SUBJECTS: Barnaby Joyce; Ministerial Code of Conduct; Labor’s Evidence Institute for Schools; Initial teacher education.


SABRA LANE, PRESENTER: Joining us now is the Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek on this and a policy announcement from the Opposition this morning about a new Institute to improve the quality of teaching in classrooms. Good morning Tanya Plibersek, welcome to the program.




LANE: First, to the Barnaby Joyce matter, should this ban go further, should it apply to all MP's offices?


PLIBERSEK: Well the Prime Minister is not even prepared to enforce the existing code of conduct. We have been pursuing Barnaby Joyce, not about his personal life which is awfully sad, we feel terrible for the women involved. But actually about the conflicts of interest of creating new positions in offices to fix a personal problem for himself and most recently, just yesterday we found out that the fellow that has been giving Barnaby Joyce free accommodation benefited to the tune of thousands of dollars from decision made by a government department under Barnaby Joyce's control about where to have a function. I think if you look at these clear existing examples of conflict of interest that the Prime Minister’s Code already covers, that the Prime Minister is not prepared to enforce, I don't really see the point of adding new provisions that also won't be enforced.


LANE: So by the sounds of that, Labor will keep pursuing Mr Joyce when Parliament returns, do you worry about the enormous pressure on him?


PLIBERSEK: Not about his personal life, his personal life is his own business. But about his decisions as a Minister and whether they have been responsible, whether they have had taxpayers’ best interests in mind when making those decisions. I think there is very clear evidence that that is not the case. There is very clear evidence of existing conflicts of interest and Malcolm Turnbull's announcement yesterday seems to me to be nothing more than a distraction from the fact that Malcolm Turnbull is not prepared to enforce the existing code of conduct which the Deputy Prime Minister has breached.


LANE: Mr Joyce is taking time off and admits he has done wrong, he's human and the emotional strain I would imagine would be immense on him and his family. At what point does the political pile-on ease?


PLIBERSEK: Absolutely, and I really do think about his family and how awful this must be for them. But as a Minister you are responsible for decisions that you make, that expend taxpayers’ funds, whether that is done properly or not. And as Deputy Prime Minister I think the standard is particularly acute, that you should be acting in the public interest at all times. There are example after example this week, where the Deputy Prime Minister has not done that, and the Prime Minister because he is too weak to act on these examples, is trying to distract attention by adding this new provision.


LANE:  To your announcement now, $280 million over ten years to set up and Evidence Institute for Schools, to devise policies and programs to create first-class teaching in classrooms. Where will it be based?


PLIBERSEK: Oh well, we will have a competitive tender for who will run it, the organisation that will run it. It is very important that this is independent of the government, it's not just a branch of the Department of Education, it’s a truly independent institute. It is a lot like the UK Education Endowment Fund that has been terrifically successful in the United Kingdom in introducing new practices into classrooms that have had a huge impact on learning. Now what we know, teachers are a lot like doctors, they're in there in the classroom every day trying to do the best for their kids, the same way doctors are trying to do the best for their patients. They are bombarded with new information all the time, there is new research: is this the best way of teaching kids to read, are we doing too much homework or not enough, what’s the best way to integrate digital learning, bombarded with new information.


LANE: The Institute will turn out its own policy won't it, or will it just collate stuff from around the world?


PLIBERSEK: No, it will commission research, it will partner with research. It is important that the research is done in Australia to make sure that we take account of Australian unique things, like the remoteness of many of our schools. So it's important that we do the research here in Australia, but the big job for this Institute is to take the research that is done, that we are already doing, the great practice we have in some of our classrooms and popularise it. Making it possible to have these breakthroughs in every classroom so that every child benefits. We do the same in medical research, we are doing terrific work in the laboratory, it might take ten years to get to the patient's bedside, we can afford those sorts of gaps in our changing practice in the classroom. So as we discover new things about the best way to teach kids, teachers have to be given the support to use those breakthroughs in the classroom with their kids, to have that impact as quickly as possible.


LANE: What about the quality of student teachers, isn't there a problem now that the bar is too low? The recent Innovation Report says that the entry requirements must be lifted and new teachers must be fully qualified, for example, in STEM subjects that they teach, many of them aren't. How will you address those things?


PLIBERSEK:  Absolutely, I think the issue of initial teacher education is a very important one and I've had a lot of discussion with the universities that are teaching teaching courses about making sure they are targeting top performing students from high school, trying to attract them into teaching as a career. But I say to you Sabra, there is never one thing that you have to do. Of course, we have to spend the extra money. Labor has $17 billion more on the table than the Liberals for schools over the next decade. We have to...


LANE: So the $280million will come out of that?


PLIBERSEK: We've got well over $100 billion of savings that we have already made to the budget bottom line, but yes we will use some of our extra schools funding to make sure that we are applying research in the classroom as quickly and effectively as possible. We do need to deal with initial teacher education, making sure that our universities are attracting high performing students into teaching. But that is partly about the way we respect the teaching profession as well, so it’s not just the job of universities, it’s the job of all of us Sabra to acknowledge the fantastic work that is already happening in our schools and to say how can we together improve on that even more. And this Education Research Institute is part of that.


LANE:  Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek thanks for joining AM this morning.


PLIBERSEK: It's a pleasure Sabra, thank you.