Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Joint Doorstop Interview, Mother Teresa Early Learning Centre, Canberra

08 February 2016

Canberra

Prime Minister

Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science

E&OE

ZED SESELJA:

Good morning, welcome here to Harrison to the Mother Teresa Early Learning Centre. It’s great to have the Prime Minister here, it’s great to have Christopher Pyne here and it’s great to have had the opportunity this morning to see young children having the opportunity to learn, the opportunity to learn new things in science and in counting. We know that these are the building blocks for a good education. It is really important the Government invests in these.

We are very proud here in Canberra to have some wonderful schools and Mother Teresa is one of those.

So, it’s great to have the Prime Minister here and with that I will hand over to him.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you very much, Zed. Yes, it is wonderful to be here in Harrison and isn't it inspiring to see all the future mathematicians and scientists there? It is remarkable. This is the work of the Government's Innovation Agenda happening right here in this school.

As you know, we are committing an additional $4 million to The Smith Family's Let's Count program and Lisa O’Brien will talk about that in a moment. And also we’re committing another $4 million towards the Little Scientists program and Sibylle Seidler from the FROEBEL Foundation will be talking about that in a moment too.

Now what we’ve recognised if we are to be a successful nation of innovation, we have to have a stronger commitment to science and technology, it has to start right across the board. This is a change for every age, but above all, it needs to ensure that our youngest Australians, the preschoolers, are becoming more numerate, more scientifically literate, and what better way to do that than here in schools with programs like this, that excite them.

So, this is a very important national priority. Programs like this are the building blocks, as Zed said, for our future prosperity. To create an innovation nation, a culture of science and technology right across the board.

Now, between them over the next three and four years these programs will reach another 350,000 young Australians like the three year olds and the four year olds you’ve seen learning to count and snakes and ladders and dominos, building, learning to count with little towers of wooden blocks, blowing bubbles, learning how water is filtered. All of those things are exciting their imagination and ensuring that they in their turn, will go on to create the prosperity and the success that we need to ensure that we remain a first world, generous social welfare net, high wage economy. In fact, the nation we are today. To enjoy all of those things in the future, programs like this need to be successful.

I’d like to now invite Lisa O’Brien from the Smith’s Family to talk about Let’s Count and then Sibylle Seidler to talk about Little Scientist.

LISA O’BRIEN:

Thank you very much, Prime Minister. And thank you to Minister Pyne for your generous support of this Smith Family program. The Smith Family recognise that there were too many children in disadvantaged communities who were starting school without early numeracy. And so we’ve developed this program Let’s Count, which works with [inaudible] educators, with parents so that they have the skills to teach early numeracy at home, so measurement, counting and doing that through games and just bringing maths into the every day.

This is a highly targeted program supporting disadvantage children and it’s a highly effective program. We’ve evaluated it over three years and we really know that we are making a difference to these kids that we are supporting. So, with this kind of support we know that we’re setting up these young people from all communities to be very engaged in the future of the country so really apart of both an innovative and a thriving nation.

So, thank you very much, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you, Lisa.

LISA O’BRIEN:

And I thought you might like a pack for your grandson, so you can bring a little bit of maths into his every day.

PRIME MINISTER:

We’ll do that! Jack will definitely be counting with the help of this.

Thank you.

Now, Sibylle?

SIBYLLE SEIDLER:

Thank you every one for coming. I’m Sibylle Seidler from the Little Scientist Foundation. We are all about STEM education in the early years, and it’s really our pleasure to receive this funding, it will open up a lot of opportunities for us, it will open up opportunities to upskill educators because that’s where we come from. For us, it’s all about upskilling educators and making them very confident to go into the preschool so we focus on three to six year olds, go into their classrooms and to their preschools, and really work with the children and keep on nurturing their natural curiosity.

That’s what it’s all about and that’s really what counts. That’s what we have to harness and that’s what we have to keep on taking through into primary and secondary, because that’s something that will – you know, that natural curiosity, that fun in experimenting, exploring like looking at the natural world and asking why. So Little Scientist is all about also inquiry based learning so let the kids ask the questions and the educators are there to kind of guide them through and take their questions and say why do you think that is. So, that’s really something that we want to foster. We thank the Government for their generous support and just look forward to the next three years because it will make such a huge difference in the next generation of Australians.

Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Now, Sibylle, at the risk of doing the job of all of these great journalists here, just tell us a little bit about the FROEBEL Foundation and how the Little Scientists program is such a big part of preschool education in Germany. Now, Germany is a good example of a first world, highly developed nation, of course which has a very strong commitment to technology and science and innovation, and has really been able to remain at the frontier of innovation. And part of that is this culture of commitment to science. Just talk a little bit about what your program has done in Germany, and how you have brought it here.

SIBYLLE SEIDLER:

Yes so Little Scientists Foundation originates in Germany, it is coming into its 10th year this year and they realised, you know, they had to do something about science education to not fall back and to nurture innovation. So they came about this program. And we have been lucky enough to have FROEBEL, one of the largest early childhood providers in Germany -  to know that this concept really works, and it has been 10 years in Germany. It really works, and they were generous enough to seed fund us into Australia. It is quite altruistic, it is like they said more children should benefit from the program and so they have brought it out to Australia. So, very, very thankful for FROEBEL to bring it out.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good, well, thank you very much. Thank you, Christopher, do you want to add anything as the Minister.

MINISTER PYNE:

Thank you, Malcolm, I might just add that the announcements today, the $8 million for promoting science and maths in preschools is part of the overall approach of the government as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda. So, this $8 million as part of the $112 million that we are committing in the NISA to encouraging and growing capacity in science, technology, engineering and maths. Starting in preschool, but going right through into university. So, another part of that is encouraging women into science at university to then pursue careers in science and engineering. So, it is a holistic approach and this is just another one of the steps along the way, as part of the Turnbull Government's commitment to massively expanding innovation as part of our economy, and so, it is great to be here to be able to showcase that as part of the ongoing announcements that will come over the months ahead.

PRIME MINISTER:

Very good. Thank you Minister. So, any questions for any of us?

QUESTION:

So, Prime Minister, I guess there has never been a more exciting to be a three or four-year-old?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, certainly, at this school, I think it is. The little, well, you saw them all, you saw their enthusiasm. I thought it was quite instructive, actually that despite the fact that you had all of these grown-ups they hadn't met before and television cameras and all of you, the kids were just completely focused on what they were doing. Most of them just get on blowing the bubbles or concentrating on their building rocket ships, or all the various things learning to do. So, if it is, it is great. I think this is a very, very important - it has been said many times before but these children are our future.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, Scott Morrison says the GST is off the table, you seem to be crab walking away from the idea, is it on or off the table?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, there are many tax reform proposals floating around, and I will just make this point: many people talk about the GST, and many people have talked about increasing the GST. You will find that in the tax debate world of tax debate, writ large, there aren't a lot of new ideas. Most of these ideas have been around for a long time, some well over a decade. So, some people say increase the GST and use the proceeds to reduce company tax, some people say increase the GST and use the proceeds to supplement state budgets to pay for health and education, so they can put more money into health and education. Some people say, and, and this is what I was talking about on Insiders, which is the so-called 'tax mix switch' proposal, to increase the GST and then use it to cut personal income tax.

Now, you have got to remember that what all this is doing is just simply moving the tax burden from one part of the system to another. It is not actually reducing tax overall. And so, you need to look very carefully at whether the outcome of changes of that kind is actually going to drive stronger economic growth.

And, that's the point I have made. That the measure, the test of all of these proposals, whether they relate to the GST or not, has got to be one, is it actually going to create stronger economic activity, more jobs, more growth, that's one. Secondly, is it fair, because, that is in our DNA, we are not going to propose changes that people would regard, or we would regard as being unfair. And then, finally, it has got to be one that doesn't increase the tax take overall. I mean, often the term ‘tax grab’ is used, but, there are people in politics who have made a case, and I respect the case they are making. They make the case, generally from the left, from the Labor Party, that we should be taxing Australians more, because they believe government should spend more.

Now, we, with respect to them, do not agree. We think governments are spending enough, we think in fact governments, the federal government anyway, is spending too much. We are trying to rein it in, and we think the money we are spending, we should spend more effectively. So, we are constantly working to ensure that we get a bigger policy bang, a bigger outcome for the taxpayers buck. So, that is the context in which the discussion is taking place.

