Doorstop interview, Perth
Delivering real Gonski needs-based schools funding; Same sex marriage

Simon Birmingham: Thanks, and thanks so much all for coming along. I’m here in Perth today to highlight how the Turnbull Government’s implementation of needs based funding for schools benefits schools right across Australia, but none more so than schools right here in Western Australia. And I’m thrilled to have been at the Woodvale Secondary College to see the range of outstanding services and opportunities they provide to students across locational pathways, academic streams, and student wellbeing and support; all of it helping to ensure that their 1400 students excel across the different opportunities of life and are given every opportunity in the future to pursue their dreams and aspirations. This is a school that stands to benefit next year to the tune of around $320,000- over the course of the next decade to the tune of around $16 million of support that will be delivered to help a school like this achieve more, to invest in the type of services and support that it needs. WA is an enormous beneficiary of the types of reforms that we’re pursuing.

Across Australia, students on average, schools on average, will be better off to the tune of $2300 per student. But here in WA, that’s around $2600 per student. That’s because previously Western Australia was penalised for the State Government investing more in its schools than other States. The Turnbull Government wants to reward that, encourage that, treat all States and Territories consistently, and that’s why we’re putting $1.6 billion more into WA schools than the Gillard Government promised to do. It’s why we’re making sure that we have a fair funding formula applied consistently across the nation on the basis of need. Ultimately, what we’re doing is being endorsed by David Gonski, because it’s true, the Gonski principle; that needs based funding gives additional support to students who need it, to schools that need it, to ensure that everybody has the best opportunity to succeed in their school education and into the future, and this is an outstanding example of a school that is already using the funding it has to achieve the best things for its students, in whom we can have absolute confidence that with this increased support in the future they will be able to do even more to help their students fly and excel.

Journalist: You talk about a fair formula, but the State Education Minister of WA says the State Government’s facing a $224 million shortfall for the next three years compared to what they were expecting. So is that fair? And do you have any sympathy for the Government’s position?

Simon Birmingham: The WA Government is going to receive more funding each and every year into the future than they would have if the Gillard Government Gonski deals had been left in place. So this is about actually providing more support to WA schools, a fairer deal for WA schools, and it will leave the State about $1.6 billion better off than if we had left the Labor policies in place. It’s an indictment on each and every Federal Labor MP in and Senator that they voted against this proposal- a proposal that actually puts in place more funding for WA than all of their existing deals and agreements would have seen flow through, and it does that because we’re going to provide the same level of support to Western Australian schools based on their individual needs, as we do to schools in every other State and Territory.

Journalist: Would it not be more…

Journalist: [Talks over] [Indistinct] actually the Catholic schools are still not happy. Do you intend to keep talking to them and sitting down with them, or perhaps do you think the Government’s harsh language may have encouraged them to fall into line?

Simon Birmingham: I’m absolutely committed to working with Catholic education, as I am with Government systems and independent schools to make sure that all of them understand the benefits of our reforms and that all of them are able to put those reforms and that extra investment to the best possible use for their students. Here in WA, Catholic education is seeing growth of around 4.3 per cent per student, per annum, over the next few years. That’s faster growth than Catholic education in Victoria or in New South Wales, because, again Catholic education in the West had got a bad deal previously, and will get a better deal in the future. And so the type of consistency, the type of fair and equal treatment that we’re applying is right across the board, whether you’re comparing Government system with Government system or Catholic education system with Catholic education system, it’s about a fair, transparent, needs based model, and that’s exactly what we’re putting in place. And I hope and trust that all will see that with the increased support that’s there, they’re able to maintain everything they’re doing at present, maintain choice or opportunity for parents across different school systems, and to invest more in services to support their students to succeed in the future.

Journalist: Would it not be more beneficial for the WA economy, given how bad a state it is in at the moment, to get the money now, and not in six years’ time, or four years’ time, or whenever it is?

