Interview on Sky News AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert 
Newspoll; Delivering real needs-based funding for schools and fixing Labor’s model; Hospital funding

Kieran Gilbert: I spoke to the Education Minister on this and a range of other issues. Simon Birmingham.

Simon Birmingham: Well, Kieran, look the feedback I get from Australians pretty constantly is they just want to see government and the Parliament get on with the job of getting things done and that is exactly what the Turnbull Government’s seeking to do, to work steadily through our Budget measures, getting them through the Parliament, working constructively where we can with other members of the Parliament. And it’s sad that Bill Shorten’s taken such a negative approach to so much in this Budget. 

But as I, as Education Minister, go from school to school, principal to principal, parent to parent body, I’m really discovering that people, when they learn more, when they understand about the Government’s policy measures, when they appreciate the $18.6 billion worth of extra investment in schools, but also our approach to fair consistent needs-based funding; they come to understand the importance of what the Government’s doing. And they just want to see us get on with it, get it done and that’s where our focus has to lie.

Kieran Gilbert: [Interrupts] Despite that being well received, as you point out, that’s not showing up in the polls just yet, is it? Why is it?

Simon Birmingham: Kieran, I think all these things take time in terms of the way people perceive governments. We just have to keep focusing on getting our policies, our measures successfully implemented, explaining them calmly, rationally to the Australian people. And, of course, ultimately the next election is a long way away. I realise that inside this building, people love to talk about the polls; outside of this building, people like to focus on what it is the Government is doing and whether the Government is actually getting on with delivering. And certainly that is where the Turnbull government’s attention lies.

Kieran Gilbert: Just on the poll though before we move on; the Prime Minister’s lead as preferred PM has extended in this survey, things seem to be going in the right direction, all except for your primary vote. Is the fear here that that’s locked in stone? That people have made their mind up and that’s it?

Simon Birmingham: Well I certainly sense a warmness around the Prime Minister as I travel around the country and people recognise that his work is about trying to address a range of complex problems: dealing with a difficult Budget situation, but securing services in disability services, in services for schools, in support for Medicare, that Australians value and want; in ensuring that ultimately though, we’re also growing our economy and creating jobs for the future. Now, we can look at any place around the globe at present in terms of established democracies and see that it’s quite a febrile environment for major parties and that there are lots of different factors at play, it seems, in the mood of electorates. But ultimately, I come back to the point, people want to see us focus on getting on with the job, delivering on our promises and that’s what the Turnbull Government is doing.

Kieran Gilbert: There’s a school – just a specific case – in Melbourne, Saint Elizabeth’s in Dandenong North, where they’ve reportedly – according to The Age newspaper today – said to parents that their students will be barred from a casual clothes day at school unless their parents sign a petition against the Government’s funding changes. Is that right? And have you spoken to the school about it?

Simon Birmingham: Look, I did give that school principal a call to talk her through what our funding proposals mean to make sure that she understands that for Catholic education in Victoria – as indeed, in every other state – there is a strong rate of growth in excess of 3.5 per cent per student per annum built into our funding model. But there’s nothing that she or her school should fear. In fact, they should be celebrating – as many other Catholic schools are – the fact that there is a degree of funding certainty for their system. 

But, look, in terms of those tactics, I mean obviously they are very concerning. I think parents right around the country would be horrified at the idea that casual day at school could be held hostage to whether or not parents sign a politically motivated or charged letter. And that, of course, is an unacceptable practice and I hope we won’t see a repeat of that.

Kieran Gilbert: [Interrupts] Did the principal agree to change that position, or …? What was the response?

Simon Birmingham: I’ve seen various reports that they have at least made clear that that will not be the case, and I’m pleased that that’s the case that they’ve ruled that out. But it is disappointing and I hope that we won’t see any repeat of that. I hope we will see more honesty in terms of the approach around what the school funding picture looks like across all systems because it’s a $18.6 billion additional investment; it’s strong growth across government schools of in excess of 5 per cent in many, many cases; independent schools and Catholic schools and it treats all those in the non-government schooling sector exactly the same. And it’s been warmly welcomed and supported by Christian schools, by Lutheran schools, by Anglican schools; there’s no reason as to why the Catholic school system shouldn’t welcome exactly the same consistent treatment.

Kieran Gilbert: Is there any room to compromise anywhere in relation to some of the concerns here?

Simon Birmingham: We’ll keep talking. We’ve been having those discussions and we’ll absolutely keep talking with all of the different stakeholders: the Catholic system representatives, as well as those of other non-government sectors, as well as my state and territory counterparts, and importantly of course the Senate crossbench who I am very grateful are keeping a very open mind in relation to these reforms – unlike the Labor Party.

Kieran Gilbert: And Minister, just finally before I let you go: this story front page of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age today in relation to a hospital funding shake up. The Government’s rejecting that outright according to a spokesman that I’ve had on the phone already this morning.

Simon Birmingham: I think Minister Hunt’s office has been very clear that this is not government policy, it’s not intended to be government policy. Obviously in this Budget we have secured future funding certainty around Medicare and around the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, just as we’ve done for schools, just as we’ve done for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Our focus is on providing certainty of support for those essential services that Australians value.

Kieran Gilbert: So this is just kite-flying from the Department? How does this sort of thing emerge?

Simon Birmingham: Well Kieran, I’m not sure and obviously only this morning I’ve seen the stories and I’m not the Health Minister, but I do know that the Health Minister’s office have been very clear in saying; this is not the case, this will not be happening, and of course the focus of the Government is about that support for Medicare, support for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, NDIS, schools, services Australians value and doing it in the most affordable way possible.

Kieran Gilbert: Minister, thanks for your time. Appreciate it.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Kieran.

Kieran Gilbert: My interview with the Education Minister recorded earlier this morning.