Doorstop interview, Adelaide
Meeting with state and territory Education Ministers; Delivering real needs-based funding for schools and fixing Labor’s model; Support for students with disability; French President’s Cabinet appointments

Simon Birmingham:     Well, just over two weeks ago Malcolm Turnbull and I joined with David Gonski to announce the Turnbull Government’s $18.6 billion cause to truly deliver on the findings and recommendations of David Gonski’s review into school funding six years ago. Since that time, we’ve introduced legislation in Parliament; we’ve provided detailed modelling to states, territories, and non-government school systems; we’ve provided example modelling that’s accessible to every school and every parent and every interested party right around Australia. And today, as promised, we’ve met with state and territory education ministers to step them through how it is that our reforms are going to deliver true, consistent, needs-based funding across the states and territories, treating every state and territory equally around Australia, treating every non-government school equally around Australia – all of it based on the principles of needs-based funding to deliver additional support to those who need it most. 

And with our $18.6 billion of additional investment and what we are delivering is significant increased funding right across Australian schools that sees the greatest growth go to those schools who need it most. And in particular government schools of high need are seeing growth well above five per cent per student per annum for the next 10 years under our reform proposal – strong growth, growth that will enable them to take the additional resourcing they’ve received in recent years and invest more into additional support in those schools for specialist teachers, for external assistance for students, for the type of services that can make a real difference to Australian students. And that’s also why we’ve got David Gonski doing a further piece of work that will analyse exactly how it is we can take the record and growing levels of investment in schools and make sure it’s used as effectively as possible.

Today I was very pleased that we had constructive discussions with the states and territories, discussions that were free of any posturing, free of any talk of cuts, and a recognition that what the Commonwealth is putting on the table is a funding proposition that sees funds grow by the Commonwealth into state and territory school systems, and gives them the capacity to really focus on how they lift outcomes and make best use of our record levels of investment. And I look forward to those discussions continuing as we work the legislation through the parliament, as we undertake the second Gonski review in achieving excellence in Australian schools, and as we then finalise out of that review next year specific reform priorities for the future that we can collaborate on working together.

Journalist:                                If this is such a boom in funding, why do we have a revolt from every single state [indistinct]?

Simon Birmingham:     Well, what I saw in the room today were a lot of constructive conversations about the detail of the funding proposal, the detail of how it is our legislation would work to ensure that states and territories maintain their real effort and their real commitment to funding. That’s a very important point because there are lots of questions, it seems, from the states about how it is they would be measured in terms of their funding contribution. Because we are determined to make sure that as we tip in increasing, growing, record levels of funding, the states and territories don’t cut back or cost shift, and that we get a guarantee built into the legislation that ensures they also maintain their real contribution so that the additional Turnbull Government dollars for Australian schools provide real extra money into schools on top of what we’re already doing, and on top of what the states are already doing.

Journalist:                                It may have been polite conversation in there, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the states are unhappy with this plan. They say you’re ripping funding that was promised to schools out of schools, and that students would suffer. What do you say to that?

Simon Birmingham:     States and territories can publically posture about something Julia Gillard promised in 2013, but what Malcolm Turnbull and I are doing – and it’s the reason David Gonski stood alongside us a little over two weeks ago – is truly delivering on the needs-based principles of the Gonski review, truly ensuring we have consistency in application of school funding across Australia, and truly investing an additional $18.6 billion into school education around Australia that will see strong, real growth into the schools that need it most, to make sure that they get the benefits of the future, rather than a continuance of what were a hodgepodge of different deals – 27 different deals – especially agreements that were struck previously.

Journalist:                                So is what you’re saying suffer in the short term and the long term will be better and it will be fairer all around? Is that your key message?

Simon Birmingham:     Well, my key message is that funding is going up each and every year off of a record base, that there’s a lot more for states to invest, and that my focus – and I hope their focus – will shift to how it is we can make sure there is the best use of the record growing funding that they are going to receive.

Journalist:                                Senator, if the legislation goes through and the states are still opposed, what happens then?

