SUBJECTS: Australia’s reading, maths, and science scores plummet; Ensuring Integrity bill; Medevac.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING:  Well, let’s start with a very important piece of analysis that we saw today. Yesterday, we had reports that show that Australia has gone from being around the top of the world in reading, maths and science to just barely hanging in the middle. Our analysis today shows that if this trend continues, that we'll go from being around the top of the world to around the bottom of developed countries for reading, maths and science. Taking maths just as one example, at the beginning of testing we we're fifth in the world for maths and on this trend, by 2030 we will be the fifth worst in the developed world in maths. This is alarming and it needs a national government to show national leadership to fix the problem. We need to make sure that our kids have the basics under their belt in the early years of schooling. We need to make sure we are attracting the best and brightest into teaching, and of course, we need to make sure our schools and properly funded.
JOURNALIST: Dan Tehan spoke about needing to declutter the curriculum. What do you think the problem is?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's simplistic of the Minister to choose one thing. But, of course, we need to make sure that our young people have the basics when they start school. The early years of needs based funding allowed principals to make decisions like getting literacy specialists in to work with kindy kids, year 1 and year 2 to make sure they had the foundation skills of reading before they went on to do more complex work. They needed to learn to read before they could read to learn. That's what needs based funding allowed and that is why it is so sad that the Government has turned its back on proper needs based funding. More importantly, the Federal Government agreed with the states and territories a program for school improvement. We did that when we were last in government. When the Liberals came in they turned their back on that program for school improvement, they said it was just red tape. Now the Minister is saying that he wants to meet with State Ministers next week - 6 years later. I mean, we are in the seventh year of a Liberal Government, they have had no program for school improvement over that seven years. That's long enough for a child to start and finish high school. This Government has let children down and frankly, it has turned its back on the importance of education for the productivity of our nation.
JOURNALIST: Is Labor ready for a new fight on the union bill?
PLIBERSEK: Well, we will continue to make sure that working Australians have the right to organise to increase their pay and conditions - improve their pay and their conditions. That's what unions are about. Nurses, teachers, firies, ambos, police - they have all got strong union membership, these people provide a vital service, why shouldn't they organise collectively to improve their pay and conditions? That's the Australian way. That’s the reason why we've got the eight hour day and holiday pay and sick leave and maternity leave. It's disappointing in the extreme that the Government is not listening to the Parliament on this bill and trying to portray a union movement as something that it’s not.
JOURNALIST: There was a lot of anger and disappointment after the repeal of Medevac yesterday from advocates in the space. What is your reaction?
PLIBERSEK: Well, let's go back to basics. What's the Medevac bill about? It is about getting sick people who can't receive treatment on Manus and Nauru to Australia for medical treatment. The Minister always had the ability to reject people on character grounds. He has used that ability in a number of cases. So what we had yesterday is a Parliament voting to deny sick people medical treatment - that's pretty sad.
JOURNALIST: Does Jacqui Lambie need to come clean on the deal that she made with the Government?
PLIBERSEK: Well, of course. I mean, how outrageous is it that the Senate should be expected to vote on a deal that they don't know the details of. I mean, people are saying that this is about allowing refugees on Manus and Nauru to be resettled in New Zealand. This Government could have allowed that years ago. Why hasn’t it? It was just stubbornness.