But, you will see, you will hear in the media, I was listening to the radio this morning, you know, so-and-so is in favour of raising the GST, and, all these different people who are referred to as raising the GST, they all want to use it for something different. They are, in fact, not in agreement at all.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, then, can you tell us what you want to do with tax reform, leaving the GST to one side, are you going to deliver significant tax reform, and how would you do that if it doesn't include changes to the GST?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me go to the second question first. There are many changes that could be made to the tax system that do not involve changing the GST. In fact, the GST, as you know, hasn't been changed since it was introduced, and there have been many changes made to the tax system since then. So, changing the tax system, reforming the tax system does not of itself require a change to the GST. As to what we are doing, we are not interested in a change for changes sake exercise. This should not be a political calculus.

The first thing we have got to satisfy ourselves with, as I said on Insiders, is that proposed changes will deliver the policy outcome you want - stronger economic growth, while at the same time being fair and not increasing the overall tax take. If they pass that test, if they pass that test, then, as practical politicians we have got to ask ourselves will the public support it? Can we build enough support to get there?

But, at this stage we have not made a decision about particular tax changes. Now, what you’ve seen, and I make no criticism, it is just an observation. You have seen many people in the Opposition, for their own purposes, some people in the media, wanting to front run the process and saying the Government is clearly going to do this or the Government is clearly going to do that.

Some people are hedging their bets. They have gone through all the list of tax reform changes that have ever been made, and are predicting that we will make them. And of course, I suppose on that basis they may well be right, if you propose enough alternatives…

The point is though, this has got to be a deliberate process, it is being informed by a good constructive debate. And I think Australians understand the basis on which we are approaching it.

And, I want to stress, this is not something for scare campaigns or political rhetoric, we, the Government are looking at this very coolly, very rationally. We want to drive more jobs and more growth that is why Zed and Christopher and I are here today. Better jobs, better growth for these kids and indeed for everybody else.

QUESTION:

One of the predictions, one of those predictions, Prime Minister is that there will be changes to superannuation and the way that that is taxed. Do you feel bound by Tony Abbott's promises at the last election on several occasions that there would be no unexpected adverse changes to superannuation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we take all of those commitments very seriously Mark, but, we are now three months away from the budget and I guess for six months at the most from, if not the election, at least the beginning of the election campaign. We are at the end of the Parliament's term and we are coming down to our triennial review by our employers, the Australian people. So, any changes we propose to the tax system, regardless of what area they are in, will, by definition, be taken to the election.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, you said there has never been a more exciting time to be a three or four-year-old in this country. There is about 90 kids who are going to be sent back to Nauru, Mike Pezzullo the immigration official has just said they are going to be staged out, are any of them going to stay? Can you tell the Australian people if any are staying in Victoria or New South Wales, can you say any of those kids will stay here?

PRIME MINISTER:

What I will say is no more than I have said. Is that all of the decisions will be judged carefully on a case-by-case basis. We recognise that managing this issue is very challenging. All of us are moved by the same compassion, by the same concern.

All of us are anxious, are anguished at the plight of children in detention. When we came into government there were 2000 in detention, at its peak under Labor there were many more. There are now less than 100 in Australia. The one thing we know we must do is manage our border protection policies, yes, with compassion, yes, with humanity, yes with a deep concern about children.

But, if we make changes that have the consequence of giving the people smugglers a marketing opportunity - which they will take - they are very dangerous and agile criminals, and they use modern social media with an efficiency that is remarkable.

We have to be very careful, anything we do which gives them a marketing opportunity, they will use,  and they will use it to get more vulnerable people on boats and more children and their parents will die by drowning at sea.

So, we have stopped the boats, and we are managing the caseload that we inherited from the Labor Party, but we have to do so - yes, with compassion, yes, yes with a passionate concern for those children. We are giving their parents every incentive to return to their country of origin, to go to settle in another country, because we know that if we give those people smugglers any marketing opportunity, let me tell you, they will use it. They will use it, and there will be more deaths at sea and more children put at risk. So, this is not an easy issue to manage, but it has to be managed with a very cool head and a very big heart, and that is what we are seeking to manage.

Cool head, big heart, recognising that this is vital for the protection of children, not just the ones you are talking about here, that we discussed, that are in Australia at this moment. But, about the ones that would, if you gave the people smugglers the slightest chance, would be back on leaky boats and would be back drowning at sea.

Thank you very much.

Ends