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2GB Sydney with Ben Fordham, 7 February 2024


Ben Fordham: Now, we mentioned this briefly yesterday – we’ve been contacted by parents at Newington College and they’ve alerted us to something being taught to students. Later this year, year 10 will learn about critical race theory. This was developed in the 1980s by black activists, and it focuses on the concepts of race, and it claims that our way of life is racist. It says our institutions have been designed exclusively for white people. Now, in 2021, the Senate voted to reject critical race theory from the national curriculum. Newington College has ignored that. We put the question to them yesterday, and they say our year 10 course looks at a range of theories and perspectives, as expected by the New South Wales syllabus. I wanted to get an expert view on all of these things. And the Shadow Education Minister is Sarah Henderson and she’s on the line – Sarah, good morning.

Senator Henderson: Very good morning to you, Ben.

Ben Fordham: What do you think about critical race theory being taught at Newington?

Senator Henderson: Well, this is an ideology that fosters division. It undermines traditional values. And frankly, Ben, there is no place for this sort of teaching in Australian schools. Classrooms are for education, not indoctrination, and this appears to be an attempt to indoctrinate students and Newington, like any other school, should get rid of this out of its curriculum and out of its year 10 teaching.

Ben Fordham: Alright, but Newington says we share a range of theories and perspectives?

Senator Henderson: Well, they need to stick to the facts about Australian history. This is an ideology that tries to teach children to categorise people by their skin colour and teach children that everyone is either oppressed or an oppressor.  As I say, there is no room for this sort of teaching in Australian classrooms and I would really like to see the Education Minister Jason Clare, step in and do something about this. I mean, when I was in year 10 we studied literature, critical thinking, how to write a compelling essay, and at the moment, Ben, with one in three children failing NAPLAN and in our most recent international results – the Programme for International Student Assessment – nearly half of all year 10 students tested failed to reach a minimum reading level. So, I think schools should be focusing on the fundamentals of education, literacy, and numeracy – getting back to basics and not going down these rabbit holes.

Ben Fordham: Newington’s got a few challenges at the moment. Because they’re going co-ed’ and they’re facing protests from parents and students who say `No, we want the school to remain the way it’s been for many, many years’. Have you got a view on these schools, single-sex schools, that are suddenly going co-ed’?

Senator Henderson: I am aware of that controversy, and I’m not going to intervene in the individual decisions of schools as to whether they are single-sex or co-ed’. I mean, some children would prefer to be in a single-sex school; others thrive in a co-educational environment.   But I think what really matters to parents, Ben, is that children are taught properly. We are really concerned about the declining school standards. We have seen from this government, a failure to implement the reforms we need to ensure that declining standards are turned around and so far, as I say from the Education Minister, we’ve seen very little action, whether it’s on teacher shortages, raising school standards, or combating classroom disruption.  We have some of the most unruly classrooms in the world. And of course, now we’ve got a funding shambles where Jason Clare has opened up an absolute mess with the National School Reform Agreement where he’s delivered no national agreement and no reforms. So, I would like to see this government focus on the fundamentals of education, which is what parents want, and what students deserve.

Ben Fordham: I want to ask you about something that happened to Bob Katter yesterday inside Parliament House. He went into the staff dining room to get some lunch, he pulled out a $50 note and then he discovered that you cannot use cash anymore in the staff dining room at Parliament House. Now, apparently the Speaker in the House of Rep’s, Labor’s Milton Dick said, `This is unacceptable and it should be reversed immediately’. I mean, surely, you’ve got to accept Aussie cash in the Australian Parliament?

Senator Henderson: I think so. They certainly accept it at “Aussies”, which is the cafe here at Parliament House, so the dining room should be no different.

Ben Fordham: The food is better at “Aussie’s” isn’t it?

Senator Henderson: Oh no, the dining room, they do a good job. I don’t want to discourage anybody who works hard in the dining room. But yes, cash must be accepted. It is the Australian currency and this is the Australian Parliament.

Ben Fordham: Good on you. Thanks so much for joining us.

Senator Henderson: Great to join you.

Ben Fordham: Sarah Henderson is the Shadow Minister for Education.

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