TRANSCRIPT: Sky News PM Agenda, Wednesday 3 August 2016





SUBJECTS: Release of preliminary NAPLAN results; the Government's cuts to schools; Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report: Indigenous recognition in the Constitution

DAVID SPEERS, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, thank you for your time. Why do you think we've seen such disappointing NAPLAN results for the last few years?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION:  Well, I think it's important to say that Australian schools have been struggling for some time. The reason that Labor went through the Gonski School Education Funding Review was because we were slipping in international rankings. The Education Minister today is saying that today's results show that Gonski school funding is unnecessary. And I'd say that the exact opposite is true. These results today show exactly why we were pursuing a needs-based funding model, where every child in every school would get all of the individual attention they need to achieve at the top of their potential. It means disadvantaged kids get help to catch up. It means kids who are gifted and talented are able to make the most of their gifts. Without extra funding, it's very difficult to lift standards in schools.

SPEERS: But we have seen additional funding over the last few years. The so-called Gonski Formula has, well, started to be rolled out over the last few years. Funding federally has gone up $3 billion to more than $16 billion. It's an increase of nearly 24%. Do you think that has achieved anything already?

 PLIBERSEK: I see the results of it in individual schools everywhere I go. In fact, you can see it in learning in the classroom. You see teachers who are more skilled. You see kids who are getting more help earlier. I went to one school in my own electorate last week, and as well as extra teachers and teachers' aides, they were investing in speech pathology and occupational therapy. So, kids who are starting school, not able to form a sentence or hold a pencil, catch up with their peers and engage in successful learning much earlier. You can see this everywhere you go in the school system, but the results take time to show up in national testing. And that's what the education specialists are saying today, that you need to see consistent investment for consistent change to show up in those national test results. We know that individual schools are making the world of difference to kids.

SPEERS: We're spending quite a bit more, but the results are flatlining. We're not seeing the results yet. Can you understand people wondering whether they should trust that even more funding will help?


PLIBERSEK: Well, it's a complete distraction. This argument that extra funds don't mean a better system is an excuse, a cover-up for the fact that this Government is cutting $29 billion. We have only seen the very beginning of the roll-out of extra needs-based funding in our schools. We've seen a fraction of what is proposed in terms of individual attention. We're at the very beginning of this journey, and what the Government is doing today, what the Minister is doing today, is using these results as an excuse not to implement the proper needs-based funding model. In fact, the results today show exactly why we need this extra investment. And it's not just about extra money – this is the other kind of sideshow that the Minister's engaging in. Labor doesn't say that if we just tip more money into the system things will automatically get better. But to purchase the extra supports we need, to invest in teacher training so that, for example, we've got science-trained teachers actually teaching science in our schools, to invest in leadership skills for our principals to make sure that kids who are falling behind in maths or reading or writing get one-on-one attention, so they catch up with their peers. To make sure that gifted and talented kids are getting the extension activities they need - all of that takes extra resources. It's not the resources on their own. It's what we do with those resources. What the Government is saying is you don't even need the extra resources. And this is a little ironic, coming from a Government that gave extra funding to their conservative state colleagues without any strings attached. They were the ones coming into government that actually tipped extra money into conservative states with no transparency and accountability measures. Even allowing some state governments to cut their education funding.

Alright. Just putting the resources debate to one side for a moment. Looking at what's actually going on in the classroom, how we're spending that money and what's being done, one area where we have seen some in decline is in writing. Now, do you think that might have anything to do with the escalating use of iPads, iPhones, kids online and the way they communicate with each other, often not in proper sentences and so on? Is that a problem that we're seeing in the NAPLAN results?


