PETER VAN ONSELEN: As mentioned off the top of the program, our main guest today is the Education Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham. He joins us live from Adelaide. Thanks for your company. 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Peter, Paul. Good to be with you both. 

PETER VAN ONSELEN: You were one of the big winners, I suppose, out of the first reshuffle when Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister. He said at the time that this was the best line up, a stellar line up. We’ve now seen six ministers, no less, knocked out of that line up as a result of the changes that we now see with the new ministerial line up. Is this one better or worse than the last? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, this new ministry continues the regeneration that Malcolm started last year. It takes advantage of some resignations and, yes, some who’ve departed under circumstances that you would all wish had not occurred. But the reality is he’s seized the opportunity from this to continue to regenerate the team, to lift the number of women in the team, to bring in some more very talented young people from a diverse range of backgrounds who will make stellar contributions, I’m sure, to the ministry. So I think it’s a great line up and really does ensure that we have a government that is focused on the very difficult challenges Australia faces – how it is that we position Australia in a future world where we know that, as a nation, we need to be at our competitive best, where we need to put our best foot forward in terms of attracting investment to Australia. And Steven Ciobo will have a key role as the Trade and Investment Minister to continue the outstanding work of Andrew Robb in securing free trade agreements, and now really working to make the most of those by getting the investment in Australia and the exports out of Australia to ensure we get the real economic benefit and the job creation that you expect to see there, and, of course, a number of other new ministers in central positions, who will be charged with big reform agendas. 

I particularly welcome Scott Ryan into the education space as the Vocational Education and Skills Minister, working with me. He’ll be replacing Luke Hartsukyer, who is one of the departing National Party MPs, and I think Luke deserves credit for a lot of the work that he’s done in this space too. 

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Senator, can I ask you about one change? Paul Kelly mentioned that it’s a good thing to see Angus Taylor moving into the frontbench line up. One of the responsibilities that he’s got is Assistant Minister of Cities. Now, there was a lot of fanfare about that portfolio space when it was given to Jamie Briggs initially, put under the stewardship, I think, of Greg Hunt at the time in the last ministry. It’s been downgraded now to not even, well, to a par-sec position effectively. 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: But notably working directly to the Prime Minister in this case. So I think what the Prime Minister sought to do there is get a very talented sharp mind in Angus Taylor into that role, who’s charged with two real transformation agendas   the digital transformation, so working closely and intimately with Malcolm in terms of how it is that we make best use of government resources in terms of getting them more efficient in digital transformation, and, of course, overall, the economy and Australian business, and the cities agenda in that real liveability agenda. And Angus’s new electoral boundaries touch there very much on urban parts of Western Sydney, which are clearly a central part of any city’s agenda in terms of the liveability of our cities. 

So I think Angus is a very good pick, working there with the Prime Minister, directly in an area of his policy passion, but complemented very much by other new additions such as Dan Tehan coming into Defence Materiel, as well as Craig Laundy, Jane Prentice and some new National Party faces like Matt Canavan and Keith Pitt as well. 

PAUL KELLY: Minister, in recent times, we’ve seen a number of ministers fall by the wayside because of personal indiscretions. In fact, virtually every form of indiscretion imaginable has been on display. Let me ask you, do you think ministers in the Turnbull Government have finally got the message that if they engage in these blunders, mistakes and indiscretions, then they’re going to lose their jobs? Do you think there’s an awareness of this? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Paul, Malcolm has shown very clearly that, as Prime Minister, he expects the highest standards of his ministers and that he will uphold those standards. He will be fair in doing so, and he will make sure that there are impartial processes, as he used with Stuart Robert this week, with the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet undertaking an independent evaluation against the ministerial code of conduct, that he does expect high standards, that we all adhere to the code of conduct, and that he will act, if required, in relation to that. And the Australian people expect no less, and I am quite confident that the ministerial team understands that, and that we are all focused on the policy challenges the nation faces, because that’s what’s most important – how we ensure we create a circumstance where the economy can grow because Australia’s competitive with other nations, where we generate jobs and skill people for those jobs. They’re the things Australian people care about, not the ins and outs of who’s in the Cabinet or the ministry and who’s not. 

