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ABC News Breakfast, 31 January 2024

Michael Rowland: As many states go back to school this week, the federal government has conceded Australia’s teacher shortage is a crisis. Education Minister Jason Clare told us on News Breakfast yesterday that teaching is one of the most important professions, but we simply do not have enough of them. That is a very big problem. Sara Henderson is the shadow education minister. She joins us now in the studio. Sara Henderson, thanks for coming in.

Senator Henderson: Good morning to you, Michael.

Micheal Rowland: This is a crisis. The Education Department federally says it’s ten years in the making. There are no silver bullets. There are no easy fixes, are there?

Senator Henderson: Well, nothing could be done quickly. But this is not a 10-year crisis. This has happened on the Albanese government’s watch and unfortunately the minister has done very little apart from some teacher scholarships, which of course discriminate against non-government schools and a glossy ad campaign.

He has not acted with appropriate urgency, such as holding a blowtorch to universities which don’t train teachers properly and leave them unprepared in the classroom.

One teacher said to me, `I didn’t become a teacher to have chairs and tables thrown at me’ – not being able to manage an unruly classroom. And of course, this is exacerbated because we don’t have evidence-based teaching in every classroom across this country. And that’s why we have declining standards, which is also another crisis in education.

Michael Rowland: I’ll circle back to the question, is the education department saying it’s a ten-year crisis in the making? My maths has never been my strong suit, but the coalition government was in power for eight of those 10 years. So, there are fingers of blame to be pointed in all areas here, aren’t there?

Senator Henderson: Look, I’m not surprised. But the bottom line is that on Jason Clare’s watch this is now a full-blown crisis. Almost 2,000 teacher vacancies in New South Wales, some 800 in Victoria.

Michael, some schools here in Melbourne are looking for some 20 teachers. Narre Warren 19 teachers, Shepparton 20. This is a crisis like we have never seen before.

And frankly, as I say, the minister has not done enough to get more teachers into the classroom. And one of the really important things he could do, would be to shortcut post-graduate teaching degrees by reverting, to like the old Dip’ ed’. You cannot ask, particularly with Labor’s cost-of-living crisis – you cannot ask people who want to switch to teaching – whether they’re accountants or engineers – to take two years out of the workforce to do a Masters of Teaching when they can get into the classroom so much more quicker.

So, look really not enough has been done, and it’s very much Jason Clare’s responsibility.

Michael Rowland: Well, within three months of him taking office he oversaw with other education ministers the National Teacher Workforce Action Plan, which involves spending more than $300 million on fixing university courses and making them more attractive for people. So, you can’t really accuse the government of not doing much at all. That was three months after they came into office.

Senator Henderson: Well, in fact, we had already done a report on fixing teacher training (in) universities – rather than adopt a blueprint that we had ready to go…

Michael Rowland: (interjects) And what happened to that report under the coalition? Where did that go?

Senator Henderson: The minister didn’t adopt the blueprint.

Michael Rowland: Why not?

Senator Henderson: Well, exactly why not? We said, why not? Why spend another 12 months doing another review? I mean, the minister should be saying to universities which don’t prepare our young teachers to go into the classroom, because of course that is leading to teachers leaving the profession in droves. We want to support our teachers. We want them to excel in the classroom.

Michael Rowland: What about increasing pay? That’s a surefire way of attracting more people to come into the system. Would you support state and territory governments increasing teacher pay?

Senator Henderson: Well, I certainly have seen what has happened in New South Wales. I mean, this is a matter for the states…

Michael Rowland: (interjects) …where pay has gone up. So do you support that?

Senator Henderson: I support … basically the states and territories doing everything they can to support high teacher pay.

Michael Rowland: You were speaking supportively of the New South Wales government which has increased pay. Do you support raising teacher pay? Because I think we all agree teachers are underpaid.

Senator Henderson: Well, teachers are saying to me that is not the main issue. I spoke to a teacher the other day who said `I’m actually quite well paid, but I want greater support in the classroom’.

I mean, we want our teachers to excel, (but) we have one in three children failing NAPLAN, Michael.That is a shocking statistic. Grade 10 or year 10 students are a year behind than they were 20 years ago. So we have got a dire situation with declining school standards. The minister has talked a big game but has not done enough. And that’s why for many months I’ve been calling for the government to mandate explicit instruction and other evidence-based teaching in the classroom, because that’s what’s going to ensure that every child reaches his or her best potential.

Michael Rowland: While I’ve got you here, why is the coalition taking so long to decide a position on the changes to the stage three tax cuts?

Senator Henderson: Well, I don’t think we’re taking very long and we will consider that and make an announcement.

Micheal Rowland: (interjects) Well, shadow cabinet meet yesterday, and you were involved in that – it’s all out there. We all know what the figures are and what the changes are. Why is the coalition taking so long?

Senator Henderson: Well, we’re not taking so long. But what we are shell-shocked about, like all Australians, is the betrayal of this government. This government has lied to all Australians. It has breached another promise, like the $275 reduction in power prices. Frankly, Australians have every right to not believe a single word this government says, including on the announcement that the Minister has made today promising more money for education. But of course, basically misleading Australians when there’s no deal with the states.

Michael Rowland: Voters will decide on the Prime Minister’s trustworthiness or not at the next election. But it comes down to the more immediate issue, is the coalition prepare to vote against a package which will see the vast majority of Australian taxpayers, all of those under $147,000 a year, getting more tax cuts than they would have got under the coalition’s plan?

Senator Henderson: Michael, I’m just going to pick you up on that. Voters are going to decide in Dunkley and they are telling our wonderful candidate in Dunkley, Nathan Conroy, `I voted Labor all my life and I am not going to trust this Prime Minister’ – hang on a minute – `I’m not going to trust this Prime Minister, and I’m not going to trust this government because of the lies they have told’. So on the 2nd of March, it’s a really good opportunity.

Michael Rowland: Yeah, but is the coalition prepared to vote against higher tax relief for people, which is what it comes down to?

Senator Henderson: If I can just finish this, on the 2nd of March in Dunkley, it’s a really good opportunity to send this government, this lying government, a big message.

Michael Rowland: We will see what those voters in Dunkley decide, Sarah Henderson, thanks for joining us this morning.

Senator Henderson: Thanks, Michael

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