Transcript - Sky News interview with Graham Richardson

  • Minister for Education
  • Leader of the House

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Christopher Pyne, welcome to the program.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Thank you, Graham.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: It could be fairly said that you have had a rough few weeks, couldn’t it?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No I am very happy. I am very pleased to be in the Cabinet, I am mindful that at the beginning of the year in January, the Canberra commentariat was saying that the Carbon Tax had been well implemented and going better than expected, that Julia Gillard had delivered a master stroke by announcing the election and that by the end of this year, now I am in the Cabinet, Julia Gillard is long gone and Kevin Rudd has been defeated and retired from Parliament so I would say we have had a pretty good year.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: When you say ‘we’ - that’s true, I was actually referring to you personally. Because we both know, as does everybody watching that you had a pretty rough time when you tried to back down from that promise on Gonski, didn’t you?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well what we did in fact was take the Labor Party’s funding envelope of $1.6 billion which was in the Pre-election Fiscal Outlook and start as that as our beginning of school funding. Now Labor got away if you like with ripping out $1.2 billion and making it look like we had done so. We have put that back in so in fact we put $1.2 billion more into school funding and we are delivering $2.8 billion of new school funds when Labor was only going to deliver $1.6 billion. So schools will be better off because of that and now we can focus the debate on teacher quality, the curriculum, parental engagement, and school autonomy and that’s exactly what we intend to do.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: I agree that that’s where the debate should go, but in the interim there was this drama now, I am trying to understand what happens with Western Australia and Queensland, I mean are they stuck with you and with Tony Abbott because when you were in Opposition you were telling them not to sign, they didn’t and then as I understand it, Labor withdraws the funding for the States that don’t sign up, are they now better off or worse off?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well they will get extra funds that Labor took off the table. So the $1.2 billion cut that Labor delivered in PEFO will now be distributed to Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory so they all three of those jurisdictions will get more funds but they will also have the added bonus of having it without the strings attached because we don’t want to run the State and Territory schools, we want them to do so, we want to treat the States and Territories like adults so sticking to their guns and saying that they weren’t going to allow a Canberra takeover of their jurisdictions has been to their benefit.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: But, what I am really saying they won’t be $1 worse off, so where does that leave Barry O’Farrell and Victoria etc., are they worse off or are they staying the same?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well this $1.2 billion is new money, so all the other jurisdictions will get exactly what they would have expected over the next four years and Western Australia, Queensland the Northern Territory won’t be short changed in the way that Bill Shorten planned to short change them.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: But all of that could have been done without the drama, couldn’t it? I mean this was not brilliantly handled. I don’t blame you for it, I think you were sent out on an impossible mission, but it was pretty tough, wasn’t it?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well you know, Graham, Government isn’t all beer and skittles as you would well remember, and sometimes…


CHRISTOPHER PYNE: …and sometimes there are bumps in the road, and holes in the road and you have got to go over them to discover that they are there but by the end of the year, there are $1.2 billion more dollars going into school funding, the debate is now focussed on curriculum, teacher quality, parental engagement and school autonomy. Those three jurisdictions are getting what they should be getting and Labor is being exposed for trying to cut $1.2 billion from school funding.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: When you try address teacher quality, which I think is arguably the most important issue to address…