These are important roles that we all hold. We hold them for a short period of time and it’s important that each of us dedicate ourselves to focus on the responsibilities we have in that time and put our best foot forward for the country. 

PAUL KELLY: OK. Well, we know the Prime Minister’s going to uphold the code and get rid of people. I ask again, do you think there’s sufficient appreciation among ministers about this – that standards have got to be lifted and standards have got to be improved? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Paul, I’m confident that there is. And I’m confident that every single member of the Government appreciates how seriously Prime Minister Turnbull takes these issues, how committed he is to making sure that we are a government that upholds high standards of integrity and gets on with the job that Australians most care about. And that is certainly the message that he’s given to each and every one of us, that he wants us to focus exclusively on those tasks of growing Australia and creating the opportunities for the future that ensure Australia can continue to be a nation with high wages and a strong social safety net and a standard of living that’s the envy of the rest of the world. 

PAUL KELLY: Now, do you think that the Liberals, the Liberal Party as a whole, recognises that under Barnaby Joyce, the Nationals are going to seek to be more distinctive in their branding and more assertive? Do you think that the Liberals are prepared to wear a National Party like that? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The Coalition has, over many different governments, survived different combinations of leaders, and it is a very successful and effective and enduring relationship, and I’m sure it will continue to be with Barnaby, yes, bringing a new and different style of leadership to the National Party. 

I worked with Barnaby Joyce for about four years very closely in a complementary shadow ministry capacity when he was the shadow minister for water and I had responsibility for the Murray Darling Basin and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed that time working with Barnaby. And what occurred in that time was, I think, we both learned a lot more about each other’s perspective on those issues of water, Barnaby understanding my perspective as a South Australian and a number of those downstream issues, my understanding the upstream perspectives. 

And I draw that analogy because I think, as you’ve rightly pointed out, Paul, Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce are distinctly different characters, but I think they can be incredibly complementary in the way that they work together, that both of them are very much in touch with business and the needs of business, in different ways but in ways where they both come together to recognise that importance of generating investment, the circumstances for small and large businesses to attract capital and to create jobs in the future. And that really is where I can see the two of them coming together and having an incredibly successful relationship. 

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Well, Barnaby Joyce, of course, will be sworn in as the Deputy Prime Minister on Thursday. He will be our guest next Sunday here on Australian Agenda. 

But, Senator Simon Birmingham, I just wanted to go back to you with some of what Paul was asking before about the recognition by ministers about the need for, you know, upholding these standards. There’s some bitterness there, though, isn’t there, among some of those that have had to fall on their sword? I take you to just this morning, actually. I was asking you about the downgrade in the cities portfolio, which was previously occupied by Jamie Briggs. Our colleague here at Sky News, Kristina Keneally, tweeted about this downgrade being interesting after all the fanfare of earlier, and her tweet was liked by none other than Jamie Briggs. There is a little bit of animosity there. 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Um, well, look, I can’t say that I have followed the likes of Kristina’s tweets all that closely. 

I think, though, that, Peter, in the end, the Government is working very effectively as a team and will continue to do so. But when you have large numbers of different personalities, like any political party in government does, there’ll always be differences of opinion. There’ll always be clashes of personality. 

The issue is whether the leadership of the government rises above that and gets on with the job. And that is precisely what each and every one of us around the Cabinet table will do. I’m confident each and every member of the ministry, and ultimately the Government, as we focus on the election challenge ahead of us, and that challenge will be a distinct choice between a big taxing, big spending Labor government or a Turnbull Government focused on how it is that we grow Australia’s economy in a way that isn’t stifled by more taxes, in a way that does deal with many of the issues we face that could see a downturn in economic growth because of things in our tax structure and system, and that actually really wants to implement considered and careful reforms rather than big taxing, big spending measures as we’re seeing from Labor. 

