DOORSTOP INTERVIEW: the Abbott Government's political attack on the national curriculum.

10 January 2014

KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: The Abbott Government are seeking to introduce their politics into every classroom across Australia. Let's be perfectly clear: there was no political interference in the development of the national curriculum. Australia's national curriculum was devised by an independent body who was appointed with bipartisan support from the Government but also from state and territory governments of all different political persuasions.

What Christopher Pyne is seeking to do, is make a ridiculous and a partisan announcement, to draw attention away from the main issue facing Australia's schools, and that is that this Government broke their promise to introduce the new school funding model. If the Abbott Government was serious about lifting our school outcomes they would heed the advice of the biggest inquiry into Australian schools in over 40 years and introduce the Gonski funding and the Gonski funding model, in full, immediately. But of course we know this is nothing more than a farce. What Christopher Pyne has claimed today, is that in six months, two individuals can do a better job of coming up with a national curriculum, than in five years, academic experts all around Australia working collaboratively achieved.

This is ridiculous. This is nothing more than a distraction from the fact that this Government has betrayed every school student and every parent of Australian children, who took them at their word when they said they were on a unity ticket when it came to school funding models. A national curriculum is not the main issue confronting Australian schools. The main issue is that our school funding model is flawed, that we have all of the evidence to suggest that we are falling behind and that we have the solutions, but the Abbott Government is now refusing to introduce them.

JOURNALIST: Christopher Pyne says that the curriculum is flawed and that the focus is too much on the non - on the Labor side of history. What's your response to that?
ELLIS: Well, as I said, there was no political interference in the development of the national curriculum. But if Christopher Pyne really believes that we need to remove political bias from our curriculum, why would he then appoint a former Liberal staffer to do that job? This is a farce, this is a joke, and this is nothing but a distraction from the main issue which is confronting every Australian school.
JOURNALIST: Do you think their needs to be a review?

ELLIS: Look, I believe that we constantly look at our curriculum, it's incredibly important. But we have an independent body in place to do just that. We have a body in place who has been appointed based on their merits and based on bipartisan support. Surely if there is to be a review, then they are the body to do that. The other thing I would say is that the national curriculum is not even rolled out in full until 2014. For Christopher Pyne and the Abbott Government to suggest that it has failed is ridiculously premature and shows that they are just looking for a distraction. The real issue here is school funding and their betrayal when they promised that they would introduce the new school funding model.

JOURNALIST: One of the men appointed has accused the Education Union of trying to promote positive attitudes towards the homosexual community, do you think that's worry?

ELLIS: Look, what we have seen is that at least one of the people appointed by Christopher Pyne today has extreme views, has a radical political approach, and he's not afraid to put forward those views. What we need is the politics out of our schools, we need our curriculum developed by an independent body, and we need to make sure our children are getting the best lessons, not getting taught in political philosophies that the Abbott Government seek to endorse.

JOURNALIST: Do you think there is no way these men can be impartial, then?

ELLIS: Look, as I said, if you were trying to do an impartial inquiry, you would not appoint a former political staffer. This is an absolute farce. What the Abbott Government have said today is that they believe there is bias in the curriculum that was devised by an independent body, so to address that they are going to appoint a former Liberal staffer. This is a joke. This is a joke, and it should be regarded as nothing more than that because all it seeks to do is distract from the real issue confronting Australian schools.
JOURNALIST: He's pretty confident that they will be independent in their findings though. Do you believe that?

ELLIS: Well, that remains to be seen but what we do know is that we have a body that has been set up and has worked with every state and territory government of every different political persuasion. Now that is the correct course if we want to look at what's being taught in our schools. Not through some political appointment that is hand-picked by Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott.

JOURNALIST: Will you be urging the state governments to do everything in their power to not go ahead with this?

ELLIS: Look, obviously we want to make sure that Australian students have the best possible curriculum in front of them and we support measures to keep working on the national curriculum that we were very proud to be able to oversee and introduce. But what we will not do is play into this distraction and let it draw attention away from the key issue that is facing Australian schools and that is that we need serious school funding reform, that we have the Gonski solutions and we need them implemented. And Christopher Pyne should stop creating sideshows and get on with the main job.

JOURNALIST: So what's your message for state governments then, are you going to be telling them they should be supportive or should not be supportive?
ELLIS: Well state governments will have to determine whether they support any changes to the national curriculum, at all. Now we will see what outcomes come forward within the next six months with zero funding by two Liberal, hand-picked appointees. We will see what they come up with. What we will say is that state governments also need to remain focused on the key issue here: school funding reform and making sure that we get the Gonski model that the Australian people were promised at the last election.

JOURNALIST: Now, Mr Donnelly has previously said that he is against the post-modern deconstruction of citizenship. Is this something that you are supportive of? Do you think that there should be a strong focus on what it means to be Australian?

ELLIS: Look, what I think is that we don't need Australian school students being influenced by the views of one individual. That's why we went through a very serious and proper process when developing the national curriculum, which ensured that it was independent; that submissions were heard from a wide range of different voices; and that we came up with something that was not partisan and that was not trying to introduce a particular political viewpoint into Australian schools. It would be a tragedy if that was thrown aside and if the Abbott Government were able to introduce their politics into every classroom across Australia.

JOURNALIST: What's your view on citizenship? Do you support his statements, or?

ELLIS: Look, my view is that the curriculum should be overseen by an independent body with academic rigor. My view, is that the views of Kevin Donnelly or any other one individual should not determine what Australian school children are learning on a daily basis. It is absurd to suggest that one person and one person's views should influence what tens of thousands of Australian students are learning each and every day in the classroom.

JOURNALIST: Australia has been falling behind internationally with our results, do you attribute that fully to funding, or do you think that there is actually space for this review?

ELLIS: Look, nobody has ever suggested that funding alone is the answer. That is why we went through the biggest review of the Australian school system in 40 years. And what we came up with was a comprehensive package of reforms. It's not just about the funding, it's about the new school funding model and making sure that support gets to where it's needed most. Now of course this Government, after promising the Australian people they would introduce this new school funding model have tossed it aside, and instead just sent out blank cheques to the states and said: proceed, cut your education budgets as you used to do, we will do absolutely nothing to stop you. If this Government was serious about improving school outcomes, they would introduce the new school funding model and make sure that students were receiving the support that they needed, and that we know that they're not getting.