Doorstop interview, Adelaide
Delivering real needs-based funding for schools and fixing Labor’s model; Cracking down on ‘revenge porn’; Marriage equality; Julian Assange

Simon Birmingham:    It’s in the interests of many different vested interests in the schools debate to try to muddy the waters; to try to create falsehoods or misconceptions that lead them to mount their arguments for special interests or special treatment. But it’s worth remembering in all of this exactly what it is that the Turnbull Government is seeking to do with our school funding reform proposal. We are seeking to apply, in an honest, straight forward, and comprehensive way, the intent behind the recommendations of the Gonski Report that was handed down six years ago. That’s the reason why, a little over two weeks ago now, David Gonski stood alongside Malcolm Turnbull and I as we announced our $18.6 billion investment in school funding, which entails a comprehensive rewrite of the way in which schools funding occurs so that every school across the country is treated in an equal way based on their own need and circumstances.

Our view is that government schools should receive the same funding from the Federal Government based on the need of their children, their school communities, regardless of the state they’re in. Our view is that non-government schools should receive the same funding for their students in their schools, based on their individual need in each of those schools, regardless of which sector of the non-government schooling system they happen to be in. That’s the consistent approach that we are taking and it’s very disappointing to see that some sectors are choosing to scare principals, teachers, parents, with what appear to be absolutely blatant falsehoods. 

I want to be very …

Journalist:       [Interrupts] And is that the Catholic- is that what the Catholic school system’s done?

Simon Birmingham:    I want to be very clear that in relation to systemic arrangements, so schools that operate as systems, including the Catholic schooling system around the country, will still continue to receive their funding as a lump sum funding entitlement into the future, enabling them to redistribute that money across their schools as they see fit. And the numbers are crystal clear and undisputed, to my knowledge, that the Catholic schooling system around Australia will receive more than $1.2 billion extra money over the next four years, around $3.4 billion extra money over the next ten years, and there is no reason, with that scale of additional funding flowing into their schools, that fees need to increase anywhere around the country. If they do, that’s a decision for Catholic education authorities, but they ought to be honest and upfront that, if they’re increasing fees in one place, with the scale of extra money they’re getting, surely they’re decreasing them somewhere else because we are putting in record growing levels of investment that will see, in every state around the country, funding growth of at least three and a half per cent per student per annum into Catholic schools. 

That’s really strong funding growth and it ought to be acknowledged, and we need to end this idea of people running scare campaigns for the sake of trying to get a special deal for their school sector. We’re not interested in special deals; we’re interested in delivering a uniform model for school funding, and it’s under that uniform model that we’re able to invest more into the students who need it most. For example, students with disability will receive funding growth of 5.9 per cent per student through the life of the Turnbull Government’s reforms. That, of course, is really significant and important funding targeted to support those students who need it most. For the first time ever, a national government will use a new nationally consistent method of identifying students with a disability and funding those who need the greatest level of adjustment assistance with the greatest sum of money. 

That’s fair; that’s needs based. It’s what Gonski recommended; it’s what the Turnbull Government is delivering.

Journalist:       Can we talk about revenge porn? How important is it to strengthen the rules on revenge porn?

Simon Birmingham:    Well, the Turnbull Government wants to apply a very consultative and cooperative approach with states, territories, and others to ensure that we have strong laws in relation to dealing with revenge porn. We, as the Coalition Government, established a National E-Safety Commissioner, that E-Safety Commissioner we’re proposing would have expanded powers to look at these matters and how it is we can ensure that people are protected, have appropriate recourse. Most of all, of course, that this insidious act is discouraged wherever it possibly can be.

Journalist:       The Senate made recommendations about this over a year ago. Why has it taken so long to get a discussion paper out?

Simon Birmingham:    Well, we’re working through these issues and we do need to make sure the states, territories, and other partners are on board. As I said, the Turnbull Government had led the way in this regard by driving support through the E-Safety Commissioner for a higher standard in relation to online safety activities and our intention is to see that followed through in terms of dealing with issues of revenge porn.

Journalist:       But as it stands at the moment, a year down the track, the laws, for both sites and individuals who engage in revenge porn, are no different to what they were a year ago; there’s been no change.

Simon Birmingham:    So, I mean, there’ve been significant changes under the Coalition Government in terms of providing greater protection, greater information, greater safety for parents, for families, for people dealing with all issues of online safety; this is another issue we’re taking seriously and getting on with the job of dealing with.

Journalist:       The AMA has come out today and spoken about- wants the Parliament to legislate for same-sex marriage. Do you think it should?

Simon Birmingham:    Well, sadly the Parliament was denied the opportunity of giving the Australian people a say, which- if that had happened, through a national plebiscite, would have been resolved by now; the matter could have had the endorsement of the Australian people, the endorsement of the Australian Parliament, and been law today, if it wasn’t for the obstruction of the Labor Party.

