THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
THE HON MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ANDREW GILES MP
SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR SCHOOLS
TIM WATTS MP
MEMBER FOR GELLIBRAND
SUBJECTS: Four Corners program; Royal Commission into Northern Territory juvenile detention system; Needs-based school funding.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well thanks very much for coming out today. I wanted to start with a few comments about the shocking story on Four Corners last night. I think any Australian, any human being anywhere would have been shocked by the footage that Four Corners obtained of children in detention being beaten, isolated and gassed.
It's impossible to think that this has been happening in Australia, in the Northern Territory for a number of years. Of course Labor supports the Royal Commission that's been proposed by the Prime Minister today. It is absolutely vital that we get to the bottom of what was happening in this detention facility.
Of course, over the next few days we would expect consultation with the Government on the terms of the Royal Commission, on the Royal Commissioner who will be appointed.
I think there is, over the next few days and over coming weeks, something else that will happen in our Australian community which is a broader and deeper discussion of how it is that 10 and 12-year-old children end up in the juvenile justice system. We need to look at the system in the Northern Territory, at the particular institution, the actions of the people who are employed there, what the Government knew - all of these questions will be asked, but I think we have really a deeper responsibility as a society and as a community to ask ourselves how it is that 10, 11-year-old boys ended up in the juvenile justice system in the first place. How have they been let down by the broader community, by schools, by their families? What is it that's led them to the troubled lives and the behaviour that's taken them into contact with the juvenile justice system?
I'm going to ask Mark Dreyfus to say a few words about the Royal Commission and also about the Indigenous justice targets that Labor has suggested be included in the Closing the Gap strategy, because while ever we live in a country where it is more likely that a young Indigenous man ends up in jail than in university, we need to take a systemic approach to reducing rates of incarceration and rates of offending in the first place. Thanks Mark.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOWN ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This has been a great shock to I think, any right thinking Australian, the footage that we saw on the Four Corners program last night. It's why Labor has straight away backed the Government's announcement that there is to be a Royal Commission.
What we would urge on the Government is that it be a full examination of the juvenile justice system in the Northern Territory. It shouldn't just be confined to the particular prison where these young boys were kept, in fact where these young boys were tortured. We need to make sure that it's a systemic inquiry.
During the election campaign, Labor announced our commitment to introduce as part of Closing the Gap, justice targets for the Indigenous community of Australia, and with that we announced our commitment also to look much more closely at schemes that are referred to as justice re-investment. Something that has been already tried by the community of Bourke in NSW, that the South Australian Government is prepared to support, some investigations of it, and we think that this approach of looking at alternatives to imprisonment is something that is essential.
It doesn't mean being soft on crime in any way. It means that we have to look hard at whether or not we should continue to invest huge sums in jailing very, very high numbers of Indigenous people and particularly Indigenous young people across Australia. Quite possibly it would be a far better investment and that's why it's called justice re-investment, it would be a far better investment to explore community-based options, other options to move Indigenous young people away from a path of crime into more fruitful lives in the community.
PLIBERSEK: Any questions?
JOURNALIST: You said you would consult with the Government on the Terms of Reference. At this early stage, how broad would you like the terms of the reference be?
PLIBERSEK: Well, we shouldn't decide the terms of reference of a Royal Commission by press conference, but what we would say generally is that it seems that this abuse has occurred in one particular facility. We would like a Royal Commission to look more broadly at the system, the juvenile justice system in the Northern Territory. We want to examine whether similar things are happening in other places. We want to make sure that we look at the pathways that these young people have followed that mean that they're in juvenile justice at such early ages, and we want to examine whether there are better alternatives than seeing such young children in this sort of detention.
JOURNALIST: Do you think maybe it should go further than just the Northern Territory then and look at other places in Australia of youth detention centres across Australia?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think we need to take this one step at a time and in the first instance examine what is clearly completely unacceptable treatment of young people in these facilities in the Northern Territory, and we'll be looking with the Northern Territory Government and the Federal Government at the terms of reference over coming weeks.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe Northern Territory officials knew enough information to act before this vision was aired last night on Four Corners?
PLIBERSEK: Well, certainly I can't answer that question. I think that is exactly the sort of question a Royal Commission would look at.
JOURNALIST: Should the Royal Commission look at the incarceration of Indigenous people more broadly, so either adults or children?