PAUL KELLY: OK, just on that point, Minister, Labor’s unveiled more, and certainly very significant, taxation policies this week. Labor has clearly rolled out much more of its election policy agenda than has the Government. How much of an embarrassment is this for the Government? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Um, Paul, let me deal with the second part first in terms of the rolling out of agenda. The Government, of course, has a sweeping range of different reforms that have been proposed during its life that are…many of them, sadly, blocked by the Senate, including billions of dollars in savings measures. And so the Government has a lot of different policy initiatives out there which we will be taking, many of those, to the next election and, of course, complementing them with many other particular reform activities. 

But in relation to Labor’s policy yesterday, you have to ask, well, what’s the bigger picture? What’s the bigger strategy behind this? We can say hand on heart as a Coalition government that, when it comes to tax reform, we’re doing the hard yards of analysing the entire tax system. We’re considering every possible permutation and combination. We’ve released detailed modelling to explain the thinking in relation to issues like the GST. And that all of it is driven by the imperative of trying to establish how we can best manage to create a circumstance that generates economic growth, how it is that we deal with some of the emerging…

PETER VAN ONSELEN: But Senator, can I just clarify something. The GST is now dead, buried and cremated, isn’t it? I mean Christopher Pyne seemed to suggest as much when he was responding, defending Stuart Robert in the Parliament shortly before his resignation. That seemed to be confirmed then. Would that be fair? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Peter, I think that is what’s pretty clear from the modelling that has been released to date and the information the Government’s provided, that you cannot build a sensible rationale for what type of lift you would get out of the types of GST reform that have been discussed.

But, importantly, as a Government, we’ve gone through the proper process of looking at it, had all the thorough modelling undertaken and had the analysis that we have now based our decisions upon. 

Where is the Labor Party’s consideration of the entirety of the tax system? Not just saying, “We need some more money, because we’ve got a lot of big spending initiatives, and so we’re going to change this bit of the tax system that we think might be fair,” but actually properly analysing and considering every possible step of it. 

And that’s, in the end, what people will see from the Turnbull Government, that we will go to the next election with a comprehensive tax package that is well explained and well justified on the best available evidence and modelling, to ensure that we can address, with that growth in the average income tax rate that will, of course, create, in time, unfairness and disincentive to work, that we can make sure we create a system that attracts investment in the right places, and places that actually are most likely to generate jobs in the future. 

They’re the challenges that we face and they are not simple ones, which Paul acknowledged in the introduction, but we’re committed to work through them in a way that is coherent and comprehensive, unlike the Labor Party who just seem to want to grab measures that allow them to spend more. 

PAUL KELLY: Minister, Labor’s policy, Labor’s new policy on negative gearing is a pretty substantial policy. Um, to what extent does this make it even more likely that we’ll see a significant policy response from the Government on negative gearing? I mean this has been…this has been floated quite extensively in recent weeks. 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It’s been…we’ve been very clear, Paul, that everything is on the table and that means looking at matters in relation to superannuation, and we’re already doing a lot of things in relation to multinational tax reform. It does mean having a look at other measures in terms of negative gearing, tax deductibility arrangements, how it is that our company tax structure works. All of those factors will be considered. 

Now, the Labor Party need to be very careful here in relation to this reform, though, and consider what other impacts that their policy may have. Firstly, they need to be very honest with the Australian people that, over the initial budget period, it doesn’t raise very much revenue at all, yet they are committing to some very big spending promises. So let’s appreciate at the outset that Labor’s current mix of spending commitments and tax measures will only see, of course, the deficit driven higher, and we’ve seen that type of approach from the Labor Party before, with the mining tax where much largesse was promised and very little actually delivered…

PAUL KELLY: But, Minister…

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: …but, secondly, they need to…Sorry, Paul?

