Compere: Jase here on the Eyre Peninsula’s 5CC. Time now to welcome back a regular on the program, he’s out of place today though, in on a Tuesday and in the studio, Rowan Ramsey, the Federal Member for Grey. How are you Rowan?
Rowan Ramsey: Yeah, going really well. Great to be with you Jason.
Compere: You’re in the studio and you’ve brought along a guest.
Rowan Ramsey: It’s a bit like show and tell.
Compere: It is a bit. Last time we had something like this I believe you brought in the then Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, now the Prime Minister. Is this an omen?
Rowan Ramsey: Well look, we’re not planning to change Prime Ministers again in the very short term, let me say. But- and my friend here, Senator Simon Birmingham, is in the wrong house as well, it must be said. But for all that, he is the Federal Minister for Education and it’s great to have him on my patch today.
Compere: Simon, good afternoon. How are you?
Simon Birmingham: G’day Jason. I am wonderful. Great to be with you, and wonderful as a Senator not to be burdened by those expectations that you could one day be Prime Minister.
Compere: Well Barnaby Joyce took care of that too, don’t worry about that. Now Simon, what brings you to Port Lincoln today?
Simon Birmingham: Well, spending some time with Rowan of course is important, but first and foremost I’m a Senator for South Australia, so Port Lincoln and the Eyre Peninsula are part of my electorate as a Senator. But as the Federal Education Minister, this is my first visit to Port Lincoln since taking on this role in September last year, and a good chance to let Rowan show me around some of the local child care centres, schools here in Port Lincoln, as well as across Port Augusta and Whyalla over the next day.
Compere: So you’ve done a bit of a tour of some of the education facilities here in Port Lincoln today. Who have you been to see and what did you discuss at various places that really caught your ear?
Simon Birmingham: Well we’ve really moved through the education system at rapid pace today. We started the morning at the Port Lincoln Children’s Centre, where there were of course pre-schoolers and child care students, and moved our way through the Port Lincoln Primary School, the Port Lincoln High School, into the Australian Maritime and Fisheries Academy. So we’ve gone from before school to post-school in rapid succession. But look, really what we’ve had the opportunity to talk about are the way services are delivered and the effectiveness of those services in a regional city, in a city where of course there are challenges of distance, in a city with some significant indigenous populations that need particular support and adjustment assistance. So really looking at some of the unique aspects of Port Lincoln and the opportunities that the industries of fishing here and agriculture give to the locality, but also some of those challenges and how the education system works to address them.
Compere: Rowan, if I can just throw to you for a moment, what does it mean to you? We’ve discussed this on various different occasions with other Ministers who have been to the patch, but what does it mean to have the Education Minister on home ground, if you will, on your electorate soil? It must be a bit of a thrill, a chance to grab his ear and talk about a few things.
Rowan Ramsey: It’s good, I’ve had him in the car, and I’ll get a bit more time tomorrow as well. Look, I often say that most of Australia actually lives in the city – cities like Adelaide, like Sydney, Melbourne, whatever – but country living, and particularly an electorate like Grey, is quite idiosyncratic. It’s different; it’s on its own. Maybe there’s a couple of similar electorates in Western Australia. And it’s really important, even though Simon’s got, you know, along, like, South Australia, and he’s got a fair understanding of this state, that he actually gets firsthand a chance to talk to those people delivering services on the ground.
So over the rest of today and tomorrow when we go up to Port Augusta and Whyalla, I’ll be taking him through a whole range of different education facilities. So right from School of the Air and RICE, which is a sort of outreach preschool, if you like, that’s delivered out of Port Augusta, through to the biggest high school in the region, which is Edward John Eyre. So we’ll be doing all those things while we’re here today, and even the differences between Whyalla, where we have a university campus, and Port Lincoln and Port Augusta where we do not. So all those things feed straight back into Simon’s portfolio; he is the senior Minister for training, like, post …
Simon Birmingham: Post-school.
Rowan Ramsey: Post-school education, like for trades training and those industries as well, even though he has a junior Minister under him who deals with that directly, but Simon’s had a background in that area as well, so all those things. Get him out, get him to talk to people, have a look what we do on the ground, and it’s a good chance for me to chew his ear in-between the [indistinct].
Compere: Simon, Education is a complicated portfolio, I think it’s safe to say. There’s funding that comes from federal, obviously into the states, and the states look after education on the ground as a whole. How are you finding working in with the State Government here in South Australia, of which you are a Senator, or do you have a good working relationship with the State Government at the moment?
