Interview on ABC News Breakfast with Michael Rowland
Topics: Newspoll; NAPLAN writing test




Michael Rowland:        Senator Simon Birmingham is the Minister for Education and Training, and he joins us now from Adelaide. Senator, good morning to you.


Simon Birmingham:     Good morning, Michael.


Michael Rowland:        We all heard what the Prime Minister said in September 2015, citing the 30 straight Newspoll losses under Tony Abbott. I’m quoting directly: it is clear the people have made up their minds about Tony Abbott’s leadership. So on that basis, the people have clearly made up their minds, haven’t they, on Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, the Prime Minister cited a number of things on that day, and in particular, he also cited things that I think matter much more to the Australian people, which are matters of economic leadership, and on that, he has delivered in spades with more than 420,000 jobs across Australia delivered just in the last year. The longest run of consecutive monthly jobs growth, a very strong economy in that sense, and that’s not just an accident. That is a result of clear, strong, economic leadership to build confidence to ensure that things like our trade position are protected during these very difficult and challenging times. The Prime Minister also cited the importance of a return to collective Cabinet decision making, a strong Cabinet government, the likes of which the Howard Government delivered. And again, I can say with absolute confidence, that he runs a very consultative government and has absolutely delivered on that commitment in spades. But really, the test now is between now and when the next election is to frame the choice, and it is a very stark choice, between a government of strong jobs growth, strong economic leadership, a government of lower taxes, versus Bill Shorten’s policies for much higher taxes and much higher spending.


Michael Rowland:        The Prime Minister did also refer to the trajectory, citing particularly those 30 Newspoll losses under Tony Abbott, and that is the word – as you well know, Simon Birmingham – that all of your marginal seat-holding colleagues will listen to. Based on this current trajectory, you are heading for another election defeat.


Simon Birmingham:     Well, Michael, we will work every single day between now and the next election to frame the choice for the Australian people. And it’s a real choice, and there is a real threat of a Bill Shorten-led Labor Government, and we have to make sure that people understand the threat and risks that come with that. As a government, we have delivered many positive reforms. People in a few months’ time, in July this year, will see in my portfolio, the benefits of our new childcare system – a system that will put thousands of additional dollars of support in the pockets of the hardest working, low and middle-income Australians. That’s as a result of the Turnbull Government’s reforms. Labor voted against those changes. That’s in addition to, of course, our jobs growth that I spoke of before. It’s in addition to making sure that we have strong, secure borders. In contrast, you have a Labor Party who are proposing more than $200 billion of new and additional taxes, higher taxes on the wages of Australians, on the savings of retirees, on houses, on electricity. This is a real threat and a real contrast, and we will frame that contrast and shape that contrast as we get closer to election day.


Michael Rowland:        The Prime Minister in one of his newspaper interviews this morning insists it’s business as usual. Is that good enough based on where these Newspolls are heading for the Coalition?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, the Australian people expect us to keep getting on with the job…


Michael Rowland:        But they’re marking you down in Newspoll after Newspoll, Minister.


Simon Birmingham:     And what we will do is work to the timeline of the next election, to make sure that that is where the choice is stark. That is when people are really framing their decisions. You know, I’m a South Australian senator, I’ve just lived through the South Australian election campaign. If you believed the polls, Nick Xenophon was going to be premier a few months ago. You can turn these things around through discipline, through hard work, through focusing on the key messages and the key contrast and choice in an election campaign. That’s what we’ll do. We have a strong story to tell in terms of what our government has achieved, in terms of that jobs growth, in terms of support for hard working Australian families, in terms of border security, in terms of support to develop significant new Australian industries such as the naval shipbuilding industry that will generate jobs – not just here in Adelaide, but right around Australia – in terms of building sovereign industry capability in Australia by investing in Australian industries. All of that will be under threat should you have a higher taxing Shorten government that will scare investment away.


Michael Rowland:        A couple of issues in your portfolio, Minister, before you go. Les Perelman – as you would have seen on the ABC website this morning – one of the leading education authorities in the world from MIT University, isn’t happy with the NAPLAN writing test, describing it as one of the worst in the world. Does that give the authorities, including you, some cause for thought this morning?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, I certainly expect that ACARA will look closely at the criticism, but it should be put into some perspective. The NAPLAN writing test does not sit in isolation. It sits alongside a separate literacy test as well as a separate numeracy test. There’s a package of work there. And equally, we should keep NAPLAN itself in perspective. I see sometimes far too much commentary that puts a lot of emphasis just on NAPLAN. NAPLAN is but one assessment regime that teachers and schools can use, out of many, and it’s only a few hours, a few times, during the life of a student. And ultimately, I know that teachers across the country use many other assessment tools to chart the progress of their students.


Michael Rowland:        We’ll leave it there. Education Minister Simon Birmingham in Adelaide. Thank you very much for your time this morning.


Simon Birmingham:     Thank you Michael.