GRAHAM RICHARDSON: …one of the problems is pure and simply pay isn’t it?  I mean if I am a senior maths teacher teaching you know years ten, eleven and twelve, I am likely to be getting something of the region of $80,000. It is not a lot of money.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well Graham all of the issues to do with teacher salaries and remuneration and emoluments are the matters for the State and Territotry Governments. What I intend to do is focus on the things that I can control so we will focus our teacher quality debate at the university level who train all of the teachers for the future in both undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. So we will focus on teacher quality at university so that we produce the best possible teachers who then go into the system. It is a longer term view, it will take longer to deliver the quality teaching that we believe that we can deliver but we can’t focus on salaries because we don’t pay the teachers.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Now I want to get on to that question of those university courses too but before I do, you see what you are saying is what a lot of Labor predecessor of yours have said too, and that in the end it just seems to be a cop out, you know, and I know and everyone listening knows, the States simply don’t have the money to give that really big lift to teacher salaries, which would make the kind of people want to be going to those courses at universities a bit of a higher standard. Remember if you look at a lot of the entrance marks now for some of these courses for teachers at university, they are pretty low. They are hardly getting the cream of the crop.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well one of the great difficulties in the State and Territory treatment of teachers over the last decade or two has been the unnecessary focus on smaller class sizes and more teachers. The smaller class sizes is not proven to be anything like the silver bullet that the unions claimed it would be. It is just lead to more teachers being paid about the same as you would expect them to be paid if very little else had changed in the way they had been treated over the last couple of decades. The problem is that the unions have had a grip on State and Territory Governments about smaller class sizes. We now have smaller class sizes than the OECD average, but our results are still going backwards at the rate of nots. So the unions need to be exposed for the damage that they have done over the last couple of decades by focussing on industrial outcomes rather than the outcomes of students and State and Territory Governments need to prioritise higher quality teachers, better pay for teachers, sure, that they have to decide on. And the kinds of people they take into the teaching profession, but we all need to focus on curriculum, engaging parents, and on more autonomy for schools because those four pillars of the Coalition’s approach to teaching and to students are the things that will make the difference for the outcomes for students.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Yeah, but I mean if you take it back to what you were just saying, let’s face it, it didn’t matter what political colour you were, this notion that smaller class sizes was the answer if you like, that has been around and accepted by many people on both sides of politics for a long time now.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Correct. Because it was an easier thing to give in to and to assume would be a panacea to the problems. The harder job was to focus on the quality of teaching, it was harder to say our curriculum is mediocre and needs to be improved, it was harder to say that we need to engage our parents more and stop teachers be responsible for not only educating children but being asked by far too many in society to raise children and it was too hard to introduce genuine school autonomy. Well we are not here to simply hold the reins of power, Graham, I am here because I want to bring about a change in education in Australia. It won’t be easy, I will be attacked by the Left particularly and I guess I am seeing a taste of that already.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: It is not only a matter of the Left, I mean I think it is harder to describe me these days of the Left. But what I worry about even this week I hear you are looking at cutting back some TAFE courses, cutting back on the funding for some of that training which seems to me to be even more important in this era which we have to retrain people who are going to lose their jobs in a whole range of places, not just Holden but if one looks at what the economists are saying, in that infrastructure for mining in that area, that it is going to collapse as well.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well Graham we are not cutting back on TAFE courses, but we are not going ahead with three infrastructure developments in three of the TAFEs, one in New South Wales and two in Queensland because they were being funded by the Education Investment Fund, and the Federal Government is responsible for infrastructure in universities. State Governments are responsible for the infrastructure in TAFEs and I don’t believe as a general principle that we should cross the line on those issues. The States and Territories should do their job and do it well and the Commonwealth should do its job and do it well. And there has been far too much blurring of responsibilities particularly in education.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Alright, last question. During the course of the last year, I have got the impression from the Coalition that health, education and defence were excluded from cuts. Is that still the case?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well we haven’t announced any cuts to the overall spending in education. In fact we are putting $1.2 billion more in education…

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Yes you have made that point several times, I have got that point, yes.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Yes. So there are no cuts to the overall spending of education, but we did say that we would reprioritise some spending. So for example in research, we aren’t cutting research, but we are reprioritising towards projects in diabetes, dementia and tropical health and that is entirely what you would expect when a new government is elected, that its priorities will…


CHRISTOPHER PYNE: …form the basis of their set of policies.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: but what you are saying, the global amount stays the same just…


GRAHAM RICHARDSON: …within it there is some tweaking.


GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well I am very interested to see how that holds up after yesterday and all of that terrible news we were given from Joe Hockey. Next year will prove to be a very interesting one, and no doubt we will talk to you again. Have a great Christmas, Christopher. I think you have earned it.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I look forward to it. Thank you, Graham. See you next year.

For more information

Media Contact:
Non-media queries: 1300 566 046