Interview on Sky News AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert
Ken Boston’s endorsement of the Turnbull Government’s needs-based schools funding plan; Finkel Review

Kieran Gilbert:  I spoke to the Education Minister Simon Birmingham about that issue and the reaction to it. Also this morning a very strong endorsement for the Birmingham education reforms from Ken Boston, one of the eminent education experts in the country.


Simon Birmingham:     Ken Boston, who was a member of the Gonski panel alongside David Gonski and Ken Boston who is also a former head of education departments in New South Wales and South Australia, has endorsed the Turnbull Government’s reforms, urged the Parliament to pass them. And so Ken Boston now stands alongside David Gonski, other independent commentators like the Grattan institute, the Mitchell Institute, a range of other thinkers in this space who recognise that what we’re applying is not only a true needs-based model for school funding, but we’re actually putting forward something that is more consistent with the objectives of the original Gonski report than what the Labor Party did. 

And it is remarkable that Bill Shorten continues to stand in the way of needs-based funding in Australian schools and I’m just grateful for the fact that Senate crossbenchers and the Greens continue to have an open mind and engage sensibly on this topic which is how we will tackle it over the next couple of weeks.

Kieran Gilbert:  You need votes, you don’t need a referee. How’s this going to translate into votes?

Simon Birmingham:     Well obviously this is another strong impartial endorsement from one of the authors of the Gonski report and I hope that that is something that the crossbenchers universally and the Greens, the Labor Party will listen to and that they will hear the message that David Gonski himself, the other authors of the Gonski report, a range of other impartial independent stakeholders are all on board supporting these reforms to put an extra $18.6 billion into Australian schools, distributed fairly according to need in an independent model that’s been developed. This is a really important reform for our schooling sector enabling us to really shift not just from a focus on funding, but to put the debate on how that money is then invested, and of course Ken Boston and David Gonski will be part of the new panel that is having a look at how we achieve excellence in Australian schools, how we spend the record levels of investment distributed according to need most effectively driving outcomes.

Kieran Gilbert:  [Talks over] You want this through by the end of next week. How are you feeling about the prospects of this? You say the Greens are still engaging but it looks like the Greens are split on this. This still could hit the fence in the Senate.

Simon Birmingham:     Look the Greens appear to be keeping an open mind and a number of the crossbenchers are keeping an open mind as well, and so we have a couple of different pathways there where this could get through the Parliament. I …

Kieran Gilbert:  And with the Greens, Di Natale wants three things done including a body monitoring the funding. He wants the funding expedited. Are you willing to look at these measures that he’s proposing as the deal breakers for him?

Simon Birmingham:     The Turnbull Government has been a pragmatic government all along and particularly since last year’s election and we’ve shown a willingness to work cooperatively with crossbench parties to get things done. 

Now I believe the Labor Party should reconsider their position on this. It’s an indictment on Bill Shorten to have the likes of Ken Boston out there saying this is fair needs-based funding and the legislation should pass, yet Labor continues to stand against it. Ultimately they should look closely at ken Boston’s words, reconsider the Labor Party position …

Kieran Gilbert:  But they won’t will they? They’re not going to do that.

Simon Birmingham:                 Well look it’s a tragedy …

Kieran Gilbert:  You can say that as much as you like, they’re not going to change.

Simon Birmingham:     It’s a tragedy if Bill Shorten wants to play politics with school children’s future, with needs-based funding for schools in Australia, rather than actually get on board with this reform. But if he does play politics with it we’ll keep talking constructively with the crossbench.

Kieran Gilbert:  Now on some other issues. The Finkel energy report Josh Frydenberg to address your colleagues today. Are you confident that you can secure enough support within your own party room to then engage constructively with the Opposition? Because right now the likes of Tony Abbott already calling this a tax on coal. 

Simon Birmingham:     Well I think there is a broad understanding, including around the Coalition, there’s a trilemma to be solved here and the trilemma is how it is we deliver affordability, reliability, and meet our emissions reduction targets when it comes to dealing with the energy market and our focus as a government has to be across those issues. As a South Australian, I know more than perhaps most about the perils of a lack of reliability in the energy system, and we have to get that back …

Kieran Gilbert:  [Talks over] But Mr Abbott says the Finkel Report is a magic pudding, is the way he described it.

Simon Birmingham:     Well I’d urge everybody to actually sit down, look at the contents of Alan Finkel’s report, see that of course he has a number of different aspects to it in terms of providing enhanced reliability by making sure there are clear mandatory notice periods for the closure of any major emissions- of any major generation facilities that we actually have in place. A clear framework, that is neutral to any generation source.

Kieran Gilbert:  But do you think that Tony Abbott and others like Eric Abetz are willing to be open minded on this?

Simon Birmingham:     Look I am confident that the Coalition party room will look at the evidence and look at the best policy options for the future to achieve reliability, to guarantee affordability for Australian energy users, and to ultimately meet Australia’s emissions reductions targets. We are a government who, when it comes to emissions reductions, put in place measures without the need for a carbon tax or a carbon price – that will meet and exceed the 2020 targets for Australia’s emissions reduction commitments. We are now going …

Kieran Gilbert:  [Talks over] A lot of your colleagues don’t care about that. A lot of your colleagues don’t care about that. They want whole …

Simon Birmingham:     [Talks over] Kieran, I think my colleagues are very proud of the fact that …

Kieran Gilbert:  Some are.

Simon Birmingham:     … as a government, we have managed to meet those 2020 emissions reduction targets and we will exceed them. 

Kieran Gilbert: But some are, but without a carbon tax we are [indistinct] measures …

[Cross talk]

Kieran Gilbert:  The point is, as you know, a lot of them- a lot of them are saying they want coal protected over the emissions target. You know, it’s a secondary or even third tier problem. They’re worried about coal being protected and cheap prices.

Simon Birmingham:     People want to make sure that we don’t have unnecessary taxes, charges, levelled on coal or in the energy system generally. And of course what we’re looking at here is a model that doesn’t apply any price or tax on coal, but it does incentivise the types of low-emissions technologies, whatever they may be from whatever generation sources, that can help to guarantee greater reliability and affordability in Australia as well as meeting those emissions reductions targets.

Kieran Gilbert:  Minister, appreciate your time. Thanks.

Simon Birmingham:     Thanks Kieran.