Podcast Interview with Michelle Grattan – Politics with Michelle Grattan – Monday 26 February 2024


SUBJECTS: Australian Universities Accord; Building a better and fairer education system.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: Jason Clare, the report says that we need 55 per cent of those aged 25 to 34 to have a university education by 2050. But currently we’re seeing an apparent decline in young people’s interest in going to university. What’s causing this, and what can be done about it?

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: G’day, Michelle, and thank you for having me. Firstly, can I thank Professor Mary O’Kane and the whole Accord team who have put together what is effectively a blueprint for higher education for the next decade and the one after that.

You’re right – they set this target for 55 per cent of young people having a university qualification by the middle of the century. They also set a bigger target, which is that 80 per cent of the Australian workforce by 2050 have either a TAFE qualification or a university degree. Think back to the days of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating – under Bob and Paul they increased the proportion of young people finishing school from 40 per cent to almost 80 per cent. What this report says is that the workforce of the future needs 80 per cent not just to finish school but to go to TAFE or to university as well.

You’re right – we’ve seen a decline in the last couple of years. A lot of that, the Report says, is driven by strong employment growth. But it says that while you’ve got strong employment growth you do need to be making investments in things like short courses or things like microcredentials to help with upskilling, reskilling and life-long learning. But what it says is that we’re going to see longer term growth, particularly in the 2030s and the 2040s, as more and more jobs require either a uni degree or a vocational qualification.

GRATTAN: So it’s talking about big increases in student numbers coming in by 2050 – an extra million students in the system by then. But the large increases in numbers only start to bite from about 2030 on. Is now the time to be, in fact, spending money on fixing the broken teaching and research funding models before all the costs of these additional students swamp the system?

CLARE: You’re right – what is says is we can expect modest growth, and it’s given numbers for about the next 10 years. And then it starts to take off from around about the mid-2030s on. So they’re young people who will be at university in the mid-2030s who are at primary school now. And if we’re going to set them up to succeed to want to go to university and succeed when they get there then now is the time when we’ve got to think not just about what we do in higher education but what we do before they get anywhere near the university gate.

What this report is saying is if we’re going to get that 80 per cent target and that 55 per cent target, then we need more people from the outer suburbs, more people from the regions and, in particular, more people from poorer families to get a crack at university.

Now, they’re the same young people who are not finishing high school, where we’re seeing high school completion rates dropping at the moment. They’re the same young people who are more likely, according to the NAPLAN data, to fall behind or be behind in minimum standards. They’re the same young people that are less likely to be in early education when they’re three or when they’re four. So this is all connected. We’re not going to succeed here in hitting these targets unless we make significant reform not just in higher education but in school education and early education as well.

GRATTAN: So why do you think we’re seeing this falloff in school completion?

CLARE: I do think that there is a link between children falling behind when they’re little and not finishing high school. The evidence shows us that about one in 10 students when they’re eight are below the minimum standard, but one in three children from poor families are below that standard. And not just that but only 20 per cent – or one in five – of those kids are at the minimum standard by the time they’re in year nine, by the time they’re 15. In other words, they’re falling behind when they’re little and they’re not catching up.

GRATTAN: Well, that could explain the difference between particular cohorts, socioeconomic cohorts. Did you it doesn’t quite explain the falloff in the rate, surely?

CLARE: Unless you look at where that falloff is happening. Michelle, I’ve got to tell you that the drop in high school completion rates is not happening across the board – it’s happening in public schools and it’s happening amongst young people from poorer families. That’s where you can see the link and that’s where we have to act.

GRATTAN: Now, one of the report’s recommendations is to scrap the former government’s Job Ready Graduates Program, which cheapened the cost of some course, such as nursing, but sent arts degrees sky high. Labor criticised this at the time when it was in opposition, yet you haven’t changed it. Would you anticipate a change in time for the next year?

