Doorstop interview, Wollongong
Topics: Funding for the University of Wollongong’s Research Centre of Excellence into Rail Track Infrastructure; NAPLAN; protest action; pre-selections
Simon Birmingham: We’re celebrating the $3.9 million investment from the Turnbull Government into the University of Wollongong’s Research Centre of Excellence into Rail Track Infrastructure. And what this is going to do is ensure that, across Australia, our rail systems are more productive, that they’re able to get goods in faster volumes, in quicker times, to market, and what that’s going to mean is that businesses right across the country are ultimately more profitable and able to employ more people and expand more across the country.
Journalist: Excellent. What was the need to have a rail training centre here?
Simon Birmingham: Australia has got the sixth largest rail network in the world, and what we’re seeing with the development of the Inland Rail by the Turnbull Government is continued need for modern rail infrastructure and systems to support getting our export goods out to market. As a country with huge agricultural and mining resources, much of it in the centre of the country, but our export ports on the edges of the country, we’re very reliant on rail systems, but we need to make sure those rail systems are efficient, are productive, are world-class, and the University of Wollongong’s going to be helping to lead the way through this $3.9 million centre.
Journalist: Excellent. We’ll keep it brief and quickly move on to my other education questions. So we have National Simultaneous Storytime happening today, which is wonderful, encouraging kids to read, and I understand Australia’s not doing so well in the literacy stakes, so what’s the Government going to do to help boost literacy?
Simon Birmingham: It’s fabulous on a day like today to see more than 1 million Australian schoolchildren sit down at the same time and read the same story, and I had the thrill of doing that with a wonderful bunch of four-year-olds who were so enthusiastic of the story that we were reading today. Of course, continually building and enhancing literacy skills is the essential foundation to future learning, and if children don’t learn to read in the early years, then they’re not going to be able to succeed in terms of further skills and training into the future. So what we’re doing-
Journalist: Okay, great. So yes, as we were saying- maybe you’d like to pick up where you left off.
Simon Birmingham: Yeah, sure. So, National Simultaneous Storytime: a fabulous example of teachers, pre-schoolers across the country engaging in boosting and focusing on literacy with more than 1 million young kids reading the same story at the same time. I really love sitting there on the floor with a group of four-year-olds and engaging with them in the story and their interest in learning. And of course, reading is critical. Reading is the basic building block upon which all other learning and knowledge development depends, which is why we’re focused on making sure that children are assessed at the earliest possible level in terms of their phonics skills, that they are learning to decode words and understand the letter sounds, and that from there they’re getting every possible bit of support in terms of their reading development as part of their educational journey. In the recent Gonski report, it was very clear that foundation skills in numeracy and literacy must be established by the age of 8, and we’re working through with the states and territories now how to implement the recommendations to make sure that happens.
Journalist: And NAPLAN has been getting a bit of traction. I know the New South Wales [inaudible] why do you support it?
Simon Birmingham: Australian parents want to know that their children are getting the basic skills in literacy and numeracy, and NAPLAN is the one consistent checkpoint that occurs right across the country, in every school in the same way. So it’s an important checkpoint for parents. It’s also important for policymakers and researchers to be able to see the trends in terms of reading skills, and much of the work in the recent Gonski report and the detailed analysis depended upon the research that NAPLAN actually allows to take place.
Journalist: Dr Les Perelman said that NAPLAN was making students bad writers. Do you agree with that at all?
Simon Birmingham: Dr Perelman’s research and findings will absolutely be assessed as part of the ongoing evaluation of NAPLAN to make sure that the writing component of NAPLAN continues to be advanced, but that’s just one component as well. You have to keep NAPLAN in perspective. It’s only four times during a child’s schooling life, and of course there are lots of other assessments and checks that occur along the way, but it’s an important one because it’s the consistent one that gives parents true feedback at a consistent benchmark level around basic literacy and numeracy skills.
Journalist: Are you concerned about this noisy protest that’s held up this function? It seems to be aimed at you. Does it show anything about concerns about the Government’s education policy?
Simon Birmingham: I never like other people to be inconvenienced and so I’m sorry that some of the guests here have been inconvenienced waiting for protestors to move on.
Journalist: And the pre-selection for Ann Sudmalis in the federal seat of Gilmore: are you a supporter of Ann Sudmalis?
Simon Birmingham: I have enormous regard and respect for Ann, and like with all of my colleagues, I hope that she continues to be endorsed as the Liberal candidate locally. She is a strong, hardworking, passionate local MP, but ultimately the Liberal Party is a democracy and local members of the party make those decisions.
Journalist: So you would support the fact that other people might put their hand up and run against her?
Simon Birmingham: Ann Sudmalis is a fantastic member of Parliament. She has my full support, but the Liberal Party is a grassroots democracy in which any of us, myself included, are open to challenge from time to time.
Journalist: And do you expect her to win?
Simon Birmingham: Ann has my full support. I can’t speak for what local branches will do.