Subjects: Marriage equality; returning foreign fighters; maths and science in schools; State of Origin
BEN FORDHAM: Oh, the Odd Couple, Wednesday afternoon, Christopher Pyne and Anthony Albanese – a shorter version this afternoon because we need to get into State of Origin countdown. It’s State of Origin countdown time and I’m guessing that Christopher Pyne, the South Australian, would just be absolutely firing up at the moment getting ready for NSW and Queensland tonight, State of Origin Number 1. Christopher Pyne, how pumped are you?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Well, apart from being an AFL man, this a competition which kind of leaves me slightly bewildered because there’s only two competitors in it. So it’s kind of the same game over and over and over and over again.
FORDHAM: You do realise that most team sports have two teams playing?
PYNE: Yes, but they have a competition amongst many teams which makes it kind of very interesting to see who is on the top of the table and who’s not. I’ve got nothing against the State of Origin, but I can tell you I’ve got a sock drawer that needs re-arranging this evening, I can tell you that much.
FORDHAM: Anthony Albanese, it sounds to me like we’ve got someone who does not like State of Origin.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, SHAFDOW MINISTER FOR TRANSPORT, INFRASTRUCTURE, CITIES AND TOURISM: He’s just uneducated – the uneducated Education Minister. Who do you think plays in the Ashes Series every time?
PYNE: Yes but that’s different. That’s the national game. It’s the national game.
ALBANESE: Australia and England, that’s two teams.
PYNE: It’s the national game.
ALBANESE: Oh, for goodness sake. It’s a cracking night and NSW and Queensland stop and here in Canberra there’s a cross-party event tonight hosted by the Brewers Association.
ALBANESE: Which sounds pretty good to me.
FORDHAM: Canberra’s an AFL town. Let’s face it. I realised that when I moved there. It’s not far from Sydney but you quickly realise, particularly working in Parliament House where you’ve got orphans who’ve been shipped in from all around the country, AFL’s the main game.
ALBANESE: There’s a few Raiders supporters around here.
FORDHAM: Could you name one State of Origin player in the history of State of Origin, Christopher?
PYNE: Mal Meninga.
FORDHAM: Yes. Well done. Well done. Now listen. The wife and children of …
ALBANESE: Come along tonight Christopher. Educate yourself.
PYNE: I might, especially since you’ve asked me.
ALBANESE: I’m speaking at half time.
PYNE: Oh God! If you are speaking, I’m not coming. God help us. I thought this was going to be fun.
ALBANESE: It will be more like: “Smash ‘em’’.
FORDHAM: Let me ask you gentlemen about a couple of quick ones if I can. The wife and children of notorious Islamic State fighter Khaled Sharrouf apparently want to come home to Australia. There are five children. We’ve see the images of one of these children holding a severed head, another one posing with guns. This guy is clearly a complete animal, Khaled Sharrouf, but what about the wife and children? Should they be able to come home, Anthony Albanese?
ALBANESE: Well, this guy is a complete scumbag. In terms of the kids, what damage has he done to his own children by subjecting them to that? And with regard to his wife, I reckon she’s got a real problem too because she’s not innocent here. I mean she took the kids, it would appear, out of Australia, evaded authorities (I’ve only read the reports) by booking a return ticket and took her kids into this zone. So, …
FORDHAM: All right, so no sympathy for him. No sympathy for the mother. Christopher Pyne, let me ask you about the children. Are the children victims in this or not?
PYNE: Well of course they are victims of this. They are very young and they have a monstrous father, which must be very sad for them and very traumatic. Their mother did take them into an area – Syria and Iraq – where they had been warned by the government not to go. If they wish to return, we will welcome them back and then the full force of the law will be brought to bear on anyone returning from that part of the world. If Mrs Sharouff is arrested and prosecuted and found to be guilty of a crime, the children will go to the normal processes that happen right now in Australia when no parents are available to look after the children in a family. We don’t hold the children guilty of crime because they could hardly have made these decisions for themselves. But if Mrs Sharouff wants to return there’ll be no sweetheart deals to bring her back. If she comes back she will face the full force of the law.
FORDHAM: Let’s move to gay marriage. The Greens indicated they were ready to bring on a debate about gay marriage and then Bill Shorten the Labor Leader thought, I’m going to sneak in before them and he announced that Labor will move a Bill to legalise same-sex marriage on Monday. Christopher Pyne, is the government going to embrace this?
PYNE: No, we won’t embrace it. I think it’s a pity that Bill Shorten is politicising an issue that is very important to a lot of Australians. I think it’s far too important to be a political football. I think the Parliament should own this debate down the track and I think that while Mr Shorten’s Bill can be introduced on Monday, it’ll go through the normal processes of dealing with Private Members’ Bills, and I think it’s a great shame that he has tried to make it a party political issue, because it transcends party politics.
FORDHAM: I don’t know how you make it a political issue just by introducing it to Parliament.
PYNE: Because if it’s going to be debated in the House of Representatives, it shouldn’t be from one political party nominated and seconded by the Leader and Deputy Leader of one political party.
FORDHAM: Will you support it, Anthony Albanese?
ALBANESE: I certainly will. I agree with Christopher on one thing, which is this should be a matter for the Parliament. The way for that to happen it to make it a conscience vote. The Parliament’s been at its best in my view when members during debates, whether I’ve been on the winning side or the losing side have been able to say what they think, make up their own mind, and of course it’s preferable, I don’t care particularly who moves a Bill, if we get this reform done that I think Australians are now ready for.
FORDHAM: Ok, let me move onto compulsory maths and science. Christopher Pyne, you want to make maths and science compulsory subjects for all Year 11 and Year 12 students, you’re apparently going to call for the changes on Friday at an Education Council meeting with state education ministers. I think this is stark raving mad. Why would you want to force year 11 or 12 kids to do maths or science when they’ve already worked out by the age of 17 what they’re interested in and hopefully they’re doing subjects in their final two years of school that are going to lead them on a path to a job?
PYNE: Well it’s maths or science, it’s not maths and science. And maths or science used to be compulsory in the schooling system until recent times. We must deal with the issue in Australia as the Chief Scientist has said today and yesterday of a lack of science technology engineering and a maths focus at school and at university, and in the workforce. We are falling well and truly behind the OECD countries.
FORDHAM: Is the answer to that forcing kids who don’t have an interest in maths or don’t have an interest in science into one of those subjects and they then have to be in that class, annoying and frustrating kids who’ve actually got a reason for being there?
PYNE: At the moment there are so many choices Ben for students that bail out of maths or science far too early at school and we should not allow that to happen. Now I want to work with the state and territory education ministers. Of course there will be exceptions. Of course some people won’t be able to do maths or science. But I want the general rule to be that maths or science be a subject in year 11 or 12. It would take some time to transition to this, because as you point out, for so many years children have not been encouraged into maths or science that they couldn’t possibly suddenly do it next year. And no one is suggesting that. But over the coming years this is the goal that I think most parents and most universities and most employers would support.
FORDHAM: Ok, Albo, tip for tonight, score tip for tonight, New South Wales and Queensland.
ALBANESE: The Blues by eight.
PYNE: What’s on tonight?
ALBANESE: [Laughs] You know this is broadcasting out into New South Wales?
PYNE: I’m sure they’ll appreciate my honesty. They’ll appreciate my honesty, Anthony.
ALBANESE: I’ll give you that.
FORDHAM: Good to talk to you gentlemen. Thank you very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.