CLARE: We’re not announcing our response to this or the other recommendations today – we’re working through that and all the recommendations over the next few months and we’ll announce the first stage of our response in the next few months.

Certainly, what this report shows, what we know, is that if the purpose of that scheme was to reduce the number of people doing arts degrees, then it hasn’t worked. There are more people doing arts degrees after it was implemented than before. Which is not surprising because, when you’re at high school and you’re thinking about what you want to do when you leave high school, you think about what you love, what you want to do, what you’re good at rather than what you’re paid after you finish the degree.

Now, making changes here is costly. You talked about the need to build a new funding model. That’s what the Report recommends as well. It strikes me that this is the sort of thing that will need to be looked at by a tertiary education commission. We’ll get to that in a moment, I know. That’s potentially one of the things it could look at.

GRATTAN: But, of course, you did criticise this in opposition. And you will have been in government a couple of years before too long. So wouldn’t people reasonably expect that you might have tackled this issue by now?

CLARE: We’re looking at this and everything else that needs to be reformed in higher education. I made the deliberate decision when I became the Minister to include this in the terms of reference of the Accord – to take a holistic approach to what needs to happen in higher education. We’ve got a suite of recommendations here that are big. They are bold and ambitious recommendations. I asked the Accord Team to do that for me. My job now as Minister working in this Government is to identify what are the things that we need to do first.

In implementing this report, Michelle, you can’t do everything at once. Don’t have to do everything at once. We talked a moment ago about that projected increase in student numbers. But we do need to start now on developing long-term plans to set higher education up for the future.

GRATTAN: Well, talking about starting now, there’s a budget coming up, and I think you’ve hinted that there might be something in the budget. The report recommends that people doing courses such as nursing and teaching where they have to do substantial placements often to their financial disadvantage because they’ve got to give up part-time jobs and so on should – that these should be subsidised. Will you be arguing for at least something like that to be started on in the budget?

CLARE: The fact is we need more school teachers and we need more nurses. We need more social workers too.

GRATTAN: We need them soon.

CLARE: We do. In teaching we have a teaching shortage crisis in this country 10 years in the making. It will take some time to turn around. We’ve seen a decline in the number of people enrolling in teaching courses. We’ve also got what is frankly a terrible situation where only 54 per cent of students who start a teaching degree finish it compared to 70 per cent of students who start any other degree and finish it. And it strikes me that there is a link between that and not just the course and how we make the course relevant and practical but also paid placement, that placement poverty that a lot of students’ experience.

GRATTAN: You sound to me as though you’re making an argument here to the Expenditure Review Committee.

CLARE: I’ve made it very clear what my priorities are. I want to help to make sure we’ve got teachers in classrooms. That’s the key difference here that’s going to help to make sure that we fix some of the problems I spoke about a moment ago in boosting student numbers completing high school and then going on to TAFE and university.

But think about this: if you’re a teaching student you’ve got to do 600 unpaid hours in the classroom. If you’re a nursing student you’ve got to do 800 unpaid hours in a hospital. If you’re a social work student it’s more like a thousand hours. I’ve spent the last year or so in this job talking to students. They tell me about the impact that has of having to move to do the prac, having to give up the part-time job working in the café or the restaurant or wherever else to do unpaid work. And sometimes having to give up the degree. That they do the theory, can’t do the prac, can’t get the qualifications. So it strikes me this is the sort of thing that governments need to work on. And, as I said, this is the sort of thing that I want us to have a look at.

GRATTAN: We’ll send the podcast to Jim Chalmers.

Now, the report also urges a higher education future fund to which universities and governments would contribute. The fund would help finance infrastructure like, for example, student accommodation. But we’ve heard very quick criticisms from some of the vice chancellors. Do you think this idea has merit in principle? And do you think that the criticism is mainly self-interested from the universities? And don’t we have to fix the teaching and research funding models before you introduce this kind of fund?

CLARE: On that last point, that’s what the Report says. The Report recommends that you would only do this once you make changes to that model.