Simon Birmingham: Look, as Education Minister I make sure that I have a good working relationship. We don’t see eye to eye on some things, but we work through those. I think it’s important for people to appreciate that, whatever the political stripes of the government of the day when it comes to getting down to the job, and that is what we try to do, and make sure we put those aside if there are political opponents at a state level.
And I guess it’s a funny thing being the Federal Education Minister in some ways. I don’t actually run any schools or any early learning facilities myself or as a Federal Government. We set in place some funding parameters, policy, direction, work very much with Education Ministers right around the country for national testing, like the NAPLAN tests, and reporting like occurs through MySchool. But there are also of course a number of misconceptions, and over recent times we’ve had well and truly the situation where the Labor Party federally has sought to promote the idea, but it seems as if the Federal Government is completely responsible for school funding, when in fact we fund less than 20 per cent of Government schools. And overwhelmingly, how government schools are funded, how much goes into each different school is entirely a determinant of the State Government. Where we work is on those national matters: teacher standards, teacher quality, national curriculum areas where we can work cooperatively with the states to bring some harmony to the federal system.
Compere: Teacher quality is an interesting point, I’d like to come back to that in a moment. But I just wanted to bring up something which I heard earlier on in one of the news bulletins, in fact it was on this very radio station, 5CC folks. So Jay Weatherill …
Simon Birmingham: [Interrupts] Where you can get all the best news, I’m sure.
Compere: Well done, I need to get a little bite for that, put that in the news bulletin later on. Jay Weatherill, the Premier, has had a bit of a crack, a shot across the bow at the Federal Government. I think it was more based down the health path, but he did include education, now that’s your portfolio. He was talking about Federal Government cuts to education spending and how that will impact the education system in South Australia. What is your reply to that?
Simon Birmingham: Well of course, Jay Weatherill and the Premiers will all be going to meet with the Prime Minister at the end of this week, and the usual Premiers’ conference lead up is that Premiers all put out their begging bowls and complain that they don’t have enough money. Now, the truth is that we’re running a federal budget that is still deep in deficit thanks to the legacy we were left by the previous government, and it’s an ongoing work to try to rectify that. But actually state budgets around the country are, in many places, in better shape than the federal budget, yet they keep asking for more money from the Federal Government.
Now, in relation to school funding, funding is at a record level in terms of the Federal Government’s contribution to schools. It’s gone up by an extraordinary amount. In fact, over about the last 20 years funding in real terms – so, taking into account inflation from the federal level has doubled into our schools, so we’ve seen vast growth there, yet quality and outcomes has gone backwards. So we need to be having a look at not necessarily how much money is there, but how it is most effectively used to get the best outcomes in our schools.
But in terms of claims of cuts, well in the future, off of the record funding base we currently have, we are committed to grow that. Now, I’ll be quite honest to your listeners: we’re not promising to grow it as fast as Bill Shorten and the Labor Party because we don’t think that the nation can afford the type of spending Bill Shorten and the Labor Party are promising. But we will grow off of this record base school funding. There are no cuts, there should be no threats to services, funding will keep growing, just at what we believe is a more sustainable level.
Compere: I find it hard to veil this question, so I’ll ask it and see where we go with this. It’s very, very easy for an Opposition to make outlandish claims on what they would spend when they know that they’ve got no chance of winning the next election. Is that what you think Bill Shorten is doing here in the education sector?
Simon Birmingham: Every election is competitive in Australia, so we shouldn’t assume that he has no chance of winning. The Labor Party could sneak up and win. There are surprise results that occur. I remember back when Jeff Kennett lost government in Victoria, that nobody saw that one coming. And in many ways, when you look at Campbell Newman losing up in Queensland at the last state election there, and nobody thought the size of swing there could occur. So we can’t take it for granted that a Coalition Government committed to managing the budget, repairing the deficit, spending money wisely and responsibly will be re-elected. We all have to go out and make the case, and indeed counter the lies that the Labor Party are telling about cuts to health and education, where we’re not cutting any funding. We are just trying to set the growth in spending on a more responsible level that over time will allow us to bring the budget back into balance, rather than running year after year of deficits, which ultimately is what Labor look like they’ll do, in addition to, of course, raising a whole bunch of taxes, like capital gains tax that they’re talking about jacking up.
Compere: It’s a good point. It’s also very easy to promise a lot of things when there’s a better than even money chance that you will never have to make good of them.
Simon Birmingham: Well maybe there’s a little bit of that in the back of their mind.
