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Podcast 21 – Federal Government in Australia

Learn English while learning about daily life in Australia, with Rob McCormack

Podcast Number 21 – Federal Government in Australia


Who makes the decisions in Australia?  I am talking about the big decisions about our economy, our taxes, our defence forces, our schools, our hospitals, our roads, our laws, our immigration – just to name a few.  It’s the government of course, the politicians in the government.  Sometimes I don’t agree with their decisions.  In Australia you get the opportunity to vote for a new Australian Federal government about every 3 years.  If you don’t agree with government decisions, or you don’t like what they are planning to do, or are not happy about how they are running the country, you can vote for someone else at the next election.  That’s what democracy is all about – it’s the people who choose who will run the country.

In this podcast, I would like to tell you something about politics and how our democracy works in Australia.  I must say I’m a great fan of our democracy.  It’s not perfect, and I don’t always like who wins the election, but I believe it is a fair system and a good one.

Australia is a federation of 6 States and 2 Territories.  Before 1901, there were 6 independent states and each was a separate colony of Britain, with its own government.  There was no Australian government.  In 1899 and 1900, the people in each state voted in a referendum.  A referendum is where all the voters answer a question, either Yes or No.  The question was whether or not the States should join to become one nation. There was a majority Yes vote in each state.  A majority means more than half.   In 1901, Australia’s Federal government was created.  That’s when Australia became a nation.  Each state and territory today still has its own government which manages certain aspects of Australian life, while Australia’s Federal government looks after the big things at the national level.

Australia, like other countries, has a constitution. This is a document which describes all the rules for how Australia will operate as a nation, how the government must work including how laws will be made and what role the Australian Federal government and the State and Territory governments will have.  I’ve only read small pieces of the constitution, but I think it must be a good document, because Australia has been a stable country, with a good democracy, ever since 1901.

Australia’s democracy is called a parliamentary democracy.  It’s very similar to the democracy in Britain.  Australia’s parliament building is in Canberra, our capital city.  Our parliament is made up of two houses.  We have the Lower House, called the House of Representatives, and the Upper House, called the Senate. The parliament building has two large rooms or chambers, where members of each house meet to carry out their roles.  Their job is to follow the rules set out in the constitution in order to govern Australia.

In Australia’s Lower House of parliament, the House of Representatives, there are 150 places or seats.  Each seat represents about 90,000 people covering a small part or region of Australia.  All the seats have been given names.  For example, I live in the federal seat of Menzies, which covers my area of Melbourne.  This seat is named after one of Australia’s most famous politicians from the 1950s and 1960s, Sir Robert Menzies.  The 90,000 people who live in the seat of Menzies elect one person who goes to the parliament in Canberra to represent us.

In Australia’s Upper House of parliament, the Senate, there are 76 places.  People elected to the Senate are called Senators. Unlike the Lower House, each Senator represents a whole State or Territory.  Each of the 6 States has 12 senators and there are 2 senators for each of the 2 territories.

People who are elected to the parliament nearly always belong to a political party.  A political party is a group of people who believe in certain types of policies.  A policy is a way of doing things in government.  For example, if you earn a high income, should you pay a much higher rate of tax?  This is a policy question.  In Australia, we have 2 major political parties – The Australian Labor Party and the Liberal Party of Australia.  They have different policies in many areas.  The Australian Labor Party is more to the left, and the Liberal Party is more to the right.  There are other smaller political parties too, including the National Party and The Greens.  Sometimes two political parties work together because they agree on many policies.  For example, at the moment the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party are working together against the Australian Labor Party.  Working together like that is called a Coalition.

So who is the head of the Australian Federal Government?  Well that’s an interesting question.  You see, Australia has a Queen.  She’s Queen Elizabeth, who is British and lives in Britain.  She is actually the head of Australia’s government.  She is also the head of the government for some other countries, including Canada and New Zealand.  Because she lives so far away from Australia, she has a representative who lives in Australia.  That person is called the Governor General and they are the head of Australia’s Federal government.  But in reality, neither the Queen nor the Governor General actually makes any decisions.  They always act on the advice of the elected government and their role is quite limited.  In reality, the elected politicians make all the decisions and they are the ones who really govern the nation.

There are many people in Australia who believe that we should not have the Queen as our head of government, and that we should become a republic. For example, India and the USA are republics. There are different opinions about this in Australia.  In 1999 there was a referendum, asking if Australia should become a Republic.  The majority of people voted no, so our head of government stays as the Queen.  But perhaps one day this question will be asked again in another referendum.  Personally, I would prefer a Republic.  But our government continues to work well with the Queen as our head.

The real head of Australia’s Federal government, the one who makes decisions for us, is the Prime Minister.  He or she is the leader of the political party which has won a majority of seats in the Lower House, the House of Representatives.  Since the House of Representatives has 150 seats, the political party which wins more than 75 seats in the election becomes the government.   The leader of that party becomes the Prime Minister and he or she appoints a team of ministers from among the other elected members and senators in his or her political party.  Together, they control the government and make all the decisions for Australia.  The largest political party with less than 75 seats is called the Opposition, because their job is to ’oppose’ the government and make sure the government does a good job.  It’s no surprise that their leader is called The Leader of the Opposition.  The Opposition could become the government after the next election, depending upon how the people of Australia vote.  Debate in our parliament can be very vigorous at times.  The Opposition are almost always very critical of what the government is doing and they ask tough questions in parliament, make statements and deliver speeches about what the government is doing wrong and how they would do it differently if they were the government.  This keeps the government ‘on their toes’, which I think is good for our democracy.

The two houses of parliament play slightly different roles.  Because the government is determined by whichever party has the majority in the House of Representatives, the Lower House, it is also called the House of Government.  This is where the Prime Minister sits and is where most new laws are proposed, although new laws can also be proposed in the Senate.  The Senate, by contrast, is also called the House of Review, since it must review and pass all the new laws which are passed by the House of Representatives.  All laws must be voted on and passed by both houses of parliament.

