Doorstop interview, Canberra
Passing of Mark Colvin; Delivering real needs-based funding for schools and fixing Labor’s model

Journalist:                                The news today that Mark Colvin has died. Just wondering if you had any comment to make about him?

Simon Birmingham:     Mark was an amazing broadcaster, and for many of us in this building we perhaps even grew up listening to his coverage of politics and current affairs and events. He had an incredible insight and fought an amazingly brave but also very public battle over the years, and obviously we’re all saddened by this news but extend our thoughts and condolences to his loved ones.

Journalist:                                Thank you so much for that. Thank you, moving on to education stuff. Now, how do you respond to the New South Wales Education Minister who’s described your funding deal as disappointing, and says that it’s $1.8 billion short of the current agreement that New South Wales has?

Simon Birmingham:     Well the Turnbull Government is truly applying what David Gonski recommended, not different historical deals with different states. And in our true application of David Gonski’s recommendations, we are going to deliver an extra $3.8 billion into New South Wales schools over the next 10 years. This is really strong growth in school funding, but by following the Gonski report recommendations we’re ensuring it’s applied fairly and consistently right across Australia, including New South Wales. And really what we need to do here is put discussions about past deals behind us, put discussions about separate treatment of one state versus another, or one sector versus another, behind us and actually truly get on with the job at fixing the school funding wars of the past with a single, consistent, needs-based approach in the future. That’s exactly what the Turnbull Government is doing.

Journalist:                                Are you saying then that Rob Stokes should move on?

Simon Birmingham:     Well I would encourage everybody to move on from the days and the years of separate deals for separate players in school wars, and instead back us in delivering the Gonski report recommendations and seeing that we have a true, consistent, needs-based approach to funding in the future.

Journalist:                                Now, it’s not just him in New South Wales; we’ve seen concerns raised from the Teachers Federation, secondary and primary principals, and the P&C describing these as savage cuts. What’s your response to that?

Simon Birmingham:     These sorts of scare tactics are the reasons why we need to end school funding wars and embrace the Turnbull Government’s Gonski recommendations and reforms. We’re putting in place an extra $3.8 billion for New South Wales schools, and rather than trying to scare parents or others, the unions, the states, the representatives of different schools should support reform –  reform which has been welcomed by bodies such as the Australian Primary Principals Association, by parental representatives from state school organisations, by many independent school representative bodies, and of course welcomed by many impartial commentators right around the country who do recognize that what we’re doing is putting special deals or sectorial interests to one side and delivering a true, fair, needs-based reform to schools right around the country.

Journalist:                                So they’ve come up with this figure of $846 million in a cut for New South Wales public schools. Do you just reject their maths there?

Simon Birmingham:     These are simply scare tactics by the union movement who are trying to prop up Labor’s campaign on schools; they’re scare tactics by the union movements who should put the scare tactics behind them and back our needs-based reforms for schools, which is truly doing what David Gonski recommended. And there’s a reason why we had David Gonski standing alongside Malcolm Turnbull and I when we announced these reforms, and that’s because we’re acting on his report. We’re not repeating the mistakes of the past with special deals and differential treatment for different sectors; we’re delivering true reform to school funding in Australia, record levels of growing investment distributed fairly according to need, and giving long-term certainty. 

Journalist:                                Minister, the New South Wales Teachers Federation is saying you’re deceiving parents by claiming that there will be an increase when actually most schools won’t get what they promised. What’s your reaction to that?

Simon Birmingham:     There’s $3.8 billion of extra funding flowing into New South Wales schools over the next 10 years. This is a really strong level of investment in supporting schools in New South Wales. But critically that funding will be distributed fairly, equally, according to the needs-based principles that David Gonski outlined. And what we want to do is put all of these sorts of disputes and arguments behind us, end the scare tactics that are being waged by people, end the different deals and special approaches that were undertaken, and actually have the true approach to needs-based school funding in the future. 

