03 December 2019




SUBJECTS: Australias reading,maths, and science scores plummet;Jacqui Lambie; Ensuring Integrity bill.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Good morning everyone. We've seen alarming results overnight, showing that Australian students' reading, maths and science have got the lowest results since testing began. Of course this is alarming, because if our students don't have the basics it means that their education is compromised. We know that kids who can't read, write, do maths and science, are never going to get a great education and when you lock people out of an education, you're locking them out of a job. This alarming slide in results has been coming for some time and it is because the Government has turned its back on improving our schools and turned its back on properly funding our schools. What we need to turn these results around is a focus on the basics. We need to make sure our kids have got the basics. We need to get our best and brightest to go into teaching and we need to properly fund our schools. Now, parents this weekend will be out doing cake stalls and barbeques and so on, raising money for their local school. They know that funding is important. But funding is only one of the elements here. We need to make sure that, like other high-performing countries, we are attracting our best and brightest into teaching degrees at university. High-performing countries generally take their teachers from the top 30 per cent of academic achievers in that country and what's more, they show teachers respect. The role of the teacher is valued in the community. And when it comes to reform, when Labor was last in Government we laid out a whole set of improvements that needed to happen in our classrooms, including for example, really focusing on reading for those kindy to Year 3 kids to make sure that no child leaves Year 3 not able to read. When the Liberals came in they turned their backs on those reforms, saying they were just 'red tape'. Well, you see the results of that now. I hear the Education Minister this morning trying to blame the states and territories for these poor results. This is a national problem, it is happening in every state and territory, it is happening in every school system. This national problem needs a national solution and it needs national leadership, and a Minister that will actually take some responsibility for these appalling results. These are the worst results since these tests began. Our kids are falling behind by a year - up to three years - against the highest performing countries. That's just not acceptable. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: The Education Minister this morning said when Ministers next gather, he wants them to leave the teachers union talking points at home. Is that the kind of language that you want to be hearing heading into a discussion about the future of Australian education?

PLIBERSEK: Well, what a ridiculous thing to say. Teachers are the first who want good results for their kids. The teachers are the ones who are saying they want properly funded schools. The teachers are the ones that are saying they want a national government that is as committed to their students education as they are. It is very convenient, isn't it, for the Federal Education Minister to look around to try to blame the states for this. But as I say, every state and territory and every school system is seeing these declines. This is a national problem that requires national leadership and the Minister should take responsibility instead of seeking to blame others.

JOURNALIST:This decline has been going on for two decades - that covers both Coalition and Labor Governments. What's been going wrong for two decades that neither party has been able to progress?

PLIBERSEK: When Labor was in Government, we recognised that we needed to re-double our efforts to make sure that our kids got the basics. That they knew how to read, write, do maths and science. That's why we asked David Gonski to do a full review of what a really great school education costs and we committed to funding that. Then the Liberals turned their back on that by cutting billions from our schools. But Labor didn't just commit to extra funding. We also committed to school improvement. We had plans, like making sure we invest in those early years of literacy, making sure that we keep our high performing teachers in the classroom, making sure that student teacher pracs were more useful to those beginning teachers. We had a whole series of improvements to turn these results around and we saw those early improvements. Eagleby State School in Queensland invested in extra literacy teachers and they raised the standards of reading in their school. There are so many examples around Australia where the early extra funding made a difference. And then the Liberals came in and they junked all of that, they turned their backs on it. We've had no school improvement for years, we've had funding cuts for years and then they scratch their head and see why we've got the worst results since testing began.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned before attracting higher quality, we need to attract our top academic performers into the teaching profession. Is it uncomfortable for politicians to have a conversation about teacher quality in Australia?

PLIBERSEK: No, not at all. What we see is, year after year, universities are dropping entry standards into teaching degrees. That is something that the Federal Government can directly affect. The Federal Government can say to universities - stop it. We need to keep attracting out best and brightest into teaching and universities need to be part of that conversation. Labor said before the last election that we were prepared to make sure that universities attracted the highest calibre candidates into teaching degrees. So we need to work with the universities to make sure we are attracting our best and brightest into teaching degrees, but then we also need to make sure our experienced teachers stay in the classroom. Too many of them leave to go into education bureaucracy or completely into other jobs. We need to keep those experienced teachers in the classroom doing what they do best. Part of that is about pay and conditions, part of it is about the respect that the teaching profession deserves. We've got too many parents, who when their kids get in trouble from the teacher at school because they're not doing what they should be, mum and dad are on the phone saying 'Why are you bothering my kid? Why are you on their case?' We need to, as a society, as a community, value and respect and back the role of teachers.

JOURNALIST: Jacqui Lambie last night stood up in the Senate and gave a very strong speech on China's role within Australia, the Australia-China relationship, saying that the Australian Government is mismanaging that relationship and not properly recognising the risk that China poses from a foreign interference perspective. What do you make of that? Does she have a point, should be taking this more seriously?

PLIBERSEK: Look I'd certainly say that the Government has not laid out a clear or sensible way of making sure that we can both keep a good trading relationship with China, our major trading partner, and make sure that we are continuing to speak up about our own democratic values and support for human rights. I think the Government is pretty much all at sea on this. When it comes to foreign interference, the most important thing for us to do is listen to and heed the advice of our security agencies. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Just one last one on ensuring integrity? So the Government is going to reintroduce the Ensuring Integrity bill into the House today. Is it pointless?

PLIBERSEK: Well I certainly hope it's pointless. I mean, this legislation was defeated. The Government should accept that working people organising to lift their pay and conditions is something that has made Australia the country that it is. When you look back to all the battles that have been fought over the years for things like the eight hour day, holiday pay, maternity leave - these battles would not have been won without the Australian union movement. And the Government, its first step is attacking the union movement. That's part of its plan, its stated plan, to keep wages low in this country. We had the Finance Minister who belled the cat on this, the Finance Minister himself said that low wages growth was a deliberate part of this Government's economic policy. Well if you want low wages growth, the best way to do that is to make sure you get rid of the union movement in this country. Thank you.