Interview on ABC Radio Adelaide, Breakfast with Ali Clarke and David Bevan
Topics: Channel 7 employee dismissal case; Programme for International Student Assessment scores; Fracking and domestic gas supply

Ali Clarke: Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for SA and spokesperson on finance and trade, good morning.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Good morning.

Ali Clarke: Mark Butler, Labor Member for Port Adelaide and Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, good morning to you.

Mark Butler: G’day.

Ali Clarke: And Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia and also the Education Minister, good morning, in the studio resplendent in a Crows jumper.

Mark Butler: Argh.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning once again.

Ali Clarke: Heard the groan from here, Mark Butler.

Mark Butler: I think 300 kilometres is barely far enough to be away from Simon at the moment.

Ali Clarke: Sean from Allenby Gardens says Simon Birmingham should be able to add a premiership player autograph to his jumper but not this year. I doubt a Richmond player will sign a Crows jumper, so fighting words from Sean.

Simon Birmingham: Oh indeed Sean. So Mark, you’re not coming back home to Adelaide, what for the next week or so?

Mark Butler: I’m thinking three weeks to get over the bragging and the triumphalism that I expect from the Crows if they win on Saturday. Of course, being a 147-year-old club that’s won 37(*) premierships we’ve learnt to take our premierships with modesty and humility which I don’t think [indistinct] …

David Bevan: Really? I’d never notice.

Ali Clarke: Let’s win it first then Crows fans. Alright.

Simon Birmingham: This is more spin that we’ll hear on anything else for the rest of the morning.

Ali Clarke: Don’t forget you’ll be able to see Simon Birmingham in his jumper if that’s what you want for this Super Wednesday on Facebook Live as we Facebook Live right now.

David Bevan: Now, lots to talk to you each about but can we start with a case of Amy Taeuber. She’s a 27-year-old former cadet journalist at Channel 7 and the ABC’s 7.30 program has spent quite a bit of time in the last two nights looking at the issue of her dismissal. Now Channel 7 has rejected the report run by the ABC and has insisted that they’ve acted appropriately. But here’s just a little bit of the audio again, just to remind people what we’re talking about here. This is a little bit of the audio recorded by Amy when she was brought into the office. Now by way of background, she had made a complaint about a colleague at Channel 7 that she was being sexually harassed and after making this complaint she found herself brought into the office and basically given her marching orders.


Unidentified: Look Amy’s with me. Amy’s also got Lesley Johns who’s the chief of staff …

Unidentified: No, I’m afraid it’s not appropriate for Lesley to be in the room at this point. We’re not having a meeting that needs a support person. So Lesley, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to depart.

Lesley Johns: Okay. It’s really disappointing she’s a cadet who’s …

Unidentified: Lesley, if you want to talk to me about this matter we can do this at another time but it’s not appropriate at this stage. It’s confidential, it’s not meant to be discussed in front of any other staff member. So I need Lesley to leave the room I’m afraid.

Unidentified: Lesley has done so.

Unidentified: Great, thank you. Now we’ll start the meeting. Okay, Amy …

[End of excerpt]

David Bevan: Okay, so that’s just a portion of the encounter that faced Amy Taeuber when she was brought into the boss’ office. Now in a statement Seven says the cadet wasn’t sacked because of her complaint, and was instead terminated two months after the recorded meeting after she had responded to allegations. The television network did admit that the meeting could have been handled better. Now we understand Ms Taeuber and Seven reached a confidential settlement earlier this year.

Mark Butler, you’re a union boss for many, many years, when you hear something like that does it resonate with you, or is this something out of the ordinary?

Mark Butler: Well, it’s something I saw a number of times in my career of 15 years mainly representing predominantly women workers of a range of different ages. But really something that is utterly beyond the pale in 2017 from one of Australia’s leading companies, particularly with their national human resources manager on the phone telling a support person for a young female cadet to get out of the room. I mean, I just can’t imagine what was going through her head to think that was appropriate. This is a pretty appalling case and I’m struggling to count the number of ways in which Channel 7 has abused its position of power as an employer of a young female cadet here – and I think it’s obviously distressing to Amy and her family, but for young women generally and for parents of young women going into the workforce to think that this behaviour still exists in 2017 from one of Australia’s leading companies is just appalling. And clearly, companies like Channel 7 need some very strong leadership from the top to change the culture that still exists there.

