Interview on ABC 612 Brisbane Mornings Steve Austin
Topics: Labor’s corruption of ‘Gonski’; Future schools funding arrangements
Steve Austin: Well the question this morning is, will Queensland schools get more federal education funds? Tomorrow, Education Ministers from the states of Australia meet with Simon Birmingham, the Federal Minister. He is looking to remove or resolve inequities in education funding and he is going to give the state ministers recent research that found under the Gonski funding model, Tasmanian schools received almost 30 per cent more in federal funding than Western Australian schools with the same needs. Queensland is somewhere in the middle. Simon Birmingham wants to replace 27 different agreements with one distribution model, covering all the states and territories of Australia. Simon Birmingham, good morning to you, is Queensland receiving a disproportionate amount of money for education?
Very busy today, so I’m just going to try and get straight into it, I’m rolling recording now if that’s OK?
Simon Birmingham: All good.
Steve Austin: Well, Minister Birmingham, is Queensland receiving a disproportionate amount of money for education?
Simon Birmingham: No I certainly wouldn’t say that, Steve. What we do have is a range of hotchpotch situations that were put on the table, and deals offered by Bill Shorten when he was Education Minister and Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard when they were Prime Ministers, that leaves an inequitable arrangement across different jurisdictions. So an identical child, of similar or identical background, attending an identical school in the Northern Territory receives more federal funding than an identical child in Queensland, but the identical child in Western Australia receives dramatically less. So we have this real inconsistency across the the country which is the result of having 27 different school funding models in place from the Federal Government which just makes no sense to me if we are going to work towards the types of principles that David Gonski’s report outlined of having a fair national needs based funding model.
Steve Austin: So what are you going to pitch, what are you going to pitch to Queensland’s Education Minister Kate Jones tomorrow then?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I’ll be making sure that in talking to Kate and all of the other state and territory ministers we start with a first principles discussion tomorrow. We’re not resolving school funding tomorrow, we’re starting a conversation about how it is we grow from federal funding budgeted at $16 billion this year to more than $20 billion by 2020, and ensure that it is distributed according to the principles that every student gets support from the federal taxpayer, that it is distributed fairly according to need, that it is distributed equitably across the states and territories, and that it’s focused on reforms in our schools that actually can make the best difference to the learning outcomes for our students.
Steve Austin: [Interrupts] Well I can tell you what Kate Jones is going to say because she’s already told the ABC here many times that the Federal Government is short-changing Queensland when it comes to education funding and they want you to commit to the Gonski model. How do you respond?
Simon Birmingham: Well firstly, the data shows very clearly that far from short-changing Queensland, Queensland has currently one of the better deals in the country. Secondly, that funding is going to grow into the future and it will keep growing into the future. The Turnbull Government is not about to reduce school funding, so when Kate Jones or anybody else talks about cuts, that is of course a complete untruth. What we are doing is growing funding, what I want to see is that it is distributed according to need, equitably across jurisdictions, and targeted to where it can make the greatest difference. And I hope that with the federal election behind us and the Turnbull Government having taken our school funding proposals to that election and transparently argued them – as I did on air with you before the election, Steve – that Kate Jones and others can put the politics behind and that we can now talk about how we strike an enduring arrangement for school funding and school reform from 2018 onwards.
Steve Austin: Queensland does have some unique factors that do mean the state would appear to need increased funding, perhaps per capita over other states and that is the highly decentralised nature of the state, the very spread out nature of some of the cities in Queensland and the very high – much higher than the national average, disadvantaged students like indigenous students that have come from quite poor backgrounds. These do appear to give a case for extra need funding for the state of Queensland. How do you see it?
Simon Birmingham: I agree. I agree. And the figures we’re talking about, the examples that are out there today are looking at an identical school and how that school is funded based on an assessment of disadvantage, indigeneity, so the number of indigenous students, all of those different factors in place and there is no suggestion from me that we should step away from providing extra support for students from low socio-economic backgrounds, extra support for indigenous students, extra support for small, rural and regional or remote schools. All of those different factors need to be considered and that would mean that Queensland would do better than Victoria for example in terms of the actual dollars per student amount…
Steve Austin: [Talks over] So you can guarantee that Queensland…
Simon Birmingham: [Indistinct] only got funding distributed according to need actually means.
Steve Austin: So you can guarantee that Queensland will get more dollars per student than the state of Victoria, for instance?
Simon Birmingham: I’m absolutely confident that would be the case because we would want to see funding accorded to need. Ken Boston, who was one of the authors of the Gonski report, former head of education department in New South Wales and South Australia was recently quoted as basically saying that in the run up to the 2013 election, Kevin Rudd and Bill Shorten hawked this corruption of the Gonski report around the country, doing deals with premiers, bishops, and the various education lobby and that is essentially what’s happened. We’ve got 27 different funding models out of that. Now I want us to step away from that and to look though at how we apply the principles of the Gonksi report about distributing funding according to need, fairly across the country so that the same indigenous student in the same low socio-economic community in a small rural town gets the same level of federal support whether they’re living in Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia, or Victoria. That should be the federal government’s approach but of course Queensland has more Indigenous students than Victoria, more rural and regional schools than Victoria, more areas or pockets of greater socio-economic disadvantage so that would naturally lead to a result that Queensland gets more funding under a fair, consistently applied funding model. Western Australia currently gets an awful lot less money per student than Queensland, despite also having very high numbers of indigenous students and areas of great regionality and great remoteness.
Steve Austin: So can you guarantee that Queensland will receive, bottom line, more money than it does now once you’ve shown the state education ministers your analysis and resolved these funding model inequities?
Simon Birmingham: There is no reason why funding for Queensland should go backwards because we have a growing pot of money.
Steve Austin: So is that a guarantee?
Simon Birmingham: I’m happy to guarantee that a state like Queensland is not going to see a reduction in funding for its schools because we’ve got a growing pot of money that’s available into the future so yes I want to see us treat schools equitably across the country as a federal government because I think that’s what people expect the federal government to do. Treat according to need but where need is identical, don’t differentiate or discriminate against the states where you have identical cases of need.
Steve Austin: Simon Birmingham, federal Education Minister.
[End of excerpt]