Doorstop interview, Canberra
Topics: Delivering real, Gonski needs-based funding for schools
Journalist: [Indistinct] resolution on education funding?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I’m really encouraged that we continue to see constructive discussions and engagement from the crossbench, as well as constructive public commentary and engagement from the Greens. And what this shows is just how out of step the Labor Party is that as the Greens, the crossbenchers, even parts of the Education Union, are now seeing the merits in discussing the Turnbull Government’s proposition to implement needs-based funding, Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek continue to just say no.
It’s negativity all round from the Labor Party; it’s constructive engagement from the other parties, and that is a very promising sign, at least in terms of getting a great outcome for Australian schools of all persuasions.
Journalist: Senator, who are you most likely to get a deal with – the independents or the Greens?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I don’t want to speculate on specific discussions with specific crossbenchers or minor party players. I continue to welcome the fact that they’re being sensible about this – the Labor Party’s being negative – and sensible discussion is what will get the best possible outcome for Australian students across all systems and all states.
Journalist: Have you spoken with the Greens since their party room meeting this morning?
Simon Birmingham: Look, again, I’m not going to go to the timing of discussions, exactly when they’re happening, or what the content of them is – I want to show all of the minor parties and the crossbenchers the respect they deserve. Because they deserve respect – unlike the Labor Party – because they’re discussing and they’re looking for a positive outcome that helps Australian school students. Bill Shorten is looking for a political opportunity to carry to the next election, rather than help for Australian school students next year.
Journalist: How much is your head hurting? Because if you please one person, it seems like the other person’s unhappy; for example, the Greens – they don’t want more money for the Catholic sector – and if you agree with them, then you’re upsetting the backbench.
Simon Birmingham: Look, I wouldn’t say that I have anything other than a calm focus on getting the best outcome for Australian school students, the best outcome that is responsible in terms of the Budget, and ensuring that, ultimately, we have implementation of needs-based funding across Australian schools, as David Gonski and his panel have recommended, and as of course, they’ve actually endorsed with the Turnbull Government’s legislation and reforms.
Journalist: If it doesn’t happen by Friday, are you prepared to wait until after the winter break?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we continue to think it’s really important to give Australian schools certainty for next year, that they can undertake their budgeting processes with the confidence that funding will flow and that needs-based funding will be introduced and implemented in Australia, in a way free of the 27 special deals that we inherited from the Labor Party.
Journalist: Julia Gillard started with needs-based funding but finished up making a whole lot of deals to get the thing through, which you now greatly criticise. Minister, aren’t you in danger of doing exactly the same thing now to get this over the line?
Simon Birmingham: No. Our intention to ensure that rather than the 150 years of special deals and different arrangements that the Labor Party put in place, that we actually achieve – within 10 years – equity, consistency, across Australian schools on the basis of need. Our intention to do that and achieve that is resolute.
Journalist: Are you more confident today than you were 48 hours ago that you can get this through?
Simon Birmingham: I’ve always been a hopeful person and I remain hopeful.
Journalist: How much damage has been done with the Catholic sector? One in five students are educated in Catholic schools. The Catholics that we speak to say they’ve got very long memories – they’re stopping short of saying they want revenge. How concerned are you about that and the impact that might have?
Simon Birmingham: I’m confident that if we can get this legislation passed, people across all school systems – including Catholic education – will see the increased funding flow, will see the benefits to their systems, and that Catholic parents – hard-working Catholic parents who pay their own dollars to send their kids to school – coupled with hard-working Catholic education teachers, will see the benefits of increased funding, growing from $6.3 billion this year to $9.7 billion by 2027. I think they will see the benefits of growing funding, distributed fairly, needs-based consistency right across the country that benefits all systems and sectors.
Journalist: Resolved by Friday?
Simon Birmingham: Hopefully.