Doorstop interview, Campbell Town, Tasmania
Hodgman Government’s work to extend schools to years 11 and 12; Fishing super trawlers; Sugar tax; VET Student Loans Ombudsman; Future schools funding arrangements 

Jeremy Rockliff:           Alright, well welcome to Campbell Town, and particularly welcome to our federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham, who is here today for the day in Campbell Town and Launceston and elsewhere. It enables us as the State Government to showcase the success of our 11 and 12 extension high schools, and Campbell Town is an example of that – a great example. And we’ve met with students this morning, students that are enthusiastically engaged in their work, and it’s great to hear from our principal, Cindy, that the numbers have doubled, in fact, when it comes to our 11 and 12 students doubled from 8 last year to 16 this year. 

So that’s wonderful. It’s great for our kids, and it’s wonderful that we can now offer 11 and 12 in a regional area such as the Campbelltown High School, providing a greater opportunity for our students. And we know very well from all the evidence that the longer we can keep our kids engaged in meaningful education, the better and more fulfilling life they will have, and of course the greater opportunity they’ll have for a well-paid job at the end of their education, and so that’s what it’s all about. The State Government are committed to improving our educational outcomes, creating a job-ready generation of young Tasmanians, and it’s all about using that silver bullet of education when it comes to supporting our students and indeed providing them with a greater opportunity in the years ahead.

The Tasmanian Government is very proud of our education improvements we’ve made over the course of the last nearly three years. We’ve engaged in specific evidence-based improvements when it comes to our earlier starting age, our leaving age, 11 and 12 extensions; we’re engaged now with a year 9 to 12 review as well, in terms of curriculum review. And so with our extra support in our schools, based on a needs-based model, not only with our 11 and 12 extension schools, but of course our new programs we’re offering – they started last year, term one 2016 – our new Learning in Families Together program, part of that needs-based funding, working with parents and kindergarten to grade two students and our children – a parental engagement initiative focussing on literacy and numeracy as well. 

And so we’re all about ensuring we work collaboratively with our federal colleagues. We all have the same objective, and that’s ensuring that we provide the best opportunity we can for our kids, particularly when it comes to needs-based, targeted, evidence-based improvements in our education system.

Simon Birmingham:     Thanks Jeremy. Thank you very much for the invitation to be here today. It’s really wonderful to be along at the Campbell Town District School to hear from Cindy, the principal, to hear importantly from the students and to see first-hand the valuable work and reforms that the Tasmanian Government has applied in the education system here, which will have a lasting benefit both for the kids going through the system, but of course ultimately for Tasmania and its economic strength and wellbeing into the future. 

Just chatting with some of the year 11 and 12 students before, I was struck by the fact that a number of them, when I asked about their older siblings, told me that those older siblings had come through school, had finished up at year 10 – of course, as used to be the case – had moved off to start college but had found the move too much and then dropped out of college. The opportunity that’s been created now for students to complete year 12 in more locations close to their homes here in Tasmania is of course exactly the same as occurs around the rest of the country. 

This is really a great step forward by Jeremy and the Hodgman Government, to bring Tasmania up to the type of standards that we want to see right across the country and to make a real difference in the lives of young people in Tasmania. Of course, it’s coupled by reforms to early education, an area that I’m passionate about and an area that, with those types of changes, will see young children in Tasmania starting school better prepared, developing the basic skills in their earlier years, and then they’re flowing right through to of course being able to complete their senior secondary years in their local high school, making a world of difference to their learning journey as part of their school education. 

We, as a Federal Government, are committed to working closely with our state and territory colleagues, on supporting them for these types of evidence-based reforms, and on driving further evidence-based reforms right around the country, on ensuring that we invest where appropriate in things like early skills checks in those early years that can identify literacy or numeracy gaps, in interventions where necessary to support children, the appropriate teaching of phonics in schools. Raising that bar of ambitions is happening here in Tasmania to make sure that we have clear minimum literacy and numeracy standards for school leavers around the country, and get more children doing core subjects if they’re going on to university subjects. 

We also want to make sure that we back our most capable and able teachers, and that’s why I’m a passionate supporter of the Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher programs run by the National Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, and of ensuring that we provide reward and recognition for those teachers who go out of their way to be recognised as Highly Accomplished Lead Teachers in their school, recognised and accredited by their peers, and to make sure we incentivise them to stay within the school system in the future. 

They’re some of the reforms that we’ll be working on over the next few years as part of future school funding arrangements, and indeed which I know I’ll be discussing with Jeremy, who, as the Tasmanian Minister, is chairing the National Education Council this year and will be taking a leading role in ensuring that we have progress, not just here in Tasmania, but right across the country. 

Journalist:                                If I could just ask Minister Rockliff a question first. Are you finding in cases like this- we mentioned before about how some of those students had to go to the bigger cities – so Launceston, Hobart – to complete their education. Are you finding the reforms are more well-received in regional and rural parts of Tasmania?

Jeremy Rockliff:           Well, in fact every part of Tasmania. You’d be aware that we made it a commitment at the last election to extend rural and regional high schools to years 11 and 12 – 21 of those schools – but the program in the first year was very successful. More schools around Tasmania, both around rural and regional Tasmania and indeed our urban centres, wanted to be part of this improvement in our education and so we opened it up to all schools. And with a commitment of 21 schools by 2018, we now have 38 schools that will be participating in years 11 and 12 by that time, 2018. And so when you go to a school such as Ulverstone High School – we were there just 10 or so days ago – an urban area, quite clearly with the 60 students that they have it clearly demonstrates that school communities that in fact decide for themselves- this is about the State Government offering resources and teachers and school resources to schools, but at the end of the day the school communities decide for themselves: do they want to be part of our improvements in education? And it’s great to see that so many are putting up their hand. 

