The Abbott Government’s broken promise on submarines; corporatisation of schools; child protection in the national curriculum


ABRAHAM: Joining us in the studio is Kate Ellis, Labor MP for Adelaide. She is the Shadow Education Minister, welcome to the program.

ELLIS: Good morning. Thanks for having me.


ABRAHAM: Thank you for coming in. And Chris Pyne, Liberal MP for Sturt in South Australia. He’s the Education Minister. Chris Pyne, welcome to the studio.


PYNE: Good morning Matt and Dave and Kate.


ABRAHAM: Christopher Pyne what does it say about I suppose the pragmatic approach around the Abbott Cabinet table that it’s news when a South Australian Senator Sean Edwards, Liberal Senator, says that South Australia - he now believes, after helping chair this committee looking at our procurement policies including for submarines, he now believes that Adelaide should have a hat in the ring?


PYNE: Well of course South Australia will be the big winners by the National Government making a decision about how to build the next generation of submarines.


ABRAHAM:  I don’t think that was the question. The question was, what does it say about the pragmatic approach around the Abbott Table-


PYNE: – Well I’m not sure what question you mean.


ABRAHAM:  When, months down the track after – well what it means is, if you’ve got a Senator and it’s actual news that a Liberal senator from South Australia has to be involved in a committee process and hear evidence and then decide, yes I actually think Adelaide should build the next generation of submarines. Many people would say that should be a given if you’re from South Australia and you’re representing jobs in this state.


PYNE: Well I believe that South Australia should be the big winner from the new submarine contract and I believe that it will be.


ABRAHAM:  So you’re not going to answer that question?


PYNE: Well, I can’t reveal my conversation that I’ve had in Cabinet subcommittees and Cabinet meetings Matthew, and you know that, so I’m answering the question as best I can without breaching a Cabinet requirements and the requirements for the National Security Committee which I’ve been involved in as part of this project. The simple truth is, South Australia should be a big winner from the Government making a decision about the next generation of submarines. Labor had six years in which they could have made this decision. They cut $19.6b from defence to our lowest percentage of GDP since 1938, they put off the decision, and now they’re trying to be heroes for Osborne. They’re not in Government but I am, and as a South Australian I’m working to make sure that Osborne is secured for decades into the future. We can’t make a decision immediately, we can’t announce the decision, but we are going through the proper processes of government to ensure the decision is made so that taxpayers in Australia including South Australia get value for money, and that our defence needs are met for decades into the future.


ABRAHAM:  Kate Ellis, what also does it say about the politicisation of this process that one of the committee members is out the front with a megaphone addressing protestors or supporters of the sub project, and that’s Penny Wong. I mean you know, you’re meant to be sitting there, listening to all the evidence and taking submissions, she’s out there with a megaphone.


ELLIS: Well I actually think it’s the job of every South Australian Member of Parliament to stand up and fight for South Australia. We’re talking about thousands of jobs here. Now Christopher’s just said that he cannot make a decision and announce a decision on this, but let’s just remember that the Government did announce a decision on this in the lead up to the election when they promised that the next generation of submarines would be built in Adelaide.  They’re now refusing to repeat that promise and I think Christopher could at least answer very clearly today, does he agree with Sean Edwards that there should at least be an open tender where South Australia is able to even put the case?


BEVAN: Chris Pyne?


PYNE: Well I’m not going to answer questions from Kate Ellis but I will say this: the decision has to be the best decision for Australia’s defence needs.  As a South Australian, any submarine work that is done in Australia will obviously be done at Osborne because it’s where the Australian Submarine Corporation is based, as is the work on the Air Warfare Destroyers, an $8.5b project being done at Osborne.  I’m not going to be lectured by the Labor Party when they had six years to make this decision and they simply put it off and cut defence to the bone because it was an easy thing for them to do. But as a South Australian I’m absolutely determined to make sure that we secure Osborne into the future, that we secure and increase the jobs at Osborne and make a long-term investment there and we will make a much more responsible, methodical decision than Labor would ever had made, which they just put off every year when they were in Government.


BEVAN: So, to be quite clear, you can promise that more South Australians will be employed on the submarine construction than currently are employed?


PYNE: Well Tony Abbott has already indicated that is the case, whatever the decision from the submarine procurement for the next generation, there’ll be more jobs at Osborne and more work to be done at Osborne which means the people who are working there now will be employed and there’ll be more people to be employed there


ABRAHAM:  Over the same period as if we were going to build them here?


PYNE: Well that’s what the Prime Minister has already said; I think the –


ABRAHAM: The Prime Minister also said the submarines would be built here. Chris –


PYNE: Well, not as Prime Minister, he didn’t but –


ABRAHAM:  As Opposition leader in an election campaign.