On whether we do it or not, I’ve got an open mind. I’ve said a number of times that there are some universities who hate this. There are other universities who like this. Often where you sit is where you stand. But I’ve got an open mind on this. I think we all agree we need more student accommodation. Whether this is the way to do it or whether there’s another way, I’m open to discussion with vice chancellors, other stakeholders across the sector before we make a decision about which recommendations we prioritise.

GRATTAN: Now, you mentioned earlier a tertiary education commission, which would sort of sit above the system and have a lot of power. What exactly would it do? Do you see such a commission as providing long-term strategic policy advice and/or would it be very hands on in an operational and regulation sense?

CLARE: It could be either, Michelle.

GRATTAN: Or both?

CLARE: It would be both. When you read the Report it sketches out what a tertiary education – if we decide to go down that path – could do. What it says is that it would report to the Minister for Education and the Minister for Skills. It’s a tertiary education commission they’re talking about rather than a higher education commission. And it’s important to point that out because one of the things the Report says is we don’t – in order to hit that 80 per cent target, we don’t just have to help more people from poorer backgrounds go to university; we also have to break down that artificial barrier that exists between TAFE and uni, or vocational education and higher education.

It says that a commission like this with one target, one body working together could help to make a difference here on things like recognition of prior learning. So if you do a vocational qualification, having more of that recognised when you go to university so it’s quicker and it’s cheaper when you go to university.

It strikes me that one of the other inherent benefits of a tertiary education commission as proposed in this Report is that it provides the ability to steer and drive reform over the long term. This is a blueprint for 20 years, not for two years. Ministers will come and go, governments will come and go. Even vice chancellors will come and go. And reports like this, you can start off and then there’s a change of government and it just sits on the shelf and gathers dust. Having a commission here that could help to drive that reform helps to make sure that what’s intended here – a blueprint for reform over the next two decades – to get us to that point by the middle of the century where we have the skilled workforce to succeed in the middle of the century, then a commission like this could help us do that.

GRATTAN: So you seem pretty in favour of this in principle?

CLARE: It strikes me as a good idea.

GRATTAN: Now, there’s speculation in the sector that Glyn Davis, who’s now, of course, head of the Prime Minister’s Department, would be the ideal person for such a commission. He’s a vice chancellor of a big university – former vice chancellor of a big university, got lots of experience in government and in the education sector. Would you be hoping to hang out for someone like that?

CLARE: Well, Glyn’s got an even bigger job at the moment.

GRATTAN: At the moment –

CLARE: He’s the head of the Prime Minister’s Department. Look, we’ve got to make a decision first about whether we set up the tertiary education commission, and like every other –

GRATTAN: It would take a while.

CLARE: It would take a while and would require legislation. The other thing the report recommends is that if we do go down this path is that you would need to set up an implementation advisory committee. A lot of feedback that I’ve had from people who I’m sure are listening to this podcast now say that with some of the recommendations here, if the Government decides to invest in them and implement them, that implementation is going to be sometimes difficult, tricky, got to get the details right. And so it recommends having a committee of experts to help with the detailed design of things like a tertiary education commission and others. So if we do go down that path, it will involve a lot of hands-on work from people in the sector to make sure we get the design right.

GRATTAN: But, of course, you do have a department. Can’t the department draw in experts? Sometimes this government is criticised for having too many committees.

CLARE: I don’t think we should try and create policy in a vacuum. You’ve got to make sure that we pick the brains of experts. What a lot of people have told me is that in some of the reforms that have happened in years gone by in higher education, some of the design hasn’t been right because we haven’t spoken to people or worked with people who’ve got experience in the sector. And I’ve tried in the development of the Accord Team’s work to make sure that’s not the case. We set up a Ministerial Reference Group made of many dozen experts in the sector.

