Press Conference, Parliament House, Canberra 23 January
- Minister for School Education
- Minister for Early Childhood and Youth
ISSUES: NAPLAN, Education Reform, Pokies Reform
PETER GARRETT: I wanted to speak about the NAPLAN report that has been released today through the Ministerial Council on Education. Just to say that this is the fourth NAPLAN report. And this report shows us there are some very good signs of improvement, particularly as we see that around 93% of Australian kids are really able to perform at or above the national minimum standards on literacy and numeracy. So that’s good news.
And it’s very good news because the Government’s been very committed to making sure that people understand how students are performing in schools around Australia, and also having the information that we need in front of us to really guide our future investment and policy decisions on education.
So while we’ve seen some good news today and I’m pleased that we’re seeing Australian students perform well and that the national minimum standards are being met by about 93% of our students in literacy and numeracy, there’s still work to be done, particularly in the areas of Indigenous students and also students who are living in remote and regional locations.
We know that it’s important to make sure that the focus on kids in every school is such that it brings out their best in their educational performance. And we have had a significant period under the former government of under investment in education and a lack of policy attention as well.
And we’re seeing some trends there which I think are really important for us to address. The first is we’ve got a big difference in the educational results that we’re seeing between kids from disadvantaged communities and remote and regional communities.
And we’re also seeing our top performing students not performing as well as they have in the past, in comparison to top performing students from other countries.
This Government has nearly doubled the investment from the Commonwealth in education, we’re providing more information than ever before about how our kids are performing and how our schools are doing. We’ve got a strong commitment to national reform and NAPLAN is useful for us because it provides us with a tool to see how kids are progressing, and it also provides us with the opportunity to consider how we might make really solid, good public policy-based decisions for investing in education in the future.
JOURNALIST: The results show stronger gains among the lower school years than the higher school years. Do you think this is a reflection of the stronger investment in early education?
PETER GARRETT: Look, I think it’s clear we’ve also has additional, significant investment in early childhood education and in the early years, and it’s particularly pleasing when we see some good significant improvements from 2008 to 2011 in literacy. That’s a good thing for us to see. I’ll leave it to the experts to make a call on whether it’s specifically to do with the bigger investment that we’ve had in early childhood education generally or whether it’s around the way in which these kids as they’re coming into the school system are being taught.
We’ve also seen some significant improvements in Year 5 in numeracy and Year 9 in reading and that’s an important one for us because we’re then getting into the high school years and given the amount of access to information through social media networking, digital communications technologies and the like – it’s encouraging that that Year 9 reading result is a good one.
JOURNALIST: Minister, why do you think it is that the top performing students are not doing as well as the top performing students in the past have? And why do you think it is that the gap between the strongest and the weakest students seems to be getting wider?
PETER GARRETT: I think as far as the gap between students widening in this country – I think one of the things we need to be pretty mindful of is that in our regional and remote communities, including communities where we have a high proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students – they’ve got some really distinct challenges.
Remoteness and location: sometimes the opportunity to have access to the full range of educational services, they just don’t have it at the same level as the kids in the metro areas.
On the question of why our top performing students are not performing as well. Look, we still do well internationally. Australia is still a nation where our education results are solid and positive, but I think that some other countries, particularly some of our Asian neighbours have been putting a significant effort into education over the last five to 10 years, and they’re starting to see some results, particularly amongst their top students, which has seen them jump ahead a little bit.
Again, here’s an opportunity for the education sector, for academic experts and others to look closely at these NAPLAN results. And I’ll certainly be very interested to hear the commentary and some of the input that comes from those people.
JOURNALIST: On another matter – is the Prime Minister’s announcement on poker machines on Saturday the big win for New South Wales Labor MPs that Craig Thompson said it was?
PETER GARRETT: Look, I think the key thing about the decision on poker machines is this: we work with the Parliament that we have here in the House to get through the reforms which are achievable and which get us on the road to taking concrete action on problem gambling and I think that it’s important that we take these steps. How that will play out in the broader electorate is a matter for commentators to talk about.
What I can say is that this is an important issue to me, as I know it is to Labor members in this House. We have to work with the political parliament that we have, with the politics of the parliament we have, I beg your pardon, and a trial for pre-commitment is something which was identified by the Productivity Commission, it’s something which has been canvassed broadly in the debate, it’s something which I, and a number of other members have recognised as being a positive and a useful thing to have at first, and we’re underway.
JOURNALIST: Minister, clubs in your electorate have been particularly vocal against Wilkie’s reforms. Now that they’re being changed and the clubs seem to be a bit more happy about it, are you relieved?
