SUNDAY, 9 JULY 2023
SUBJECTS: NATO Summit; Robodebt Royal Commission; improving teacher training; use of artificial intelligence in classrooms; mobile phone use in classrooms; Cheaper Child Care; Housing Australia Future Fund.
ANDREW CLENNELL: Well, joining me live is Education Minister, Jason Clare. How are you this morning?
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: I’m good, mate. How are you?
CLENNELL: All right. So, I might start with the PM’s visit to NATO before we get on to other issues, including in your portfolio.
CLENNELL: Can we expect an announcement on more military assistance for Ukraine? Peter Dutton accused the PM a couple of weeks ago of sending Australia’s old defence junk there.
CLARE: I won’t pre-empt what the Prime Minister says at the meeting. It’s an important meeting. I think it’s 500 days yesterday since the Russians invaded Ukraine and this doesn’t look like it’s ending soon. We’ve invested almost a billion dollars so far in support of Ukraine. I think when you look at what’s happening in Ukraine, to end this on Ukraine’s terms, it’s going to require all of the countries of the world to work together to support Ukraine. At the moment, we are the biggest non-NATO investor or supporter of the effort in Ukraine, except for Sweden, who is about to become part of NATO. And the Prime Minister has been very clear that there’s more to come.
CLENNELL: All right, well, that sounds like a bit of a hint there. On Robodebt, what did you make of the findings?
CLARE: I was struck by the story in the paper the other day of Jennifer Miller, woman from Queensland, who lost her son, Rhys. He got a bill in the mail for $18,000, a bill that he didn’t owe and took his own life.
The fact that Peter Dutton, on the day that this came down, went straight to politics, showed that this bloke doesn’t get it. It’s not about that. It’s about Jennifer. It’s about people like her. A number of people lost their life, others tried to take their own life, ended up in hospital, and they’re still dealing with that. That’s the real human consequence of this. And that should always be kept in mind here. This was, now proven, an illegal scheme that operated for four and a half years. But as that piece that you showed, of Stuart Robert, showed a minute ago, you can go back further than late 2017, from late 2016, early 2017, they knew this computer system was sending out bills to people who didn’t owe them, and yet they kept on going. It showed that they didn’t give a stuff. How could you keep sending bills to people that they didn’t owe when the system, or when the evidence at least, was showing that it was wrong, what if people didn’t owe these bills.
CLENNELL: What did you make of Scott Morrison’s response to the findings?
CLARE: Scott Morrison and all of these Ministers and bureaucrats are going to have to live with this on their conscience for the rest of their lives. This has had an impact. I talked about Jennifer and her story. This wasn’t just one or two cases. This was half a million Australians who got a bill that they didn’t owe. Taxpayers had to fork out over a billion dollars to fix this mess. All of this could have been avoided if they’d asked for legal advice or if they’d started to act in a human way once they realised they were sending bills to people that didn’t owe. And all you got from Peter Dutton the other day was all the empathy of a rock.
CLENNELL: Well, Labor used to use income averaging and debt collectors as well.
CLARE: Not without a human-being checking and testing.
CLARE: That’s the difference.
CLENNELL: Peter Dutton has said the by-election date was set for Fadden after the Royal Commission report date or in proximity to stitch up the Liberals. What do you make of that?
CLARE: Why are we having a by-election in the first place? I think Australians would be pretty dirty that we have to have a by-election and all the cost that comes with that. We don’t expect to win the by-election, it’s a safe Liberal seat, but we’re putting our hand up and giving the people of Fadden a fair dinkum choice. This is Peter Dutton’s backyard though, it’s Queensland, in most by-elections there’s a swing against the government and I expect that’ll probably happen again here.
CLENNELL: Do you expect some public servants to lose their jobs out of this?
CLARE: The sealed section of the report identifies individuals that might be the subject of future criminal action or civil action. I haven’t seen that, but in circumstances where public servants have been identified for potential criminal action or civil action, the heads of those departments have received a copy of that report. I think your piece at the start made this point, mate. So I would expect that they would seek legal advice on that and take the appropriate steps.
