Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Transcript of doorstop, Canberra

Subject: New closing the gap target, better schools, polling, Tony Abbott’s cuts to the bone

JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks very much everyone for joining us here today. If I can first of all say a very, very big thank you to the Koori preschool, and for all of the children and the staff joining us here, and allowing Minister Garrett and I to join in in the songs and the finger painting, and all the fun that really shows why preschool is such a great thing for young children.

Peter Garrett and I have been determined to make sure that we make a difference and close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage in this country. We set a target more than five years ago now, to make sure that we saw Indigenous children into preschool, especially in remote parts of Australia. And as the Prime Minister announced earlier this year in her Close the Gap address to the Parliament, we will meet the target of making sure that all children, all four-year-olds, living in remote Australia will have access to a preschool place this year. So we’re very, very pleased to have met that target.

We also know how important it is to make sure that we have good attendance at preschool. Preschool is such a great place for children to learn, such a great place for children to grow and of course get ready for school. And so that’s why today we are very pleased to be announcing that we will have a new target, a new Close the Gap target, to make sure that we see more and more Indigenous four-year-olds going to preschool. And I’ll just pass over to Peter Garrett to give you the details.

PETER GARRETT: Thanks very much Jenny, and it is important that we continue to build on the big successes that we’ve had in enabling young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to attend preschool in the year before school, by a closing the gap target on attendance. Setting over 90 per cent, we are absolutely clear now that we will have a vast majority opportunity for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to attend preschool in the year before school.

And remember that this Government has got significant commitments to the universal access targets, that we’ve provided quite a bit of additional investment to the states to support them as they provide those opportunities for families to get kids into preschool. And now, by making sure that we are clear on where we want to go, we can expect to see additional numbers of young Indigenous kids coming into preschool.

Just one thing to say finally, the data and evidence is crystal clear. If a young Indigenous child is to make a good start in life, at this early stage, then access to high quality early childhood care and education is fundamentally important. And every time we see a young child progressing satisfactorily through school, into high school and hopefully either into later study or employment, it’s because they get that good start in life.

JOURNALIST: On Gonski, why are you introducing the legislation to Parliament without reaching consensus with the states and territories?

PETER GARRETT: Look we’ll have more to say about this matter later on, in fact I’m about to attend a briefing for the media. But the amendments will be circulated to provide the opportunity for the Parliament now to advance this legislation. And there’s a great deal of consultations that have been undertaken with states and territories and the non-government school sector. My expectation is that this legislation and these amendments now circulated, and to be put to the house during the course of the next two days, provides people with an opportunity, not only to continue their discussions with us but to see what’s on the table. And importantly for state premiers, for once and for all, to put the interests of students in their schools first, and sign up so we can have better schools for all Australians.

JOURNALIST: So you’re saying the deadline is the end of this week?

PETER GARRETT: I’ll address these matters when I provide a briefing later on, but what we’ve always said is that the deadline for states to sign up is June 30. At the same time, we have a Bill in the Parliament, to which amendments will now apply, as we said they would, because the New South Wales Government and the ACT Government have indicated their willingness to sign onto a National Plan for School Improvement. So these amendments are important, and for other states yet to sign on, my expectation is that we will see positive movement from those states in the week and weeks ahead.

JOURNALIST: Mr Garrett, on the polls out today, they’re showing that Labor is falling further behind. Are you confident, or do you think there is a chance that the Government can turn these polls around?

PETER GARRETT: People make decisions on the day polling, on the basis of choice between a Government and an Opposition. I have a strong conviction that the reforms that Minister Macklin, myself and our other colleagues have brought through this Parliament to improve the opportunities and the life chances of every Australian, will be the kinds of things people will focus on when they get inside the polling booth. We are a way away from the election. This is a Parliament that still has work to do. It’s a Parliament which under this Government has succeeded in producing significant reforms, whether it’s in disability, whether it’s in a price on carbon pollution, and now a National Plan for School Improvement. People will make a choice on the basis of those substantial policy reforms.

JOURNALIST: So you don’t think their minds are made up?

PETER GARRETT: That’s all I’m going to say about that at the moment, and I’m happy to take some questions on other matters once I’ve concluded the next briefing.

JOURNALIST: Minister Macklin, do you think the political infighting between states and territories overall with the Closing the Gap campaign, it seems like some of these things aren’t going to be met. If this infighting and standoff, with Gonski, with other things, aren’t going to take place. How’s this going to impact Aboriginal people?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think you can see with our overall Close the Gap approach and strategy over the last five years, this has been a national strategy. First and foremost, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, with the states and territories, because we know that all Australians have to come together if we are to close the gap.

And as I said in my opening remarks today, we will in fact meet our first target, and we’ll meet our first target of making sure that all four-year-olds have access to a preschool place in remote Australia, because the Federal Government through Mister Garrett and our state and territory colleagues have worked together to make sure that we deliver on this target. We’ve also, as you know, agreed that we will have a new disability target to close the gap on the disadvantage that people from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds have in the area of disability care and support. And we will work that out with the states and territories. And so it will be with this new target. We will work with the states and territories to make sure that we get Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander four-year-olds going to school. We want to make sure that happens, and we’ll do it cooperatively with the states and territories.

JOURNALIST: The Closing the Gap Steering Committee, a panel of experts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, suggested that they wanted to see incarceration and social justice targets as part of the Closing the Gap campaign. Will you make that part of it?

JENNY MACKLIN: We are still discussing the issues around justice issues. We do understand the incarceration rates are far too high. So the Attorney-General and I, with our state and territory colleagues and of course with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, are working out the best approach because we know this is a very serious issue.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

JENNY MACKLIN: Well as you know I don’t discuss these polls, but what I would say is that when we do get to the election, the voters right around Australia will have a very, very clear choice. If you look at the clear choices in my portfolio, the Liberal Opposition wants to abolish the Schoolkids Bonus, and that will see $15,000 taken out of the pockets of parents over the school life of their children.

So here we are with little children today, getting ready to go to school. What their parents will know, before they go to the ballot box, is that Mr Abbott would like to take $15,000 out of their pockets. This Government wants to support parents.