In Australia, it is law that all Australians 18 years or older must vote.  This helps to ensure that we get the government that the people want.  And that is also what democracy is all about.

If you have a question or a comment to make, please leave it in the comments box at the bottom of this page. You can leave your comment in English or in any language and I will translate it. Or, you can send me an email at  I would love to hear from you.  Tell me where you live, a little bit about yourself and what you think of my Slow English podcast.  Perhaps you could suggest a topic for a future podcast. Goodbye until next time.



appoints = to choose

belong = when you are part of a group.  For example, a family, a football team, a political party

Britain = another name for the United Kingdom.  Includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Also called Great Britain.

British = someone who comes from Britain

chambers = large rooms

continues = when something doesn’t stop

debate = when people talk about things.  Usually they don’t agree.

defence forces = the navy, army and airforce, who protect the country in time of war.

democracy = a form of government where the people decide who will govern the country

determined = when something is decided

different = when two things are not the same

document = where things are written down.  For example, a book, a newspaper, a constitution

economy = describes all the goods and services in a country, including the money paid for them

elected = when someone is chosen in an election.  Other people have voted for them.

election = when everyone votes.  They choose what they want

famous = when someone is well known

govern = when you control something according to rules

immigration = when someone goes to another country to live and does not return.

including = when something is a part of something else

income = the money you receive for doing your job or for running your business

nation = a single country.  For example, Australia, China, USA, India

national level = when things are a high level, the level of a country or a nation

‘on their toes’ = when someone has to be careful that they do the right thing

operate = to make something work

opinions = when someone believes something which they may not be able to prove

opportunity = when you have the chance to do something not normally possible

oppose = to be against something

opposition = when you are against something

personally = for one person

pieces = parts of something

politicians = people who are elected by the people to make decisions in the government

proposed = when something is put forward for others to consider.  For example, an idea

representatives = people who speak for you, on your behalf

represents = to speak for someone else

republic = a type of government which has no King or Queen.

review = to look at something again and check that it is correct

similar = when two things are the same or nearly the same

speeches = when someone speaks before a group of other people and they listen

stable = when something has not changed much, does not vary much

states = a region which has a name and its own government

surprise = when you are not expecting something

taxes = the money that is paid to the government by the people, so the government can do its job

territories = a region which has a name and under the control of a higher government.  It may also have its own government

tough = difficult

vigorous = when something is strong and active


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Podcast 19 – Working Life in Australia

Learn English while learning about daily life in Australia, with Rob McCormack

Podcast Number 19 – Working Life in Australia



We spend a lot of time at work during our life.  I spent 38 years in full time work before I retired.  During my working life, I had periods where I was very happy in my work, but I also had periods where I didn’t enjoy my work much at all.  But overall, I can say that I was well paid and had good working conditions. In this podcast, I will tell you a little about the conditions that Australians have when they go to work.  I think many Australians don’t appreciate just how good our working conditions are.  When you write it all down, as I have here, it makes you realize how fortunate we are.

Our current working conditions in Australia are described in a law passed by the Australian Federal Parliament in Canberra (our capital city).  The law is called The Fair Work Act 2009.  This is a law which describes the minimum conditions which must be provided by Australian employers for all their workers.  Many employers provide better conditions than these, however every company must provide these conditions as a minimum.  For example, my last company before I retired, Australia Post, provides much better conditions than these minimums in some aspects.  That’s one of the main reasons it was (and still is) a great company to work for.

DSC_0510_Small (2)

The Fair Work Act lists a number of standards which must be met by Australian companies.  These are called the National Employment Standards (or NES).  More details can be found at  I will provide a brief summary only in this podcast.

The first standard is about hours of work.  It states that the maximum hours is 38 hours per week, although the employer can ask you to work additional hours if it is reasonable.  I know when I was working, there were some weeks when I worked more than 38 hours.  It was usually because there was a project which had to be finished by a certain date.  Working the additional hours was always discussed first with the worker.  For example, people with children may not be able to work additional hours, and this must be taken into account by employers.

The second standard is about asking for flexible working arrangements.  This standard means that a worker can ask for a change in their working arrangements, such as a reduction in their working hours, or perhaps changing their start and finish times.  This standard is for parents of young children not yet going to school, or for those parents who have a disabled child under 18 years.  The worker can only make the request after they have been working for 12 months at that company.  The employer can say no, but there must be good business reasons.  For example, a parent of a 3 year old child might ask if he can start work later, at say 10.00am, so that he can leave his child at a local child care centre by 9.30am.    The thing I like about this standard is that the request is made in writing by the worker and the employer must reply in writing within 21 days.  Sometimes a compromise can be agreed.  Maybe the worker can work from home for the first hour, making work phone calls and using the computer, drop his child off at the child care centre and then come to work by 10.00am.  That might be suitable for both the worker and the employer.

The third standard is about parental leave.  This standard means that every parent is able to take up to 12 months leave for the birth or adoption of a child.  The leave is unpaid (that means, without pay) but the person’s job will still be there for them when they return to work.  For pregnant mothers to be, they can start their leave 6 weeks before the birth of their child.  A parent taking this leave can also take a second 12 months of parental leave if they want to. I think this standard is an excellent one, as it means that mothers (and fathers) can look after their child at the time when the child needs them most, when they are very young.

The fourth standard is about annual leave.  We all love and need our yearly holidays.  In Australia, every worker is given four weeks of paid annual leave, as long as they have worked for at least 12 months with that company.  Four weeks is just right in order to have a trip or go on a cruise.

Spirit of Tasmania

I always felt well rested after four weeks away from work.