PYNE: Well we we’re relying on the information provided to us by the Labor party at the time and quite frankly Labor didn’t make that decision Matthew.  Labor did not make a decision to build the submarines in South Australia in six years when they should have been making that decision. Five years ago they should have made that decision because we now have a capability gap because we have to build those submarines to replace the Collins Class in lickspittle time because Labor didn’t make a decision so I’m not going to be lectured to by the near hysteria of the Labor Party who, as usual, are playing politics rather than good policy. 


BEVAN: Kate Ellis, Chris Pyne did just repeat the promise that more people will be employed than are currently employed, so what’s the big deal?


ELLIS: Well unfortunately we’ve seen what Chris Pyne’s promises are worth.  We’ve seen the promises made before the election which have shown to be nothing more than lies.  Now, the big deal here is that we’re talking about $20 billion to our economy. We’re talking about thousands of jobs in South Australia. And I think it is a big deal that we have moved away from a time when we used to have, in the Howard Government, the South Australian MPs would stand up and put South Australia first, and I absolutely give Nick Minchin, Amanda Vanstone and others credit for doing that. Unfortunately Christopher Pyne is the most senior South Australian Liberal and he cannot repeat the promise that was made before the election, or indeed apologise to South Australians for promising something that has turned out to be yet another lie.


ABRAHAM: He says that’s based on your dodgy data, I suppose, and figures on that. But if the bottom line is, irrespective of where they’re built there’s going to be thousands more jobs, more jobs than are currently here on the project for the same period as if the subs were built here, well it’s a zero sum gain isn’t it?


ELLIS: Well, it is ridiculous to suggest that there will be as many jobs created here if subs are built overseas than there would be if they were built in Adelaide.  If Christopher can explain how that maths adds up then I think we’d all be very interested to hear it. That is pure rubbish.


ABRAHAM:  Now Chris Pyne, you’re the Federal Education Minister, we’ll move off defence procurement. You’re the Liberal MP for Sturt here on 891 ABC Adelaide Breakfast. The Federal Government is going to trial companies having a greater role in the school system, the Sydney Morning Herald reports, that could lead to technology and mining companies and even McDonalds being drafted in to bolster science, technology, engineering and maths education. Where are you taking us with this one?


PYNE: We announced yesterday that we’ll do a trial of a school called P-TECH which is a technical college in the United States. The Prime Minister visited a college like this in the Bronx in New York which was being run by IBM and it means a closer involvement of local employers, local businesses and particularly around science, mathematics, engineering and technology, to ensure that we are producing the students and future teachers who actually have a bent towards science, maths, technology and engineering.  We’re going to trial that in Geelong. It’s a $500,000 project. It’s not obviously turning a school over to a business –


ABRAHAM:  But, if it works –


PYNE: (inaudible) business more closely involved in the school so that people who emerge from that school have jobs to go to.


ABRAHAM:  If it’s a success, could you see the day, or is it the beginning of a shift, to have major corporations replace government funding as a major funding source of schools?


PYNE: No that will never happen. School funding increases every year under the Coalition by eight per cent and six per cent in the fourth year, and there’ll be never a time when, there isn’t even a suggestion –


BEVAN: Could we have McDonalds running home economics classes?


PYNE: No, but we could have McDonalds or IBM or BHP Billiton or Iluka or Santos or manufacturing businesses involved in their local schools, helping graduates to get jobs and to do the courses and the study that they need to do to be able to be involved in science and engineering and maths and technology and I think it would be a very good development.


ABRAHAM: and would you be equally comfortable with Greenpeace funding environmental courses in schools?


PYNE: If they were going to be part of the local business community, employing hundreds or thousands of workers then I don’t think it’s specific to mining companies, in fact if any companies that want to be involved in schools that produce science, engineering, maths, technology graduates, see we’re trying to get more STEM graduates, we’re not trying to have – that’s where we lack students, in the STEM subjects.  So it’s not a free for all for anybody who wants to get involved in school.  It’s a deliberate program to try and promote more science, technology, engineering and maths which we are lacking in Australia. 


ABRAHAM:  Would the money from major corporations though, be in addition to government funding?


PYNE:  Of course.


ABRAHAM:  Because we have seen, for instance with SBS with advertising, that once they started carrying advertising that that was expected to cover shortfalls in funding.


PYNE: No there’s absolutely no suggestion whatsoever until this radio interview this morning that this money would be replaced, that corporate involvement would replace government funding, or government oversight, or government control, whether it’s state or federal.


ABRAHAM: Shadow Education Minister, Kate Ellis, do you have an open mind on this?


