Release type: Transcript




The Hon Christopher Pyne MP
Minister for Education
Leader of the House


SUBJECT/S:  Budget 2014, Higher Education Reforms, Deakin University Event

ALAN JONES:           Into all of this steps Christopher Pyne, the quite brilliant advocate for the Government, the Education Minister who had to, for the last week, endure the allegation that his government, the Abbott Government - and he's the leader of the House - is ripping $80 billion out of health and education. He's on the line with more serious things to deal with. Christopher Pyne from Melbourne, good morning.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Good morning, Alan.

ALAN JONES:           People are asking today what circumstance would prevent you and Prime Minister Abbott from cancelling a visit to Deakin University in Geelong because of security concerns.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Well, Alan, it's a good question and it's extremely disappointing that the bad behaviour of the students towards Julie Bishop and Sophie Mirabella late last week and earlier this week where they assaulted both of those women has led the Australian Federal Police to say to us that on the so-called National Day of Action being run by the Socialist Alternative on campuses across Australia, it would put innocent bystanders potentially at risk of being assaulted by marauding students, and that we should avoid doing so, and so we have taken their advice.

ALAN JONES:           So the leader of the Government in the House and the Prime Minister yield to these thugs.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Well, the view of the AFP was that they couldn't guarantee the safety of the bystanders at these campuses. So what happened, unfortunately, Alan, is it's not the politicians that - well, we are fussed, I suppose. It's undemocratic the way the Socialist Alternative behaved, but we're not worried for our own safety. But they also curse and assault other people who happen to be present as well and who wanted to get on with their studies or who are visiting the library or, in the case of me last Friday at the Adelaide Uni, are trying to give a speech on languages.

ALAN JONES:           But doesn't the Prime Minister of Australia then say well, I'm sorry it's not good enough. You, the Federal Police, put whatever reinforcements are needed to guarantee the safety of these people, and if it means carting these thugs away and locking them up, well, cart them away and lock them up, but we can't send this signal to the world that a Prime Minister and a senior minister are going to be intimidated by thugs.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Well, the assessment of the Prime Minister and his office was that we didn't want to tie up sparse police resources by protecting us and innocent bystanders at Deakin University today and that we would get our message out to the public through other means.

ALAN JONES:           I find that astonishing, but it's a funny world we live in and a very sad world if it's come to this.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Well, Alan...

ALAN JONES:           This will embolden these people. They'll be able to stop Hockey and anyone, Julie Bishop, go anywhere. They say hang on, there's a few innocent people on the sidelines might be hurt. They'll say let's go, we've knocked off Abbott, we've knocked off Pyne, now we take them one by one right across Australia. When does someone say this is not the way it happens?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        I don't think the students do themselves any good, Alan, quite frankly, and I think their performance on Q&A a couple of weeks ago when they chucked down the program - I think the general mums and dads and families out there think we're paying 60 per cent of these students' tuition fees and why aren't they getting on with their studies? Why aren't they in the library doing their work instead of paying for their tuition fees? They're getting...

ALAN JONES:           Well, I trust you'll remind them that there are unpaid fees owed to the taxpayer in excess of $30 billion of HECS fees aren't paid. The poor taxpayer who's rolled up his sleeves and gone to work and hasn't got time to protest is funding these people.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Not only that, those people who are doing the protesting will earn, on average, 75 per cent more than the very people who are paying their taxes so that they can get the best education in the world. It is a disgrace. It's the self-indulgence of the students that I find really galling, and for them to think somehow they are being hard done by when they get 75 per cent more income over a lifetime and people who never get the opportunity to go to university, who are happy to pay their taxes to give our students the best chance in life, rather than criticising the Government for asking us to contribute 50-50, Alan.

I'm not asking you to contribute 100 per cent. We're asking to contribute 50-50. Rather than criticising the Government, they should be buying a bunch of flowers and a box of chocolates and visiting a home near them where they know someone hasn't been to university, knocking on the front door and saying thank you very much for paying for my education.

ALAN JONES:           Good on you, good comment. But, I mean, you're going to have to get on top of this, aren't you? You just can't go on - be allowed to go on. You can't have these people sabotaging any opportunity that you or the Prime Minister or anyone else seeks to speak to the electorate.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Alan, there's always more than one way to skin a cat, Alan, and obviously I've been very publicly out there campaigning and talking since the Budget about the fact that we're increasing spending on higher ed and school funding but, more important, we're reforming higher education to give 80,000 more young people from low socioeconomic status the opportunity to go to university, the biggest Commonwealth Scholarships fund in Australian history so the smartest kids can go to the best universities in Australia, expanding higher education to private providers so that they can compete with the universities and push prices down - these are the biggest reforms in 30 years in universities and they will transform the ability of our unis to compete with the Asian competitors who are coming at us in the rear vision mirror very fast.

