Interview on Sky News AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert
Topics: NAPLAN and Civics/Citizenship test results; Sam Dastyari
Kieran Gilbert: Good morning, welcome to the program.
Literacy and numeracy standards among secondary students have either flat-lined or gone backwards in the past decade. Preliminary NAPLAN results in August showed small gains across the board in reading and numeracy since 2008, but results for writing had dropped since 2011. Now, the full NAPLAN report released overnight confirms reading skills have failed to advance; there was improvement at primary school levels but stagnation among secondary school students.
I spoke to the Education Minister, Simon Birmingham. He joined me from Sydney Airport earlier this morning and I began by asking him- or suggesting to him that it must be a worry to see writing skills decline and reading results flat-lining.
Simon Birmingham: It’s a real reminder that we have to continually double down on our efforts in a schooling system to boost outcomes of the fundamentals – reading, writing, literacy, numeracy skills – which are the basic building blocks of student success during their schooling lives. Now, across Australia we have many hard-working teachers doing an outstanding job but it’s clear that with record funding going in, we’re not getting the type of results and lift in results that Australians expect; which is why the work we’ve got David Gonski and a panel of educators doing at present is so essential to identify how it is that funding can best be used in the classroom, by teachers, on evidence based reforms and practices to really lift those numeracy and literacy outcomes.
Kieran Gilbert: In what years are you seeing the problems? Where are we seeing the fall or the flat-lining after what- we’d initially seen some improvements, where are these falls being experienced?
Simon Birmingham: Well, what we’ve seen is that there are some pockets of gains and it’s encouraging to see that, in particular, Indigenous results have improved – still, of course, well behind and there’s a big gap there to be closed; but improvements which are encouraging – but elsewhere we see results such as in the case of Year 9 boys, for example, where one in four are not meeting the minimum standards in relation to literacy on average and that’s a particular concern. So really having a look at boys’ education, of course, is a factor there, as well as recognising that results in the latter stages of some of the NAPLAN testing seem to show concern. So a focus around transition points, early years of high school and the minimum standards required to succeed and in those final years, the minimum standards you should be taking out of school in terms of literacy and numeracy skills.
Kieran Gilbert: One of the things we’ve been told for a long time is that parents should read to their children when they’re very young and at the start of school but the message today is that that reading habit should continue well into high school in terms of parental involvement as well.
Simon Birmingham: Encouraging reading the whole way through a child’s life is a real indicator of success. So absolutely starting early. Mums and dads, grandparents, aunties, uncles, carers cannot spend enough time in the early years reading, developing a child’s vocabulary, ensuring they have a love of books and an interest in reading. But then, helping to make sure that continues; reading with children, even as they become fully proficient themselves, really encourages that continual growth in literacy and encourages types of attitudes to learning that will help a child succeed as well.
Kieran Gilbert: And in terms of, obviously, the future industry is maths so important as well; what’s your sense of where those numbers are stacking up right now?
Simon Birmingham: We’re really trying to put a lot more effort into the STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering, maths – but they, of course, require students to have a strong basis in terms of their numeracy skills. And there we’ve seen some glimmers, again, of improvement which is encouraging, but in other places, more of a flat-lining which shows there’s much more work to be done in that regard to make sure that students are equipped for the jobs of the future in terms of those STEM disciplines.
Kieran Gilbert: When you talk about the Gonski panel; there’s no silver bullet, is there, in terms of this review? It’s got to be a comprehensive analysis of the teaching standards, of resources, of everything across the board, doesn’t it? Because there is not just one answer to this.
Simon Birmingham: Well, that’s right, Kieran. We’ve seen enormous extra funding go into Australian schools over the last decade and the Turnbull Government’s committing some $25 billion over the next decade in additional resourcing which will be distributed according to need to schools across the country; but money in itself isn’t the answer, what you do with it, of course, is the answer. And that’s why we’ve asked David Gonski, with a panel of education experts, to have a look at how they can build on the teacher quality standards that we’ve already implemented; the lift in terms of changes to the curriculum to allow more time to focus on the basics of literacy numeracy that we’ve already delivered; how you build upon those achievements to actually get the best practice occurring in the classroom; that teachers know when they’re looking for a literacy program to help kids who aren’t reading well, that they actually turn to an evidence based program that is going to work in terms of targeting and assisting those children. That’s the type of really practical advice that we hope the Gonski panel can steer us towards, a continual process of improvement and evidence based reforms in our schools.