PAUL KELLY: But Minister, these are pretty feeble criticisms from the Government of Labor’s policies. I mean Labor’s rolled out big new policies on capital gains and negative gearing and the Government’s main critique on negative gearing is, well, it doesn’t raise much money over the forward estimates. 

So can I ask you is that all you’ve got to say about Labor’s policy on negative gearing? And what is your response to Labor’s policy on capital gains? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Paul, I think in relation to negative gearing, we also need to have a look at whether there is a role for negative gearing to encourage savings for at least some Australians, which will be part of our consideration. So thinking very carefully about…do you do as the Labor Party is proposing, and essentially wipe this out for all Australians except for a particular type of investment, namely new housing stock? Or do you consider that there is a role for this as a savings incentive mechanism and vehicle, particularly for the many teachers and nurses and others who may actually use this to help set their families up as a retirement nest egg for their families? So these are the types of complex issues that ought to be considered when you’re considering changes to things like negative gearing… 

PETER VAN ONSELEN: So can I ask, Senator…

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: …how it is they work…

PETER VAN ONSELEN: …is that why the Government is loath to, if you like, criticise the philosophical underpinnings of the policy? You want to take a much closer look at it and come to the conclusion whether or not you think that this is something that the Government might look to emulate? 

Your criticism seems to mostly be that the numbers don’t add up on the savings that Labor is arguing it will create over 10 years, rather than there’s something necessarily wrong with the way that they’re looking to change capital gains tax as well as change negative gearing? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Peter, that comes back to the point I was making at the outset, that the Government is taking a comprehensive look at the tax system. And that what we will release will be an integrated package of measures. It won’t be one thing dribbled out at a time in terms of we’re changing the negative gearing rules. We will make sure that when this is released and detailed to the Australian people ahead of the next election campaign, that they can understand that we are dealing with the growth in relation to income tax that Australians are paying, and we’re tackling those issues in a way that makes economic sense and is also fair for the Australian people. 

So, yes, negative gearing reform is an issue that…and a matter that is on the table for consideration, because we’ve been transparent. We’re looking at every possible area of reform. 

Now, because we’re taking a cautious, careful and holistic approach to things, the Labor Party seems to have decided they will try to get ahead of us in that sense, and jump the gun by releasing individual policy measures that appear to not be part of any comprehensive package and there’s certainly no tax relief proposed by the Labor Party. So at present, all they are proposing to do is raise a lot more tax revenue, spend a lot more money. They’re spending more than they’re actually raising. 

We recognise that you cannot have a circumstance, though, where you keep seeing the contributions that Australians are making in the tax system going up and up, because that will ultimately have a negative impact on GDP, as was demonstrated in the modelling released at the end of this week, that that shift from around 24.4% average income tax contribution to around 26.6% average income tax contribution will see a drop in economic activity of more than 0.5%, so that’s something the nation can’t afford over that period of the next five years or so, and something that we do need to seriously address, which Labor’s policies have no plans to do so at this stage. 

PETER VAN ONSELEN: We’re talking to the Education Minister, Simon Birmingham. We’re going to take a quick break here on Australian Agenda. A reminder, later in the program we’ll be talking to Senator David Leyonhjelm. But when we come back, among other things, we will move into the portfolio area of education. 


PETER VAN ONSELEN: Welcome back. You’re watching Australian Agenda where Paul Kelly and I are talking to the Education Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham. 

Mr Birmingham, let me ask you about your portfolio area of education. The Labor Party has put out a substantive education funding package for the next 10 years. It includes reintroducing Gonski funding in Years 5 and 6. I’ve previously ridiculed some of the parts of this policy in terms of where it goes after that. But what about those out years from the original budget that are now included in the budget period, those Years 5 and 6 of Gonski? Will the Government match that funding or go close to? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Peter, it is not the Government’s intention to be matching that funding. 

