Press conference, Adelaide
Early learning languages app; Keeping our borders secure; SA nuclear fuel cycle involvement.
10:30 AM

Nicolle Flint, Member for Boothby: Good morning, it’s an absolute pleasure to have the Minister for Education here with me today at the Waite Campus Childrens Centre. We’ve just been looking at the ELLA app with some of the children here at the Centre. And they’re learning Chinese. As we know China is one of our most important trading partners and it’s absolutely crucial that we encourage all children to learn other languages and be exposed to other languages from an early age. So I’m delighted that [inaudible] has had two trial areas and we’ll see more rolling out, as the Minister is about to tell us about.

Simon Birmingham: Well thanks Nicolle, it’s great to be back in Boothby with you and visiting this wonderful early learning centre here at the Waite Campus of the University of Adelaide, importantly to talk about the Early Learning Languages Australia Program. This is a $15.7 million investment by the Turnbull Government in providing four and five year old Australians with early opportunities to start to learn new languages. Already around 10,000 children across Australia as part of our pilot have been learning five different languages, most of them Chinese or Japanese. And over the next couple of years we’ll make another four languages available to centres around the country. This will be now an opportunity from today for every pre-school and long day-care provider in the country to apply to be able to participate as part of the Early Learning Languages Program so that students right across the country can get a head start in learning a different language. Learning a different language is not just critical for their participation in the modern economy, it’s also brilliant for the cognitive skills and mental development of young minds. We know that young children learning a language early can get a head start on other children in terms of all aspects of their development, as well of course in the learning of the language. And this app based activity that we have in terms of the ELLA trial is one that will allow children to play in a fun environment, using modern technology as they learn, supported by educators and teachers who learn with them and ultimately give them that flying start from pre-school into school in their language development. It’s an exciting program that the Turnbull Government’s backing because it helps position Australian children for the modern economy but also it’s a cost effective way of enhancing the developmental skills of our youngest children.

Journalist: Minister, obviously a lot of fun’s being had in this room here today. Have you done any testing as to how effective it is as a learning tool?

Simon Birmingham: The program has undergone an evaluation and we have both research and evidence to show it’s helping children develop language skills, but also plenty of anecdotes from parents who have come home and said their children are counting in foreign languages. Are picking up different fruits and using the language to describe those fruits. So we know there’s a take home component from this language that demonstrates kids are picking it up, they are getting more skills, it is helping their language development and the rest of their cognitive skills as well.

Journalist: We know that a lot of Australians are trying to reduce the screen time for pre-schoolers. Is this the best way of approaching this?

Simon Birmingham: This is a way of using children’s interest in technology in a constructive way. So it actually gives discipline to focused activities that are about understanding and developing foreign language skills. But of course we expect early learning centres like this one will be careful about how they use it, will ration the time. And we hear that from the educators that these young kids are learning skills, how to self regulate, when to hand over to the next child in terms of using the application and they’re only getting access for certain times a day, supported then by other learning activities. So it’s about using technology for good and teaching good skills in how technology is used.

Journalist: Yeah, just on border protection. Are you worried that the current deal with America will see a surge of boat arrivals on the shores of Australia?

Simon Birmingham: Well we are conscious of the risk that the arrangements that have been announced will be used by people smugglers as part of their marketing ploys and techniques, which is why firstly the Turnbull Government is employing additional resources for our border protection activities across the North. But secondly, why it is essential that the Border Protection legislation before the current Parliament is supported. And Bill Shorten should take this opportunity now to back our policy to put in place into Australian law arrangements that will make clear that nobody who arrives in Australia will ever be resettled in Australia if they’ve come as an illegal maritime arrival. So this is a test for Bill Shorten to actually accept that our policies to date are working. That if he wants to support us in our measures to clear out Manus and Nauru, he should also support us in our measures to protect Australian borders by putting into law that ban on illegal maritime arrivals ever settling in Australia.

