Release type: Transcript

Date:

Sky News Live- The Friday Showdown Interview with Rita Panahi and Nicholas Reece

Ministers:

The Hon Alan Tudge MP
Minister for Education and Youth

Subjects: The draft national curriculum

RITA PANAHI:

That brings me to our next guest. Joining us now is Federal Education Minister, Alan Tudge, who’s facing a revolt of sorts from the Labor states over his efforts to improve the curriculum from what he says is C grade, to A plus. Minister, thanks for joining us today. The Victorian Education Minister James Merlino has said your remarks about the curriculum were aimed at inciting culture wars. What’s your response?

ALAN TUDGE:

What I’m trying to do is get a good education for our young children, which means we have to have a good, rigorous curriculum, which raises standards, imbeds evidence-based teaching practice such as phonics, and has a balanced but optimistic view of Australia. Because ultimately, we live in one of the most egalitarian, most wealthy, most tolerant societies that has ever existed in the history of humankind, anywhere in the world. That’s what children need to understand, appreciate, so that they can defend our liberal democracy just as previous generations have.

NICHOLAS REECE:

Minister Tudge, some of the state education ministers are saying that you’re playing politics with the national curriculum. That you’ve commissioned this independent review, which they’ve supported, but while the independent review is undertaking its work, you’re running a running commentary on it. Stirring up a debate in a way which they say is unhelpful. Would you agree you’re playing politics on this?

ALAN TUDGE:

I just want to see a good outcome here, Nick. This is very important, what goes into the national curriculum, because that sets the standards right across Australia. And yes, I have been very strong in relation to the draft revised curriculum, which was put out by the independent authority ACARA, and for a number of reasons. It had standards going backwards, for example, in mathematics. The clearest example of that was in the times table, which presently is being taught in year three, it was proposing they'd be taught in year four. And yet in places like Singapore, they're taught in year two. There's twenty other examples like this. You had you peak maths body effectively calling for it to be scrapped and started again. You had in the history curriculum, year two kids being asked to assess statues as to whether or not they're racist in today's contexts. Can't learns the timetables, but apparently can understand whether a statue is racist in today's values. That is why I have been critical of the draft revised curriculum which has been put out. I think they have listened to some of my concerns. And it's not just my concerns, Nick. This is the concerns from thousands of people who made submissions, from peak historians, from peak mathematics associations. It did need a thorough revision. And I think that the curriculum authority is quite rightly taking that into account.

RITA PANAHI:

You've said the current curriculum teaches children an overwhelmingly negative, miserable view of Australia. What is the impact of that warped view being fed to impressionable children?

ALAN TUDGE:

I think if you look to what Peter Jennings said, he's the head of our peak national security think tank. I mean, he says that if people don't have an accurate and positive view of Australia, then our democracy will start to be attacked from the outside. And the future generations may not defend it in the same manner as previous generations. I don't mean militarily there. I mean, just in terms of robustly defending liberal democracy. Participating in it, taking responsibility for it, advancing it. And you know, Rita, when you look at the polling done by the Lowy Institute, 40 per cent of young people say that they either don't prefer liberal democracy or are indifferent to it. 40 per cent! Now that's a really disturbing figure in my view, and shows that we've got a lot more work to do for young people to understand the merits and the value of liberal democracy and what it has given this country. Because as I was saying before, right now in Australia, we are arguably the wealthiest, the freest, the most egalitarian and most tolerant society that has ever existed anywhere in the history of humankind. That is absolutely remarkable. And it is large part because of the liberal democracy, which we have. Now, doesn't mean we're perfect, but surely children should understand the origins of our liberal democracy, the value of that, so that they will defend it just as previous generations have.

NICHOLAS REECE:

Minister Tudge, I agree with your comments about Australia being an inclusive and egalitarian society. I'd also say, in a country as great as Australia, we can always do better. So, in that vein, I want to ask you; every major city in Australia has a major memorial to all the lives that were lost in World War One and World War Two, and yet no Australian city has a major memorial to the lives lost in the Frontier Wars, the Black Wars; following European settlement in this country. Do you agree that Australia should erect some major memorials to the tens of thousands of lives, mostly black lives, lost in those frontier wars?

ALAN TUDGE:

It's a good question, Nick. That's never been put to me before, and nor have any Indigenous leaders put this concept to me before as well. So I'd want to contemplate that, and I want to ensure that Indigenous leaders thought this was a good idea, because, as I said, no one’s put that to me. I know a lot of the Indigenous leaders themselves. What I do think is important, though, Nick, is that what is taught in schools at least, and what's reflected therefore in the curriculum, is an accurate reflection of our full history and that's an ancient history. And we can be proud of that history. But we should equally be proud of our modern history, which began in 1788 and has turned Australia into what it is today. But it hasn't been always pretty along the way.

RITA PANAHI:

No, but we should also be honest about our entire history, and I'm not sure that a curriculum actually provides that honesty throughout. That is another issue but..

ALAN TUDGE:

That's been my problem in part as well. And as you indicated, I think if you look at the revised draft history curriculum, you could read it in its entirety and you almost have the impression that nothing bad ever happened before 1788, and almost nothing good has happened since, whereas it's a much more complex history than that. But by and large, modern Australia has been an incredible success story, not without its flaws, but an unbelievable success story and we should recognise that and celebrate that.

I'll just say this one other comment, and that is but even something as important as women being able to vote and Australia was the first place in the world where women have the right to vote; in South Australia, and then of course New Zealand had it before Australia as a whole. But that isn't taught as a compulsory subject matter in the draft national curriculum. That's something that we should be proud of. It's something about our heritage. But even that isn’t being taught as a compulsory element.

RITA PANAHI:

Absolutely. I want to talk about this conflict with the states. Sydney Morning Herald today has written about the Labor states opposing some of what you're advocating, but this isn't just limited to the Labor states. The New South Wales Education Department's Racism No way! Initiative, it's teaching children that Australia's history and its institutions are racist. How are we having supposedly Conservative governments also pushing this poison and then letting down parents and children, not giving a full picture? I mean, no one is saying give it some sugar-coated version of Australian history. You've got to teach the good, the bad, everything that happened. But this ugliness that keeps being pushed, that this wildly successful, tolerant country somehow inherently racist. How is that happening in New South Wales?

ALAN TUDGE:

I don't know the precise examples that you're talking about, but I would absolutely agree that our institutions aren't inherently racist. We have had systemic racism in Australia, in our history. Absolutely. But we don't have institutional racism now. In my view, that should not be taught, and I think it would be factually incorrect and just divisive to be teaching that, Rita. So, I don't know the precise examples, but I'd agree that type of material that you described should not be being taught.

RITA PANAHI:

Yeah, that's the Racism. No way! program that is in place in New South Wales and there’s plenty of other examples. Thank you so much, Minister Tudge, for your time today. We appreciate having you on the show.

ALAN TUDGE:

Absolute pleasure. Thanks, Nick. Thanks, Rita.