David Bevan: Should anyone who today finds themself in a situation like that, are there some strict guidelines that they should follow? For instance, full marks to Amy Taeuber for having the presence of mind to record the conversation, but you can get into difficulties with privacy law, can’t you? Should you, if you’re faced with a situation like that say; look first of all, I do want somebody as my support person, and secondly, I’m going to record this. So anything you say, you should be prepared to say on the record, I’m recording it. Can you do that, Mark Butler?

Mark Butler: Well you can, but we shouldn’t expect young employees, particularly cadet employees to be able to exercise that level of courage. I mean, Amy, obviously has done it, but really there’s an obligation on employers, particularly national human resource managers to know what is appropriate behaviour when receiving a complaint and particularly if they’re about to initiate a complaint in response to the employee. I mean this is just basic human resources management. The idea that one of Australia’s leading companies behaving like this towards a young female cadet is frankly unbelievable.

David Bevan: Now, we’ve got to stress that Channel 7 says her eventual dismissal wasn’t to do with her complaint that she had been the subject of some sort of sexual harassment and somebody in the office, a man said you must be a lesbian on the odds, I think that’s- I’m paraphrasing but I think that’s basically what he was saying. She found that offensive. Now Channel 7 insists she was not sacked because she made that complaint. It was …

Sarah Hanson-Young: Well they’d have to say that, wouldn’t they? I mean, does anyone really- the way this young woman has been treated, the extraordinary situation – as Mark’s outlined – by the national human resources manager of the company. I mean they’re just scrambling to cover their own backside now. And I think, what this really shows is what a boys club this industry is still in. And when you think about the impact of having strong leadership at the top, you look at Channel 7 as a company, I think there’s only one woman on their board. All of these elements have flow-on effects. And I just hate to think what other one women in particular, cadets – who we already know are at the bottom of the pecking order in these big media organisations – how they’re feeling this week, looking around thinking, well why would I put my head up and raise concerns about things people have said or the way I’m being treated? It’s a pretty awful learning experience for any young women out there in the media industry right now.

David Bevan: Well we would like to talk to Channel 7, but they pointed out that there’s a confidential settlement that’s been reached earlier in the year. I don’t know this because I can’t interview either of them – Amy or Channel 7 – but I imagine that confidential agreement was reached at Channel 7’s behest, that they would have been the people asking for that so that they can’t talk because their hands are bound, because they’ve chosen to bind them. Simon Birmingham?

Simon Birmingham: Well my understanding is this matter is before the Federal Circuit Court. So I would anticipate that if there are issues to be unravelled here, they will unravel now in a somewhat public manner in the legal process. Of course, for Channel 7 there is immense reputational damage that is already being caused as a result of this. And that should give them and every other major employer around Australia cause to reflect on their processes and practices. If of course the court process leads to a point at which there are findings against Channel 7, well that could have further financial consequences for them, further reputational damage, demonstrate to other employers that legal protections and safeguards are there. And, again, it’s an if in terms of how this process unfolds, but if it is found against Channel 7, then it will be also a demonstration that those legal safeguards are strong and appropriate.

Ali Clarke: We’re coming up to 8.45, and we’re in the middle of Super Wednesday with Sarah Hanson-Young, Mark Butler, and also Simon Birmingham.

Let’s turn to something that’s on the front page of The Australian. You’re the Education Minister, Simon Birmingham. There’s been a report that says the maths, reading and science skills of average Australian students are barely on par with Singapore’s most disadvantaged. Now this has come from the coordinator of a well-respected program for international student assessment. Now this person, he- Andreas Schleicher, is urging Australia to look at the surprising number of features shared by high performing nations such as Singapore and China. One of them is that we need to convince the community to value education. How are you doing that as Minister?

Simon Birmingham: And I think that’s a really valuable point. And I’ll be meeting with, or talking with Andreas while he’s in Australia. He’s part of coordinating what is known as PISA, which is an international assessment of student performance around the country- around the world, and that has shown that Australian students have been slipping in their performance relative to other countries. And his comments in The Australian particularly highlight our performance relative to that of Singapore – a country that spends less per student than us, a country that has larger class sizes than we do, a country that pays its teachers less than we do. So we’re a generous country in a range of ways…

Ali Clarke: But not in results.

