Interview on ABC Radio Adelaide Breakfast with David Bevan and Ali Clarke
Topics: SA Government’s failure to monitor child care standards, Pauline Hanson’s burqa stunt

David Bevan: Good morning to Federal Education Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning.

David Bevan: Amanda Rishworth, Member for Kingston- Labor Member for Kingston, and Shadow Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans’ Affairs.

Amanda Rishworth: Good morning.

David Bevan: You’ve struggled out of a sick bed.

Amanda Rishworth: I have [laughs].

David Bevan: We appreciate you coming in. And Sarah Hanson-Young, South Australians Greens Senator. Good morning to you.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Good morning.

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, if we start with you in your capacity as Federal Education Minister. You’ve released figures today saying that the State Government is basically dragging the chain on monitoring standards in child care centres. What do you say they’re doing and what they’re not doing right?

Simon Birmingham: Well David, the latest statistics in terms of the assessments undertaken by state governments of family day care centres, show that in SA, one-in-five family day care centres remains unassessed by the State Government; that’s the worst performance in the nation in terms of checking against the Australian quality standards framework that exists. It shows that in South Australia the State Government is just not doing its basic job; which is to get out there, ensure those centres are assessed, that they’re up to standard, and that parents can have confidence that all of the standards that are in place are actually being met by the centres.

Ali Clarke: Amanda Rishworth, would you like to respond?

Amanda Rishworth: Well look, I think there’s a really fundamental question here for Simon, and that is, are you suggesting that quality is not happening here in South Australia? Because my understanding is that over 87 per cent of services have been evaluated. That was the statistic. And in fact, South Australia is leading the way in terms of quality, in terms of the state. So if this is somehow trying to talk down our child care services and early education services here in South Australia, or trying to score political points at a time when both Steven Marshall and Malcolm Turnbull are doing very poorly and need a distraction, I’m not sure what it is, but I think you should be talking up the excellent care. And if your question is, or if your assertion is that we have poor standards here in South Australia, then you’re not looking at this report very clearly.

Simon Birmingham: Well no Amanda, I’m quite happy to talk up the care and services provided by many early education experts across the state; but I’m not going to talk up a State Government who aren’t doing their job, who haven’t got around to assessing one-in-five family day care centres across the state. Tasmania have managed to assess 96 per cent of their services. So they’ve done their job. Every other state is outperforming South Australia, has managed to do so in more than nine-in-ten cases. Yet the Weatherill Labor Government has not managed to get around to sending someone out to take a look at one-in-five of the services.

Amanda Rishworth: Well I just want to add one more thing. You have cut the money- the Federal Government has cut the money to the agency that does these assessments, so it’s a bit rich you sort of saying, oh you haven’t gone out and done it and we’ve cut the money. But…

Simon Birmingham: [Interrupts] Let me make two points there. South Australia gets funded on exactly the same terms as every other state who’s managed to do their job. And frankly, why do they need to be bribed to do their job? It is their legal responsibility to go out and check these centres, that’s their job.

Amanda Rishworth: They’re not bribed. There is a joint responsibility, in terms of the quality child care framework. As I remember, your colleagues, including a Minister now, Alan Tudge, said the quality framework was not even- he didn’t even understand why it existed. But putting that aside, I think the quality framework, and Labor thinks the quality framework, is really important. But you cut the funding. There’s many, very good childcare centres out here. We’re exceeding in terms of quality of all the states in Australia.

Ali Clarke: Amanda Rishworth, then how do you…

Simon Birmingham: [Interrupts] The facts are just clear though. This is just another case where the State Labor Government in SA, can’t even manage to deliver the basic services to ensure the wellbeing of our children, when every other state government is outperforming us.

Ali Clarke: Amanda Rishworth, if one-in-five child care services in South Australia still haven’t had their quality assessed – as Simon Birmingham is asserting – how do you know the quality exists?

Amanda Rishworth: Well look, the agency has been diligently- as I said 87 per cent or so services have been assessed. There is a number of rural and regional services that the board has a plan to go and visit. But so far, 87 per cent being assessed…

Simon Birmingham: It’s actually 81 per cent.

Sarah Hanson-Young: But thankfully, in our child care and kindergarten’s, we actually teach people to take responsibilities for their own actions. And I reckon what we’ve got here is a situation where the State and Federal Government are squabbling like the toddlers in the toddler room. The reality is parents are worried about the cost of child care, getting their kids a place. We know waiting lists are still a problem here in terms of vacancies in South Australia. And overall, I mean I think most parents love the work and the dedication that child care workers provide.
Most kids have a wonderful relationship with their worker. You know in many, many places, child care workers get paid less than the cleaners who clean the child care centre. There is a raft of issues. And rather than just point scoring and pointing fingers, how about we get to the issue; which is funding child care services properly, making sure staff are qualified and they get paid appropriately for that.

Ali Clarke: It’s 8.42. You’re listening to Super Wednesday. That was Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for South Australia. Amanda Rishworth is also in, as is Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Don’t forget if you want to see your pollies with pictures, you can do. We’re also Facebook live-ing this as we speak.

Sarah Hanson-Young, speaking of squabbles, did you get caught up in the heat of the moment when you said the next terrorist attack would be on Pauline Hanson’s head if it was done in Australia, after she wore a burqa in Parliament?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Look, no. I…

Ali Clarke: [Interrupts] Do you wish you hadn’t said it though?

