James Morrow: Joining me is Shadow Minister for Education, Sarah Henderson. I spoke, Sarah, with your colleague Jacinta Price just a moment ago about how the government seems to be missing in action when it comes to real issues affecting real people, like cost of living. But your portfolio, education, is another. You’ve been quite vocal about the declining standards in schools. Labor, they seem to be asleep at the wheel when it comes to education, which I would have thought would have been a real bread and butter issue for them?
Senator Henderson: James, good evening, great to join you. And yes, Labor has been asleep at the wheel, and we saw that again today when Labor put up the most nonsensical scheme, the Startup Year loan scheme, which is proposing to charge student entrepreneurs nearly $12,000 for courses they can currently do for free. So that is insane. We’ve seen HECS debts go up by 7.1% on 1 June, and the average increase for HECS debts is now $1,700, that’s hitting more than 3 million Australians. So, as you say, in relation to student standards we’ve not seen the Education Minister, Jason Clare, put any proper focus on declining school standards. It’s now so serious that 20% of Year 7 students are starting with a reading skill of a grade four student, three years behind, James. This is horrendous. And we know explicit education works, we’ve seen some great examples of that. We know the teaching of phonics works. So why isn’t this government saying to the states and territories, to the schools across this nation, get on with it and deliver this type of instruction which will lift standards?
James Morrow: Well, that’s pretty amazing to me, Sarah. You know, we saw Jason Clare during the election campaign out there front and centre, and since the change of government, I don’t think we’ve seen him barely at all. But now I want to shift gears a bit and ask you about Finance Minister, Katy Gallagher, and her continued refusal to answer questions about what she knew, when she knew and what she did with information regarding the Brittany Higgins saga. Now, I know you’ve been on top of this in the Senate Question Time for the past week, but why is Katy Gallagher still refusing to answer these basic questions? And is she going to get away with brazening this out?
Senator Henderson: Well James, we have been very persistent about this issue because we are very concerned that Katy Gallagher has misled the Senate. That’s a very, very serious offense. She’s denied it. But there is no doubt that when she said we knew nothing before The Project aired its story, that was absolutely untrue. And even today in the Senate, I asked the Minister if she had shared any information with anyone else, and she refused to answer that question. And then of course, as we know James, despite the Australian Federal Police warning all politicians that they should report any allegations of a crime to the police, not politicise them, she went on, along with others like Senator Wong, to weaponise these allegations, asking hundreds of questions in the Senate in Question Time and in Estimates. So we are going to continue to demand that the Albanese Government tells the truth, and we have not seen that so far from Minister Gallagher.
James Morrow: And I would love to know what some of the stuff that happened in their tactics committee around all of this got up to. But let’s shift now to the ABC, and this is a particular topic of expertise for you because I believe you used to be at the ABC. Now, what did you make of this thing where the Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland, has taken a swipe at the ABC for their plan, which I think is bonkers, to just simply go after a digital audience? She told Labor colleagues that the ‘B’ in ABC stands for broadcasting. Now she wants an explanation of why they’re cutting all these jobs and making this shift when the Albanese Government was supposedly restoring funding. What do you make of this sort of internecine fighting on the left over the ABC?
Senator Henderson: Well, I’m no longer the Shadow Minister for Communications, but I have been very critical of the ABC. It’s certainly a very different organisation to the one for which I worked some 20 years ago, when I think that standards were higher. James, we’ve seen a huge deterioration in standards. But what happens when the ABC announces these job cuts? They always go for the front-line program makers. They’ve attacked journalists, they’ve attacked those who work for the arts team, but where is the attack on middle management? The ABC is drowning in middle management, managers everywhere. So I am pleased that the Minister has finally stood up and actually criticised the ABC because frankly, she has been completely missing in action ever since the government was elected. But we need to know more about this. And for David Anderson to talk about this ‘digital first strategy’ is ridiculous. You can’t have digital content unless you’ve got content. And for the proposition to fly, that there should be no national political editor, and from now on there will be only a national Sunday news bulletin, is ridiculous. I think again, David Anderson is showing his lack of experience in news and current affairs. When I was making programs in Melbourne at the ABC, he was creating spreadsheets. He’s got no background in news and current affairs, or in creating programs, and this is causing the ABC a lot of harm.
James Morrow: And you know, speaking of the ABC and harm, I think a lot of what they do is self-harm. I mean, I’m just thinking about what happened on QandA last night, which has become an absolute sewer of a show, where comedian Reuben Kay was a panellist and he spoke about his crude Jesus jokes that he made while he was on The Project earlier this year. Have a look.
[Clip from The Project shown: ‘Because I love Jesus. I love any man who can get nailed for three days straight and come back for more.’]
James Morrow: Oh, so edgy, so very, very edgy. And of course, the ABC had him on last night to talk about it again. Does this show that the ABC just has no sort of sense of what’s going on outside of their own tiny little cloister?
Senator Henderson: Well first, I say to The Project that was disgusting. And The Project needs to do so much better than that. There may well be a breach of its code and there could be an investigation by the Australian Media and Communications Authority as a result of that disgusting content. But why would the ABC do this? I mean, it just does not make any sense to me. Are they only interested in being provocative, on celebrating these so-called ideological agendas? Frankly, I would like to see drag queens out of our libraries where, of course, they seem to be in every second library around the country reading to schoolchildren or to kindergarten children. But I just say, the ABC is really losing its way when it makes those sorts of decisions.
James Morrow: I think an awful lot of people would agree and think there might be something better that could be done with that $1 billion plus, in tax money every year. Senator Sarah Henderson, Shadow Education Minister, thank you so much for your time tonight.