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Estimates Reply – Minister Courtney

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Tags: Education, Pokies, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - I want to make contributions about a number of the portfolio areas of Ms Courtney, particularly for Hospitality and Events. Ms O'Connor might also make a few comments about this.

The question for Tasmanians before the state election, which was widely publicised and it was a huge concern for many people who had experienced the time before the 2018 election and who understood the importance of removing pokies from pubs and clubs around Tasmania because of the incredible harm they do to people because of the enormous social disadvantage of areas which have one of the highest rates of electronic gambling machines in the country, perhaps even in most countries, in some of the poorest suburbs of Tasmania.

People were looking very closely at this election and the Greens and others who were standing up for people who have been harmed by poker machines, were pushing the Government to release the report on the pokies tax rate and the special deals that were being done in secret. It was a matter of great public discussion, what was known, and that document obviously was sitting with the Government and the Premier was refusing to release it.

On behalf of people who are concerned about this matter, I asked Ms Courtney when she knew what the pokies tax rate was and whether she knew before the state election. She spent a number of questions pretending it was not, first of all, her portfolio responsibility and pretending that she had no notion about when she would have heard something. It is utterly implausible that Ms Courtney, as minister for Hospitality and Events, did not know if she found out what the pokies tax rate was going to be before the election was called.

Ms O'Connor - It beggars belief.

Dr WOODRUFF - I just did not believe her essentially, Chair. On behalf of Tasmanians who care about this issue, care deeply about it, I did not believe it. It did not stack up. If a person has integrity and honesty, I think they would be upfront with Tasmanians. She should have been able to say if she knew or if she did not know. I do not believe that she cannot remember whether she found that out or not. I just flat out do not believe it and I think her answers stand for themselves and if anyone wants to look at this issue I would encourage them to go to the Hansard and look at the attempts at deflecting responsibility that Ms Courtney made.

I talked to Ms Courtney, as Education minister, about the concerning low investment in literacy in Tasmania, given the fact that the literacy target of the Government when they came to office in 2014, was that we would have a target above the national standard in six years' time. That ought to have been last year. In 2014, the Government put $8.4 million into achieving that literacy target. We have not achieved the target.

We are still below the national standard and Ms Courtney in the Budget this year, as minister for Education, has given herself a target of eight to nine years and allocated $5.3 million to try again to get us to reach the national standard. That is a relatively small investment compared to what was done six years ago and here we are in 2021, we are still below the national standard. We have got to put more in.

Yes, the Government is putting that money in but it is a huge under investment in an area which needs so much more. I recognise the work that is going with different teachers across the system and I commend the work of all teachers around the state and to the people who are working hard in the Education department. I have no doubt about their serious intent to try to lift the literacy rate but unless the Government seriously invests the money into this area, they can only do so much. It is distressing to think that good hearted people are working hard but they are not being given the tools they need and that is more resources, more staff to do the training and more time for teachers to do professional development involving the sorts of good initiatives Mr Bullard, the secretary, was talking about in phonics teaching in the early years.

Good things are happening but not enough money is being put into them to match the need and we certainly need a highly-literate population. More than ever, we need people who can understand the enormous changes that are happening in the world and evidence around the world is that educated populations do better on every single measure. They do better in family relationships and social engagement, they do better in mental health, they do better in physical health. People do better with more education, and being able to educate yourself is to be literate. That is one of the basic things that is required.

I also spoke to Ms Courtney about the curriculum that is being provided for students to learn about the changing climate and to help them respond with the rising levels of eco anxiety. We saw the article in the newspaper in the Mercury a couple of days ago. Some young people are doing research into eco anxiety. It is shameful for government ministers, led by the Premier, but every minister who has an opportunity will attack the Greens for trying to reflect the scientific evidence and provide the facts about the changing climate. It is not our fault the climate is changing. We are talking about it. It is everybody's responsibility to lead on this. We will not, and we cannot resile from the facts and the science and that means that children need to be able to understand how to respond, how to talk and how to support each other in a changing world.

Ms Courtney rattled through the sort of Australian curriculum in this area. It is very science based. There is also Humanities and Social Services. Often, almost invariably, this is aimed at older students but what we know is that students - Ms O'Connor, Leader of the Greens, got an incredibly moving email from a 10-year-old girl who was writing to her, really distressed about the fact that adults are not taking leadership. It is the responsibility of adults to talk about these things and to act. We need to listen to young people, and I mean primary school children and give them opportunities in a school environment to safely talk about their feelings and to explore how they can take positive action and to help them find ways of connecting with other people, having conversations about this so it is not such an overwhelming topic. They hear about it on their phones and they talk to each other but we do not want the education of young people to be via social media.

I think, Ms Courtney, as minister for Education, has a really important opportunity to do more than the stuff that is 'press and send' from the federal national curriculum. It is not enough. There is too much of a lag and it has a conservative overtone to it, in that it underestimates the gravity of the situation and the seriousness of helping children to understand the changes that are happening.