The fifth standard is about sick leave or carer’s leave.  Sometimes we are just too sick to go to work, or perhaps you need to care for your child who is sick. This standard gives up to 10 days paid leave each year.  Usually, a medical certificate from a doctor is required.   One great thing about this leave is that it accumulates from year to year if you don’t use it.  That means after 2 years, you will have 20 days sick leave if you need it, and so on.  I remember one of my co-workers at Australia Post who got seriously ill and, because his sick leave had accumulated over many years of working, he could take many months off work on full pay in order to get well again.  That’s a great thing to have.

Another standard is about long service leave.  This is something I used when I was working.  The amount of long service leave varies from one Australian State to the next, and from one employer to the next, but in Victoria it is around 8 weeks fully paid leave after 10 years of working for the same employer.  What a fantastic benefit.  In my case, I worked for 10 years for Australia Post and then I was able to take 3 months long service leave.  I really enjoyed this time and I used it well.  For example, I got my guitar out of its case, practiced a lot and learned how to record my own songs.   I love playing guitar now and you can hear my playing at the start and end of this audio podcast.

The last standard I would like to talk about is what happens when you lose your job, in particular when it is not your fault.  Firstly, you will receive at least 4 weeks’ notice, or payment in lieu.  This means that the employer must tell you four weeks before you are due to finish.  If they can’t give you 4 weeks’ notice, then they must give you 4 weeks’ pay instead of, or in lieu of, the notice.   As well as that, they must also give you what’s called redundancy pay.  The amount of the redundancy pay will depend on how long you have worked for the company.  If you have worked for 1 year, you will get at least 4 weeks redundancy pay.  If you have worked for 10 years, you will get at least 12 weeks redundancy pay.  Many companies, especially large ones, have much better redundancy pay than this minimum amount.  This helps you to pay your bills while you look for another job.  It’s a great benefit.  Overall, I think Australians are fortunate to have such good minimum working conditions while they earn a living to support their families.  Personally, I’m glad that I am retired.  That’s the best job of all.

If you have a question or a comment to make, please leave it in the comments box at the bottom of this page. You can leave your comment in English or in any language and I will translate it. Or, you can send me an email at  I would love to hear from you.  Tell me where you live, a little bit about yourself and what you think of my Slow English podcast.  Perhaps you could suggest a topic for a future podcast. Goodbye until next time.



accumulates = when something gets bigger every year.

additional = when there is something more, another one.

adoption = when it is agreed that a child can become a member of another family

annual = every year.

appreciate = when you understand that something is good.

arrangements = the things that are agreed to by everyone.

aspect = one part of something.

Australian Federal Parliament = where the government of Australia meets to make laws, in Canberra.

benefit = when something is good for you.

bills = the amounts you must pay in order to live your life.  For example, your rent, your food.

carer  = the person who looks after someone.  They care for them.

company = a group of people working together in business.  The employer owns the company

compromise = when two people agree on something.  They get some of the things they want, but not all.

cruise = to go for a trip on a ship.

described = to talk or write about something.

disabled = when someone is not able to do the things other people can do.  For example, when they are blind or deaf.

discussed = when you talk something over with someone.

earn = when you are paid for doing something.  For example, doing a job in a company.

employers = the people who give you a job.  They are the boss.

fantastic = when something is really, really good.

flexible = when things can change and are not fixed all the time.

fortunate = when good things have happened to you.

holidays = when you don’t need to be at work.  You can rest at home or take a trip.

leave = when you don’t need to be at work.  For example, when you are on holidays.

maximum = the largest amount.  It cannot be larger than this.

medical certificate = a piece of paper you get from a doctor to say you are sick.

minimum = the smallest amount.  It cannot be smaller than this.

not your fault  = when you did not make something happen.

notice = when you are told that something will happen in the future.

overall = when you include everything.

paid = when money has been given in exchange for something.  For example, for work.

parental = to do with being a parent.

period = an amount of time.  For example, 2 months.

project = when you have a job to do which has a start and a finish

provided = when something is given.

reasonable = when you think something is okay and you agree with it.

reduction = when something is made smaller or a smaller amount.

redundancy pay = a special pay you get when you lose your job and it is not your fault.

reply = to give an answer to a question.

request = when you ask for something.

seriously ill = when someone is very sick and they may die.

standard = you can compare things to a standard.

suitable = when some meets your needs.

taken into account = when something is understood and is thought about.

working conditions = how things are at work.  For example, hours of work, pay, holidays.

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Podcast 18 – A Licence to Drive – Learning to Drive in Australia

Learn English while learning about daily life in Australia, with Rob McCormack

Podcast Number 18 – A Licence to Drive – Learning to Drive in Australia


 Australians love their cars.  We have a large country, long distances and very long roads.  That means that almost everyone has a driver’s license. In fact, it’s rare to find someone who doesn’t have one.  I got mine when I was 17 years old, way back in 1969. Back then, it was much easier to get a driver’s licence.   Nowadays, it’s much harder and that’s a good thing.  There are many more cars on the road now and all our drivers need to be highly skilled.  In fact, the number of people killed in road accidents (called the road toll) has dropped steadily in Victoria since 1970, when it was at its peak of 1061.  In 2012, Victoria’s road toll had dropped to 282.  That’s the lowest since we started recording these numbers.  Improving our driver training has played an important role in that reduction. In this podcast, I will give you a summary of how you get a driver’s licence in my state of Victoria.  For more detailed information, you should visit or

In Victoria we have a graduated licensing system.  This means there are 4 types of licences and new drivers move from one type to the next as they develop more driving skills.  For young drivers under 21 years of age, there is an extra step, as these drivers have the most risk of crashing when they first start driving.  The graduated licensing system is helping to reduce this.

 The first licence is a Learners’ Permit.  The second is called a Probationary 1 Licence.  This licence is only for new drivers under 21 years of age. The third is called a Probationary 2 Licence.  The final licence is called a Full Licence.

