Interview on Sky News AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert
Turnbull Government’s record of delivery; Youth Jobs PaTH program; Higher education and performance contingent funding; Party voting reform

Kieran Gilbert:  I spoke to the Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, this morning and asked him was it frustrating given the parliamentary win that he’d had- not last week, the week before in terms of the Gonski reforms, but then to have the following week consumed by internal divisions?


Simon Birmingham:     Well Kieran, there’s no doubt the Government’s got a lot to stand on quite proudly in terms of its record and I’m very pleased that we implemented fair, consistent needs based school funding across the country. It comes on top of a number of wins in terms of delivery of our enterprise tax reforms, that we’ll see small businesses across the country better able to invest and create jobs in the future. It comes on top of a range of areas where we’ve managed to deliver on budget saving and reform measures, some $34 billion worth of budget savings that have passed through, whilst still ensuring safety and security for Medicare, for the NDIS, for schools funding and so forth. And really every member of the team needs to focus on those accomplishments and of course on the policy challenges to come.

Kieran Gilbert:  But they’re not all doing that are they? That’s the problem.

Simon Birmingham:     I think overwhelmingly they are. I know Malcolm Turnbull’s not distracted, I’m not distracted. We’re really working to try to make sure that we push our way through each of the different issues Australia faces. We know that many Australians are doing it tough, that we’ve come through a prolonged period of relatively low wages growth and that there are real pressures and challenges in many household budgets and that’s why whether it’s the issues I’ve previously addressed or new challenges like energy affordability and reliability are so critical for us to get on top of. And just last week again Malcolm Turnbull was there looking at the Snowy Hydro program, the opportunity to expand that to create new, reliable, base load capacity in our energy mix which of course can really help to underpin that reliability and affordability for the future.

Kieran Gilbert:  Returning the attention now to the local economy or the domestic economy that Prime Minister announcing today up to 10,000 young welfare recipients to receive a hand in finding a job in retail. I guess this goes to your point that it hasn’t been the most- well the easiest time for many Australians when it comes to the performance of our economy.

Simon Birmingham:     Well we know that youth unemployment is too high, particularly in certain pockets of Australia and that’s why the new PaTH Program which is an internships based program is about helping young people to get a foot in the door of the employment market and this is outstanding news today that will see the Prime Minister and Michaelia Cash apparently announce an agreement with the Australian Retailers Association for 10,000 opportunities as part of that program for young people to get real work placement experience, real internships that have the potential to lead to real job outcomes. And that ultimately is what we want. In schools funding, it’s not about funding schools for the sake of it, it’s about helping to prepare young people to go on to further training, to further education or into the workforce and of course this type of program now helps to ensure there are better opportunities for young Australians to seize that first opportunity on the employment ladder and from there we know that that’s where your career can really take off.

Kieran Gilbert:  One of your next goals will be to get the higher education reforms through for those that don’t go straight into the workforce, those that do go to tertiary education. And today the Senate Committee looking into this issue. Going to receive a submission apparently from Universities Australia contesting one of your reforms in relation to tying funding to their performance. Will you look at compromise that?

Simon Birmingham:     Well as I’ve always indicated, we’re a pragmatic government who is intent on actually getting things done, rather than bogging into ideological debates. But on this particular issue, I’d say Australian universities enjoy incredible autonomy. They’re able to enrol as many students as they want, essentially, free of government limits or caps. They then, from that, receive demand-driven funding support for those students across whatever disciplines or areas of study they like. 
Now, I don’t think its unreasonable that with such autonomy, with some 71 per cent growth in funding for teaching and learning that’s flowed through into those universities over the last few years, that really there should also be some accountability mechanisms in place to make sure that their enrolment practices and admissions practices are of a high standard and transparent and give students the best information possible, that the teaching and learning is of the highest quality possible within a university, and that ultimately the decisions made about which courses to enrol people in align with good job outcomes, and that graduates see a real employment benefit. And they’re the types of things we think that having a small portion of university funding contingent upon is actually a good thing to maximize performance across the board.

Kieran Gilbert:  Well the argument that the sector is making is that now if you want to create these jobs for the future, it’s not the time to be cutting funding, which the Government still plans to do.

Simon Birmingham:     University funding will still grow; it will grow by about 23 per cent over the next four years. So there’s a strong rate of growth, a slightly lower rate of growth in some areas, but this performance indicator is not about a reduction in funding at all. Every dollar of that performance indicator is guaranteed to go into the sector, it’s just about making sure that we’re encouraging the best performance in the university sector, rewarding the outcomes everybody should want, such as employment and quality teaching and learning. And I’d hope that our best and brightest minds in our universities could really help us to achieve that, and implement that effectively.

Kieran Gilbert:  You and the Prime Minister both are making this message and continue with this message about being a pragmatic government, but as you well know there have been distractions; most notably via the former Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, at the weekend, continuing his push for party reform in New South Wales. How significant a move is that in terms of trying to empower branch members, local Liberal Party members?

Simon Birmingham:     Well look, the debate they’re having in New South Wales is one we had here in my home state of South Australia around a decade ago, and we chose to give all branch members the vote in party pre-selections. I’d have to say, it hasn’t made the world of difference to membership numbers in the period since, so it’s a reasonable internal debate to have but I don’t think anybody should overegg this debate as fixing all the problems of people’s engagement in modern politics. What we have to do is find new means, new ways, of getting out and communicating with voters, and obviously that’s about embracing the different technologies, the different ways people engage with politics nowadays, not so much internal constitutional debates.

Kieran Gilbert:  And finally, the Prime Minister at the weekend said that he would leave politics if he loses the Prime-ministership at the next election. It was being read, as well, as a bit of a threat to your colleagues; you get rid of him, well, there’ll be a by-election in the seat of Wentworth.

Simon Birmingham:     I think the Prime Minister was asked a reasonable question, and he gave an honest answer. And really nobody is planning on him leaving politics any time soon, we have another couple of years until the next election and we’ve got a lot to get on and do to build on our strong track record of delivery already.

Kieran Gilbert:  Minister, appreciate your time this morning.

Simon Birmingham:     Thanks Kieran.