By Tanya Plibersek

21 August 2020



SUBJECT: COVID-19; State borders; Teaching qualifications.
ALAN JONES, HOST Let's go to the panel. See if they've got any answers to these utterly demoralising circumstances. Amanda Stoker, the talented Liberal Senator from Queensland, intellectually strong, and the former Deputy Leader of the Federal Labor Party, Tanya Plibersek. She would have been Deputy Prime Minister had they won the last election. She took me on last week over my comments on the government responses to the coronavirus which prompted a lot of correspondence, but I thought it was good stuff and we both agreed off-air, nothing wrong with disagreement if it's civilised and offers a responsible exchange of views. So look, to you both, Tanya to you first. You've heard that story, the borders. What on Earth can be done?
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Well, Alan, it just, you know, those suggestions of freighting hay via capital cities and air freighting it on and two weeks quarantine, of course that doesn't make any sense. Of course we need to find ways of getting these vital supplies across borders. 
JONES: If you are the Deputy Prime Minister, if you're the Deputy Prime Minister today, you know, and your Prime Minister was saying "Open the borders" and the states were in defiance and unconstitutional. What would you do?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I'd be trying to work with the states and territories because I think the Premiers are doing their very best to keep their population safe. But we need to find practical ways of working in this new time. 
JONES: Awful.
PLIBERSEK: It is. We are going to be like this for a while. This illness is going to be around for a while. So we're going to have to find practical ways -
JONES: Well, you and I disagree here, but I can tell you, and I know Tanya you don't have time to watch the program, I have quoted expert after expert from around the world who say these strategies aren't correct. But that's for a debate for another day. Amanda -
PLIBERSEK: We don't want to be 170,000 people dead like the United States. 
JONES: - and we don't need intelligent people like you alarming people and frightening them Tanya. Could I come to you Amanda? 
PLIBERSEK: Look overseas. I'm not doing the alarming. What's alarming is what's happening, Alan.
JONES: We're an island, we're an island continent, Tanya, an island continent, but I'm telling you, you read Professor Donald Henderson and I'll send you the paper and he says none of these strategies bear any relationship to what is necessary to handle a pandemic or an epidemic and I've shared those views with these listeners. If I could come to you Amanda, you've got these people - Palaszczuk, Andrews, and McGowan in WA, Gunner in the Northern Territory, all Labor. Marshall is Liberal. Do we rip up the Constitution? I mean, I asked you last week if a Liberal government in power is not prepared to defend the Constitution, what are they prepared to defend?
AMANDA STOKER, SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Well the words of the Constitution in section 92 are pretty clear and it says that intercourse among the states shall be absolutely free. Now that does have some limitations as allowance for reasonable regulation and permissible burdens for certain circumstances. But you know, there's a real argument that we need to have maximum, particularly economic freedom here, and so I'll be really interested to see what the High Court's got to say. But there is a real concern here that the erosion of civil liberties that the very co-operative Australian people have accommodated over recent weeks and months, must not lead to a permanent erosion of those liberties because I know for one I'll be watching carefully. 
JONES: Well done. Tanya, I think education is country is in dire straits. We could be here all night. Increasingly kids are being asked to teach themselves as no commitment to spelling or punctuation or syntax. I mean, most teachers let alone kids wouldn't know what syntax was. Bright children tell me there's virtually no teaching about history and geography, at best limited study of great writers and good poets. They can't recite a verse of poetry. They might have been to school but it's not education. Now you have said as the Shadow Minister, and I commended you for this some months ago, you would restrict entry to teaching degrees to the top 30 per cent. Now in New South Wales, the Berejiklian Government has borrowed your policy, but even the top 30 per cent, Tanya, can't spell, punctuate, know little of history or geography. Is the problem not the qualification of the teacher, but what in fact they are teaching?