Journalist:                                Minister Birmingham, I just want to ask you about the super trawlers case here in Tasmania. The State Government has recently said they want to ban super trawlers. Would the Federal Government support that position?

Simon Birmingham:     Well just as we back evidence-based approaches in school and education, our fisheries management policies are equally embedded in terms of evidence-based approaches to management of fishery stocks and sustainability, and we take that approach very seriously. And I think Australia has amongst world-leading worlds’ best practice approaches to ensure that we have clear quotas, clear catchment limits, clear sustainability policies to preserve the viability of our fisheries, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.

Journalist:                                So you think that the way the State Government’s going about it is the way you’d like to see it happen?

Simon Birmingham:     Well look, I’ll let the fisheries spokespeople for our respective governments get into the details of fisheries policies. I’m the Education Minister not the Fisheries Minister, but I do know that there’s a shared commitment to make sure that everything we do in this space is based on sound evidence to make sure that we have sustainable catchments well into the future. 

Journalist:        On, you know, the sugar tax, there’s been some recommendations released today. What’s your reaction to those recommendations?

Simon Birmingham:     Look, just last week I was standing next to the Health Minister and he got asked about a sugar tax last week, and so it seems to be the question that everybody wants to ask on a weekly basis at present. But, as Greg rightly made the point then, as the Government continues to make the point, there are many different factors to make sure that we get the best outcomes for people in terms of preventative health policies, and in the Government we don’t believe that higher taxes on the Australian population is the right approach. Our focus is on ensuring that people have as accessible as possible nutritional information, high quality foods, understanding, of course, of the type of healthy lifestyles they should be pursuing. And again, when you come back into school community and high quality school communities, they can really complement those types of health initiatives by providing a good, strong understanding to young people about healthy lifestyles, what’s required to have- moderate consumption of everything, if it’s appropriate, good consumption of good foods, and of course a healthy lifestyle overall.

Journalist:        Sorry, can I just go back to training and education. The VET Loans Ombudsman that’s just been announced, could you talk us through that?

Simon Birmingham:     So our new VET Student Loans Ombudsman legislation we introduced into Federal Parliament last week, and this is an important part of our overall reform in implementing the new VET Student Loans program, which is a replacement for Labor’s failed VET FEE-HELP scheme, that saw billions of dollars wasted and far too much ripped off of vulnerable Australians, in particularly vulnerable communities, I know there was some terrible stories in some regional and remote parts of Tasmania about people who had gone door to door signing people up to a loan scheme for courses that they were never equipped to complete, never had any intention, really, of undertaking, but of course accrued a debt as a result of that. So we’ve taken it very seriously to end that old failed scheme, put in place a new program that has a range of different safe guards to it in terms of loan caps, higher barriers to entry for providers, a ban on those types of door to door sales practices, and of course now a clear Student Ombudsman who will be able to make sure that if there is any allegation of malpractice, it’s thoroughly investigated and the right outcomes are achieved.

Journalist:        So will this help people that have been ripped off in the past or is this to stop it from happening in the future? So if someone- something happened five years ago and there was a training that ended up not being a real qualification, will this-

Simon Birmingham:     [Interrupts] We are setting the Ombudsman up so that it can investigate the old- activities under the old VET FEE-HELP scheme as well, so- and that is a possible extension of its scope. Already my department has applied some dedicated resources, though, to helping people who have complaints and issues there, the ACCC have taken a number of providers to court. We’ve seen millions of dollars of debts waived as a result of these processes, and so anyone who does have a particular- a concern or issue of their own, I would urge them to visit the Department’s website at education.gov.au, follow the links through, find the details to get some help right now, and they need not necessarily wait for the Ombudsman legislation to pass through.

Journalist:        Okay. And is there any update on Gonski at the moment? How the- how’s the plans going with that?

Simon Birmingham:     Well, we’re working towards the timeframe we’ve always said, which is that we will resolve school funding with COAG in the first half of this year. COAG meetings are scheduled for around April, that’s the timeline that we’ll work towards. But, you know, I want to restate that we, as a Federal Government, are committing record and growing levels of investment into Australian schools, and that means that funding for Tasmania in the future will continue to grow each and every year into the future, and scare campaigns to the contrary don’t help anybody. And I know that the Tasmanian Government is making record commitment themselves, it’s made firm commitments about the amount of funding that will be available. I look forward to us being able to give clear commitments about the extent of growth in Commonwealth funding that Tasmania will have and get that resolved over the coming months. 

We want to make sure, of course, that that is aligned to national reforms, the likes of which I spoke about before. And I also should just point out that our Federal funding into schools is driven very much on a per student basis, and so one other important point here as we talk about more students undertaking year 11 and 12 and more students starting school earlier in Tasmania, is all of those factors will also see increased funding coming into Tasmania as a result of the work that the Hodgman Government has done in relation to increasing school participation. But we’ll have much more to say about that, I’m sure, in the next couple of months.

Thanks, guys.