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Estimates: Curriculum Review

Estimates & Committees
Penny Wright 25 Feb 2014

Senator Wright asks questions during Senate Estimates about Dr. Kevin Donnelly, one of the two reviewers in charge of the current Curriculum Review.

Senator Wright specifically asks about Dr. Donnelly's controversial comments about LGBTI rights, Aboriginal heritage and multiculturalism which are on the public record.


Senator WRIGHT: I have some questions for the minister representing the Minister for Education regarding the curriculum review, but I am also interested if the department can answer these as well.

Senator Payne: Just a moment while I find the right pieces of paper. I was a section ahead of myself.

Senator WRIGHT: Submissions to the Review of the Australian Curriculum led by Dr Donnelly and Professor Wiltshire close at the end of the week. How many submissions have been received so far?

Mr Cook : I have been advised that, as of 25 February, 665 submissions have been received. Most of those are through the website, and they are quite small.

Senator WRIGHT: Will the submissions be published online?

Mr Cook : I am happy to take that on notice.

Senator WRIGHT: I am interested to know whether they will be published. Will they be available for the public to see them? Do you know that yet?

Mr Cook : I think that is a decision of government.

Senator WRIGHT: Has that decision been made? The public are really keen to know.

Ms Paul : Given that submissions have not closed, perhaps the best thing is for us to take that on notice.

Senator WRIGHT: I am just asking, firstly, has a decision has been made? The fact that it has not closed yet does not mean the process decision has not been made.

Ms Paul : Not yet. We will keep you posted.

Senator WRIGHT: That would be very much appreciated. The reported deadline for the draft report is 31 March. Is that still the aim?

Mr Cook : That would be my expectation.

Senator WRIGHT: Has it been changed, as far as you are aware?

Ms Paul : No.

Mr Cook : I am not aware of it being changed.

Senator WRIGHT: I would like to ask about the terms of employment for Dr Donnelly and Professor Wiltshire. What salary applies to each of those gentlemen?

Mr Cook : They are both under the standard remuneration. It is Determination 2013/11: Remuneration and Allowances for Holders of Part-Time Public Office. That is the standard payment that is being made to them.

Senator WRIGHT: How much is that? Can you tell me?

Mr Cook : That is $429 per day.

Senator WRIGHT: $429 per day?

Mr Cook : That is correct.

Senator WRIGHT: What is the term of the contract from each member commencing and finishing work?

Mr Cook : I will take that on notice. I am sorry. I just do not have it with me right now.

Senator WRIGHT: I would appreciate it if you could get that in the course of tonight and let us know. That would be good. I cannot imagine that is too hard to get.

Mr Cook : It would be an instrument of appointment, so we should be able to follow that through.

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you for that. What is the full cost budgeted or anticipated of this review, including staffing costs, travel and administration? Can I have a breakdown of those, please.

Mr Cook : Yes. Funding of $300,000 has been allocated for this particular piece of work. I am happy to take the breakdown on notice.

Senator WRIGHT: What process occurred in relation to selecting the reviewers, Dr Donnelly and Professor Wiltshire?

Mr Cook : It was a standard process that the department would implement, and also following Cabinet Handbook guidelines. As we would normally do, we provide a list of names to the minister for the minister's consideration.

Senator WRIGHT: How many names were provided to the minister?

Mr Cook : I am thinking it was nine, but I will have to take it on notice.

Senator WRIGHT: If you could find that out in the course of the evening, that would be helpful.

Mr Cook : Yes.

Senator WRIGHT: What period of time did the minister have the names for before making the decision?

Mr Cook : I would certainly have to take that one on notice.

Senator WRIGHT: How likely is it that a review that was designed over six years with 17,000 submissions, and taking into account a range of expert views, could be reviewed within 21 business days of receiving submissions?

Mr Cook : The final report is due later in the year. I am not quite sure what the 21 days reference is.

Senator WRIGHT: That is the draft report by 31 March.

Mr Cook : It depends on the makeup of the draft report, which is a decision by the reviewers. There are three aspects of the review, of course. One is curriculum, but the other one is about the process of actually developing the curriculums--so how people have been engaged in the particular process in relation to the curriculum as well. And the third is about how the curriculum is monitored and evaluated. I cannot speak for the reviewers-it is an independent review-in terms of the makeup of their draft report, but the reviewers have much longer than 21 days to form a view about the outcome of the advice they give to government.

Senator WRIGHT: Dr Donnelly is clearly on the public record in terms of his own particular views about the curriculum, the education system and society. I am interested to know whether the minister endorses Dr Donnelly's views as expressed in these quotes that are on the public record. One of them is from his book Why Our Schools Are Failing: 'Many parents would consider sexual practices of gays, lesbians and transgender individuals decidedly unnatural and that such groups have a greater risk in terms of transmitting STDs and AIDS.'

Ms Paul : We could not comment on that.

Senator WRIGHT: I probably need to ask the minister representing the minister.

Senator Payne: I am not in a position to comment on the views of the minister.

Ms Paul : The point, of course, is that the reviewers address the terms of reference.

Senator WRIGHT: I will come to what I think the point is, and that is why I am asking the question, but I am interested first in just getting the answers on the record. The next quote from Dr Donnelly in a radio interview with Alan Jones in 2010: 'With the national curriculum what happens is it's very politically correct. It's very Left Wing.' That is his view. He states that 'every subject has to be taught from an Asian indigenous perspective' and that they 'ignore our Western culture, our commitment to liberal democratic institutions and our Christian values'. Does the minister endorse that view?

Senator Payne: It does not matter how many quotes you provide, I am not going to be in a position to respond.

Senator WRIGHT: The third one that I will ask you about, just so that it is on the record, even if you cannot comment: 'Multiculturalism is based on the mistaken belief that all cultures are of equal worth and that it is unfair to discriminate and argue that some practices are wrong.' That was on the ABC in May 2011. Is that the same answer?

Senator Payne: Like most members of a robust democracy, Dr Donnelly exercises his right to say what he thinks and to say it when he thinks it. I doubt you would find members of the government suggesting that he should curtail the exercise of that right, whether or not they agree with him.

Senator WRIGHT: I absolutely agree. He is totally entitled to have his views, as long as they do not hurt anyone else, in my view-my humble opinion. But the question then goes to the fact that he has been appointed in a position to review the supposed bias and supposed inherent values in the curriculum, and yet he clearly brings his own very strong value set. That is why I am asking whether the minister would endorse those views and, if not, the question I would have, which I think is a fair question to put, is: what measures will the government take to ensure that Mr Donnelly's clearly expressed and freely expressed and entitled to be expressed opinions in relation to the Australian curriculum will be mitigated or will be managed? Because he is in a position now to influence what our children are taught in Australia.

Ms Paul : There are several comments on that.

CHAIR: Could you make it brief, if you would, because I now want to move to another outcome.

Senator WRIGHT: That will be my last question.

Ms Paul : Firstly, the terms of reference do not go to perceptions of bias, et cetera. The terms of reference are clear, and that is what the independent reviewers are required to stick to. There are two independent reviewers, Dr Donnelly and Professor Ken Wiltshire. Professor Wilshire chaired the review of the Queensland School Curriculum, for example. He conducted the review of the National Board for Employment, Education and Training and has been involved in a number of education reviews.

The two reviewers are required to go through the terms of reference. They are supported by a secretariat provided by us. They are required to consider the submissions, of which we have had many hundreds so far. Then they have committed to consultation through March. So, there is a consultation period as well. I think there is a range of ways that clearly, as would any independent review, include individuals with views; ultimately it is the terms of reference that must be addressed.





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