Release type: Transcript

Date:

Doorstop on schools reopening - Toorak College, Mount Eliza, Victoria

Ministers:

The Hon Stuart Robert MP
Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business
Acting Minister for Education and Youth

SHARN COOMBES:

Good morning. My name is Sharn Coombes, I'm the Federal Liberal candidate for Dunkley and it's an absolute honour and privilege to have the Education Minister here with us this morning and to be welcomed by Kristy here at beautiful Toorak College in Mount Eliza. As the Federal Liberal candidate for Dunkley, I'm so honoured to have the opportunity to stand and hopefully be elected to represent this really great community. It was so great this morning to go in and see the preppies and year sevens, and I'd like to invite Kristy to speak about how exciting it is to have the students back on campus today after going through the longest lockdown in the world.

KRISTY KENDALL:

Thank you so much. And what an introduction to remind us that we are all part of the longest lockdown in the world, although today is actually probably more of a celebration of what our students and staff achieved over that time. Today, as we walked around the classrooms at Toorak College, we heard all of the students say how happy they are to be back, how excited they were for something called lunch time, where they got to sit and eat with their friends. But I think also you could see on their faces maybe a sense of relief and hope that this year will be one that they continue to show us what they've learnt over two years, put that resilience and independence to good work in our classrooms. 

QUESTION:

Can I get you just to say to your first and last name please?

KRISTY KENDALL:

Yes.

QUESTION:

And your role here at Toorak College?

KRISTY KENDALL:

Wonderful. My name is Kristy Kendall, and I am the Principal of Toorak College. 

QUESTION:

How did your students go remote learning for the last two years? Certainly, a challenge for everyone. 

KRISTY KENDALL:

Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the things with remote learning last year was we made a commitment to really look at that continuity and consistency. So, we made sure that the classes looked like a normal school day here. There were some small breaks in different things, but what could you leave children in control of in their journey? So, our students were absolutely motivated to jump on and connect, but it was our teachers that inspired them through creativity and new ways to do things that I think really helped to make our remote learning program feel like it was an extension of being here.

QUESTION:

And how did school here on campus look different than it did before the start of the pandemic? 

KRISTY KENDALL:

Oh, that's - that's a really good question. I actually said to the Minister this morning, I think you come every day into a school in Victoria with a sense of gratitude that you are here and are a part of the environment. And I think, if anything, we've opened these young people's eyes to the fact that things can change. We need to be fortunate, for what we get and we never can sit back when opportunity presents itself, dive in, take the opportunities. And I think we see that rippling through the community even on the first day. 

QUESTION:

And sorry, what COVID-safe measures do you have in place?

KRISTY KENDALL:

So, we've got masks on really in all of those classrooms. We're very proficient at doing so here. We have amazing grounds. So even today you could see classes all happening outside in everything that we're doing. We've got a great register of people that are isolating, COVID positive, and huge amounts of trust. Twice weekly testing, our staff all tested last night, ready to be here today, and that program will get rolling with our students coming this week as well. So, plenty of things to make sure that we say here, you walk in the gates every day feeling confident to enjoy your day.

QUESTION:

Have you received your RATs from the state government? 

KRISTY KENDALL:

We have received some of our RATs from the state government. I'm assured that there's a few more on a truck to us today, so we prioritise getting those staff out. Our primary students will get them today and then hoping for a final delivery for our secondary students later on in the day. 

QUESTION:

And how do you disseminate them? How does it work? 

KRISTY KENDALL:

[Laughs] Yes, I've found random staff members to make chief logistics officers of RATs at the moment. 

[Laughter]

KRISTY KENDALL:

But really, look, first day, we're disseminating welcome booklets, diaries, you name it. So, to tell you the truth, it's just one of those other things that's part of a school year admin line up. And away we go with that RAT testing. 

QUESTION:

Fabulous. Thank you so much. 

KRISTY KENDALL:

No worries.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, wonderful to be here at Toorak College in Mount Eliza. Can I thank the principal, Kristy, for showing Sharn and I around? It has been extraordinary the amount of work the school here has done. Four million Australian children will be heading back to school in the next two weeks. We caught up with a bunch of preppies this morning. There's 320,000 young little Australians, Sharn, who of course, are starting. 

SHARN COOMBES:

So cute.

MINISTER ROBERT:

And 240,000 Year 12 will be doing that final year. It's been a difficult two years. It's been a hard two years in pandemic and here we are in Melbourne, one of the places in the world that has endured an enormous amount and our young people have been so resilient. We're seeing through the NAPLAN results that the results from 2019 to now have shown how well parents and teachers have done with children to keep those results at a commensurately high level. But we're now back to school. Hopefully, the era of remote learning is behind us. And it was great to walk from class to class. Sharn, great to hear you tell your story and to inspire and show the young girls in the classroom what an accomplished senior executive in our community, yourself as 21 years as a criminal barrister, and of course, a public prosecutor, what you can do. You can't be what you can't see and you've shown the girls today in Toorak College what indeed they can be. So, principal, thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to come and visit the school. To all of the schools, almost 10000 around the country over the next two weeks, best of luck going forward. So much planning, so much work you've done together with state and federal governments. Can I thank my state and federal counterparts as ministers for the cooperation and the work as together we get all of our kids back to school and we get our country moving?

QUESTION:

National Cabinet agreed that schools would be the first to open and last to close. Are you confident that that will happen this year?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Absolutely. There's been a lot of work to get a nationally consistent, principled approach on exactly how we'll open our schools up. An enormous amount of cooperation between myself and my counterpart ministers across states and territories. Rapid antigen tests are rolling out in line with textbooks and diaries and everything else that has to happen. There's a lot of work. The government's sharing 50:50 in the pandemic costs to allow schools to open up, and I think we all appreciate now the era of remote learning is behind us. 

