Release type: Transcript

Date:

ABC Radio National interview with Tom Switzer

Ministers:

The Hon Alan Tudge MP
Minister for Education and Youth

TOM SWITZER:

Well, do you think that authoritarianism is the way forward? Now, that’s a serious question; just ask young Australians, those aged in the 18-29-year bracket. According to a Lowy Institute poll, nearly 40 per cent of these young Australians, they say that – in some circumstances – non-democratic government may be preferable. Or, that it doesn’t even matter what kind of government we have. Now that’s nearly 40 per cent of Australians aged 18-29. Now, 60 per cent, of course, are happy with the status quo, which is encouraging. But 40 per cent? Why is that the case? Why do so many young Australians dislike Liberal democracy and prefer a different, non-democratic model? Does it have anything to do with the teaching at our schools? Well, the Federal Education Minister thinks so, and he’s pushing for more far reaching changes to the draft national curriculum, including its treatment of history. Now, to tell us more, let’s hear from the Minister himself. Alan Tudge, welcome back to ABC Radio.

ALAN TUDGE:  

G’day Tom.

TOM SWITZER:

Now, let’s start with ACARA. This is the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. Why did you reject their April draft of the new national curriculum?

ALAN TUDGE:  

Well, for a number of reasons Tom, and thanks for having me on your programme. But firstly, because we need to lift overall learning standards in Australia. And the draft which they put out actually had learning standards decline in many areas. For example, the most obvious one was the times tables, which presently are being taught in year three. They were suggesting it be taught in year four. In many other countries, they’re starting to be taught, in year two. So that was the first reason. We need to lift learning standards because we've actually declined in our learning standards over the last 20 years, which we could explore if you like. The second reason was because the overall document was so unwieldy, literally at 3,500 pages, which is four or five times the length of most national curriculums around the world. Thirdly, because key evidence based practices weren't embedded in that national curriculum. The most clear example of this is phonics, which is your methodology for teaching kids to read. That was devalued at the expense of whole language approaches to reading, when the evidence is crystal clear now, and has been for 20 years that you need to teach kids to decode the alphabet. And then finally, Tom, I have great concerns about the draft which was put out in relation to the teaching of history, because I think it just presents a very negative view of Australia, rather than a balanced and more accurate and positive view of Australia.

TOM SWITZER:

How so?

ALAN TUDGE:  

Well, in some respects, if you read the entire history draft curriculum, which the independent body ACARA put together, you'd almost think that nothing bad happened before 1788, and very little good has happened since. It really downplays modern Australia and the achievements of modern Australia. Now, there has been many things in our past which we're not necessarily proud about, and particularly the treatment of Aboriginal people. But there's many magnificent achievements of Australia as well. And kids should be learning about that so that when they finish their schooling, they actually have pride in our country. They have a love of our country, they have a deep understanding of our modern liberal democracy, so that they do want to make a contribution to it and continue to defend it, as previous generations did. And you pointed out that statistic, that 40 per cent of 20-29 year olds don't think democracy is the preferable form of government. I mean, particularly at the moment, when you've got the rise of Communism and Totalitarian regimes around the world, now is a particularly important time for kids to have that deep understanding of the origins and value of liberal democracy is.

TOM SWITZER:

And this feeds into your next point because if the schools are feeding students a negative view of our nation's history, and as a consequence, undermining confidence in liberal democracy, which explains those poll results, your argument is that the next generation of Australians, they'll be unwilling to defend our nation in a military crisis.

ALAN TUDGE:

Yeah, I didn't actually say that. I didn't refer to militarily. I just said that they would be less willing to defend our democracy, and what I meant by that is the broader definition of that –that is arguing for democracy, fully participating in democracy, getting involved in the institutions and the like. Of course, previous generations, they really did defend our democracy, particularly those great generations who went through World War One and World War Two and 100,000 people died for this cause. But I was really getting at that broader definition of defence. And Peter Jennings, the head of ASPI, which is our peak national security think-tank in Australia, I mean, effectively, he says the same thing; that he says you don't defend our democratic values in schools, they will be attacked from the outside. And his point, and I'm quoting here, he says that Australia has been a remarkably successful democracy, and that's something that we should teach our kids to be proud of about. And it is important from that defence of our nation's perspective in terms of just defending those concepts of democracy.

TOM SWITZER:

Your critics have come out forcefully in response to your remarks, and they've said that presenting history with just one view is indoctrination, and that history needs interrogation. This is the argument. How do you respond to those who think that you, as Education Minister, want only one view of the past taught in the classroom?

ALAN TUDGE:

I want, as the Education Minister, an accurate and balanced view of our history, and that view of history is largely, it is a very ancient history about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. And then in terms of our modern history since 1788 is one of great achievement, despite the fact there have been some significant blemishes, historic wrongs that we quite rightly teach our kids, and particularly, as I said earlier, in relation to the treatment of Aboriginal people but in other matters equally. In the scheme of things, Australia today is perhaps the most wealthy, free, egalitarian, and tolerant society that has ever existed anywhere in the history of the world. Now, that's a big statement, but I challenge your listeners to have a think about that. Why shouldn't students understand that?

