Address to the National Press Club, Canberra
Sarah Martin: I can’t help but ask, has this Education Minister actually fixed it? And, if so, have you told your mate Christopher that you’re taking his mantle? For those on Twitter, please follow the debate at hashtag NPC, and please welcome the Education Minister Simon Birmingham.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you very much, Sarah, for that introduction, and, if he’s watching, acknowledgements to the Member for Sturt – my good friend and Canberra housemate. But can I also acknowledge the traditional owners of the Canberra area, the Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples, and my departmental secretary, Michele Bruniges. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all very much for coming today. To the members of the National Press Gallery who are here, thank you for choosing me ahead of President Trump in your travels.
An enduring memory of my childhood is of trips to the supermarket with my late grandmother, my nan – or Madge, as she was known to her friends. These trips were frequently interrupted, not by people who called her Madge, but by people who said, ‘excuse me, Mrs Herd, I was, or my son or daughter was, one of your year one or two students’. Nan was a retired teacher from the local primary school. These former pupils or parents of former pupils would variously thank her for the impact that she had had on their lives, and update her on all that they were accomplishing.
As a six-year-old, I didn't think about it much at the time, I just seized the opportunity to sneak some chocolate biscuits or ice-cream into the shopping trolley when she wasn't looking. Today, though, with the honour and responsibility of being Australia's Education Minister, those supermarket trips of 30 and 40 years ago are instructive. They remind me how fortunate I was to grow up with a great teacher at the centre of my life. My nan ensured that I had all of the basic literacy and numeracy skills required to learn and, as I got older, instilled in me a love of current events and public policy that helped to lead me to where I am today.
More importantly, though, those comments and updates on successful lives remind me of the transformative power of education. They remind me that teachers and educators, from early childhood educators through to our most incredible research scientists, don't just impart knowledge, but they change lives. They equip individuals for success and in doing so they give and develop the skills we require to succeed as a nation.
Given the central importance of education, it is unsurprising that it invokes such passion. What is surprising is the sometimes lack of sophistication around some of the arguments. On the one side seem to sit those who pretend that the returns on investment are limitless, that you could never spend enough money. On the other side are some who think it can all be done, as it was done in the past, for a lot less money. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.
As family structures have changed, we rely more on early learning and we expect more of our schools. As our economy has transitioned, we demand more graduates and need different technical skills. However, while expecting or doing more has required more funding at each of the primary, secondary and tertiary levels of our education system, such funding must be invested wisely, cautiously, and in ways in which yield the best returns for Australian students and our future.
Ensuring value for money in our education spending in ways that deliver the highest-quality outcomes was a central theme of the issues that I inherited when I became Education Minister 19 years ago- 19 months ago! [Laughs] It certainly hasn't been that long, although this week it could feel like it. Policy decisions taken prior to 2013 had set education on a path of limitless, ballooning, poorly structured spending with little consideration to the quality of that investment. Policy decisions taken in 2014 had sought to constrain some of that, but in some instances had not had all of the implementation arrangements fully considered.
Systemically, since my appointment, we have gone about addressing these challenges in vocational education, in childcare and early education, in higher education and in school education. Immediately after last year's election, I announced our plans to fix the incredibly wasteful VET FEE-HELP scheme. We successfully legislated within months of the announcement and its successor was in place for the start of this year. The Turnbull Government's new VET Students Loans program sets a higher bar of entry to training providers, limits loans to courses with strong industry links and employment outcomes, and caps the amount that students can borrow to stop the blow-out in fees.
Poor-quality training had a human cost for those students who lost fees, incurred debts, and have little or no new skills to show for it, and an economic cost in skill shortages, taxpayer funds that end up generating no return, and the damage done to the reputation of Australia's training system. We addressed this with a new fully functioning model that has already seen 22,000 students successfully enrolled in 114 private providers, approved under far stricter rules and conditions. In fact, I note that 76 former VET FEE-HELP providers have not been accepted into our new VET Student Loan program.