 You can get a Learner’s Permit from the age of 16 years.  To do that, you must read, study and understand a book called ‘The Road to Solo Driving’.  This book has all the information and rules that a driver needs to know in order to get a Learner’s Permit.  First, you must complete a computer test at an office of VicRoads.


VicRoads is the government department which administers drivers’ licences in Victoria.  You must first book an appointment at VicRoads and then you must take a computer based test. In the test (which is available in 20 languages), you must answer 32 questions about the road rules and about road safety.   In order to pass the test, you must get at least 25 questions correct.  That’s 78% correct.  If you pass, just pay the Learner’s Permit fee and, congratulations, now you are a learner driver!  The Learner’s Permit lasts for up to 10 years.  But I don’t think there are many people that would take that long.  I hope not anyway.

The Learners’ Permit allows you to drive a car only under the supervision of another qualified driver.  They are called the Supervisory Driver.  They must have a Full Licence.  The job of the Supervisory Driver is to teach you how to drive safely and how to drive according to the road rules.  When our two sons were learning to drive, my wife and I were the Supervisory Drivers, although our sons both had around 5 driving lessons with a professional driving instructor.  I think that’s a good idea, especially before they take their Probationary Licence driving test.

 There are some restrictions for drivers with Learners Permits.

  1. Obviously, they must always drive with a qualified Supervisory Driver in the car.
  2. They must show yellow L Plates on the front and back of the car.
  3. They must have NO alcohol in their blood.  That means no drinking alcoholic drinks before you go driving.
  4. They must not use a mobile phone, not even if it is a hands-free phone.
  5. They must not tow a caravan or a trailer, and
  6. They must always carry their Learner’s Permit licence card with them.


But that’s not all. If they are under 21 years of age, they are also required to practise their driving for at least 120 hours before they can take the Probationary Licence driving test.  Included in the 120 hours there must also be 10 hours of night driving.  They must also prove they have done the 120 hours driving by completing an official Learner Log Book.  Each time they drive, they must write down in the log book when they drove, for how long, for how far, in what conditions and who was the Supervisory Driver.  For example, they must show that they have driven in light traffic, in heavy traffic, in the dry, in the wet, on Freeways, on country roads, on gravel roads, during the day, at night and at dusk.  Wow, that is a lot of driving.  But it helps make sure that each new driver receives a lot more driver training than when I was a young man.  And that means fewer accidents and fewer road deaths and injuries.  A Learner Log Book is not required if you are over 21 when you learn to drive.

New drivers under 21 years of age must practice with their Learners Permit for at least 12 months.  Those who are 21 to 25 years of age must practice for at least 6 months, and those over 25 years of age must practice for at least 3 months.  Note however that you can only take the Probationary Licence test once you turn 18 years of age.  So some 16 year old learner drivers will get 2 years of practice with a driving supervisor.  I think that’s a good thing.  Practice makes perfect.

When they are finally ready to take their Probationary Licence test, there are two tests to take.


The first is a Hazard Perception Test.  This is a video test and shows how safely you respond to traffic situations.  If you pass that test, then you take the Probationary Licence Drive Test.  This is the big one. This is a practical test taken with an examiner in the car.  You drive for 30 minutes in many traffic conditions, both quiet and busy.  You must show that you can control the car, can obey all the road rules, can cooperate with the other drivers on the road and show that you can drive safely.   If you pass that test, then well done, you are now a Probationary Driver.  Time to celebrate. If you are under 21 years of age, then your licence is called a Probationary 1 Licence.  This lasts for 1 year.  During this time, you must wear red P plates on the front and back of your car.


 This lets other drivers know that you are a young, new driver.  These drivers have the highest rate of accidents and so there are special conditions which apply, including:

  1. You must not use a mobile phone, not even if it is a hands-free
  2. You must not have any alcohol in your blood.  Like the Learners Permit, no drinking.
  3. You can carry only one other person who is aged between 16 and 22 years of age in the car.  This rule applies because, in the past, we have had crashes where many young people under 22 years of age have all died in one car.  That’s a terrible thing that this law will help prevent.

Once they have successfully driven for 1 year, then the new driver automatically receives his Probationary 2 Licence, which lasts for 3 years.  Now they can change their red P plates for green P plates.


 They can now use hands-free mobile phones, but they must still not have any alcohol in their blood.  Note that new drivers who are over 21 years of age go straight to the Probationary 2 Licence once they pass their drive test.

After 3 years of successful and safe driving with a Probationary 2 Licence, the new driver will automatically receive their full drivers licence.  Now they should be an experienced and safe driver. I hope our road toll continues to drop.  In my opinion, our graduated licensing system is a great system.

If you have a question or a comment to make, please leave it in the comments box at the bottom of this page.  You can leave your comment in English or in any language and I will translate it. Or, you can send me an email at  I would love to hear from you.  Tell me where you live, a little bit about yourself and what you think of my slowenglish podcast.  Perhaps you could suggest a topic for a future podcast. Goodbye until next time.



accidents = something that is not planned, usually something bad

according = when you follow something

administers = to control

alcohol = in beer and wine, it affects your brain.  It can make you drunk

applies = when you must follow what you are told

appointment = when you make a time to see someone

automatically = when something happens by itself.  You don’t need to ask, it just happens.

blood = the liquid in our bodies.  It is red

caravan = a place where you can sleep that is pulled behind a car

computer based test = a test done on a computer

conditions = the things which can change

congratulations = when you tell someone they have done something very good

cooperate = when you help someone else or work together with them

correct = when something is right

country = the areas away from the city

crashing = when two cars hit one another

died = when someone is no longer living

distance = how far from one place to another place

dusk = just before the sun goes down

experienced = when someone has done something for a long time.

extra = when there is one more

graduated = when something increases in steps

gravel = made from loose rock.