TOM SWITZER:

My guest is the Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge. Now, Mark Tannock, he’s the Principal of Sydney’s St Aloysius' College, Alan, he'd agree with you that we should resist and these are his words – a postmodern interpretation of Australian history and society in our curriculum that interprets our nation as inherently bad. He'd agree with you. And he'd also say that by any empirical measure, modern Australia, despite our flaws, is one of the most peaceful, secure, and free societies in human history. But he goes on to suggest that it is, quote, a fundamentally illiberal notion that something such as Anzac Day should be incontestable. Alan Tudge.

ALAN TUDGE:

It goes to your priorities as to what is taught in school, and there's limited time and you have to be able to impart certain ideas and certain values. Of course things can be challenged and debated. In relation to Anzac Day itself, though, that is the most sacred day in the Australian calendar, and 99 per cent of Australians understand it. That's why hundreds of thousands go to the Dawn Services on Anzac Day, and many thousands more go to other services, and quite rightly stop and recognise those people who have served and died for our nation. It's not contested that those people fought for our nation, died for our nation, died for the very values which we've been discussing in terms of freedom and democracy, and showed tremendous courage and commitment and sacrifice. That's what's not contestable. And this has been pointed out to me by RSL leaders, by the Australian Air Force Association, and the like and I don't want it to be undermined by, effectively by some left activists who would try to pick it apart when I think mainstream Australians understand exactly what it is.

TOM SWITZER:

Think Mark Tannock’s point, this is the principal at St Aloysius College. His point is that shouldn't students be encouraged to question everything? I mean, he says, our teachers must be apolitical, non-ideological in the eyes of the students. That goes both ways, doesn't it?

ALAN TUDGE:

Well, of course they can challenge ideas, and they should look at things from different lenses. And I'm pleased that there is material in the draft curriculum that looks at history through the lens of Indigenous eyes, for example. I think that's a positive development. But kids also need to learn about the facts first as well. And there's only so much time. And yes, of course, challenge ideas, put them up ...

TOM SWITZER:

And your concern is more that students are not learning about modern Australian achievements and modern Western heritage, certainly not as much as they should. I tell my daughters they are in school and I say to them every day, not what did you learn today, but what question did you ask? It's always important to ask questions. Now that brings me back to Indigenous issues. This is the National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition coordinator, this is Hayley McQuire on the SBS, quote, “It's about being honest about our history and how that history has shaped our society today. We can't always think that we can move forward by having rose tinted glasses on”.

ALAN TUDGE:

It is about being honest about our history, and I agree with her. But nor should we have a real negative view of our history as if nothing good has happened since 1788. So, I mean, there's been such tremendous achievements in Australia, even from a democratic perspective. You think about the achievements of the formation of Australia itself in 1901, which came about in peaceful means, which was quite unique at the time in history. There was no bloody revolution as occurred typically. You think about the fact that women, in Australia, women got the vote, it’s the first place in the world where women got the vote. That's not a compulsory element to be taught in the draft national curriculum. The tolerance that Australia has, the fact that millions of people come here from all around the world and we’ve largely settled and integrated them into Australia, in a manner which is almost unique in the world. All of these are fantastic achievements that did not happen by accident, and they're firmly rooted in the values of the country. And that's what I think needs to be imparted as well, as well as that balanced approach where there were some great wrongs in the past, particularly to this woman that you're referring to, Hayley…

TOM SWITZER:

Yes. Well, Hayley McQuire, I mean, the Indigenous spokespeople who have come out are criticising you. Of course, they don't represent all Indigenous Australians because there's a lot of diversity of opinion within the Aboriginal community. Jacinta Price, Warren Mundine, Anthony Mundine, amongst other conservative Aboriginal Australians. But Hayley McQuire, she's come out and she says, you don't care about, quote, “How Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people feel when they're learning a history that does not represent the truth of their experiences”.

ALAN TUDGE:

Well, I find it offensive that she would say that. I spent a long period of my time working in Indigenous Australia, as you might know Tom, even before I was a member of Parliament. I gave up a corporate career to go and work with Noel Pearson up in far north Queensland as his Deputy Director, on some of the toughest challenges in Australia being those in remote Aboriginal communities and I've done a lot of work since. So I do find those comments offensive. I do think that the draft national curriculum does include a lot of Indigenous perspectives on it, and it's weaved throughout it. The concerns have not been put to me from Aboriginal leaders in relation to the draft that there's insufficient material and insufficient acknowledgement of past wrongs. The concerns which historians have put to me has been that there's an imbalance in relation to the teaching of our Western heritage and the origins of our liberal democracy. We need to do both. And I'll tell you what, I mean, Noel Pearson is often the one. I mean, Tom is, as you may know, he's one of the great Aboriginal leaders, and he says that Australia is really based on three pillars. And I think this is a really nice framework. It's based on our Indigenous foundations. It includes our British Western heritage. And of course, today has this modern, multicultural flavour. That's what makes up Australia. And I think that's a lovely framework to be thinking about Australia today. Those three pillars, and we should be teaching it.

TOM SWITZER:

Minister, great to have you on RN.

ALAN TUDGE:

Thanks very much, Tom.

TOM SWITZER:

That was Alan Tudge, the Federal Education Minister.