SKY NEWS INTERVIEW
THURSDAY, 1 JUNE 2023
SUBJECTS: HELP debt; Teacher training; Cost of living; Wage increases; Voice to Parliament; Mobile phones in schools; PwC; AI in education
ANDREW CLENNELL: Jason Clare, thanks for joining us. This push by the Greens and the Teals to end indexation on HECS debts, I don’t imagine Treasury are too thrilled with that. Is that something you’re interested in looking at though?
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Gettinga uni degree costs money, but it’s valuable. Andrew, for somebody who has a university degree, their average income is about 100 grand a year. The average income of somebody who’s last year of education is year 12 is about 70 grand. So there’s a difference there of about 30 grand a year. The average HECS debt in Australia today is about 24 grand. This is a difference in earning capacity of 30 grand a year.
CLENNELL: Okay. But what about this situation where you have – you pay it through your pay packet during the year – we’ve all done this – and yet the indexation applies to what you owed at the start of the financial year, not as you go along. Can you do something in that space?
CLARE: Yeah, this strikes me as not making sense. So, I’ve asked the Universities Accord team that are reviewing the whole HECS system, the whole higher education system, on what can be done to fix that.
CLENNELL: You’ve got the former ABC boss and New South Wales Education Department boss Mark Scott working on this teacher training program. What are you after there?
CLARE: We want to make sure that young people when they finish uni are better prepared for the classroom, that we get more people becoming teachers, but that the university course gives them everything they need to be ready to start teaching in the classroom. You ask most teachers, they’ll tell you that they didn’t really feel prepared. We can do a better job of teaching young people how to teach kids to read and do maths but also to manage disruptive classrooms, and a big part of that is prac. Prac is not up to scratch. There’s not enough practical experience. They’re doing some work on whether you can create an apprenticeship where you’re learning and earning at the same time.
CLARE: This is a challenge not just for teaching but for nursing too. If you’re a nursing student, a three-year degree, about one of those years is in the hospital. A lot of nursing students will tell me that you’ve got to give up a part-time job in order to do your prac at the hospital. So how can we help people while they’re learning, to earn at the same time.
CLENNELL: Now, I wanted to ask you about cost of living – the biggest issue in the community at the moment. You’re in an electorate where people are probably doing it pretty tough. How do you feel about the prospect of another rate rise next week?
CLARE: I think anybody with a mortgage would be worried about that. Obviously, it’s a matter for the Reserve Bank, and they’re independent. But the impact of inflation hits everybody, whether you’ve got a mortgage or not. You see it at the supermarket, you see it in your bills, you see it in your rent. You see it in child care as well. That’s one of the reasons why, come 1st of July, the big changes we’re making across child care are so important. Apart from mortgage and rent, one of the biggest bills that people pay is child care. If you’ve got a young child in care, it can cost you thousands and thousands of dollars. The changes we make on the 1st of July will mean that if you’re on a combined income of 120 grand, we’ll cut the cost of child care by 1,700 bucks. That’s real money that will make a big difference for a lot of people.
CLENNELL: But are you hearing distress stories from any of your voters, any of your constituents?
CLARE: You know, different people in different circumstances. If it’s money out of your pocket because you’ve got to pay more in rent or pay more in your mortgage, then it hurts. We all go to supermarket. We all see the impact of war in Europe on prices that we’re paying here in Australia. What we’re doing is taking real, responsible action to help people with the cost of living. We’ve seen some of the changes that we’ve made in the Budget to help people that are doing it really tough. This is a budget that’s bringing us back into surplus. It’s cutting debt by something like $300 billion over the next 10 years. But at the same time, helping Aussies who are doing it really tough – single parent payments, help with JobSeeker, particularly for older Aussies over 55. We’re talking about students today, increasing Youth Allowance, Austudy and rental assistance will help students while they’re studying to pay for things like food and rent.
CLENNELL: All right. What about the Government’s wages push, though? Because even Philip Lowe said again that productivity can be a problem for inflation. Could that send us into some sort of vicious circle?
CLARE: The Treasurer has made this point a couple of times: it’s not wages that are causing the problem of inflation.
CLENNELL: Not at the moment, but they could.
CLARE: We’ve got the wage case coming down tomorrow. We said in the election campaign last year, and we’ve been consistent right through this year, that we don’t want people on the lowest wages in Australia, the people that have to scramble for every coin in their car every day, to be worse off. And so, we’ll wait and see what that decision is tomorrow, but people on the minimum wage being paid too much is not the reason that we’ve got a challenge with inflation in this country at the moment.
CLENNELL: No, it’s not. But I guess, you know, the government is pushing same job, same pay. It’s pushing for more than just those on the minimum wage to get higher wages. While that’s admirable, there’s a risk to it isn’t there?
CLARE: We want fairness. We’ve demonstrated through the actions we’re taking in the Budget that we’re a responsible government too. Saving money where we can. You didn’t see that with the last government, they didn’t save a penny. But we want Aussies to get a fair crack at work and to get a fair deal at work.
CLENNELL: All right. I wanted to ask you about The Voice. How do you view the significance of it going through the Lower House this week?
