Subjects: Gonski report; Schools funding; TAFE.

WENDY HARMER: Well addressing these issues will be a huge challenge for the next education Minister, so I am joined now by the Minister for Education Simon Birmingham –welcome to the program Simon.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: G’day Wendy, it’s great to be with you.

HARMER: Thank you very much. And Kate Ellis is with us as well – hello Kate.

KATE ELLIS: Good morning Wendy.

HARMER: Well thank you very much for joining us and I’m going to ask our listeners to give us a call and put some questions to you because as I say this issue is the number one issue according to people who have registered with Vote Compass, ABC Vote Compass and that’s over a million people almost, I think. And so I know this issue is big so if you have questions, do ring.

We’ll go to you first Simon Birmingham. What have you got for us in the kick for this election campaign? For the next term of a Coalition Government.

BIRMINGHAM: Sure Wendy, well if the Turnbull Government is re-elected we will increase school funding from around $16 billion that the Federal Government provides this year in 2016 to around $20.1 billion by 2020. So that’s strong growth, it’s above inflation, above enrolments. Importantly we’ve also outlined a range of areas where we want to see funding invested to improve results and outcomes for students and those areas include earlier assessments and interventions to deal with the estimated 200,000 students who can’t read effectively across the Australian school system, include aspirations to get more students studying science and maths in particular into the latter years, minimum standards around literacy and numeracy and importantly rewards for our most competent and highly capable teachers to keep them in the classroom and to provide incentives to get them into some of our disadvantaged schools and finally, a really strong commitment to make sure that the growing, record funding will be distributed according to need so that those schools of lower socio-economic status, schools with students with disability, schools in smaller rural and regional areas, all of those types of areas of higher need receive greater support.

HARMER: Okay well thank you for that. And Kate Ellis, you must differ in your pitch I guess. It’s certainly – I know that Bill Shorten has put education right at the heart, at the front and centre of his campaign pitch to voters. So what does the Labor Party have for us?

ELLIS: Well that’s right Wendy. We see this as an absolute priority. Australia has gone through the biggest review of our school system in 40 years which came up with the – often referred to as the ‘Gonski’ reforms – what we’re saying is, if you vote Labor we will implement the solutions we need for our schools. We will ensure that the funding is there and indeed there would be $3.8 billion more for our schools just over two years than under the Coalition Government. But importantly we’d also see through the existing school funding agreements which Malcolm Turnbull and Simon Birmingham are threatening to tear up and would make sure that this money was directed towards evidence-based practices, more targeted literacy and numeracy program, more one-on-one support and early intervention and really importantly, more support for students with disability who are not getting the support that they need in our school system.

HARMER: Okay. Well we’ve got lots to talk about here – we’ve got the changes to vocational education, we have the funding for TAFE, we have I guess we can talk about the number of apprenticeships that has been falling over recent years and we can also talk about the deregulation of universities and of course, of those pre-school funding and you know those very crucial years for young children for their education. This is a really big portfolio guys that you’re taking on and one that people are really passionate about. So, I’m opening the lines for you this morning for you to talk to both of our representatives and Tony would like to go first. Here you go Tony. Who are you pointing your question to Tony?

CALLER: Both of them – I’d like to know when they’re going to increase the standard of teachers, their ability, like they do in the top performing countries they’ve got very highly educated teachers. When are we going to start doing that instead of constantly pouring more and more money into the system?

HARMER: All right. Well thanks for that, I know this is a big one of yours Simon, you say that it’s not necessarily an increase in funding that’s required but that it is more targeted about where the money’s spent. Would you like to speak to that?

