Doorstop interview, Yankalilla Area School

Topics: Engineering is Elementary program; New child care package; Mayo by-election.




Georgina Downer:        Well it’s great to have Minister for Education Simon Birmingham here today at the Yankalilla Area School, and we’ve just had a fantastic demonstration of the new program Engineering is Elementary, and it was so impressive to see the teachers who have done some training at Questacon rolling out this program and really giving the kids that fantastic opportunity to learn the E in STEM, and of course build skills that will be so important for those jobs of the future. So thank you very much, Minister, it’s been really great to see this program which I think gives kids here in Mayo such a fantastic opportunity for the future.


Simon Birmingham:     Thanks Georgina, and I’m thrilled to be here today as part of the rollout of the Engineering is Elementary program across more than 80 schools around Australia, supporting around 1600 students here in South Australia to be able to access engineering skills. It’s a program where the Turnbull Government is backing it through Questacon, with multimillion dollar investment and support that is part of our overall Innovation And Science Agenda. We’re very thrilled to be able to partner with Raytheon in this case and I thank them for their work with Questacon and their support for making this program available, and to help bring it from a US model, and Questacon adapting it as something that is directly relevant for Australian school students. Of course, we recognise that some of the fastest growing skills across the world that are required for future jobs are STEM skills, and much of our work focuses on ensuring science and technology and maths are developed and enhanced as areas of subject interest in school. But this is the E, this is the engineering, and what we’ve had the thrill of seeing in this classroom today is how it is that young children can bring engineering skills to life and in doing so, they’re applying their maths skills, they’re thinking about technology, they’re using scientific principles. This is about real life educational skills being deployed in the classroom and developing and inspiring an interest that hopefully will see future generations of engineers working on agricultural projects, transport projects, defence industry projects right across our state, right across Mayo.


Thanks, Georgina. It’s so important it’s here at the Yankalilla Area School, because it’s also an example of the commitment we have to make sure that all children across all schools have access to the type of educational opportunities they deserve. And here in Yankalilla, as part of our valued regional communities, we’re seeing a school taking leaps and bounds ahead in terms of the opportunities it’s offering its students.


Question:                     Would you say the future of this program being past this trial?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, this program is obviously something that is quite easily replicated by so many schools. It is something that doesn’t require a significant investment. It’s about teacher capability, and of course, we continue to work hard in initial teacher education and training, and in providing programs – not just like the ones Questacon’s done here in terms of providing teachers with resources and capability and program tools to be able to deliver this. But also as other programs have done in the maths space, such as the University of Adelaide’s MOOC which they’ve provided open access to teachers across the country to be able to develop new maths, new technology skills for delivery in the classroom. In terms of STEM development, it’s about us continually providing new access to teachers to be able to develop the skills they need and develop and deploy the programs that will work in terms of STEM delivery in the classroom.


Question:                     So you say you imagine it could be easily replicated. How long though can we expect this trial to go for, and then maybe how long before it’s rolled out permanently into schools?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, we’ll be working with Questacon to ensure that the lessons from this are shared and hopefully see school systems themselves pick it up with enthusiasm. But it doesn’t always take a teacher going and training at Questacon. Models like this can be deployed simply and strategically by school systems themselves, and it’s really part of our national STEM partnership agenda that we have with the states and territories, and I hope that over the next couple of years we’ll see more and more schools make engineering a priority alongside science, technology and maths disciplines.


Question:         On to issues around the child care subsidy. We’ve seen some modelling which suggests as many as 280,000 families might be worse off under the new subsidy. Is that acceptable to you?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, the Turnbull Government has deliberately put in an extra $2.5 billion of support for child care, but also better targeted support to ensure that the greatest number of hours of subsidised care go to the families working the longest hours and the greatest level of support, the greatest rate of subsidy, goes to the families earning the least amount. On average, families across South Australia who have registered already are going to be about $1400 per child, per annum, better off under these reforms. Around 1 million Australian families are going to be better off.


The only circumstances, really, where families won’t be better off are if they’re not meeting a very basic activity test of just four hours per week on average of work and study and volunteering, or if they’re very high income earning families, earning more than $350,000 per annum who see their subsidy cut off.


Question:         What about issues around casualisation of the workforce, unpredictable work hours and some families maybe one parent isn’t meeting that activity test every week. What about those issues? Is it acceptable that some families will still miss out?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, these are some of the lies that the Labor Party is spreading. This is a well-calibrated program where the activity test is designed to be averaged over a three-month period. So somebody who’s working casually or variable hours is able to average their estimate. They work an average of four hours a week, then they’re going to be eligible for some 36 hours of childcare a fortnight. That is clear support, the steps are clearly laid out. Families are able equally to qualify if they’re volunteering. Volunteering can include volunteering in schools where you can be reading to children, helping with projects like the one we’ve just seen. That’s a recognised volunteering activity that will qualify for the child care activity test. It would include working as a carer, looking for work as part of your Newstart obligations. There are a range of different activities that are recognised to ensure this is light touch, but it does absolutely deliver what we want which is the greatest support to families working the longest hours and earning the least.


Question:         Do you think the Australian Government’s doing enough to make child care truly accessible for all people?