Simon Birmingham: Just getting in before Mark Butler says the answer is we need to spend more when we’re already investing record and growing sums. But he highlights a very important point there, and that is that culture and attitude are critical. Now we’ve sought as a government, to try to encourage parents to do more through the launch of our Learning Potential app, which is about giving people really good pointers around how they can help to engage their children from the youngest ages at home in the learning experience that compliments what would be happening in the classroom.

Ali Clarke: So these ranking though, have been slipping for a while. This isn’t a new thing. That’s one thing you’ve dubbed. But how can…

Simon Birmingham: That’s one thing on the parent engagement side, which is really hard of course, as to how you change that culture in the home environment. Broader than that, we’ve invested in reforms around teacher training, that ensures now that primary school teachers in future will be undertaking subject specialisations to get more maths, English, skilled subject specialists into our primary schools, minimum standards for graduates from universities from teaching disciplines to really build the personal capabilities there. New professional standards to encourage those in the teaching profession to aspire to become peer-recognised as highly accomplished or lead teachers. All of them types of reforms designed to lift the quality of teaching in the classroom, which is the most critical in school influence we can have.

David Bevan: Where do stories like this come from? I mean this guy, he’s coming to Australia. You’re going to meet him and there’s a story on the front page of The Aus. Is that just a coincidence?

Simon Birmingham: Well, certainly we learnt about that story when we got approached by The Australian yesterday afternoon. So that’s when I found out about it.

David Bevan: So it’s not a case of the Education Minister’s office ringing up The Aus and saying- look this happens throughout the media saying, you really ought to talk to this guy because Simon Birmingham thinks he’s on message.

Simon Birmingham: No, I think this guy certainly- I think Andreas has gone and sought his own media, or indeed he’s speaking at a conference and so on while he’s here, so the journalist as an education reporter, has probably approached him for a chat and a contribution of a piece. I think he’s written an op-ed as well, which obviously he has generated that aligns with the contribution he’ll be giving. But they’re important messages, and the key part, I guess, of that message that he’s really highlighted there, is it’s not just about what happens in schools. Australian teachers work very hard…

David Bevan: Basically, Aussie parents are slack.

Simon Birmingham: Well again, look, I think again, many parents work very hard, but we need to work harder on the education of our children, starting at the earliest years in terms of that discipline of reading with your children pretty much every night that builds their vocabulary before they start school and then really helps them.

David Bevan: Mark Butler, what do you say to that? We could have bigger class sizes, we could cram the kids in, we could pay these teachers less money, if only the parents would pull their own weight.

Mark Butler: I mean I think one of the challenges here is consistently trying to find a silver bullet for improving our performance in education against the PISA standards or whatever. And I think we’d all agree there is no single silver bullet. I’m not going to delve into the money issue just to please Simon, although we do take the view that money does matter and the cuts over 2018-and-19 to the schools funding agreement with South Australia will have an impact.

David Bevan: I think you just did.

Mark Butler: But we also- that wasn’t delving. That was a sidebar, a sidebar, David.

Mark Butler: But we should …

Simon Birmingham: Only hundreds of millions of dollars but that’s a sidebar too.

Mark Butler: We also have always taken the view that there need to be strong targets for state governments in particular, and other school funding authorities to satisfy around things like teacher quality, the level of principal autonomy or principal power over schools and things like that, so I think the more we can expand this debate into recognising that there are a whole range of drivers of good education – money is a significant one, but others as well – the more I think we’ll be able to improve our performance.

Ali Clarke: Well, Michelle says both parents now have to work due to cost of living; they don’t have time to teach their children as well, that’s why they go to school. Julie in Marion says I don’t want my children to be brought up in a Singapore type of education culture; after and before school tutoring, very little play. It may be great for results, but is there a comparison on wellbeing?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Yeah, Ali, it’s Sarah here. Look, I think one of the biggest problems we’ve got is how we lift the respect and value of the profession as a whole, and we need to do that through how we train our teachers, how we teach our teachers to teach effectively, to ensure that it is a profession that attracts the best and brightest; that it’s not something that we see graduates go into just because they missed out on some of their other preferences after leaving school. We need to really build the teaching profession into something that people grow up striving to want to be, because they understand it’s one of the most important jobs that we have as a society – to educate the next generation – and yes, that includes money, but it also actually means that as political leaders, as community leaders, how we talk about teaching, how we talk about the importance of schools; all of that has to be part of the conversation. There is no silver bullet, but you need the best and brightest in our classrooms if they are to educate the next generation.