PLIBERSEK: Well Alan, I think we absolutely need to be aiming to attract the best and brightest into teaching. We also need to keep our highly experienced teachers in the classroom. I hear too many stories of people leaving. They say that the bureaucracy is sort of wearing them down and driving them of teaching, and as parents we need to respect and value teachers and support the good ones. But as for attracting the best and brightest, we need to make sure that people can read and write and do maths before they get into a teaching degree. We're actually teaching -
JONES: That's right. One hundred per cent. 
PLIBERSEK: We're testing people at the end of a three year degree and then finding that about 10 per cent of them don't pass after they've spent all this time and all this money getting a qualifications.
JONES: Quite. See Tanya, yeah sorry.
PLIBERSEK: So we should be. No, well I was just going to say we need to be attracting the best and brightest. We need to have a high cut off to get into university and then we need to make sure that we're doing good practical education. 
JONES: There's another point though isn't it, I mean you and Amanda and I,  neither of us grew up with a silver spoon in our mouth and Amanda, I mean you have got  brilliant qualifications. You went to a public school and your success related to what you were being taught, to the syllabus. I mean, what have we got to do to try and turn this around? 
STOKER: I was privileged to have teachers who really wanted to teach us how to think and I thought that was absolutely riveting as a young person, but in the first year and a half in this role, I fought relentlessly to have a full review of what goes on in our school curriculum because there's too much fluff. There's too much politics being pushed and not enough deep understanding of the fundamentals of reading, writing and maths. Now we went to an election committing to deliver that. We have implemented that review. The industry bodies have had agreed to go ahead with it. That's true, the states have to deliver it, but we need to acknowledge two things here: one, that the problems we see now are the hangovers of poor teaching that's occurred over, let's say the last two decades, the changes that have been brought in by this government that are about improving teacher training and quality and making sure that they pass the test before they go into the classroom -
JONES: Well quite but -
STOEKER: Will have dividends over the next ten, over the next ten years, but finally, to simply raise the ATAR is only looking at a tiny piece of the picture. Over 80 per cent of people who go into teaching degrees don't go in with an ATAR. They use other paths.
JONES: Well, that's when I come to Tanya. Tanya, I was just doing a bit of homework today on your cut-off point, top 30 per cent. Now you can get into Macquarie University with a ATAR of 65, Canberra 51, Griffith 62.4, the Catholic University 66, Charles Sturt 58, Newcastle 58, La Trobe 60, Wollongong 64, I mean, these are not academic high flyers are they? They don't meet your criteria?
PLIBERSEK: Yeah. Look Amanda is right in saying it's not only about ATAR but it does trouble me that the mark to get into teaching keeps falling and falling. 
PLIBERSEK: I want young people to be competing to get into a teaching course the way they compete to get into medicine or law and I want their parents boasting about the fact that their child is studying teaching because they're going to make a big difference to people's lives. Instead, now what I hear is the parents or even the teachers of really bright kids saying "Don't waste that high mark on teaching"  and I think that's a tragedy because teachers, Amanda just said it, you said it Alan, teachers change lives. 
JONES: Yes you're right. To both of you, we desperately need you to put a stake in the ground here. I mean, it's extraordinary with the money we spend, and in reading, maths and science, we are not in the top 20 in the world. What is all this money? Yeah. 
PLIBERSEK: Alan, we used to be the top 5 and we've gone backwards year after year after year, and we now, we're on track actually in maths to be in the bottom 5 of the developed countries the way we're going at the moment and it really troubles me. You have to get the basics, particularly before kids turn 8. If we can make sure that their reading, writing, that they've got basic maths by the time they're 8, they're on track to do well at school so we really need to invest in those early years in particular. 
JONES: The trouble is, Tanya and Amanda, and we've got to go, we still haven't got on to that point of unemployment that I promised Tanya we'd talk about, we're going to have to leave that 'til next week. But I just want to say this. I mean, the people in the classroom - and I'm not blaming them. They are a product of the kind of system that we're now trying to turn around. So this stuff is ingrained and the problems, the deficiencies are perpetuated. But listen, we depend on you. We're relying on you, as they say, so thank you for your time tonight. Good to talk to you and talk to you next week. Tanya Plibersek and Amanda Stoker.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you.