Release type: Transcript


2GB interview with Ben Fordham


The Hon Andrew Gee MP
Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Investment
Minister for Decentralisation and Regional Education


Subjects: Schools, Eden-Monaro by-election

BEN FORDHAM: There’s a tug of war developing over who we should listen to when it comes to sending our children back to school. The Prime Minister wants students back in class now, telling parents if they’re unsure, send them. But the New South Wales Primary Principals Association has pleaded with parents to keep the kids at home, telling Scott Morrison to butt out. Labor’s Tanya Plibersek has also told parents to ignore the Prime Minister’s advice and listen to the states instead. New South Wales Department of Education figures show just 13 per cent of students went to school yesterday but that is up from from 5 per cent at the end of term 1. The Federal Nationals MP Andrew Gee wants regional kids to get back to class. He’s on the line. Andrew, good afternoon.

ANDREW GEE: Good afternoon, Ben, thanks for having me on 2GB. Yes we do want kid back to school, particularly in country areas.

BEN FORDHAM: Why is it so important?

ANDREW GEE: Well, look, I look at what’s happening in my own home and it’s very, firstly, it’s very difficult for parents, particularly with young kids to home school them, and also many of them are working from home as well. But I think first and foremost, it’s the poor educational outcomes for kids, and the research is showing that about half of Australian children who, basically are doing this online learning, could have adverse outcomes, in terms of their education, their emotional health, nutrition, and the impact is most pronounced on those from low socio-economic areas and disadvantaged areas. And out in the bush, our incomes are lower than people in the city, so the impacts of not going to school, I think, are felt more in country areas. And when you look at the number of COVID cases, I come from Central Western New South Wales, right, so from Bathurst to Bourke we’ve only got one active COVID-19 case and I think everyone has done the right thing. Everyone has worked hard and done what we’re told, but when you have figures that are that low I think it strengthens the case to bring these kids back, particularly when the Chief Medical Officer is saying it’s safe. You know, I was at home the other day and there was a commotion out in the backyard. And I’ve got one son in high school, I’ve got one in year 6 who attends a public school in my area. What were they doing out the back? They were driving golf balls at each other and they thought that was their entertainment. And I think, I’d like to see the kids engaged in more productive pursuits and they are champing at the bit to get back, I think they’ve-

BEN FORDHAM: Is it also fair to say that people in the bush are at a disadvantage with this online learning?

ANDREW GEE: Well, I think it can be. It can be. You know, I’m not, I’m not convinced that we are totally geared up for online learning in all cases so, for example, at the public school that my son attends you have to, you go to the office, you pick up the materials and then you have to teach your child at home. I mean, it’s not really online learning, it’s remote learning. And even when they go back on May 11 it’s for one day a week. So they’re dividing it up amongst the houses, four houses, so there’s four days of education and there’s kind of a lay day in the middle where there’s supervision but no basic teaching. So, why shouldn’t we be sending the kids back? Particularly years 11 and 12, I mean these are very important years and the longer we keep them away, the more disadvantaged they are. And those year 11 and 12 cohorts are usually pretty small cohorts anyway so-

BEN FORDHAM: Well, I know of a girl in New South Wales who posted a video online saying ‘Okay, the Prime Minister’s saying we’re going to be learning online but have you tried getting the NBN where I am?’

ANDREW GEE: Yeah, well as I, well, that’s true. There are varied abilities in terms of the communications but basically, where we are, it doesn’t even come down to that. It’s not, it’s not really online. It’s remote. You just go in and pick up the materials so, it’s not ideal. If you, my kids are a little bit older but if you’ve got multiple young kids at primary school and you’re trying to juggle work, and basically home-school them at the same time, I don’t – the parents must be tearing their hair out. I just don’t see how this is sustainable for prolonged period and I think we’ve all done the right thing. We’ve all worked hard to get those rates down and I think there’s got to now be a little bit of gain for all of the pain. Particularly, when the Chief Medical Officer is saying that it’s safe to go back. So, I think, you know, enough is enough. If the rates are down, particularly in country areas, we need to be getting kids back to school and if we need to ease restrictions in country areas first, where our infection rates are lower, then I think we should do that. I mean, that’s certainly the feedback that I’m getting from my neck of the woods, people are saying, ‘well, look, we’ve hardly got any cases out here, let’s let the cities deal with their cases and you know, ease the restrictions out here first’. I think that’s a sensible way of going but the parents, there’s a groundswell of support out here. Basically saying, I think, given the infection rates are so low, one active case all across western New South Wales, time to get the kids back to school because, particularly for country kids who are the most vulnerable, the research is showing because they’re in lower socio-economic groups, the potential adverse outcomes as much more pronounced for them. I’m very worried about them.

BEN FORDHAM: Alright I can understand you would be. Just a really quick one on this one. Mike Kelly, the Labor MP, has announced he’s retiring in the seat of Eden-Monaro and the National Party leader in New South Wales John Barilaro has put up his hand. The Liberal Transport Minister in New South Wales Andrew Constance is considering his options. Would John Barilaro be a good suggestion there for Eden-Monaro?

ANDREW GEE: Well, before I get to that I just wanted to wish Mike Kelly all of the best. I mean, I’ve had a little bit to do with him in my time in federal politics and he’s a very decent guy who’s served his country and his electorate, been through the bushfires like my electorate has, and I just wanted to thank him for his service. As far as what the National Party is doing, there will be a preselection and there will be a candidate selected, we will be running someone. We’ll get behind whoever that candidate is but the Liberals have also said that they’re running so it looks like it’s going to be a right old donnybrook. Let the best candidate win, although I have to say the pressure in this is really all on Albo because you know, the Government hasn’t won a by-election in 100 years so for him, in particular, the stakes are very high. I mean if Labor goes down in that seat; it’s like dropping the World Cup, you’ve just got to think that the sharks will start circling. They may to be there straight away but make no mistake, the sharks will circle so the stakes are very high.

BEN FORDHAM: Ok, I can hear your sons throwing golf balls at each other out the back, you better go. I’ll talk to you soon.

ANDREW GEE: Alright, thanks Ben.