PETER GARRETT: Well, I’ve always said that we need to address this issue in a meaningful way. And some of the components of the decisions that the Government has taken, including things like provision of additional counselling and placing limits on ATMs – I think will make a difference. We need to recognise that whilst the Clubs play an important role in the community and they certainly do provide support for other community organisations - the impact on families and individuals of problem gambling is a real impact and its one that needed to be addressed. The decisions that the Government has made and the announcements that the Government has made will go towards addressing that in a serious way.
JOURNALIST: Just on principle though – do you think it’s responsible for people to go around making promises they know they might not actually be able to keep?
PETER GARRETT: Well, I think the most important thing that we can focus on here is making sure that we’re bringing into the Parliament some concrete measures that can address problem gambling. And I just reflect on the fact that the Independents whose votes are crucial in this area had always made clear what their view was about this issue. I note the comments by the Minister today, and I think we have to recognise that it is far better for us to get on with this job, given the political circumstances that we face and start to address this issue in a meaningful way and that’s what today’s decision will do.
JOURNALIST: The [inaudible] says that you only approached, the Government only approached Tony Crook once about these reforms, saying that you didn’t actually try very hard to get the crossbenchers’ support. Were you never going to deliver on this promise?
PETER GARRETT: Well I think the views of Mr Oakeshott and Mr Windsor have been clear on this. I’m not privy to the negotiations between independent Members and the Government on this matter. Other than, to say, that this is an issue that Australia must take steps on and steps have been taken.
JOURNALIST: Minister, back onto NAPLAN for a moment, you mentioned a few areas of improvement before but the overall trend, as you say in your press release, is steady, flat. Are you disappointed that there hasn’t been more improvement? And secondly, Victoria is a bit unusual in the fact that students in country schools have actually outperformed their city counterparts. Do you have any idea why that may be?
PETER GARRETT: No I don’t. Again I think it’s great to see Victorian country schools doing as well as they have. We’ll know a little more about the progress that states have made when we assess, very clearly, their progress under the literacy and numeracy national partnership and we’ll do that in the course of this year. There’s $200 million by the way, of reward payments sitting out there to be delivered to states if they’ve met the targets that they’ve set in literacy and numeracy. And I’ll look very closely at how the states have done when the information comes through and is checked.
I think the final thing to say is this: we have an education system which is one that has not been given either the policy attention or the support that it needed by the previous government. We’ve seen an unprecedented level of investment in education; extraordinary national reforms; My School; the national curriculum, national teachers standards and principal standards; and national partnerships across a range of areas. And we learn from the experience of that investment and from NAPLAN, how to better focus our resources, working with the states as they deliver into the government systems and into school systems for the non-government school sector. So this is an important part of our reform, it’s not the whole answer to what we do but you know, ten years ago no minister, no education minister could stand up and talk about education in this way at all. We are the beginning of an important stage of reform of education and NAPLAN’s a part of it.
JOURNALIST: On the issue of pokies, do you expect the campaign against you in your own electorate to end now?
PETER GARRETT: Look, I have always said that I will sit down with the clubs in my electorate and talk through these issues. My door’s always been open to them; they’re always welcome. And I know that they will recognise the importance of taking concrete action to address problem gambling. I know that they will recognise the importance of taking that action, important action to address problem gambling and I continue to have the door open for them and the invitation will always be there to yarn.
JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to the Prime Minister yourself about the possibility of changing the policy on poker machine reform?
PETER GARRETT: I haven’t have any specific discussions with the PM or any other minister on this matter. I’m focussed on the education agenda and what we are doing on education and the announcements that we’re making today.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] Craig Thomson’s thoughts that the Labor backbenchers actually had a lot to do with changing the policy ?
PETER GARRETT: Look I’m not going to provide any additional commentary on this folks, I think we’ve had a good round about on all of this. You know what the decisions are that have been made and that’s all I have to say about it.
JOURNALIST: Just on a different issue, Tony Abbott has called on answers as to why the Fair Work Australia investigation into Craig Thomson has taken too long. Do you think three years is too long?
PETER GARRETT: Look, all I ever hear from Mr Abbott is either attack or negativity. You know, he’s unable to resist any opportunity to be aggressive and negative in his public engagement in the political life of this country. And I would have hoped that with 2012 starting, Mr Abbott would have taken a more constructive approach to the issues that are in front of us. But attack is all he really knows. Attack is all he really does. I expect to see many more of Mr Abbott’s attacks but in the meantime I’m going to get on with the business of delivering the best education reform I can, for students in Australia regardless of where they live, regardless of how much money their parents earn.
Thanks very much everybody for this press conference. We’ll see you later.