BIRMINGHAM: Sure Wendy, and Tony is right in that sense that money in itself is not the end. You obviously need to ensure that money is spent as effectively as possible – now as I said in the intro, we’re going to provide and continue to provide record growing funding in the future so that’s not in any doubt. But we do want to make sure it’s spent effectively. In this term we had a major review of teacher training and we are implementing those recommendations with the states and territories who of course are the prime employers of teachers and run the registration systems. Those reforms see things like minimum literacy and numeracy testing of students in universities who are aspiring to be teachers, requirements to get primary teachers actually undertaking specialisations when they’re at university doing their training so we get more specialist teachers into the classrooms so we’re very focused on practical measures there to lift the training of our teachers but at this election we’ve also outlined a commitment to ensure that teachers are encouraged to undertake continuous professional development to be recognised as Highly Capable or Lead Teachers within the classroom and to receive that accreditation and that we want state and non-government industrial systems to reward and recognise teachers who seek those high levels of excellence so we can keep them in the classrooms and structure systems so we can get more of them into disadvantaged schools.

HARMER: Well, you know, I have to say Simon a video made by Jane Caro saying that the morale of teachers was pretty low at the moment and they felt like punching bags, I think it got thousands upon thousands upon thousands of views and really seemed to hit a nerve there. Kate Ellis, what do you think about our standards of teaching?

ELLIS: Look we know that our teachers are the most important asset that we have in our education system and we need to support them and we need to ensure that they have the resources they need. We’ve announced we’d enhance entry requirements for teaching degrees, that we’d improve the teacher education and that we’d have better ongoing professional development. We also think it’s really important, particularly in our secondary schools, that teachers in science and technology, engineering and maths are actually qualified in that subject area. I think that parents would be horrified if they knew how many were not. But I’m also not surprised that Simon is saying that money doesn’t matter – he would say that, because they are going to the election promising $29 billion less than our schools over the next 10 years. What we need to do for our teachers is also make sure that we have the resources so that they can get the assistance that they need if we’re going to have more one-on-one work with individual students, if we’re going to help those students that are falling behind or indeed work with those students who are advanced then it means we need the resources for more assistance in our schools and in our classrooms and that’s really, really important for the quality of teaching overall.

HARMER: Okay let’s go to Nerida from Narara, hello Nerida.

CALLER: Hi, how’re you going?

HARMER: Good thank you. Away you go.

CALLER: I’m seeing in our local school, which happens to be in Narara, that Gonski really is making a huge difference, the needs-based funding is really helping our students and I really don’t know what our school’s going to be able to do when that funding’s gone since the Coalition isn’t backing that policy and that’s my question. What’s going to happen in the future? To both the guests.

HARMER: Yes, well thank you. Yes, we’ll ask the federal Minister for Education first – that you are not funding Gonski beyond – well you’ve got $1.2 billion here to fund the first four years but not going beyond that.

BIRMINGHAM: So Wendy there’s a real misconception thanks to the scare campaign that Labor and the unions have run which obviously unfortunately Nerida believes and so do too many other people which I’ve been trying to reassure them of, and that is that the extra money going into schools right now, this year and next year and which has gone in under our government, a 27 per cent growth in funding, the so-called Gonski money, is there to stay into the future. That is the new baseline upon which future growth occurs so there’ll be no cuts, no reductions, schools that are doing great things today will be able to continue to do those things into the future and more with the extra money that we’re proposing. Now, are we promising to spend as much over the next 10 years as the Labor Party is promising? No, nor are we proposing to jack the deficit up by another $20 billion nor are we promising a raft of new taxes to take Australian taxation to record levels. So I think the scare campaign on schools has been really akin to what we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks around Medicare – suggestions there will be cuts or reductions are rubbish, funding is at record levels, it will keep growing into the future whoever wins the election. We just want to make sure that it is distributed fairly, according to need, is sustainable and affordable funding and of course that we actually then use it as effectively as possible.

HARMER: Okay we’ll ask Kate Ellis to respond to that.

ELLIS: Well it’s a load of rubbish that it’s a scare campaign – the facts are the Coalition will spend $29 billion less on our schools over the next 10 years and indeed they will throw away…

BIRMINGHAM: [Interjecting]…Than the Labor Party!

