TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
ABC RADIO BRISBANE MORNINGS WITH REBECCA LEVINGSTON
FRIDAY, 13 DECEMBER 2019
SUBJECTS: End of school year (Queensland); Respecting teachers; Scott Morrison’s tradie crisis; Climate change and renewable energy; Queensland State election in 2020.
REBECCA LEVINGSTON, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek is in town. Good timing on the last day of school. Tanya is the Shadow Minister for Education and Training. Good morning.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Last day of school for you. I've still got kids who will be going to school until Wednesday in New South Wales.
PLIBERSEK: Different school finishing dates.
LEVINGSTON: Oh okay, yeah, just the extra week, extra couple of days.
PLIBERSEK: Few extra days, yeah. So don't tell my Louis that your son's finishing today.
LEVINGSTON: Can I take you into a Brisbane classroom that I went to yesterday afternoon. So, full of eight year olds and the teacher at the front was crying because a whole bunch of parents had gone in to say thank you for looking after our little ones. And it was so beautiful. I wasn't aware, this teacher had made a career change from IT to teaching because she said she wanted to find more meaningful work and that moment in that classroom yesterday, where we talked about the year where kids had learned to read bigger and better books and they'd found out more about science and they've had some tough times where she'd open up the doors at lunch time so that the kids could come in and have a break from the heat or if they were having a tough day. It was just the kind of moment that is the ideal teaching picture and it made me think, how do we make sure that teachers are valued, loved and respected in this country like that.
PLIBERSEK: It's such a beautiful story and it's one that's been repeated in schools right around Australia in this last week of school. Parents going in saying thank you for everything that you've done for my beautiful child. I've seen some extraordinary teachers in my time as the Shadow Education Minister and what you're talking about - those people who have had a career outside teaching and come in a little bit later - are often among the best of them because they're there for 100 per cent the right reason. They want to help kids learn because they know a great education is the key to a lifetime of opportunity and so I think programs like Teach for Australia do a great job in bringing people who have had other career experiences into the classroom. I think one of the saddest things we've seen in recent years are the marks to get into teaching courses falling. So, not so long ago, about half of our people going into teaching had marks above 80 per cent as their university entrance mark. That's dropped down to about a third of people now and a lot of teachers and parents are saying to high achieving high school kids don't choose teaching because it's a waste of your mark that you've worked so hard on. I think reminding people that this work is absolutely critical to our success as a nation, that you change lives in the classroom, is really important to attracting the best and brightest into teaching and then supporting our teachers when they're there. That means giving them out of the classroom to plan, to work one on one individually with kids, make sure that the paperwork isn't killing them, that they're actually in the classroom teaching rather than just working on paperwork. And parents, I think vast majority of parents are deeply appreciative of the work that teachers do, but there's always the one or two who'll turn up and complain about the fact that their child has been pulled into line for some infraction. We've got to back our teachers as well, so good on you and good on the parents at your school for showing your teacher how much you value her.
LEVINGSTON: Well I think of that culture comes from a very good principal too. In terms of this time of year, of course, report cards have come out for kids as well, they will be what they will be, but there's a report card, a global report card on Australian students’ performance that came out a week or so ago, wasn't great, Tanya Plibersek, globally our 15 year old students rank 29th in the world in maths, 17th in science, 16th in reading. What do you think is going wrong?
PLIBERSEK: There's a few things going wrong isn't there? We've gone from around the top of the pack globally when this testing started, international testing, to being about average. And if we extend our, if we extrapolate how we're going, we're going to go from around the top of the world to around the bottom of the world on the current trends. And it's a few things: It's the fact that we aren't properly resourcing, particularly our poorest schools. It's about the fact that, as I said, the marks to get into teaching courses are declining all the time. We need to keep attracting our best and brightest into teaching and then keep them there once we've got them in the classroom. Sometimes our best teachers get promoted into administrative jobs in education bureaucracies or other fields - we've got to keep our best teachers in the classroom. We also need to use the evidence of what works. You know I had the health portfolio, I was the Health Minister for many years and I saw the way that the science was applied, when we learned that something was good for patients you would test it, you'd evaluate it very carefully and then you would make it common place to use that treatment or that treatment, or that approach or that medicine. We need to make sure that best practice in our classrooms becomes common practice by using the evidence of what works.
LEVINGSTON: Just on resourcing schools and you said some of the poorer schools are missing out, we know that the gap between wealthy private schools and the public system is growing. We see these incredible, state of the art performance spaces in some of the wealthier schools and yet other schools are sticking up demountables that maybe they're questioning whether or not they can air-condition those schools. Why does the Federal Government give more money to private schools than public?
PLIBERSEK: Well you'd have to ask them. I think what the Liberals say is that government schools, or public schools are the responsibility of the states, but that hasn't been the case in Australia, it's always been a shared responsibility and under the most recent funding arrangements the share of Commonwealth government funding to public schools is capped at a level that means that most government schools around Australia will never reach their fair funding level. So you'd have to ask the government why they think that's fair. I think, of course, you talk to parents who are out there doing cake stalls and sausage sizzles, raising money for their school. They will tell you for sure that resourcing makes a difference. It makes a huge difference particularly in the poorest schools. But it's also how we use the money, and making sure that kids, especially in the early years, are getting the basics right. That they can read by the time they are eight, you know, seven or eight years old, because if they're falling behind in those early years, it's so hard to catch up. So in around 2013, when Labor was last in government, we made an arrangement with the states; we had a plan for school improvement that talked about, not just the extra money, how much extra money, but how it would be spent, including things like making sure that kids in the early years had the basics of literacy and numeracy under their belts. That was abandoned years ago when Christopher Pyne was the Education Minister. He said it was just red tape. It's not red tape to have a plan for school improvement. We have to have that. Instead we've had six wasted years where we've just been coasting and our kids are the paying the price.
