child's progress. I think that's a great recommendation, but the report says that this will mean more time for teachers to be working one on one with kids, it means more time for planning their lessons. That means more resources and more funding. I don't want to sound like a broken record but you can't cut $17 billion from our schools and do what this report is recommending, and frankly, do what is happening on the wall of the classroom here. Now if this school had $420,000 extra over the next two years, imagine how much more they could do one on one, with the kids that are struggling, with the kids that need enrichment because they are ahead of the pack. 

JOURNALIST: The school you went to in Yuendumu only goes to year 7, do you think that there should be more options for students in remote communities like Yuendumu, to go to year 12 and finish high school?

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely, and it was important for me to hear yesterday from the community about the very strong aspirations that they have for their young people and the strong commitment they have to lifelong learning in their community. Like I say, it’s important for us to listen to local solutions that people are proposing for their own kids, their own families, their own communities. But my basic proposition, as someone who is making these decisions from a long way away in Canberra, is that different solutions with suit different kids and different families. Some kids want boarding school, they want the larger group of kids, more sporting opportunities, the variety that it offers; some kids can’t tackle the homesickness. So let’s be realistic and flexible and listen to people on the ground. 

JOURNALIST: When Simon Birmingham was here last week he emphasised that people in remote communities and in central Australia particularly aboriginal people utilise English as a language that needs to be spoken. Where do you stand on ensuring on that, do you emphasise a bilingual education, particularly for Aboriginal people here?

PLIBERSEK: Of course it’s important to learn English. If you ever want to do further study or get a job, it’s important to be literate in English and have strong literacy and numeracy skills. But there is so much evidence of the benefit of bilingual education as well. We met lots of beautiful little kids yesterday who were strong learners in their own language and they were translating that to strong learning in English. Let’s make sure that we celebrate the strength of language and culture and use that as a strong foundation for literacy and numeracy in English as well. 

JOURNALIST: How much do you recommend that Aboriginal teachers teach students, particularly Aboriginal students as well? Do you feel that that is important?

PLIBERSEK: I think It’s great to have role models in schools. It’s important for kids to feel comfortable in schools, and to see that they have got people in their community who have gone on to further study and that are contributing back to the community as teachers. I think that's a wonderful thing. 

JOURNALIST: The Federal Environment Department is shedding staff, I have a different question, and what’s it's? A third of Australian threatened species aren't being tracked at all? It’s a question from Stephen Dziedzic, does this concern Labor?

PLIBERSEK: Yes of course it does. We have seen environmental regulation and protection going backwards under this government. For a start they have done nothing about climate change which is obviously a serious threat to the Australian environment. We need to take strong action on climate change for a start. We have seen the largest area of protected land or water taken out of protection ever in the history of the world when this government has reversed Labor’s protection for our marine natural environment. We have seen the Murray Darling Scheme under threat because of the lack of commitment from this Federal Government. In area after area we see environmental advances and protections unwound. Don’t forget Tony Abbott even tried to get rid of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. These people are environmental vandals and if we want to protect our beautiful and precious and economically significant natural environment then we have to demand that this government do better. Thanks everyone.