RICHO Sky News Australia; Janine Perrett
Date: 22 October 2014
JANINE PERRETT: For an update on where this is all at, at the moment I’m joined now by the Federal Education Minister, Christopher Pyne in our Canberra studio. Welcome to the show.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Thank you Janine.
JANINE PERRETT: Now you’ve had, as you’ve said yourself, quite a positive response to the national curriculum review, which you announced I think about ten days ago. Of course, in theory everyone sees that as a good idea, ‘cause they’ll probably get their ideas in, its not going to be, I gather, implemented till 2016, is it now the hard yards? Theory’s one thing, the practical concept of getting everyone to agree on a new curriculum is going to be the hard yards?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: There’s no doubt about that Janine, the tough negotiations and discussion with the states and territories begins now. I’ve written to all the ministers, enclosing the curriculum review. I’ve written to the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority asking them for their feedback. We have a meeting in December of the education ministers around Australia and of course the national curriculum is a consensus document. All the states and territories are the ones, the level of government that runs the schools. So now I want to work with the states and territories to bring about curriculum change which is going to be better for students, as I’ve described myself as ‘Captain Cooperative’ on this issue, and I believe the states and territory ministers are as committed as I am to the best possible curriculum that we can produce - that’s what parents want and we now have to prove that the states and territories and the commonwealth can work together and put students first rather than any kind of political considerations.
JANINE PERRETT: Again, sounds great in theory and you might be Captain Cooperative but we know what the states are like, what makes you think, even if they acquiesce to your ideas in general, what makes you think that they’ll actually implement them in the end?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well I’m very pleased to be able to say that none of the states and territories have yet come out and rejected the curriculum review. They’ve all taken it and they’re now studying it, some states have been quite supportive of the findings of the review. This is a very practical document, it isn’t an ideological document. It’s designed to do some things that most people think are common sense - de-clutter the primary school curriculum and have a focus in primary school on maths and science and English and history, make sure that the themes of the curriculum actually match the curriculum, rather than trying to squeeze the curriculum into themes and those themes are Australia’s place in Asia, Indigenous culture and heritage as well as sustainability, but rather than have them determine the curriculum, have the curriculum determine the themes. I think that’s very common sense - and giving parents a kind of curriculum that they can follow so that they can be more engaged with their children’s education.
JANINE PERRETT: Do you think some areas are going to be more controversial and difficult to get through than others? For example, some of the ones that people have raised questions about, especially as you talk about this not being ideological, that for example history is always a very sensitive area, do you see some as being - like English - that people would agree we want everyone to be able to read and write. Maths is pretty straightforward. History becomes a little more sensitive.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well potentially that’s true, but the reviewers have been very careful not to try and push an ideological agenda. What they’ve said is that the curriculum lacks enough emphasis on our Western heritage. Now we do need to know about our Aboriginal and Torres Strait history before 1788 and since, but since 1788 Australia’s history has been very much determined by our Western heritage and its very important that school students and all Australians emerge from school knowing why we are the kind of country that we are, with our respect for the rule of law, democracy, the Enlightenment, our liberal society – that is the kind of heritage they need to know about, as well as our Indigenous heritage, and both of those things need to be married together in the history curriculum.
JANINE PERRETT: Well those things are important. Peter Van Onselen just said to me as he went off camera to ask you about the importance of preparing students, primary and high school students for university – just the ability to be able to read and write property, to spell, to add up. We’ve seen some criticism since you announced this review of a simple thing like economics. Somebody claimed that in fact it’s so basic, it’s useless, the economics that’s being taught these days. Aren’t there a whole lot of other areas that are going to be vital in a new economy, for what students need to know?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well that’s the whole point of this review and it’s nice that Peter Van Onselen who has so much airtime is now trying to steal some of yours Janine. But nevertheless, putting that to one side, he makes a good point, and so do the curriculum reviewers. They say that there’s no point in children emerging from primary school into secondary school without knowing how to read and write and count. Now that’s why they say we must de-clutter the primary school curriculum and not try and get every single aspect of education into the reception to year six period but focus instead on the basics around literacy, numeracy, English, history, maths and science.
Now I support that very strongly and I think most parents do because it’s ridiculous that universities have to have bridging courses for first year students in essay writing, spelling, punctuation and grammar. But I think the reviewers have been very generous because what they’ve said is you can’t blame the teachers for not teaching grammar when the teachers weren’t taught it themselves at school. So there are recommendations about teachers being given that training at university, in their teaching training courses around grammar and punctuation and returning that to a central focus of their primary school years and I support that and I think Peter Van Onselen would support that too.
