28 August 2019




SUBJECTS: NAPLAN results; NSW ICAC; Yang Hengjun; universities: MP safety.

TANYA PLIBERSEK MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Well the results we've had of the NAPLAN tests today show that this Government has failed to reverse the concerning trends we've seen in recent years of declines in the basics - in reading, writing, maths and science. These NAPLAN results reflect other tests that we've seen PISA, in TIMSS, international tests that our students take part in. This concerning failure to reverse the declining trends in education in Australia come because this Government has cut funding to our schools. It's asked our hard working teachers to do more with less. It's presided over falling standards to get into teaching courses in university and it's junked as red tape plans to improve our schools by using the evidence of what works in classrooms to best teach the basics. We continue to see from this Government a complete failure to address the problems in our schools. We see a Government that has cut billions from schools, cut billions from TAFE and universities and is reducing the opportunity that our school students have to go on to a successful job because they are cutting funding to TAFE and universities as well as schools. Dan Tehan's going to be at the National Press Club today. He needs to answer what his Government will do to reverse the declining standards in our schools. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Broadly speaking, Labor thinks that more money gets better results. We've seen a record amount of spending on schools. Why isn't that translating to better results?

PLIBERSEK: Well this Government has cut billions from our schools. When Labor was last in government we had a commitment to increase funding to states and territories. This Government's turned its back on billions of dollars less going to our schools than was promised to state governments, to schools, to parents, to students. We saw in the early years of needs-based funding substantial improvements in results - schools taking on extra literacy teachers for example that were focusing on improving literacy results in the classroom, working one-on-one with students, identifying students who have fallen behind earlier and making sure that they got the individual help they needed to catch up. This Government claims that funding is going up all the time. Well student numbers are going up all the time, inflation is going up all the time. What we know is that billions less is being spent in our schools than was promised to those schools, to those students. Parents know that funding makes a difference. There is a reason that this weekend parents will be at the Bunning's sausage sizzle trying to raise money for their school. There is a reason that in Book Week, that's just passed, parents were asked to donate extra money to their school to buy resources for the school library. Parents know that extra funding makes a difference and the fact that this Government has cut billions from needs-based funding in our schools is reflected in the results. But it's not the only thing that matters. When Labor was last in government we had a plan for school reform that would mean highly skilled professional teachers were paid extra to stay in the classroom, to mentor other teachers, to make sure that they were passing on their skills in teaching the basics. We had a plan to use more evidence in our schools, evidence of what's working to improve results in some classrooms being spread to all classrooms across Australia. So funding matters; teaching standards matter; attracting the best and brightest into teaching matters; keeping them in the classroom once they're there matters; using evidence of what works matters. All of this matters and this Federal Government's doing none of it. When they came into government all of these plans for school improvements were junked. They were described as red tape by the-then Education Minister Christopher Pyne. And six years later - the result of this neglect? Our standards continue to fall, not just in NAPLAN but in international tests like PISA and TIMSS. The decline continues.

JOURNALIST: Dan Tehan seems to be saying that it's the problem of the States and Territories, is that just passing the buck?

PLIBERSEK: Well, isn't it convenient for the Federal Education Minister to say the Federal Government has no responsibility here. Of course the Federal Government has a responsibility here. Dan Tehan's at the Press Club today - he can explain what role he plans to take in improving standards in our schools. The Federal government clearly has a responsibility in making sure that we're attracting the best and brightest into teaching courses at university, that we reverse the trend in declining entry standards for teaching degrees at university. The Federal Government clearly has a responsibility when it comes to funding our schools and we've seen billions cut from Federal funding of schools, that was promised to state governments. And the Federal Government clearly has a responsibility in using the evidence of what works in the classroom and spreading that good practice throughout classrooms across Australia. We had plans to do all of that. This Federal Government has turned its back on all those reforms.

JOURNALIST: Are you worried that the ICAC inquiry into NSW Labor will damage Federal Labor's brand?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I'm very supportive of both the NSW ICAC and indeed, having a strong ICAC with real teeth at the Federal level. I think it's vital for people's trust in democracy and in our democratic institutions that when allegations like this are made, that they are properly investigated and that there's a very strong message that comes out of this - that no one, no one person, no one party - is above the law.

