Interview on ABC TV News Breakfast with Virginia Trioli 
Delivering real, Gonski needs-based funding for schools

Virginia Trioli: We’ll go to Canberra now and Federal MPs will vote tomorrow on whether or not to pass the Government’s new schools funding model, the so called Gonski 2.0.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now from Parliament House. Minister, good morning. Thanks for joining us. 

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Virginia.

Virginia Trioli: I understand you had an important meeting with the Catholic Education Commission last night. Have you got them onside?

Simon Birmingham: Well Virginia, look there are a number of issues that we will continue to work through with Catholic education, but what I wanted to reinforce to them is that there’s an additional $3.4 billion of funding over the next decade for Catholic education. A growth rate over the next few years on average across Australia of 3.7 per cent per student in Catholic systemic schools which is more than had been asked for in consultations earlier this year with Catholic Education. And it is absolute autonomy that we want to ensure is retained for the Catholic system to pool its funding in operated  schools as it sees fit. And that’s all consistent with our objectives of overall having a needs based funding model in place, the Gonski type of model that was recommended by David Gonski and has been endorsed with the Turnbull Government’s legislation by David Gonski as part of our overall injection of $18.6 billion across Australian schools distributed fairly, consistently and on a needs basis.

Virginia Trioli: Alright Minister, we’ll get into the figures in just a moment but I just want to go back to that question, because apparently you were told last night by a senior executive from the Catholic Education Commission that quote; you will wear this like an albatross around your neck until the day of the next election. So you clearly don’t have them onside. Are you concerned or frightened by that threat?

Simon Birmingham: Look we want to do what is right Virginia, and what’s right is to provide a fair …

Virginia Trioli: [Interrupts] I know you do and you’ve given a good speech on that and we’ve all heard that. So let’s try and stick to the question here. You’ve got to get the Catholic education sector on side. It represents a quarter of all students in this country. Do you believe you’ve assuaged their fears or is that quote real?

Simon Birmingham: We have seen many different Catholic dioceses around the country put out statements indicating their gratitude for the Government’s certainty around funding, the growth in funding and their commitment that fees need not rise. So I think there is a lot of support …

Virginia Trioli: [Interrupts] So you’re arguing this morning the Catholics are split on this? You’re arguing they’re split?

Simon Birmingham: I think there is a lot of support and acceptance in parts of Catholic education for what the Turnbull Government’s seeking to do. A fair, needs based model, one that guarantees funding across all systems including Catholic education systems, one that provides increased funding over the next decade into those Catholic systemic schools.

Virginia Trioli: Alright, well I want to jump in there about the increased funding because that’s simply not true and I understand that even members of your own party are feeling a bit ticked off about this that departmental figures in modelling given to crossbenchers show that that’s about- the sum you’re talking about 3.4 billion is about 4.6 billion less over the decade than under existing arrangements. So in real terms and over the decade it’s less and that’s the source of the irritation. We’ve got to acknowledge that today don’t we?

Simon Birmingham: Well Virginia look, the Labor Party since this policy’s been released has been out there talking about $22 billion of funny money that of course was never budgeted for …

Virginia Trioli: [Interrupts] No, no, no, no, no. These are departmental figures, Minister, these are departmental …

Simon Birmingham: No, no, no, no, but Virginia, this is money that was never budgeted for and that of course when the Government is dealing with the deficit situation we have, we’re trying to provide a circumstance that delivers fair needs based funding across Australia, delivers funding growth for Australian schools. Catholic systems will receive $6.3 billion this year in 2017, that will grow to $9.7 billion by 2027. That is a $3,4 billion increase in funding over that time. Now yes under the Labor Party’s unafford …

Virginia Trioli: [Interrupts] That’s not addressing that decrease over 10 years.

Simon Birmingham: Pardon Virginia?

Virginia Trioli: That’s not addressing that decrease over 10 years in terms of what’s been promised.

Simon Birmingham: Well no, Virginia. What the Labor Party wants to promise is the Labor Party’s business and of course they can take those promises to the next election campaign if they want. They have no idea how they will pay for them or fund them. They promise the same money over and over again to different people – in this case to schools or to Catholic schools. But the fact and the point that should be reassuring, particularly parents and families and teachers in Catholic education around the country, is that overall growth of $3.4 billion over the next 10 years, growth rate of 3.7 per cent …

Virginia Trioli: Okay.

Simon Birmingham: … per student on average. These are the things that should give them confidence. There’s more money, it keeps going up. It can be distributed accord to their own models of need and there is no need for excessive fee increases across any of those schools.

Virginia Trioli: Minister, let’s get to the politics of it just quickly if we can, we’re short of time, and you’re apparently seeing a vote on it tomorrow. Is there any possibility just quickly of that vote being delayed or will you want to see it debated and then voted on before the end of this session?

Simon Birmingham: We do want to give schools certainty of their budgets for next year and beyond and delaying it until …

Virginia Trioli: [Interrupts] Okay, so there’s no delay?

Simon Birmingham: We don’t want to see a delay. We want to see it voted on so that certainty that needs based funding comes into place.

Virginia Trioli: Okay, so do you believe you’ve got Senator Leyonhjelm on board and how do you think you’re going with the Greens?

Simon Birmingham: I’m not going to speculate about individual senators. As a government we always conduct our negotiations behind closed doors with those senators. But I see a lot of enthusiasm from a range of different senators who recognise and acknowledge that we are putting in place a funding model that is consistent with what David Gonski recommended. It’s got his seal of approval, other members of his panel like Ken Boston and Kathryn Greiner have given it a tick and said it would be a tragedy if these reforms didn’t pass the Parliament because they give an opportunity to really cement needs based funding for Australian schools, more money for public schools, more money for Catholic schools, more money for independent schools, all of it distributed according to consistent needs based principles regardless of state borders, regardless of sectoral differences.

Virginia Trioli: Alright, good to talk to you this morning. Thanks so much for your time.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Virginia.