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

Simon Birmingham: Can I welcome firstly the passage late yesterday in the House of Representatives, the Turnbull Government’s reforms to implement true, consistent, needs-based funding in Australian schools. These reforms, as you know, were announced just three to four weeks ago by Malcolm Turnbull, myself, with David Gonski, the author of a very significant report on school funding some six years ago. And finally we’re seeing this Parliament take action to give effect to the recommendations of that Gonski report. What our reforms will do is invest an additional $18.6 billion across Australian schools, based on their need. 

It will also ensure that we have a model for school funding that doesn’t reflect state orders from the Federal Government, but instead funds government schools based on their individual need consistently across every single state. And that when it comes to non-government schools, it’s a model that will fund those non-government schools consistently, according to their need, across every single non-government schooling sector regardless of sectoral differences, background differences, faith differences or otherwise. This is a really important reform to truly deliver sector-blind, needs based funding for Australian schools. 

I also particularly welcome the honest remarks coming from some parts of the Catholic education system to reassure their parents that media reports talking about excessive fee increases are unjustified. And I particularly highlight the remarks of Catholic education in Brisbane, who’ve noted that they will receive a Federal funding increase which they currently estimate to be around 3 per cent. They say: “we will receive an increase in Government funding, not a reduction. We thank the Federal Government for its continuing support and for its commitment to providing fair and equitable funding over the next decade.”

I also note that this same letter sent out to parents across the Archdiocese of Brisbane and their schools notes that they believe that Catholic education has been treated fairly in the same way, of course, as other parts of the non-government schooling sector and along a consistent model to that we’re applying to government schools. That’s exactly right; it is precisely what we’re doing. We’re determined to continue to work constructively with all education sectors and stakeholders, including those in the leadership of the Catholic education system, as we will continue to work with the Senate. And we hope that perhaps somewhere between now and debate occurring in the Senate, that the Labor Party will recognise the error of their ways, that their failure to back true reform and fair implementation of consistent needs-based funding means they are turning their back on the type of things that they say they’ve campaigned for for years, and instead now are just engaging in a spend-a-thon rather than real education funding reform.

Journalist: Senator how close are you reaching a deal with the Greens to try and get this passed? Labor has made it pretty clear that they’re not going to support this move. 

Simon Birmingham: Well I think it is to the credit of the Greens, other crossbenchers in the Senate, that they’re engaging in proper, considered, constructive conversations, wanting to understand the details, talking to us about what it is that they might think is necessary to improve or to secure passage for this legislation. It’s to their credit; it’s to the discredit of the Labor Party that they won’t even engage in those conversations, that they won’t even have an open mind about $18.6 billion of additional funding with the bulk of growth going into the neediest government schools around the country.

Journalist: Are there compromises on the table in the negotiations to get this through the Upper House?

Simon Birmingham: The Turnbull Government has demonstrated we are pragmatic when it comes to dealing with the Senate, but we believe we have put forward a clear, well-considered proposal for reform that delivers what’s necessary right across Australian schools, delivers the greatest rates of growth to the neediest schools, and strong rates of growth to more than 9,000 Australian schools, but growth in excess of 5 per cent per student per annum to more than 4,500 of the neediest schools. And we think that’s a pretty good starting point for all conversations.

Journalist: Is John Howard helping you to negotiate with the Catholic school sector and wanting them to just cool it a bit?

Simon Birmingham: Mr Howard keeps a very active engagement in all areas of public policy as you can see from his interviews. But we are working as a Government constructively with all education stakeholders who will sit down at the table with us, and that certainly has included, well since before the policy was announced, the National Catholic Education Commission and their representatives and those discussions will continue.

Journalist: Why are Catholic schools in the ACT receiving a temporary assistance package until 2021?

Simon Birmingham: So we know that there was a particular special deal for ACT schools that was put into the Gillard Government arrangements. And what that saw was that schools in Canberra had their socio-economic status assessed not on Canberra households but on households that included remote Indigenous communities in Canberra, regional areas of Tasmania, that took a nation-wide approach. Well the truth is that Canberra has the highest household income around Australia. And we think that that type of special deal just for schools in the ACT, for the Catholic education system in the ACT, was of course unjustified. And that’s why we’re transitioning that sector to the same type of treatment as for every other non-government school around Australia.

Thanks everybody …

Journalist: … [indistinct] phone call which suggests that she was concerned about media reports that were to emerge about the plane that was used for campaigning by One Nation. Do you think there’s- obviously the Electoral Commission is looking into this, does it raise further questions for you about whether One Nation has breached electoral laws?

Simon Birmingham: Well I have faith in the Electoral Commission to do its job, and to make sure that all laws have been – that people have complied with all laws around the country, including One Nation.