Doorstop Interview, Adelaide
Topics: National review into teacher registration; Barnaby Joyce; Changes to the Higher School Certificate; Cyber Bullying

Simon Birmingham: Today the Turnbull Government is highlighting the review that the Australian Institute for School and Teaching Leadership is undertaking in terms of teacher registration. This is a review that has been agreed to by all state and territory governments as part of the Education Council of COAG. This is important because we’re looking at how we can make sure teacher registration helps to get the best, most qualified individuals into the classroom. We know that there is nothing more important in a school than the quality and capability of teachers and we want the best people for the right jobs in the teaching profession. That’s why we’ve undertaken reforms already to strengthen teacher training, to get more expertise, more specialisation into primary schools, to guarantee the literacy and numeracy skills of those who are coming out of our universities and entering the teaching profession.

But we also want to ensure that when it comes to the teaching of vocational education and trades in schools, that we have people with real life experience and real qualifications teaching those trades; that people who can are also the ones doing the teaching. That’s why we’re encouraging this review to have a look at how we ensure teacher registration across the states and territories most effectively supports people coming from trade backgrounds to enter the teaching profession, because for many students in their final years of school, vocational education and training in the school environment, training in terms of building skills, in terms of other hospitality skills or the like, are essential aspects of their final years of education and we need to make sure that there are teachers in there helping with that training who bring the right skill sets.

So this is about saying that if you’re a tradie out there who thinks it’s time for a career change, has a passion for helping people learn, we want to make sure the pathway is there for you to help in our school systems, too.

Journalist: How would the changes make it easier for skilled workers to change professions?

Simon Birmingham: Well, this is a review and it will be making sure that the quality of teaching is absolutely first class, but that the skill set, of course, of people doing vocational education is relevant, that they know what they’re talking about, that hopefully they bring real world experience to the table.

Journalist: If someone’s a skilled worker, a tradie or a nurse or something, do we want to be diverting them away from one field to another just for the sake of propping up another industry?

Simon Birmingham: People are often undertaking mid-life career changes for a whole range of reasons, and particularly in the trades you’ll have individuals who, for a whole bunch of physical reasons, might need to make changes to their working life. So the idea of getting people who have got a couple of decades of practical experience in the trades, teaching those trades in our schools, is not a new one, but it’s essential to make sure that trades are taught as effectively as possible.

Journalist: Could this decrease the current level of training a teacher might have to undertake?

Simon Birmingham: It’s about making sure that for whatever the class that a teacher is taking in a classroom, they’ve got the best possible skills to deliver in that classroom environment. So of course we want to make sure that our early primary school teachers have got the best possible skills in literacy, in numeracy, in building the foundation stones. We want to make sure that those in high schools who are teaching geography or history or maths are of course subject specialists in those areas. But we also want to make sure that if you’re teaching a Year 11 or Year 12 student skills in terms of the caring industries, in aged care, or skills in terms of the building industries, that you have some personal experience and expertise there if at all possible. It’s about making sure the best skills for the right subject in the classroom.

Journalist: Just on another matter now, Barnaby Joyce: do you think that he should step down to make way for an investigation into what’s been happening?

Simon Birmingham: Look, Barnaby Joyce’s private life is a matter between Barnaby and his family. We of course all feel very much for Barnaby’s family and the scrutiny that they are being subjected to through this process. But really, I think least said in relation to his family circumstances is the best…

Journalist: The creation of a new job in another Minister’s office for a staff member isn’t really a personal matter, is it? It’s a pretty big government matter.

Simon Birmingham: There’s nothing surprising that somebody who was providing media advice in the National Party, in a Minister’s office, would continue to provide media advice in a National Party Member’s office once the Minister ceased to be a Minister.

Journalist: Did the Prime Minister approve Ms Campion’s job in the National Party Whip’s Office?

Simon Birmingham: All of the usual processes around staffing allocations were undertaken. People should remember that when Minister Canavan stood down from the Ministry, there was no replacement Minister appointed at that time. It’s not surprising that staff would be redeployed under those circumstances.

Journalist: According to the Parliamentary Guidelines, a Whip may only employ a person as a member of staff according to arrangements approved by the Prime Minister, so what’s your reaction to that?

Simon Birmingham: As I said, all of the usual processes were followed in terms of approval of staff appointments, but there’s nothing unusual about a media advisor in the National Party being transferred to work for the National Party still in terms of providing media advice once their first position ceased to exist.

Journalist: So it’s likely the Prime Minister did approve Ms Campion’s position?

Simon Birmingham: All the usual processes were followed.

Journalist: Can you guarantee that no public money was used against the rules to help Barnaby Joyce’s new partner get or keep a job?

Simon Birmingham: I can guarantee that all proper processes were followed and that there’s nothing unusual about a National Party media advisor continuing to be employed in the National Party providing media advice.

Journalist: So you don’t think that there should be an investigation?

Simon Birmingham: I think all of these matters are there clearly on the public record and that proper processes were followed at all times.

Journalist: Do you think it’s appropriate, though? Do you think it’s appropriate that someone could become the lover of the Deputy Prime Minister and then get turfed off to a new job that’s created especially for them in another office to try and hide the embarrassment of the situation?

Simon Birmingham: Well, the questions I was answering were about an individual who ceased employment with Matt Canavan when he ceased to be a Minister and then went to work for a fellow National Party individual in terms of providing media advice in that National Party member’s office. That is the process that occurred; everybody knows about the circumstances of Matt Canavan’s referral to the High Court and that he stood aside from the Ministry at that time, and it’s not unusual for staff to then be redeployed in such circumstances.

Journalist: How can the public be sure that taxpayers’ money is not being misspent?

Simon Birmingham: Because there are clear processes in place around the appointment of staff and that those processes were all properly followed and that, in the end, this is about simply a redeployment of a staff member when their Minister ceased to be a Minister.

Journalist: Just a question on New South Wales’ state education: the HSC is being given an overhaul due to a global drop in education rankings. Under the changes there will be a greater focus on science and technology and statistics. Why is this needed?

Simon Birmingham: More than 70 per cent of the fastest growing jobs in the world require rich levels of STEM skills in the sciences and maths discipline, so it’s really important that students are encouraged to study those disciplines and I welcome any initiatives by state and territory governments to due so.

Journalist: Law firm Maurice Blackburn, I’m sure you’ve heard this morning that they’re suggesting that victims of bullying on social media should be able to sue their bully and also the social platform that it happens on. Do you think that’s a good idea, is it something that you would potentially support?

Simon Birmingham: Australia has world-leading laws in terms of the ability of our eSafety Commissioner to instruct social media platforms to take down certain content, and we’ve seen those laws used by the eSafety Commissioner with great success. Now, in terms of people’s ability to undertake litigation, in many cases that’s governed at a state and territory level and they’re matters that states and territories should take into account as to the adequacy of their individual laws.

Journalist: So it’s not something that you would look at changing federally to allow people to do it?

Simon Birmingham: We’re always making sure that our laws are as up to date as possible and that’s why the Turnbull Government has made sure that our eSafety Commissioner is well empowered to issue takedown notices. But in terms of defamatory conduct or the like, they really are matters that states and territories legislate for and that are in their domain.

Thank you.