Press Conference, Adelaide
Labor’s corruption of ‘Gonski’; Future schools funding arrangements; Productivity Commission report on human services
22 September 2016
12:51 PM

Simon Birmingham:     Thank you Mandy. It's a delight to be with you at this school, at Trinity Gardens Primary School, for the launch of the AUSPELD resource, and it’s a critically important resource because it provides very practical advice in an easy-to-access format to Australian teachers so that they have greater knowledge of how to support children who most need greater assistance to be able to succeed and fully participate in the school environment. Just in talking to some of the teachers today, they have sung the praises of the resource that Mandy and her team have developed and we are pleased as a Federal Government to be making it available to teachers right around Australia so that they can have the confidence to step into the classroom and where there are learning difficulties for children, give them the extra support they need to get on and succeed. 

I might touch more generally on the meeting tomorrow of State and Federal Education Ministers. I look forward to meeting with my state and territory counterparts, and to talking about how it is that we can advance effective funding for Australian schools beyond 2018 in a way that targets need, that treats states equitably, and ensures we get the types of reforms necessary to guarantee that children in the future are getting the learning experience in the classroom that they need to succeed. And that means greater emphasis on ensuring we identify reading or literacy problems at an early stage and have the interventions there for them. It means ensuring that we keep some of our most capable and able teachers in the classrooms with the right incentives to stay engaged in the profession. It means ensuring we have minimum literacy and numeracy standards for school leavers so that school leaving certificates mean something to universities, TAFEs and employers, and it means having more students ideally study maths and sciences through the latter years. 

I hope that we can have really constructive discussions that will start tomorrow and will continue over coming months to get school funding agreements in place that are fair, needs-based, equitable, enduring and support reforms in our school system to lift educational attainment around Australia.

Question:         Is it constructive to start, though, by saying that the model is corrupt and it’s Labor’s fault, even though these arrangements have been signed off by the current Government?

Simon Birmingham:     It was Ken Boston, a former head of Education Departments in South Australia and New South Wales and one of the architects of the Gonski Report, who in fact said recently and wrote recently that the models put in place corrupted the Gonski Report, because we have 27 different models in place. So it's not my word; it's a word that actually one of the authors of the Gonski Report has used. But it is a representation of the fact that far from having a nationally consistent approach to funding, we have a completely inconsistent approach. We didn't get the Gonski Report. We actually got the Shorten model, and the Shorten model pays different rates for identical students based on where they live in Australia. I don't think that's what people expect the Federal Government should do. I think they expect a Federal Government to genuinely support a student of identical needs with the same support regardless of where they are living in the country.

Question:         Some of those deals, they were signed off on by your Government, weren't they? Some of those deals with the states were signed off on by your Government?

Simon Birmingham:     In 2013, we did what exactly what we said we would in the 2013 election, and that was to implement the deals that Labor had put on the table. So we are delivering and have delivered on those arrangements, but we also made clear at the last election that from 2018 we wanted a new model in place that tried to iron out some of these difficulties and ensure it was equitable and did actually support schools right around the country. We are, of course, putting in place greater school funding into the future, growing from $16 billion this year in 2016 to more than $20 billion by 2020. Malcolm Turnbull and I are proud to be growing the funding in Australian schools but we want to make sure it's distributed fairly according to need and used to achieve evidence-based improvements to lift our student achievement.

Question:         You say you expect the talks to go on into the future. When do you think you will be able to lockdown some specific deals?

Simon Birmingham:     The arrangement that was committed to at COAG earlier this year was that COAG would reach a resolution around school funding in the first half of next year, and that’s the timeline we’re working towards.

Question:         Are you then facing the prospects of shoehorning all education systems into one model, when you try to pare back this 27 funding models we’ve got now?

Simon Birmingham:     States and Territories will always be free under our Constitution to fund schools in their State or Territory as they see fit. But as a Federal Minister running a Federal funding model, I want to make sure the bits that we’re responsible for treat a student who might have a disability or might be from a low socioeconomic background the same wherever they live in Australia. And I don't think Australians believe their Federal Government should be discriminating against students of disadvantage based on where they live, and yet that's the model that Labor left us with.
Question:         But is it really a case of like for like in the way that modelling is structured? Surely the needs must differ say, from inner city Sydney to regional Tasmania?