CLENNELL: Peter Dutton doesn’t want the sealed section of the report released. What do you make of that?
CLARE: I reckon most people watching would want to find out who’s in there. We’ll eventually find out all of the individuals that were involved. But at the same time, and the Royal Commissioner is right, in her letter she makes this point, you don’t want to do anything which is going to prejudice a criminal proceeding or prejudice civil action. People like Jennifer want justice, and releasing the names of those individuals ahead of any of that criminal or civil action could prejudice those actions.
CLENNELL: Is there a danger with this phenomenon of Royal Commission reports after each Federal Government that jaded voters think it’s all political and witch hunts and a bit of a square up? Because we’ve sort of seen it on both sides of politics, now, this calling of Royal Commissions.
CLARE: People died. People had their lives ruined. You’ve got an eminent judge who examined this, found that half a million people were sent bills they didn’t owe. More than a billion dollars of taxpayers money had to be used to clean this up. I think this is the appropriate use of a Royal Commission. It’s identified that this was wrong. It’s identified that the government broke the law for four and a half years. They treated Australians like they were crooks. It turned out that it was the government that was breaking the law.
CLENNELL: Yeah, fair enough. I guess you had your “pink batts” Royal Commission. Same, you know, people died because of that as well. Was that fair enough at the time?
CLARE: Each government will make a decision about what they think is important. I think this report shows that this was an important task to undertake and that work isn’t finished in bringing justice to families like Jennifer’s.
CLENNELL: Now, you had a pretty productive series of meetings with state and territory Ministers late last week. There was a report that universities could get sanctioned if they don’t do enough to teach teaching students how to deal with bad behaviour or reading and writing and the like. How would that work, teaching reading and writing, should I say?
CLARE: There aren’t many jobs that are more important than being a teacher, and most teachers will tell you that they didn’t feel prepared when they first started teaching. What these reforms are about is improving the courses that they get at university, so there’s more time focused on teaching students the fundamentals. How do you teach young children to read, to write, to do maths, but also how to manage classroom behaviour. So, we’re going to mandate that in their curriculum and if universities don’t incorporate that into their curriculum, then they can lose accreditation.
CLENNELL: And you’re serious about that? Do you think it’ll be happening?
CLARE: That’s the nuclear option. The other option is that they could get limited accreditation or conditional accreditation. And as one Vice Chancellor said to me, there’s no way in the world that they would want to see that happen, because they’d get dragged before their own council or board and asked, why are we being singled out for conditional accreditation for their course?
CLENNELL: How bad is teacher training that you’re threatening this sort of stuff?
CLARE: It’s better in some universities than others. But the bottom line is only 50 per cent of teaching students finish their degree and 20 per cent of teachers quit in the first three years. If we can get 10 per cent more students to finish their degree, that’s 3000 more teachers into the system every year.
We’ve got a teacher shortage crisis at the moment. Part of that’s wages, part of that’s teachers being overworked. I think most people who know a teacher will know the idea that they start at nine and finish at three is rubbish. But part of it is also improving teacher training, making sure that our teachers have got the skills that they need from day one. I didn’t mention this, Andrew, but a big part of this report is how you improve prac. Like nursing, teaching students spend a lot of time in the classroom. Nurses don’t spend time in the classroom, they spend time in hospitals, but a lot of time learning the art of the job before they’re qualified. And a lot of teaching students tell us that that prac is not up to scratch, so we’ve got to fix that too.
CLENNELL: There’s also been an agreement, or seems to be an agreement, coming on artificial intelligence in the classroom. Talk us through that.
CLARE: You and I are old enough to remember people knocking on the door, selling encyclopaedias when we were kids, I guess?
CLENNELL: Not to mention how old we are, but anyway.
CLARE: I reckon people know by just having a look at the grey hair, in my case at least. That got blown away by the internet and all of that.
