Interview on Channel 9 The Today Show with Karl Stefanovic
Turnbull Government’s plan to transform schools; Delivering real needs-based funding and fixing Labor’s model

Karl Stefanovic: A new class war is emerging this morning over Malcolm Turnbull's ten-year plan to plough an extra $19 billion into the education system. While thousands of public schools will get more cash, hundreds of Catholic and private schools might be worse off. 

Joining me now is Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Education Minister, good morning to you. 

Simon Birmingham: Great to be with you.

Karl Stefanovic: Do you have a problem with Catholics?

Simon Birmingham: Not at all. Look Catholic schools across Australia will receive per student funding growth of 3.7 per cent under our model. Over the next four years that’s about $1.2 billion extra into the Catholic system. Of course there’s even more than that going into schools right across the country of all different types.  

Karl Stefanovic: They’re worse off though aren’t they? Catholic schools are worse off …

Simon Birmingham: They’re not worse off – $1.2 billion extra, 3.7 per cent growth per student. That’s growth well above the wages growth that mums or dads around Australia are experiencing at present. So it’s real growth into Catholic schools as there’s real growth into other independent schools and into government schools. 

Karl Stefanovic: They don't seem to think so. Have you read the papers this morning?

Simon Birmingham: Look I know that they’re unhappy that we’ve taken an approach that says every school should be funded based on need. Every school …

Karl Stefanovic: [Interrupts] Because they believe they’re losing money.

Simon Birmingham: Every school should face the same funding formula from the Federal Government in the approach that we take. And that means we’re treating all schools consistently regardless of their background, or faith, or special deals that might have been done in the past.

Karl Stefanovic: Did you consult them at all?

Simon Birmingham: I met with the Catholic Education Commission on many, many occasions.

Karl Stefanovic: Did you tell them that the funding was going to change?

Simon Birmingham: We talked through the aspects of the funding model to make sure that it was clear I wanted to see a funding model that was consistent.

Karl Stefanovic: Did you tell them it was going to change?

Simon Birmingham: Well, they knew that in changing the funding model there would be a change to funding. And we’ve been really clear about wanting to have a funding model that treated people in a consistent way. 

Karl Stefanovic: It’s pretty vague and loose. They did not know this was coming.

Simon Birmingham: I was meeting with the Catholic Education Commission just yesterday and will continue to have discussions with them …

Karl Stefanovic: [Interrupts] On the day of the announcement.

Simon Birmingham: The point is – the point is there are 9000 schools across Australia that are going to benefit from these changes, significantly so. There are 24 that will see some reduction in funding and there are about 300 that will have lower rates of growth. The Catholic schools across the country will see real growth – $1.2 billion extra, 3.7 per cent per student growth.  That’s a pretty sizeable growth rate in a circumstance of such low inflation as we have at present.

Karl Stefanovic: So no Catholic or independent school will be worse off under your plan?

Simon Birmingham: And I just said 24 schools will have some reduction in funding – 24. Nine-thousand schools are going to see significant growth under the Turnbull Government plan.

Karl Stefanovic: Only 24 that will be worse off?

Simon Birmingham: Twenty-four will be worse off in terms of having one or two per cent reductions in funding, not very much. Around 300 will have lower rates of growth, 9000 will have much faster rates of growth. Because it’s a consistent approach to funding based on need, based on what David Gonski recommended, sector-blind needs-based funding for all Australian schools.

Karl Stefanovic: John Howard guaranteed non-government schools their funding wouldn’t go backwards as you would know. He recognised Catholic schools in outer and regional areas were attended by average earning families. This is a hit on those families.

Simon Birmingham: No, no it’s not. Because those small Catholic parish schools or other independent schools or government schools out in suburban Australia will only see funding growth because it’s a needs-based model that represents the fact that those of lower socioeconomic circumstances will get additional funding. Students with disability will get additional funding, indigenous students will get additional funding. It’s about as fair as you can possibly be.

Karl Stefanovic: It’s going to be tough at the electorate though.

Simon Birmingham: I don't believe so. Nine-thousand plus schools are winners out of this.

Karl Stefanovic: But look at the front page of every paper. Even if it’s true, even if what you’re saying is true the sell is still not there for you guys. And this has been a problem for the Turnbull Government for a long time now.

Simon Birmingham: People have been arguing for years for us to do what David Gonski recommended. That’s exactly what the Turnbull Government’s doing. But we’re not squibbing it like Labor did which was so we’ll spend billions of dollars extra by trying to pacify everybody. Now we’re actually making the difficult decisions to treat everybody fairly and equitable. 

Karl Stefanovic: Very quickly. New South Wales – your New South Wales counterpart wants to launch legal action if this comes to pass. Are you worried about that at all?

Simon Birmingham: I’d be very surprised if the New South Wales Government wanted to spend money on lawyers rather than schools. We want to invest some $16.8 billion extra into Australian schools over the next 10 years. 

Karl Stefanovic: Well education unfortunately in this country has gone backwards. I wish you every success moving forward. David Gonski knows what he’s doing and best of luck.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks very much.