JULIE DOYLE: Minister, thanks for coming in today. Lets talk firstly about Labor’s focus today has been about $1.8 billion in funding to close the gap between regional and city schools; what’s the Government’s plan to do that?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well Julie, this is yet another repackaging of the very old announcement from the Labor party in relation to their funding, there is nothing new in relation to today’s announcement. The Government’s approach to school funding is very clear and that is that we will grow funding each and every year in to the future from around $16 billion this year in 2016 to about $21 billion by 2020. So it is a strong growth level, but most importantly, we will distribute it fairly. Which means that we will make sure that it is distributed according to need.
Those schools of lower socio-economic status will receive more funding, students with disabilities will receive more funding and yes, schools in rural and regional areas will expect to receive greater support under the type of needs based distribution that will apply…[Indistinct]
JULIE DOYLE: [Interrupts]…And particular funding for those regional schools, particular programmes?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well we want to make sure that the funding is distributed according to need and obviously smaller rural schools have higher cost bases and need additional support, schools with lower socio-economic standing have additional needs and support that they require, but really at the top of that, what is really critical is that the money is used as effectively as possible.
The report out today from the Australian Council for Educational Research demonstrates very clearly that we have seen increasing funding going in to Australian schools for quite a long period of time now, yet declining returns and results for students. So we have to actually change the debate away from where Labor want it, which is all about just how much money is spent, to one about how it is spent most effectively and that’s what our plan for increased student performance does by focussing very clearly on real reforms in schools starting from the very earliest years to help ensure children read more effectively right through the schooling system and importantly rewarding and keeping our most capable teachers within the school system too.
JULIE DOYLE: Now that report that you referred to looks at results up to 2012. Would it be more accurate though, the next round of results will give a better indication of how the Gonski funding has been having an impact on results?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well that report does demonstrate that funding had been going up, up to 2012, and yes, it has kept going up and gone up under our Government by around 27%. Money going in to our schools is not the problem. The problem lays in how that money is being used at present and that’s why we want to have a relentless focus on ensuring that we actually are using that money effectively, using evidence based reforms to make sure children are tested in the first couple of years with a proper individualised, personalised assessment. We have outlined detailed reforms where we want to see the increased funding that we’re committing for schools in the future used. Labor have no such specific plans as to where they want the money used, they’re just promising lots more money…
JULIE DOYLE: Well Labor’s policy does include, it does include evidence based programmes as well. The programme they were talking about yesterday, they were talking about money for a targeting teaching programme where teachers develop learning plans for students who are having some difficulties. So, they are saying that the money will be used in an evidence based way as well.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Labor’s announcement was more about a nice slogan than it was actually about specific reforms in our school systems that will address the real problems that we have. Around 200,000 Australian school children are estimated not to be reading effectively up to the minimum standard. Now, that is just not acceptable and we need to make sure that in those very earliest years we have the assessments undertaken, the early identification and the interventions in place to support those children. It is a pretty basic and obvious fundamental that if a child is not learning to read effectively in the first few years of school, they’re likely to fail at almost every other aspect of their schooling experience.
JULIE DOYLE: Is your argument, Minister that spending more money doesn’t make any difference? Labor is promising a substantially higher contribution to education than you are.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well the facts speak for themselves. We have school funding at present that is at a record level; both in real terms, in terms of the inflation adjusted amount and in a per student sense so, school funding is at record levels. We are committing to grow it as a Turnbull Government, yes, not as fast as the Labor party because we are also not pretending or planning the same tax rise that the Labor party is planning. So, record levels of school funding are there, it will grow under a re-elected Turnbull Government. The question is not about how much money is there now; it should be about how that money is used. Money matters, but how you use it matters more.
JULIE DOYLE: Won’t having that extra money though give schools more flexibility to target these programmes to where they are needed if they have that greater amount of funding to work with?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well money is the tool that you put in, but how you actually use it is the most important factor there. Now, we believe that a record level of funding that we already have and with projected growth from $16 billion this year through to $20.1 billion by 2020, there is a large sum of Federal Government support at record levels for Australian schools and it is time to take a breath, make sure it is distributed fairly and effectively according to need and make sure it is used more effectively on the things that will make a difference in the classroom, not just to keep saying “because what we are currently doing isn’t working, tip more money in”. That’s Labor’s way. We think we should actually take the breath and the pause to say “how can we use this most effectively?”
JULIE DOYLE: Just finally, Minister in the South Australian Liberal Senate ticket you have been moved to the top of the ticket, replacing Cory Bernardi, is there a chance that this is going to cause some more division between the conservatives and the moderates in your party?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Not at all. It has been an incredibly amicable approach and we are all as one in regards to the Senate ticket in SA.
JULIE DOYLE: Simon Birmingham, thanks very much.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thank you.