I mentioned Mary O’Kane a moment ago – the indefatigable Mary O’Kane – who spoke to almost everybody who’s ever worked in a university to help prepare and put together this Report. That doesn’t end here. It can’t end with this Report being printed and tabled. If we’re going to get this right, it’s not just about consulting with people in the development of the Report; we need to make sure we’re working with people in its implementation too.

GRATTAN: It also urges an overhaul of the help loan scheme – this is the old HECS scheme, which, of course, came in under the Hawke government. Do you think the scheme has become unfit for purpose?

CLARE: The Report says that it’s a good scheme but it can be made fairer and simpler. You mentioned the Hawke government. The truth is, HECS blew the doors of universities open. When HECS was introduced, only about 5 per cent of the workforce had a uni degree. Now it’s more than 26 per cent. Today almost one in two young people in their 20s and 30s have a university degree. But what this Report says is that it can be made fairer and simpler. It recommends changes to the way in which it’s indexed, but it also makes recommendations about changes to the way in which repayments work.

And it includes recommendations that were put to the panel by Professor Bruce Chapman, who’s the architect of HECS, who’s making recommendations that would see somebody on a lower income pay smaller repayments. For example, if you’re on $75,000 a year under the recommendation as put forward by the panel you’d pay about $1,000 less a year in HECS repayments. It would be designed to particularly help people on low incomes and in particular, Australian women.

GRATTAN: Well, of course, that seems something that also could be looked at for the coming budget. It’s not that complicated, right?

CLARE: It’s one of the things that we’ll look at as we decide what we prioritise in the first stage of responding to this Report.

GRATTAN: It does seem that a weakness of this Report is that it has no overall costings or a clear timeline. And given the government is now a bit over a year from an election, will students be experiencing tangible change by the time of the election? Or are we looking at second term reforms in effect?

CLARE: To be fair, Michelle, we didn’t ask them to provide cost recommendations. I asked them to be bold. I asked them to be ambitious. I asked them to think long term. Often we get criticised in Government for just having quick fixes or just thinking about what’s around the corner, what’s the immediate problem that needs to be solved. If we’re serious about fixing things in education, you’ve got to think long term.

Education is one of those areas where you plant a seed today, that tree grows over the long term. That’s why I talked a moment ago about students that will be at university in the 2030s, they’re the children like my eldest who is in primary school right now.

What the Report says is that here’s a 20 year plan. You’ve got to stage out reform, and that’s the work that we’re doing now in terms of what do we prioritise, how do we stage that out. But there are some recommendations in that Report that we’ve already acted on. The good example of that is the announcement that we made only on Friday that we will establish an independent Student Ombudsman. There’s also a recommendation in that Report around early university offers, about when universities should make offers to students about admission the following year. Universities do that at different times of the year at the moment.

It’s a relatively controversial thing. Education Ministers asked the Accord Team to give them advice on how do we create a standard approach to early offers. This Report says that universities shouldn’t make early offers before September of the previous year. And Ministers have now agreed to that, and that will be implemented this year.

GRATTAN: I suppose the contrary argument to the one you’re making about looking to the long term is that in politics we’re operating mostly at least in the medium term at best. Ministers come and go, governments come and go. And some of the long-term plans can go out the window. So you do have to hurry, don’t you?

CLARE: Well, I think you need to be thoughtful, methodical and deliberate.

GRATTAN: Hurry, thoughtfully.

CLARE: I don’t want you to confuse, Michelle, thoughtfulness with not acting. We’ve had an Interim Report from the Accord Team. We’re implementing all of those recommendations right now, including the establishment of regional university study hubs, suburban university study hubs. We’ve passed legislation through this parliament already to get rid of that 50 per cent rule that arbitrarily forced a lot of young people from poor families out of university. We’ve also expanded the demand-driven system to all Indigenous students that the advice from my department is that it will double the number of Indigenous students at university over the decade. They’re in the Interim Report. And as I said, the Ombudsman and early offers.

