Doorstop interview, Canberra
Delivering real needs-based funding for schools and fixing Labor’s model

Simon Birmingham:                  …representatives will commence debate on the Turnbull Government’s implementation of true Gonski-based, needs-based funding for Australian schools. We’re putting in $18.6 billion extra to fix the funding models, to ensure we lift school quality around Australia, to deliver the type of reforms, to deliver the Gonski-based reforms that the Labor Party squibbed it on, but that the Turnbull Government is getting on and giving real effect to. And these will see benefits flow across every school system right around Australia. Because what they deliver is the greatest funding support to the students who need it, the greatest additional resources to the schools who need it, they treat every state government school equitably but based on their own individual need, they treat every non-government school equitably but based on their own individual need. 

It’s fair, it’s transparent, it’s needs-based and I hope and trust that ultimately the whole Parliament recognise the benefits in this. It’s remarkable that having for years and years campaigned around the notion of embracing the Gonski report, the Labor Party – Bill Shorten – is standing in the way now of backing the true implementation of the Gonski report, just as he’s standing in the way of backing true funding for the NDIS.

Journalist:                                 Senator, how do you expect to get the Catholics on side? They still seem to be concerned that they’re going to be losing out.

Simon Birmingham:                  Well I’ve spoken to many Catholic school principals and parents and I think when they sit down and understand the details in this report and the details of our legislation they recognise that there are real benefits to what the Turnbull Government is doing. Funding for Catholic schools grows by $1.2 billion over the next four years. There’s no reason as to why fees need increase. There’s no need in our proposal for distribution of funding amongst Catholic schools to necessarily have to change, that’s a matter for them. Our proposal is one that gives effect though to equal treatment of every non-government school across Australia based on their need.

Last night I was really thrilled that the Christian schools bodies gathered here in Parliament House were celebrating and positively embracing our reforms. They support many low-income communities around Australia with low fees schools and they recognise this is a model that gives the greatest support to those schools. And I’d also note that in terms of Catholic principals, a number of them have been writing out to parents to clarify the misleading reports that some Catholic education lobbyists may have been sprouting about fee increases, whereas those principals know full well that in their school and their community, they will continue to provide access to parents just as they have always done so.

Journalist:                                 Does new government data suggest that Catholic schools are ignoring the Gonski needs-based funding model and funnelling money into the richer schools over struggling ones?

Simon Birmingham:                  Well our proposal doesn’t change the autonomy of state government systems or Catholic education systems or other systems to be able to re-distribute funding amongst their schools based on the need that they identify in their schools. But it is up to them to explain to their school communities the differences in funding allocation that one school may receive to another. Our model is completely transparent; people can see exactly the manner in which the Turnbull Government is proposing to allocate school funding fairly, equitably, based on need. And in the end, other school systems around the country – be they government or otherwise – will have to be answerable to their constituent bodies as is appropriate.

Journalist:                                 How concerning are those reports though that these Catholic schools have been shifting money away from needy parish schools to more wealthier schools in Sydney and Melbourne in a bid to keep fees low at those wealthier schools, those schools in wealthier areas?

Simon Birmingham:                  Well I think that Catholic principals, teachers, parents do an outstanding job providing a high quality education right around Australia. Now, Catholic education lobbies, and administrators are answerable, of course, for decisions as to how they choose to allocate funding between their schools; that’s a matter for them to determine. We support their autonomy, their system autonomy, because they do have a greater granular understanding of different pressures at different times in different schools based on teaching costs, particular needs of students, particular capital infrastructure projects. We recognise that and that’s why we grant the system autonomy. But it is important that they – just as the Turnbull Government is accountable for how we choose to allocate funding across all of our schools – they, of course, are rightly accountable to their schools, their school communities as anybody else is.

Journalist:                                 Should they be giving money from poor areas to wealthier areas though? I mean, on principle do you think that’s a good thing?

Simon Birmingham:                  Look, I don’t want to get into the hypotheticals of where funding may or may not have gone from one school to another. I respect their system autonomy, I respect their hard-working teachers, principals and families. Ultimately, Catholic education authorities are answerable for their determinations as to how they allocate their funding.