Simon Birmingham:     Well, if the legislation goes through we have a clear, nationally consistent framework for the delivery of Gonski-inspired school funding into the future. And I trust the states and territories, based on discussions today, will absolutely work constructively with us to then move beyond their arguments about funding when they see that we’re getting that growing, fair, needs-based funding into the future, and have constructive discussions about how to make sure it is used most effectively. And those discussions, of course, will be based on and informed by the work that David Gonski is going to do around school excellence.

Journalist:                                You won’t back down on this?

Simon Birmingham:     The Turnbull Government is absolutely determined to do the right thing. The right thing is to act on David Gonski’s report from six years ago, and that’s exactly what we’re doing and it’s what the Labor Party previously squibbed in doing.

Journalist:                                But what if they don’t want to work constructively with you? What happens then? I mean, what happens to the actual funding? Will it hold out the agreements with the states? Will funding stop, or will you just carry on …

Simon Birmingham:     [Interrupts] Well, what’s most important are the interests of Australian school students, teachers, principals, and schools, and their interests will best be served by the states and territories working collaboratively with the Federal Government to ensure the record, growing level of funding going into schools is used as effectively and efficiently as possible. I would be astounded if any state or territory didn’t want to work with us to achieve school excellence out of the record investment we’re providing.

Journalist:                                So there’s nothing that they can do, is that what you’re saying? That it will go ahead regardless of their opinion?

Simon Birmingham:     Well, I trust that they will welcome increased investment in their schools, which is what we are delivering and what they will receive.

Journalist:                                And there’s no way for them to stop it? If it goes through it goes through and that’s it?

Simon Birmingham:     Well, the Commonwealth Government’s Budget and the Commonwealth Parliament’s legislation is a matter for the Commonwealth Parliament. And what we are proposing and what we have before the Parliament is an opportunity that will provide $18.6 billion worth of extra funding into schools over the next decade, and will ensure that those school systems receive it according to the fair, needs-based principles of the Gonski report in a nationally consistent manner.

Journalist:                                [Indistinct] some questions about disability funding. We could do it now or we could do it separately.

Simon Birmingham:     I’m here, so let’s roll.

Journalist:                                Alright. So what’s your view on the 2016 NCCD figures for funding for students with disabilities?

Simon Birmingham:     So you’re talking about the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on Students of Disability, and this has been a very long process that state, territory, federal governments have agreed to undertake quite a few years ago. And part of our reforms is to see that data actually start to be used to inform funding decisions in the future. And importantly what that will do is ensure that support for students with a disability is geared most heavily to those students who need the greatest adjustment and assistance in the classroom. That’s why we’re proposing, as part of our reforms, to fully deliver on implementation of the NCCD process, and to use it in the determination of funding. 

Journalist:                                So what does the Continuous Quality Improvement project say about the last year’s data?

Simon Birmingham:     What we’ve found is that each year the data collection has improved, and the work undertaken by KPMG last year has found that at a national level the data is broadly reliable and there’s continued work that needs to be undertaken to improve it at a school by school level, and all the states and territories have previously committed to working with us to do that.

Journalist:                    Do you know how many students with disabilities are being funded this year and next year?

Simon Birmingham:     Off the top of my head no, but I can tell you that every student identified under the current model, which is the state and territory definitions of students with a disability, receive support as part of our funding proposals, and of course that what we are doing is transitioning to use the NCCD data, which will see in the future every student identified under that NCCD process receive the disability loadings that they deserve into the future.

Journalist:                                So do you know what the loading amounts are for the three levels of adjustment – supplementary, substantial, extensive?

Simon Birmingham:     I’ll be more than happy to provide you with those afterwards.

Journalist:                                Are you satisfied with how things are working generally?

Simon Birmingham:     Well, I am satisfied that what we are delivering- and no government has proposed previously to shift funding to support students based on the NCCD data. The Turnbull Government is, and the Turnbull Government’s doing it because we want to ensure the greatest support in disability funding goes to the students who need the greatest level of assistance in the classroom.

Journalist:                                And Senator, just to France for a second. Macron has just announced a Cabinet that’s half men, half women. Is that something you can see happening in Australia in the foreseeable future?

Simon Birmingham:     Well, I trust that, just as I was delighted to be sworn in as a Cabinet minister alongside a record number of female colleagues serving in the Cabinet at the time, I trust that we will continue to see advancement, and hopefully one day it is something that goes completely unremarked about.

Thanks everybody.