We have forward funding projections in the budget that demonstrate continued growth in school funding from a federal government level and it’s really important for Australians to understand that school funding at a federal and state level across Australia is at record levels, and from a federal government perspective, it is very significantly at record levels. The growth in contributions the Federal Government has made to state government schools over recent years has gone up quite dramatically. 

And so the policy distinction between the Labor Party in relation to school funding is that both of us are promising to grow school funding off of what is a record base. The Labor Party’s trajectory of growth is just significantly higher than the Liberal Party’s. 

Now, that will be attractive to some people, but what I would urge people to consider is we do have school funding at those record levels already in Australia. So we’re putting in much more money than we ever have before. In fact, if you go back to around 1998, you can see growth since then of more than 100% in real terms in school funding across Australia. So the money going in has more than doubled over that time. Enrolments have only grown by around 18%. And yet the outcomes we’re getting from our school education system, in terms of our literacy standards, our numeracy standards, science understanding, they have all gone backwards, not just in comparison to other countries but in real terms as well. 

So the Turnbull Government’s attitude is that money is not automatically the answer. And what’s really critical is that we continue to look very carefully at how that money is spent and how we make sure the curriculum is as effective as it possibly can be, how we continue to lift the quality of teachers. And we’ve instigated a number of reforms that are under way now to try to improve the quality, particularly of graduates from our universities, in initial teacher education courses. And what is perhaps the most important aspect of all is how we better engage parents from the very earliest years to ensure that their role in the learning of their children is at a high level, because that is the thing that can make perhaps the most profound and fundamental difference to complement and lift what is happening in the school system. 

PAUL KELLY: Minister, I acknowledge that money is not the sole answer and also your point that the Government won’t match Labor’s spending commitment. 

But having said that, can I ask you to what extent do you think it’s true to say that the different school sectors   government, Catholic and independent   are asking for a greater funding commitment from the Turnbull Government than what is currently provided? To what extent are you aware of that pressure? And what’s your view of these demands and requests? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Paul, I’m an Education Minister and pretty much everybody who walks through my door asks for greater funding and support. But, yes, seriously, of course, each of the different sectors have requests for increased funding over the forward estimates horizon and beyond that. 

But we, as a government, have to act responsibly. Now, we will do that by talking to them all about the school funding agreements that we will seek to strike from 2018 onwards and that will be a constructive process. But there’s no magic extra pot of money that exists there. 

The Labor Party promise that they will fund their $37 billion of extra school funding money through lifting tobacco taxes and a range of other measures which they’ve already spent in other ways. Now, that is a nonsensical way to try to deliver school funding in the future. Um, we won’t be tricked into following them in terms of the scale of budget commitment. But we’ll have constructive discussions. We don’t want to…we want to make sure that every school in Australia is funded under a model that is based on needs and that makes most effective use of the dollars that are there. So we want to have a good, hard look at the types of policy reforms that are needed to complement the things we’re already doing in areas like teacher quality, in terms of the minimum mandatory testing that we are now applying to every graduate of a university who is undertaking an initial teacher education course or program. We want to have a look at those types of reforms that we can sit alongside whatever the future school funding model is, so that we can be confident that it will lift and reverse our decline in quality, but that it is also fair and needs based and gives sufficient certainty to each sector into the future. 

PAUL KELLY: When do we see the new school funding model you just referred to? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Paul, that’s something that I continue to speak with the different sectors in the states and territories about, as well as other experts in this field…

PETER VAN ONSELEN: But you must have a roll…a planned roll out date for when…when that process will come to an end and there will be a detail in for us of what it is. 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And, Peter, I’d love to…I’d love to give you guys the exclusive on that but this is something the Government will work through its proper processes…

PAUL KELLY: But just as a matter of general principle, just a matter of general principle, will we see this before the election? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Paul, I’m confident that we will see detail that should give confidence to school sectors that the Government has a clear plan in relation to school funding. Now, I do think it’s very important to… 

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Is that a yes, sorry, Senator? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, yes. Yes. Yes, Peter. 


SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We will make sure that there is…there are clear policies out there in relation to our schools and education agenda that will give parents, teachers, all stake holders in this sector, and employers, importantly as well, confidence that we have a plan that can continue our work to lift quality. We’re building off of a strong base. Christopher Pyne’s work on the National Curriculum ensured we’ve started them into place this year, ensures that we do have better basis in the way in which literacy is being taught in our classrooms. The work in relation to teacher quality that I’ve mentioned is about ensuring we have higher-quality teachers coming into our classrooms in the future, in whom we can have the greatest confidence that they have great professional standards, but also great abilities in their own literacy and numeracy that they can pass on to our students. The work in relation to parental engagement is something that I’m very passionate about building on, the work again that is already there. 

So we will make sure in all of those different pillars that there are clear policies explained and, yes, in relation to funding as well, how it is that we can best carve up the money that is available in a needs based way in future, that does ensure those schools and those students who most need it get the greatest support across all sectors, recognising the diversity of students that exist across all sectors. 

But also recognising that state governments are, of course, the primary funder, more than 80% of funding into government schools comes from that state government sector too. So we shouldn’t be expecting that the Federal Government has all of the funding answers there when the vast majority of responsibility lies with the other tier of government. 

PAUL KELLY: OK. Let me ask you directly though, the current formula, the current indexation formula for the Federal Government is CPI plus enrolments. Will you stick with that? Or will the Federal Government, will the Turnbull Government aim to do something better than that in the new funding formula? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Paul, that’s the current funding formula on which the budget projections are outlined…

PAUL KELLY: That’s why I’m asking. 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Yep, and there is no proposal to change the budget projections at present and if there is, that is something that we will outline through the proper budget processes with appropriate and demonstrated means to pay for them. 

But there is a separate question of how you carve up that funding as well. And what the Gillard Government did when they struck the current school funding agreements was they struck an awful lot of special deals that ensure you have different payment arrangements across different states, different school sectors get different payment arrangements. I am determined to make sure that the next funding agreement is much fairer, much simpler, still focused – even more focused – on need, but is actually ensuring that it doesn’t matter where you live in the country, the Federal Government is treating you, that individual student and that school, in a fair and equitable way, recognising whether they have a disability, whether they are from a lower socioeconomic or Indigenous background, dealing with all of those particular issues that heighten the need for extra support or extra investment, but do it in a fair and consistent way. 

So there are two separate questions there, Paul. One is your question that you asked about the quantum of money. The other is how you carve it up. Now, we’ll consider both of those. The first is subject to the usual budget processes and any extra money, we will identify where it’s coming from and how it is that we might be able to fund that, and it certainly won’t be the type of largesse we’re seeing from the Labor Party. The second is how you carve it up. And we’ll have a clear series of benchmarks on which we will determine that that will be driven by fairness, equity and need. 

PAUL KELLY: Minister, this week, The Australian newspaper’s run a series of articles about a program being run in Australian schools, All Of Us, which relates to gender. According to the quotes from the relevant documents, we have 11 year olds now engaged in playing out sex roles. We’re told that phrases such as “boys” and “girls” are no longer to be used. Clearly there’s an ideology at work here in terms of breaking down gender stereotypes. I understand this program has been approved and funded by your department. I wanted to ask are you satisfied with this program? And do you support its content? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: So, Paul, this program was approved and funded by the previous government. It’s a program whose objectives…the objectives, I think, are perfectly reasonable objectives. There should be no more a place for homophobia in our schools than there is for racism in our schools, and we should be ensuring that every student is taught key attitudes around tolerance and acceptance of others and does understand the differences in individuals. 