Compere: I’ll just take the tongue firmly out of my cheek there with that one, but I’m not convinced that what’s happening at a federal level, as we look like we’re heading into an early election, is all that responsible, particularly on that side of the parliament. But I need to be as unbiased as possible on this program, gentlemen, although it’s very hard to do that at the moment surrounded by a Minister and a Member and a few other folk as well. What I will do to finish off with today is, I believe while you were at the Port Lincoln High School you had a special lunch. Tell me about that.
Simon Birmingham: We were treated, absolutely, at Port Lincoln High School. The hospitality students there, the year 11 students that are doing a certificate two in hospitality in wonderful new facilities at the Port Lincoln High School treated us to a lunch with some fine lamb cutlets and wonderful roasted chickens and beautiful barramundi fillets.
Rowan Ramsey: From their own farm.
Simon Birmingham: From their own farm, so were grown on the school, killed and cut on the school, cooked in the kitchen on the school, and as Rowan and I noted, a far better meal than we actually can get when we are in Canberra. It was much, much tastier and the students have got much to be proud of there.
Compere: They do, and it’s a really good example of- kind of, backhanded the Labor Government here in SA, and federally the Opposition a little bit. It’s a really good example of what can happen when the Federal Government works together with the State Government on education, what happens at the Port Lincoln High School. That program that has been rolled out there, Rowan, over the last couple of years is a really good example of what happens when both governments work well together.
Rowan Ramsey: I think that’s right, and we were really impressed with the way the staff interacted with the students. It was a really good, respectful school – both schools we went through this morning – and the way the kids are really into it. And if I add my bit to the meal, I thought the wasabi mayonnaise- as good as you get, I’ve got to tell you. We did enjoy lunch. It was really nice interaction at that level with the students. You know, they loosened up, if you like, didn’t find Simon in particular very intimidating. And it was just nice to have that very casual and open relation- conversation with them. So I wish them all well, they look pretty good to me. I think maybe we met the second in line, the third in line for chef at the Port Lincoln Hotel or somewhere like that.
Compere: [Talks over] Let’s hope so.
Rowan Ramsey: [Talks over] They were looking pretty good to me.
Compere: Let’s hope so. There’s some talented young folk there at the Port Lincoln High School in that area, in the culinary area, so they’re doing a great job there rolling out that program, and I know the students appreciate it. So good that you got to see it and taste it firsthand, gentlemen.
Simon Birmingham: Absolutely, and look, one of the really impressive parts of what the school there was doing through that hospitality program as well as through the Barramundi breeding program, is that with those vocational learning programs, they’re reaching out to local businesses and local employers and ensuring that their students get real experience outside of the school, which can only help to serve them well, whether they are fields they end up working in or anywhere else. It’s those type of skills from an employer, in the workplace that really add something to a good school qualification as well.
Compere: No doubt about that. I think we’re now beginning to understand the importance of being hands-on when it comes to education, of actually learning with your hands, not just your brain. And certainly out in the regions, I think kids appreciate that. That’s what they’re used to, Rowan, as you would know, being the Buckleboo king.
Rowan Ramsey: [Laughs].
Compere: Out in your region, kids learn at a young age with their hands, being hands-on, and we’re seeing that happen more and more in schools now.
Rowan Ramsey: Yeah, I think that’s right. Certainly country kids do like to get their hands on things and get them dirty, and so it’s good to see that regeneration of that. There’s more physical aspects back in schools, I think. It’s not only a way of teaching kids things; it’s a way of making sure they’re engaged with the school. I often feel really sorry for some young kids today, particularly in a city environment where they’re brought up with- mum and dad might be working high-paid jobs, but basically, neither of them know how to use a screwdriver. If you don’t grow up with any more practical skill than that, it’s really going to be quite a challenge for you at some stage later on in life, and I think it’s pretty good that we can round kids off and give them a bit of wider experience, certainly. I think I learned to weld while I was at school. I think some of those things we learned in the workshop [indistinct] are going to board me in very good stead for my later life, so things I don’t forget.
Compere: One of the things I learned in school? I’ve definitely got the head for radio. We’ll probably leave it there, gentlemen, today. Simon, great to have you in the studio today. All the best with the rest of your Spencer Gulf tour, and spending plenty of time with Rowan. Rowan, thanks for bringing Simon in today, and make sure you continue to chew his ear off while he’s here.
Rowan Ramsey: Yeah, well, that’s my job, Jason.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you Jason, great to be with you guys.