Simon Birmingham: WA is going to see growth in 10 per cent in funding per student, per annum over the course of the next decade, so there’s a real uplift happening this year and next year, as there then will be each and every year in the future to make sure that there is that support that’s necessary for Western Australian schools, and that those schools and the WA Government will be able to plan with absolute certainty that their funding is growing faster than anywhere else in the country, and that they’re able to invest that in the schools who need it most.

Journalist: Are you concerned that the internal Liberal division over same sex marriage has taken the focus away from the Government’s success in getting its school package through?

Simon Birmingham: Well I’m here talking about school funding and I’m going to keep talking about school founding, and I would urge every single one of my colleagues to focus on our successes, focus on our achievements, focus on the policies of the Government and to make sure that they are where our attention lies. We did have an outstanding success last week in delivering Gonski needs based funding for Australian schools, which the Labor Party had squibbed. Labor still stands at 27 different school funding agreements, and models, and distortions. We’ve implemented consistent schools funding across the country; that’s something to celebrate, to go out and speak to your electorates about, and every single one of my colleagues should be out there making sure that message is heard.

Journalist: But are you worried…

Journalist: [Talks over] That hasn’t been the case in the last few days, has it? It’s all been about the leaked recording of Christopher Pyne, and the schools package has hardly rated a mention. Are you concerned about that?

Simon Birmingham: I want to make sure that we do focus on the successes of the Government, and this is an incredible success. It comes on the back of many other legislative successes the Turnbull Government has had. Plenty of people after last year’s election said that we couldn’t make this Senate work or this Parliament work. Well we’ve demonstrated that we can, and we have. Just in my portfolio alone, we fixed up the vocational education training system and the broken student loans model late last year; we put in place the most sweeping changes to childcare subsidies and support in the first part of this year; and now, we’ve implemented historic changes to deliver needs based funding to Australian schools. There’s lots for this Government to be proud of, lots for us to stand on, and we ought to all be working hard to sell those successes.

Journalist: [Indistinct] what your South Australian colleague, Christopher Pyne, said? Was it, in your view, problematic that he offered that?

Simon Birmingham: Christopher was speaking at a private dinner at which he said views that he’s said many times before in terms of his support of same sex marriage. My views on that topic have been on the record for a long time as well. None of us step away from those views, but it’s not the priority of the Government at present. If the Opposition wants to come along and say they will support us giving the Australian people a say, they will let us put our plebiscite through, we will do that as quickly as we possibly can. But otherwise, Bill Shorten is the hurdle and the obstacle to achieving same sex marriage, and the Turnbull Government will get on with its other policy priorities such as our success in school funding reform. 

Journalist: What do you make of this talk of a new push to put up a private Members bill on same sex marriage, do you think that has momentum?

Simon Birmingham: Backbenchers are always free to raise matters in the Party Room, to introduce private Members bills- that’s what a Parliament is there for, and that won’t distract the leadership of the Government, the Cabinet of the Government from getting on with the very important jobs of the day. Of course, issues of national security, issues of economic growth, and issues of fixing broken elements of the Federation of which school funding was one.

Journalist: Do you think Tony Abbott wants to be Prime Minister again?

Simon Birmingham: Look, Tony says that he’s happy being the Member for Warringah, and I take him at his word. 

Journalist: Are you concerned at all about the Liberals crossbench here in WA? The Party has been taking out some full page advertisements. Are you worried?

Simon Birmingham: From what I’ve seen, my WA colleagues have been doing a great job in promoting and selling the Government’s successes, and that included on the weekend this material in relation to school funding, a demonstration of their support, and recognition of the achievements here, and, of course, the point that Western Australia is by far and away the biggest winner from the Turnbull Government’s school funding reforms; $1.6 billion more than Labor would have sent to this State, and it’s support to make sure that WA schools are treated just like a school in Sydney, Melbourne, or anywhere else around the country. Thanks everybody.