SUBJECT: Federal Education Council.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I'm very pleased to be able to report that the Education Council have made great progress today on both science and mathematics being pushed to the forefront of our schooling here in Australia, and also have accepted that we have a responsibility around dealing with and supporting students that are at risk of radicalisation in our schools. So, as to the first subject, the Commonwealth brought to the Council today a proposal to have a national strategy drafted around science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in our schools. The Council agreed that the senior officials of the state and territory and Commonwealth departments bring forward a national strategy to a future meeting this year around science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The Commonwealth will continue to press for a consideration of whether it's time to re-introduce science or maths as a compulsory subject in year 11 and 12 in Australia, and that is not precluded by the decisions of the Council today. But I think it's fair to say that I have a way to go convincing all the state and territory ministers that that is what we need to do. But the draft strategy will be a forum for that discussion to continue to go on. The Council also discussed – and I was pleased that my state and territory colleagues recognised that the Education Council is a relevant and appropriate place to discuss the radicalisation of school students in Australia, of whatever particular hue that might be. And so we have our senior officials to collate the work that is currently going on across all jurisdictions in terms of dealing with at-risk youth, and then to see what gaps there might be and how those gaps can be filled, and also to work with the other COAG council on law enforcement, community safety and so on, to see how we can work together to make sure that the excellent work that all of our law enforcement agencies are doing is also supported in the school system. So I think it's been a very successful day for the Education Council, dealing with both de-radicalisation of at-risk youth and also furthering the debate and the practical measures around science, technology, engineering, and maths.
JOURNALIST: Minister, you say you believe you've got some way to go in convincing all of your colleagues that it would be a good idea to make maths and science compulsory in Year 12. Are you confident that that job can be done during your tenure as Education Minister?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well I have opened the discussion today. Now, for some time, maths or science have not been compulsory in Year 11 and 12. So as I said to my counterparts, this is a medium to long-term goal. It would take five to 10 years to make science or maths compulsory in Year 11 or 12, because obviously the current cohort of students couldn't suddenly be required to do a subject that they're not prepared for. So what I wanted to do was put the issue on the agenda, to start the discussion, to start to see what work could be done around it. If in the end it turns out that there are better ways of furthering science, technology, engineering, and maths, well I am open to those; but I am also pleased that the Council is open to discuss the subject that I put on the agenda. Of course there would be no requirement that people do both science and maths – there's been some misreporting of that, it's science or maths. And there would always be exceptions for those students who aren't interested or capable of doing science or maths for whatever reason.
JOURNALIST: How much of an issue is radicalisation in schools?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: What's that?
JOURNALIST: How much of an issue is radicalisation in schools?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well unfortunately we are seeing right now a heightened awareness of radicalisation in schools because of the examples of young people going to the Middle East to be foreign fighters. And unfortunately, too, I have had to write to ministers across Australia about some of the issues that have been appearing in some of the Islamic schools in Victoria and New South Wales and South Australia, and we're going through the proper processes. And I am not saying they're about radicalisation, there are other issues involved as well; but there is a level of community concern. There are at-risk young people in our schools who are being groomed by our enemies overseas to act against Australia's security interests. And the education ministers and I agree that this is something that we need to be across.
JOURNALIST: Minister, can you tell us the specifics of the implementation if it was to go ahead? What would it look like in schools?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, that is what we have asked our senior officials to advise us on, and bring back a paper to the Council. So we have asked the senior officials to identify what is going on now across all the jurisdictions, if there are gaps that need to be addressed, and report back to us at our next meeting of the Council. So in terms of the functional changes that might occur, that is not something that we decided on today.
JOURNALIST: But do you have those [indistinct]…?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, I don't. I don't have a closed mind about these issues. I have an open mind about them. I would like to find out from the experts what could be done. It's a too important an issue for it to be a political football, and I think we had a very mature discussion around that today, across all party lines, and agreed with the way forward that I think is the mature way that governments should act.
