THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
MONDAY, 18 SEPTEMBER 2017
SUBJECTS: Test for year one students; The Liberals’ cuts to schools; Marriage equality.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It's interesting to see reports today that the Government has finally released a report on a year one reading and numeracy test. Apparently the Government's had this report since April and it was presented to education ministers on Friday, so it's good to see that it's finally been released. What's disappointing about this proposal, however, is that as well as a year one phonics and numeracy test, what's really required is extra assistance for any children who are identified as falling behind. It's bizarre that you've got a Government that says we want to identify kids who are falling behind, and then cuts $17 billion from schools. Because it's that money that would give those children the one-on-one attention they need to catch up. It makes no sense to have a new test that identifies kids who are falling behind if you're not prepared to properly fund schools to help those children catch up. Now we know, of course, that a number of states have very good systems for making sure that children moving from kindergarten to year one actually have identified any areas that they need extra assistance. And what's really critical is once you identify the children who need extra assistance, that they actually get that help to catch up. We've got a Government that's prepared to test children in year one but not prepared to give them the help they need to catch up if they're identified as falling behind.
JOURNALIST: Do you support the principle though, of the testing in year one and earlier screening?
PLIBERSEK: I think it's very important not to put too much pressure on very young children, but working one-on-one with a teacher to see whether there are any areas that a child needs extra help with is something, of course, that we're open minded about. The specifics of this test proposal we'll look at in more detail, we'll examine the report now it's been released in more detail. But certainly the principle that the earlier you identify gaps in a child's learning and focus on helping that child catch up - that's a good principle. What we need are the extra resources then, to help those children who are identified as falling behind. You can't cut $17 billion from schools and expect those one-on-one extra resources to be available.
JOURNALIST: Senator Birmingham this morning has said to various media that it's reasonable to expect that schools will use funding to facilitate this and to basically meet the extra requirements of this test. Do you think that's reasonable and where do you think those funds will be borrowed from in schools?
PLIBERSEK: Well I don't think anything that this Government does around schools' funding is reasonable. I mean, these are the people who promised you could vote Liberal, you could vote Labor, there'd be not a dollar difference to your child's school. We know in fact now that they will cut $17 billion compared with Labor's funding over the next decade. That means every child, in every school, in every system, in every state, will be worse off. And now, the Minister's saying we want to introduce this extra test, but we're not going to give you extra resources to run the test and we're, worst of all, not going to give you extra help if you identify kids who need extra help - you're on your own. That's not fair.
JOURNALIST: This test is going to be based on a UK model. Do you like the UK model? Do you think that's the way forward?
PLIBERSEK: Look I think it's too early to be specific about the test that this Government's proposing. We are open to examining the proposition, we think it is important to identify early if children need extra help. But if they need extra help, you actually need to give extra resources to the schools to help those children catch up. And this Government's not about giving extra resources to schools, it's actually about cutting funding to schools. So you really need to ask yourself what is the point of a test that identifies children who are falling behind if you're not prepared to invest in helping those children catch up?
JOURNALIST: If it is brought in and then Labor wins office, is it something that you would look at keeping?
PLIBERSEK: We'll see how the Federal Government works with the states and territories to deliver something that's useful. Of course we'll make an assessment over time about whether this test is useful but we're certainly very open to anything that identifies kids early, to make sure that they don't fall behind. We say that you need then to put the extra resources into helping those kids catch up. And at the moment, this government is all about the test and nothing about the extra resources to help kids catch up.
JOURNALIST: And if there was extra resources what sort of form do you think they should take? If a child is identified as falling behind in literacy in say, year one.
PLIBERSEK: I think principals and teachers in individual schools are best placed to make those decisions for individual children. We know that there are fantastic programs available to help kids who are falling behind catch up, but those programs, training teachers to deliver those programs, class release time so that teachers can work intensively one-on-one with individual children or small groups - all of this takes extra funding. It requires more money, and the Liberals are all about cutting funding to schools.
JOURNALIST: May I ask a question on another matter?
JOURNALIST: So I wanted to ask what your thoughts were, if you had any, on the use of the sky to advertise the no campaign proposition? Or whether you wanted to voice anything on the same-sex marriage issue at the moment?
PLIBERSEK: I've been actually very troubled by reports in today's newspapers that the predictions of mental health experts have come to pass. There's been a massive increase in the number of people contacting counselling services, including online and telephone counselling services. We know that Professor Allan Fels, in his role as the mental health commissioner, predicted months ago that this would come to pass. Mental health professionals have been warning the Government that there is likely to be significant psychological harm to people in the community because of this $122 million waste of money postal survey. And now all of these predictions are in fact occurring. We saw Beyond Blue reporting recently that they've had a 40 per cent increase in the number of people asking for help. We wrote to the Government last week, Bill Shorten wrote to the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, last week, begging for extra support for these counselling services because of the huge increase in volume of calls. The Government hasn't responded yet. This is now critical - people are missing out on the help they need right now because this Government is refusing to put extra resources into helping with the huge increase in volumes of calls for assistance.
JOURNALIST: One more on that matter. Should there be some kind of etiquette or some kind of legislative measure to prevent someone advertising something like that in the sky? We have different measures around political campaigns, this seems to be a free-for-all. Is there any kind of discussion around how people can avoid different messages? Is that the issue?
PLIBERSEK: Look I'm not agitated by the sky writing, I think in a debate like this people will use a variety of forms of communication. What I'm more agitated by are materials including postcards I've seen in letterboxes that have no authorisation. We know now, as laws passed the Parliament last week, requiring proper authorisation on campaign material, the things that are being letterboxed that don't have proper authorisation, that don't have true information in them, really should be prohibited. When it comes to sky writing, I think you can worry too much about these sorts of things.