Doorstop Interview – Parliament House, Canberra – Friday 17 February 2023


SUBJECTS: Early Years Summit; Productivity Commission review into early learning; Voice to Parliament; Human rights; National School Reform Agreement; Papua New Guinea.

JOURNALIST: So Early Years Summit here today in Canberra. I’ve seen the education union already calling, they want universal access for three and four-year-old preschool. Is that something the Labor government can do? Or one of those promises that might have to be for a second term?

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: The first five years of your life are everything. Everything you see, you hear, every smile, every book, every lesson shapes the person that you become. I think Australians understand how important early education is. Not just in terms of helping parents get back to paid work, but the education it provides to young people to get them ready for school. We’ve already put in place laws that will cut the cost of childcare for more than a million Australians. That comes into effect on the 1st of July, that will cut the cost of childcare for more than a million Aussie families. If you’re on about 120 grand a year, that will cut the cost of childcare by about $1,700 a year. That’s a big deal. That’s a lot of money.

The next step is a big and broad review of our early education system. And the Prime Minister announced the terms of reference for that last week and Professor Deborah Brennan from the University of New South Wales will head up that work with the Productivity Commission. And, Trudy, that will look at the sorts of things you’re talking about, what a universal system looks like, in particular for three and four-year-olds to make sure that they’re ready for school, that all children are ready for school. New South Wales has taken some big steps forward here. So has Victoria and the South Australian government has announced a Royal Commission into this area. What’s important is that we bring the nation together here to make sure that all children get the right start in life.

The Early Years Strategy that Amanda Rishworth is kicking off today is even bigger than that, because it’s looking at healthcare and social services, all the things that governments can do at a Federal level, but also at a State and Territory level to make sure that children in their first five years get everything they need for success in life.

JOURNALIST: We’ve seen Peter Dutton meet for the second time with the Indigenous Voice to Parliament working group yesterday. In that meeting, he told Indigenous leaders that he believed at the moment, that the Voice referendum is not on track to succeed. Is that sort of commentary helpful?

CLARE: No, it’s not. I just urge Peter Dutton, don’t make the same mistake again. This week Peter Dutton apologised for turning his back on Aboriginal Australians. Don’t make the same mistake again. Peter, you don’t want to be looking back in 15 years time and apologising for doing the same thing.

JOURNALIST: At a time when you are trying to improve relations with China, is that sort of thing actually going to make any difference?

CLARE: I’ll leave that to the Foreign Minister. But until last week, I think Scott Morrison thought human rights was an Aussie boy band. It’s surprising that he’s now taking an interest in this – I’m not sure if it’s the Opposition’s policy or not, or whether he’s now secretly sworn himself in as the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.

JOURNALIST: Is there any update on the National Education Plan, the recommendations that came through about setting targets and holding governments more accountable?

CLARE: Dom, you’re talking about the Productivity Commission report that came out a couple of weeks ago. It was scathing of the current National School Reform Agreement and says, as you point out, there are no real targets and no practical reforms to help to make sure that children who fall behind at school catch up. Yesterday in Parliament, I outlined the changes that we’re making to NAPLAN, setting higher standards for children to reach in those NAPLAN tests. The test will be now next month rather than in May. And I made the point in Parliament that the critical thing here is that there’s always going to be children who fall behind, but it’s what we do as teachers, as parents, as politicians, to help children to catch up so that they don’t fall further behind. And how do we make sure that we’re putting the resources in the right places to help children who do fall behind? That’s what the next National School Reform Agreement has got to be all about.

The work on that begins this year. I announced at the end of last year that all education ministers had agreed to set up an expert panel that will look at the practical, real reforms that funding should be tied to in the next agreement. We’ve made the commitment that we want all schools across the country to be 100 per cent funded and we’ve committed to working with states and territories to get there. Funding is important, but so is what it’s spent on, what it’s invested in. And it’s critical that funding is tied to the sorts of things that are going to help children who fall behind to catch up. And that’s what the focus of that review will be. In the next few weeks, I’ll announce the terms of reference for that review and the team that will head that up.

JOURNALIST: Actually, super sorry, can I do one more if no one’s lining for a doorstop? Just quickly then, I believe there’s a lot of PNG Ministers in town. You could be part of the meeting. There’s like nine Ministers going. I spoke to one of them yesterday and they said education was one of the best things that Australia is able to do for PNG because we need more people to people ties. Are you just able to speak a little bit on what you discussed with your counterpart today at the big Ministerial and about how we can increase engagement on the education level in PNG?

CLARE: I met with the PNG Education Minister on Wednesday. You’re right, PNG and Australia are next door neighbours, and we do a lot of good things together. I think most Australians know that we owe the people of PNG, a debt of gratitude that we can never fully repay. And as the grandson of a man who fought in PNG during World War II and was cut down by the Japanese Army in World War II, I know that better than most. Jimmy, the Education Minister for PNG, and I had a great conversation, and we talked about some of the things that the Australian Government is already funding in PNG. Some of the things that were interrupted because of COVID, like scholarship programs so that we can get more students studying in Australia, more lecturers doing work here in Australia as well. How we get more Aussies doing that sort of work in PNG as well. And out of that meeting, I think there’s an opportunity for us to do even more.