ELLIS: [Continuing]…The existing funding agreements which – they’re six year funding agreements for a reason, to get us up to the required level of spending – that won’t happen under a Coalition Government and it’s not a Labor scare campaign, you can talk to the NSW State Government who also say they should see through those agreements. What Simon is saying here, is that they have the priorities, their priority is to spend $50 billion on corporate tax cuts. Unfortunately they have made the decision that giving our schools the support they need to see through these reforms is not a priority for the Turnbull Government. Now maybe we should be grateful when they lied when they lied and went to the election claiming to be on a unity ticket, they are being upfront. But it’s very clear that if you care about the future of our schools, if you care about our education system, then you can’t re-elect the Turnbull Government.

HARMER: Okay, well let’s turn to apprenticeships and I would like some questions about this. I mean, the number of Australians beginning an apprenticeship has slumped by almost 20 per cent over the past year and with commencement in traditional trades recording, you know, a huge fall, and this was as of March 3 this year, a lot of people are very, very concerned about the TAFE system, I have got lots of texts about this. Can you ask the question to both your guests, says Tom, what is their plan for TAFE funding. So perhaps you can speak to that first, Kate Ellis?

ELLIS: For sure. We absolutely believe in the importance of TAFE which is why Bill Shorten has announced we will introduce a TAFE funding guarantee – this will protect our public TAFEs because we know that not everybody wants to go to university or is best served by going to universities. But the other thing we announced, which is really important, is that we’ll also crackdown on some of the dodgy private providers that have been ripping off students and in doing so have been ripping off the taxpayer without leaving people with a qualification or the skills that they need. We know how important vocational education is…

HARMER: [Interrupting]…You’re introducing a cap on those fees, are you? Is that right?

ELLIS: That’s right. That’s exactly right. What we’ve also announced – when we were last in government conducted the Gonski review to look into the biggest review of our schools, we will also conduct a landmark review of our vocational education because we recognise how important the sector is and we need to make sure that it’s meeting the needs of both students and of our employers and our society.

HARMER: Okay and Simon Birmingham, they are really shocking numbers that you must agree – with these people not beginning their apprenticeships.

BIRMINGHAM: So yeah, Wendy, a few points. Certainly in terms of apprenticeships there are disturbing numbers there. We saw a huge drop in commencements about four years ago when the then-Gillard Government slashed employer incentives to take on apprentices, now we’ve been working to try to support the system through measures such as our new Apprenticeship Support Network and pleasingly some of the traditional trades have seen some growth under the Coalition in terms of those commencements – constructions trades generally are up 35 per cent, carpenters up 25 per cent, bricklayers up 14 per cent, electricians up 11 per cent, plumbers up 57 per cent – so we’ve seen turnarounds in a number of those areas that is encouraging and some green shoots of recovery. Of course, total numbers are lower today because we saw that real collapse in commencements three or four years ago when those incentives were cut by the Gillard Government. I’d say in relation to TAFE that Kate just talked then about a TAFE funding guarantee from Labor. Well that’s a slogan they’ve been using for 12 months but in this election campaign we’ve seen not a dollar outlined as to what that would mean for TAFEs. The reality is, the federal government gives funding to state and territory governments to support the vocational education system. Those state and territory governments decide how they will carve it up to their TAFEs because they own TAFE, they run TAFE, they’re responsible for TAFE. We provide a level of funding there and really, it’s just a phrase and a cry from Labor rather than any sort of detail that has any substance behind it on that one.

HARMER: Yeah, Kate Ellis I suppose you’d object to that?

ELLIS: Oh of course I’d object to that – by that rationale, I mean this is getting back to, let’s just remember a couple of months ago the Turnbull Government actually put forward a position to the states that the federal government shouldn’t fund public schools anymore, they should only fund non-government schools because they don’t run schools. That’s exactly the same argument. Federal money, yes the states oversee TAFE, but of course the federal government can put conditions on that funding and can guarantee that our public TAFE providers are supported. If Simon’s saying…

BIRMINGHAM: [Interrupting]…So what are the conditions Kate that a federal Labor Government would put on? What is the guarantee you speak of?