Simon Birmingham:     Absolutely, which is why funding needs to follow the needs of individual students in individual schools. But the demonstration we released today shows that for an identical school made up of the same low socioeconomic mix, the same number of students with a disability in different states can be funded by the Federal Government with discrepancies in excess of 20 per cent. That's not a consistent national approach to needs-based funding. Far from it. So some students with identical needs in identical circumstances in a state like Western Australia are being heavily discriminated against compared to other states of the country. I want to make sure that our approach has a degree of consistency to it and importantly, though, is focused on not how much money is going in as an input, but on how it is most effectively used to lift literacy and numeracy rates amongst young kids, keep our best teachers in the profession, get more kids studying maths and sciences. They’re the real reforms that I think parents care most deeply about.

Question:         How then do you sell the message to the states tomorrow, that some may end up with less, some with more than others, if that’s the consequence?

Simon Birmingham:     We have a growing pot of money and we are looking beyond just the years of the so-called Gonski deal that was really a Shorten deal. So my message to the states and territories is that we want to work through this constructively with them to reach a sensible end point. That may take a period of transition; that will take some compromise. But I want us to agree tomorrow, ideally, on some of the principles that should be being applied and the principles we are taking to the table are that funding should be distributed according to need, that we should be treating the states with equity, and that we should be leveraging funding to achieve real reform across our school systems to improve student outcomes.

Question:         If you iron out those inconsistencies from a federal level, is it still- could that be all for nought though if the same inconsistencies remain at the state level of funding?

Simon Birmingham:     States run their own school systems, and they do run them in different ways. So at that stage, you have to respect the right of states to make their own individual decisions about how they’re allocating some of their funding. But I hope we can get them to do so in a manner which transparently reflects the types of needs-based principles that the Gonski Report talked about and which the Turnbull Government is committed to standing by, principles that ensure students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, Indigenous students, students with a disability, small rural and regional schools all receive the type of additional support they need to ensure successful participation of all students in the Australian education system.

Question:         Where you reset the funding scheme of arrangements, does that factor in indexation as well after 2017?

Simon Birmingham:     Our funding flowing forward grows from $16 billion of Federal funding this year to more than $20 billion by 2020. It's in excess of projected enrolments, in excess of projected inflation and indeed as the Grattan Institute has remarked today, it's in excess of projected wages growth or anything else. So it is a generous rate of growth over the next four years and is a good platform upon which we can strike hopefully a successful deal.

Question:         On a separate matter, there’s been a bit of movement around a draft report today on recommending the draft report [indistinct] PC recommending privatisation of certain types of Government services such as public housing, some medical, some Indigenous. Bill Shorten has characterised it as people being- poor people being done in the neck. I mean, is that a fair characterisation?

Simon Birmingham:     Bill Shorten needs to end the scare campaigns. He runs around the country proclaiming that school funding is being cut when in fact it's growing, proclaiming that Medicare is being privatised when we are completely committed to its Government delivery and have record rates of bulk-billing, and this is just another desperate scare campaign from Mr Shorten. We will of course consider any expert report, give it all the thorough consideration you would expect Government to do. But to actually embark upon a scare campaign in response to a draft report to the Government, rather than a report of the Government’s, really is an example of shrill desperation from Mr Shorten.

Question:         Does it fit into the economic planning that you might consider, though? I mean, it tends to gel with the economic philosophy, if you like, of conservative governments, that these things are probably better handled by the private sector.

Simon Birmingham:     There are always lessons that we can learn to improve the delivery of Government services, but anybody who suggests that the Government has any secret agenda to privatise services or to cut back on services isn't looking at the facts. And the facts are that funding for schools keeps growing, funding for our health system keeps growing, support for social services keeps growing. We want to make sure all of that is used as effectively as possible. But Mr Shorten's scare campaigns do him no good at all, because in the end they will be a demonstration of the fact that rather than having the nation's interests at heart, he is more interested in scaring people and telling lies and mistruths. Thanks, guys.