Interview on Sky News AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert
Topics: Delivering real, Gonski needs-based funding for schools
Kieran Gilbert: I spoke to the Minister earlier this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Oh look, Chris is a very reasonable person and Chris and I will maintain some conversations around this. It’s not surprising that given some of the different lies and mistruths that have been told by some of the sectoral interests in this debate that there might be pockets of concern that emerge. But we’ll deal with those and we’ll speak to people, and we’ll make sure that everyone understands that out of the $18.6 billion of extra funding flowing across schools, the bulk of it is directed to the neediest schools, that there’s clear growth across all of the different schooling systems – including the Catholic schooling system who will see some $3.4 billion of additional funding over the next decade.
Kieran Gilbert: But that- because that’s Senator Back’s concern is that he- he served on the Catholic Commission for, I think, a decade; so he does not want to see them lose funds.
Simon Birmingham: Chris indeed did serve as a member of the Catholic Education Commission in WA, so he has a strong appreciation and understanding of their school system and a strong commitment to their schools, which is of course really welcome to have Chris’s help working through all of these issues with us to make sure that he understands and he can hopefully help to ensure that Catholic schools across WA and across the nation understand that there is greater funding flowing into their schools under these reforms. It goes up for schools in WA as it does …
Kieran Gilbert: So will you call him this morning? Will you call him this morning to explain that?
Simon Birmingham: Chris and I have been speaking and we will continue to speak in that regard, but importantly as well that Catholic education systems retain their autonomy to take that growing pot of money and to distribute it across their schools…
Kieran Gilbert: You haven’t convinced them. Christian Zahra, the head of the Catholic Education Commission, says that the wheels have fallen off your reforms. That’s a comment that he’s made today.
Simon Birmingham: Well, look. He’s free to make all of those sorts of comments. Of course I appreciate that people who have had special arrangements and deals in the past want to preserve those into the future if they possibly can. But what I would urge the Senate this week – as I will be doing – to look at, is that what we’re seeking to apply is a consistent needs-based formula as David Gonski and his panel recommended, as David Gonski and his panel have indeed endorsed. And that, in terms of non-government schools like the Catholic education system, treats all of them equally according to need across the country. That’s why the Christian Schools Association – representing Lutheran schools, representing Seventh-day Adventist schools, representing a range of different schools, it’s by the independent schools bodies – they’ve all endorsed these reforms and see them as fair, and of course different states will all be treated equally according to that.
Kieran Gilbert: Let’s look at some of the direct claims made by Labor, and I’ve got the list here. I want to put them to you and get your response to it. Labor’s school funding plan, 80 per cent of the extra money went to public schools. Under Turnbull’s policy, Tanya Plibersek says, more than half of funding goes to private schools. What’s your response to that?
Simon Birmingham: The greatest growth in funding goes to the neediest schools in government school systems around the country. More than 4500 schools, mostly government schools, will see funding growth of more than 5 per cent per student per annum over the decade under our reforms.
Kieran Gilbert: So why this discrepancy then? When Tanya Plibersek said 80 per cent of the extra money under the Labor plan went to public schools, are these numbers right? More than half go to private schools under the Turnbull plan?
Simon Birmingham: Well, as I think Nick Xenophon put it pretty well on the weekend, there are comparisons that are made in this debate that are sometimes comparing apples with mythical pears. And frankly the Labor plan with its scale of money and so on, was well and truly a mythical pear. What we’re proposing is something that is affordable, deliverable, $18.6 billion extra and more than 5 per cent growth per student, per annum, into the neediest government schools around the country. And that’s the type of fairness we’re trying to strive at, and of course fairness that applies consistency across the country. Not 27 different special deals and special arrangements that might mean there’s more money for government schools in one part of the country, but not in another part of the country because they don’t have the same deal.
Kieran Gilbert: The other point that Tanya Plibersek makes is that your Government and Mr Turnbull’s Government wants to give private schools 80 per cent of their fair level of funding, public schools just 20 per cent.
Simon Birmingham: Kieran, this is, of course…
Kieran Gilbert: This was the claim made by the Union as well.