Kids need to go back to school. It's safe to go back to school. The principal medical committee, the AHPPC, has made it clear it's safe to go back to school and I'm sure parents are looking forward to it.

QUESTION:

How long will we be able to require teachers and students to take two RATs a week?

MINISTER ROBERT:

For example, in Victoria here, Victoria and New South Wales have outlined an initial six week period. The Queensland state government has outlined their planning in preparation for the start next week, and they're looking at a similar period to understand how things roll. The Chief Health Officer, of course, in Queensland has said in terms of the Gold Coast, where I'm from, that the Omicron peak has passed, to quote his words, I hope accurately. So it is a week by week affair. But the ministers have given themselves an additional six weeks, which I think is wise.

QUESTION:

And obviously they are expecting that COVID case numbers in school settings will rise. Is that a concern to the Liberal government?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, the Doherty modelling has shown that there will be some increase. They put high, central, and low predictions. So far, of course, what we've seen across the country has been lower than the lowest Doherty modelling, which is very, very pleasing in terms of hospitalisations and ICU presentations. Now, we're well prepared. We've got a good planning approach for this, and we'll take it forward sensibly, testing and adjusting as we need to as we go.

QUESTION:

Can I just ask you the first Newspoll of the year showing that Labor is leading at 56 to 44 in a two party preferred basis? Where does the government- how do you feel about the government's stance going into that first poll?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Polls come and go as they always have and they always will. There's only one poll that matters, of course, and that's Election Day. But Australians, of course, have had a very difficult two years. Being here in Melbourne and chatting with children and chatting with families, it's been tough, and we understand how difficult it has been. In the same breath, we're so impressed with what teachers and mums and dads and carers have done. So I understand the frustrations of parents, but there's an enormous goodwill. There's enormous hard work between federal and state and territory ministers to ensure we can get our way of life back up and running, and a first start in getting back to a COVID normal is kids back to school. That's why today is such a cracker of a day.

QUESTION:

Even the Coalition government led the country through the pandemic here in Victoria, arguably the two hardest years we've ever had, are you confident the support will be there for the Coalition heading into the next election? 

MINISTER ROBERT:

If I look at what the government's achieved, and these are important for the decisions that people make based on results. Over $300 billion worth of support, unemployment at 4.2 per cent going down into the threes as we progress, more Australians in work now than pre-COVID, the only industrialised nation in the world that can quote that. Since we've been in government, over 1.7 million more Australians in work, including a million more women in work. So the results are there in terms of our strong economy, our strong growth. Growth this year to be approaching four per cent, which is superb. And if we look at those employment numbers, the opportunity for Australians to get jobs. Greatest investment in skills, more trade apprentices than ever before in our nation's history. The government's track record is strong, and we'll continue to sell this message, and we'll continue to serve the Australian people until Election Day.

QUESTION:

So you’re confident that track record will translate to votes?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I'm confident that the Australian people will see that every day we're up, we are serving them. That every day we're investing in skills and training and jobs. I'm confident that the graduates from this beautiful school here, as they move forward this year in their final year into next year, there will be an unprecedented opportunity for them to get skills, training, and work, and that's the legacy of the Morrison government. 

QUESTION:

Thank you so much.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Tremendous.

QUESTION:

Thank you. Minister, just on the back to school. Parents we've spoken to can't understand why some states are doing surveillance testing and their states aren't. To them it suggests their children are less important. Why couldn't the federal government get all states and territories to agree on a consistent school testing regime, with the Teachers Union wanting one too?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We've had over 60 meetings of National Cabinet, which is about getting consistency across our response. States will always reserve their right to do things differently, and that's a question best given to state governments. There's a nationally consistent approach to opening schools. It's principle based, and those principles are being adhered to. Some jurisdictions are doing slight differences in their approaches, and that's up for that jurisdiction to explain to their parents.

QUESTION:

I just also want to ask you about resources. The Teachers Union is concerned that there is a current teacher shortage and that any positive COVID cases will exacerbate that and lead to disruption for students. Are you confident there will be enough teachers to fill any gaps caused by sickness?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Workforce is a challenge right across the country. It's why unemployment's at 4.2 per cent and forecast to get down in towards three per cent being full employment. That's why the government's had this unprecedented investment in skills and training just to get more workforce in place, including in teaching. We've seen an unprecedented increase. Over 270,000 Australians take up the JobTrainer place, and of course, our investment in apprenticeships has seen record numbers there and we'll continue to do that. You'll never have enough doctors, teachers, professionals, and nurses. We’ll always want more and more and more, and that's what a great country like Australia will always need. And that's why we're investing so much in that training and in that support. I know states and territories are well prepared down here in Victoria. There is many, many, many hundreds of retired principals and teachers ready to stand up and fill those needs, and states have done a lot of work preparing for that. Our job is to continue to invest in training to get more and more professionals into these workspaces, and that's going to be an important part of my job as the Minister for Employment and Workforce.

QUESTION:

Do you think there will be a possibility that some classes will have to go back to remote learning because teacher resources may not be available because of sickness?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Our hope is that's not the case, and there's a lot of work that's been done to prepare classrooms and teachers for that, a lot of work being done to identify alternate teaching resources as needed. But that's a conversation right across the country in all workplaces, from manufacturing to the arts, right the way through to teaching, to ensure as we move through this third wave that the teaching resources or the workforce resources are there. We've seen that in early childhood, we've seen that right the way through, but I'm confident that the vast majority of schools will be able to sensibly manage their approach over the next six weeks. 

Tremendous. Thanks very much.