Sarah Hanson-Young: No I stand by that. Because what the security agencies have said is that Pauline Hanson’s behaviour, her comments, her rhetoric, the campaign – she’s actively running a campaign to demonise people in the Australian Muslim community. And what the security agencies have said is that is going to drive people away from engaging with our agencies and authorities who are trying their best to keep the nation safe. She is undermining the work of the authorities. And I think she does need to take responsibility. Her actions have consequences.
David Bevan: You say she’s demonising the entire Muslim community, but didn’t she actually go out of her way in that speech which followed the unveiling, very dramatic in the Senate, didn’t she go out of her way to say the vast majority of Muslims aren’t a problem?

Sarah Hanson-Young: No, because then she came back into the chamber and demanded that everybody listen to her campaign to put a ban on Muslim migration. She’s used the burqa as a prop for a broader push to ban Muslim migration, to signify One Nation’s policies that the entire objective is to divide, whip up fear and hatred. And the authorities themselves, whether it’s ASIO, whether it’s our national security experts, the Deputy Police Commissioner in Victoria, our Attorney-General are saying; this type of commentary, active campaign, does the exact opposite to what is needed. And I have no doubt in my mind that when Pauline Hanson sat in the chamber last week with that revolting crass stunt that authorities across the country who are working very closely with Muslim communities went, oh, well that’s footage that is going to be used by ISIS now.

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, the rest of the chamber stood up and applauded George Brandis’ speech except for your side of politics. Why didn’t you stand up and applaud him?

Simon Birmingham: It’s actually un-parliamentary to stand up and applaud in the chamber and perhaps we’re sticklers to convention in that sense, but I applauded George’s speech publicly.

David Bevan: [Interrupts] It was quite clear that the Coalition …

Simon Birmingham: I followed the ancient practice of saying here here. I tweeted my support for George within seconds of him giving that speech. I think that the approach he took was dead right. It is reckless and irresponsible of anybody to drive Muslim communities in Australia into a corner from which they become less willing to cooperate with law enforcement agencies, feel a lesser part of the Australian community. Because we need to make sure that cooperation is maximised and that has been the clear and consistent advice of law enforcement agencies right around the country.

David Bevan: If you think Pauline Hanson was wrong with what she did, what is the best approach in dealing with her wrongness? Is it this mad scramble to take the high moral ground? I mean people were falling over themselves to condemn her and the louder the better because they want to show how good they were. Chris Kenny wrote an interesting point – and we discussed this on the station last week – where he said look, be very careful. If you think she was wrong you’re actually reinforcing her point of view and galvanising people behind her. So I just ask you, in terms of tactics, did the people who are opposed to Pauline Hanson, what she had to say, over-play their hand?

Simon Birmingham: Look, we’re in a free society, and in that sense everybody, including Pauline Hanson, is entitled to their views. It is right for leaders, such as myself, George Brandis, others, to call out the irresponsibility of those views when they do potentially endanger Australians, in terms of the effectiveness of our law enforcement agencies. In terms of the extremes of these debates, in some ways I wish we could send the extreme left and the extreme right off into a little echo chamber that’s in a great big concrete bunker and they could yell at each other …

Amanda Rishworth: [Talks over] Twitter, isn’t it?

Simon Birmingham: … for the rest of the days without the rest of us having to hear their endless arguments and that really don’t actually relate half the time to what most Australians care about. Most Australians care about do they have the security around their job, can they have a secure roof over their head, what’s the future of their children like. These are the things that I have to say in all honesty occupy the bulk of the Government’s time. I think in fairness they occupy the bulk of the Opposition’s time as well. But the fringe groups …

Ali Clarke: Who are you sending in first then to the bunker?

Simon Birmingham: [Laughs] Well it’s a bit like choosing the sports team at school. You take one extreme from one corner and one extreme from the other corner.

Amanda Rishworth: I think your point about giving her more oxygen and more air time is a fair point in terms of this was a stunt to get attention. And by feeding them, I guess the PR machine, it sometimes can exacerbate this. At the same time I think it was a really important message for the Muslim community here in Australia to see that the majority of the Senate stood up and backed them. So I think in terms of the advice from the security agencies, it is – as both Sarah and Simon has said overwhelmingly – you shouldn’t back these communities into a corner. So it’s about finding a balance. It’s about finding a balance.

David Bevan: But I suppose that’s what I’m asking. And the louder you shout at Pauline Hanson the more marginalised and disenfranchised people- and some of them very decent people who are supporting her and who feel very confused about the world that they woke up in this morning, the more marginalised they feel. And so- look I appreciate some people say sometimes you’ve got to take a strong stand on an issue, but maybe sometimes talking in a loud voice doesn’t help.

Amanda Rishworth: Well I think in this case a message to the Muslim community that she was arguably absolute minority of two senators, was a really important message to send to the Muslim community to say, this isn’t a partisan issue, this isn’t the majority of the Senate that’s making you feel like this. I think that was an important message. But I think more so it’s about the stunts in giving her oxygen. I think we do have to find a balance because she does not represent the majority of Australians.

Sarah Hanson-Young: I think the other thing here though is that she needs to be held accountable for the actions that she’s taken. She has undermined the work of authorities and she’s actively ignored their advice. They’ve said it to her directly, please stop Pauline, and she refuses. I do think, it’s not just about ignoring her and not giving her oxygen, she has to be held accountable for the fact that she’s endangering the whole community.

Ali Clarke: Simon Birmingham, Federal Education Minister, Amanda Rishworth, Member for Kingston and Shadow Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans’ Affairs and Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for South Australia, thank you both- or all of you for coming in.

Amanda Rishworth: Thanks for having us.