Interview on Sky News AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert 
Prime Minister’s Disraeli Prize speech; Emissions standards of new vehicles; Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools

Kieran Gilbert: For more on the Prime Minister’s visit to London, that speech and other matters, I spoke to the Education Minister Simon Birmingham a short time ago.


Simon Birmingham: Well, I’d encourage anybody, including Lynton Crosby, to look at the entire context of the Prime Minister’s speech. He goes on and talks very clearly about our border security successes in Australia, their importance in terms of national security, their importance in terms of dealing with issues, including the threat of terrorism. He talks about issues that had just been addressed at the G20, including his success around getting world leaders to agree to taking steps around better management of the internet to make sure that terrorists can’t hide in dark places on the internet, that actually we have better, consistent arrangements across the country. 

So yes, Malcolm Turnbull’s speech may have spoken about the historical context of the Liberal Party in certain ways, but he was doing so in a speech that was ultimately about how you protect freedoms in the face of terrorism, and went precisely to some of the things that he and the Government is doing and putting them in the right context.

Kieran Gilbert: Jeff Kennett condemned the speech, but among the condemnations have been some …

Simon Birmingham: [Interrupts] I’ll bet he didn’t read it.

Kieran Gilbert: Well, there’s been some praise as well from Eric Abetz who, as you know, is a very prominent conservative within your ranks.

Simon Birmingham: Look, simply I’d encourage anybody who wants to comment on the speech, read it from start to finish. You’ll see that it goes to some very precise areas of policy success, it deals with some global issues, because of course he was speaking in a global context. But yes, it makes sure that when you’re talking about the defence of freedoms in the face of terrorism you put it in a context – for the audience he was speaking to as well – that relates to the types of values and principles that liberals and conservatives hold dear, and freedom of course is so central to that. So how do you make sure that in defeating terrorists, in maintaining domestic security, you also preserve those types of freedoms that for decades, and indeed centuries, liberals and conservatives have equally talked about, fought for, and want to see preserved as part of that battle against terrorism.

Kieran Gilbert: Minister, on a couple of other issues, reports today on emission standards for new vehicles, the Infrastructure Department releasing a discussion paper. Clearly the industry are not happy about it; they look like they want to knock this one on the head. What’s the Government’s position?

Simon Birmingham: Well, the Government won’t be applying any carbon tax on vehicles. The story is a complete beat-up and we’ve been very clear in making it certain for everybody that this is not something the Government would entertain. We do want to make sure, though, that we drive fuel efficiency in vehicles, because that’s actually about making it cheaper for consumers, making sure that people are using less petrol. And so these types of processes and the departmental processes are not unusual things, but we can absolutely rule out any type of carbon tax-type measure on cars and vehicles. The Labor Party should do the same. What we will work on doing is anything in consultation with industry that can ensure Australia’s vehicle fleet is efficient, and efficient in a way that reduces costs for consumers by driving down household petrol bills.

Kieran Gilbert: And Minister, finally the issue under your direct responsibility: A review of excellence in Australian schools. This is running parallel to the funding changes. It’s going to be chaired by David Gonski. Can you talk us through this, and how does this relate to that other review that we’re awaiting the details on in terms of the overarching SES model, which you also agreed to during those funding negotiations?

Simon Birmingham: So this review that David Gonski is now going to undertake is really about ensuring that the record level of investment we’re putting into Australian schools – some $23 billion extra over the next decade – that it’s distributed according to the needs-based principles of David Gonski’s first review, is used in a way where we can be confident schools are applying the best evidence, the best programs, the best curriculum, the best teaching practices to get the best bang for our record investment. This is about ensuring that, where our performance has stagnated, flat-lined, or even declined as a nation in our schools, we reverse that. 

So David Gonski, working together with a panel of educators who will bring skills from across the country, will be identifying how it is that our schools can actually use true, fair, needs-based funding at record levels into the future most effectively to lift student outcomes. Because ultimately it’s not just about how much is spent, it’s far more about how well it is spent. We want to make sure that, having fixed the issues around needs-based funding, guaranteed that for the future, that it is also spent effectively in the future. 

Kieran Gilbert: And it’s a high level panel, including David Gonski, Ken Boston among others. When do you want to hear back from them in terms of these recommendations on teaching standards, curricula and so on?

Simon Birmingham: So they’ll report back early next year, and in reporting back early next year that will then give us scope to have discussions with the states and territories about getting commitments from them next year to guarantee that they implement the type of measures necessary to lift student performance. We’ve already done a lot in terms of the training of teachers at universities; we know that teaching quality is essential there; we know that getting the basics around literacy and numeracy and phonics right is essential. We want to lift ambition in terms of outcomes for students, when they finish year 12, around the types of skills we are guaranteed they have with a school leavers’ certificate. These are some of the things that I’m sure will be canvassed by the panel and then lead into those discussions with the states and territories.

Kieran Gilbert: Minister, appreciate your time. We’ll talk to you soon.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Kieran.

[End of excerpt]