Simon Birmingham: And look, can I agree entirely with Sarah there that it is critical that we get the best and brightest into the teaching profession, that we regard teachers as skilled professionals who have very important jobs to undertake – one of the most critical jobs in our society – and that’s why getting teacher training right is a big important part of what we’re doing. I’m pleased that my department is working with the state education department here in SA in trying to look at a national program to lift professional development standards for teachers; a range of things we can try to do to elevate the skills across the profession, and in doing so, hopefully elevate the regard in which the profession is held.

David Bevan: Mark Butler, during the last federal election campaign, did you have discussions with federal Liberal MPs or staffers on how to deal with Nick Xenophon?

Mark Butler: No.

David Bevan: Not at all?

Mark Butler: No. Not that I recall.

David Bevan: It was never raised.

Mark Butler: Not that I recall. Preference negotiations are managed at a party level by party officials.

David Bevan: You were never party to any discussions with federal MPs – Liberal MPs – about dealing with Nick Xenophon?

Mark Butler: Not that I recall.

David Bevan: Okay. Moving onto another topic. Do you ever have a problem with fracking? Ever?

Mark Butler: Well, we put in place a water trigger arrangement, it’s described as, when we were in government, to ensure that any onshore gas developments – particularly unconventional gas developments that might or might not involve fracking – would go through an independent assessment process, an independent expert scientific committee of hydrologists and geologists and suchlike would look through it, and there would be, for the first time – after that legislation passed during our time in government – for the first time, a Commonwealth approval process for those sorts of projects. Now, we think that that was important to ensure for the community that there was a rigorous assessment, and then approval if need be, of any gas development or new coalmine, for that matter, on the water table, particularly on the water impacts for local farmers and local communities.

David Bevan: So, would that address the sort of concerns that people have in the southeast of South Australia?

Mark Butler: Well, in the southeast of South Australia it’s not coal seam gas. So the Commonwealth approval process only applies to coal seam gas. We took to the last federal election a policy that would expand the water trigger – or that process I just outlined – to shale gas as well, which is the sort of gas that is present in the southeast of South Australia, and also in the Northern Territory, for that matter, so we think that that Commonwealth approval process should be expanded to cover all gas developments, not just the coal seam gas developments you mainly see interstate.

David Bevan: Well, you seem less gung-ho about gas down in the southeast than Tom Koutsantonis. I get the impression he’s really happy to get down there and get the stuff out of the ground.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Thank god the community don’t want it. It’s community power at the moment that’s stopping this fracking from happening, and I think, actually, it’s a big mistake of Labor at the state, and Labor at a federal level need to be much stronger as well. South Australians don’t want to see our nice, clean, green reputation in this state being ruined by having fracking kick-started here like they’ve got in Queensland; farmers having to protest to lock big companies off their property, being forced to move, forced to have gas wells punched in around their farms. Thankfully, we don’t have that here, and we shouldn’t let them get a foothold. I’d urge Mark to be even stronger, frankly, in standing up to his state colleagues and saying no, frack off.

Simon Birmingham: We just have gas prices in part of the country 25 per cent higher than they would otherwise need to be.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Well, no. Simon, look, let’s be honest, the gas price is high because gas companies are gouging customers, and it’s because it’s pegged to the international gas price, and the ridiculous thing about what’s being discussed by the Prime Minister this week, and in the negotiations today with the gas companies, is even having some type of restrictions on exports; unless we actually have some regulation about the gas price, hooking it to the international price is not going to push prices down.

Simon Birmingham: I know economics aren’t a Green strong suit, but increase supply, prices come down.

Ali Clarke: Okay. We will have to leave it there.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Not if it’s at the international price. That’s the big hoax that the Prime Minister’s trying to pull this week.

Ali Clarke: We will have to leave it there.

Simon Birmingham: We’ve seen prices dropping already, Sarah, thanks to increased supply.

Ali Clarke: To everybody that is texting in: she said frack off, okay? Frack off. Sarah Hanson-Young, thank you very, very much. Simon Birmingham, Liberal senator for South Australia, Education Minister – thank you. Mark Butler, do you want to wish him all the best in the Crows?

Mark Butler: Not really, no.

Ali Clarke: Okay, see you. Thanks very much.

Simon Birmingham: There are Crows fans that live in Port Adelaide too.

Ali Clarke: Mark Butler, thank you so much.