LEVINGSTON: Tanya Plibersek is the Shadow Education and Training Minister. You're listening to ABC Radio Brisbane, 17 minutes to 9. My name is Rebecca Levingston. I want to go from school to TAFE in a moment, but just briefly, Education Ministers from around the country met for two days, yesterday and the day before. Have you heard any whispers, any big action items that came from that meeting?
PLIBERSEK: Look, no big action items, I think there were a few small sensible changes, but the problem is we're going backwards at such a fast pace. It's alarming to think that we're going to go from being the fifth best in the world in maths to the fifth worst in the world in maths if we continue on this trajectory and, you know, I've got no particular objection to what they talked about yesterday but it's not enough, it's not nearly enough. We need to invest more, we need to spend that money better, we need to attract and retain the best and brightest into teaching and we need to make sure our kids have got the basics under their belt. Nothing in yesterday's meeting gives me confidence that we're going to do that any time soon.
LEVINGSTON: Really? Even from the Labor leaders, the Labor Education Ministers in that meeting?
PLIBERSEK: Honestly there's no problem with what they discussed, it's just not enough, and we've got a national problem here. All of the states are trying their best in their own way, but until you've got national leadership you can't fix a national problem. We're going backwards in every school system in every state.
LEVINGSTON: To TAFE, where there's been a big focus on apprentices, trades, a big push, Scott Cam is being paid $345,000 for the next 15 months to try and attract the next generation of tradies. You've got the latest apprentice numbers. There's been a big drop, especially in construction. What are you hearing?
PLIBERSEK: Yes well we've seen a 20 per cent drop overall in apprenticeships and traineeships compared with this time last year, but in construction trades we're down 40 per cent, so your standard bricklaying, carpentry, and so on, plumbing, we're down 40 per cent in apprentices and trainees in these critically needed areas.
LEVINGSTON: Is that because they're not putting their hands up for apprenticeships, or there's not the jobs there?
PLIBERSEK: Oh come on. We've got youth unemployment of one in four young people, or one in five young people in many parts of Australia. We've got three quarters of employers who tell us that they can't find the skilled staff they need. Of course there is demand. There's demand from people wanting to get into a trade, there's demand from employers. What's missing is proper funding of our TAFE and training system. The Federal government has cut $3 billion from TAFE and training. In Queensland, there's about 30,000 fewer apprentices and trainees today than when the Liberals first came to office nationally. But that trend is across Australia. That's not something that's confined to Queensland. We've got close to 150,000 fewer apprentices and trainees today than when Scott Morrison's government first came to power, or the Liberal government first came to power. So Scott Cam, good bloke, good on him, got no objection to him playing a role in promoting trades and apprenticeships, but there's 150,000 fewer places today than there was when the Liberals first came to power. That's about funding cuts.
LEVINGSTON: Tanya Plibersek in Brisbane today, the Shadow Education and Training Minister, on what is the last day of school for lots of state Queensland students, everyone breathing a bit of a sigh of relief about that. Just finally, Tanya Plibersek, it's a school student, a teenager in fact that's been named Time's Person of the Year. What do you think of Greta Thunberg earning that title?
PLIBERSEK: Oh good on her, and I think it's really symbolic of the fact that young people get it, young people absolutely get that, as a planet, we are going to have to take real action to reduce the carbon pollution that we're putting into our atmosphere because it's having real world effects on our climate.
LEVINGSTON: At the same time that you say that, Anthony Albanese is in communities, advocating jobs in new thermal coal mines. It's a bit of a mixed message, isn't it?
PLIBERSEK: No I don't see it as a mixed message at all because every country has to be responsible for the emissions that it is putting into the atmosphere. Australia has to have strong domestic action to reduce the carbon pollution that we are pumping out into the atmosphere. We don't hold Japan or Korea or Germany responsible for the car emissions for the cars that it produces. Every country has to get their own emissions down, and we are in such a great position to do that in Australia because we have got unlimited supply of clean, cheap energy from solar, from wind, we are a world leader in these technologies. We're seeing employment in renewables increasing by 30 per cent per annum. We need to make sure people have jobs, of course we do, but the best way that we can get cleaner, cheaper energy in Australia is by investing in renewables. Coal is going to be part of our export earnings for the foreseeable future. It will be part of our energy mix for the foreseeable future. But where is the world moving? The world is moving to cheaper, cleaner renewables.
LEVINGSTON: There's an election in Queensland in 2020, you probably knew about that.
PLIBERSEK: Some of my friends might have mentioned it to me, yes.
LEVINGSTON: Are you meeting with Premier Palaszczuk today?
PLIBERSEK: Not today but I have met with her on many occasions and she is a fine woman.
LEVINGSTON: What's your advice to her, given that you lost most of Queensland in the last election?
PLIBERSEK: My advice is do something different to what we did!
LEVINGSTON: Tanya Plibersek, good to see you. Merry Christmas.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you. Thanks Rebecca.
LEVINGSTON: Tanya Plibersek, the Shadow Education and Training Minister.