Release type: Transcript

Date:

Interview with Chris Smith - Sky News

Ministers:

The Hon Alan Tudge MP
Minister for Education and Youth

Subjects: COVID impact on students, new curriculum, COVID-19 vaccination, and lockdowns.

 

CHRIS SMITH:

Welcome back. Well, the impact of COVID-19 and the knee jerk approach by some health officials in dealing with education will have a profoundly negative impact on our children and our grandchildren. Even with Delta, almost all children avoid serious illness. And yet we've deprived too many kids for far too long from being taught face to face. Home schooling has been an abject failure, and education ministers in all governments will need to do a whole lot more in the years ahead than just sign off on a return to school. The man who has the most responsibility for this is Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge. Now, he'll be juggling quite a bit, having just refused to accept the new curriculum and taking on the tertiary sector too over its creeping incidents of cancel culture on campuses. Let's see whether he's up to it.

Alan Tudge, welcome to the program.

ALAN TUDGE:

G’day, Chris.

CHRIS SMITH:

Do you agree with what I've just said here? We've allowed over the last two days too much of not enough face to face education and we fear that we've got a generation who may slip through the cracks. Even in 2020, so many kids just fell away, didn't continue their schooling. We've got to do more, surely than just sign off on a return to school at the back end of this year.

ALAN TUDGE:

A couple of points on that, Chris. The good news is that on average, the overall education outcomes have maintained their position compared to previous years. Now, that was based on May testing data, may have deteriorated since then. But on average, we're doing okay. My main concern is actually ...

CHRIS SMITH:

But we’ve had a second major lockdown in both Victoria and New South Wales.

ALAN TUDGE:

In both Victoria and New South Wales, my concern is that will have deteriorated since then overall. But I'm particularly concerned that you're going to have outliers who are hidden by these average figures. Some people I know for sure will have dropped out of schooling almost altogether or completely disengaged. My greatest concern, Chris, is not on the learning side of things, it is on the mental health consequences of schools being closed and broader lockdowns. We know the data on this. The presentations to emergency rooms have gone through the roof, eating disorders gone through the roof, the calls to Kids Helpline, to Beyond Blue, to Headspace, all are up very significant on previous years. That's going to be the biggest long-term impact, in my view. And that's the one that I'm most concerned about.

CHRIS SMITH:

So what levers do you and other education and maybe even ministers from other governments that are concerned about mental health, like health ministers, what levers can all of you put together and pull to ensure that this entire generation of kids who've suffered so much in two years don't completely fall through the gaps?

ALAN TUDGE:

There's many things that must be done, and I think you're right that it is across government and across governments. Obviously, you've got to have the services in place. And that's why we've lent so heavily into mental health in this year's budget, with over $2 billion of additional funding, and a further $500 million even during the COVID period as well, much of which is targeted at young people. I think that's the first thing. The second thing is we do have to have the schools back open as quickly as it's safe to do so. Everybody has agreed to this national plan, and that includes schools being open when we get to the 70 and 80 per cent figure, and only ever being closed again if it's in an outbreak area. I think that's very important. And I think thirdly, we’ve got to offer hope and positivity to our kids across the board. That's where the curriculum comes in as well, Chris. It's why I'm so dark on the draft national curriculum as well, because it's had such a negative view of Australia and a negative view of Australians in some respects, whereas we need to offer that hope and positivity to kids through the national curriculum. We've got to offer a reasoned, balanced approach to what's going on in climate change, not scare people in relation to it. We've got to make sure that they understand they're part of a great democracy where the future is bright, and not have these overtly negative pictures painted for them. I think that's also going to be important going forward.

CHRIS SMITH:

Alright. The other ball you're juggling, as I mentioned, is this propensity inside tertiary education in Australia to try and cancel Western culture, to rewrite history in so many fashions. That is a tougher nut to crack than even the problems we've already raised in this interview.

ALAN TUDGE:

I think that's right. I mean, those are forces across the board, it's not just in schools and in our universities, but across the western world, you've got forces who are trying to downplay Western civilisation and the benefits, that it has brought to us. In some respects, Chris, I think it's more important than ever that we prosecute the case for liberal democracy and the origins of it. When we've got the rise of China and Communist thinking there and it's spreading. You've got the rise of extreme Islam as well, and those thoughts spreading throughout other parts of the world. We need to be very strong in defence of our liberal democracy, its origins, and the benefits of it. And the fact that it's not God given. We've worked very hard to get to this point. Literally 100,000 Australians have fought and died for the principles of it. We need to be teaching our kids this in schools. And ideally, it should have a much bigger part in our universities as well.

CHRIS SMITH:

Yeah, I couldn't agree more, but as I say, a tougher nut to crack. I want to talk about Alan Tudge for a second. Now, you're a rare breed, because unlike many politicians, you've had a real job before you got into politics, management consultancy. You also spent time in New York. So, I guess you were on the verge, possibly, of an international managerial consultant role and career. What turned you? What decided that you needed to get into politics? What was the turning point there?