JOURNALIST: Where do you stand on Kaila Murnain? Should she quit her job?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's very important to let these processes take their course and I am not going to make comments about matters that are before the ICAC while they are still before the ICAC. The important general comment I would make is no one is above the law, no political party is above the law and we are lucky in Australia to have strong independent, anti-corruption institutions in many of states and it is beyond time that we had a strong institution, with real teeth, at the Federal level. I have consistently been a supporter of a Federal ICAC. I have consistently supported stronger disclosure laws for political donations. We should have a lower disclosure threshold, we should have something much closer to real-time disclosure than leaving months between when donations are made and when they are publicly reported, particularly right before election campaigns. Sometimes you don't see the disclosures until after the campaign is finished. So in general terms, I have to say that having these institutions, a place where allegations can be properly aired and investigated, is important and it's important to the confidence people have in our democracy.

JOURNALIST: China is clearly sending us a message to back off in the case of the Australian writer (inaudible)?

PLIBERSEK: I think it is very important that we leave diplomatic representations to the government at this time. Of course, we support the Government's efforts to make sure that the rights and safety of Australians that are overseas are protected.

JOURNALIST: What's the likelihood (inaudible)?

PLIBERSEK: I'm sorry, I didn't hear the question, could you say it again?

JOURNALIST: Sure, What's the likelihood (inaudible)?

PLIBERSEK: I am really not going to make any further comments on this issue. I think it's important that the Government have the opportunity of dealing with this in a diplomatic way.

JOURNALIST: Just on that, shouldn't the Foreign Minister be on the first plane to Beijing to sort this out?

PLIBERSEK: I am not going to make comments while these discussions are happening. It is very important have the opportunity to make diplomatic representations in the usual way, and Labor supports the Government in making diplomatic representations in the usual way.

JOURNALIST: Are Australian universities too reliant on Chinese students?

PLIBERSEK: I think it is very important that universities that have seen billions of dollars cut from their funding don't come to rely on foreign students as a way of making up those billions of dollars of funding cuts and that having a number of foreign students from a number of different countries is very important. Having international education as a significant part of our university sector is a good thing because Australian students benefit from their interaction with students from other countries. It means that we have a broader world view in our universities. This is one of our largest export industries today and we, of course, establish relationships that last for many years. I meet leaders across our regions all the time who look back very fondly on their years in Australia. But when it comes to university finances, making sure that the sources of revenue for the university are diversified is important as well.

JOURNALIST: Is the government's proposal to establish a university foreign interference task force something Labor will support?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think it's important universities work with the Government to make sure that their communications, that their intellectual property is well protected and we're happy to work with the Government when they give us further details about this. And I think it's perfectly appropriate for the universities to work with the Government on issues like this.

JOURNALIST: Is Labor supportive of the survey on freedom of expression?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I mean this really is a solution looking for a problem, isn't it? When I walk down the street, I've got to say, parents and students are not stopping me in the street to talk about the lack of academic freedom in our universities. What they're stopping me in the street to talk about is the $3 billion cut from TAFE and training which means we've got 150,000 fewer apprentices, and the billions of dollars cut from our universities that mean 200,000 Australian students will miss out on a university degree. Students are stopping me in the street to say that they can feel the pressure in their universities with funding declines effecting the quality of education that they're getting. The report into academic freedoms in our universities clearly found that this is not a problem in our universities and so I really do think this is an effort by the Morrison Government to distract from the billions cut from our universities. I mean, truly, it's a solution looking for a problem.

PLIBERSEK: What sort of research (inaudible) into special protection as part of the inquiry into the interference taskforce?

PLIBERSEK: Look we'll have a look at the what the Government is proposing. I'm not going to start making assumptions about what this taskforce will look at, but we need to make sure that important research is being undertaken in our universities, that Australia, that the universities' concerned continue to have oversight of the intellectual property that's being developed there.

JOURNALIST: The AFP has had an increase in reports of threats made against politicians. Are you concerned that the aggressive tone of political debate can lead to violent incidents, and have you ever feared for your safety?

PLIBERSEK: Look I'm not fearful for my own safety but I would say that the aggressive tone about political debate in Australia, the greater polarisation of our debate, does concern me. I think it's becoming much harder to have a civil debate. It's becoming much harder to agree constructively in our political discourse at the moment, and so I would say to anybody who's got an interest in politics today, by all means, put your case strongly. By all means, challenge the ideas of people that you disagree with, but lets do it in way that's civil. I think it's very important to people's feeling of being able to participate in our democracy that the debates we undertake are done so in a civil and constructive way. Otherwise people are turned off. They don't want to participate in democracy because they think it is too aggressive. They don't want to live their lives that way. For the benefit of us all, and for the benefit of our democracy itself, let's learn to disagree better.

Thanks everyone.