Simon Birmingham:     This is the biggest improvement to the child care system in more than 40 years. It’s going to make life easier for around 1 million Australian families. No longer will families find that their child care rebate cuts out in February or March of the financial year. They’re going to get support right through the year that doesn’t run out. It’s going to allow, we estimate, 230,000 Australians to participate more in the workforce, to increase the hours or days they work, and they can do that because they’re getting the child care support and their child care bills won’t be an impost. This is a great reform. It’s a positive reform for Australian families. It’s putting more money in the pockets of close to 1 million Australian families and it’s going to make a big difference in terms of their capacity to work the hours and days that suit them.


Question:                     Will the government ever consider something like making child care payments tax deductible?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, there was a thorough Productivity Commission inquiry that looked at how we can improve our child care system, and the problem with something like tax deductibility for child care payments, as the Productivity Commission truly spelt out, is the greatest benefit goes to the highest income earners because we have a progressive tax system in Australia. So, if we made child care tax deductible, my family might benefit, but indeed, those working part-time hours, those on lower wages and incomes, would struggle. What we’ve done is put in place a system where the lowest income families – those earning less than $65,000 per annum – are going to see the rate of support for their child care increase from 72 per cent to 85 per cent without a cap in place. They’re going to be much, much better off and I can’t believe that the Labor Party, the Greens or others, are shedding crocodile tears because high income families might miss out on child care support, when what we’ve done is target the greatest levels of assistance to low and medium income families.


Question:                     And Minister, how will this change affect you personally?


Simon Birmingham:     Well indeed, my family will no longer be eligible for child care assistance. My wife works full-time. I clearly work full-time. We are a family who are in a fortunate financial situation and I don’t expect that Australians would be saying it’s unfair that we might pay for our afterschool hours care or our school holiday care when we need it. What we think is fair, as a government, and what I think is fair personally, is that child support should be targeted to the families who need it most, and they are the families working the longest hours, but earning the least amount.


Question:                     What do you make of recent polling ahead of the Mayo by-election? Does it make you nervous?


Georgina Downer:        Look, I’ve been really enjoying campaigning in Mayo in the Adelaide Hills and the Fleurieu and I’m looking forward to going to Kangaroo Island next week and meeting as many people as possible and talking to them really about the issues that matter most to them. That’s what’s really important to me. But what’s becoming really clear when I go around Mayo talking to people is that people absolutely do not want a Shorten Labor government. There is a real feel in the electorate of what a Shorten Labor government could lead to in this country. And it is quite clear that there is an alliance being created here with my opponent Rebekha Sharkie and the Labor Party and now the Greens. So, it seems clear to me that a vote for Sharkie is going to end up being a vote for Shorten because given the chance and given Rebekha Sharkie’s voting record of 60 per cent of the time in the Australian parliament, she voted with Labor and the Greens. It’s quite clear that given the chance, she would back in a Shorten Labor government.


Question:                     How can you say that, what specifically has led you to form that opinion?


Georgina Downer:        Well, if you look at the Parliamentary Library’s record of individual MPs voting records, Rebekha Sharkie’s is there for everyone to see. It indicates that 60 per cent of the time she voted with Labor and the Greens on legislation and opposed the government’s agenda. She’s opposed cuts to local business taxes. She’s come out against changes to border protection that would mean we have stronger borders, that we make sure that we do keep the boats out of our waters and stop the people smuggling trade. On a variety of measures she has voted with Labor and the Greens and has opposed the Turnbull Government’s agenda, which is an agenda that is going to lower taxes, that is going to make sure that we have a strong economy so we can deliver the essential services that we also very much need and deserve.


Question:                     All of that aside, the recent polling suggests she is popular in the electorate, does that make you nervous?


Georgina Downer:        No, I am very comfortable with the campaign is going- as I said, I’ve really enjoyed speaking to as many people in Mayo as I can about the issues that matter most to them, and it is clear that they don’t want a Shorten Labor government, and I’m really looking forward to the next six or so weeks getting out there and really making sure that I’m listening. And of course being a member of the Liberal Party, part of the Coalition, a party of government, a party that can deliver for this electorate. I think there are some great opportunities and I’m very much looking forward to the by-election on 28 July.


Question:                     And please correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears that you’ve deleted your Twitter account and there are suggestions flying around on social media that you’ve been blocking certain people who are contacting you about issues, particularly around climate change. Is that true?


Georgina Downer:        So I’m no longer active on Twitter because, quite frankly, Twitter is not the place where we, as political candidates, find it’s best to engage with our communities. I use Facebook as my medium for engagement with people in Mayo, and where there are comments that are unacceptable, or trolls that use language that is unacceptable, then sure, we don’t think they are fruitful for political debates and commentary.


Question:                     So is it right to shutdown political debate on a certain platform just because it doesn’t suit you?           


Georgina Downer:        Look, ultimately people are free to express themselves on social media and they do so, but…


Question:                     But is it right for a candidate running in a by-election to, I suppose, shut down an avenue of debate?


Georgina Downer:        There are plenty of avenues of debate available to people and I of course welcome people debating issues that are important to them and would not seek to shut down those debates in the public sphere. But on my Facebook page, we have protocols in place that encourage polite debate, frank debate, but where those limits are exceeded, where there is language that is unacceptable and goes to sort of insults, then that’s I guess- commentary of that nature, there’s no place for it on our particular Facebook page. If others want to have different mediums where they have those types of discussions, feel free, but it is not something that we think contributes to a fruitful and constructive debate on the issues.


Question:                     Was there anything on Twitter that you were uncomfortable having up there? Maybe comments from the past.  


Georgina Downer:        No, no, no. Not at all.


Simon Birmingham:     Thanks, guys.