Journalist: Malcolm Turnbull said he didn’t talk about this deal when he spoke with Donald Trump on the phone. Given that he’s going to be taking over from Obama soon, should he have? 

Simon Birmingham: Um no. We have to work with the American administration that is in power at present and Barrack Obama is the President of the United States until the 20th of January. This is an agreement that’s been worked on since the start of this year and we will work closely with the US Government. And of course, we’ve seen over the years that one Australian Government changes, one American administration changes, but our policies, the closeness of our relationship continue and we’re confident that will continue to be the case in the future.

Journalist: So you’re not worried about Donald Trump rejecting the deal later down the track?

Simon Birmingham: We’re confident we will work with future American administrations just as we’ve worked with the current and previous American administrations.

Journalist: Just on another topic. Steven Marshall, the Opposition Leader in South Australia, has rejected the idea of a dump for South Australia after visiting Finland. What’s your take on that? Are you still supportive of the nuclear process or do you want to see the Weatherill Government drop it all together?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I think we saw from the people’s jury process of Jay Weatherill that the wheels really came off what in the end appears to have been a two year distraction by Jay Weatherill and the Labor Party. This has been a giant smoke screen for the fact that South Australia has the largest unemployment rate in the country, has a stagnating economy in far too many ways and that Jay Weatherill and State Labor appear to have absolutely no plans of where to go and what we’ve seen now is a process that they put in place to discuss. This went entirely off the rails and Steven Marshall was simply acknowledging the inevitable last week, which is that Jay Weatherill’s process had gone off the rails. Clearly isn’t going to happen, clearly doesn’t have public support. And that Labor had no other real plans for the economy in this state.

Journalist: So you think Steven Marshall’s making the right call for the State by telling Jay Weatherill to abandon it?

Simon Birmingham: I think Steve Marshall is simply acknowledging the reality and of course we know that that’s exactly where Jay Weatherill is headed. And we know that Jay Weatherill’s process has come up with a big ‘no’ to his big idea and of course the left wing have no other ideas of how it is he intends to actually grow the South Australian economy.

Journalist: One of the other reasons Steven Marshall was against it is was he was saying that people on the ground were against it. Obviously you’re a Federal Senator not a state politician, but were you hearing that from your electorate, your electors?

Simon Birmingham: Certainly degrees of resistance, reticence, but in the end I think the real issue here is we’ve seen millions of dollars and a couple of years wasted by a distraction from Jay Weatherill and the Labor Party. They never show leadership on this issue, they only wanted to use it as a distraction, as a smoke screen, as something to talk about but never actually committed to it themselves. And then their process has lead perhaps to an inevitable outcome from the process that was set up and yet the questions for South Australians is where to now? What’s the plan? Steven Marshall has outlined a plan for 2036, a long-term plan for South Australia’s economy, and we as a Federal Government are committing through our Defence Industry investment significant resources to back the South Australian economy. But where’s Jay Weatherill’s plan? What’s the Labor plan to grow jobs in this state and to turn around our record unemployment?

Journalist: I just have one more question on the language app. We know we’re losing knowledge of a lot of our Indigenous languages at the moment, are there any plans to introduce similar tools for something like that?

Simon Birmingham: We’re certainly having a look at it in the context of Indigenous languages and particularly also in many remote communities where English is a second language for young Indigenous children. So that’s something we’re giving consideration to as to how we might actually use the same types of technology to help young Indigenous children master their English language skills as well as of course the potential as to how it can be used in other ways to better appreciate Indigenous languages. We’re already across parts of Adelaide, young children learning to sing songs in Kaurna language or the like. First and foremost this is delivering five languages and we’re seeing from the choices of parents and early educators that those big Asian languages, Chinese and Japanese, are the ones they’re embracing, unsurprisingly given their significance to our region, to the economic development of Australia, to the likely job opportunities of those children in the future. Thanks guys.