Interview on 6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker
Labor’s corruption of ‘Gonski’; Future schools funding arrangements

Gareth Parker: Page three of the West Australian today is a story by Bethany Hiatt saying that WA school students have received far less funding under the Gonski needs-based funding model than those in most other states. Now you might remember the Gonski reforms were the former Gillard Labor government’s plan to boost funding for public school education and it was supposed to be about need and the neediest schools with the neediest students who were supposed to get the most money. Well it hasn’t quite turned out that way, in – based on the data and we’ll get into the reason why in just a moment but a West Australian student with – in a school with similar needs characteristics to the Northern Territory, the WA student would get $2649 per student, whereas the Northern Territory school would get $4224 per student. What’s going on here? To explain, Simon Birmingham is the Federal Education Minister. Good morning Minister.

Simon Birmingham: G’day Gareth, good to be with you.

Gareth Parker: Thanks for joining us, how can this be defended, quite frankly?

Simon Birmingham: Well I think it is a clear evidence that we do need to have changes to the way school funding models work so that we treat students in identical circumstances as a federal government the same across different states of Australia. How did it come about? Well as Kim Boston who’s a former head of the department of education in South Australia, in New South Wales, and was part of the Gonski panel that came up with the school funding recommendations said very recently and I’ll quote him, he said in the run up to the 2013 election, prime minister Kevin Rudd and education minister Bill Shorten hawked this corruption of the Gonski report around the country, doing deals with premiers, bishops and the various education lobbies. So that essentially is what happened. In 2013, a whole bunch of deals were stitched up about school funding that has left a very inconsistent model in place, 27 different funding deals, in fact, that the Federal Government were administering and the Turnbull Government as Malcolm Turnbull and I announced earlier this year has committed extra money to schools into the future but we want to make sure that funding from 2018 onwards is delivered in a fair needs-based manner that recognises the need of students but also treats those students equitably regardless of which state or territory they’re living in.

Gareth Parker: The West Australian Government was never that keen on the Gonski reforms because the argument that the state government here put was that Western Australia was already spending more on educating our kids and it felt that it was going to be penalised for doing so under the Gonski system, was it wrong not to sign up to the system, given that you know, as you’ve described it various states did various deals, Western Australia’s been left worse off again.

Simon Birmingham: No it wasn’t wrong because in the end what WA is getting today is exactly the deal that was on offer so the deal that was put to WA was not a particularly good one, we actually have a very odd arrangement where because of the way in which they constructed the formulas for school funding under Labor, WA was going to be so bad off, they created a special loading just for Western Australia and yet still you see from the information you gave before that WA is a long way behind the other states and territories. Without that special loading, it would be even worse but the point is right that the Barnett Government is investing significant sums in Western Australian schools, more than pretty much any other state or territory around the country on a per student basis and that’s to their credit. The unfortunate thing is the Labor model that we’ve inherited means that we actually are penalising the Barnett Government and Western Australians for not actu- for providing that higher level of funding to their schools. I don’t want to see us penalising state governments that are doing the right thing; I want a federal funding model and Malcolm Turnbull wants one that treats students equally from the federal government’s perspective across the country and provides the right encouragement and incentive for states to maintain or grow their funding themselves in addition to what we’re putting in federally which is record funding, growing from about $16 billion this year across the country to more than $20 billion by 2020 and importantly the other thing we want to do though, is whereas Labor just signed a deal that was about funding, we want to make sure that future school funding arrangements ensure that that $20 billion we’ll be spending in 2020 is also targeted to reforms to lift student outcomes because we’re spending record amounts on schools across the country, and yet our performance has by almost every international benchmark either stagnated or declined.

Gareth Parker: So isn’t that, Simon Birmingham, where the debate needs to be? We have – we spend so much time, especially in the media, covering these funding arguments, and these sort of unseemly squabbles between the states about who can get their hands on the biggest pot of money but somewhere along the line we’ve forgotten that there doesn’t appear to be any link between all this record funding that’s going into the system and the student outcomes coming out of it.

Simon Birmingham: Spot on so reports released by the OECD and the Productivity Commission just over the last few weeks have stated very clearly that there’s not a link between how much is spent and student outcome because of course as any sensible listener you’ve got would note, it’s about how that money is spent and how it’s invested most wisely and when Malcolm Turnbull and I released our school funding policy in the lead up to the budget this year, pre-election, it wasn’t just about money, we indicated the types of reforms we wanted to see occur around the country and they range from the earliest years, having an early intervention measure that in year one would see students assessed for their reading capacity, their phonetic awareness so that we can pick up early problems and make sure there’s early intervention because if the kid isn’t learning to read in those earliest years then of course they’re going to have problems right across their schooling life. Other reforms that we talked about, we’re setting in place some minimum standards for literacy and numeracy skills, for school leavers, that’s partly benchmarked on what Peter Collier and Colin Barnett are already doing in Western Australia, that is now starting to introduce some minimum standards so that employers, universities, TAFEs can all have confidence that when somebody leaves school and waves around a school leavers certificate, they’ve actually achieved a minimum competency in their numeracy skills or literacy skills.

Gareth Parker: Alright Simon Birmingham, the Federal Education Minister, thanks for your time this morning.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Gareth, great pleasure.