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Breakfast with Stephen Cenatiempo, 2CC, 26 April 2024

TopicsTeachers for Palestine, HECS, university entry rules, indigenous exemptions, indigenous education funding.

Stephen Cenatiempo: Now you’ve probably sick of me banging on about these teachers and the school staff for Palestine and their 40-page booklet where they want to rewrite history. And to talk to us about it, Sarah Henderson is the Shadow Education Minister – Sarah good morning.

Senator Henderson: Stephen, a very good morning to you.

Stephen Cenatiempo: Both, the Education Minister Jason Clare have criticised the actions of this group. I wonder if that criticism is enough, though? Firstly, what sanctions are there for a bunch of teachers going rogue and deciding that they’re going to write their own curriculum when it comes to WWI history?

Senator Henderson: Well, Stephen, firstly, can I say I’m absolutely appalled, as is the entire Coalition about the way that our ANZAC legacy has been denigrated by this teachers’ group. And while Jason Clare has made a couple of brief comments, apart from that, he has done absolutely nothing with the rabid activism from many teachers involved in these pro-Palestinian groups, which are only interested in indoctrinating children. It’s disgusting. And while Minister Clare is swanning around in Singapore, he needs to get home and take control. We’ve seen what’s happening in our universities, particularly Melbourne and Sydney where the protests the anti-Semitism is out-of-control. And now of course, these groups are targeting schools with, frankly, anti-Semitic material, and it must stop and this government and this Prime Minister must start to do something about it, Stephen.

Stephen Cenatiempo: But what do they do about it? Because I mean, you know, the schools are controlled by state governments. Can the federal government or the federal minister actually place any sanctions on these people. Because, look, let’s face it, whoever these idiots are, that have put this 40-page booklet out they have no business in front of our kids in the classroom – can they be removed?

Senator Henderson: Absolutely. And this of course, is governed by the National Curriculum. The minister does have the power to step in and say these materials must not be in the classroom. But there are teacher codes of conduct both federally and at every state and territory level. And when you are seeking to indoctrinate students with, you know, activism, with all this rubbish, this anti- Semitism, that is a breach of their employment conditions. And we saw one teacher in Victoria basically endorse Hamas, which is an absolute disgrace. It took many weeks for the Victorian government to take action and suspend this teacher. We still don’t know whether this teacher has his job. But throughout all of that, the education minister said nothing. Now we are seeing a complete failure of leadership. From Jason Clare and, frankly, from the Prime Minister on these issues, and it is not good enough. Australian parents deserve better. This is severely impacting our reputation as a provider of education. And if you look what’s going on in the United States at Columbia, and NYU, that’s where we are heading if this weak and pathetic and incompetent government does not step up and enforce the laws, tell these universities to kick these people out. It’s just absolutely appalling what’s happening

Stephen Cenatiempo: Well, their position on the whole Israel conflict (has been) schizophrenic at best and mealy-mouthed at worse, you know, or maybe even worse than that. Now, I want to touch on HECS debts – I don’t I don’t share this view that, you know, we shouldn’t have to pay for our own education and I think HECS has made it a lot easier for people to get an education but the indexation on HECS debts is extraordinary. Somebody with a debt of around $27,000 is going to owe an extra $1,200 with the indexation. Now I know we’re still waiting for the Australian tax office to complete their calculations on this but if these things are just going to keep growing forever and ever, nobody’s ever going to be able to pay them off.

Senator Henderson: Well Stephen, that’s absolutely right. And the HECS system is a very good system that allows university students to complete their education without paying any fees upfront, and it worked very well under the Coalition, the average indexation rate over nine years of our government was 1.7 per cent. That was fair and reasonable, but it’s now over three years 15.7 per cent, indexation of under Labor 3.9 per cent, 7.1 per cent and now 4.7 per cent. And that’s a total increase in student debt for the average loan of $4,000, Stephen and again, as HELP debt is set to exceed $82 billion, the education minister Jason Clare and, frankly, the Prime Minister promised a simpler and fairer system and we have seen no action and that is just not good enough.

Stephen Cenatiempo: It’s extraordinary. Now I just want to touch on one last thing before I let you go. Universities, and I’m really quoting from another story in The Australian by Natasha Bita – `… Universities will be forced to raise the bar for enrolment in education degrees and ensure that all graduates know how to teach children to read and write and how to keep classrooms under control…’ I would have thought they were the three most fundamental things for any teacher. Are we not already doing this?

Senator Henderson: Look unfortunately, we’re not and this is a very large part of the Coalition’s work when we were in government. We exposed the fact that many universities are completely failing students who are undertaking their teacher training. Many of these courses are full of social causes, and frankly, not focusing on the fundamentals of education. So, teaching kids literacy and numeracy, and so standards do need to be dramatically improved Stephen, because frankly, we have got one in three children failing NAPLAN, I mean the statistics are terrible. The average year 10 students is a whole year behind in their learning compared to 20 years ago. So, a very big focus of the Coalition’s work has been calling for the mandating of evidence-based teaching, we know what works. We know what’s going to raise standards, and the universities have played a very big part in failing a generation of students. So, we have in fact called through a senate inquiry for the reforms in universities to be fast-tracked because at the moment, they are really letting down student teachers, and many teachers are going into the classroom, and they’re basically not able to teach kids. They don’t know what to do. And classroom disruption is a very big part of that. They must be taught explicitly how to teach students to behave. We’ve also called for a National Behaviour Survey. But the senate inquiry which was a very important body of work, would you believe Jason Clare, no surprise, has made no response to those senate inquiry recommendations. So frankly, while Education Minister Jason Clare is caught up in a school funding war, we’ve got students being banned from some countries, including India from coming here to university. It’s an absolute mess, our standards are going down and we do not have the reforms that we need, that parents deserve so that every single child can reach his or her best potential.

Stephen Cenatiempo: Sarah, the other concern I have is that indigenous trainee teachers are going to be exempted from these new entry rules to try and bolster the number of First Nations teaching. Given that most people would agree that education is a key to raising or getting a lot of indigenous communities out of their state of disadvantage – that sounds counterproductive to me.

Senator Henderson: I would agree and in fact, the government should be putting its focus on indigenous kids in schools and doing a much better job to raise standards and to make sure that children stay in school. So, for instance, Stephen, the government has just completed a funding deal with the Northern Territory saying that it’s going to inject a lot more money into Northern Territory schools, and yet it has not agreed to any reforms to make sure that young indigenous kids get every opportunity in life. And part of the challenge is getting kids to school. And really, that sort of issue has been completely ignored by Jason Clare and the Prime Minister, frankly, so including, basically indigenous schools, and we’ve been crying out, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price and myself have been crying out for funding for boarding facilities to make sure that indigenous kids can go to school, they can be safe, they can get the best possible education and the government is still sitting on its hands on that issue. So, so much is going wrong under Labor. They are so caught up in appeasing the teacher unions. They are so caught up in just throwing more money at schools without having the necessary reforms. And it’s the reforms that’s going to drive improvements including for indigenous kids. Why should young indigenous students be let down in this way? They should have the same chance to reach the best potential as any other Australian child.

Stephen Cenatiempo: Sarah, thanks for your time this morning.

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