‘Ham-fisted culture wars’: states take Alan Tudge to task over history curriculum concerns

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<span>Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP</span>
Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

The federal education minister’s claims that proposed changes to Australia’s national curriculum would present Anzac Day as a “contested idea” have been labelled as “ham-fisted culture wars rubbish”.

In a speech to the Centre for Independent Studies on Friday, Alan Tudge aired concerns that the draft changes could lead to students being taught a “negative view of our history” and affect their willingness to defend Australia.

Tudge had previously warned the history curriculum changes could lead to students developing “a hatred” of Australia and hearing “fringe” ideas about Anzac Day, and he repeated his concerns on Friday.

“Anzac Day should not be a contested idea. It is the most sacred day in the Australian calendar,” he said.

Related: Alan Tudge says he doesn’t want students to be taught ‘hatred’ of Australia in fiery Triple J interview

Tudge’s comments prompted state education ministers to take their federal counterpart to task.

“When it comes to the curriculum, Australian students deserve better than ham-fisted culture wars rubbish from conservative politicians,” Victoria’s education minister, James Merlino, told Guardian Australia.

“The history of our nation is both inspiring and incredibly challenging, and it’s important that young Australians learn about it from a variety of perspectives to ensure we’re producing empathic, thoughtful and proud Australians of the future.”

James Merlino
Victoria’s education minister James Merlino says it’s important that students learn about Australian history from ‘a variety of perspectives’. Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

The draft curriculum is being considered by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority.

Queensland’s education minister Grace Grace said it was not helpful for Tudge to make such comments while the Acara review was still in process.

“I respect the independence of Acara undertaking the review and I don’t think it helps to provide a personal running commentary on the teaching of Australian history and any other subject matters.”

Grace said the final draft was yet to be put to education ministers, and that she looked forward to discussing the new curriculum at a meeting of the federal and state education ministers in November.

The federal opposition’s industrial relations spokesperson, Tony Burke, told reporters in Canberra that Tudge’s comments about the curriculum teaching a “negative view” of history were “a bit weird”.

Burke said history is “not complicated – it should be the study of what happened”. “Some of that will be good, some of that won’t be, some of that will be additional facts.”

Tudge, when asked on Friday whether he had inaccurately represented what the curriculum said about Anzac Day during his months-long campaign against elements of the document, said: “No, I don’t believe so.”

He said that issue had not come up in the recent briefings with his department and Acara.

Acara’s draft curriculum didn’t use such language about “Anzac Day” per se, and had a broader reference to the first world war.

In the proposed new curriculum, a portion of year 9 history includes “the commemoration of the first world war, including different historical interpretations and contested debates about the nature and significance of the Anzac legend and the war”.

The content may include “debating the difference between commemoration and celebration of war”.

The national curriculum will ultimately need to be agreed by state and territory education ministers.

– additional reporting by Paul Karp

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