hands-free phone = a mobile phone which you can use without your hands

hazard = something which might be dangerous

highly skilled  = when someone is very good at doing something

improving = when something is getter better

injuries = when people get hurt, usually in an accident

killed = when someone has their life taken

nowadays = in our time, now

peak = when something is at its highest

perception = when you see or hear something

perfect = when something has no errors or mistakes

practise = when you do something many times in order to get better

professional driving instructor = someone who is paid to teach learner drivers

qualified = when someone has been trained and knows what to do

rare = when something is hardly ever seen

recording = to write something down

reduction = when something goes down or gets smaller

respond = when something makes you do something else

restrictions = things which you are not allowed to do

risk = when something may happen, but it is not known if it will happen

rules = these tell you what you can and what you can’t do

steadily = when something is changing over a long time

successful = when someone has done something correctly.

supervision = when someone watches you to make sure you do it correctly

terrible = when something is very, very bad

trailer = is pulled behind a car and used to carry things

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Podcast 17 – Schools in Australia

Learn English while learning about daily life in Australia, with Rob McCormack

Podcast Number 17 – Schools in Australia


As a parent, I know how important schools are in giving your children a good start in life. Schools have also been important for me personally. My first job after university was as a school teacher. I was a teacher for 12 years in schools in Western Australia before I decided to become a trainer and later a project manager. But that’s another story.

Schools systems in Australia are controlled by each state or territory government. I live in the State of Victoria so the schools here are controlled by the Victorian State Government. There are 5 other states and two territories in Australia and each of them has some differences in their school systems. I will talk about the government school system in Victoria in this podcast. However, the school systems in the other states and territories are very similar. As well as government schools, there are also many private schools. They mostly follow the same type of program, but with some differences. Private schools charge fees. Government schools, by contrast, are free. I will provide a summary in my podcast, but if you want more detailed information, you should visit

There are 3 levels in Victoria’s school system, as there are in each state and territory in Australia. The first level is Kindergarten. This is for children aged 3 to 5 years. The second level is Primary School. This is for children aged 5 to 12 years. The third level is Secondary School. This is for children aged 12 to 17 years. I will talk about each of these 3 levels in this podcast. There is, of course, a fourth level after this which I will cover in another podcast. The fourth level is the Tertiary Level. This level includes universities and technical colleges.

Our first level of schooling is Kindergarten. It’s interesting that this is named using the German word. Often, this name is shortened to Kinder in every day speaking. Kindergarten is also called Preschool.


When I was a child in school (about 50 years ago), there was no Kindergarten or Preschool level. However, these days it’s important to start preparing for schooling early so that children can develop the social, mental and physical skills needed for Primary School. Whilst Kindergarten is not compulsory in Victoria, nearly all children in Victoria do attend. It’s usually a 1 year program and children normally start when they are 4 years of age. Some children may need an extra year of Kindergarten, if their kindergarten teacher feels they need more time to develop the skills needed for Primary School. Of course, this decision is always made together with the child’s parents. Kindergarten is not a full time program, as the children are still very young at 4 years of age. Children usually attend kindergarten for 15 hours a week, in two or three sessions. My wife and I can still remember dropping our youngest child off at Kindergarten in the morning. At first he was sad to see us leave (and so were we), but soon he was happy to be with his friends, playing games and having fun.


The second level of schooling is Primary School and this is compulsory, which means all children must attend. Primary School starts with grade ‘Prep’ (‘Prep’ is short for preparatory year) and finishes at grade 6. That’s a total of seven years in Primary School. When I was a teacher, I taught mostly in Primary Schools. I must say, I loved it. Children at this age enjoy school and really want to learn.


To attend a government primary school in Victoria, a child must be 5 years of age by the 30th of April in the year they start school. Those with a birthday after the 30th of April will start school the following year.

The primary school program covers English, health and physical education (which includes sport), other languages (such as German or Chinese), mathematics, science, society and the environment, technology (which includes using computers) and the arts. Children who have recently arrived in Australia may also have extra classes in English, to help them more quickly learn how to speak English. It’s amazing how quickly young children can learn a language, especially when they speak it every day. I wish I could learn a language that quickly. The school year starts at the end of January each year and finishes in the middle of December.


Primary school hours are Monday to Friday, from 9.00am to 3.00pm. There are 4 terms during the year, leaving about 12 weeks for holidays. The long summer holiday in December and January lasts about 6 weeks. I can still remember my summer holidays when I was at school. We spent most of our time at the beach. Those were the days.

Government primary schools are free, although there are some minor costs for school uniforms and some books. Our two sons went to our local government primary school in our part of Melbourne and they received a wonderful education. The teachers were excellent and we were very happy with the school.

The third level of schooling is Secondary School, also called High School. Secondary School starts at Year 7 and finishes at Year 12. All children must attend secondary school, at least until they complete Year 10. They can leave at the end of year 10, but only if they have a full time job to go to. Otherwise, they must stay at school until they turn 17 years of age.


The secondary school program includes English, humanities, mathematics, science, other languages (such as French or Japanese) and the arts. For the last 2 years of secondary school, most students study the Victorian Certificate of Education (called the VCE). The VCE results are used to decide entry to the tertiary level (e.g. to universities). There are two other study programs as well, for those students who want more practical work-related experience and learning. Following this, students graduate from Secondary School.


That’s about it for schooling in Victoria. I hope you have found it interesting. Government spending on education is a topic of great interest here in Australia, especially at election time. Education costs a lot, but I think it is a good investment for the nation.

