Interview on ABC Illawarra Mornings with Nick Rheinberger 
Delivering real needs-based funding for schools and fixing Labor’s model

Nick Rheinberger: Well all through this week we’ve been talking about Gonski 2.0. Nowra East Public School has been squarely in the spotlight. It was the scene of protests. You heard from the principal there. You heard from various unions, Tanya Plibersek who’s the Shadow Education Minister named East Nowra as one of those places that’s going to miss out on funding, in Parliament the other day that caused serious ructions and very heated discussions. 

Simon Birmingham the Education Minister has called us this morning and joins us now on the Mornings show. Mr Birmingham, good morning.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning Nick, and good morning to your listeners.

Nick Rheinberger: I tried to get a bit of clarity about Gonski 2.0 and claims from the Labor Party that money was being taken out of Gilmore schools from Tanya Plibersek. Let me just play you this if you don’t mind.


Tanya Plibersek: Ann Sudmalis is saying there’ll be an increase on what the Liberals were going to fund schools. Remember Tony Abbott wanted to cut $30 billion from the schools budget in 2014. So they’re only cutting $22 billion. Ann Sudmalis calls that an increase. Instead of cutting 30 we’re cutting 22. You should congratulate us for it. 

What we are saying is that as is the New South Wales Government saying, the Liberal Government in Canberra should be judged against the six year funding agreements that the states have with the Commonwealth Government and compared to those six year funding agreements, Nowra East will lose $1.3 million, Shoalhaven will lose $1.3 million, Ulladulla will lose almost a million dollars, Vincentia High School will lose 1.3 million. I mean every school in Gilmore will lose compared with the signed funding agreements that the New South Wales Government has with the Commonwealth Government.

[End of excerpt]

Nick Rheinberger: Alright, Simon Birmingham, that was Tanya Plibersek talking to me a few days ago. Do you have any issue with those figures?

Simon Birmingham: Well Nick, I do because Tanya really is engaging in the sad and unfortunate spin that happens all too often in modern politics by talking about cuts when the reality is for all of the schools that Tanya had mentioned, funding will keep going up and it will go up each and every year into the future and under the proposals that Malcolm Turnbull and I have outlined, this strong growth across public schools in particular right across Illawarra that will see an additional spending across those schools in the order of millions of dollars, running in excess of five per cent per student per annum for the next 10 years. That’s well above any current measure of inflation, well above wages growth, will mean those schools can take everything they’re currently doing, plan to keep doing that, do it better, invest more, invest in new resources and actually of course ultimately deliver better outcomes for the students. And I think what we are doing is giving a true implementation to David Gonski’s report. That’s the reason why David Gonski stood alongside Malcolm Turnbull and I three weeks ago to announce the details of this plan. We’ve taking some of the hard decisions he recommended as well as investing more into the schools who need it most.

Nick Rheinberger: We seem to have two competing claims which are both true. You are saying the funding is going up. That is true. But Tanya Plibersek says that compared to the agreements which were signed between the states and the Federal Government, that funding is not going to match those agreements. Is that true?

Simon Birmingham: Well Malcolm Turnbull and I have always been very transparent that the decisions taken well before either of us entered our current roles were very clear that 2013 agreement signed by a handful of states with Julia Gillard would be coming to an end this year and that we would seek to strike new, fair and more consistent funding from thereon in. And that’s what [indistinct].

Nick Rheinberger: [Interrupts] Are you saying they weren’t six year agreements, they expired after a couple of years?

Simon Birmingham: Well these agreements struck back in 2013 with a handful of states doing special deals and special circumstances that don’t apply to the Gonski model of needs-based funding. Now, the Coalition Government made it crystal clear way back in the 2014 Budget those agreements would not be continued with. We have looked at that situation, said that what we need to do is actually invest more than what was proposed in 2014 to truly implement what David Gonski recommended. That’s why we’re putting an extra $18.6 billion into schools this year. That comes on top of increased investment that we made in last year’s budget. We have done the hard yards looking at how you fairly distribute it so that every government school across Australia would be funded by the Federal Government according to the same needs-based principles that the Gonski report laid out. And every non-government school across Australia would equally be funded according to the same needs-based principles, the same assessment of the capacity of families and parents to contribute to their fees in those non-government schools, without any special deals that one sector, system or faith versus another. 

This is actually doing real policy reform. But of course what parents, teachers, principals care about I know, is what does it mean in our schools and what it means in a school like Ulladulla High is that there’ll be $11.7 million growth in their funding over the next 10 years, or Nowra High 9.9 million or Nowra East Public 3.8 million, as I say per student to turn it into something that people might understand more than just those big million dollar figures, per student, growth in excess of five per cent per student over the 10 years each year getting real capability to be able to invest more into those services in those schools that need it most.

Nick Rheinberger: So regardless of whether it was special deals these agreements that were signed between the states and the Federal Government and the fact that Tony Abbott said he was on a unity ticket with the Labor Party on education, that doesn’t matter in 2017?

Simon Birmingham: What we are trying to do is actually implement the Gonski report. That’s all you’re going to see, continued increased funding as a result of that. You’re also going to all see a fair and consistent approach no matter which state you live in, no matter which schooling sector you live in. That’s what the Gonski report was all about. 

I know that Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek want to make this about a spending war. You can simply promise they’re going to spend the greatest amount of money. But I think Australians rightly expect us to spend it carefully, wisely, targeted. That means doing it in a fair way, a consistent way, and of course as we’re going to do have additional work undertaken by David Gonski itself to have a look at what it is schools can do with this record of growing funding to truly lift our school performance which despite extra investment over recent years has only been stagnating or going backwards.

Nick Rheinberger: You suggested that the Labor Party have actually walked away from supporting the Gonski reforms. They are asking for the money which was originally promised. How can you stand by that claim that they’re walking away from the Gonski reforms?

Simon Birmingham: Because they’re not interested in actually reforming or fixing school funding in Australia. They’re just interested in how much you can spend on it. David Gonski’s report wasn’t about a spendathon. It was about fair needs-based funding around Australia and the Turnbull Government is implementing with David Gonski’s imprimatur fair needs-based funding consistently across Australia. What you’ve got Shorten and Tanya Plibersek doing now is saying they’ll vote against measures that actually redistributes some money away from overfunded schools into needier public schools. They’ll vote against measures to treat all non-government school sectors the same regardless of faith or background and they’ll vote against measures to treat students in one state the same as another state around special deals and they’re going to vote against all of those sorts of things because they’re just interested in saying how much money you can spend in education rather than how effectively and wisely you should invest it and fairly distribute it.

Nick Rheinberger: Alright, Simon Birmingham. I know you’ve got a deadline. Thanks very much for joining us this morning.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you Nick. My Pleasure.

Nick Rheinberger: Simon Birmingham is the Education Minister.