PLIBERSEK: Well, again I'd say that it is important not to try and draft the terms of reference of a Royal Commission like this on the run. We need to sit down with the Commonwealth Government, with the Northern Territory Government and look at preliminary investigations and evidence to decide the proper terms of reference. It's important to take this approach - methodically. A royal commission is something that is not done lightly, it has extraordinary powers, it's important to ask questions that can really lead to systemic changes, to the righting of systemic wrongs. Mark, do you want to add a little bit to that?
DREYFUS: Only to say that the criminal justice system is intended to serve a purpose, it's intended to serve the purpose of preventing crime, of protecting our community from crime, and to have an inquiry that merely looked at conditions in jails in the Northern Territory in detention centres in the Northern Territory doesn't actually answer all of the questions that we want answered here, which includes why are there so many young Aboriginal boys in detention in the first place? What were the alternatives to them going into detention in these conditions? So it's not just the conditions under which they were kept and the dreadful treatment that was meted out to them, it's also the preliminary questions, the first questions, which are why were they there in the first place? Were there possibilities of them not going there? What else could be done? And that necessarily demands a wider inquiry certainly than just looking at the centre but we would suggest also, and I agree with Tanya, that we don't wish to draft here in a press conference, but we think this inquiry should be looking at the criminal justice system as a whole in the Northern Territory.
JOURNALIST: But that's not just an issue for the NT, WA also has quite high levels of young Indigenous incarcerations, so do you think there is a value at in looking in it at any other level because it isn't just an NT issue?
PLIBERSEK: Let's just take this one step at a time. Today we are focused on incredibly disturbing footage that was released last night on Four Corners. In the process of developing terms of reference, no doubt there'll be greater attention and scrutiny of the Northern Territory system. If other issues emerge, then they can be considered over coming days.
JOURNALIST: Barnaby Joyce has said that the broader the terms of reference, the longer it's going to take. Is there a concern that if it becomes too broad, then the commission's not going to be able to zero in on the abuse at Don Dale itself?
PLIBERSEK: Well, again, I don't think it's productive to have that sort of speculation at this very early stage. We need to be methodical and sensible about the way we take this on. Of course we need to look at this particular institution and the failures that allowed this sort of treatment of children to occur. But we need to put that in a setting, in a context, as Mark has described, and look at the broader juvenile justice system because that gives us some answers about alternatives and systemic failures that have allowed this sort of abuse. OK. We might go to education now, if that's OK?
It's great to be here with Andrew Giles, who is assisting me with the schools part of the education portfolio, and with Tim Watts who is the local Member for this magnificent school. I want to thank the Principal, Brendan for having us here today and the school leaders who have shown us all around the school, and all of the terrific kids who we have met on the visit.
We were very lucky to see both a music classroom and a maths lesson, in an early stages classroom today. And, I guess there's a couple of things I'd say about this, the sort of music teaching that I saw today really would make coming to school a joy for many kids and it is exactly the sort of enrichment activity that a needs-based funding system allows.
We then went into the maths classroom, or the prep classroom, and saw the young children studying maths telling us their maths stories and using their storytelling to show us their ability to add, and do addition. We know that Australia has actually been going backwards on all of the international measures on how we do in mathematics and numeracy. It is a real challenge for us as a nation, because we know that the jobs of the future, the sort of industries that we'll see growing in Australia in years to come, the sort of jobs that involve mathematics, coding, numeracy, science-based learning, computational thinking, they're the sort of jobs that will be the high paying jobs of the future.
Seeing these basic maths skills taught so well by these dedicated teachers is a real key to understanding what we have to do more of in the future to make sure that our schooling system stops falling behind on these international measures. We've seen in Australia in recent years, Australia going from being at the top of the league table, near the top of the league tables, in maths, in reading, in writing, falling through every testing cycle lower and lower on international rankings. It is completely unacceptable. The reason that Labor undertook the Gonski school education review, the reason why we committed in the first instance to a needs-based funding system is because we know that every Australian child, in every school, in every part of Australia, deserves every opportunity to succeed.
