Interview on ABC Illawarra Drive Lindsay McDougall
Topics: Launch of the rail training centre at the University of Wollongong; NAPLAN; childcare subsidies
Lindsay McDougall: He’ll be in the studio very soon here to chat to you about many things including, today, the University of Wollongong hosted the Minister for Education and Training Senator Simon Birmingham as a $7.3 million rail training centre was launched. The- oh, I see what’s happening. He’s right here. Excuse me. Senator Birmingham joins us this afternoon. The centre is intended to allow future engineers the ability to design and maintain Australia’s rail network.
Hello there, Mr Birmingham.
Simon Birmingham: G’day Lindsey. Good to be with you. I was a little worried there when you said I was coming up the stairs.
Lindsey McDougall: Yeah, it’s a theatre of the mind. It’s radio. Or maybe I read the brief wrong, but you are in Wollongong today. Tell me, why is there the need for a rail training centre?
Simon Birmingham: Well, the rail training centre really is important for a couple of fronts. One is Australia is a country that’s already heavily dependent on our rail system. We’ve got the sixth largest rail network in the country, and if you just pause and think about our agricultural exports, our mining industry exports – they’re all incredibly reliant on being transported from inland Australia, to our ports, to be able to get out to our export markets and the efficiency of our rail network is critical there. [Indistinct] The Turnbull Government is investing even more through the construction of the Inland Rail, which is going to make a big difference in that regard. And of course we want to make sure that we have skilled engineers, skilled technicians, to make sure that our rail systems are as efficient as possible. The outstanding researcher at the University of Wollongong, who’s heading this centre up, was talking to us about how the research they’re doing will allow for greater loads on individual carriages, and by being able to put more on individual carriages you’ll be able to make the trains shorter, have them travel faster; it means they can get to market faster, means you’ve got lower cost, more efficiency, more job opportunities for people as a result of having a better system there.
Lindsey McDougall: And so you say this centre is going to focus on making existing rail lines more efficient. You talk about efficiency. Will they also be designing completely new train lines?
Simon Birmingham: Absolutely, in terms of the way in which lines are built. And so, this will clearly help with the development of the Inland Rail, which is the big factor there, which is all- which is why we’ve put $3.9 million of Federal Government funding in to help make sure we get those new job opportunities. That the type of researchers, engineers, rail track technicians who are trained out at this centre will be individuals who can help build new tracks, help run existing tracks more efficiently, help to design, ultimately, rail technology that we can export to the rest of the world as well. So, it’s not just about Australia’s involvement and there’s a lot of industry partners with the University of Wollongong in this. We had two gentlemen from- Bridgestone executives from Japan who have travelled to Wollongong today to be part of this centre. And of course, they’re looking at it for the benefits it could provide not just to rail track systems in Australia, but around the rest of the world, and so that’s technology Australia will be able to export.
Lindsey McDougall: Now, you’re the Minister for Education and for Training, but Education as well, and we talk about NAPLAN a lot here at the ABC Illawarra. It occurred the other week: New South Wales Education Minister Rob Stokes says the test is flawed. He wants to replace it with smaller, more regular and low-key tests. What do you think?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I think NAPLAN is still very important. It’s important because it’s the one consistent check we have across the country, that young children are learning the literacy and numeracy skills they want. And from what I hear from parent bodies like the Council of State School Organisations, the Australian Parents Council, is that they do value NAPLAN to give them knowledge about how their children are progressing.
Lindsey McDougall: One thing…
Simon Birmingham: [Indistinct] Report we had in relation- that was handed down by David Gonski, recommends the development of new assessment tools, which I think if we work on those over the next few years and get those new tools right, I can see a world down the track where we may have something even better in terms of NAPLAN, which can assess literacy and numeracy skills in a consistent way, but also do so in a way where the teacher’s in the driver’s seat and able to use those tools at the times that suit them and getting real-time data feedback, which would be even better than what we have currently [indistinct] NAPLAN.
Lindsey McDougall: I guess one thing we’re hearing is that there’s these NAPLAN training businesses that are flourishing now, offering [indistinct] cost to parents; teachers teaching just for NAPLAN and not focusing on the curriculum. Is that- is it a mixed message for students about what’s important to learn?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I’d certainly say to parents, to teachers of schools as well, NAPLAN is just one assessment. Nobody should put a great [indistinct] in terms of making NAPLAN a stressful or highly-focused event. It is one assessment that occurs four times during the schooling life of a child. It gives really important feedback about progress on the basics of literacy and numeracy and that’s why we ought to keep it, improve it and build on it. But ultimately, we shouldn’t be creating high stress environments out of it. Teachers ought to be teaching the basics of literacy and numeracy to ensure that children succeed at, not just at NAPLAN, but in terms of developing the foundation skills that the rest of their learning relies on. If you don’t have basic literacy and numeracy you’re not going to develop rich content knowledge about subjects, or be able to go on to have the type of other collaborative skills that are necessary to succeed.
Lindsey McDougall: Let’s go back even further to the new childcare and early learning systems. That starts on 2 July. Why do families need to update their details when making the switch over, senator?
Simon Birmingham: So, the Turnbull Government’s committed an extra $2.5 billion to provide more support to more Australian families in terms of meeting the cost of childcare and what we’ve done is put in extra funding, but also better target the funding so that families who are working the longest number of hours get the greatest level of support, families earning the least amount get the most support. We’re abolishing the $7500 cap on the childcare rebate that’s there at present with a whole new childcare subsidy that for any family earning less than around $186,000 a year is an uncapped amount. You do need to register for the [indistinct] though.
Lindsey McDougall: Yes.
Simon Birmingham: Because we need to make sure that everybody gets every cent they’re entitled to. We need to know their estimate of the hours they’re working, their estimate of what their family income is to be able to give them the maximum subsidy. I’ve done the registration myself. I’m a dad of a couple of young children and sat there one night on the couch with the iPad on my lap. It took me only about 10 minutes to go through the different steps and I’d encourage any listeners who have children in the childcare system, or in outside school hours care, to visit education.gov.au/childcare and get their updated details done as quickly as possible.
Lindsey McDougall: I’m speaking to Senator Simon Birmingham, the Minister for Education and Training. You’re at the University of Wollongong today. There was a fairly vocal crowd outside. We heard, according to the New South Wales Teachers’ Federation, that the Government’s termination of the original Gonski model means 42 schools in the Gilmore electorate alone can lose up to $19 million in recurrent funding. What do you say to those sort of suggestions about money being cut from schools?
Simon Birmingham: It’s disappointing when unions decide to lie rather than focus on the facts, and the facts are that across the region we’re going to see funding for schools from the Federal Government grow from around $155 million this year to some $235 million over the course of the next decade. There’s real growth each and every year above inflation and that’s funding that we’re now committed through the work that we had David Gonski do to look at not just how much money is spent, because that’s a record and growing sum, but how it’s best invested in schools to get the best outcomes.
Lindsey McDougall: Senator Birmingham, it’s time for the news. Thank you so much for chatting to ABC Illawarra today.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Lindsay.