Now before us are 47 recommendations here, a plan for a decade and beyond. Over the course of the next few months, I’ll consider those along with my colleagues and then respond and outline what the first stages are often the Government’s plan to implement the Universities Accord.

GRATTAN: Can we turn to international students? They’ve become a huge export industry for Australia, but also created dependency for some universities. And, of course, we saw problems with that during Covid. What place do you think international students have in Australia? And what are the big issues that need to be addressed for this group?

CLARE: International education is incredibly important for Australia. It’s our fourth biggest export. It’s the biggest export that we don’t dig out of the ground. Coming out of the pandemic, here’s an industry that was basically cut in half. People were told to go home, and they did. Now they’re coming back. We’re now seeing students come back. But the shonks that circled them are also back. You asked me what’s the biggest issue – it’s integrity. The integrity of the system. If the integrity of the system is undermined, then what we have to offer here collapses under that weight.

We’ve seen too many examples of people trying to use international education as a backdoor just to work here. That’s why we’ve made changes to limit the amount of working hours that a student can work in Australia from unlimited back to 24 hours. We’ve also made changes to stop people from being able to enrol in a university course and within six months switch to a vocational course, never turn up to that course and then just work in Australia. And there are more reforms that we need to make sure that we’ve outlined. I’ll be introducing legislation over the course of the next few months to tackle this as well.

But the other thing, Michelle, on international education is this is not a one-way street. It’s not just about students from one part of the world coming to an Australian university to study. It can and it is also about Australian universities setting up campuses overseas. We’ve got Deakin and Wollongong setting up universities right now in India. Western Sydney University along with Monash and Deakin and hopefully Central Queensland University setting up in Indonesia as well. And you’ve got RMIT that’s been in Vietnam for a long time and countless other examples. There is a terrific opportunity for us to do more in that area.

GRATTAN: Now, just turning to research, the report is calling for new targets for how much Australia spends on research as a proportion of GDP. And at the moment we’re not doing very well compared to other OECD countries. This could have a very big price tag, however. So where do you think we need to go here? Do we really need to be much, much bolder in the research area if we are to be the cleverer country we want to be?

CLARE: Australian researchers punch above their weight compared to the rest of the world. And it’s our universities, it’s our researchers in our universities, who do that work and do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to research across the board.

The investments that we make in our universities in research come from my portfolio, but not just my portfolio. I’ve got principal responsibility for the ARC, and you probably know, Michelle, that we’ve got legislation in the parliament at the moment to try to take the politics of that out. Setting up a board that would oversee and approve the grants to researchers so that we don’t have a repeat of what happened under the former government where you had different grants vetoed by Liberal Ministers. I think if you’re serious about respecting our researchers, it starts with saying that you don’t want political interference in the deliberations and decisions over grants.

But funding also comes from Health. A big part of it is Health. Also Defence and also Industry. What this Report recommends is that we need to look at this as a whole-of-government level. So that’s one of the recommendations, as well as some other recommendations about another fund and a pathway to full funding. This is an important part of what universities do. They’re about teaching and learning, they’re about research as well. The recommendations here along with all the others are the sort of things that we need to look at over the next few months.

GRATTAN: Now, you mentioned before the announcement last week about gender-based violence on campuses – an independent watchdog is to be set up. How widespread is this problem? And do you think individual universities have refused to face up to it? And why does it seem to be getting worse? Is it a matter of more people reporting incidents? And if it’s not that, what does it say about the direction of our society and our institutions?

CLARE: This is a problem not just in universities; it’s a problem in this building. And it’s a problem in almost every workplace in the country where you see the prevalence of sexual violence. The work that Kate Jenkins did in the university sector showed that one in 20 students reported being sexually assaulted since they’d started university, that one in six had been sexually harassed. We also have evidence before us that shows that one in two students who do report this to their university feel like they haven’t been heard, they weren’t listened to, that the response from the university was inadequate.

