Doorstop interview, Bentleigh West Primary School, Melbourne
Delivering real needs-based funding for schools and fixing Labor’s model; Year 1 phonics and numeracy skills check; Higher education reforms to drive better outcomes for students and taxpayers

Steven Capp, Principal Bentleigh West Primary School:        Steven Capp from Bentleigh West Primary School. And just really welcoming the Minister, Simon Birmingham, to come and have a look at our school today and have a look how we teach synthetic phonics and having a quick look at our phonics training check, and thanks for coming Minister, and yeah, I’ll pass this over. Who’s got a few questions to ask?

Simon Birmingham:                  Thanks so much, Steven. Thank you for welcoming us here at the Bentleigh West Primary School. It’s great to be here with local MP Tim Wilson, and to talk about how it is that the Turnbull Government’s record investment in Australian schools , our delivery of David Gonski’s needs-based approach to school funding, can make a real tangible difference in Australian classrooms. 

Yes, we’re investing an additional $18.6 billion across the country, funding that will see an extra $3.6 billion invested in Victorian schools over the next decade and an extra $3.4 million right here in Bentleigh West Primary School. This is important additional resourcing that enables teachers and schools to be able to deliver the best possible education opportunities for their students. 
But importantly it’s never just about how much money there is. It’s about how well you invest and spend that money. And it’s incredible to come here and see a school that is so focused on developing the literacy skills that students need to succeed and excel. 

I want to pay real tribute to Principal Capp, who has led the way in the teaching of phonics and the delivery of in-classroom practice that is based on the world’s best research and evidence about how you can make sure that every child gets the chance to learn effectively. How to decode words, how to read, how to succeed in their educational life right through their schooling and beyond. 

These are the types of things that we expect David Gonski in his second piece of work and research in our school system to take a closer look at. And the Turnbull Government, in accepting the broad recommendations of Gonski’s first report, and delivering a true needs-based formula without special deals or different agreements for different states, has also commissioned David to undertake a new piece of work that will look particularly at how we achieve education excellence across Australian schools. The teaching of phonics, the use of evidence in classroom practice, the types of things we’re seeing here at Bentleigh West Primary School are absolutely essential to make sure that children’s [indistinct] and succeed in the future and that’s where we want to see our funding growth directed to.

Journalist:                                How are the changes to school funding progressing through the Parliament?

Simon Birmingham:                  I’m very heartened by the fact that aside from the Labor Party playing politics with this, every other member of the Australian Parliament appears to be keeping an open mind, recognising that we are making some difficult decisions that Labor shirked when it came to school funding, that we’re getting rid of 27 different funding models, special deals, different agreements, and replacing it with true, consistent, needs-based funding across the country, based on the circumstances of individual schools. 

And those schools who are receiving less than their fair share of federal funding will receive the greatest rate of growth into the future. That’s why in Victoria we see strong growth in government schools underarm model, that recognises need that will see overall funding increase over the decade by more than five per cent per student, per annum, targeted then into those schools that need it most. And that really is what this is about. Better targeting our resources in a fair, consistent manner across the country, but then using them as effectively as possible and I hope that we see all of the non-government parties actually support this reform. I hope Bill Shorten can actually reconsider Labor’s position, recognise that we are being truer and more consistent to the recommendation of the Gonski report, that we’re acting on it in a consistent way and that Labor really, if they’re fair dinkum about schools funding reform, should come on board and support what we are doing. 

Journalist:                                So are you confident you’ve got the votes?

Simon Birmingham:                  I’m a Senator, I’m never confident until the vote is actually taken, had and won, but I am confident that there is a really constructive level of engagement from all of the non-government parties except the Labor Party, and I hope the Labor Party wakes up to itself, realises that if every other non-government member of the Australian Parliament is willing to talk, willing to engage constructively and sees what so many others are saying about the Turnbull Government’s reforms and that is that they are true, fair, needs-based reflections of the original Gonski report, then the Labor Party should be willing to talk as well.

Journalist:                                Is government willing to make any changes to the legislation to pass it through Parliament?

Simon Birmingham:                  We’re not interested in doing new arrangements or other special deals that differentiate between one state or another, or one sector or another, other than on the basis of the need of those individual schools right across the country. Now, of course we’ll have a thorough Senate inquiry and we’ll look forward to hearing the evidence that’s given, given we’ve had really strong support from impartial independent commentators such as the Mitchell Institute, the Grattan Institute, The Smith Family, Anglicare, I really believe that the Senate inquiry will hear that we have a strong reform proposal that is based in common sense and delivers what David Gonski recommended in a way that has been endorsed by David Gonski himself.

Journalist:                                So you’re not willing to commit more money like the Greens have suggested you should?

Simon Birmingham:                  We are committing already an additional $18.6 billion over the next ten years. And that’s really strong growth that will flow year-on-year into the needier schools around Australia. It will enable schools like this one to plan with confidence each year that they’ll have that little bit extra that they can invest in maintaining their additional resourcing that we’ve put in over the last few years and doing a bit more. 

Journalist:                                Just in terms of other matters. There’s another protest today, university students have at the State Library. What would your message be to them, they seem not too happy, obviously, and it’s been an ongoing protest from their perspective?

Simon Birmingham:                  Well there perhaps a number of protests that I’ve seen, none that actually seem to involve all that many of the tens of thousands of university students right around Australia. Now, my message to university students is a fairly clear one. That is that taxpayers, including those who have never been to university, will still under our proposals continue to pay the majority of your fees for going to university. And taxpayers will pay all of the cost of your student loan up front and not expect you to repay it until you’re actually firmly in the workforce, on track hopefully in your career.

But we do need to make sure that every student who’s been to uni under a student loan model and that Tim went under the student loan model, I went under a student loan model and those today who are, has enjoyed the opportunity to attend university free of any upfront fees and today of course universities enjoy the opportunity to enrol as many students as they believe their local economy needs, in the disciplines and studies and skills areas that they see fit. 

And if we’re to preserve all of those opportunities for the future we need to make sure it’s also financially sustainable and the Turnbull Government’s reforms deliver financial sustainability in a fair way that only has a modest change in terms of the impact on student fees, about $17 a week at the maximum in the impact on student fees and only asks for a modest rate of repayment of student loans at around $8 a week once somebody is earning 20 per cent above the minimum wage.