ALAN JONES:           But now you're a very good communicator, and yet it appears from newsrooms right around the country are saying there'll be a National Union of Students protest today over the budget changes to higher education which are going to affect dramatically students and what they pay. How has that message got out and yours hasn't?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Well, because I think to a large extent, quite a few people in the media are much more sympathetic to the students than they are to the Government. I also think, you know, shouting, bellowing students that are singing solidarity forever out of tune and having to have the words given them to do so are much more exciting than a man in a suit standing up in front of a lecture theatre, but that's why I'm on the road. I'm doing radio and television and speeches all across the country, and I certainly am not stopping in my enthusiasm for these reforms, speaking to the crossbenchers all the time, explaining to them the impact this will have on our university sector, and at the end of the day the more important thing is that these reforms go through, because the sound and the fury of the students will pass and the Government's policy and their implementation will still last into the future.

ALAN JONES:           But the classic of these, of course, is the 80 billion that has been ripped out by the Abbott Government from health and education, that says it, a bland bald statement, 80 billion ripped out. Now, there hasn't been a more monstrous lie perpetrated since Julia Gillard said there'd be no carbon tax.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Absolutely right, and what we are doing in school funding and in higher education is spending more over the next four years than Labour would've if they'd been re-elected. The figures beyond that, of course, are outside the forward estimates, they're outside the Budget, if you like, they're outside the school funding agreement that we have with the states and territories. They're the blue sky promises that Labor said that they would deliver, but they never budgeted for and they knew they'd never have the money for, and Chris Bowen said in the media yesterday that they wouldn't commit to funding those beyond the next forward estimates either.

ALAN JONES:           That's right, and he mentioned the 80 billion. He mentioned the 80 billion. I mean, this was when all the state premiers - I'm sorry, but obviously either dumb or dishonest or both - lined up with Rudd for health reform, and I remember saying on this program, and what is going on here? There is no money on the table for this. Then Barry O'Farrell lined up and he was one of the first to sign up to Gonski into the never-never, and I said you'd need a pot of gold in the Siberian desert to be able to fund all this stuff. There is no money. So this 80 billion was a fictitious amount which it would cost if that money were ever available. Am I right?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Absolutely right, and, you know, Chris Bowen is one of the very few people in the Labor Party who is obviously not prepared to let Bill Shorten simply be the champion of complaint. If you listened to Bill Shorten, you would think that there was no budget emergency and that Australians can keep living beyond their means, putting the mortgage on the credit card to the tune of $1 billion a month forever into the future, and I have a lot more faith in the Australian people to know that that is completely uncomfortable for the Government but also impossible for the Australian taxpayer to be able to fund that into the future.

ALAN JONES:           I mean, am I right in saying that when you became Education Minister - just to talk about what an absolute farce this Gonski was, you suddenly found when you call for the appropriate papers that far from everyone signing up for Gonski, only three had signed up...

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Correct.

ALAN JONES:           ...two, it was claimed had signed up but hadn't, the Catholics hadn't signed up at all and two states and territories weren't even in the national model. You can't have a greater farce than that.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Well, that's all correct except it was three states and territories not in the federal model, so Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland hadn't signed up at all and were having $1.2 billion ripped away from them by Bill Shorten, who was the ninth Education Minister in the previous government in six years.

ALAN JONES:           Unbelievable. And am I right in saying that in the budget brought down, for example, just take New South Wales - we could take every state. In the financial year just competed, Swan's budget, there was 4.9 billion appropriated for New South Wales; 2014-15, 5.095 billion; that in each of the forward years, there is more money progressively for New South Wales and for all states.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Absolutely correct, and in the final year - in 2017, the final year of the funding agreement, we'll have spent $18.1 billion on schools. Labor would've spent 18 billion. So because we put the money back in for Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland; because we are funding the School Chaplaincy Program, we're actually spending more money than Labor would've in 2017. But beyond that, we haven't got the funds and we won't pretend that we have these blue sky promises that Labor promised because Labor was trying to pull a swifty on the Australian public. They hadn't, in the forward estimates, put these blue sky promises. They pushed those right out, right out between 2014 and 2024, and then...

ALAN JONES:           With no money.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        ...with no money, and then aggregated the, all into that's our promise. Now, the public didn't believe it last September and I don't think they'll believe it in two and half years either.

ALAN JONES:           Well, you're dealing with some blockheads running states because they lined up but I don't know where they thought the money was coming from. What are vice chancellors up to? Because now they're asking you to delay the deregulation of course fees, they're fearing that school leavers could select a course without knowing whether they're up for tens of thousands of dollars of extra fees. How - forgive me - is that different from me getting a letter, as I did yesterday from Gai Waterhouse, telling me that come 1 August training fees for Gai Waterhouse's horses will go up? How is that different from simply saying, well, by 2016 university's fees may go up. Some of them may go down, by the way. Am I right?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Correct, and 1 January 2016 is the beginning of the new arrangements for higher education. That gives us a good 18 months - more than 18 months to settle all of these particular administrative areas that need to be discussed. I'm going to work very closely with the vice-chancellors, including Barney Glover at the University of Western Sydney, and the University of Western Sydney's going to be a big winner from these reforms because they are a university that has a lot of these sub-bachelor courses - in other words, these diplomas and associate degrees that first generation university-goers and low socioeconomic status students use to get into university and get the training they need to then pass a bachelor degree.

