Doorstop Interview, Adelaide
Topics: Education council

Simon Birmingham: I’m deeply alarmed that today states and territories have asked for the right to be able to cut their school funding, while the Turnbull Government invests a further $23 billion into schools as additional funding over the next 10 years. I’m further alarmed by the fact they’ve sought to water down and undermine the new independent national school resourcing body by asking for it to be stacked full of state appointments, rather than honouring the integrity, the independence of that, that was envisaged when David Gonski recommended it, and indeed, when the Senate insisted on an independent national school resourcing body.

We’ve seen in the past that state governments have decided to cut their level of funding at the same time as the Federal Government gives them more. South Australia itself took around $200 per student out of their state funding, while getting increased federal funding. That does nothing to help kids, schools, teachers achieve more, if what happens is the Federal Government invests more, but then the State Government pockets it rather than gives it to schools. What we’ve sought to do, and what the Senate passed, is legislation that guarantees growing Commonwealth funding and investment in schools, but requires states to maintain their effort to do their fair share, and make sure that funding formulas in the future are actually overseen by an independent body. We’re going to keep working with the states and territories to make sure that the intent of our Gonski reforms are delivered upon, to make sure that record dollars flow in to schools, to make sure that states can’t cut corners or cut their funding, and to make sure that the independence of school resourcing and funding in the future is guaranteed.

Journalist: This independent organisation that you refer to, you talk about it being stacked with people from the states and territories presumably, but you’ve got to get them from somewhere, surely.

Simon Birmingham: Well, the Commonwealth legislation passed by the Parliament, endorsed by the Senate, therefore the independent crossbenches, delivers a national school resourcing body that has to have representatives from the states and territories, as well as representatives from non-government school bodies in the independent and Catholic sector, but then also guarantees its overall independence with other members who will be appointed free of nomination from any of the funding recipients. You have to appreciate that, in the end, each of the funding recipients – states operating government schools, non-government school representative bodies – all have a vested interest, and so yes, they should have a seat at the table, because we want their say, but equally, we want to make sure that the ultimate recommendations about improving the Gonski-based school resourcing standard in the future, are based on thorough, independent oversight.

Journalist: In the South Australian case, the Minister says that the state’s going to be duded in the order of more than $1 billion under what you’re proposing, and you’re saying that, on the other hand though, that they’re pocketing a certain amount of money, expecting that to be made up by the Federal Government. So, how do you split the difference there? Who’s actually right?

Simon Birmingham: The fact is that school funding for every state and territory grows each and every year into the future. And South Australian Government’s schools are going to see federal funding grow by a significant amount each and every year into the future; over the next few years, by some six or seven per cent per student, guaranteeing that they see strong levels of growth in their federal investment. All we’re asking the states to do is, while we give them more money, not to make any cuts or reductions themselves.

Journalist: And WA and Tassie notwithstanding, how’s it evident that other states and territories are going to forestall or shorten the amount they put in?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I hope and trust that other states and territories will all come to the table, and that ultimately, will agree that in return for getting record growing levels of federal government funding for schools, they agree to maintain their level of investment in schools and hopefully grow it in the future.

Journalist: Is it evident in their own budgets, then, that they’re going to basically take money out and rely on handouts from feds?

Simon Birmingham: The states aren’t saying they’re going to cut their funding, you just have to question why is it that they want the right to be able to cut their funding and still pocket growing federal funding? We think it’s only fair and reasonable that when the Federal Government is saying we’re going to give you more, that the states don’t decide that they’ll just cut back at the same time.

Journalist: Is there any time imperatives here, in terms of coming to an agreement on this?

Simon Birmingham: We’re only looking for a very simple agreement on the principles for the 2018 school year, and there’s no reason at all why the states shouldn’t be able to sign on the dotted line and give absolute certainty for school funding next year, and then we can have proper conversations when we get the new Gonski review into achieving excellence in our schools back about the type of reform agenda that we want our record and growing funding to underpin in the years beyond 2018.