SUBJECTS: Barnaby Joyce; Government division; Labor’s Evidence Institute for Schools.

KIERAN GILBERT, PRESENTER: Now to Labor, and I mentioned I spoke to Tanya Plibersek earlier this morning. They’re announcing today a new Education Institute to boost teacher quality and standards. It’s an interesting proposal. We’ll talk about that, but, I began by asking her, “Should Labor do something similar to what the Prime Minister announced in terms of the ministerial guidelines for the Shadow Ministry?


TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Honestly, I think if common sense and common decency don’t tell you that sleeping with your staff is a problem, I’m not sure that these sorts of guidelines will make any difference at all. And, frankly, Julie Bishop last week, and the Prime Minister, were saying that this shouldn’t be done because it’s unenforceable. I don’t know what’s changed in a week other than Barnaby Joyce has become an even bigger embarrassment. I think, really, you need to remember that our criticism of Barnaby Joyce is not about his personal life, and we certainly don’t want to rake over that. I know this is an incredibly difficult time for everyone involved. Labor’s criticism is about the expenditure of taxpayer resources, the fact that Barnaby Joyce has received thousands of dollars of private benefit in the form of free accommodation from a guy that, we now find out, received thousands of dollars of public benefit from a department that Barnaby Joyce was in charge of. We’ve been concerned the whole way about the creation of new jobs for a particular person when those jobs apparently didn’t need to be done before there was a need to move a staff member around between different offices. And these are issues of the expenditure of taxpayer resources in a way that is clearly in conflict with the existing code of conduct that the Prime Minister is powerless to enforce.


GILBERT:  Yes. You’re focusing on that sort of, the expenditure and whether or not that’s all being declared. The Prime Minister, though, went further in terms of describing the behaviour as appalling. So, you know, the judgment went, from my assessment of things yesterday, went to the personal decisions made by Barnaby Joyce. So the strongest condemnation of the week of this behaviour came from Mr Turnbull himself.


PLIBERSEK: Well I think we need to be a little bit careful of that, to be honest. We’ve been consistent in saying personal matters should remain personal. But, if the Prime Minister does want to go there, then maybe someone ought to ask him whether he knew about these issues on 2nd December when he was up there saying what a fantastic thing that Barnaby Joyce had re-won his seat. I don’t understand why the Prime Minister is focusing on the personal nature of these things. They are sad, they are terrible, but the real issue here is the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister need to answer to the Australian public about is whether there has been any misuse of taxpayer resources. Those other issues are a matter for all of the parties to work out privately. They’re none of our business, frankly. What is the business of the Parliament and taxpayers is whether anything untoward has happened, whether the existing code of conduct has been broken. We say it has. We say there are clear instances of a conflict of interest, and the Prime Minister has been powerless to enforce the existing code of conduct. There is no point tinkering with the code of conduct if you are not prepared to enforce it.


GILBERT: So, would you argue for a similar code of conduct if you won the next election? Because we’ve seen those sorts of things put in place in the corporate world. Why not in the Parliament of Australia? I know you said its decency and that sort of thing, but not everyone lives by that.


PLIBERSEK:  I think it’s clear that, if people are having a relationship at work, things can become awkward for – between the people themselves – but for other members of staff. Most organisations have ways of dealing with that to avoid conflicts of interest. Cathy McGowan has made some suggestions. We can talk about all of that, but the issue that is before us right now is existing breaches of the Prime Ministerial code of conduct that the Prime Minister is too weak to enforce. So, changing the code of conduct doesn’t change the Prime Minister’s weakness, his inability to enforce what’s already there. We’ve got a government that is torn at the centre because the Prime Minister doesn’t have enough faith in the Deputy Prime Minister to leave him in charge. And one of the most basic responsibilities of the Deputy Prime Minister is to stand in when the Prime Minister is overseas. He can’t be trusted to do that, apparently. How can he remain the Deputy Prime Minister?


GILBERT: But he’s also not the leader of the Nationals, is he? This is an issue where the Prime Minister may be very critical of the behaviour of his Deputy, but he’s not in a position where he can sack him, because they’re not the same party, this is from…


PLIBERSEK: Well, really I don’t think…


GILBERT: This is a decision – it’s a gift of the National Party room.


PLIBERSEK: But, do you think voters will cop that? I mean, the Prime Minister is the leader of the government -


GILBERT: It’s true.


PLIBERSEK:  - a Coalition government. His moral authority, his ability to run a government that can focus on the things that matter – jobs, health, education, protecting our nation – is compromised because he doesn’t have a Deputy that he can rely on. I think it’s up to the Prime Minister to fix that.


GILBERT: Let’s turn our attention to this announcement today that you’re making in relation to an Institute of Evidence for schooling for teachers. Can you explain to our viewers what Labor is committing to here in basically, I guess, disseminating best practice to teachers?


PLIBERSEK: Yes, absolutely.  We’ve got some of the best schools and teachers in the world, but they are bombarded with all sorts of new research coming out all the time, for a start. But, secondly, all sorts of crazy ideological wars, people who have never spent a day in a classroom, telling teachers that they should be teaching this way or that way. Shock jocks, politicians, everybody has their opinion. What we want to say is we need to use the evidence about how to best teach kids. Keep the politics out of the classroom, use the evidence, but present it in a way that teachers can stay up to date easily, that they can apply best practice in their classrooms. We have seen great examples of this overseas. There’s a similar sort of body in the UK called the UK Education Endowment Fund, that’s been doing some terrific work that has really supercharged learning in classrooms by providing teachers with up to date resources and evidence for how they can best teach their kids. So, if you take the comparison with doctors. Doctors are being presented with new research all the time, but the time it takes to translate from the breakthrough in laboratory to the patient’s bedside is absolutely critical. Kids have limited time in schools.




PLIBERSEK: As we learn more about how they best learn in the classroom, we need to apply that as quickly and as widely as possible so that every kid is getting a great education. So we want to spend $17 billion more than the government in our schools over the next decade. We want to make sure every dollar is having the greatest impact on kids’ learning.


GILBERT: Yes. It makes sense, but, can you give us clarity on how this – you’ve referred to a UK comparison – or, the Institute that’s already in operation there – can you tell us how much this would cost and, where would you house this? Would it be as part of some university, some existing institution, where you would attach this sort of institute?


PLIBERSEK: We’ll have a competitive tender when we’re in government to see who runs it, but the critical thing is that it’s independent. That the priorities are not set by government but are set by teachers, principals, parents, asking the questions that matter. How much is too much homework? How do we best teach maths? What do we do if kids are falling behind in reading? What are the best interventions to help them catch up? The evidence institute has to be independent. It has to be driven by the questions that teachers and principals and parents are asking. The cost of it, we’ve set aside about $280 million over its first ten years of operation, and about $73 million in its first three years of operation. This is going to make a big difference in classrooms, because teachers will be assisted to do what they want to do: teach their kids in the best way possible.


GILBERT: Tanya Plibersek, I appreciate your time. Thanks, and talk to you soon.