JANINE PERRETT: Well he is, because in his other life he also works as a lecturer so he was talking from self-interest there. But just on this issue of adapting students from the earlier stage to a new economy, we know they against, they’re competing with Asian students who focus on things – we have a crisis, as you’ve recognised, in the STEM area – science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and also in computer literacy. While we’re de-cluttering don’t we also need to adapt and make us competitive in these areas which we have neglected and we have a – really a crisis in at the moment?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, we can’t try and do too much in primary school. Now for example, maths, science, history and English…
JANINE PERRETT: Isn’t that where you should start, with respect?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, Janine, they cannot, primary school kids cannot do everything from reception to year six if they’re going to do it well. And what the curriculum reviewers say is that there is far too much breadth and not enough depth. And I want to see a focus on history, science, maths and English which I think accords to what you’re saying, and within maths there’s no reason why coding, for example, which is so vital for information technology, computing et cetera can’t be taught as part of the maths curriculum. But trying to make all of the subjects taught in primary school, is what is giving us far too much breadth and not enough depth.
JANINE PERRETT: Well just looking at that issue, we saw the Competitiveness Agenda released last week, and that included quite a few things that cover the education portfolio. Now on that issue, there was $12 million put aside to try and increase interest in the STEM subjects and computers. In a country this size, do you think that’s going to be enough to solve the critical shortages we’ve got in that area, and to help innovation and technology in the future for our economy?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well that’s on top of what the government is already investing in STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – there are a whole range of programs right now that I’ve been talking to the Chief Scientist Ian Chubb about because I’m very interested in this part of public policy and we do need to make a lot of progress on promoting science, technology, engineering and maths, not just at school but also in study at university and we’ll have announcements to make about that in the near future. But the $12 million was on top of programs like Primary Connections. Now part of that money is to double the size of Primary Connections and Primary Connections is a program about promoting science in primary schools. It’s a very, very good program, – Labor wanted to scrap it – Tony Abbott and I saved it, and we’re now doubling it. So we certainly understand the points that you are making and we do need to do as much as we can in that area.
JANINE PERRETT: While we’re talking money, how are the negotiations going with the Senate, where are we at on the Higher Education Reforms and the negotiations, the Budget, it’s gone a bit quiet. I spoke to Senator Cormann on Monday, he said he’s in talks, are you in talks, are you hopeful, where’s it at?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well I am hopeful, and I am a great believer in forward movement, Janine. I’m a very optimistic person, very positive person. On Monday the Senate will hand down its Senate committee report on the Higher Education Reform Bill, the debate will begin in the Senate. I don’t know how much progress it will make in the Senate next week, because there are obviously other bills as well and because of the suspension of the Parliament yesterday, Senate Estimates didn’t occur that would have occurred… so there’s a schedule arrangements changes, but in terms of the crux of your point, yes I think we are making progress. I think there’s a lot of support in the Higher Education sector for our reform bill, it is far-reaching, it will spread opportunity to more low socio-economic status children, young people, through Commonwealth Scholarships, through the pathways programme and HECS, the Higher Education Contribution Scheme stays in place, and I think people are now starting to realise that the scare campaign run by Labor and the Greens is just that: it’s a scare campaign full of myths.
JANINE PERRETT: You say you’re confident, you have been quite conciliatory, there’s been reports that you have been open to compromise, what did you say, you’re Captain Compromise, with the states…
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Captain Cooperative.
JANINE PERRETT: Captain Cooperative! Sorry. Are you Captain Cooperative with the PUPs and the cross-bench senators on this, are you willing to do deals?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well I believe that 80% of something is better than 100% of nothing. My view is that I will sit down with the cross-benchers, as I already have I have had multiple meetings with the cross-benchers; some cross-benchers I have met with, 4 or 5 or 6 times. My office has been very closely involved in briefing them and their staff, and the more information that they are getting, the more inclined they are towards amendment, sure, but the centrepiece of the policy, which is the deregulation of the university system, to make it the best system in the world with some of the best universities in the world, that ambition is still in place and I believe that there will be a reform, and it will be good for students and it will be good for the universities.
JANINE PERRETT: Just one more final quick question, you mention parliament was suspended yesterday because of the death of Gough Whitlam, a lot of the commemoration and the eulogising, has talked about the key thing of him providing free university, that’s what people keep harping on… it is then put in contrast with your reforms. Does it make it harder when people are remembering a day when somebody came in and made university free?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well there’s two things I’d say about that, in fact three things. Firstly that Gough Whitlam himself said in 1973 that the person who’d done the most for universities and higher education in Australia was Sir Robert Menzies. I haven’t heard many of the Labor Party eulogisers making that point. The second point I’d make is that there is no such thing as free education, the 750,000 university students go to university so-called “for free”. The rest of the Australian taxpayer are paying for them to get the opportunity to get a higher education qualification where they will earn 75% more over their lifetime than people who didn’t go to university. So there’s no such thing as free education; the tax payer pays. That’s why the Hawk government reintroduced the Higher Education Contribution Scheme, or introduced the Higher Education Contribution Scheme because they thought it was wrong and unfair that students didn’t make a contribution to their education. And the third thing that I’d say, is that the myth about so-called “free education” under the Whitlamite agenda, was that in fact it was a transfer of money from the poorest Australians to the wealthiest Australians because the demographic change in universities was completely unchanged after so-called “free education”.
JANINE PERRETT: Christopher Pyne, thank you very much for your time tonight, appreciate you coming in.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: That’s a pleasure, thanks Janine.