Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Indigenous education, Victorian Bushfires

Program: ABC Radio National - Breakfast with Fran Kelly


FRAN KELLY: Minister, good morning.

JENNY MACKLIN: Good morning Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Well everyone agrees that this is worth having a crack at as Mick Dodson would say, but is it achievable for every Australian child to have a pair of school shoes, to have their books and a classroom and a teacher ready to go by January 26 next year.

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve got a responsibility to make sure that all of our children are ready to go to school and I couldn’t agree with Mick more strongly. One of the things that this Government is determined to do is to make sure that all of our four year olds get the early childhood education that they need so that when they start school they’re actually ready to take advantage of everything that school offers. But just to take up some of the specific points that Mick Dodson has raised, we also know that there’s an enormous amount to do to make sure that all children are enrolled to go to school. That is a particular issue for Indigenous children, especially in remote parts of Australia. So we’ve put a few things in place already but we’re determined to press forward on this issue because I just agree with him if we don’t get the kids to go to school, if they’re not even enrolled to go to school, then they’re not going to get the chance to get the education that will really give them the best start in life.

FRAN KELLY: It’s just so frustrating to think that this is still such an issue, but the Federal Government has acknowledged the problems and it has in place I know a scheme to put an extra 200 teachers into the Northern Territory but only I think 50 of those are actually in place, why is this such a challenge, because this is just a start?

JENNY MACKLIN: We have made that commitment and the money is already in the Budget for the 200 extra teachers, there’s also money for additional scholarships, extra money has been made available for new boarding facilities.

FRAN KELLY: And is this money being spent, are the schools being built?

JENNY MACKLIN: They are. This has all been agreed. You would also know that the Council of Australian Governments at the end of last year made an historic agreement to put extra money into the other things that are critical if we’re to make sure that education works for children who don’t get the best start in their early years.

All the evidence shows that we have to put extra money into teacher quality that was a big part of the Council of Australian Governments agreement. Extra money to attract high performing principals and teachers to underperforming schools, so a lot of effort is going into the things that we know is necessary to turn this around.

FRAN KELLY: Yesterday Mick Dodson focussed on the $42 billion stimulus package which includes a grant for every primary school in the country to build a building if needed, a library, a lab, a hall, but as Mick Dodson says an empty building is worth quote “bugger all without teachers and students”. He’s got a point, teachers and human resources need to be a focus here doesn’t it?

JENNY MACKLIN: You have to have both, of course. You have to have a classroom, in remote parts of Australia you need to have a house for teachers, so we’re putting additional money into both of those things.

FRAN KELLY: Can I just interrupt you there, when I was in Papunya last year there was a remote community nearby which had a beautiful classroom and a beautiful house, and they hadn’t seen a teacher for eight months.

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s part of the problem. You could go to another community where they’ve got teachers crammed into accommodation together because there’s not enough teachers housing, so it is an area that requires our determination to address getting teachers on the ground. I’ve just mentioned that additional money has been put into getting teachers and high performing teachers and principals into schools that really need them. You’re dead right, and Mick Dodson is dead right. You need both, you need the teachers, you need the good principals in these very tough areas and we also, but we do need in many places decent classrooms, some areas don’t have enough classrooms. We’ve put in place a new program in the Northern Territory to put additional requirements on parents to get their children to school because another problem is that some parents aren’t doing the right thing by their kids, aren’t getting them to school, or aren’t getting them there on a regular basis. And parents will now have to tell Centrelink that their children are enrolled to go to school.

FRAN KELLY: It sounds like the January 26 2010 date is not really achievable to get it all happening by then.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well what we know is that there is now an agreement across the country to address this from many different perspectives. One is to get the classrooms up to scratch, another is to really focus on disadvantaged schools and get high performing teachers and principals into those schools. A lot of additional funding has been put in especially into remote parts of Australia, to get the teachers into areas where they haven’t been.


JENNY MACKLIN: We’re putting the pressure on parents to do the right thing by their children. We’re really are coming at this from many different perspectives.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, if I can switch subjects now because you’re also the Federal Government’s representative on the Bushfire Reconstruction Authority, the sad news this morning of the death of a professional fire fighter from the ACT in these Victorian fires.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well first of all if I can extend my personal sympathy to his family and of course that of the Prime Minister, it is yet another just horrific tragedy in these terrible fires and to think that a man has lost his life when he’s been prepared to go down and help others, help the Victorian communities that are suffering so dreadfully. All I can say to his family is that he has paid a terrible, terrible price and he will be, he’ll certainly never be forgotten by the people of Victoria.

FRAN KELLY: And Minister, many of the people affected by the fire and now reliant on Centrelink payments and emergency payments, thousands of people are also affected by floods, are they receiving Centrelink payments too, and is all of this running smoothly, what sort of bill are we up to now?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well if you are talking about the new floods in northern New South Wales, we’re working through the details of what’s required with the New South Wales Government right now, and of course, if we need to provide the necessary assistance to them that will be done as quickly as possible. We are still providing income support to people in far north Queensland, those communities are still suffering from the terrible floods up there. Just to give you the latest numbers here in Victoria, just under $13 million has been paid out in emergency payments to people who suffered in the bushfires and of course we’re now swinging into the next type of support, that’s income recovery subsidies for people who can’t work while they try to rebuild their lives.

FRAN KELLY: Jenny Macklin, that you very much for joining us.

JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you Fran.