Release type: Transcript

Date:

Sky News Live with Kieran Gilbert

Ministers:

The Hon Alan Tudge MP
Minister for Education and Youth

Subjects: Reopening schools; the draft national curriculum; climate change policy.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Joining me live in the studio now is the Education Minister, Mr Tudge. Thanks very much for your time. You heard what Nick Coatsworth said there, particularly about the schools, how he would like to see them deal with cases of COVID. Does it make sense to you?

ALAN TUDGE:

A hundred per cent, Kieran. We have to ensure that the schools can stay open whenever possible, and that’s also the advice from the AHPPC, is exactly that. I think his model is a very good one, that yes there’s going to be infections in schools. But let’s not close the entire school down because of one infection. Let’s rapidly test those close contacts of that individual child, still let those kids go back to school if they’re negatively tested, but let everybody else continue with their education.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Because it has a flow on effect, as well, if you shut down the whole school and obviously, every family for two weeks...

ALAN TUDGE:

Every family, every business.

KIERAN GILBERT:

...you’re out of the mix.

ALAN TUDGE:

Absolutely. It causes chaos. If schools are opening and closing, then workers are going back, so businesses are opening and closing as well. We’ve already got workforce shortages, so we can’t afford to have this. We do need a very sensible approach, so I think we do need to listen very carefully to people like Professor Coatsworth, and also acknowledge something that he said, referencing other paediatricians and epidemiologists as well, and that is that on average kids don’t tend to get sick from this virus. The data from the United Kingdom, from what I understand, is only one in 100,000 children gets seriously ill when they get the virus. Let’s keep that in perspective as well, so that kids as much as possible can be back in the classroom.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Are you concerned that the cautious approach that Professor Coatsworth referred to in Victoria will show up again in relation to the way that COVID’s managed within schools? Because inevitably there will be the odd case, whether it be in Sydney, Melbourne and in Canberra. 

ALAN TUDGE:

Yeah. I was actually comforted a little bit this morning by reading in the newspaper that Victoria was indeed proposing to have rapid antigen testing of kids who are close contacts of those who have got the virus. So that gave me a level of comfort that potentially they’re going down that pathway, because it certainly hasn’t been the pathway which they’ve been going down in the last 18 months, whereby of course we’ve been the most locked down city in the world, where kids have missed literally 220 days of schooling, equivalent of a full year’s schooling.

KIERAN GILBERT:

What about the issue of mandatory masks? Because, again that point that Dr Coatsworth made in terms of inconclusive evidence being interpreted in a conservative way. In New South Wales and the ACT parents are told if you’ve got kids in primary school, masks are preferable, but if the kid doesn’t want to wear it or the parents don’t want it, don’t do it. In Victoria from Year 3 and up, you have to wear it. Are you concerned about that? I guess, particularly kids who might have some developmental issues and so on?

ALAN TUDGE:

Yeah, it definitely makes it so much more difficult to communicate when you’re wearing a mask, of course. We’ve got to take the advice on this one, and I know that the AHPPC says that masks need to be in the mix to avoid the virus spreading more broadly. I’ve got a young boy in a Melbourne school, he’s in prep, and they were encouraged to wear a mask and preps aren’t good at wearing masks, I can tell you and it’s not great for their social development. But we do need to listen to the advice on that particular one.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Just getting back to that sort of broader view, do you agree with the argument that Victorians want to know why they’re not moving as fast as New South Wales?

ALAN TUDGE:

Of course. Absolutely, particularly those businesses. Now, I hope that we can get there very quickly, and particularly when we hit the 80 per cent target, which we will do in Victoria very soon. But absolutely. I mean, by and large, Victorians, I’m a proud Victorian, most are overall ecstatic that at least they’ve got some freedoms back. But yes, they are questioning why we’re not going at the same pace as New South Wales.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Yeah, and I have loved ones in Melbourne, and I know that the impact has been borne in large part by younger people.

ALAN TUDGE:

It has been absolutely devastating, Kieran, absolutely devastating on mental health in particular, on adolescent kids missing events which they’ll never be able to do. School formals, school graduations, the school camps, all that sort of thing. I’m particularly concerned about the spike in eating disorders amongst teenagers, particularly teenage girls. These are things which do not go away overnight and sometimes live with you for life. That’s been a very significant spike in Victoria as a result of these extended lockdowns.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Now, on the curriculum. You pushed for more changes to the draft national curriculum, saying that we don’t need to refer to our most sacred day, Anzac Day, as a contested idea. Can you explain your thinking on that?

ALAN TUDGE:

This is where the new draft revised curriculum has changed the language in relation to Anzac Day to now treating it as a contested idea, where students are encouraged to analyse it, as if it isn’t the most sacred day in the calendar. But I think 99 per cent of Australians acknowledge that this is a very solemn day when we commemorate and we thank the million people who have put on the uniform for Australia, and the 100,000 who have died for our country. And every single year hundreds of thousands of people go to the Dawn Services, they go to other services, and I want kids to properly understand and to learn about the sacrifices they have made, rather than it being seen as: it’s just one concept and you can see this from lots of different perspectives. It is the most sacred day; we all understand that and kids should learn that.

KIERAN GILBERT:

What do you say to the argument that in a democracy we should enable debate, even about key parts of the national story?

ALAN TUDGE:

Of course, we should. But it’s not debated about the courage and the sacrifice and the incredible commitment that former generations made for this country. That is not in debate, and I don’t want to see that being in debate in our schools, because we all should be thankful for what our forebears did. We are particularly thankful for those 100,000 people who gave up their lives in defence of the freedoms, which we enjoy today. And kids need to deeply understand that. We are in the position we are today because of the sacrifices of people in the past.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Much of the structure of society obviously based on the Judeo-Christian heritage. You’re worried that, that’s not reflected either, in the curriculum. In what way is that a concern?

ALAN TUDGE:

Yeah, it wasn’t in the original draft, and I’ve been assured that it has been rectified in the most recent version, which I haven’t seen the full copy of, but I’ve been briefed on. In the original draft, which the independent body, which the Curriculum Authority put out, there was barely a mention of Christianity, other than in reference to the power of the church. Whereas Geoffrey Blainey, who is arguably our greatest living historian, says that Christianity was actually the single most important influence on the modern development of Australia, and it should be recognised as such and understood as such. I mean, when you think about the origins of our schools and of our health system, or the welfare system, much of which originated from Christianity and from the church.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Just finally, on the climate change matter, I’ll be talking to David Littleproud, the Deputy Nationals leader, shortly. But have the Nationals been given too much rein here? Does it look like the junior partner is leading the government’s policy on it?

ALAN TUDGE:

No, I don’t think so. They quite rightly have their own party room, they can debate these issues. We’ve given them the reassurance that the plan here, does not do anything to accelerate the destruction of any industry. To the contrary, we want those industries to be maintained, but customers abroad are changing their views, and we’ve got to adapt to those customers. Our technology roadmap gets us to net zero by 2050 without having to put on taxes, and they should be reassured by that.

KIERAN GILBERT:

And you’ll get the deal? You’re confident?

ALAN TUDGE:

Listen, I hope we do, but obviously the Nationals have got an important meeting today and let’s see what happens.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Education Minister Alan Tudge, appreciate it, thanks for your time.

ALAN TUDGE:

Thanks very much Kieran.