Will Goodings: We started the program this morning by having a look at a story that came out of The Australian, and it regards an education program in Australian schools with regard to the Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender community, and how that education should take place, has some excerpts of the sorts of modules and classes that would occur. We concluded in the end that- 

David Penberthy: Like don’t ask parents if they’ve got a boy or a girl because that’s prejudiced.

Will Goodings: Oh you can’t do that, I mean that’s unbelievable.

David Penberthy: Don’t ask people if they’ve got a boyfriend or a girlfriend.

Will Goodings: No.

David Penberthy: Because that’s a red rag to a bull too apparently.

Will Goodings: And there’s things like getting eleven-year-olds to pretend their 16 and in a same-sex relationship, and how they feel about all these different things. I think we agree we don’t so much- are concerned about the intent; it’s the execution that is peculiar to say the least.

David Penberthy: Yeah. We’ve got the Education Minister, the Federal Education Minister Senator Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia on the line. Minister good morning, and thanks very much for joining us.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning guys, good to be with you.

David Penberthy: Yeah look, we were saying before like, Will and I aren’t the kind of people who would condone or accept prejudice, but this really does seem to be going beyond sort of values of tolerance and acceptance, and drifting into activism in our view.

Simon Birmingham: Well guys this is a program, or a contract at least that the former Government in 2013 made with the Foundation for Young Australians to deliver information and resources that are available to schools in relation to how they might tackle issues of homophobia and ensure that inclusion occurs in all of our schools for all students. It is a program that is run very much at arm’s length from the Government under that contract. It’s a program where  schools have the entire choice themselves as to whether they opt in, whether they choose to use any of the materials, and of course is entirely then up to individual teachers and their principals and others in the school community about how and what is taught.

Now you guys are dead right in terms of the intention, and the ambition; we should all absolutely expect that there’s no more a place for homophobia in school communities, or the isolation of students who may have questions about their sexuality, than there is for racism, or any other form of discrimination.

Will Goodings: Look I take your point that it was the previous government that initially funded it, but you guys are still funding it, and I would question why taxpayers’ dollars have to be spent on modules such as this talking about young people still growing up in a world that is, and I’m quoting here; widely hetero-normative, and then saying that examples of prejudice include asking new parents whether their baby is a boy or a girl. That’s just mental isn’t it?

Simon Birmingham: Look, I would think that is a bit of an overreach to- I understand your comment there. It’s a four year contract, every contract was reviewed when we came to office to see what the financial implications were of getting out of them, all of the other factors around some of those matters. Now this obviously is going to run its course. It is, as I emphasise to reassure parents and everybody else, entirely a matter for the school communities as to how they might use any of the resources that are produced. And I’m told that there are valuable resources there that teachers can use. Obviously there are some examples that raise your eyebrows, and raise mine as well.

David Penberthy: Is there a broader issue here that we talk a lot, indeed the Labor Party’s trying to capitalise on it at the moment with its education- ten year education plan; Australia is slipping down the rankings internationally, or it’s certainly asserted that Australia’s slipping down the rankings. We know here in South Australia that we have been struggling in NAPLAN compared to the other states. Is there are a point that some schools are perhaps too busy trying to, you know, get everyone to relearn the Kaurna language, solve the climate change challenge, and achieve justice for LGBTI people, but they haven’t got enough time left to teach maths and English?

Simon Birmingham: Let me deal with that in two ways David. Firstly yes there have been concerns over recent years that curriculum is cluttered, and we undertook, and my predecessor Christopher Pyne undertook a review of the National Curriculum when he came to office, and did try to make sure that it was simplified in some areas, and we really do lift the focus in relation to maths, literacy, science, all of the areas you would expect engagement in schools to really be focused on. And they will absolutely remain the priority. 

But the second point is of course there is no point in having great curriculum if you don’t make sure that students are in a- are engaged in the classroom, are included in the learning, that there isn’t bullying in the school environment beyond- well there isn’t bullying in the school environment beyond anything that is at all preventable. So we want to make sure that we do have that safe school environment as well for students so that they are in the best possible environment to learn. 

But absolutely from the Turnbull Government’s perspective we want to have a relentless process, and we will have a relentless process, on how it is that we lift the basic outcomes in literacy and numeracy, and reverse what is a long term decline – despite record funding going into our schools over the last 20 years we’ve seen those standards fall back. How we particularly lift engagement in science, technology, engineering and maths, so STEM subjects that are so important to our innovation agenda, and to really delivering on the jobs of the future and to positioning people to be able to help drive our economic growth to the future.

Will Goodings: Education Minister Simon Birmingham thanks very much for your time.

Senator Birmingham’s media contact:                  James Murphy 0478 333 974
                                                                                    Nick Creevey 0447 644 957
Department Media:                                                   media@education.gov.au