ELLIS: Well perhaps if you stop interrupting me I might actually be able to speak. What I’m saying is that the federal government, of course, is able to say that a minimum amount of funding should go towards our TAFE system. There is nothing that is overly extraordinary or difficult about that. But this is about prioritising our public TAFE system whereas the Turnbull Government just wants to wash their hands of the mess that has been created in the vocational education system and say that it’s not their responsibility to fix. We won’t do that because we know how important it is and we prioritise it.


BIRMINGHAM: I think we just saw there Wendy that it’s all words and no detail on that. There’s actually nothing other than a ‘we will prioritise’, no assessment of how that will occur. And in terms of the $8,000 cap in terms of VET FEE-HELP loans, that actually means that at a number of TAFEs – and TAFEs have universally been critical of that policy – students will have to pay upfront fees to undertake diplomas for study. So in fact, Labor’s policies will be bad for TAFE and hurt TAFE in that regard.

HARMER: All right well let’s go to another one of our callers here. This is Patricia from Middle Bay. Hello Patricia, welcome to the program.

CALLER: Oh hi, hello Simon and hello Kate. I began my teaching in 1960 and I retired this year and I want to say something to you  that only twice in all those years that I’ve been teaching did any federal government give any improvements into the schools. Both were the Labor Government, one was under Gough Whitlam and the other was under Julia Gillard. When I started teaching they didn’t even have carpets in the principal’s office or in the classrooms and I started at [indistinct] Park out near Penrith out near St Mary’s. And, I’m wondering how you can justify your stand on education when the only times we’ve ever had money spent in the schools have been under Labor Governments.

HARMER: All right well thank you for that Patricia. We might take that as a comment I guess. You can answer that if you want Simon.

BIRMINGHAM: Well Patricia I’d again just reinforce as I’ve said a few times. Total funding for Australian schools, under a re-elected Turnbull Government, will grow from $16 billion this year to more than $20 billion by 2020 and that’s growth above enrolments, above inflation and will be distributed fairly according to need.

HARMER: Okay then. Let’s talk to Russell. Hi Russel.

CALLER: Hi Wendy, good morning Kate, good morning ‘yes Minister’. What I’d really like to know, and I’d address this question to the current Minister. What is wrong with Gonski? A well-prepared report, a well-documented report, a well-researched report and for some reason the Coalition decides it doesn’t want any part of it. This country’s obsessed with reviews and reports, finding out things and then not adopting them. Sometimes political, sometimes not. But Minister, what is wrong, fundamentally, with Gonski?

HARMER: Okay, thank you for that.

BIRMINGHAM: Well Russell I have met with David Gonski a number of times since taking on this role late last year and there are some really good and valid in the Gonski report. Unfortunately the debate around it tends to get hijacked about a debate about the total quantum of money to be spent on schools rather than a debate about the many good things in Gonski report that are about how you fund according to need and how you make sure that commitment is there. Now I’ve emphasised in this interview as I have for months now, we will make sure funding is distributed according to the need, upholding the principles of the Gonski report. But ultimately we also will only commit a total amount of money at a level that the nation can afford, that is actually within our Budget parameters. We’re not going to be like the Labor Party and put another $20 billion on the deficit over the next four years, we’re not going to make promises as a Turnbull Government that we cannot afford, we want to make sure that funding grows into the future which it will under us, is distributed according to need, and as Gonski himself has said: both parties now are committed to needs-based distribution models, David Gonski himself acknowledged that about a month or two ago, so I think we looked at the report, I’ve taken a great deal of time with David and I am committed to keep working with him if we’re re-elected to make sure that we do implement those principles.

HARMER: Well thank you very much, Simon Birmingham, who’s the federal Minister for Education and I’ve got about 30 seconds for a final word from you Kate Ellis.

ELLIS: Well I’d just say that Simon can give all the motherhood statements he likes about supporting or having nice meetings. This Government has no clear school funding policy at all, they will not say how money will be distributed in the future, they will not say how much each state will get or how non-government schools will be funded. Only Labor is prioritising the school reform and investment that we need for a fair society and for the best future economy. The choice has never been clearer when it comes to schools and education.

HARMER: All right well thank you very much for that indeed.