Interview on ABC Lateline with Emma Alberici
Turnbull Government’s plan to transform schools; Delivering real needs-based funding and fixing Labor’s model

Emma Alberici: For more on Gonski 2.0, I was joined earlier by Education Minister Simon Birmingham. 


Simon Birmingham, thanks for being here.

Simon Birmingham: Pleasure, Emma.

Emma Alberici: So what happened to the Government's oft repeated mantra that more money doesn't equal better outcomes for Australian schools? 

Simon Birmingham: Well, there are a couple of things we’ve announced today. One is to fix a whole lot of 27 different broken, disparate funding models that were built on a whole lot of legacy, ancient, sweetheart deals. And the other is to announce a review that will really focus on how it is, that in fixing those funding models and investing in a new single nationally consistent fair and needs-based funding model, we equally can then guarantee that extra money will in fact be used to increase school performance, and that's the additional work that's been announced today coupled with a fix of those funding models.

Emma Alberici: $18.6 billion worth of new money.

Simon Birmingham: It is over the 10 years, $18.6 billion. $2.2 billion …

Emma Alberici: But you keep saying on this program and on this program and elsewhere, more money doesn't equal better outcomes.

Simon Birmingham: And more money doesn't automatically equal better outcomes which is why I'm very pleased that David Gonski in recognising that we have accepted the thrust of the recommendations from his earlier report, is now going to work with us and a panel of education experts to come up with the best ways to ensure that money is spent. Because in essence what David's first report in 2011 did was it said; well, here is the optimal way in which you would go about funding schools. But it didn't talk to how you then spent that money. And the OECD and others have been crystal-clear – that in high-spending nations like Australia that have strong investment in their school systems, more money in and of itself doesn’t necessarily make a difference. How you spend it can make a difference, and we're going to have a similar expert-based report that I hope the states, territories, unions and others will accept when it's released, that identifies how we can ensure this new additional investment in Australian schools makes the difference we want for schools and students within them.

Emma Alberici: You're not committing as much as Labor had put forward which presumably reflects the fact that what you're doing here is robbing Peter to pay Paul, that is taking money from richer schools to divert to the poorer ones.

Simon Birmingham: Well, that's a little bit of it, if you want to put it that way – that we haven't and I’ve been very clear for a long period of time, that I wasn't sticking by Julia Gillard's words that no school would lose a dollar, that if we were going to have a true, fair needs-based funding model we would be fair dinkum about it…

Emma Alberici: [Interrupts] Because to be fair David Gonski never said that. He did not make that caveat.

Simon Birmingham: Absolutely. And of course it wasn't just that promise that Julia Gillard made. She and then Bill Shorten, as Education Minister, went and stitched up a whole lot of different deals with different state governments. That weren’t about …

Emma Alberici: [Interrupts] Will you honour those deals?

Simon Birmingham: No, we want to start afresh from 2018 that actually trans …

Emma Alberici: [Interrupts] So you'll rip those deals up?

Simon Birmingham: We’ve been very clear for a long period of time, ever since the 2014 budget that we would …

Emma Alberici: [Interrupts] Some of them have been legislated in the different states. Do you actually have the capacity to unravel them?

Simon Birmingham: No, the education agreements that were struck between the Labor Government five years ago now and different state governments were agreements that were struck then. They're not in Commonwealth legislation. What we're committing to do is ensure that we actually fix all those different deals and transition over a ten-year period that sees money, each and every year into the future, to get every school on to a fair needs-based formula that is truly sector blind, that is truly fair to every single state and territory and treating them the same way rather than being driven by those special deals.

Emma Alberici: How many schools will get less money under your new formula than they get under current arrangements?

Simon Birmingham: Well, so I’ve been asked that question a lot of times today and over the next couple of years, around 24 individual schools might receive a reduction in funding, all relatively small, but of course more than 9000 schools will receive increases in funding virtually all of them much, much larger.