Now, there are parts of this program which, as I said, was funded by the previous government and runs for about another 12 month period, that do raise an eyebrow, and that I understand why people would be looking at some aspects of it and thinking, “Well, this language doesn’t really seem what I would expect to be taught in the classroom.” To those parents, I would seek to give them the reassurance that this is a voluntary program that schools opt into. It is, of course, the classroom teacher in conjunction with the principal and the rest of the school community who choose to pick things out of this program that they think are worthwhile and translate them into that school environment. 

Now, I think there are certainly aspects of this program that are well and truly worthwhile taking into the school environment to counter any attitudes of homophobia, to ensure those aspects of tolerance are promoted in the school and community, because we want to make sure that every single student does feel included at their school, that we do stamp out issues around bullying…


SIMON BIRMINGHAM: …because ultimately it is those things that are impediments to learning. 

PAUL KELLY: Well, can I just clarify – that’s a pretty strong endorsement of this content – so I just want to clarify that, as minister, you are endorsing the content? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: No, Paul, as minister it’s not my job to endorse the content. I set policy settings for the Government in conjunction with the rest of the Government. I am not…

PAUL KELLY: Well, what’s your view of the content? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I…it is, it is not my job   let’s be very clear   it’s not my job in terms of the actual content of each aspect of a learning resource to be judging that. My view is…

PAUL KELLY: Well, do you have any concerns?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: My view, yeah, my view, Paul, is that I think some of the language that is used in aspects of this, I would think, is…is not at a level that you would expect to be included in a school classroom. It’s something that you might expect academics to be debating in a university environment…

PAUL KELLY: Well, if that’s your view…well, if that’s your view, as minister, if you have that view about the program as minister, surely you’d do something about it. 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Paul, the key point there is the way in which it was set up, by the previous government, gives schools complete autonomy to pick and choose if they want to be in the program at all and, if they do, which bits are sensible and of value to their school environment. 

Now, if I’m minister in a year or two’s time when the funding for this comes to an end, and there’s a consideration as to whether there’s a need for such a program in the future, I’d be certainly having a look at the way some of the conditions of it are written, some of it is structured, so that we can be confident that, in the future, perhaps we don’t have these types of debates that I think are very unhelpful, because the debate that seems to be occurring in the public space is one of whether or not we should be teaching inclusiveness or tolerance in our schools. 

Well, that’s a pretty foolish debate to be having. Of course we should be teaching tolerance and inclusiveness in our schools. Of course we should be teaching understanding towards others and a recognition that different people have different issues in their lives, and that we have to work with them and help them, as well as all our…all the rest of the students in a school environment…

PAUL KELLY: Just…just…

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: …but the detail…the detail of this, I think I would be having a look at the structure of the way in which it is done, who it is, of course, that is ultimately responsible for making the determinations of what’s in the program. 

But the confidence I would seek to give to parents is that it is their school community who makes the decision about whether any of this is actually used, and that they decide the way in which it is used in their classrooms. 

PAUL KELLY: And just a final question, Minister, outside your portfolio, but I’m assuming, given your wide range of interests, that you would have followed this. The Turnbull Government seems to have made a bizarre decision to abandon the Lone Pine ceremony at mid morning on Anzac Day on the Gallipoli peninsula. Um… um… what’s the justification for this decision? 

And doesn’t this suggest that the Turnbull Government may be developing a real tin ear when it comes to a range of political issues? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Um, Paul, I…I wish I could give you a definitive answer on that. I can tell you that if it is a government decision, it’s not one that’s come to the Cabinet and I’m sure it’s one that our new Veterans Affairs Minister, Dan Tehan, would be looking at very closely if there are any reports of this matter. 

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Alright, Simon Birmingham, we’ll leave it there, but it might be a discussion for another time with another minister. 

We appreciate you joining us on Australian Agenda this morning. Thank you. 

We’re going to take a break here on the program. When we come back, we’ll have Senator David Leyonhjelm here in the studio.

Senator Birmingham’s media contact:                   James Murphy 0478 333 974
                                                                                    Nick Creevey 0447 644 957
Department Media: