Press Conference – Brisbane – Tuesday 15 August 2023

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
PRESS CONFERENCE
BRISBANE
TUESDAY, 15 AUGUST 2023 

SUBJECTS: Student Wellbeing Boost; Meeting with Chinese Education Minister; International education; WA Government announcement; The Voice 

JOEL BUCHHOLZ, PRINCIPAL OF KELVIN GROVE STATE COLLEGE: Welcome to Kelvin Grove State College. My name’s Joel Buchholz, and I’m the Executive Principal of our college. Every day at Kelvin Grove, we live, work and learn on the lands of the Yuggera and Turrbal people. Our college stands on a site known by local First Nations people as Barrambin, meaning “windy place”. Though fortunately we haven’t been feeling too much of the Ekka winds over the past week. 

On behalf of our college community, I acknowledge and pay respect to our First Nations elders, past, present and those emerging. 

It’s wonderful to be able to welcome you all to Kelvin Grove’s Student Wellbeing Centre this afternoon. This centre is home to a dedicated and caring interdisciplinary team of professionals who help support the wellbeing and the positive engagement of over 3,500 young people across our college community. 

It’s my great pleasure to welcome to our college, the Honourable Grace Grace MP, the Minister in Queensland for Education, and Minister for Industrial Relations and Racing, and the Honourable Jason Clare MP, Federal Minister for Education. 

We’re delighted to have you both with us here today at Kelvin Grove to talk about the importance of investing in the mental health and wellbeing of our young people in our school communities. 

We are also joined here today by senior leaders from our college faculty, and our student body, and by the hard‑working and passionate members of our student wellbeing team. 

I’d now like to invite Minister Clare forward to share some remarks. 

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Thanks Joel. G’day everybody. Can I also start by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. G’day to my great mate Grace Grace. To the fantastic students who are here joining us as well, thanks for your leadership at the school and good luck in a couple of weeks’ time. 

To the professionals, the teachers, the educators, the staff here in the Wellbeing Centre, thank you so much for everything that you do for the students here at this school, and Banjo. I don’t know if the TV cameras can capture it, but Banjo the dog is as important as anybody else in this room. I know from lots of schools that I visit the work that dogs, and rabbits, and other animals do in helping nurture and support the wellbeing of our students is really, really important. 

When I was a kid at school, I think we had a sickbay, and Band-Aids and icepacks and a bed you could lay down, and Grace you said you didn’t even have a bed. 

GRACE GRACE, QUEENSLAND MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: We had a chair. 

CLARE: You had a chair. We’ve come a long way since then, and often the scars that young people have are invisible, you can’t see them. And a wellness centre like this is about helping young people to succeed at school and succeed in their own life. 

There is a direct link between how you feel and how you do at school. If you’re a young person experiencing challenges with your mental health, you’re more likely to not be at school, to have more days absent from school. And by Year 9, if you’re a young person experiencing challenges with your mental health, then on average you’re about a year and a half or two years behind other students in your class. 

This isn’t just about health, it’s about education as well. And a lot of that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic. The Wellbeing Boost that we’re talking about today is a promise we made during the election campaign to invest $200 million, and to allocate that to every school across the country big and small, on average about $20,000 per school, to help them, help principals and teachers working with their school communities on what they think they should invest that in to help the young people in their care and their education. 

For some schools that money’s now starting to roll out. For some schools they’ll invest that in extra counsellors and psychologists. For some, they might invest that in a school camp or an excursion. And then for other schools, like Kelvin Grove today, we’ll see and hear a little about the $50,000 that they’ll invest here. Why 50,000? Well, Kelvin Grove’s a big school, about 3,500 students. I was told a minute ago at one point this was the biggest school in the Southern Hemisphere, and that $10,000 will be invested in a wellbeing program for students in the primary school and then $40,000 to expand this facility to provide extra room for students and parents to meet with the professionals that I’ve just acknowledged in the room here today. 

But the pandemic isn’t an isolated event. The challenges that young people experience at school aren’t just because of the pandemic. If we go back and look at attendance rates at school, they’ve been dropping for the last 10 years, amongst boys and girls, primary school and high school, in our big cities and in the regions, in government schools and in non‑government schools. 

So over and above what we’re talking about today and we’re investing in today, the O’Brien Review into the next National School Reform Agreement is looking at what do we need to invest money in, in the years ahead, to make sure that we improve the outcomes in the classroom of all of our students, but also how we can boost and improve the health and wellbeing of our students, because as I said a moment ago, this is not just about health, it’s about education as well. If you’re feeling better, you do better at school. 

I might hand over to Grace to say a few words, and then we might have the principal or some teachers or some of the students might talk to the reporters. 

GRACE: And can I join Jason in acknowledging the Traditional Owners and paying my respects to elders past, present and merging, and great to be here with you, Jason Clare. This is a school in my electorate, a school that’s had a lot of infrastructure spent, and I also want to welcome principal Joel Buchholz, Executive Principal, who has come from Townsville, from Pimlico, another great high school, and is now in my electorate for Kelvin Grove. And can I acknowledge all of the school leaders that are in the room at the moment and the health professionals, and the School Captains. 

Can I thank you very much for meeting me again, I was here just recently at NAIDOC week, and it was really good to be here, and our psychologist, Sarah and her dog, which is exactly the same dog that I had when I was growing up, called Trixie. Banjo is very much like her. Trixie was a bit whiter, but exactly the same. So it’s brought back great memories, thank you Sarah. 

Can I say that this funding boost from the Federal Government of around $36 million for Queensland schools is greatly appreciated. It will allow this fantastic Mental Health and Wellbeing Centre, this Wellbeing Centre here in this school to be able to expand and continue the great service. This is a one‑stop shop to help students. You can walk through the door and you can get all the great services of all these wonderful staff that are in front of me; guidance officers, you can speak to your police liaison officer that’s here as well, a behavioural support teacher, your nurse, you can speak to your psychologist, you can come in and just chew over some of the things you’re feeling at the moment. And I know the students were saying how great that is, and you’ve got your family at home, but you also have your family here at the school, and it was great music to my ears to hear them say that, where they can come in, feel comfortable and be able to talk about their issues. And these are what these hubs are all about, and to hear that the $50,000 from the $36 million that is coming to Kelvin Grove State Secondary College is going to be used for a program, it’s going to be an initiative for the primary school, and it’s called Grow Your Mind, which is an Australian‑designed wellbeing program, and then the rest will go into expanding this centre, so that we can even get more services here for the students. And we’re seeing these centres expanded in many schools now. Many of them are starting to have these Wellbeing Hubs, these Wellbeing Centres, for students. You know, we went to the election with a $106 million fund for psychologists in every school, 50 GPs in our schools, and they are really kicking goals, and I know that Joel mention at Pimlico where he came from, also had a centre like this as well. 

So, Minister, thank you very much for the additional funding. We’ve been rolling out our psychologists in schools, with GPs, we’ve got 347 psychologists now already employed, and we’re still meeting our target in relation to that, and they’ve done an incredible job with thousands and thousands of appointments of school kids right around our State taking advantage of that. And it’s good to see that we’ve got 142 psychologist, 76 extra guidance staff, 122 social workers and 77 youth workers, which are in our schools right around the State doing some great work in helping them through those very busy senior years. Isn’t that right, students? There’s no doubt about it. 

So it’s great to have Minister Clare here see first how some of the funding is going to be spent. A lot of schools are starting to get their money, some $20,000, some $50,000, depending on their size. And they’re working across, should they do an excursion, should they run a program, should they expand the facilities they’ve got, should they employ some casual part‑time positions with that funding. We’re leaving it up to schools to determine how best within a framework that they can spend that money, and I think it’s working extremely well. 

But while I’m up, I also want to say that I’m very excited too about our Share the Dignity, I know the school here has got a Share the Dignity vending machine. We’ve now through that been able to supply over 100,000 period products for young girls and young women in school now through the machines rolling out. 147 schools have them installed now. We have a $35 million program, and once again, mental health and wellbeing, you know, you’re not feeling anxious when you know you can just go into an area and get the products that you need is fantastic mental health for a lot of the young girls and young women in our schools. And we’re very proud of linking with Share the Dignity to have these machines right across ‑ I was in Roma just a couple of weeks ago, and there was a wonderful machine there, and the girls were just over the moon about being able to just go into that area, press the button and out they come, free of charge, you know, when they need period products. So a great milestone. We want to put one in every school, every State school that wants one, and they’ve got till the 18th August for the next round, and first in best dressed, and I believe it’s been heavily subscribed, so that will be really good. We can roll out the initial ones for any State school in Queensland that wants a Share the Dignity machine. 

So fantastic to be here today. Thank you, Minister Clare. It’s great working with you on all of those issues we’ve got before us at the Education Ministers meetings, and welcome to Queensland, and it is a great State to be in. Thank you. 

BUCHHOLZ: Thank you, Minister, and thank you Minister Clare as well for being here today and for the generous support that’s been provided through this Federal initiative to supplement the great work already being done in our school, and indeed in schools right across Queensland to support the wellbeing and mental health of young people. 

Schools are places of learning, but we know they’re also centres for community, and with our community here at Kelvin Grove, this facility that we stand in is very much the heart of our community. It provides a safe and welcoming space for our students to come in and connect with the services that they need, students who are part of our broader society, that bring with that all the challenges and complexity that comes with modern life and the challenges that we know our young people face. And schools have a responsibility to help to support students through that and prepare them for the years ahead, and we’re so grateful that we have not only a team of people to do that, but the facilities and the resources to be able to support that and provide that support in a holistic and meaningful and a sustainable way for the young people that we work with. 

We’ve got a great team of people who work with our students here, and they’re supported by ongoing State funding we have around not only our guidance officers, but recent initiatives around our Psychologists in School program, and to have that further supplemented now to be able to enhance this space is just another level in being able to ensure that we rise to that challenge of supporting all the young people who are here in our community every day. 

As Minister Grace said, the funding will be used not only for infrastructure, in terms of further enhancing our Wellbeing Centre here in our middle and senior school, but also to help support the implementation of additional wellbeing programs into our junior school. 

So this is funding that will have an impact both in terms of place, but also in terms of programs, and that same impact will be felt in other schools right across the State because of this additional investment. 

Often the people it makes a difference for though are our young people, and so to really put them on the spot, I’m going to invite our school captains – who know nothing about that – Cassidy and Sandave, who I’m sure will be able to share from their experience the value of having a space like this and the importance of schools being able to have a really strong and clear focus around wellbeing. Come on forward. 

CASSIDY, SCHOOL LEADER: I was thinking before about how I came to [indistinct] in Year 11, and I didn’t know anyone, I came from overseas, so my support system at school is something that I really needed [indistinct] I felt that that was important. So coming to the wellness centre has been, [indistinct] has just helped me sort of find my footing in the school, and it’s just made such a big difference, so I am very, very thankful. And I find that when I’m feeling good mentally and when I can do the work that I need to do on myself in my personal life, I can then reflect that in my school life. So it’s just made such a big difference to my life. 

SANDAVE, SCHOOL LEADER: So I’ve been here since Year 6 right now, so this is my like seventh year, and I found this place like especially in the recent years how it’s been implemented that now it’s a place that we can feel comfortable as students, come here when we’re feeling down maybe, when we need some support. 

It’s a very free area where we can just come together. It’s a sense of community, and it really helps you, especially when sometimes you might not get the result you want at school, or if you’re having some problems at home, it’s just a place where you can be yourself, especially with the dogs now as well, it’s really comfortable. So that’s what it means to me, and I know Cassidy has been ‑ got on very well here as well, so apparently, yeah, she’s been here since Year 11, so that’s a good start. 

JOURNALIST: Minister, how does it work with what schools get the funding, obviously Queensland’s getting $36 million. Does it go to every Queensland school? 

CLARE: It goes to every school right across the country, and it’s based on the population of the school. So with a big school like this, which is more than 3,000 students, they get the maximum, which is $50,000. On average it’s $20,000, I think you mentioned, Grace. Some schools which are really small will get less than that as well. So, it’s based on need and population. 

JOURNALIST: And as you said, it’s up to them to decide what service they need? 

CLARE: Every school’s different, so in a school like this, which is like a little town, 3,500 people, a centre like this makes sense, and you can have so many professionals in the one place providing a mix of different services. If you’ve got a school in a small country town where there might be 50 students and a handful of teachers, then what works for them will be different. 

JOURNALIST: Minister, will you commit to making this ongoing as part of the School Funding Agreement, do you think that this needs to be a system that is spread across the country so that we’re integrating health and education? 

CLARE: To be fair, a lot of that’s happening already. Grace mentioned the heavy lifting that the Queensland Government’s doing, and if you talk to other State ministers, they’d tell you the same thing. And often States are doing slightly different things. 

At our last meeting with Education Ministers the Victorian Education Minister gave us a report on the work they’re doing, particularly the area of mental health support. 