JOURNALIST: Minister, will the de-radicalisation initiatives be rolled out strategically in a first instance in schools where there's, you know, sort of where it's seen as a higher risk for kids to turn to jihadi ideologies, or would there be a blanket rollout across the board?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well that is a matter that we will have to discuss. Now, probably some states are further advanced on this issue of at-risk youth than others, and we need to find that out. Obviously there are security issues across the country, and the Attorney-General, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Michael Keenan the Minister for Justice, are the experts in the area of where we are acting from a law enforcement point of view, and a foreign affairs point of view. But as education ministers, we decided that we have a role in supporting all the agencies that are trying to keep Australians safe from terrorism.
JOURNALIST: So do you want schools or class mates to dob in other students that they suspect of being radicalised? Are you looking for some sort of reporting system?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, that is not what the Education Council decided and it's not my personal view. We're talking about making sure that at-risk youth do not take the wrong course at school.
JOURNALIST: So you’re looking for interventions in the curriculum or in the classroom?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, our senior officials will advise us about what exactly we should be doing, but I am not – I don't think we should trivialise the issue by saying that we're going to have a dobbing in of other students, et cetera. I think this is a very serious issue from a security point of view, from an education point of view. And where the Education Council went today was to go further down the track of how we can work together to identify what's being done and what could be done better. And I think that is a very important step. And I think all Australians would welcome that not just law enforcement agencies but education ministers also recognise that getting to the nub of the problem, or the root of the problem early – early intervention before children are groomed online by our enemies – is a very important function of Government.
JOURNALIST: Given how much focus is on ISIS and ...
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: This will have to be the last question I think, because I have to go to the airport, I'm sorry.
JOURNALIST: ...and terrorist actives, and their prominence in the media, how urgent is that we develop a strategy around this?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well we are acting with some sense of urgency. Obviously our law enforcement agencies are doing a terrific job in protecting Australia and interdicting plots that have been in the media over the last few months, and those that have not been in the media. And the Education Ministers are working from today. We have resolved to work together around this issue.
JOURNALIST: Is it happening quickly enough, or would you like to see it move faster in terms of...
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I think it needs to happen as quickly as is possible to ensure that the right policies are in place to look after and protect our youth. Last question.
JOURNALIST: Minister I need to ask you a question. This morning Kate Jones said your decision not to support the fifth and sixth year of Gonski funding was a $6 billion black hole in the state's education budget. Was it something that she took you to task on this morning in that meeting?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well I wouldn't discuss the goings on, or the toings or froings in the actual Council meeting. Of course that figure is a fanciful figure. Queensland wasn't part of the national agreement at all around school funding until I brought them in after the last election and provided an extra $780 million to Queensland that Labor had taken away from Queensland. We do now have a national funding agreement, including every state and territory. When I became the Minister, Northern Territory, Western Australia, and Queensland weren't included. There is no so-called years five and six funding in the Victorian Budget for example, worth $1.8 billion. So while the states and territories like to sabre rattle about school funding, I haven't seen the colour of their money in terms of their forward estimates. There is a four-year funding agreement; the Commonwealth is fully funding that, as are the other states and territories. As that agreement nears its end, we will renegotiate the next four years as has been the case since time immemorial.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it's affecting the ability to educate students, though?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No I don't, because there hasn't been a cut. School funding will go up every year in Queensland and Australia under this Government. Eight per cent this year, eight per cent next year, six per cent the year after that and four per cent the year after that. So there is no funding cut at all. I would add to that, in terms of the effect in the outcomes for students, we have increased funding for schools by 40 per cent in the last 10 years, while at the same time our results in literacy and numeracy have declined in real terms and relative to our competitor countries. So we spent 40 per cent more, the results have gone backwards. That is why the Commonwealth is focussing on the national curriculum, on more autonomy in schools – like the Queensland Independent Public Schools Initiative, which the Commonwealth is helping to support financially – why we're focusing on teacher training at university, and why we are focusing on parental engagement. Because all those things show they affect students’ outcomes. And that is why we are focusing on things that matter as well as increasing funding every year, and I really must go. I won't get home to my family.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Last question.
JOURNALIST: Beyond the forward estimates then, you are open to negotiating with the states over the next forward cost?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: We negotiate on a four-year rolling arrangement. This agreement finishes in 2017. We will negotiate with the non-government sector, the states and territories around the current inequities that exist between the states and territories, and around of course the future funding model.