If you have a question or a comment to make, please leave it in the comments box at the bottom of this webpage. You can leave your comment in English or in any language and I will translate it. Or, you can send me an email at  I would love to hear from you. Tell me where you live, a little bit about yourself and what you think of my slowenglish podcast. Perhaps you can suggest a topic for a future podcast. Goodbye until next time.



attend = to be in a place or to go somewhere

compulsory = when something must be done

contrast = when something is different

controlled = when someone tells you how it should be done

decided = when you have chosen something

develop = to make

differences = when things are not the same

dropping off = to leave someone at a place

education = describes all the levels of learning, including schools, colleges, universities, etc

election = when the people decide who will be their politicians, by voting

environment = the place where we live

excellent = when something is very, very good

experience = when you actually do something, rather than just learning about it

government = the country is run by the government

graduate = when you have finished school. You normally receive a certificate

humanities = the study of human activities. For example, history

important = when something is really needed

investment = when you buy or pay for something which help you do things better in future

mental = about thinking skills

nation = your country. For example Australia, Japan, Germany, Thailand, etc

parent = a father or a mother

personally = about one person

physical = about being able to do things with your body, for example sports

practical = when something is done with your hands

private schools = schools which are not owned by the government

results = the outcome of what happened. For school students, this means the scores they get

school uniforms = the clothes that a child wears to school. It has the same colours for everyone

sessions = a period of time, usually no more than a few hours

shortened = when something is made shorter

similar = when things are the same

social = being able to mix and work with other people

society = all of the people in a country

state = a part of Australia which has its own local government. There are 6 states in Australia

technical colleges = like a university, but it teaches work-related subjects

territory = a part of Australia which has its own local government, but is not yet a state. There are 2 territories in Australia

the arts = includes music, painting, drama, etc

Western Australia = a region of Australia which lies in the west

work-related = when something is about a job

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Podcast 16 – Pets in Australia

Learn English while learning about daily life in Australia, with Rob McCormack

Podcast Number 16 – Pets in Australia


Australians love their pets and that’s how it is in our family. We have a Siamese cat named Cosmo and he’s a great pet, even though he thinks he is the boss. He’s 15 years old, which is old for a cat. We will be so sad when he finally leaves us.


Having a pet is quite common in Australia. Actually, there are estimated to be around 33 million pets in Australian households. This includes dogs, cats, birds, fish, reptiles (such as snakes and turtles), horses and small mammals (such as rabbits and Guinea Pigs). Dogs and cats are the most typical pets in Australia. About 36% of all households in Australia have a dog as a pet. That’s 3.41 million dogs. About 23% of all households have a cat as a pet. That’s 2.35 million cats. That’s a lot of dogs and cats! We also spend a lot of money on our pets. For example, in 2009, we spent about $3.6 billion (yes, billion dollars) on our dogs to buy services and products for them. For cats, it was about $1.4 billion. So you can see that we really do love our pets.

Pets in Australia are quite well controlled. For example, in my part of Melbourne, you must register your dog or cat and pay a yearly fee to the local council. For dogs, it costs $128 per year and for cats it is $120 per year. However, you pay much less if your dog or cat is de-sexed. Cosmo has been de-sexed and therefore he only costs $28 per year to register. Dogs and cats must also be microchipped. This means that a small microchip, the size of a grain of rice, is put just under the skin at the back of the animal’s neck. The chip has a number on it that is also stored on a computer database, together with the owner’s details. The microchip and its number can be scanned by a special machine. If a pet becomes lost, the microchip can be scanned and the number can be read. It is then used to identify the animal and also who is their owner. It’s a good system and helps keep down the number of stray cats and dogs.


You know, owning a pet is good for you. They make you happier. They make wonderful friends and companions. They help children learn to take responsibility for things and to care for their pet. These are useful skills to learn for later in life. For older people, having a pet helps to keep them active, provides companionship and also makes them feel safer in their homes. And of course your pet will still love you even if you are having a bad day.

Our pets also help to keep a lot of people in jobs. In 2009, it was estimated that around 48,000 people worked in the pet industry in Australia. This includes about 20,000 who worked in veterinary practices. There are around 2,500 veterinary practices in Australia. These are places where you can take your pet if they are sick, or if they need a check up or a vaccination. We have a veterinary practice only a few minutes drive down the road.


They know our Cosmo well, as he has been a regular visitor, especially now that he is an old cat. He’s had a few health problems in his life, that’s for sure. For example, he was run over by a car when he was about 4 years old. His hip was badly dislocated and the vet had to operate. He had to remove the top part of Cosmo’s right hip bone. Amazingly, he can still walk and run okay. But now that he is getting old, he gets arthritis in his joints quite badly. He has injections every 3 months to control the pain. He also has a problem with his blood and we have to give him special medicine every morning and every night. It is ointment which we put inside his ear. He costs us quite a bit of money, but we love him so we gladly pay it.


All he does all day is sleep, eat and sleep. Whenever he can, he loves to sit on someone’s lap and go to sleep. I think he is one of the laziest cats in the world. But I guess all cats are the same. They say that a 15 year old cat is the same age as a 77 year old person. So he’s pretty old. Maybe he’s earned the right to sleep all day. He thinks he’s the boss, so I won’t argue with him.


If you have a question or a comment to make, please leave it in the comments box at the bottom of this page.  You can leave your comment in English or in any language and I will translate it. Or, you can send me an email at I would love to hear from you. Tell me where you live, a little bit about yourself and what you think of my slowenglish podcast. Perhaps you can suggest a topic for a future podcast. Goodbye until next time.



amazingly = when it is hard to believe

arthritis = a disease that causes pain in your joints

boss = the person who tells you what to do

companions = friends who are with you

computer database = the place where a computer stores its information

controlled = when someone tells you how it should be done

de-sexed = this means that the animal can no longer be a mother or a father

dislocated = when a joint gets out of place. For example, a hip joint

estimated = when you make a guess about something, when you don’t know the exact number

households = a single family living together

industry = all those who are involved in a certain activity

lap = the top of your legs when you sit down

laziest = when someone does not want to do any work

local council = part of the government which controls the local area

mammals = animals who feed their young with their own milk

microchip = small electronic device to store information

ointment = a medicine which you put on the skin

operate = when a doctor (or vet) removes or repairs something in or on your body

owner’s details = the information about the owner. For example, their name and address

products = things that are made which you buy

register = to give your details to be stored on a list, usually on a computer database

responsibility = when you take care of something and look after it

scanned = when the information is read by a machine

services = things someone does for you that are helpful

Siamese = a type of cat

stray = dogs or cats which have no owner

typical = something most often seen for a particular group

vaccination = when you are given a medicine which stops you from getting a sickness

veterinary practices = places where animals are treated by animal doctors (vets)

vets = doctors who treat animals

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Podcast 14 – Turning on the Tap – Clean Water in Australia

