Kieran Gilbert: With me now though to discuss the Government’s education funding plans and the rest of the politics of the day at the start of this very important week is the Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Let’s start first of all on this plan that you’ve announced yesterday.
Labor says it’s coming in at $3.5 billion less for those out years, from 2018 to 2020 in terms of funding for schools. It’s a lot of money a billion dollars-plus every year for the schools that you’re not going to be providing that Labor says they would.
Simon Birmingham: Well good morning Kieran. Look firstly let’s deal with what we are proposing and that is that a Turnbull government will in 2016 provide some $16.2 billion of funding into Australian schools, that will keep growing each and every year and in the final year of the budget projections in 2020 that will have reached $20.1 billion.
So growth from $16.2 billion to $20.1 billion well above what is forecast in terms of inflation. Now is it less than the Labor Party? Yes it is. But equally as a government we’re not proposing $100 billion of additional taxes likes the Labor Party are. We think that our school growth is affordable.
It is also responsible and it is targeted and tailored to actually drive reform in our Australian schools. Labor can’t tell you what they actually expect to see their school spending spent on. I can tell you that I want to see it spent and invested in ways that ensure young children, the youngest possible children who have reading deficiencies are identified and supported in our schools, that we lift ambition in maths and sciences right through our schools, that we reward our most capable teachers. These are the types of things that will make a real difference in our schools.
Kieran Gilbert: Okay. Are you still committed to the Gonski principles though in terms of the needs based funding? Does this still represent a commitment to that in principle even if it’s not the dollars?
Simon Birmingham: Absolutely Kieran. And this is a point that is often lost in the debate. You can have a debate about just how much it’s spent.
There’s separate question about how you distribute the funding and we are absolutely committed to make sure that funding is distributed, not just by the Commonwealth government but by states and territories who pay a significant sum of the costs in relation to education on a fair and needs based formula which means that students in low SES schools, students with disability, students from regional or remote areas get additional support for their education because they need it, because they deserve, they need it and we will make sure that’s there to help them get ahead.
We’re also putting extra funding into support for students with disability and in addition to this $1.2 billion that was announced yesterday there’s a further $118 million of additional support this year and next year for students with a disability before we get on to the new funding formulas from 2018.
Kieran Gilbert: What do you say to school communities, to teachers, to parents this morning who might be watching you and thinking, well, your dollars just don’t add up in terms of Labor’s promises? Labor’s going an extra $3 billion-plus over three years, why shouldn’t the money matter?
Simon Birmingham: Money matters but what you do with the money matters even more. We have great teachers, good teachers out there, great teachers doing good things, but we want to make sure they’re given the support and the evidence based information to do the best possible things in their class room by their children.
Parents want to see the best for their children and most parents do say to me they appreciate that while funding matters, how it is spent, the capacity and the quality of our teachers, those are the things that make an even greater difference in their school.
And ultimately I know from right across the Australian community people are particularly worried about jobs and economic growth at present and if we have $100 billion of new taxes as Labor is proposing that will just cripple jobs and economic growth into the future. We need to make sure that there’s a good quality educational system there but we also need to make sure there are jobs for our children when they leave school.
Kieran Gilbert: We’ll get to the broader budget in a moment, but just on your portfolio still, reports in the last week or so that the Government is committed to the deregulation of higher education of the university sector but with suggestions that you’ll put a cap on what the price for certain degrees could get to to stop a campaign against you suggesting that you might have hundred thousand dollar degrees, can you explain your thinking on this and when will we know the detail?
Simon Birmingham: Kieran, there’ll be more to say about higher education policy before the election and we’ll be making it very clear to all Australians in term of the direction we want to take in higher education. Higher education costs have grown around twice the rate of the economy since 2009 so there is a real budget sustainability pressure there.
There are also challenges in the way our universities are funded in terms of ensuring they actually focus on innovation and excellence and differentiate themselves in specialises universities, so we do need to see reform in the university space. We’ll make clear what those reforms are pre-election and I’ll look forward to explaining that to people once they’re public.
Kieran Gilbert: And this is the idea of a cap, is that attractive to you in terms of how much universities can pay?
Simon Birmingham: I’m not going to speculate on the exact measure but a point that I’ve made time and time again as education minister is a solid commitment to equity to make sure that university funding arrangements are structured so that no Australian child should be disincentivised from going to university because of their background, because of their family income.
That there should of course not be a dollar paid up front to go to university, that we preserve our world’s most generous student loan scheme and ultimately have a system where they feel comfortable and their families feel comfortable aspiring to university education.
Kieran Gilbert: Equity, you refer to that and that is a good segue into the budget discussion because if there are tax cuts for those earning upwards of $80,000 a year to ensure middle income earners don’t go into the second highest tax bracket of 37 cents in the dollar, what about those on the lowest incomes?
Is the Government aware, you know, cognisant of the fact that you’re going to have provide something for the lowest paid, the least well off, if you are going to help middle income and therefore higher income earners?
Simon Birmingham: The effective tax free threshold for low income families is quite high by the time you take into account some of the redistribution systems, family tax benefits and so on that are in place.
Equally of course we have in place clear arrangements already for those receiving welfare payments, for those receiving social security support, that they are indexed each and every year and they keep going up in line with inflation.
What we have been very clear about for a period of time is supporting middle Australians who want to earn a few extra dollars and are disincentivised from doing so because of the tax rates that are there and what they would be paying.
Now we want to help those and of course ultimately the detail will be in the budget. But we will be a government that is taxing less than Labor, spending less than Labor and offering Australians a clear plan for how we can manage spending as a government within an affordable perimeter to keep taxes as low as possible.
Kieran Gilbert: This is one of the mot important budgets in modern political history isn’t it because it also forms the foundation of your election campaign? As I understand it the Prime Minister’s going to be visiting the Governor-General on Friday or Saturday, so we’re going to be into it. This is almost unprecedented in terms of the pressure on Treasurer Morrison tomorrow.
Simon Birmingham: Well politically it’s important but economically it is critical for our country. We are at a crucial point in the transition from the mining boom into an economy that needs to be more engaged with our region, hence the importance of our free trade arrangements, an economy that needs to be more diversified hence the importance of our innovation and science agenda, and this budget of course will help to lay the framework for that transition which is why we have a strong focus on keeping taxes as low as they possibly can, on having the incentives to invest.
It’s why our policies on capital gains tax which encourage investments and start ups and in venture capital are far more attractive than Labor’s which propose to remove capital gains tax incentives and in doing so of course will cripple investment in the economy. We need investment to create the jobs of the future.
Kieran Gilbert: Minister, I appreciate your time. Thanks for that.
Simon Birmingham: Pleasure. Thanks Kieran.