Artificial intelligence, ChatGPT, GPT-4, this is the next level. This is being able to use the internet to create content for yourself. Non-government schools are using it at the moment. Government schools aren’t, they’ve banned it at the moment. But this is the sort of thing that students are going to need to learn how to use properly. You can’t just put it away and assume that students won’t use it, but at the same time, I want to make sure that students are getting the marks they deserve and can’t use it to cheat. I also want to make sure that privacy is protected. The last thing we want is our children on ChatGPT putting things in, and then in the afternoon, they get an ad on TikTok or on Snapchat, based on the information they put in. Ministers talked about this. We’ve developed a draft framework about how this could be rolled out in schools next year, and we’ll put that out in the next couple of weeks to get feedback from teachers and principals and parents and students.
CLENNELL: So, how would it be used, or how is it being used in non-government schools? Because that might give us an example.
CLARE: Yeah, they’re using it for classroom assessments, for example. And one of the things that this framework says is, we might need to change the way in which we examine students, in which we assess students, so that we make sure that we’re measuring what students are learning, and they can’t use this to bluff the system.
CLENNELL: Sure. And there will now be a uniform ban on mobile phones in the classroom with Queensland coming on board. How important was this for you to get over the line?
CLARE: If you’re on TikTok, you’re not listening to the teacher. So that’s important. Most states have already done this. NSW will move to do this in October, and now Queensland will do this from the start of next year. It’s about making sure that students are paying attention in the classroom. But it’s more than that. I spoke to some students at my old high school, Canley Vale High, recently about this where they’ve already done it, and they said the benefit extends into the playground. You have the phone away all day from the start of school to the end.
CLARE: Because if you’re in the playground and you’ve got your phone, you’re doing what you see out the front of this building. People scrolling through their phones, right? But you take the phone away and, guess what, people are talking to each other, they’re running around, kids are playing with each other. They’re doing the sorts of things that we did when we were at school. So, this is just common sense.
CLENNELL: So, that will be applied everywhere from when?
CLARE: From first term next year. Not in non-government schools, they make their own decisions, but for government schools, from first term next year, it extends to Queensland as well.
CLENNELL: All right, you’re about to start the child care tax concessions, the election promise. But have a lot of these concessions been swallowed up by cost increases?
CLARE: No. If you ask the biggest provider in the country, Goodstart, they’ll tell you that at the moment, if you’re a family on 120, 125 grand a year, your out-of-pocket costs are about $43 a day. When these changes come into place on the 10 July, that’ll drop to about $27 a day, which is the equivalent of an extra day free. So, that’s a good thing. But there are cost pressures here. The ACCC put out a report that we commissioned recently which said that over the last four years, prices have gone up by more than inflation, that the for-profit providers are more expensive than the not-for-profit providers, that the big centres are more expensive than the small centres. And they’ve also showed that over the last four years, the number of centres charging above the cap has doubled. So, these are the sorts of things the ACCC are looking at, looking at who’s jacking up prices now, whether there’s rogue providers that are doing the wrong thing. And we’ll get a report in September from the ACCC recommending draft ideas about what further action we need to take.
CLENNELL: Okay. And just finally I have Greens MP Max Chandler-Mather joining me shortly. Do you have a message to him or the Greens on their criticism of your Housing Future Fund?
CLARE: Look, we have a tough situation for housing at the moment, whether you’re trying to buy or whether you’re renting,things are tough at the moment. Their criticism of the Housing Future Fund is they say it’ll make a bad situation worse. That’s wrong. It’ll make a bad situation a bit better. It’ll build another 30,000 homes. I get that they don’t think it’s perfect, but it will help. And don’t stand in the way of a program that’ll help to build more homes for people who need it. Homeless Aussies, women and children fleeing domestic violence, teachers and nurses, you know part of the scheme is building affordable rental housing for frontline workers as well. Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good here. I get that the Libs won’t support this. They’ve never supported public housing. But if the Greens are serious here about making a positive contribution to put a roof over the head of more Aussies who need it, stop with the politics and play a helpful role here to get a scheme rolling out that’s going to build more houses for Aussies who desperately need it.
CLENNELL: Jason Clare, many thanks for your time this morning.
CLARE: Good on you. Thank you.