Learn English while learning about daily life in Australia, with Rob McCormack

Podcast Number 14 – Turning on the Tap – Clean Water in Australia


Sometimes we don’t appreciate the good things we have. We complain about having a bad day, or perhaps we wish we had a new car or a new computer. One of the good things we have in Australia is our water. It’s clean and it’s always there. You just turn on a tap and it comes out. In this podcast I would like to tell you a little about our water here in Melbourne.

Australia is a land of contrasts. We have areas with lots of rain and we have areas with very little rain. In fact, in many parts of Australia it doesn’t rain very much at all. So not having enough water can be a problem. In 2009, Melbourne’s water supplies got very low. There had been poor rains in the winter for several years and our water storage levels were below 30% full. The truth is, we didn’t use our water well. We wasted a lot of water. So our government started an advertising campaign to help us all to use less water. This advertising campaign told us to try and use no more than 155 litres of water, per person, per day. The people of Melbourne heard the message and our use of water went down. That was a great result. Over the last 3 years we have had good rains in winter and, together with using less water, our water storage levels are now back to over 70% again. We are all happy about that.

The city has ten large reservoirs for water. The largest is the Thomson Dam, which holds more than one billion litres. That’s enough water to fill 427,000 Olympic swimming pools. These reservoirs are in the Yarra Ranges near the city. Five of these reservoirs have catchments. A catchment is a large area of land around the reservoir where the rain can run off the land, into creeks, into rivers and finally into the reservoir. For example, the Thomson Dam has a catchment area of 48,700 hectares. That’s 487 square kilometres. From these five reservoirs with catchments, some of the water is pumped to the other five reservoirs, so that, in total, Melbourne has ten reservoirs to hold it’s water.

But of course it’s not only about having enough water. The water must be clean. Well, Melbourne’s water is very clean. About 80% of Melbourne’s water comes from catchments which are closed. A closed catchment means that the forest and bush in those catchments is undisturbed – that means that no people live there and people are not allowed to go there. It is completely natural forest and bush. Water which flows from these catchments into those reservoirs is already very clean. Melbourne is one of only 5 cities in the world which has closed catchments.

About 20% of our water still comes from open catchments. Open catchments are not closed to the public. These catchments are downstream from towns and farms. Therefore treatment of our water is required to make sure it is clean and safe for people to drink and to use. There are 3 treatment plants in Melbourne. One of them is the Winneke Treatment Plant and I can ride there on my motorcycle in about 30 minutes.


It is next to the Sugarloaf Reservoir, one of the ten reservoirs which Melbourne has.


Like many reservoirs, it has a great area where you can take the family for a barbeque. When our children were young, we took them there for a barbeque and we really enjoyed it.


The water is treated in 3 steps. First, it is filtered. Filtering removes 95% of solids and microorganisms. Microorganisms can make people sick and must be removed to make the water safe. Second, a small amount of chlorine is added. The chlorine kills any remaining microorganisms not removed by the filtering. The water is now safe to drink. Third, flouride is added. Flouride is a chemical which helps prevent tooth decay.


From there, the water is sent down large pipes to 40 smaller service reservoirs around Melbourne. From there, it is sent down smaller pipes straight to houses and to businesses all around Melbourne. So all you have to do is turn on a tap and out it comes.


If you have a question or a comment to make, please leave it in the comments box at the bottom of this page. You can leave your comment in English or in any language and I will translate it. Or, you can send me an email at I would like to hear any suggestions you may have. I would especially like your suggestions for podcast topics. Goodbye until next time.



advertising campaign = a number of advertisements are shown, usually on TV, radio or posters

appreciate = to realize the value of something

billion = 1,000,000,000

businesses = where people sell things or services to make money

complain = to tell someone that you are not happy about something

contrasts = differences, when two things are not the same

creeks = water running down a valley

downstream = down the river, the water always flows downstream

farms = where people grow crops and keep animals

government = the country is run by the government

natural = has not been changed by people

not allowed = when you are not able to do something

per = each

pipes = long round tubes which carry water

prevent tooth decay = stop people’s teeth going bad

public = the people who live in your country

remaining = what is left after something is taken away

removed = when something is taken away

required = when something must be done

reservoirs = a place which stores a very large amount of water, usually a dam

result = the outcome

several = more than one

tap = something at the end of a water pipe. You can turn it on or off

treatment = when something is changed, usually to fix a problem

truth = when something cannot be denied

undisturbed = has not been changed by people

wasted = when something is not used as it should be

water storage levels = how much water there is. For example, full, empty, high, low, 50%


Podcast 13 – Health Care in Australia

Learn English while learning about daily life in Australia, with Rob McCormack

Podcast Number 13 – Health Care in Australia


There is a saying – ‘Nothing else matters, as long as you’ve got your health’. This is very true. I have been very lucky in my life because I have not been sick very often. When I have been sick, I have always received the best medical treatment. That’s because Australia has a good system for making sure that all Australians can get the health care they need, when they need it. Now I’m not saying our system is perfect. It has problems, that’s for sure, but overall I think it’s a good system. In this podcast, I will tell you a little about how it works. Obviously, any health care system is very complicated, so I will only give a brief summary. If you want to find out more, you should go to

Australia’s health care system is a universal system. In other words, everybody who lives in Australia is covered. That’s a good thing. You can’t choose not to be covered. You never know when you might get sick or injured and, in Australia, if you do, you will get quality health care – no questions asked. The Australian health care program is called Medicare.

