Simon Birmingham: …$37 billion that will only cause to drive the budget deficit higher. Labor continued to make the same kinds of mistakes in relation to education policy that they’ve made in the past. A belief that just spending more automatically improves educational outcomes and student outcomes. We know for a fact that that is not the case. Since 1987-1988, we've seen across Australia real growth in total Government spending on education in the order of more than 100 per cent. And yet, in that time, our results in international rankings on literacy and numeracy have gone back in both real and relative terms. So what we can see is that over the last few decades we've consistently, as a country, state and Commonwealth Governments, spent ever more on school education, and yet have been getting poorer results.
So what we need to focus on, and what the Turnbull Government has been focussing on, are the things that matter in relation to improving student performance: the right curriculum in schools, the best quality in our teachers, the engagement of parents, the autonomy of school communities to be able to set a course that's relevant to their school. The opportunity to create the right type of environment to meet the innovation challenges of the future, to create an entrepreneurial spirit, to ensure people are studying science and maths and technology and engineering – skills that will equip them for the future – these are the things we should focus on first. And in those areas that we know will actually make a difference to student outcomes and school performance, you then make funding decisions as to how you support them.
The Coalition remains committed to having sensible discussions with states and territories and the non-Government school sectors from 2018 onwards about how it is that we can effectively fund schools to deliver the highest quality outcomes. But unlike the Labor Party, we won't be tricked into thinking that just spending more money automatically improves results. We won't make the same type of mistakes that Labor have made before in promising money before you get commitments about how it will effectively be used to improve student outcome. And we won't make the same mistakes Labor have made in relation to the nation's budget that drove Australia deep into deficit, and where they have already, many months out from the election, racked up a $48 billion black hole in relation to Labor's promises that are largely unfunded.
Question: Are you keeping open the possibility, after those talks with the states down the track, the possibility of increasing funding to sort of match the current Gonski plan?
Simon Birmingham: What we will do is make sure that any funding commitments the Turnbull Government makes are commitments that are driven by how you improve student outcomes; by how you actually get the best results in the classroom from students. So we won't promise money first and then seek to negotiate outcomes later. As a Government, we will sit down with the states, territories and non-Government school sector to talk about the things that need to change to improve student outcomes and to ensure that when students leave school they're well equipped to get a job, or they’re well equipped to go on to vocational education or university or further studies. They're the objectives we've got to have, and from there you consider how much it is that you need to spend.
Labor are putting spending first and student outcomes last – the Turnbull Government will put student outcomes first and then derive spending commitments that are necessary to get those effective student outcomes.
Question: [Inaudible question]
Simon Birmingham: Look, David Gonski is an eminent Australian, but what is incredibly important to focus on are the things that make a difference in the school environment. And what makes a difference in the school environment are the quality of the teachers, the engagement of the parents, and what is taught in the classroom. And they're the things we want to focus on and work with schools to get real results on, and from there you make effective decisions about funding. You don't put the funding commitments first and worry about the detail later – you've got to worry about the detail first and how you get the best outcomes for students first, and then work the funding out.
Question: In negotiations Senator, the level of funding could be the same as Labor's, it could be more, you're not being prescriptive about any of that at the moment?
Simon Birmingham: What I'm being prescriptive about is a commitment to Australian parents that we are concerned about getting the best outcomes for their students; that we’re concerned about reversing the slide in literacy and numeracy, in digital competency that we've seen in Australia over decades that's come despite increased school funding. And that we'll focus relentlessly on getting the best outcomes for students by investing the finite dollars we have available most efficiently and effectively, rather than simply promising spending largess as Labor are doing.
Question: Senator Birmingham, the Government spends many billions of dollars each year; we've seen all the money going in the vocational space, a billion dollars a year to the ABC, things like that. Wouldn't parents be more than happy for 4.5 over a couple of years to go in to schools?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I think parents want to see money spent effectively, and that's what our focus will be on: ensuring every dollar that we spend – whether it’s in spending given to state governments for state government schools, or in non-Government schools – is effectively delivered to help students, to help ensure that we lift up those students from lower socioeconomic areas, and improve those outcomes in those schools to ensure, as we are doing, that we continue to deliver record year on year increases in funding for students with disability to help their participation in the classroom and enhance their outcomes. These are things that we're already doing, and it should not be forgotten that this Government is already spending a record amount on school education; that we had to bridge a gap that was left by the Labor Government when they left office in relation to Queensland and Western Australia in the order of $1.2 billion, where they had left a black hole there.
