SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools, teachers’ unions
Peta Credlin: Parents have been assured by the Prime Minister and medical experts that sending children back to school is safe, and, indeed, necessary, if we want to ensure they don’t fall behind as the school year progresses. The problem is, of course, that despite the advice, some premiers and plenty of teachers’ unions are wanting the lockdowns to continue. The Federal Minister for Education Mr Dan Tehan joins me now from Canberra. Dan Tehan, thank you for your time tonight. Welcome to the show. Help us understand why there was this grievance between the advice of the experts that sit around the table with the premiers and the Prime Minister – they seem to agree on almost everything else – but on the issue of education, when they all go back to their states, does the union get into their ear or something, because it all goes to hell in a handcart?
Dan Tehan: Well, Peta, good evening, and it’s wonderful to join you from Hamilton tonight. As you can see from the backdrop, the wonderful Grampians there.
Credlin: I can.
Tehan: Yes. But, look, what we’ve said all along, from a Federal Government point of view, is that we would listen and back the medical expert panel that makes the advice on what should be open and what should be closed. And, that medical expert panel – which is made up of all state and territory medical experts and the Federal Government’s Chief Medical Officer – what they’ve said all along is that it’s safe for schools to be open. And, that’s why the Federal Government has a very consistent approach on all this. And, that is why we need to be doing everything we can to keep our schools open, and having teachers teaching in the classroom. Now, what we’ve seen is the Northern Territory, adopting that approach. Western Australia, to a large degree. South Australia, adopting that approach. So, our hope is that we will see other states and territories in the next three to four weeks also get back to classroom teaching. And, I say to all teachers, ‘You have an incredibly important role in helping us achieve this, because we want to make sure our children don’t lose a year of education due to the Coronavirus. We don’t want them to lose a term of education because of the Coronavirus.’ And, the most important thing is, that we know that the impact will be on those from low socio-economic areas, that really feel the impact of this. And, we want to make sure that those children, in particular, don’t fall behind.
Credlin: The experience and the expert advice overseas doesn’t differ with the advice that you are receiving, and the Prime Minister talks about in most press conferences here in Australia. So, why aren’t the unions and why aren’t the teachers’ organisations taking that advice seriously?
Tehan: Well, I mean, that’s, ultimately, a question for them. We had discussions with the Australian Education Union – the federated body that represents the teachers’ union – to try and work our way through this. And, they understood the importance of having schools remain open, especially so those people who need to work had a safe place for their children to continue to have an education. But, ultimately, the power lies with the state and territory education unions. And, they, ultimately, have made decisions that, I think, is contrary to the best interests of children in this nation, because we want them to continue to get that education. I think, contrary, especially to those children from those low socio-economic families, because that’s where the real impact will be felt if we can’t get children back into the classroom and getting them taught. So, look, we’ll continue to have discussions with the teachers’ union. We’ll continue to have discussions through the National Cabinet with all state and territory leaders about the importance of us getting all schools reopened. This is something that the Prime Minister feels absolutely passionate about, as does his whole Government.
Credlin: There are some cases – Victoria, Tasmania, two that I can point to – where the Governments are saying they will have term two, the entirety of term two, taught online, and children to stay at home. And, New South Wales is saying one day a week. I can’t understand why one day is any better than no days in the classroom. Are you at all hopeful – particularly if we see a relaxation in the next three weeks, as the Prime Minister seems to indicate, of some of these closures more broadly in the economy – that some of these states may change their mind?
Tehan: I am hopeful. What I’d love to see by the end of May, is us going back to having our education being provided in the classroom by teachers. So, I think, that should be something that we should all aim to see. By the end of May, so 1 June, on that Monday, what we would see is the normal resumption of teachers in the classrooms for all year levels. I think, if we can keep flattening the curve like we are, there is no reason why we shouldn’t aim to do that. As I’ve said, it’s already happening in the NT, in South Australia, and Western Australia. Why can’t we get the whole nation committed to that? By 1 June, let’s have all our classes resume. Everyone being taught in the classroom. If we keep flattening the curve, I can see no reason why we shouldn’t aim to do that.
Credlin: Dan Tehan, thank you for your time. And, given that we won’t be able to go overseas for some time, I hope people get down to the beautiful Grampians National Park there behind you. Thank you for your time.
Tehan: So do I, Peta. And, great to be with you.