TIM BENNETT: Education unions have used the federal election spotlight to form an alliance to campaign for adequate funding for state schools, they’d like it to be higher on the priority list and the Learn to Grow campaign was launched this week with the heads of Anglicare SA, Uniting Communities, the SA Primary Principals Association and the Education Union of South Australia and the Independent Education Union of South Australia so, there are a few different hats in there. From Anglicare, Peter Sanderman welcome to the show.

PETER SANDERMAN: Good morning, Tim. Good morning, listeners.

BENNETT: What are your priorities here?

SANDERMAN: Well it is all schools; it is not just state schools. We’d like all schools to be adequately funded with needs based funding because there is a lot of kids who need extra support in education and we’d like that funding to be available for each student and for every school.

BENNETT: What kind of funding are you talking about? What kind of numbers?

SANDERMAN: We’re really talking about the Gonski funding that has been in use for about the last three years. So, we’ve had various commitments by various parties, but we really want needs based funding for education and that really means it is sector blind, it is not favouring one sector over another and that’s why we have the independent schools people there as well as the state schools people there. It is actually a unique combination of all the school sectors working together with the community sector.

BENNETT: Why do you feel like David Gonski’s recommendations were the way to go?

SANDERMAN: Because they were sector blind. They were really saying we will fund on the basis of what a child needs, it doesn’t matter which school they go to and that is very important. Education has to be adequately funded and we’ve got to get over this very old fashion divide between state, independent and Catholic school systems. Basically, we want government to fund kids to go to school.

BENNETT: And I understand and just clarify this for me, but the disadvantaged factored in things like regional and remote locations as well?

SANDERMAN: Regional and remote locations and disability and that’s very important because kids with disabilities and particularly kids on the autism spectrum do need special support to be in school.

BENNETT: Which party do you think best represents this from your perspective?

SANDERMAN: Well at the moment if you go to our website which is learntogrow.com.au you’ll see we’ve got a bit of analysis of the party’s backgrounds and really it’s, two of the parties have committed to funding to 2019 and two haven’t and one we are not clear about. So, this is trying to put pressure on whoever forms government to commit to education.

BENNETT: Thank you so much for joining us. I appreciate your time.

SANDERMAN: Thanks very much, Tim.

BENNETT: Peter Sanderman is from Anglicare SA and Anglicare SA along with several other associations are part of the Learn to Grow campaign which was launched this week looking at school funding for the federal election in a couple of weeks time. It is 11 to 9 and he’s going to be on your Senate white ballot paper in a couple of weeks, Minister Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training and South Australian Senator, welcome to the show.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Tim and good morning to your listeners and my constituents there across the north-west of SA.

BENNETT: And you’ve been travelling around. From the perspective of education, do you think that the Liberals, even though there isn’t a commitment to funding Gonski as much as the other parties, still has a competitive package?

BIRMINGHAM: Well Tim, there really are two separate issues to deal with here. One is how much money is available to be spent on schools or indeed anywhere else across the federal budget and the other is then in relation to schools funding, how you distribute it. Now, in relation to distribution first. We’re absolutely committed to needs based funding principles, the types of things that Peter was just talking about and David Gonski himself the other week was quoted as saying that needs based funding is what he pushed for and that’s what we have and that neither party are against needs based funding and he’s right on that. The types of loading that Peter was speaking about for students with a disability, for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, for smaller rural and regional schools, those types of loading are firmly embedded in the system and in our approach to the future. There is a separate question then about how much money we’ve got to spend overall on the school system as part of a federal budget and what we’re proposing is strong growth. The federal government under Malcolm Turnbull will Spend about $16 billion on schools this year and the budget we handed down a couple of months ago will see that grow every single year through to the final year of that budget projection in 2020 to more than $20 billion. So, that’s $16 billion this year, around about $20.1 billion by 2020. That’s growth faster than inflation, faster than enrolments and it will be distributed according to need.

BENNETT: But slower than a Labor Government.

BIRMINGHAM: That’s right. To be quite honest with your listeners, are Labor promising to spend even more than that? Yes they are. They’re also of course promising to tax more, to have higher deficit and they’re things that listeners will have to make their value judgment on, but school spending in Australia is at a record level. It has grown under our term in office by about 27 per cent under the budget that we inherited, we have levels of school funding that are close to twice what they were 20 years ago in real terms, inflation adjusted. So, really the issues in our schools are not just about how much money is there, it is more about how we make sure it is distributed effectively and fairly which we are committed to and then how it is used most effectively and what we’ve proposed in the budget are a number of reforms that will try to work through with the states and territories to get earlier and better identification of children who can’t read properly in that first 12 to 18 months so that we pick up kids who are having difficulties learning how to read because that is the foundation stone, of course, of all learning, but also reforms to lift the quality of teachers and give teachers greater incentives to pursue professional development and then recognition to higher standards and capability and reforms to really lift and drive the level that maths and science take up in their final years of schooling.

BENNETT: In the case of, just a wider look at it, and some of those are worth checking out, for anyone who is interested in this I highly recommend you have a read of the Coalition’s policy on those specific focuses that they want to be handing down, but from a wider perspective, I know that there is disagreement between Labor the Coalition about the general use of stimulus economics. Of course, Labor are essentially going to this election saying that they will go deeper in to deficit, but then come out of deficit at the same time with their plans to have a higher, I guess, a primed pump for economic advantage which is the basics of stimulus economics. On that note though, doesn’t it make sense to put more money in to education? Isn’t that the one area that’s worth spending more and borrowing more in order to do that?

 Well Tim I haven’t heard Labor quite put it that way, they’ve certainly been making a lot of spending promises, I haven’t heard them say they’re doing it for economic stimulus grounds, in fact, the words ‘economic growth’ have hardly passed Bill Shorten’s lips, but there is no doubt that Labor are promising to spend lots of extra money, I guess the risk and the problem we’ve seen, certainly from the previous Labor government, is that spending in these areas in particular becomes structural spending, it becomes built in to the system of government spending and it is then very hard to slow down the rates of growth in the future, so yes, you could say if you were going to spend billions and billions of extra dollars as Labor propose, where would you choose to spend it?  And I’m the Education Minister and if I had a few billion dollars to spend, well I’d spend more of it in early years education and some other areas that I think would be real priorities to lift overall standards, but of course, that’s a hypothetical question and we don’t have lost of billions of dollars to spare.

Parents that I talk to tell me they want two things for their children, they want a great education and they want confidence they’ll have a job at the end of it and, of course, the Turnbull Government’s focus is to ensure that we have guaranteed growing funding for schools, for education, for health, for key services, but that it is all affordable and that it is fully funded and that at the same time, we commit to a growing economy which is of course where our measures to stimulate business growth and investment are really focussed so that there are jobs at the end for those children because if we don’t have private enterprise and business actually investing and growing in Australia, then we are in all sorts of trouble both for future employment opportunities and frankly, for where we find the money to fund our schools or health services in the future.

BENNETT: Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training. Good to see you around the country of South Australia this week and good to have you on the show.

BIRMINGHAM: Well it was great to speak to you. I’m actually at the Seppeltsfield Winery in the Barossa Valley this morning, but not drinking, but meeting with the owners indeed about investment growth and export opportunities.

BENNETT: Well one of the best things you could do is bring forward your contract for your six bottles of wine this morning, just a thought. All right, take care of yourself.


BENNETT: Simon Birmingham is a Senator and Minister for Education in the Coalition Government.