Journalist:                                But these figures are based on the New South Wales education figures. Why are yours so different?

Simon Birmingham:     We have demonstrated quite publically, through an online estimator that any parent can go and visit, exactly how our growth in schools funding – $18.6 billion across the nation – will deliver improvements in virtually every school around the country, many of them seeing growth of greater than 5 per cent. Around 4500 Australian schools will see their funding grow by more than 5 per cent per student because they’re the schools of greatest need, they’re the schools furthest away from receiving a fair share of the Gonski formula. 

Journalist:                                New South Wales schools and the New South Wales Government say that the original plan should stick, the original agreement should stick. Why are you reneging on that deal?

Simon Birmingham:     We’re not interested in having special deals with different states; we’re interested in having a true, consistent, national needs-based approach to school funding, and that’s what the Turnbull Government is getting on with delivering. That’s why David Gonski has endorsed our reforms, that’s why impartial stakeholders have endorsed our reforms, and the only people who are standing in the way of delivering that are the Labor Party playing politics federally, or those who want to hold onto special deals of the past, rather than embrace consistent, needs-based funding for the future.

Journalist:                                What do you say to the parents of Merrylands in Sydney’s west where the school will now receive hundreds of thousands of dollars less than they had planned for?

Simon Birmingham:     Every public school across New South Wales receives strong growth in funding under the Turnbull Government’s needs-based reforms. We’re delivering what David Gonski recommended – a needs-based formula for funding that ensures those of highest need get the greatest growth in funding, get the resources they need in terms of their support for the future. 

Journalist:                                But that school in Merrylands is going to be thousands of dollars worse off, and they’ve been planning for that. What do you say to them?

Simon Birmingham:     There is no chance of government schools in New South Wales being worse off because the funding is growing into the government system. We’re providing $3.6 billion extra for schools right across New South Wales, and the fastest rate of growth applies to those government schools.

Journalist:                                What do you say to the people who go [indistinct] high school [indistinct] where their cut is from 2 million to 250,000? 

Simon Birmingham:     I’d urge people not to believe the scare tactics of the teacher unions, but to go and check for themselves and see how funding does actually grow into their schools in each and every one of the next 10 years under the Turnbull Government’s reforms. These are reforms that are delivering record levels of investment for schools, that do see funding grow into the neediest schools, and will deliver, though, the consistency and fairness that David Gonski recommended.

Journalist:                                Mark Scott has just put out an email saying they shouldn’t trust the figures from the Commonwealth. What do you say to that?

Simon Birmingham:     Again, I’d urge all parties to end the scare tactics. Stop trying to get special deals or different treatment and back needs-based reform, needs-based funding as David Gonski recommended and has endorsed of the Turnbull Government.

Journalist:                                There’s also programs that have been cut, the ones from the special literacy and numeracy programs and speech therapy. They’re going to be cut. Is that true and what is your reaction to that?

Simon Birmingham:     There is no reason for schools that are receiving growing funding in the future to be doing anything other than investing. The increased funding they get, the more literacy programs, more special needs programs, and greater support for their students, and they’re getting the money to do that.

Journalist:                                Teachers and parents are saying they’re going to keep fighting this. Are you prepared to fight for it too?

Simon Birmingham:     The Turnbull Government’s reforms are fair, they’re transparent, they treat schools as David Gonski recommended, and they will deliver $18.6 billion worth of extra funding into Australian schools over the next decade.

Journalist:                                Just one more on the programs they’re talking about that may have to be cut, are you saying there that they’re just exaggerating and there’s no reason that any of these programs should be cut?

Simon Birmingham:     Funding into the neediest schools is going up under the Turnbull Government’s implementation of the Gonski reforms, and where they’re getting more money I trust they’ll be able to invest in more support for their students.

Journalist:                                So none of these programs should be affected?

Simon Birmingham:     Schools that are receiving – as they all are across the government system – increases in funding should be able to invest in greater support for their students and ensure that it is targeted to those students who need it most.