CLARE: It’s a big deal. This is the first time Australians will get a chance to shape and change their Constitution in over 20 years. The fact that the Libs have decided to go against this, and the Nats, makes it harder, but not impossible. I’ve still got faith in the goodness of the Australian people to find in their hearts to make this change. If you’re somebody who thinks that Australia didn’t start 250-odd years ago, but that we’ve got a history that’s 60,000 years long, that we should recognise this in the Constitution, I think you’ll vote yes. And if you’re somebody who thinks that we should listen to Australians who are doing it tougher than most – and the thing about this, we talked about unis at the start of this interview, if you’re a young Indigenous person today you’re more likely to go to jail than university. Almost one in two Aussies in their 30s today have a university degree. Only 7 per cent of Indigenous Australians do. I don’t want us to be a country where your chances in life depend on the colour of your skin. That’s where we are today. This is a chance to do something about that.
CLENNELL: What do you think of the direction Peter Dutton’s taking on this, some of his language?
CLARE: It’s not helpful. It’s unfortunate, but this is a moment I still hope will bring the country together.
CLENNELL: You sound like you’re more concerned now, though, with the Opposition is opposing it.
CLARE: I’ve said this in interviews over the past couple of months, since the decision to oppose, it makes it harder, but it doesn’t make it impossible, politicians won’t decide this, the Australian people will.
CLENNELL: I have to say after your efforts in the last campaign, I think the Government should be deploying you as a salesperson for The Voice. Do you think you’ll play a role in the campaign?
CLARE: All members of the Government will. I’ll be at my local school, at polling booths, handing out, encouraging people to vote yes, communicating the message to my local community, doing whatever I can to tell the story about why this is a good and modest change. One that simply says, let’s recognise our history. Let’s put our history in our founding document. And let’s do something that can help to change the lives of our fellow Aussies.
CLENNELL: I wanted to ask you about this call that you made for a national approach on phones in school. What are you after here, because I’m a bit confused. At my son’s school, you’ve got to hand in your phone before you go into class and get it when you leave. And obviously kids often have phones so they can ring parents to ensure they can get home safe.
CLENNELL: But that’s not the approach of all schools.
CLARE: It’s different in different states. In some states it’s banned in primary school and high school. In some it’s just banned in high school.
CLENNELL: “Ban” meaning you can take it to school?
CLARE: Yes. In some schools you’ve got to turn it off and put it in your bag. In some you’ve got to turn it off and put it in your locker. In some you’ve got to turn it off and put into this magnetic pouch and you keep it in your bag. In some states it’s not banned at all.
CLENNELL: That seems crazy in the classroom I’ve got to say.
CLARE: In some states it’s the principal that makes the decision. What I’m saying is let’s have a nationally consistent approach here.
CLENNELL: And what do you favour? Just probably banning it in class time, surely?
CLARE: Not just class time. When I talk to students they say, if you’re on TikTok you’re not listening to the teacher. So, we can’t have them in the classroom. But in the playground, too, if you’re sitting around in the playground at lunchtime on your phone and you’re like this, like we are out in the hall, but in places where it’s not there, guess what? Students are talking to each other and running around and playing.
CLARE: I asked students because one of the benefits of this I thought would be mental health, because we know the impact of social media and online bullying. But the answer to that from students is there is some benefit there, but don’t overstate it, because it means you’re not copping that at school, but you still get it when you turn the phone back on at the end.
CLARE: What I’m saying and what Education Ministers have asked me to do is bring forward a paper to our next meeting in July for a nationally consistent approach across the country.
CLENNELL: What states is there not a ban?
CLARE: Queensland hasn’t taken that step to do it uniformly yet. New South Wales are planning to do it in October. But some States, as I said, have got different rules about the way they implement it. If we can harmonise it, I think that would be good.
CLENNELL: Do PwC have many contracts with the Education Department?
CLARE: Yeah, they’ve got a couple. I pulled that data from the Department. There’s about nine there. I’ve made it very clear to the Department that I want them – and we’ve made this point to every department – that when they exercise judgement about who they issue future contracts to, they’ve got to reflect on the ethics of the company they’re giving it to.
CLENNELL: Are you concerned about any of these ones?
CLARE: No, not these ones.
CLENNELL: What do they relate to, those particular ones?
CLARE: I don’t have the details of them. I don’t have the details of all of those. But, I think given what’s happened – the inexcusable actions of PwC, the fact that this is now before the Federal Police, given that the Government as a whole is looking at how to respond to this – every department needs to reflect on the ethics of the companies they’re offering contracts to.
CLENNELL: And finally, an announcement by your colleague Ed Husic today that he’s looking at tackling artificial intelligence. What’s the plan here? I think you’ve spoken before about the issue of artificial intelligence in the classroom. What’s our future with this going forward and what’s the balance we need to strike?
CLARE: Well, depending on who you ask, this is either the future or the end of days. I think we’ve got to regulate AI, both how it’s developed – that’s what Ed’s talking about – but also how its used in the classroom. This can be used to help kids learn but it can also be used to help kids cheat.
CLARE: Schools are grappling with this. Unis are grappling with this. I think almost every public school in the country has it banned at the moment except for South Australia, where it’s being used in non-government schools. We’ve got to look at how do you regulate this properly so it can be used but not abused. I’m also worried about the privacy aspect of this as well. I don’t want young people going onto ChatGPT and typing something in and then they get an ad on TikTok based on what they were putting into the system. So all of these things have got to be looked at as part of the proper regulation of AI.
CLENNELL: Jason Clare, thanks so much for your time.