Journalist:       There’s nothing stopping you voting on it today.

Simon Birmingham:    The Coalition took a clear policy to last election and that policy is one we’ve sought to enact and, of course, we would hope and urge the Labor Party, others in the Senate, to recognise that, just as the AMA is entitled to their view, we want to give all Australians an opportunity to have their say, too.

Journalist:       How much of an impact do you think the AMA’s view will have? Will it fast track this becoming a reality, do you think?

Simon Birmingham:    Many people have expressed their personal views in relation to marriage equality over many years, it’s, I don’t know, six, seven years ago since I first my support for changes to Australia’s marriage laws. But our policy is to give the Australian people an equal say to the AMA, to members of Parliament, to anybody else, and if Bill Shorten got out of the way, the Australian people could have that say and it could all be resolved and done and dusted right now.

Journalist:       Do you accept the AMA’s position that excluding people from marriage has mental and physical health impacts?

Simon Birmingham:    I think there are many reasons as to why we should see same sex marriage legalised in Australia, that’s why I’ve supported it for many, many years, it’s why that I will continue to support it. But I also support the reality that the best way to ensure all Australians accept this change in our marriage laws is to give all Australians a say in our change- in the changes to our marriage laws.

Journalist:       If you accept that there are consequences for excluding people, then shouldn’t you think of other ways to move forward; a plebiscite is not the only way to go forward. And it means, basically, you’re saying- it means basically you’re saying this is a do-nothing Parliament; we didn’t get the plebiscite so we do nothing on the issue …

Simon Birmingham:    [Interrupts] Well, it’s certainly not a do-nothing Parliament …

Journalist:       [Talks over] Well, it is on this.

Simon Birmingham:    … we are seeking- we’re seeking to give actual action and effect and delivery of David Gonski’s recommendations in school funding. On this issue, we have brought to the Parliament legislation to give all Australians a say in relation to marriage equality and, if given the slightest chance of support of getting through the Senate, we’d bring it back in a flash.

Journalist:       Can I ask you about Julian Assange; what do you make of the Swedish dropping charges against Mr Assange?

Simon Birmingham:    Well, that’s really a matter for the Swedish Government and not one the Australian Government would run commentary on.

Journalist:       They’ve done the world a favour, [indistinct].

Simon Birmingham:    Well, I don’t know that the world needs to really be terribly distracted by this issue. I, for one, have more important issues to deal with, such as the nation’s school funding and actually delivering a fair, needs based, consistent model around the country.

Journalist:       Are you threatened by the Catholic school scare campaign?

Simon Birmingham:    Look, I urge leaders in the Catholic school system to stop seeking special treatment and embrace needs-based funding for Australian schools and recognise that every non-government school around the country should be treated the same way regardless of the faith, background, or otherwise of the people who are running it.

Journalist:       Should Mr Assange get his passport back? His Australian passport, I mean.

Simon Birmingham:    Mr Assange’s right to travel will be the same as any other Australian. We have over a period of time offered consular assistance that has been refused by Mr Assange. Of course, his right to travel is one that he will be at liberty to undertake, as any other citizen would be.

Journalist:       Do you think he was detained for seven years, as he said today, that he was detained in the Ecuadorian Embassy for seven years?

Simon Birmingham:    As far as I’m aware Mr Assange voluntarily chose to stay in the Ecuadorian Embassy for seven years.

Journalist:       And just to double back onto same sex marriage, if you don’t mind are you saying to us that the fate of same sex marriage in this Parliament is up to Bill Shorten? 

Simon Birmingham:    Well, the fate of all legislation in this Parliament is on every single Member of Parliament and whether or not we can get a majority for the different pieces of legislation we put forward. I hope to get a majority in relation to delivering on David Gonski’s recommendations in school funding. I equally hope that Mr Shorten or the Greens or others who profess to, like me, support the change to marriage laws in Australia, will also support giving Australians a say so that we can not only get this issue over and done with, but we can ensure that all Australians have ownership of the result and that there is national support for this change to our marriage laws when it takes effect.

Journalist:       Can I ask you about the revenge porn subject again, I’ve been asked to ask you in this way: how important is a united front when it comes to tackling revenge porn?

Simon Birmingham:    It’s really critical that we deal with all issues of online safety in a serious way and in a way where states and the Federal Government work together to guarantee the safety of children, of families, of all people who are threatened in online circumstances. And in terms of revenge porn, it’s a terrible, insidious act and where we can, we should seek to stamp it out, and that’s exactly what we’re seeking to do.

Journalist:       Can I just ask one more about school funding: Catholic schools are saying they’re going to have to charge up to $5000 per student extra now, is that fair?

Simon Birmingham:    Well, the Catholic school system is going to receive $1.2 billion in extra money, so why on earth would they need to put their fees up?