Interview on ABC AM with Sabra Lane
Topics: Citizenship of Parliamentarians; Child care industry industrial action; Innovation and Science Australian report.
Sabra Lane: Joining us now is the Education and Training Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham. Welcome back to AM.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Sabra. Great to be with you.
Sabra Lane: How do you think voters will react to weeks and months more focus on this dual citizenship fight?
Simon Birmingham: Well, the Government doesn’t want to and doesn’t intend to focus on the dual citizenship; far from it, we’re going to get on with the job that we’ve been doing to keep creating more jobs across the Australian economy – some 400,000 plus last year, a record since statistics have been collected; we’re going to keep working on budget repair, which is ahead of the track that we’d set ourselves and improving in terms of against Budget projections. These are the important issues. But we do believe that Bill Shorten ought to admit that firstly, he misled the Australian people through the second half of last year. He stood there hand on heart and repeatedly said that Labor has no problems and yet now he has a by-election in a Victorian seat; a senator before the High Court; and, of course, the case in Queensland of the member for Longman whose situation is very clear that she is still a British citizen, that her renunciation steps were not completed and, rather than wasting any of the Parliament’s time or any of the Court’s time, she should follow David Feeney’s lead and Susan Lamb should resign from the Parliament.
Sabra Lane: You just heard Scott Buchholz caution the Government against using its numbers to refer Susan Lamb; how mindful are you of that? Because it would set an ugly precedent, wouldn’t it?
Simon Birmingham: Well, that’s why Bill Shorten should do the right thing …
Sabra Lane: No, no. I’m asking you for your view, rather than quickly flicking off to the Opposition.
Simon Birmingham: Well, Sabra, it’s not about flicking off to the Opposition; this is a Labor member of Parliament …
Sabra Lane: And I’m asking you about Scott Buchholz’s view.
Simon Birmingham: … and, indeed, Susan Lamb should do the right thing. Susan Lamb is the individual member of Parliament in question here, whose circumstances are that she admits she is a British citizen and she admits she did not complete the renunciation process. So the point is …
Sabra Lane: To the point of my question, your own side is warning you against using your numbers to refer Labor members.
Simon Birmingham: So the point is that the law set down by the High Court is now quite clear. We don’t all like the law, the Government took different propositions to the Court, however the Court found that the Australian constitution is black and white and Susan Lamb’s case appears to be black and white. She should do the right thing. She and Bill Shorten should both show some honour about this and simply not waste the Parliament’s time, not waste the Court’s time, not set any precedents, but just follow David Feeney’s lead and go to a by-election.
Sabra Lane: And my question, warnings from your own side?
Simon Birmingham: Well, of course, we will make sure that everything we do upholds the integrity of the constitution and the Parliament and the Government is very mindful of those factors …
Sabra Lane: And the warnings from your own side?
Simon Birmingham: … and that’s why, of course, that’s why John Alexander set the lead last year, as did a number of senators, that once the High Court decision was clear and there was doubt over their circumstance, they didn’t waste the Parliament’s time, they didn’t waste the High Court’s time, they simply went to a by-election or resigned.
Sabra Lane: Okay, we’ll have to move on. Child care workers are planning to go on strike next month because the union representing the workers says that the Federal Government has not responded to its deadline to take action on fixing the pay imbalance in the sector. What are you going to do to resolve this?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Sabra, firstly, I have enormous regard for early childhood educators and the work that they undertake with our littlest learners across Australia. However, United Voice should well understand – as the union, an integral part of the Labor Party – that wage rates, minimum wage rates and conditions aren’t set by the Government, they’re set by the independent umpire, the Fair Work Commission, established by the previous Labor Government; that there are cases before the Fair Work Commission that will be heard. The Government doesn’t employ any child care workers or early childhood educators; we don’t run any child care centres or early learning centres. They are run, variously, by community groups, councils, private organisations, schools, etc. Many of them do pay above award rates and that’s a matter between, of course, those employers and their employees or the union where it’s involved. But there are clear processes put in place here and it’s nothing more than a political stunt for United Voice to set some arbitrary deadline for the Government to allegedly intervene in something that is determined by the independent industrial umpire, not by the Government.
Sabra Lane: It’s true that there is a case before the Fair Work Commission, but it’s been dragging on now – that started in 2013, it’s now 2018.
Simon Birmingham: Well, look, these are matters that of course are determined, as I said, by the Fair Work Commission.
Sabra Lane: That’s not timely, is it?
Simon Birmingham: And I think there are various instances where the union’s been told to go away and, of course, make sure that they update their information or parts of their arguments have, indeed, been questioned or rejected by the Commission. But ultimately, we’ve seen in that interim period all of the different wage decisions made that flow through. Now, I would hope that every early childhood centre in the country makes sure that they pay their staff as well as they can afford to do so and I would encourage them to do that. But is the union really saying they want the Government to start to strip away and tear up the process by which wages are determined independently of governments in Australia and start saying well, we’ll set the wages for this group? At which point, there’ll be calls for other groups and the entire independence in the industrial relations process would be destroyed.
Sabra Lane: Alright. Just quickly, the innovation report that was released last week said that it was really concerned about the standards for teachers instructing in STEM subjects, suggesting the bar is too low for allowing students into university teaching subjects in the first place and that they should be getting a degree in their area of specialty if they’re teaching in STEM areas. What are you going to do about that?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we’re already doing a number of things. So, as a government, we reviewed initial teacher education and admittance to universities for teacher training and we’ve required all the universities to lift the bar in that regard to make sure that it’s not just ATAR scores they’re determined on, but there are other clear tests to ensure that students …
Sabra Lane: Some don’t even use ATAR scores in letting students in.
Simon Birmingham: … are confident and that they are capable and that they would be good teachers. We’re also requiring that, in the primary school years, those studying to become teachers have to undertake a subject specialisation, so that in those early years we get more specialist maths teachers in, more specialist science teachers in. We’ve also been investing in alternative pathways to get people into the teaching profession. So, the Teach For Australia model that, indeed, takes people who have outstanding skills in areas of maths or science, who have studied other disciplines, shown that they have high skills and providing a master’s pathway that fast-tracks them into the classroom to get highly competent and capable individuals in there. And these are the types of things we will keep pursuing with the states and territories to enter teachers into classrooms in the future.
Sabra Lane: And too many lawyers?
Simon Birmingham: Well, look, we’ve seen phenomenal growth in the number of law grads in recent years and many of them are not going on to work in the legal profession. Our job, as government, is to make sure that students are better informed, which is why I’d encourage everybody to look at our Quality Indicators in Learning and Teaching website if they’re making decisions about what to study, to look at their employment outcomes. But we have also been on, now, a 12-month mission to try to get universities to focus on their performance, performance around the number of graduates they are putting out, whether there are jobs for them in different professions and fields, and we’re determined to make sure that future funding growth does have a performance contingent element to it.
Sabra Lane: Alright. Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, thank you for joining AM this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Sabra.