We’ve got to change that. And that’s what the establishment of the National Student Ombudsman as well as a national code that sets minimum standards for what universities are expected to do to help prevent it happening in the first place but, when it happens making sure they’re supporting students, supporting staff, the right sort of training is provided as well. This is a long time coming. But this is a really big and important change. It’s happening not because of me or any of the politicians in this building; it’s happening because of the work led by women who’ve headed up organisations like End Rape on Campus and Fair Agenda and the Stop Campaign who’ve told their story and told the story of other people that they have fought for for years and years. And they are the changemakers here, and change is coming.

GRATTAN: But isn’t it extraordinary that we seem to make so little progress? Because you’ve got a young generation here involved.

CLARE: This should have happened a long time ago. And now it is happening. When the women that lead those organisations spoke to Education Ministers last year and told them their stories and the stories of the women that they represent – and, remember, the universities are not just places where people study or work; they’re places where people live. And often some of the most atrocious stories happen in student accommodation where the alleged perpetrator lives on the same floor, where a notice pinned on a wall telling people where to go to seek help has been pulled down and taken away, or where the person who allegedly committed the offence remains in the same class or in the same tute.

Their stories, the power of their stories, what they told us I think helped ensure that we got the support of every Education Minister in the country to act here. And that’s exactly what we’ll be doing. I’ll be introducing legislation very soon to implement the establishment of an independent Student Ombudsman and see that Ombudsman stand up and start operating from early next year.

GRATTAN: Let’s briefly go back to the schools system. You want disadvantaged children lifted up. But we’re seeing at the moment a lot of criticism of poor infrastructure in government schools compared to some private schools. And on another front, we’re seeing Australian children performing poorly on some international measures. You’re presently negotiating with the states for new schools agreements. How are you aiming to achieve more adequate infrastructure in the needy government schools, and what leverage are you going to bring to bear to get better standards?

CLARE: Michelle, at the moment no public school in Australia except for the schools here in the ACT are at that Gonski funding level, the level that David said that they should be at. Every non-government school is or above it and on a trajectory to go down or on a trajectory up to get to that level. But no public school is.

State Governments have got a legal obligation to provide 75 per cent of that funding, and the Commonwealth under Commonwealth law has an obligation to provide 20 per cent of funding. So that makes 95 per cent. That leaves a 5 per cent gap, and the negotiations that I’m having that are underway now with the States and Territories are about how we fill that gap.

GRATTAN: Between the two of you?

CLARE: Correct. About what the Commonwealth chips in and what the States chip in. But also about what it’s tied to, what we use that money for to make sure that when that money is invested that it works to fix some of the problems we spoke about a moment ago – that help that child who starts behind in kindergarten when they’re five or prep when they’re five, that helps that child, that helps the child that falls behind by the time they’re eight. Make sure that they can keep up and finish school.

To give you a practical example of this – because there’ll be people listening to the podcast who’ll say, “Well, what’s that mean?” It might mean catch-up tutoring. In the wake of the pandemic a lot of that has been happening in New South Wales, in Queensland. We know now that good teaching practices will help to make sure that 80 per cent of kids learn to read when they’re little. But the 20 per cent of kids in a classroom of 30, they’ll still fall behind. And for those children, they need to be brought out of a classroom of 30 into a classroom of three or four with one teacher. And that sort of small group tutoring or catch-up tutoring can mean that a child of eight can learn as much in six months as you normally learn in a year, so you catch up and then go back into the classroom.

That’s what I mean when I talk about fixing the funding gap, funding our schools properly, but also fixing the education gap so that we’re investing in the sort of things that are going to help to make sure that more kids finish school and then go on to uni or TAFE and hit those targets that are in that Universities Accord Report.

GRATTAN: So are you confident that the states can be relied on to, in fact, get these better standards, that they won’t just say, “Yes, yes, Minister,” and then do nothing about it?

