Interview on Sky News The Latest with Ashleigh Gillon
Extradition treaty with China; Making child care and early learning more affordable, accessible and fairer; Future schools funding arrangements 

Ash Gillon: And joining us now live from Canberra is the government minister, Simon Birmingham. Senator, good to see you, thank you for your time. Is ratifying that extradition treaty with China really in the national interest, in your view, when top legal experts and human rights bodies here are warning that we’d be sending people to a country where there is little transparency and an unfair court system?

Simon Birmingham: Well Ash, it’s good to be with you, and look, this is an important agreement. It was negotiated in tandem with a prisoner transfer exchange, and that came into law, and in fact a number of Australians have been transferred back out of China as a result of that exchange process. This extradition treaty has been through very comprehensive analysis, including reviews by the Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. That review – or at least the dissenting report or additional comments by the Labor Party members at that time – argued that there should be some further analysis or review of the Extradition Act. That occurred whilst the Labor Party was in government. 

So we believe all of the preconditions in a sense have been set, but if there have to be further discussions, which it appears there do, then of course the Government will get on with those discussions. But it is important for people as well to understand there are a range of very strong safeguards in relation to all of Australia’s extradition treaties to make sure that anybody extradited will not face the death penalty, to ensure that there are appropriate evidentiary barriers that must be met. These are factors that we weigh up very carefully as a government before agreeing to put such treaties forward for ratification, and that was the case in relation to this one.

Ash Gillon: Let’s look at some portfolio matters. You succeeded in getting that child care package through the Senate last week, now I assume your focus is turning to school funding. I do want to get back to child care in a moment, but on schools firstly. As we know, some schools – both public and private – are receiving much more funding than they’re entitled to under the Schooling Resource Standard; others are receiving less. How quickly are you actually planning to recalibrate that system? What is the timeframe for cleaning up that mess to make it a fairer distribution system?

Simon Birmingham: Well Ash, I’m pleased we’re going to talk about child care in a second because it is a significant reform that was only passed just last week. Look, in relation to schools funding, we’re working through a process that’s been well known for some period of time now, that the Government will reach a point of conclusion with the states, territories, and non-government stakeholders around the time of the first COAG meeting this year. We’ve been saying that for quite a long period of time, and I’ve been engaged in consultations with all parties to address that. 

Now, there are a range of different issues out of the 27 different school funding models that we inherited from the Labor Party that were negotiated, many of them when Bill Shorten was the Education Minister, and I am eager to see inequities in those arrangements ironed out, but done so in a very fair and transparent way. Yes, as I’ve said on many, many occasions in response to media questions on this matter, there are some schools who are notionally funded above the Schooling Resource Standard. There are of course many schools, including many non-government schools, funded below that Schooling Resource Standard too, and these are some of the issues that we worked through. 

Ashl Gillon: But again, do you expect that that recalibration will happen in five years, 10 years, 15 years? How quickly do you want it to happen, and can you guarantee this new funding model will be in place by the next schooling year, 2018? Because a lot of principals are complaining, essentially, that it’s making it very difficult for them to plan ahead when they don’t know what their funding situation is going to be.

Simon Birmingham: Well in terms of timelines that we’d look at, I’m not going to specify what they will be because they’re a live part of discussions and consultations that we would be having, naturally. But I can say that I think we need to do much more than the 150-years-type arrangements that Bill Shorten left in place for transitional elements. That’s not a satisfactory system to try to bring schools onto a fair, consistent, equitable type of approach. 

In terms of the timing for actual resolution of these matters, the reassurance that I’d want to give to all schools, all parents, all teachers, is of course that school funding under the Turnbull Government continues to grow each and every year – from $16 billion last year, to more than $20 billion by 2020. That’s significant growth above inflation, above wages, above enrolment. It is, of course, real growth into Australian schools. That means that, yes, whilst we are still working through all of the distribution elements, there’s no reason at all why schools doing great things at present, with the record levels of funding they’re receiving today, shouldn’t be able to plan to continue to do those good things in the future with continued record growth in school funding. 

Ash Gillon: Minister, on the child care reforms, we’ve spoken a lot here on Sky News over the last few days about how this package will make child care more affordable for low and middle income families. But I’m keen to know what this package that passed through the Senate will do, if anything, to put downward pressure on the daily cost that child care centres actually charge parents, and also what it would do, if anything, to increase supply and reduce the waiting lists, because those are still real problems for parents needing child care.

Simon Birmingham: Sure, indeed. I’m very happy to address those. Firstly, in terms of price increases, there’s no doubt that incessant fee growth in the child care sector has been a problem for quite some period of time. We’ve managed to keep it more contained in the last few years than had been the case in the few years prior to that. But a core part of our reforms will see a new hourly rate cap put in place – essentially a benchmark price – right across the child care sector, and that cap will be indexed at an inflation rate, sending obviously a benchmark price signal to providers, to parents, and hopefully through that mechanism – which was recommended by the Productivity Commission – keeping a more constrained lid in terms of fee increases into the future. 

Now, overall, in terms of the generation of places and supply, we’re budgeting on significant additional growth in terms of places available in the child care sector over the next few years. So we are expecting growth to occur, as it has occurred in the tune of hundreds of thousands over the last few years. But what we think will probably drive that best now is the certainty that will come from the reforms passing the parliament, which will provide certainty to providers, investors, operators in the early education and child care sector about the type of support that families will receive, the way in which they’ll be paid, the streamlined arrangements that will be in place though our new IT systems, all of which should help to create more places and more certainty for the creation of those places.

Ash Gillon: Minister Birmingham, we do appreciate your time with us on The Latest this evening. Thank you.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much, Ash. Pleasure to join you.