The next agreement will be framed with the advice of Lisa O’Brien and her team. That O’Brien Report is going to look at three things: What are the things that we should tie funding to that are going to improve student outcomes; what are the things that we should be tying funding to around student health and wellbeing; and what are the things that we should tie funding to that are going to help to attract and retain our teachers. 

Now, they’re all connected, they’re all linked together, because as I said a moment ago, if you feel better, you do better. If you’ve got challenges with your mental health and you’re not at school, and you’re falling behind at school, then it all makes school so much harder. 

JOURNALIST: But is this a one‑off funding initiative? 

CLARE: Let me sort of plot this out for you. This is a promised $200 million to roll out across the country. The O’Brien Review is looking at what should happen after this, and they’re looking at three things: how do we make sure that children who fall behind catch up at school and finish school. I’m very worried about the fact that we’re seeing a drop in the percentage of students finishing high school across the country, particularly children from poor backgrounds. What should we be investing in, and it perhaps will be some of the things that we’re seeing here at this school or other schools that are going to help students with their health and wellbeing to make sure that they’re performing well in school and keeping up and finishing high school. But also, what should we be investing in that is going to help to attract and retain teachers, because if teachers are better prepared, they’re more effective in the classroom, and that’s going to help the children that are falling behind as well. 

JOURNALIST: You met with the Chinese Education Minister yesterday, are you hoping the number of Chinese student visa holders will return to 2009 levels, and if so when? 

CLARE: 2019, perhaps? 

JOURNALIST: 19, yes. 

CLARE: It’s just below where it was in 2019 now. We’ve almost got the same number of international students back in Australia today that we did before the pandemic. The number of Chinese students is just below where it was at 2019 levels, I think the number of Indian students is just above. 

International education is an extraordinarily valuable national asset. It doesn’t just make us money as a country, it makes us friends, because when people come to Australia and they study here, they fall in love with our country, and they take that affection back home with them when they return home. 

It was a good meeting with the Chinese Education Minister. As the Prime Minister said, we’ll cooperate with China where we can and disagree where we must. There’s a lot that we can cooperate on. We talked about the fact that there was an MOU between Australia and China, which was established in 2012 and ended in 2017. We agreed that our two departments will look at how we can develop another MOU. 

One of the other things that we talked about yesterday was around online education and the recognition of qualifications if someone does a course online. This came out of the pandemic as well. When countries locked down and students couldn’t come to Australia or any other country, the Chinese Government allowed Chinese students to study in China with an Australian university. 

Now that the borders are open again, Chinese students are returning to Australia and the US and Canada and other countries. But one of the things we agreed to do was to look at whether there can be recognition in the future of somebody who studies in an Australian university but does that in China. 

JOURNALIST: So do you think we’ll ever see those levels return to the pre‑pandemic levels of students? 

CLARE: I think we’re already starting to see that, but I’ve been at pains to point out that not every student on the other side of the world can afford to come to Australia to do a university degree or wants to, and that international education shouldn’t just be about a student flying to Australia and studying at one of our universities here. We might be able to provide that education either online, which I talked about a moment ago, or by setting up campuses overseas as well. 

In the very near future, I’ll be heading to India to open the campuses of two universities that have set up, or are setting up in India. Wollongong University and Deakin University are the first two universities in the world that have been given permission by the Indian Government to set up a campus in India. And I met with the Indonesian President along with the Australian Prime Minister and my ministerial colleagues a couple of weeks ago, and in the same vein, Western Sydney University, Deakin University and Central Queensland University have agreed to establish campuses in Indonesia as well. So that’s part of the future. It’s not just students coming to Australia to study, it’s Australian universities going to the world. 

JOURNALIST: Was there a proposed timeline on the education MOU agreed to yesterday? 

CLARE: No. We agreed to commence initial discussions. 

JOURNALIST: And what other priority areas aside from online education did you discuss? 

CLARE: We didn’t go into the detail of what that might be, but we also talked about, incidentally, we also talked about the potential for what are sometimes called “twinning degrees”, where you might do two years of your degree in one country and two years in Australia, and you get a degree from two universities; from an Australian university as well as the other university where you study. So they’re all the sorts of things that are possible that we’re discussing with other countries as well. 

JOURNALIST: Have those schemes existed previously with the Australian Government? 

CLARE: Not in respect of twinning degrees. We are working with the Indian Government on that, and RMIT in Melbourne has established a twinning degree with BITS Pilani, an Indian university based in Delhi, but in respect of recognition of online degrees, that’s something that worked during the pandemic, so it’s something that in our discussions yesterday there was agreement that it’s worth looking at that in the long‑term. 