PLIBERSEK: Well, if it's anything like at my house nationally, then the answer would have to be yes. I had to tell my 11-year-old that the capital letter U was not how you write Y-O-U in sentences in your homework just last night, David. So, I don't want to generalise from the example of one 11-year-old. Look, I don't want to make light of it either. This is a serious problem, because we know that STEM-type subjects - science, technology, engineering and maths - will be really important to future job prospects for our young people. But we also know that the communication skills that we need will be critical to a whole range of other types of jobs that Australians will be doing in the future. It is absolutely critical that young Australians can express themselves properly, orally and in writing. And these diagnostic tests, we have NAPLAN, we have diagnostic tests for the first time, because Labor, as part of our whole education reform agenda, knew that we had to test what was going on in classrooms and in schools to pick up where the problems are. This gives us an opportunity to redouble our efforts in the area of literacy, of writing. And that's a good thing; we know what's going right, we know what's going wrong, and we can focus on the areas where we're not doing as well as we should be for the future.

Away from education, just on a few other issues - Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have released a report on the Nauru Detention Centre. It refers to overheated tents, a lack of drinking water, prison-like conditions, intimidation, harassment, including sexual harassment, violence against asylum seekers. Look, the Government says it hasn’t had a chance to properly assess this report, that Amnesty didn't cooperate, it says. But it's dismissed a lot of the findings. What do you think? Should Australia still be funding the centre in Nauru?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's absolutely vital that the Government find a resettlement option for the people who are on Manus Island and Nauru. They have been there too long. Processing times have doubled under this Government. There was never any intention that either Manus Island or Nauru would be places of indefinite detention. The Government has completely dropped the ball on resettlement and it should engage with countries in our region as a priority to ensure that we have a safe place to resettle people who are on Manus Island as a priority. We also say - 

SPEERS: Finding a third country option has proven very difficult, Tanya Plibersek, if no-one can be found to take them my question is, should we keep funding the centre in Nauru?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it's proven difficult because this Government hasn't put any substantial effort into it. They actually blocked our arrangement with Malaysia, which would have seen people living in the community, kids at school, proper healthcare, asylum seekers able to work. They jettisoned that and they have been completely unsuccessful in finding an alternative. But setting that aside, we also believe that there needs to be much greater transparency and accountability in the running and management of these centres. There should be a children's advocate, there should be mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect. People should have their full rights under the law respected. We're disappointed that the Government has criticised organisations like Save the Children, who have done exactly the right thing in drawing attention to concerns about the treatment of children in Nauru, in detention in Nauru. There needs to be a light shone on what's going on here, and resettlement as a priority for people who are in detention.

SPEERS: Sarah Hanson-Young has suggested she will move legislation to scrap the secrecy laws to allow media access at Nauru. Would Labor back that?

PLIBERSEK: Well, Nauru is an independent country and it runs its own immigration system. What we can say is that we support greater transparency and accountability. And one of the measures that we suggested before the election that would have been government policy were we elected was an independent children's advocate, in particular, to stand up for the rights of children in this situation.

SPEERS: And a final one, Tanya Plibersek, on Indigenous recognition in the Constitution. Do you support the idea Noel Pearson and Galarrwuy Yunupingu and have put forward, having a “hook” as they call it, inserted into the Constitution which would then allow treaties and settlement deals to be negotiated?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think the first step is constitutional recognition that Australia's first peoples have an unbroken tie to this land, and a very special place in the life of the nation. So, I believe that it's very important that all Australians unite to support recognition in the Constitution of the first nation's place in our national life. Other issues, like treaties, need to be discussed and thought about over time. I wouldn't like to see the discussion of a treaty in any way slow momentum towards constitutional recognition. But other nations have gone down that path and they've done it very successfully. So, it's certainly something that Australians should be open to thinking about and to discussing for the future.

SPEERS: But with respect, it's your leader, Bill Shorten, who is, if anything, fueling talk of a treaty. Are you saying it should be parked until we get constitutional recognition done?


PLIBERSEK: I'm saying we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We are a large, modern, sophisticated nation and we can have more than one conversation at a time. But the first task before us is to make sure that we get the question right for constitutional recognition and that that referendum is passed, we hope, with flying colours with very, very large support - very enthusiastic support - from all Australians. And then we can continue to have conversations about what other steps we need to take in our journey of reconciliation. Of course, constitutional recognition won't be the end of the conversation and it won't be the end of our efforts to achieve full reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.


SPEERS: Deputy Labor Leader and Shadow Education Minister, Tanya Plibersek, thanks for joining us this afternoon.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks, David.