29 August 2019




SUBJECTS: NAPLAN results; NSW ICAC; Labor's achievements; Welfare cards.

PETER STEFANOVIC, PRESENTER: After the release of the NAPLAN results yesterday, and joining me to discuss is Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek. Tanya good morning to you, thanks very much for joining us. So we had the Education Minister, Dan Tehan, on the show yesterday and he talked about a need to make, I suppose, principals more autocratic - or have more autonomy rather - and to be able to allow to parents to be more engaged in councils in schools. Is that something that you support?

TANYA PLIBERSEK MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Well absolutely and these are policies that we were doing when we were last in government and sadly, of course, these reforms were just junked by the incoming Liberal government, they were called red tape. We said at the time that school principals, if they're being held accountable for results in schools, need more say over staffing in that school, the way that resources are allocated, whether they need particular specialist teachers coming in, whether they need people who are experts at getting kids reading, doing their maths basics, their foundational skills, of course teachers and principals should have more say about this. And we know that kids do better when parents are engaged. But I think it's a bit rich really for the Federal Education Minister to be talking about this stuff when over the whole course of the six years of the Liberal Government we've seen results continue to slide. There's been no turn around in the way kids are managing with the basics. We're seeing, not just in NAPLAN but in other international tests like PISA and TIMSS, the results continue to slide. And it's really for three reasons: it's about funding, its about teaching - who we're attracting into the profession and they way we're supporting teachers in schools, we're asking them constantly to do more with less, and it's about using evidence of what works. Some schools are doing great. Why aren't we spreading that best practice to every school?

STEFANOVIC: Well just to bring up your point there about funding, I mean to be fair, the government has increased the amount of funding to record levels, an increase of about $20 billion. So is your criticism against that amount or against how that amount is used?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's ridiculous to talk about record funding levels when we've also got record numbers of kids in schools. We've record high energy prices that schools are paying. What we know for certain is that this government is spending billions of dollars less than was committed to our schools, to our kids. When the Liberals came in they said they wouldn't cut a dollar from school funding. They cut billions. More recently, they've restored some of that funding to Catholic and independent schools but public schools are still going begging. And anyway, there's a common sense test here.

STEFANOVIC: Well what about ...

PLIBERSEK:No let me just finish this. There is a reason, that every weekend parents are out at sausage sizzles, at cake stalls, doing chocolate runs, doing walk-a-thons and run-a-thons and all sorts of fundraising because they know that money matters in their schools and they know their school doesn't have enough.

STEFANOVIC: Adrian Piccoli this morning, from Gonski, says that the NAPLAN tests for Year 9 students should be completely scrapped because they don't pay attention anyway. Is that a bit too radical? What do you think about that?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think after ten years of NAPLAN it is time to have a look at whether it's still fit for purpose, whether we're still testing the right things, whether we're doing the right things with the results we get, whether the online testing has worked, could it work better, I mean there's a whole range of things that we could examine, including whether Year 9 is the right time to be testing. But fundamentally I very firmly believe that we do need a test to tell us whether our system is working for our kids, whether they are getting the basics. We need a test that tells us whether that's happening right across Australia and I would be very worried about anything that really reduced transparency. We want our kids to be getting the basics because we want them to have a rich learning experience for the rest of their lives but if they can't read, they can't write, they can't do maths, it's pretty hard to do those more sophisticated subjects that we want to offer them later in life.

STEFANOVIC: Do you at least applaud the work the government is doing when it comes to universities, announcing plans to crack down or to be able to establish red lines when it comes to research between foreign students and our local students here, as well as working against the hacking of computer systems?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it is important that any large organisation like a university have strong security systems in place - cyber security, protection of intellectual property, protection for the personal information of their students and staff, and so on. If there are examples where universities could be doing more with our security agencies, of course we support that in a bipartisan way. What universities are telling me is that they are pretty on top of these issues and so, we're happy to support the government but I think it's really up to the government to show what more needs to be done in this area.

STEFANOVIC: Tanya Plibersek, I know you have to go - you got to take your kids to school, but I just want to get your thoughts on the big story out of New South Wales and involves the New South Wales Labor Party. I know you'd be restricted about what you can say given an investigation is taking place but I am wondering what your thoughts are when it comes to the damage to the Labor brand at the moment. How concerned are you about that?

PLIBERSEK: Well I am concerned about the damage to democracy and people's view about politics all together. I mean, Labor's before the ICAC at the moment. It wasn't so long ago that the Liberal's lost, I think it was 10 State MPs - either had to resign or move to the crossbench - so sadly this is something that has affected political parties across the board. It's the reason I am such a strong supporter of the New South Wales ICAC. It's the reason I am a strong supporter of a Federal ICAC with real teeth. People have to be able to have faith in our democracy. They have to know that if poor behaviour happens that people will be caught. It is also the reason, incidentally, that I am a supporter of much stronger disclosure laws around donations. We should have lower disclosure thresholds, so you have to disclose smaller amounts of money, that should happen sooner, not months and months after an election has happened. And I think we also need to have a look at things like spending caps on election campaigns because while this advertising arms race continues, while you've got people like Clive Palmer spending $60, 70, 80 million on advertising, I think we are going to have problems in our system.

STEFANOVIC: But, it has been a bad few years - there has been two State Leaders resign, a Senator quit, two Party Secretaries hit the fence, several MPs found to be corrupt and jailed, officials, union leaders disgraced. I mean, you've got the whole John Setka situation going on as well. I mean, what sort of a time is this to be involved in the Labor Party? I mean, is there an embarrassment that is associated with it?

PLIBERSEK: Well no, I am always proud to be a member of the Labor Party. It's the Labor Party that always delivered for Australia - great economic reforms and great social reforms. If you look at the most important economic reforms of my lifetime - opening up our economy to the world, floating the dollar, getting rid of tariffs - these are all things that Labor has done. Introducing Medicare, the National Disability Insurance Scheme - as far back as you go, it's always Labor that has had the big policies and the big ideas. The fact that we have got a few bad apples and that other parties also do, is something that we need to tackle. We need to face that, and that is why I support strong integrity organisations like the New South Wales ICAC and it is why we should have a much stronger Federal integrity commission than is being proposed by the Liberals at the moment. People need to have faith in our democratic institutions.

STEFANOVIC: And just finally, do you support the roll out of welfare cards nationally?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think the government still has a long way to go before they prove that this is a useful program. The Australian National Audit Office was scathing about this program. It cost $160 million dollars and hasn't created a single job in the communities that it's set out to help. I think it is important that we continue create real jobs in remote communities and that we continue to support people to look after their children and the families in the best and most responsible way. But we know that where this card has worked - it's worked because the communities wanted it and I think a national roll out would be a very expensive way of potentially creating no real jobs in communities at all.

STEFANOVIC: All right, Tanya Plibersek appreciate your time this morning. Thank you for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: It's always a pleasure.