Doorstop interview, Adelaide
Topics: Innovation in universities; Higher education reform; Cory Bernardi comments on Craigburn Primary School fundraiser.

Journalist: Senator, why are we here this morning?

Simon Birmingham: Innovation is central to success in our universities, to ensure that, in teaching and learning, new measures help students to learn more, learn faster, develop faster and stronger. Innovation’s critical in our research undertaking, to make sure we’re at the cutting of breakthrough. So, really, here we are celebrating the fact that Flinders and collaborative universities have released 115 case studies on innovative practices in universities that can [indistinct] the universities to excel into the future. It’s these types of practices that we want to continue to encourage. You alright, or?

Journalist: Yeah, yeah. Go again.

Simon Birmingham: It’s these types of innovative practices that we want to continue to encourage. It’s why our university reforms support continued funding growth; some $56 million extra for Flinders Uni over the next four years, 23 per cent growth over the sector, but do so in a sustainable way, also do in a way that empowers student choice, makes sure universities are encouraged to perform at their optimal standard. All of it is about inspiring more innovation, more partnerships, more collaboration that can lead to better and better student and research outcomes.

Journalist: Is this helping to make sure that students end up with a job once they graduate from uni?

Simon Birmingham: It’s critical that universities keep their eye on the ball around student outcomes, and a number of the examples in this publication are about helping work-integrated learning, stronger linkages between universities and employers. It’s critical that in thinking about what universities do in the future, they don’t just look inwards, but they look outwards to employers, industry partners who can help their students to get jobs, who can help their research to sell.

Journalist: More generally, how are negotiations going over your higher education reforms?

Simon Birmingham: We continue with negotiations and discussions that, as always I find with the crossbench, are constructive and cordial, and I remain hopeful that we’ll be able to progress them in the remainder of the Parliamentary year.

Journalist: What’s the sticking point?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I don’t conduct the negotiations in public, so we’ll continue with those discussions.

Journalist: There’s a bit of controversy this morning around an Adelaide Primary School which was doing a charity fundraiser requiring students and teachers to wear a dress. What do you make of that?

Simon Birmingham: There’s a few points I’d say. This is a global program to raise awareness and funding to support students in Africa, particularly girls in Africa, who are deprived and denied education, and now frankly, the reason politicians sometimes get a bad name is because people don’t check their facts before they open their mouths. In this case, it seems as if a complete failure to actually look at the total picture of what this program is, the fundraising intent, the support for some of the neediest kids in the world, of course, is what it’s all about, and the idea of coming out and condemning a program that is trying to raise money for girls in Africa that don’t go to school is, of course, appalling. Now, we should also reflect on the fact that the kids themselves at this school, as I understand it, chose this as a way to raise awareness, to focus on a global problem, but also to have a bit of fun along the way, and if those kids want to have a bit of fun along the way, who is a politician to come along and condemn them for doing so? I can think back to when I was at school, which is a few decades ago now, and there would be the occasional fun, muck-up type day where the teachers themselves would dress up, and it was great fun, great amusement, nothing political.

Journalist: So why do you think Cory Bernardi would make those comments?

Simon Birmingham: I think some of those running the no campaign at present will say and do anything to try to encourage people to vote no, that it’s about creating a scare campaign when there is only one simple question Australians are answering, and that is should same-sex couples be allowed to marry.

Journalist: Do you think the unintended consequence of this is that it’s raised more profile for the event and more money for charity?

Simon Birmingham: Well, it looks as if it’s a nice thing that there will be even more dollars for young girls in Africa to be able to access an education and of course that can only be a good thing.

Journalist: It might be a worthy cause, but is there anything inappropriate about wearing a dress?

Simon Birmingham: I think if kids want to have a bit of fun on a dedicated day, the last day of school term, raise some money for a good cause and awareness for a good cause at the same time, then that is something that we should celebrate and not condemn.