JOURNALIST: I was just going to say, what happened to the MOU, is there a timeline? 

CLARE: No, there’s no timeline on it. We agreed that our two departments would look at what an MOU might look like and what should be looked at. 

JOURNALIST: Minister, would you like to see more diversity in the international students coming to Australia because of the heavy reliance on China? And secondly, TEQSA put a note out to universities, I think on Friday, warning them to ensure that students are genuine students, because they were concerned that people were using student visas just to come here for immigration purposes. 

CLARE: On the first one, diversity is important. I think about 40 per cent or so of international students at our universities are from China. We’re seeing more students come from India and other parts of the sub-continent. The more diversity we can get, the better, and that’s why online education and setting up campuses overseas will be a part of it. I mentioned Indonesia. I’d love to see more students from Indonesia come and study in Australia at home and Australian universities provide education services in Indonesia. 

In relation to your second question, I think I’ve mentioned this in media interviews in the past, we’ve seen some dodgy operators here behaving very badly, and the Home Affairs Minister has made the point that she’s working on reforms in this area, and we’ll have more to say about that shortly. 

JOURNALIST: You can’t share that with us now? 

CLARE: I can’t elaborate now, but that work’s being led by the Minister for Home Affairs in collaboration with myself and Brendan O’Connor, the Skills Minister. 

JOURNALIST: Just a quirky one for our friends out west. The WA Premier today [indistinct] about whether there’s a need for essentially a pseudo‑embassy for WA in Canberra. I know, it sounds like a joke, apparently they’re serious. What’s your response to that? Is WA well‑represented enough in Canberra? 

CLARE: I’ve seen different States and Territories do some fantastic things in Canberra to make sure that the politicians in Canberra see what’s happening in different parts of the country. The best example I’ve seen is the Northern Territory, and it was just in the last week of Parliament where they run a big event where the Chief Minister comes down, some of the ministers come down, some of the big private sector operators based in the Northern Territory come down to Canberra. They run an event in the Great Hall, where you get to eat crocodile, you see performers from the Northern Territory, they have meeting after meeting with different decision-makers in the building. And I’ve always thought to myself, why don’t other parts of the country do this? I don’t know if that’s something for Queensland, and Queensland is a big place with different needs in different areas. 

I think he’s saying that half in jest, but it is a great way for different parts of the country to engage with the politicians in Canberra, but that’s not enough on its own. You know, politicians can’t just sit in Canberra and think they can work everything out there. Politicians in Canberra need to get out and see the world that exists in every part of the country. That’s why Cabinet is meeting in Brisbane today, that’s why Cabinet will be heading to Perth in the next few weeks.

JOURNALIST: So you don’t see it as an indictment on, I suppose on Canberra as it operates at the moment that WA thinks it may need to bolster its stock there, or do you just think that perhaps they’re not speaking up enough when they are in Canberra? 

CLARE: I’d just say that all the answers don’t lie in Canberra. It’s a bit of tangent, but in a sense that’s what the Voice debate is about as well. For decades, good intentions have delivered bad results, and people who say we don’t need a Voice are effectively saying that Canberra’s good enough, that the politicians there can work it all out. Well, failure over the past few decades tells us that’s wrong, that we need to reach out to the four corners of this country and listen to people. 

I’m reminded, maybe this is because I’m in a school, about what my dad used to say. We’ve got two ears and one mouth. We should spend twice the amount of time listening than we do talking. It’s a funny thing for a politician to say, but we do need to listen a bit more, and that doesn’t mean make people come to Canberra, it means politicians going there. 

JOURNALIST: It’s not as simple as just ‑ I’m from WA, so I know WA people have ‑ WA has a chip on its shoulder, especially ’cause the mining sector. You don’t see it as just WA having a chip on their shoulder, because they always pull the mining card? 

CLARE: No, because I guess what I’m saying is the argument you’re putting to me, you’ll hear just as powerfully in Cairns or in Townsville or in Rocky or in Gladstone, you’ll hear it in the Northern Territory as well. 

JOURNALIST: Minister, you’ve got Cabinet and also the Labor conference. 

CLARE: Yes. 

JOURNALIST: Can you share with us what you will be trying to achieve at Cabinet and the ALP Conference? 

CLARE: No, I can’t, Natasha. 

ENDS