I will only talk about the 2 main types of health care situations in this podcast.

First – When You Need to See a Doctor

Often there’s the situation where you feel sick and need to see a doctor. In Australia, there are 3.9 doctors for every 1,000 people, according to the World Bank website. This is quite high by world standards. It’s true that many rural areas don’t have as many doctors as they need. For isolated rural areas, Australia has the Royal Flying Doctor Service. It has an interesting story and I’ll talk about that in another podcast. For most Australians, it’s easy to find a doctor when you need one. For example, I have a medical practice just 200 metres away in my street.


We have lots of small medical practices in Australia, usually with a few doctors working together. We also have many large medical practices with 15 or 20 doctors which are part of a bigger network. At these practices, you can also get treatment from dentists, physiotherapists, dieticians and other special medical staff. These practices are like a ‘one stop shop’ for medical care. I use one of these practices when I go to the doctor.


When you visit a doctor, they will often prescribe medicines for you. To get these medicines, you need to go to a Pharmacy or Chemist with the prescription which the doctor has written for you. The pharmacist will then prepare the correct medicines based on the prescription. Often, the pharmacy will be located near to, or even next to, the doctor’s practice.


The doctor may also suggest that you need to see another specialist doctor for further assessment and treatment. To see a specialist, you must be referred by your doctor. This is called a referral. For example, when I went to the doctor about blemishes on my face, my doctor referred me to a skin specialist.

What does it cost to see a doctor?

Well doctors have two ways of charging you.

  • In the first method, the doctor gives you a bill and you pay the doctor. Medicare then pays you a rebate towards your bill. The rebate is almost always less than what the doctor charges. For example, one local doctor I know charges about $65 for a visit. The standard Medicare rebate is about $35. So you have to pay about $30 out of your own pocket.
  • In the second method, the doctor can send the bill straight to Medicare. Medicare pays the doctor the standard Medicare rebate (about $35), which the doctor must accept as full payment. So you have nothing to pay. This is called bulk billing.

About 80% of all doctor’s visits are bulk billed. In the big cities, it is easy to find doctors who are happy to bulk bill. My doctor bulk bills. I like it because it means I don’t have to worry about paying. Other people prefer to go to a particular doctor, and if that doctor doesn’t bulk bill, they don’t mind that they have something to pay.

If the doctor gives you a prescription for medicine, you then go to a Pharmacy. When you buy the medicines, the government subsidizes the cost so that you pay no more than around $36, and most times much less. This includes all prescription medicines, many of which can be very expensive. This excellent scheme helps keep the cost of health care down for all Australians.

What About When You Need to Go to a Hospital?

As we all know, sometimes there are emergency situations. Perhaps you have had an accident, for example a car accident, or you have had a bad fall off a ladder. Or perhaps you have terrible pain and you know you need to get to a hospital fast, for example if you are having a heart attack or a stroke.

Hospitals in Australia are either Public Hospitals or Private Hospitals. Public Hospitals are owned and fully paid for by the government. They handle most of the emergency cases, such as accidents or urgent cases. If you go to a Public Hospital, you don’t get any choice in who the doctor will be. Also, if your case is not very urgent, you may need to wait many hours for treatment, depending on how urgent your sickness or injury is. The most urgent cases are always treated first. If you need an operation and it is not urgent, you can sometimes wait for many months to have the operation. However, you don’t have to pay anything, as Medicare pays the bill.


By contrast, private hospitals are owned privately, usually by a company which specializes in owning and managing hospitals. Private hospitals charge fees for your room and for other services you may receive. However, you can have the doctor of your choice. The doctor will also charge you fees. Generally, private hospitals specialize in cases where the patient’s treatment is not an emergency. People who need an operation and don’t want to wait will choose a private hospital and take out health insurance.


What Does It Cost in a Hospital?

As stated before, it costs nothing in a public hospital.

By contrast, in a private hospital it can cost a very large amount. That’s why patients almost always take out health insurance if they want to use private hospitals. I have health insurance and I think it’s a great idea. But that is another topic and needs a separate podcast.

Medicare – How Does the Government Pay For It?

Well, Australians pay an amount in their taxes called the Medicare Levy. For most Australians, it is 1.5% of their taxable income. This levy is compulsory. However, if you have a low income, you may pay less than 1.5% or indeed nothing at all if your income is below a certain amount.

I hope this podcast has not been too complicated for you. I don’t think about our health system very often, but when I get sick, I’m just glad that it works.

If you have a question or a comment to make, please leave it in the comments box at the bottom of this page.  You can leave your comment in English or in any language and I will translate it. Or, you can send me an email at I would like to hear any suggestions you may have. I would especially like your suggestions for podcast topics. Goodbye until next time.



according to = when someone tells you something

assessment = when someone decides something about you

blemishes = marks on the skin

charging = what you must pay

complicated = when something is not simple

compulsory = when you must do it

covered = when something is included

dentists = a person who treats your teeth

dietician = a person who helps you choose the right things to eat

emergency = when someone is need of help right away

injured = when part of your body gets hurt

insurance = when you pay another company so that they will help you if something happens later

isolated = when there are no people living nearby

medical treatment = the help that a doctor gives you to make you well.

medicine = something which you take into your body to make you well

method = a way of doing something

obviously = when everyone can see it

operation = when a doctor repairs part of your body

particular = specific

pharmacy = a place which prepares and sells medicines

physiotherapists = a person who treats problems in muscles and joints

practice = the place you go to see a doctor

prescribe = when the doctor tells you what medicines you need

referred = when someone directs you to another person

rural = away from the city

situations = when a set of conditions apply

specializes = when someone has a lot of skill in something

subsidizes = when someone else pays some of the cost

universal = when something applies in all cases