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Kenny report, Sky News, 1 February 2024

Chris Kenny: Now, the federal government has run into a roadblock on his latest grand plan for school funding. Federal Education Minister Jason Clare has tried to win over the states with a $3 billion increase in funding but five of the six states have rejected the plan, demanding more money. I discussed this shambles with Shadow Education Minister, Sarah Henderson.

Senator Henderson: Chris, great to join you. And what we’ve seen from Jason Clare is lots of smoke and mirrors. He talked big on the National School Reform Agreement, but so far, we have seen no national agreement and no school reform only one in principle agreement with the West Australian Government. And today five of the states have come out and said no deal. So, this is a shambles on Jason Clare’s watch. Just as it’s been a shambles in relation to teacher shortages. We now have a full- blown teacher shortage crisis on the minister’s watch. And it comes of course, at a time when families can barely raise the money to put school lunches in their kids’ bags. And yet his education department is holding meetings in high-end restaurants, rorting for system, rorting taxpayers, and of course, that just reflects on Jason Clare very poorly showing a complete failure of leadership.

Chris Kenny: I want to come back to some of that wasteful spending in a moment but first up on education reform, on getting better results from our schools. Labor seems to be fixated on more money and grand plans from Canberra – isn’t the answer here to look at autonomy for schools, giving teachers the power in the classroom and schools the power over their own future so that they can actually get back to basics and deliver – sure they’ve got to have the right funding – but deliver exactly what parents and the wider society needs out of our school education system?

Senator Henderson: Well Chris, this is something that we have been prosecuting – the importance of getting back to basics, focusing on literacy and numeracy. One in three children across this country are currently failing NAPLAN. Our standards are declining dramatically, despite the fact we’ve had a 60 per cent increase in schools funding over two decades. So, there are many reforms that this minister and the states and territories could implement right now. Particularly, evidence-based teaching methods. We know that works. We know that is going to turn around our declining school standards. And yet we have seen a complete lack of interest in this issue by the education minister. Why isn’t there a grade one phonics test in every state and territory? Why isn’t there evidence-based teaching which focuses on the teaching of phonics on literacy, on numeracy, on the best ways to make sure the children are engaged in the classroom? And, of course, so that teachers get the best support they can to excel. This does not require a bucketload of money. And now we have seen this absolute shambles with funding, big promises. And as Australians know, Chris, the Australian people cannot trust this government on anything, including on running schools.

Chris Kenny: Look, you’re so spot on when it comes to phonics and early intervention. I’ve seen it with my own very eyes first-hand – young kids pushed along with phonics and it just turns around their literacy overnight and why we aren’t drumming that into our school systems is beyond me. You mentioned earlier, some of the wasteful spending. What gets me is, of course, the federal education department doesn’t run any schools. It just farms money out and tries to coordinate what’s happening between the states, (yet) they’re spending money hand over fist on meetings, on travel, on fancy restaurants and $4,000 or more on Welcome to Country ceremonies.

Senator Henderson: Well, several $100,000 of frankly, very wasteful spending on Jason Clare’s watch, as I said. It shows a complete failure of leadership. And perhaps one of the worst examples is that education department officials and various task force and other groups, are holding meetings in high-end restaurants. Now Chris, I would say to you what’s wrong with holding a meeting in a meeting room with a cup of tea and a biscuit? Instead, Jason Clare is greenlighting meetings, which are of course are not meetings at all. They’re just going into these high-end exclusive fancy restaurants spending thousands and thousands of dollars and it’s an absolute disgrace. And again, it shows that this government could not care less about the cost-of-living crisis that so many Australians are facing. And how dare this minister spend thousands and thousands of dollars in restaurants, holding meetings, when so many families can barely get the money to put school lunches in their kids’ bags. It’s an absolute disgrace.

Chris Kenny: Yeah, it is sickening. It makes a lot of difference, doesn’t it, when people are spending other people’s money instead of their own. It’s just shocking. And it’s great that you’re teasing out all these examples through various parliamentary processes. Before I let you go Sarah, as a senior Liberal in Victoria – what do you believe the chances are of the Coalition winning back the seat of Dunkley in next month’s by-election?

Senator Henderson: Well, Chris, we have a wonderful candidate in Nathan Conroy. He’s a real community champion. He’s working extremely hard. And he said the other day to me and to a gathering of the Liberal faithful, that everywhere he goes, he has been told `Look, I voted Labor all my life, but not this time. I have lost trust in this government’. Of course, we know that the Albanese government has betrayed Australians – it has broken so many promises. It has the wrong priorities, and it has made the wrong decisions. And that is ricocheting throughout the seat of Dunkley. So, I think we’ve got a very good chance we don’t take this for granted. But on the 2nd of March, this is a chance for the people of Dunkley to send the Albanese government and this dishonest Prime Minister a very strong message. Vote Liberal, vote for Nathan Conroy and get rid of his shocking, shocking government.

Chris Kenny: Yeah, it’s going to be fascinating to watch. Thanks for joining us again, Sarah. I look forward to catching up throughout the year.


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