Interview on Channel 7 Sunrise with Sam Armytage
Topics: Cyber bullying and the eSmart program

Sam Armytage: And here is the man himself, Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now. Minister, good morning. Welcome.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, great to be with you.

Sam Armytage: Now, you’ve heard what we’ve been saying this week, what is your response, will you commit to funding this very, very important program in our schools?

Simon Birmingham: Well, this is a good program, and indeed our Communications Minister helped launch this program, and the Prime Minister is a patron of the The Alannah & Madeline Foundation. We’re giving the states and territories more than $600 million extra this year for their schools that they operate across the country, and I welcome them committing extra funding into this program, and I encourage them to keep doing so.

Sam Armytage: So, hang on. Minister, this sounds like buck passing. Are you saying this is a state responsibility and that the Federal Government should not get involved in this?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we don’t run any schools at a federal level. So, what I urge is for the states and territories to come to COAG – as they’re going to do tomorrow – to share best practice examples, including the Alannah & Madeline eSmart program to make sure that they are all doing the absolute best they can in their schools.

Sam Armytage: Okay. Now, there are issues that the Federal Government will override the states on – and of course, NAPLAN is the major one there – so literacy and numeracy, the Federal Government have stepped in and said: we need to make this a priority, we need a national curriculum on that, literacy and numeracy. I put it to you that cyber bullying in our schools is now as important as literacy and numeracy. Can the Federal Government not step in over the states and make this a national program?

Simon Birmingham: So, we don’t override the states when it comes to NAPLAN, we have agreement from all the states that they roll NAPLAN out …

Sam Armytage: But you work together.

Simon Birmingham: We absolutely work together indeed, and we work together on agreement. And tomorrow I would hope that there will be agreement from the states and territories about what they’re going to do as best practice measures in this regard. And that’s why we give them so much funding going into Australian schools, it’s also why we underpin the way in which these programs can succeed through items like, or areas of initiative like the eSafety Commissioner which has undertaken investigations into 30,000 cases so far and acted when it’s come to around 700 different instances of cyber bullying that are referred from students, from parents, from teachers. And that’s making sure that there is, of course, the pathway there for programs like Alannah & Madeline’s eSmart that raise awareness to also then have the tools for the solution.
Sam Armytage: Yeah, but you do take a leadership role in NAPLAN. Can you not take a leadership role on this issue? Because it seems that we can’t really leave it to the states to all agree on something, because they never agree on anything. So, is this not a national crisis that needs to be handled at a federal level?

Simon Birmingham: Well, on an issue as important as this I trust the states and territories will agree. That’s why it’s on the agenda at the Premiers’ Conference. The Prime Minister, who has absolutely engaged in this issue, will engage tomorrow with the premiers and …

Sam Armytage: And will you be part of that discussion, will you step into that COAG meeting and have a discussion on education about cyber bullying in our schools?

Simon Birmingham: Discussions at COAG are usually kept between the Prime Minister and premiers; that’s the way that COAG works on any issue of particular importance. But I’ve talked to the Prime Minister in advance …

Sam Armytage: So, how can we trust that this won’t get lost in the meetings at COAG tomorrow, that cyber bullying will be given the time that it deserves?

Simon Birmingham: Because it’s clearly on the agenda. So, it will be discussed. And what we will encourage the states and territories to do is use all of the resources that we currently have there, such as the eSafety Commissioner, take the best practice examples from each other – such as the investment they’re making in The Alannah & Madeline Foundation – and use the record growing funding that we’re providing them, to direct it into those places.

Sam Armytage: Okay. Simon Birmingham, we’re not letting up on this. We will talk to you again soon. We hope that this is sorted at COAG tomorrow, and certainly discussed in detail.

Simon Birmingham: Absolutely, indeed.

Sam Armytage: Thank you for your time today.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you.