Subject: Challenges for Education; Submarines; South Australian Unemployment


DAVID PENBERTHY: Now, you obviously haven’t had time to get your feet under the desk yet, but broadly speaking, what do you reckon are the big challenges for our schools?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well good morning, Penbo, Jane and listeners. Look, we face many challenges and I guess the biggest of all is what Malcolm Turnbull has identified as Australia’s great challenge, that is how we, in an age of digital disruption, technological change and what that means for the changing nature of jobs and the economy and what people will be doing in the future is how we translate that in to our education system and skill people for those jobs of tomorrow and make sure they have adaptable skills that they can take to different roles as certain jobs will disappear in the future and new ones will be created and we have to make sure that our entire education system is adaptable in that regard and what Malcolm has done is bring together all aspects of education from child care and early learning through schools, universities and vocational education and training in to the one portfolio, which is a big task, but a fantastic opportunity to get it right for the future.

DAVID PENBERTHY: There’s been some really big discussions happening over the past two years in the education space and your predecessor, Chris Pyne, was involved in those discussions around the relationship between the Commonwealth and the States. There were some proposals flying around for the Commonwealth to basically get out of the space of funding State schools and make that solely a State responsibility, obviously, by shifting money across to the States so that they could do it; do you have any thoughts about that big, sort of, structural stuff?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well I expect the Federation [inaudible] in a universal way and try to make the integration of pathways for students much more similar than they currently are between Diplomas at TAFEs and Degrees at universities and making sure that it was far more navigable and understandable for students, so I think there are some really exciting prospects there, of course in the schools space, I think the Australian people expect us to have a strong national curriculum, they expect us to have a system that enables student mobility, so I don’t expect the Commonwealth’s role to vanish completely at any stage, but I think there is obviously a need to make sure that we’re not duplicating work with the states, that we’re as efficient as possible and that every one of the very finite dollars we have to spend on education is spent in the best way possible.

DAVID PENBERTHY: Now, there had been speculation last week that Chris Pyne, your colleague and friend here from South Australia, would pick up Defence, that job has gone to Marise Payne instead, the New South Wales Senator; do you think though that the fact that Chris Pyne has received the Industry portfolio and obviously, hopefully a probable construction of a dozen or so subs here in Adelaide, that will still give him, very much, a seat at the table in terms of the discussions around how the Defence contracts move forward?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think Christopher Pyne’s role is perhaps even more important for South Australia’s long term future than the Defence role because the Defence role is very focussed on whether or not and where, when and how many submarines we build. I’m very confident that we’ll see a good outcome for SA, I’ve been saying that for a long time, but by taking on the Industry and Innovation portfolio, Christopher will really be tasked now with looking at that continuous ship building strategy to work on submarines and how we leverage off of that to create many more jobs and what we want to make sure is that submarine work or shipbuilding work isn’t just about submarines or shipbuilding, it’s about creating  new advanced manufacturing industries, it’s about ensuring that we leverage off of the high technology platform of those submarines or ships to give opportunities for businesses that can grow and can export and can generate work offshore and I think Christopher has a fabulous opportunity to look beyond shipbuilding or submarines and try to work very much to try to ensure that South Australia, with the highest unemployment rate in the land and, therefore, at the forefront of some of that change in the economic landscape that Australia faces, is also the State that ultimately leads adaptation to those changes and I think it is a great win for SA, to have two people in the cabinet, double that number, to have more people in the full Ministry, with Jamie Briggs and Anne Ruston joining Christopher and I in Ministerial roles and I can say, in relation to Marise Payne, of course the nation has its first Defence Minister, but she also happens to be a Canberra housemate of Christopher Pyne and I, so she hears the South Australian perspective pretty frequently.

DAVID PENBERTHY: So over the Coco Pops in the morning, you can get in to her about how many subs we need?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well we’ll make sure she understands what is important to SA.

DAVID PENBERTHY: You just mentioned Anne Ruston, now she, along with you, was a very strong support of Malcolm Turnbull’s. There has been a degree of consternation in Adelaide about the Coalition agreement which takes water out of the Environment portfolio and hands it back to the National Party through the Agriculture portfolio. When we spoke to Barnaby Joyce last week, Simon Birmingham, we asked him what happens, if down the track, irrigators say “we want more water out of the Murray” and he said “well, that’s a conversation for down the track” seemed to be flagging that the current arrangements could be changed. Anne Ruston being promoted in to this sort of almost watchdog position for the Murray, she’s going to be SA’s insurance policy to make sure that doesn’t happen isn’t she?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well we’ve got very much a replica there of previous arrangements in that Barnaby, in opposition, held the Shadow Water Ministry and at that stage I was Barnaby’s Shadow Parliamentary Secretary so, Barnaby and I worked very closely together on water policy and that fermented at that stage the Coalition support for the Murray Darling Basin Plan in opposition and now we’re going to have Anne Ruston working very closely with Barnaby Joyce on water policy so it does mean that SA still has that strong voice there and I’m sure it will mean that we will see, as we’ve promised, the Murray Darling Basin plan delivered in full and on time.

JANE RILEY: Senator, we have a particularly critical situation here in South Australia with the highest unemployment level in the country, especially amongst young people in northern suburbs. We’ve got a whole batch of young people who will be leaving school in the next couple of months and there won’t be the apprenticeships that they would have got at Holden, how quickly can you respond to that situation and enable them to go in to future training paths for their careers in the future?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Jane look, we’re aware of those many challenges and there are, of course, already some measures in place to some of the structural adjustment funding in relation to funding in relation to Holden which goes across and mixes different activities, some of it is about funding to try to generate new economic activity and new business opportunities, especially in northern Adelaide. Some of it is funding specifically for the reskilling of Holden workers, some of it goes to other areas of creating skills opportunities, so I think there is a number of measures on the table already, but certainly I know that we need to look very, very hard at what is happening in areas like the northern suburbs of Adelaide. After all, that’s the part of the world that I grew up in, went to Gawler High School, I understand some of the challenges we face in that part of the world and, as a government under Malcolm, we now have a very firm eye to the long term future of how we respond to that loss of old style manufacturing jobs and try to create new opportunities, but I know that in the shorter and more immediate term, we do need to make sure that our training system responds to – really responds to those challenges and creates opportunities for young people and look, I am very open to sitting down and talking with the State Government and others about the adequacy of current measures and making sure that they do deliver pathways to people as they leave school. 

DAVID PENBERTHY: Just finally Senator Birmingham, on the politics of all this, we saw late last week on Thursday there was that leak of a cabinet document relating to Malcolm Turnbull and his promotion of women while he was Communications Minister. We heard Kevin Andrews yesterday being quite outspoken about the fact that he had been dumped and very upset about that. The big challenge internally for Malcolm Turnbull is to maintain unity, do you think that people are going to knuckle down and respect his will in going ahead with these changes?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look I’m very confident that the team will pull together, I think this is an exciting Ministerial line up under a leader who has got a very strong and passionate vision for the country and we now have, we’ve gone from two women around the cabinet table to five women, we’ve got the nation’s first female Defence Minister, we have a number of new faces, but there is still plenty of experience around that cabinet table as well and it is also important to note that there are people who have been promoted who supported Tony Abbott through the process as well, so I think we’ve seen a good shake-up, a shake-up that puts a very fresh and new face on the field for the Liberal Party and the Coalition Government, but one that will also ensure steady and stable government for the country in the future too. 

DAVID PENBERTHY: Senator Simon Birmingham, the new Minister for Education, thanks for joining us on FiveAA breakfast.