ELLIS: Well I think it really depends what we’re talking about here – there was actually a very successful program that was in place until Christopher cut it, in this year’s Budget which brought employers closer to schools so that we had links with industry.  That was a taxpayer-funded program. But I think in general the corporatisation of our school system is something that would be of huge concern to the community and we need to maintain that our schools are not sweatshops which generate –


BEVAN: Nobody’s suggesting they’re sweatshops.


ELLIS: No … but we don’t just want to generate entry-level workers for the local industry.


BEVAN: Well hang on, these are technical colleges.


ELLIS: But we need to recognise that today, students are likely to have a number of careers and a number of jobs throughout the course of their lifetime and their school experience needs to set them up broadly for a range of those experiences, not to just go into one field with one company.


BEVAN: Can you see any merit at all, especially in a technical college environment, where the big players, and this obviously whatever they teach would have to be vetted by the independent public school authority, but the big player actually has a role in providing education because the kids are going to end up working for that person?


ELLIS: Look, we have seen, in schools already, unfortunately it has been cut by the Government, but a major program the Partnership Brokers program where we would see people come with expertise in aviation or robotics and share that expertise with school students and that was an incredibly positive thing. Unfortunately it’s another example of this Government cutting a successful major program and replacing it with a relatively-cheap and tiny trial in its place.


ABRAHAM:  Matthew Abraham and David Bevan with you. Professor Freda Briggs has called us. She’s the Emeritus Professor in Child Development at the University of South Australia. Professor Briggs welcome to the program.




ABRAHAM:  Professor Briggs you seem to be taking issue with what many people think would be a very positive move, and that is Chris Pyne who has confirmed that the Daniel Morcombe child safety curriculum would be part of the curriculum?


BRIGGS: Well, I think that a mistake must have been made. I’ve received emails galore and phone calls because of an article in the Courier Mail which says that the Morcombes received a personal phone call from Federation (sic) Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, to confirm that the curriculum which has already been taught in some Queensland schools would be recommended nationally and the Morcombes say it’s a day they’re proud of and it’s a result of a meeting they had with Christopher Pyne last year.


ABRAHAM:  Well why would you be concerned about that?


BRIGGS: Because we already have the best child protection curriculum probably in the world in South Australia. It is not optional, it is a compulsory curriculum for which teachers are trained, we’ve had it since 2009, and it’s been evaluated. Whereas the Morcombe program is comparatively new and I was actually asked to review it when it was first written and one of the things that I find difficult to deal with is, that if a child asks a teacher who Daniel Morcombe was, if the teacher’s being honest she’s going to have to say he was a little boy, who was kidnapped, probably raped and murdered.  I mean who wants a child safety program named after a dead child?  So I just wanted to ask Christopher Pyne if he could explain how this has come about. I think it could be a mistake.


BEVAN:  Christopher Pyne, we won’t have much time but can you address Professor Briggs’ questions?


PYNE: Well we might need some extra time because that needs to be properly cleared up.  I emailed Freda who I know very well at the same time as I contacted the Morcombes and let Freda know and the Morcombes know that both the Morcombe Foundation Child Protection Program and the South Australian Government Child Safety Program were both included in the curriculum review as being needed to be considered as part of the health and physical sciences subject in the curriculum, so in fact both were included.  Freda’s is a very good program, and I haven’t chosen between the South Australian program or the Morcombe’s program, and I think Freda trying to suggest that somehow I have is most misleading.  I think that we should do more child protection and resilience training for children in schools –


BEVAN:  So, is one replacing the other?




ABRAHAM:  Multiple choice?


PYNE: The recommendation – excuse me – the national curriculum review was not me choosing what the curriculum will be, it was review of the curriculum. And if Freda was being entirely honest with the listeners she would have indicated that I contacted her as well as the Morcombes and indicated that the program that she has been involved in here in South Australia, as well as the Morcombes, were both mentioned in the curriculum review as being worthy of consideration as part of a health and physical sciences subject in the national curriculum.


ABRAHAM:  Okay, Kate Ellis, just finally on that one?


ELLIS: Well it’ll be up to the states and territories to decide what’s –


ABRAHAM: To choose.


ELLIS: – taught, in their jurisdiction and I think that Christopher and I would absolutely agree, as would Freda, that we want to raise the level of child protection information and make sure that we’ve got the best possible curriculum in every school.


ABRAHAM: Kate Ellis thank you for coming in the studio, Labor MP for Adelaide, Shadow Education Minister. As always Chris Pyne thank you, Liberal MP for Sturt and Education Minister. And Professor Freda Briggs as well, Emeritus Professor in Child Development at the University of South Australia