Emma Alberici: Let me just ask you the question again. I'm actually asking how many will get less than they're getting under the current arrangements?

Simon Birmingham: Well how many will get less than they're receiving in 2017? Twenty-four. 

Emma Alberici: So what’s the- there's another figure of 353 schools, explain the difference between the 353 and the 24 because there's been some confusion today?

Simon Birmingham: So, schools are what we're proposing will be funded under the Schooling Resource Standard and that is a standard that calculates a base-level per student of funding and then adds on top of that, loadings for disability, indigeneity, smaller and rural regional schools, low socioeconomic students, et cetera, to come up with your needs-based formula.

At the end of that process, what we see is that some schools in the non-government sector are receiving more than the share of that Schooling Resource Standard that we're proposing to fund. They will transition down to it over the period of 10 years that we're proposing, just as other schools will transition up to it. The same thing in the government sector, it’s just that everyone is moving up in the government sector. 

So there are some schools in the non-government space who will transition down, but for the vast majority of them, 300-plus, for the vast majority of them indexation still means that they'll actually receive nominal growth in their funding and to actually maintain what they [indistinct]..

Emma Alberici: [Interrupts] Not as much growth as they would have got …

Simon Birmingham: That’s right.

Emma Alberici: … under the arrangements that were previously struck?

Simon Birmingham: Correct. And of course the important message here, we can spend a lot of time talking about 24 or even 300 schools, 9000 schools will do extremely well out of these reforms that will give them support to put on additional resources, additional services for their students, hopefully informed by the work that David Gonski and his new panel will do.

Emma Alberici: This time last year, the Finance Minister was slamming Labor for unaffordable, unsustainable and unfunded spending growth on things like Gonski. So under Labor, are we to understand Gonski funding was bad debt and under your government, it's good debt?

Simon Birmingham: Well, let's look at Labor's response today. Tanya Plibersek went out there and described this policy announcement as taking out the trash. So here we are saying we're going to do the hard yards that Labor squibbed on and actually fix the broken funding models and over a decade we're investing $18.6 billion extra in Australian schools …

Emma Alberici: Where is that money coming from?

Simon Birmingham: …and Labor said it's taking out the trash.

Emma Alberici: Let's go back to my question. Where is the money coming from? It's going to have to be funded by debt.

Simon Birmingham: So next week's budget will make crystal clear that we will continue to do the hard yards in terms of …

Emma Alberici: [Interrupts] Well we know that there isn't a lazy $18.6 billion hanging around for – in Federal Government revenues. So, you know, whichever way you cut it, there is going to have to be more debt.

Simon Birmingham: Every decision we make is a decision about priorities and how it is that we can deliver the services that Australians need and want, such as investment in schools, while still ensuring we're responsible about the nation's finances. Now the Labor Party today greeted this as taking out the trash…

Emma Alberici: Let's not talk about the Labor Party.

Simon Birmingham: No, no, no, but- and seemed to think that we should be spending even more. We will outline next week in the budget how it is we responsibly bring the budget still back to surplus, back to balance, noting that we have achieved $25 billion worth of savings…

Emma Alberici: [Interrupts] But it’s undeniable though that since Labor left government, you’ve increased national debt from $270 billion to some $480 billion.

Simon Birmingham: It's also undeniable that we’ve managed to close the level of the deficit than where it would have been without the type of action we’ve taken. Since the last election we’ve successfully passed …

Emma Alberici: [Interrupts] You haven't closed it since you’ve increased it by many multiples.

Simon Birmingham: … $25 billion worth of savings measures. If the Senate, if the Labor Party, had been more cooperative, we would have been able to close it even further. But we have absolutely made inroads and the budget will demonstrate that we'll keep making those inroads while funding services in education, in health care, that people actually value.

Emma Alberici: Minister, appreciate the time you’ve taken to speak to us.

Simon Birmingham: Thank, Emma.