Death of Bob Such; The Abbott Government’s $80 billion cut to schools and hospitals; National Curriculum

TRANSCRIPT DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: I might just begin if I can by making a couple of brief remarks about the death of Bob Such over the weekend. Bob Such has been an extraordinary South Australian and he has made a huge contribution to our community and to the South Australian Parliament, and I wanted to pass on all of my thoughts and sympathies to his family. Bob Such was an incredibly decent man, an honest and hardworking man. Our community and our state is a better place because of his contribution and I think that as parliamentarians we can all take a leaf or two out of the book of Bob Such representing his community, working tirelessly day-in and day-out and acting with integrity at all times. It was incredibly sad news to learn of his passing.

On to other news today, of course Labor welcomes the release of the review into the national curriculum. We note that the recommendations, many of them are positive, many of them are very obvious, and many of them are already under way at the moment, while some are questionable.

But what we would say is that whilst Christopher Pyne has cut almost a quarter of the authority that oversees the curriculum's budget over the next four years, tinkering with the national curriculum is not going to achieve any improvements in schools.

This is a Government that is big on talk, but when you look at their actions, their actions when it comes to schools, consist of breaking promises and slashing budgets. It is ridiculous to think that the authority charged with overseeing our curriculum can make any improvements, can undertake any of the work recommended in this report, when they are having their budget slashed by almost $20 million over the next four years.

If this Government was serious about the curriculum, then they would reverse that decision immediately, rather than commissioning fancy reports, and standing up doing press conferences. There is a very clear way that they can show whether they are serious or not.

The other thing is that of course, if we want to improve our schools, and everybody should be striving towards that goal, then we need to recognise that we can play around with the curriculum all we want - but whilst every school, every principal and every teacher is now faced with the uncertainty that's been caused by the biggest ever cut to school funding announced in this year's Budget, then any of this will amount to nothing more than talk.

Christopher Pyne needs to actually stand up and say that he will reverse these school funding cuts. He will reverse the cuts to the authority that oversees the curriculum, if he was at all serious about wanting to improve school results.

JOURNALIST: Christopher Pyne says his government has put in $1.2 billion that Labor cut and increasing 8 per cent, 8 per cent and 4 per cent.

ELLIS: I have seen Christopher Pyne say that black is white on many occasions. The simple facts are he cannot deny that a quarter of the Budget going to the authority overseeing the national curriculum has been slashed by his Government and he cannot deny that we were surprised when we saw the Budget this year announce $80 billion in cuts to schools and hospitals. From 2018, every school in Australia is faced with the biggest funding cut in this nation's history. So any talk about tinkering with the curriculum is meaningless, faced with such a huge axe being taken to every single school budget.

JOURNALIST: What did you find most concerning about the findings today?

ELLIS: Look, I found that many of the findings were pretty straightforward. A lot of the findings were things that were actually already happening. I think there were some questionable findings: around turning the authority that oversees the curriculum into a private company. But obviously, this was a big report, it ran into almost 300 pages, so we will be looking through the detail of this report. We do know that of course everybody wants to see our school curriculum and our school results improve.

We are incredibly proud that it was a Labor Government after decades of talking that got the job done of delivering a national curriculum. And we will work productively with the Government to ensure that we continue to improve on that curriculum. But what we will not do is support the Government talking rubbish, tinkering with the curriculum, at the same time as they are slashing every school's budget. That doesn't make any sense, and it's not going to benefit a single student in Australia.

JOURNALIST: What do you think of the assertion that the school curricula are overcrowded and need decluttering? That's one of the observations in in the report.

ELLIS: I think it has been feedback from many people in education circles, that we need to look at ensuring that there isn't overcrowding, particularly at a primary school level. This is something that has been feedback that's been coming for a long time, and I think it's sensible that we look at ways that we can constantly improve the implementation of the national curriculum. I think it's very sensible and I know that parents want us to be focusing on the basics and making sure that we have consistency across schools and across jurisdictions. And I would note that the review overwhelmingly has found that we have a good national curriculum, that it is performing well. But we shouldn't be afraid to look at improvements constantly.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe the Minister when he says this is not about politics or ideology?

ELLIS: Look, I think that this Minister is constantly all about distraction. This is a Minister that likes playing - 'look over here, I have a shiny new curriculum review' - rather than looking at the biggest cuts to school funding in the nation's history. We see this constantly from Christopher Pyne. It is a game of distraction, and today is no different.

JOURNALIST: In terms of curriculum and teaching, that this review hasn't been done to drive a certain ideological point of view?

ELLIS: I think that we saw some ludicrous statements early on about this review. And we heard some really extreme statements from one of the authors of this review. But it seems that they've been pulled back into line across the way. We know that there have been experts on board and that a huge number of people with a genuine concern for the well-being of our schools and our students have contributed to this process. So we take that in good faith. We want to act constructively with the Government and we are absolutely the party that is interested in reforming our schools and making sure that our students have every chance to succeed on an international level. So we look at the positives in these recommendations, and we'll work productively to see that they're achieved.

JOURNALIST: Topics such as Australia's connection with Asia and Indigenous studies, those sorts of subject material, do you agree that that should be condensed down to its own subject matter? And not filtered through other subject headings as well?

ELLIS: I found he recommendations around this to say that we should maintain the current themes which run throughout the national curriculum - I think it's just common sense that these should only be applied where it's appropriate. And obviously, they cannot always be applied when you're talking about maths or pure science subjects. That is just common sense. It's always been the way that it has been to this point in the national curriculum, and it should continue that way.

JOURNALIST: There is a proposition that successive governments tend to, one way or another, imbue curriculums, a national curriculum,  with their own agenda, and there’s a need to put an end to this. Do you think that can be done away with?

ELLIS: I don't think that anyone wants politics into the classrooms across Australia. What we have seen is that we've always had an independent body which has been overseeing the national curriculum. And it has been left in the hands of experts. That's where it should remain. We were very concerned when the Federal Government announced unilaterally this review with their hand-picked reviewers, without consulting with any of the sector. Or indeed, the States and Territories who actually run our schools. And what we have seen is a recommendation that we shouldn't see politics enter the classroom. I'm really proud to say that the national curriculum has not had politics played with it previously. It has been an independent process and it should always remain that.

ENDS