CLARE: That’s why the new National School Reform Agreement that we strike this year is so important. That it’s got targets and reforms that are tied to those targets and that the funding is tied to those reforms.

GRATTAN: And follow through?

CLARE: Exactly right. What’s recommended to us is a 10 year plan, that we should be developing a 10 year plan. So just like long-term thinking in higher education, just like we’ve got this O’Kane Report, the Accord, we’ve also got a report from Dr Lisa O’Brien that’s recommending a 10 year plan for school reform where we tie funding to the sort of reforms that are going to help to fix that declining rate of high school completion and help, in particular, those children from poorer backgrounds and from the regions who are below that minimum standard in greater numbers when they’re in primary school.

GRATTAN: I just want to finish with one of the areas of greatest disadvantage – and that’s Indigenous education. Do you believe that the system needs to ensure that children in remote areas who are increasingly, I think, speaking their own Indigenous languages, which is obviously good, but are able to read and write English fluently just as any other non-Indigenous child of their age would do? And, secondly, do we need a better holistic plan for Indigenous education, and what are your own plans and thoughts in this vital area?

CLARE: In answer to your first question, it’s about learning both. If you’re living two worlds you need two languages. What we know, though, is that if you’re a young Indigenous boy today you’re more likely to end up in jail than in university. And I talked earlier in the podcast about children from poor backgrounds being more likely to fall behind at school when they’re little – that one in three young people fall behind from poor backgrounds. It’s the same with Indigenous kids – about one in three Indigenous kids fall behind when they’re little.

And then I told you, Michelle, that 1 in 5 kids catch up by the time they’re in middle high school. It’s only 1 in 17 Indigenous kids who full behind when they’re little who have caught up by the time they’re in high school. What I’m talking about here in terms of investment that works, investment in our schools, funding our schools properly and tying it to the things that work, are as important if not more important here than anywhere else.

Now, in terms of getting every public school to that full Gonski funding level, I told you that the states have to chip in 75 per cent, the Commonwealth 20 and there’s a 5 per cent gap. At the moment in a place like the Northern Territory where many remote communities are, they’re not on track to get to that 100 per cent level until 2050, if ever. Because of a decision I made last year in Central Australia, the 46 schools in Alice Springs and around, they’re at 100 per cent of that Gonski level today and investing money in the sorts of things that we’re talking about to help to turn that around.

I had a chat with Mark Monaghan, the new Education Minister for the Northern Territory, the other day when we met as Education Ministers. He’s been a teacher in a remote community, and he made the point to me that if you’re going to make a difference here, you do need an education system that speaks to Indigenous children, that’s not just about Indigenous language but it’s also about Indigenous culture, teaching young kids things that are relevant for them and their life after school.

And he also made the point – he said, “In order to make sure that kids are at school, they’ve got to like you. It’s not about having to go to school, it’s about liking you.” And the way in which he changed his role as a school teacher in remote communities. So getting it right here means getting local wisdom. Often that’s from Indigenous teachers and Indigenous assistant teachers. We need more Indigenous teachers. And that’s a big part of what we need to do here as well.

GRATTAN: But don’t you as well as the local wisdom and the local culture which are important going to also need to ensure that these kids and the competitive in the wider culture, isn’t there a danger of just pushing them into one track?

CLARE: We need two tracks or what is often described to me as a two-toolbox education – the ability to walk in two worlds, to talk in two worlds –

GRATTAN: And it’s hard to get two toolboxes.

CLARE: It’s not easy. But I’ve seen it done in places like West Arnhem Land. It can be done.

GRATTAN: Jason Clare, thank you very much for talking us through this very ambitious new report. You’ve obviously got a lot of work in the months ahead, a lot of decisions for the government to make and perhaps a bit of arm twisting even before the budget.

CLARE: Thank you very much, Michelle.

GRATTAN: And thank you to my producer Ben Roper. We’ll be back with another interview soon but goodbye for now.