Simon Birmingham: And of course, under Labor’s reforms private schools would have been receiving the vast bulk of the schooling resource standard from the Federal Government, and government schools; the bulk of it from state governments. Why? Because that’s the history of where school funding has always been in Australia, it’s the shared responsibility where the Commonwealth Government has always paid the overwhelming majority of non-government school funding. Only go back to 2003, and only around 8 or 9 percent of state public school funding came from the Federal Government. We’re proposing to take that up to 20 percent …
Kieran Gilbert: [Interrupts] So fundamentally, why can’t you get them across the line on this then?
Simon Birmingham: Because the Labor Party is just playing politics with this. The Labor Party, from day one, have shown zero interest in this. As David Gonski has endorsed it, as Ken Boston and Kathryn Greiner have endorsed it; as Cathy McGowan, the Independent MP, has endorsed it; as Adrian Piccoli – who has been one of the strongest vocal critics, of course, of the Coalition’s approach to schools funding – has come on board and endorsed it; as the Mitchell Institute, the Grattan Institute. There has been a strong list of people from impartial observers and experts coming out, backing these reforms. The Labor Party have never come to the table, not once, to …
Kieran Gilbert: So will you get this through now? Will the Greens back it, or will you have to go to plan B with the crossbench, the rest of the crossbench? One Nation and others?
Simon Birmingham: It’s not a plan B, we’re working very closely with all of the non-government senators and we would welcome the Labor Party to join in that conversation, but we will continue those discussions. I hope they will see by weeks’ end the benefit of dealing with it this week…
Kieran Gilbert: But you’ve given the Greens everything they want. How could they not support it now, you’ve compromised. You’ve given them- they had three demands, you’ve moved on all three.
Simon Birmingham: No, Kieran. We’re waiting to hear back from the Greens in terms of what it is precisely that the Greens do want to have delivered. And we’ll have those conversations…
Kieran Gilbert: Have you offered to- more money, more funds, and sooner? Is that right?
Simon Birmingham: I don’t know, I’ve talked through a range of scenarios and options with the Greens about what different changes might involve. But we’re not going to play our negotiations out in public, the Government never does and it won’t be on this occasion.
Kieran Gilbert: Would you look at an independent body, as they want, to monitor this?
Simon Birmingham: Well Kieran, as I’ve said, we won’t play the negotiations out in public. We’ll be pragmatic in dealing with the crossbenchers, but we’ll seek to bring everybody back to the fundamentals of what this package does. Consistency across every state, consistency across every non-government sector, fairness in terms of what we deliver for schools…
Kieran Gilbert: [Talks over] Sure. You’re going to need to find more money if needed? You’re willing to find more funding if needed?
Simon Birmingham: As I said, we’ll be pragmatic if necessary in terms of dealing with the crossbenchers, but we won’t be undermining the integrity of what we’re proposing which is about that fairness, that consistency, and that application of what David Gonski and his panel recommended and have endorsed as a result of this legislation.
Kieran Gilbert: Well it looks like you got One Nation on board. As for the Greens, well, to do a deal with the Greens seems madness to Kevin Andrews. He says that; we’re hell bent on driving our own base away in return for votes from the Greens. What do you say to him on this?
Simon Birmingham: Well I think people expect the Government to get on and get things done, and that is precisely what we’re seeking to do in relation to schools funding. Now I would welcome Labor coming to the table, but we’ll talk to the people who have the votes in the Parliament to get our legislation and our proposals over the line. And that is of course about delivering that fair, consistent policy in terms of school funding. That’s what we’re seeking.
Kieran Gilbert: You don’t wish to- driving away the base of some, like Mr Andrews suggests?
Simon Birmingham: I think Liberal voters, as indeed all Australians, understand and want the Parliament to work, the Government to work, the Government to get on and work with the people who were elected to the Parliament to get things done. And in this case, we’re seeking to get fair, consistent, needs-based funding delivered across the country, and we’ll deal with whomever is necessary to do so.
Kieran Gilbert: Minister, appreciate your time. Thanks.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks Kieran.
[End of excerpt]