Doorstop interview, Adelaide
Official data showing states have cut schools funding while Coalition Government has been increasing investment in schools; Breaches of child care standards; Australia-US relations

Simon Birmingham: I’m sure you’ve all attended press conferences where the State Government’s come out to criticise the level of Federal Government investment in Australian schools. 

The truth is the Turnbull Government’s investment is growing each and every year into the future and has been growing significantly and the latest data released in an independent report by the Productivity Commission overnight shows a $1 billion level of growth across the country in federal schools in the most recently reported years by the Federal Government into Australian schools – $1 billion extra for Australian schools from the Federal Government in that year. 

Yet what we remarkably see is that a number of jurisdictions reduced their level of investment. Four states and territories went backward in that one year in terms of their school funding. But if we look over a longer trend, over a five year period, all but two – six out of eight states and territories – were spending less than they were five years earlier in terms of their investment in schools. And yet they have the gall to come out and call for even more federal funding whilst their commitment and investment is in fact going backwards and the worst offender – the worst offender by far – is the South Australian Government. 

The South Australian Government, who have run ad campaigns, funded community organisations, to campaign against school funding cuts, are the State Government who cut the most from their schools. Whilst we provided a significant increase in investment into South Australia for government schools of around $12 million, they cut $56 million out. It’s a remarkable show of hypocrisy from the South Australian Labor Government. On a per student basis, they withdrew five times as much funding as we gave them in extra money for those schools and students. It’s not just as Minister Close claims, a one year aberration, because their level of funding is also lower than it was five years earlier. It is the lowest level of funding they provided to government schools in five years. It’s a remarkable show of hypocrisy from them and of course it is one that we will make sure cannot be repeated under future school funding arrangements. 

The Turnbull Government will provide ongoing record growing levels of funding for Australian schools, growing from around $16 billion last year, to more than $20 billion by 2020. Growth above inflation, above enrolments, but we will make sure it is conditional upon the states and territories maintaining their real level of investment in Australian schools and of course, conditional upon quality reforms to ensure we reverse the decline in performance across Australian schools.

Journalist: I’ve got a couple of child care related questions for you from our Sydney office. Are government rebates on child care encouraging dodgy child care providers and what’s being done about the high number of organisations receiving breaches?

Simon Birmingham: Well as both a minister and a father of two young children who have been or are still in the child care system in the case of one each, I really want to see the highest quality in the nation’s child care services. That’s why we’ve increased at a federal level, our compliance checks in terms of how money’s used and where it goes and we’ve seen many more prosecutions, suspensions than have been the case previously. But we also give millions of dollars to the states and territories each year for them to assess quality in child care services. And they must for the sake of every child, live up to their responsibilities, inspect those services, ensure they’re of sufficient quality to guarantee the safety and wellbeing of children who are using them.

Journalist: Shouldn’t states be allowed to cut education spending if they want to? Isn’t that the point of federalism?

Simon Birmingham: Well there’s absolutely no point in the states receiving extra federal funding if it’s just going to be a cost shift. If the states are as committed as they say they are to seeing more funds go into Australian schools, then they need to live up to their end of the bargain, otherwise federal dollars are only going to help their bottom lines, their state budgets, rather than actually flowing through to help teachers, principals, students in those schools. We want to see if we’re increasing investment as we are, that it makes a difference in schools, in those schools who need it most. That’s why we want quality reforms to make sure that we have earlier identification of kids with literacy or numeracy difficulties, better support for our most capable and competent teachers, better training for principals. We’re investing more to get all of those things but it won’t work if the states are pulling money out at the same time.

Journalist: On another topic, are you offended by the way that Donald Trump has spoken to Malcolm Turnbull?

Simon Birmingham: Well I think what we have seen is that Malcolm Turnbull did a deal that was in the best interests of Australia and stood up for Australia to make sure that deal has been honoured and will be honoured in the future. We have, in Malcolm Turnbull, a Prime Minister who is putting Australia’s best interests forward at every single opportunity, whether it was with President Obama in negotiating this deal or with President Trump, who may not like it but with the engagement he’s had with Prime Minister Turnbull, has agreed to stick by it. And that’s really important. It’s in Australia’s interests. Stands in stark contrast to Bill Shorten who wants to go out there and run a commentary on President Trump and the Trump administration, rather than actually engaging what is in Australia’s best interests. And our best interest is to have a constructive, thoughtful engagement, for the Prime Minister to stand up for Australia in private as he does in public and that’s exactly what’s happened.

Journalist: So do you think the US is disrespecting Australia?

Simon Birmingham: I think that we have a mature relationship and we have a relationship that we are forging with the Trump White House and what we’re seeing is that from Malcolm Turnbull’s advocacy, we’re getting results in that relationship.

Journalist: A couple more child care questions: it’s so expensive that 100,000 parents have dropped out of the workforce. What’s being done to reduce the huge cost?

Simon Birmingham: We absolutely need to see reform of our child care system which is why the Turnbull Government will be putting before the Parliament next week, yet again, our proposal for the biggest overhaul of the nation’s child care, subsidies and rebates that there’s ever been. We want to see wholesale change and reform. We have a plan to do it, which will drive costs down and cost growth to parents will be maintained or minimised in that regard. 

So my urging is for the Australian Senate, particularly the Labor Party, to make sure that they support the savings that are necessary for the delivery of our child care reforms. We’re proposing to remove the $7500 cap that many parents hit up against during the course of the year so that they don’t fall off a cliff in terms of child care support during the year. We’re putting in place a cap in terms of the rate that services can be rebated on, to make sure that there is actually a pressure for them to minimise price growth in the future. We’re increasing the level of subsidy for low and middle income earners, ensuring the hardest working, lowest income Australians get the greatest subsidy for their child care services in the future. All we need is for the Australian Senate to support us in getting those reforms in place to make sure we have a better child care system in the future.

Journalist: So there’s nothing that you could do to gain a better control of the situation?

Simon Birmingham: Well we want to pass our reforms through the Parliament, which we think will ensure that there is a lower rate of price growth in the future and more support for Australian families in the future.

Thanks guys.