Kieran Gilbert: Let’s turn to the Sam Dastyari matter. A career over so soon – he’s only 34 years of age. He says he remains a patriotic Australian. Do you think that this was just a misjudgement- a very, very poor judgement from him, as opposed to anything malicious?
Simon Birmingham: Well look, Sam Dastyari didn’t take any questions yesterday, but what was clear is that this should have happened weeks ago in terms of his resignation and it should have been demanded by Bill Shorten, who failed miserably in terms of showing any leadership on this matter. Issues and allegations around Sam Dastyari and his links to China and his advocacy of policies on behalf of China have gone back, not just weeks, but months and months and months, right all the way back to the end of last year in fact. And Bill Shorten, at every juncture, has been dragged kicking and screaming to let anything happen to Sam Dastyari. That’s a failure of leadership on Mr Shorten’s behalf, it’s a failure to put Australia’s interests first, it’s a failure to recognise that the behaviours and the actions of Sam Dastyari undermined the integrity, the sovereignty of Australia, and indeed undermined the operations of our national security services.
Kieran Gilbert: It’s a wake up call, isn’t it, for parliamentarians across the board in terms of engagement with- well, obviously there’s talk about changes to the foreign donations that you’re working towards, but in relation to dealing with those of influence that this is a wake up call.
Simon Birmingham: Well I hope and trust that the Turnbull Government’s actions to ban foreign donations – not just to political parties, but to political players as well – will get the support from the Labor Party. That they don’t seek to be cute there and say that the likes of GetUp! or other political activists get a get out of jail free card, while political parties have those donations banned. We want to make sure, and we are taking action with legislation in the Parliament, to clean up the whole system and I’m yet to see a commitment from Bill Shorten or the Labor Party that they will support that.
Kieran Gilbert: Do you accept Senator Dastyari’s- well there wasn’t an explanation yesterday, but he said he maintains that he is a patriotic Australian. Do you accept that that’s the end of it now, you move on?
Simon Birmingham: Well look, Sam Dastyari says he’s leaving the Parliament. We don’t know when yet, mind you and this is again a failing in terms of Bill Shorten’s leadership, that he ought to have demonstrated the leadership to say to Sam: it’s time to go, you have created and undertaken multiple failings in terms of your work as a senator and as a member of the Australian Parliament. But instead of that, we had Mr Dastyari come out late in the piece, indicate a resignation that is yet to come. So, there’s still a last chance for Bill Shorten. He could insist that Sam Dastyari be gone by Christmas. We all know that it seems as if they want to hold the seat as a parachute for Kristina Keneally, so why not be honest about all of that and execute it nice and quickly.
Kieran Gilbert: They’re accusing you of using China-phobic language – the Government that is – and that the sense is that that could backfire in the seat of Bennelong where there is a large Chinese Australian population. Do you fear that that’s the case?
Simon Birmingham: No look, I am confident that the voters of Bennelong will care first and foremost about their jobs, their cost of living, and in doing so they’ll recognise that the choice is between Malcolm Turnbull and a hardworking local member in John Alexander; overseeing reforms that are creating a thousand jobs a day across the economy, a thousand jobs a day across Australia because of our investment in infrastructure, our delivery of tax cuts to small business and Australian medium size and hardworking businesses. These are the reforms the Liberal Party’s delivered to create jobs and opportunity for people in Bennelong. In contrast, Bill Shorten and Kristina Keneally, with admitted policies that would see $150-160 billion of extra tax, crippling jobs growth, hurting those families in Bennelong.
Kieran Gilbert: Is there a chance of a backlash though, in terms of the tough language about foreign interference and most notably around the Chinese interference?
Simon Birmingham: No. I am confident that people will focus on the issues that matter to them in Bennelong and job prospects are the greatest there. This idea that somehow the Turnbull Government has been engaging in anti-China rhetoric is ridiculous. What we have been engaging in is putting Australia’s interests first and demanding simply that every Member of Parliament ought to put Australia’s interests first. And I think that’s what every Australian voter expects every Australian member of Parliament to do, to put Australia’s interests first. And Labor’s Sam Dastyari failed to do that and Bill Shorten failed to hold him to account.
Kieran Gilbert: Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Appreciate the update; we’ll talk to you soon.