So one of the big reforms that I've announced is that we're extending the demand-driven system to those courses that have no caps anymore. Now, University of Western Sydney will be a big winner, and I'll sit down with Barney Glover and all the other vice-chancellors and work through any concerns that they have, but overall it's been very much welcomed by the sector. The only part of it that has been against it, of course, is the National Union of Students and the Socialist Alternative.

ALAN JONES:           Yeah, when in fact what you are doing is to elevate the funding to TAFE students to an equivalence with university students. Just explain that?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Well, because a lot of the TAFEs are doing these sub-bachelor courses and because we've extending the subsidy that the Commonwealth Government or the taxpayer gives to students across the private providers or non-university higher education providers for the first time ever, which is a very big reform, it means TAFEs will be the big beneficiaries as they offer a lot of these courses and they are accredited because they're high quality, in many cases, and that will give a lot of young people who'd never have had the opportunity to go to university the same opportunity those protesters are demanding to have for free.

ALAN JONES:           Amazing, isn't it? None of this, of course, is told. It's most probably too difficult for a few people writing about it to understand it. Just one thing before you go, which is centred to - central to all of this and it's very disturbing: a report by your department showing that education faculties have the highest proportion of students with a low Australian tertiary admission rank. Fifty five per cent of them - these are young people training to be teachers - have an ATAR rank of 70 or lower, and that education faculties have the smallest proportion of students in the highest Australian tertiary admission rank band above 90, only 5.6 per cent. So if the academic standards of teachers are falling, it not only drags down the status of the teaching profession but parents are worried that they have the academic credentials to be able to teach properly.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Well, Alan that's one of the reasons I've established this teacher education ministerial advisory group to give me advice about the training of teachers at university. I don't believe that ATAR scores are the only indication of whether somebody can be a good student at university or a good teacher, but certainly it's a bit of an indicator. But one of the reasons for this of course is that the states and territories need to examine closely how they remunerate their teaching staff. The fact that the unions have such a grip over the teaching profession at the state and territory level means that for a lot of young people who've got so many different offerings as - in terms of careers these days, they look at teaching and see a very outdated profession in terms of its industrial relations structure. People don't get rewarded necessarily on the basis of merit. They often get rewarded on the basis of length of service. It's one of the last bastions left in the working world where simply being there longer means that you get paid more than the person who actually takes out the debating team or the rugby team or whatever else and gets involved.

So the states and territories need to examine that aspect of their responsibilities, because that informs who does teaching.

ALAN JONES:           But at the end of the day, and we'll leave it here, but at the end of the day, teaching does require people to have knowledge. There is seemingly a pre-occupation in many of these teacher courses, teacher training courses on the theory of education and the theory of teaching and if you've got nothing - I mean if you're a very good teacher and your knowledge is good of Shakespeare or Bronte or whatever, then you can teach on a hot tin roof can't you? But if you don't have that knowledge, if you're full of theory of teaching then the student is the loser in the end.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        And you'll find a lot of the student teachers and that a lot of the teachers themselves will make exactly the same criticism that at university they were taught far too much theory and not enough practical application of that theory. So what they'd call pedagogy or how to teach. And what I want to do with my teacher education ministerial advisory group is to re-phase, as they call it, these kinds of teaching courses so that they're much more practical, so that when young people emerge from teaching colleges they can actually teach a three year old - a five year old or year three student how to read and how to count, rather than knowing why…

ALAN JONES:           Yes.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        …certain things have occurred.

ALAN JONES:           And inculcate into them this love of learning. We've got to encourage kids to love learning, to love knowledge, to seek knowledge, to love reading. Now if the teacher doesn't have the passion for reading or for knowledge or for learning the child is not going to either.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        It's a very good point because it's about knowledge, not just skill. And one of the failures of the last few decades in the western world has been this obsession with teaching skills at school, when in fact what we need to teach of course is knowledge at school, because you can always learn more over a lifetime as long as you have the foundational knowledge to know how to learn.

ALAN JONES:           Just finally, this protest, coming back to where we began. I trust that the Government will be looking at all the circumstances surrounding this cancellation by you and the Prime Minister of this visit, such that there will never be read into that a willingness to yield to this kind of behaviour and hopefully this won't happen again.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Well, of course Alan, we will plough on selling our message and we do need to listen to the experts from the Australian Federal Police and this is the decision the Prime Minister's made today. It doesn't mean it'll be a decision we make again.

ALAN JONES:           It would be nice to think though that when they're protesting about the changes to higher education they might familiarise themselves with those changes first and to understand what the beneficial aspects of those changes are, but I suppose that's asking too much of people who purportedly have a university education. If it's not for the benefit of learning and seeking the truth, what is it for?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Alan, as I said the other day, a lot of these students have been waiting six years for the opportunity to protest against a Coalition Government. They didn't protest against the Labor Party's cuts in the Budget last year against higher education, they waited until we got into government. So I don't think it mattered - would have mattered what we'd said or done, they just really want to have a protest some of these students.

ALAN JONES:           [Laughs] I think you'll be equal to the challenge. Thank you for your time. We'll talk again soon.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Thank you.

ALAN JONES:           You're most welcome. Christopher Pyne, the Federal Minister for Education.