Doorstop interview, Canberra
Delivering real, Gonski needs-based funding for schools

Simon Birmingham:     The Turnbull Government remains committed to working to ensure that we can deliver needs-based funding to Australian schools, consistent with what David Gonski and his panel recommended, based on the type of legislation presented to the Parliament that David Gonski and many members of his panel have endorsed. We want to see the extra $18.6 billion of funding that we’ve committed to Australian schools invested fairly, according to need, distributed to schools around Australia based on their individual circumstances, based on the needs of the school systems within which they operate. We want to see that extra $18.6 billion help public school students right across the country, help Catholic school students across the country, help independent school students across the country. And there is additional funding across all sectors to help ensure that is the case.

Funding grows, but it grows based on the need of those individual schools. There’s a lot of misinformation that has been spread by vested interests who are keen to get better deals, extract extra dollars during this process. What we want to see though is a final model that puts in place the type of principles that the Gonski report advocated for. That’s what we’re determined to keep working with the Senate cross-bench, with other stakeholders, to ensure that we deliver. Because that will give true support to Australian students, to Australian schools, to enable them to invest in the type of extra services those kids need to succeed. Be that extra speech pathologists, specialist language support, all of the type of different resources that go into ensuring kids who need help get the support they need and deserve.

Journalist:                                Can you clarify these reports that Cabinet agreed to some changes to this package last night that would be taken to the party room today?

Simon Birmingham:     Look, I’m not anticipating changes being discussed or adopted in the party room. I’ll do as I’ve done on many occasions before, which is to talk through and explain how it is the extra $18.6 billion of funding we’re providing is actually distributed across Australian schools. Where it is that goes, how it is that there’s an additional $3.4 billion of growth for Catholic school systems across the country. How it is across all the school sectors on average that there is a growth rate that’s above inflation, above wages growth, on a per student basis each year into the future, ensuring that they can put additional resources into their schools, that they can keep doing the great things they’re doing, and when they get growth ahead of any cost pressures.

Journalist:                                Minister, has anyone else within your party – other than Senator Back – raised concerns, yes or no?

Simon Birmingham:     We’ve continued to have discussions with a range of colleagues, and I would be surprised in a reform like this if you didn’t see a number of colleagues come and talk to the Minister, and talk to us about how it impacts different schools in their electorate, bring delegations of schools to meet with us, to talk to us about different propositions. But I am confident that the colleagues in the Coalition party room understand that what we are trying to do is address the legacy of Julia Gillard’s unaffordable promises and commitments, put in place a model that is consistent with the Gonski principles, invest an extra $18.6 billion that sees funding growth across all schools sectors and systems, and to do that all in the needs-based way that has been welcomed and endorsed by the likes of David Gonski and his panel.

Journalist:                                That didn’t really answer the question though. The question was has anyone else raised specific concerns, and particularly about funding for Catholic schools?

Simon Birmingham:     As I say, various stakeholders – including colleagues – have talked to me right through the implementation process. But are there people within the Coalition urging that we spend even greater sums of money? No. That’s not the case. What we’re working through are technical issues that people may have to make sure that the autonomy of Catholic education is preserved, that their right to operate as a system is retained clearly in the legislation so that they can continue to distribute the record growing funding, the extra $3.4 billion they receive across their schools, confident they can do so in the manner consistent with their mission and objective…

Journalist:                                [Talks over] Following on from Olivia’s question, did Cabinet sign off on the concessions the Greens say they’ve won, cutting the package from 10 years to six, a national resource body and compelling the states to increase their share of funding? 

Simon Birmingham:     Well, you’d be very surprised if I came out here and talked about what was or wasn’t discussed in Cabinet, I’m sure. But the Turnbull Government remains committed to its model, to its plan, which ensures that – for parents who send their children to government schools across the country, to the needier schools across the country – that they see strong growth in terms of their funding. 

To parents who invest out of their own hard work and resources and make the choice to send their children to Catholic schools, or to independent schools, that they receive support for their choice, for their students, for their children, to attend the schools that they choose based on the need in those circumstances. We remain committed to the legislation that is before the Parliament and will keep working towards its passage through the Parliament.

Journalist:                                Senator, how confident are you that you will get a deal done by the end of the week? It doesn’t appear that neither Labor or the Greens will back you in and so you need those 10 crossbenchers. 

Simon Birmingham:     Look, we will keep working. As I said before, we want to give Australian schools certainty in terms of their funding for next year and beyond. We want to make sure the additional funding is there for the neediest schools in Australia. Because if this legislation passes then it won’t be – as has been clearly outlined in all of the different speculation and different pieces – that ultimately some of the neediest schools will be the one who miss out if this legislation does not pass. 

And the hypocrisy of the Labor Party and Education Union in continuing to stand in the way of the passage of this legislation in trying to undermine it, is remarkable, given they were the ones who commissioned David Gonski’s work, they were the ones who started this process, they’ve advocated for his report for years, he’s endorsed this legislation, they should really be getting on board and supporting it. But if they choose not to – as they seem to have – we’re going to keep talking to the Greens, we’ll keep talking to the Crossbench, we will do as the Turnbull Government always does and work pragmatically to get an outcome through the Senate.

Journalist:                                Beyond this week? Beyond this week? Could you be here on Friday? Could everyone be here on Friday?

Simon Birmingham:     Well, you’re a brave person if you want to speculate as to how the Senate will operate and the hours the Senate will sit. What I will do is I’ll just keep working with the Crossbenchers and anybody else who wants to get an outcome.

Journalist:                                But you are confident that you can get an outcome by this week?

Simon Birmingham:     I’m really hopeful that we can manage to secure an outcome this week, to give certainty to Australian schools, get more funding to all school systems and sectors to distribute           funding according to the needs based principals of David Gonski’s report.       

Journalist:                                How would you describe the campaign being run by the Catholic sector and the Education Union? What words would you use?

Simon Birmingham:     Look, I think the Education Union’s campaign has been very clearly dishonest, misleading, based on a false promise of funny money that the Gillard Government made. 

In terms of Catholic education, I see a range of perspectives. We’ve seen different leaders in different diocese send out communications to their parents, welcoming the Government’s additional support, acknowledging that funding continues to grow, noting that fee increases above the usual level won’t be necessary. So I think there’s a mixed level.

Journalist:                                Minister, the peak body has come out and said it’s lost faith, it’s lost confidence in the Turnbull Government. That’s a very strong thing for it to say.

Simon Birmingham:     Look, I’m disappointed by that but I will keep working – as you would expect me to – with them and with all stakeholders. Because that’s what my job as Minister to do is. I will of course work to ensure that all Catholic parents understand extra funding is available for their system – $3.4 billion will flow, funding growth above inflation and above wages growth that they can continue to distribute, across their schools. All of which gives them the capacity to make sure that they can keep doing the best by students in Catholic education, the best by the families who invest their own time, money and resources into a Catholic education, because that’s what they want for their children.

Thanks everybody.