Today we saw the music lesson that gives kids a new way of engaging at school, makes enthusiastic learners, helps them learn the fundamentals of music and perhaps discover a talent in a child that they never knew they had, makes them confident learners. And we saw foundational skills like addition in the mathematics lesson that are absolutely necessary for kids to get the basics right. Unless we have a decent needs-based funding system the sort of extra support that schools like this have received in the last couple of years, that have allowed extension activities, that have allowed teachers to upgrade their skills, that have allowed investment in catch-up lessons for kids who are falling behind and extension lessons for kids who are really good at a particular subject, to keep them interested and engaged. We can't do that without a needs-based funding system that Labor is committed to.
Over the next three years, Labor will be saying every single day that the choice is clear: you can have a Liberal Government that is prepared to cut $29 Billion from Australian schools or you can have a Labor Government that will invest in needs-based funding, so that every child, in every school, can get every opportunity. It's really important that individual kids, the kids that are falling behind to get the extra individual teaching that allows them to catch up so that they, as soon as any problem with their learning is identified, we can invest in them and bring them up to the same speed as their peers. It is really important for kids who are gifted or talented to have those gifts explored, to give them the excitement of being able to keep developing the skills that they have.
It is really important for individual kids because a great education is the golden ticket, it is the key to a lifetime of opportunity. But it is really important for our nation too. There is no way that we can be an innovation nation unless we are an education nation. There is no way that we can be economically successful, that we can prepare our young people for the jobs of the future unless we invest in education. Every economist will tell you that this sort of investment will increase our prosperity as a nation over time. So both for the individuals that get a better education and for the future of our nation, this investment is absolutely critical and we will continue to make the case every single day for a needs-based funding system that meets the needs of every Australian child.
I am going to ask Andrew to say a few words because this is his first outing as my assistant minister.
Thank you very much Tanya. It is a real honour to be Tanya's assistant in this important policy area and I would like to thank Bill Shorten for giving me this extraordinary opportunity and in making education a real priority for Labor in this term in Parliament. I would also like to acknowledge the amazing work of Kate Ellis and Amanda Rishworth in the last term in building on the solid foundations Labor set in Government through the Gonski review and starting on its implementation.
As Tanya has just outlined, needs-based education is vital to the well-being of Australian students but also to the well-being of Australia's economy [inaudible]. And today, at Footscray West Primary School which has been great to visit with my colleague, Tim Watts, we've seen some prep-kids [inaudible]. Two amazing reminders of just how important it is that we get it right. That we deliver funding for schools based on the needs of the individual students. As Tanya has said, this is vital for those students, it is vital for their [inaudible]. But as Labor knows, as we will explain to the Australian people every day over the life of this Parliament, it is vital to securing Australia's living standards. The choice that we are going to be putting forward, that we have been putting forward, is pretty clear - between corporate tax-cuts or investing in Australia's greatest renewable resource, people.
Well thank you Tanya and Andrew. I am thrilled to be able to welcome Labor's new Shadow Education team to Footscray West Primary School, in their centenary year, on this marvellous Melbourne morning. I thank the principal Brendan Miller and the student leaders, Lily-Rose and Harvey for showing us around the school and the excellent work that their teachers are doing in giving them every opportunity in the future. And I am really particularly thrilled that Tanya and Andrew were able to see an important part of the needs-based schools funding story - and that's the extra help that it gives to kids from non-English speaking backgrounds. The importance of this was sheeted home to me recently when I was taking my daughter to school just down the road in Footscray to start prep earlier this year and I was at the school gate talking to another Dad and I leaned over to him and said "How are you settling in? How are the kids going?". And he said that he was really worried because in his home, they didn't speak English at home, they were new arrivals in Australia and he was concerned that his child wouldn't be able to keep up with the other new kids starting prep that year. I was really proud to be able to tell him that Labor's needs-based schools funding formula would give his kids the additional help they need so that they can realise every opportunity in the same way as every other student. In the electorate that I represent, around two-thirds of my constituents were born overseas or have a parent born overseas. So in Melbourne's West, we get the importance of needs-based schools funding on a really fundamental level. So in that respect, I am really thrilled to be able to welcome Tanya and Andrew here today to see this first hand. As I was thrilled to welcome Bill Shorten and Kate Ellis to this school some months ago to see the work first hand as well. So I am very enthusiastic about continuing the policy work that Labor has done over the last 3 years and continuing to put forward that very important policy choice to everyone in Melbourne's West.