ALAN TUDGE:  

It’s a good question, Chris. I've always had an interest in public policy issues, to be honest, going all the way back to university days. And in some respects, in politics, I was student president at Melbourne University, one of the few non-left leaning ones. And even when I was in business, I would still open the newspapers and want to read The Australian newspaper and delve into the political sections more than I would the business sections. And I thought that I had something to contribute and I had people that were willing to back me. And so, when an opportunity arose, Chris, I took a deep breath and I put my foot forward. And years later, here I am.

CHRIS SMITH:  

But even before that, you could have gone in a completely different direction. Your parents were Ten Pound Poms; they were both veterinarians. You lived on a farm. How did you not go into some kind of area associated with animal husbandry or a vet as well?

ALAN TUDGE:  

Well, I think growing up with two vets, it almost puts you off being one. Particularly in those days, Chris. It's a little bit different these days being a veterinarian. But 30 or 40 years ago when you're out in the edge of the city and in the country, it's a 24/7 job.

Both my parents, I largely grew up with my mother, but both worked their backsides off. And I remember as a little kid, picking up the phone, it’d be on a Saturday night, because people would call your landline at home sort of saying, listen, my dog’s been run over and they'd be in tears, can I see Dr Tudge and can she come down and fix up my dog please? And that’s probably put me off a little bit. Then going into politics, which is even more 24/7.

CHRIS SMITH:  

You were also the first Minister of Population. And I just wonder what your feeling is now. You were supportive of a bigger Australia. Don’t we have to get to 2022 and turbo charge immigration?

ALAN TUDGE:  

Chris, immigration should always be in our national interest. I think there is a national interest for immigration to fill, particularly the skills shortages that we have, and they are very significant. We're working very hard at the moment on getting as many people trained up as possible to fill those gaps internally. But we know that we are missing so many people from being able to do some of those jobs. And almost everywhere that I used to go before these most recent lockdowns, people would be screaming at you, about not being able to find workers. We will need that. But how quickly we can ramp that up is probably too tough to say at the moment because it does depend on the vaccines, its efficacy, vaccination passports that people might have when they come into the country, the surety that we can have knowing that they’ve been vaccinated, what sort of quarantine arrangements, if any, will have to be in place. So little bit to go on that before we can say exactly how quickly that might ramp up.

CHRIS SMITH:  

You mentioned lockdowns there. I think most polls at the moment show that the vast majority of Australians are sick to death of border closures and lockdowns. We are waiting till we get to 80 per cent, you know, fully vaccinated. What is wrong with the likes of Mark McGowan and Annastacia Palaszczuk? Don't they want to pick up the scientific and medical proof that we can move ahead, we can force deaths and ICU occupancy down if we're 80 per cent vaccinated? What is wrong with these people?

ALAN TUDGE:  

Chris, we certainly want them to stick to the national plan, which they themselves agreed to, and they agreed it, not only with the Prime Minister, but in essence they agreed with the Australian people, the people of Western Australia, the people of Queensland and the rest of the population. And that's the hope and the confidence that we can provide the Australian people. They're stepping up, doing their part of the equation, which is to go and get jabbed. We want the state and territory leaders to step up to their side, open the economy once we get to those particular milestones, open the borders, let the schools, let the community get back to as close as normal as possible.

CHRIS SMITH:  

And the families, like even in a single workplace like this one at Sky News, enormous numbers, would love to go to Perth and see their parents, their sisters, their brothers, their nieces. It's just extraordinary that you could be that cruel and force those with connections to your state to stay away.

ALAN TUDGE:  

I think that's right, if the medical advice, and that's the advice that we've got from Doherty, from the Treasury, that those borders should be open come the 70 and 80 per cent figures, for all of those reasons that you've described. In a place like Queensland, of course, so much of the tourism is dependent upon Melburnians and Sydneysiders, flying up to Cairns, to Townsville, to other parts of Queensland over the summer holidays, and during the middle of the year, et cetera. Those small businesses will be disadvantaged by this as well. Let alone, you can think about the border towns between northern New South Wales and Southern Queensland…

CHRIS SMITH:  

That’s been so badly handled. So badly handled.

ALAN TUDGE:  

We’ve had those incidences where pregnant women have been turned around, they can't get into a hospital. Some of this just has to stop. We've got this national plan, Chris. We want people to stick to that national plan. That provides the hope, it provides the certainty which the Australian people want and deserve.

CHRIS SMITH:  

Finally, one last question. You've won four elections in your seat and you've steadily risen through the ranks, as you say, now in Cabinet under Scott Morrison. Would you take the Prime Ministerial role if it was ever offered to you?

ALAN TUDGE:  

Chris, I’m very happy in my current job. I really enjoy it. It's true. I've been, involved in the education space for a very long time. And I really enjoy this role. And I hope I can continue in this job for at least another three years.

CHRIS SMITH:  

So, you wouldn’t accept it if it came to you? You wouldn’t accept it?

ALAN TUDGE:  

I'm not seeing Scott Morrison go anywhere in the near future, and I hope he doesn't go anywhere in the near future. Let's win the next election. Keep it going. I'd like to stay in the same role under a Morrison Prime Ministership.

CHRIS SMITH:  

You've been very generous with your time. Alan Tudge, thank you very much.

ALAN TUDGE:  

Thanks very much, Chris.