And once again, they're repeating the same mistakes of saying they're going to go and negotiate state by state, create different state inequities, whereas what we should be doing as a Commonwealth Government is setting clear principles, and ensure under those principles that they're actually about student outcomes and the things that enhance student outcome, not just driven by the amount of money people are putting into the system.
Question: So Minister, do you want to ensure that your agreements are finalised for 2018-2019 before the election?
Simon Birmingham: We’ll have proper discussions with the states and territories in the non-government sector, and we will be releasing appropriate policies in relation to school education ahead of the election.
Question: Senator, the Labor plan is prescriptive to the point that it says it would fund years five and six of Gonski. Are you saying that years five and six of Gonski being funded is the wrong approach?
Simon Birmingham: I believe, and the Turnbull Government believes, that you’ve got to put student outcomes first, and that funding is only something that is determined to drive those student outcomes. Whereas what Labor is doing is saying they want to put funding first and worry about the detail of how it improves student outcomes later. Well, we care about the quality of what happens in our schools and the quality of learning that our students get, and we know that that isn’t a just a result of how much money is spent – that’s a result of the quality of the teachers, of the parents’ engagement, of what’s the curriculum, of how it’s taught and what’s taught. They’re the things that we will focus on, and they are what should drive funding, not some formula that is purely about how much is spent.
Question: [Indistinct] the first four years then, you’re- you must be admitting that there’s student outcomes at the basis of the first four years. When it comes to set the last two years, are you saying that they disappear? Why are you willing to spend the Gonski money in the first four years but not the final two?
Simon Birmingham: We committed to make sure that going into the last election we would match over the forward estimates the budget that was there, and that’s exactly what we’ve done. And so we’ve delivered every single cent that was promised and some more, because of course Labor had cut $1.2 billion out in cutting funding for Queensland and Western Australian schools out at the last election. And even this time around in their policy they seem to be playing a game of ducks and drakes about how it is that they would fund those states who did not sign on to the Gillard Government’s processes last time.
Question: [Indistinct] education groups, like Labor say, that the final two years are crucial. You’re saying that their approach is also wrong?
Simon Birmingham: What is critical is that we focus on the things that make a difference to students, and that’s what we’re going to focus on as a Government. And funding is derived from what will make a difference in the classroom and to the outcomes of students, to equip them for further training; further study; for jobs in the future.
Question: There’s some evidence to show that Gonski is working. Are you pouring cold water? Are you saying that Gonski has been a cash-splash that hasn’t worked?
Simon Birmingham: There are some instances around the country where we’re seeing really good, improved outcomes in terms of what’s happening in the schools, and there are other instances where we are not yet seeing those types of outcomes. So that’s why we need to do the analysis and properly focus on what’s making a difference in those classrooms; why it is that some schools are successfully lifting above other schools of their same socioeconomic mix or student cohort. So what’s making the difference in terms of lifting outcomes in some schools but not others, and that’s the type of work that I’m committed as a Minister to doing. And that’s the type of work we can then build upon which will determine how we further improve the quality of our teachers, how we further engage parents, what changes we need to make to the curriculum, where we need to invest more in maths and sciences, and whether or not that requires additional funding in the future.
Question: So is that the new analysis, or a new kind of white paper on …
Simon Birmingham: [Interrupts] This is ongoing work, because as a Government we are investing record sums in school funding already. We’re committed to year on year increases in that school funding, and we have been focussing very clearly and strongly in relation to teacher quality improvements, to enhancing the national curriculum, to getting parents more engaged, to giving schools greater autonomy, and to focussing on lifting outcomes, especially in areas of science and mathematics and technology that are so essential to equipping students for the future.