Daryl Manzie: Now as I said earlier, we’ve seen certainly some pretty negative headlines regarding the Federal Government’s funding of – you know, future funding of education in the Territory. We’ve spoken to the Education Minister here, who’s not only assured us that funding levels from the Federal Government have not dropped, but they’ve increased in line with the Gonski undertakings that the Territory Government didn’t sign up to, and he informed us and assured us that education funding was continuing in a very, very positive form for the Territory. What about the future? We’ve seen some big headlines where we’ve been told that there’s a big kick in the guts for the Territory, that the Federal Government’s just slashing funding for schools.
But what’s the reality? Because we’ve got really well resourced schools, we’ve got terrific results coming from the schools compared to previous years, so the education effort is achieving better results than in the past. We’ve got the highest number of teachers per groups of students of anywhere in Australia – what is happening?
Simon Birmingham is the Federal Minister for Education and Training; he joins us now to just give us a snapshot of what is the real situation with federal funding for education from the Turnbull Government, and good morning to you Minister.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning Daryl and good morning to your listeners.
Daryl Manzie: Now what is the circumstances? I mean, we’ve read some pretty horrific headlines here, and people seem to believe that we’re – you know, education’s being slashed. What is going on, what’s happening future-wise with funding for the Territory?
Simon Birmingham: Yeah well look, what I think is important for people to appreciate is that from 2013, when our government was elected, over the four year budget cycle we’ve grown funding for schools by around 27 per cent in terms of federal contributions. And what we are proposing to do in the future is obviously from that federal budget, funding is at record levels, it keeps growing this year, it keeps growing at significant levels next year. And then from next year on, off of that record base, we propose the Government to keep growing funding in line with costs. To keep it up with inflation as well as any growth in enrolment, so that we reflect from that record base the real cost in terms of the levels of running a school system and the inflation costs that are there, so we actually in future have a policy that keeps growing school funding right around Australia, and that we actually need to make sure that we actually need to … sorry, I’m just having to relocate.
Daryl Manzie: Yeah, that’s alright.
Simon Birmingham: We actually just need to make sure that that funding does keep growing well into the future from those current record levels.
Daryl Manzie: Now I guess one of the things is that we’re looking ahead, say to the 2018-2019 Budget, is what is happening with the federal funding for the Territory during that period? Is there a plus or a minus figure we’re talking about?
Simon Birmingham: People in the Territory should be confident that the record levels of funding we are putting into schools will continue and will keep up with costs. Now we’re also very determined to make sure that future models, in terms of the distribution of that record level of funding are actually based around the needs of different school systems. So obviously in the Territory, high numbers of Indigenous students, high numbers of low SES students; those sorts of numbers will mean that additional loading will come to the Territory in future, as they currently are, and that those loadings will also keep up with inflation costs, keep up with the numbers of students who warrant them. So our model is one that is needs based, and it will grow in funding into the future, but is affordable. I don’t want to mislead your listeners – Labor Party is promising to spend a lot more money at the next election, and they’re promising also to increase taxes by $100 billion over the next ten years because they’re promising to spend so much more money.
What we believe is we have record levels of funding, we can grow the NAP(*) to keep up with costs into the future, but that we do need a system, as a school system, as an education system around Australia to look at how we get the best possible value out of that money and the best possible outcomes. Because nationally we’ve doubled funding over the last nearly 20 years, in real terms, so taking in place and into account there’s twice as much money going into school education than there was 20 years ago, and yet our results have actually been going backwards in many areas, in literacy and numeral and so on. So we have to actually start to answer the question – how do we spend that money most wisely, not just worry about how much money is being spent.
Daryl Manzie: Well the evidence to date up here shows that we’re getting better outcomes in the … from the – as a result as NAPLAN testings. So are we on the right track, do you think?
Simon Birmingham: Look I think we are seeing more recently some improvements, particularly in some schools that the reforms that give transparency to teachers, to principals, to administrators of the school system, but most importantly the parents and families are helping to drive a bit of a renewed focus in areas of literacy and numeracy, and that’s something the Turnbull Government is determined, and that we continue to focus on, and those basic skills that then of course lead to the capacity to have advanced skills later on. And so we’ve spent of time in terms of our STEM strategy looking at some of the earliest years as to how we can encourage greater involvement in young children in maths and sciences at an early stage and to foster that interest that we hope will then carry them into their senior school years and beyond.
Daryl Manzie: Now you’ve also written that there’s a funding commitment from the Federal Government to Northern Territory schools that is set to increase by $96 million from 2014-15 to 2018-19, and that will continue growing after. And that’s roughly a 50 per cent increase over that three year period, an extra 100 million. Is that – do you stand by that written commitment?
Simon Birmingham: Absolutely, Daryl, and course we’re halfway through delivering that commitment. So it’s not a case of standing by it; we are delivering upon that. And that’s in the Budget, the school funding in the years 2014 and 2015, this year in 2016 and next year in 2017. So a huge growth in the level of federal funding going into the Territory education system is all clearly identified in the Budget. And what we propose to do then, having put that growth surge in place and achieved those record levels of funding is to grow at cost and in line with enrolments into the future, and of course do so on the basis of differential need across the states and territories and different school systems, understanding that systems with high needs, students with disability, students from low SES backgrounds, Indigenous students, may often need additional support and so the loading factors continue to be built into the future to support that.
Daryl Manzie: Simon, I thank you very much for joining us. I really appreciate it; I know you’re very busy, but we certainly appreciate just a bit of a heads up there on what the real situation is.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you for the opportunity. There’s a lot of mistruths being spread about the idea that funding would go backwards in the future – that’s just not true. Any school out there who is doing good things today should be confident that they’ll be able to keep doing those good things in the future.
Daryl Manzie: Thanks very much indeed. That’s Simon Birmingham, Federal Minister for Education and Training. And I think certainly there’s been myths and there’s been some scare ca- and I guess with an election you’ve got to expect that, but we’ve seen some pretty horrific headlines and claims that there’ll be millions of dollars slashed, and the reality is that over the three year period from 2014-15 to 2018-19 there’s a 50 per cent increase in federal funding which amounts to almost $100 million over that three year period. And on top of that there will be a continuation of not only CPI funding, but also enrolment- increases in money that matches the cost of living and the increase in costs plus increased enrolments, and also a weighting for needs-base, which in the Territory of course we have a lot of needs that the other states don’t have.
So there certainly is no crisis in education funding, and I think that some of the stories we hear, if you’re a parent you think my goodness what’s going on. You really have to do a bit of homework, because some of the claims being made are certainly pretty – well, they’re incorrect. There certainly is an increase though, promised in the Labor federal funding model, and they – and rightfully so – they’re going to have to increase taxes to pay for that. But there certainly is no slashing of funds under the Turnbull Government, and there’s certainly no slashing of funds in the future. There’s increases, and I guess you’ve got to work out what the pluses and minuses are with both federal parties, but anyone that claims there’s going to be slashed funding is telling you fibs. There’s certainly no slashing of funds.