Hot on the heels of last year's successful legislation of the VET reforms, in the first sittings of this year, we legislated the most significant reform to the child care and early learning system in 40 years. We didn't tinker at the edges or shy away from fundamental reform. Instead, we recognised that we needed to re-create a child care system that is more affordable, flexible, and easier to access. We went through an extensive process and implemented changes that will benefit nearly one million hard-working Australian families. For example, a family on $80,000 per annum with both parents working, two children in long day care for three days a week, will, as a result of our reforms, be around $3400 per annum better off.
Our reforms to child care are fundamentally fair and provide the greatest hours of support in child care to the families who work the longest hours, and the greatest subsidy and financial support to the families who earn the least. If you are a family earning less than $185,000 per annum, the dreaded annual $7, 500 cap on the child care rebate will be gone, abolished. It will be increased to $10,000 for other families.
We want families to choose their child care around their work, rather than limit their work hours to suit their child care, and we estimate that our reforms will result in 230,000 families empowered to work, work more, study more or volunteer more. Our overhaul of childcare, though, wasn't just about greater subsidies. We are introducing an hourly rate cap to send a clear signal to the child care market about what a reasonable price is, and to make sure we constrain in future the incessant fee increases we have seen in the past.
Child care, though, serves a dual purpose: one of supporting families to balance work and family obligations, the other of delivering valuable and important early education benefits. And these are most critical in relation to preschool. It is critical that children in the earliest years have access to a quality preschool education in the year before they begin school.
Today I am pleased to announce that the Turnbull Government will extend the National Partnership Agreement on universal access to early childhood education, ensuring that all children, in the year before school, will continue to have access to 15 hours of preschool a week.
Under the UA agreement the Commonwealth will direct $428 million to states and territories – that’s $1237 per preschool child, regardless of where they attend preschool. I also note that for the one in two Australian preschool children in long day care settings, our child care reforms will result in a subsidy of preschool costs, on average, of around $3900 per annum, or $900 extra per year, in addition to the universal access agreement.
The 2018 extension of the National Partnership Agreement will provide certainty and consistency of support for Australian families, preschools, and long day care centres, and all of those hard-working educators who work within them, as we move through next year seeking to implement both our school and child care reforms. It will also allow for proper discussions with the states and territories on how we fairly guarantee in an ongoing sense 15 hours of preschool beyond that, given the very different models of preschool delivery that apply from one state to another. This extension to preschool support combined with our landmark child care and early learning reforms makes the Turnbull Government's commitment to quality early education crystal clear.
At the other end of the education life cycle, choice, transparency, and quality are at the centre of our higher education reforms. Australia's higher education system is outstanding. Recent rankings put six of our universities in the top 100 and almost half in the top 300…
Simon Birmingham: A little bit of side entertainment there, ladies and gentlemen. I think there is probably not been a year in the last few decades when we haven't seen university students protesting at some stage. It is part of the rite of passage of university students nowadays.
But as I was saying, Australia's higher education system is excellent. Recent rankings put six of our universities in the top 100 and almost half in the top 300. It is modern and it is booming, attracting record levels of international students, but success has come at a cost to taxpayers. Since 2009, the investment on university places has increased sharply. Taxpayers are contributing an additional 71 per cent and the value of student loans has almost tripled. If we don't take action, around one quarter of the current $50 billion of outstanding student debt would go unpaid.
We must address these pressures now so that future generations can enjoy the benefits of affordable, world-class higher education, without any threat of upfront fees. The reforms I announced earlier this week have struck such a balance. Students will continue to have access to a demand-driven higher education system. In fact, students, universities, and our economy will benefit from an expanded but more accountable demand-driven system that allows for more one or two year courses to be offered by our universities, and encourages greater integration of work placements into university courses.
With performance measures for the first time applied to our universities, we will rebalance the contributions made by taxpayers and students, but do so in a modest way. Student fees, which have not really increased in over a decade, will rise 1.8 per cent next year and by 1.8 per cent for each of the following three years. This is modest, and at a maximum equates to a fee increase over a four year degree of around $17 per week of study. Similarly, a new one per cent rate of repayment for HELP debts will see graduates repay around $8 per week once earning $42,000 per annum – still a very generous repayment threshold by any global standard.
Taxpayers, including those who have never attended university, will still fund the majority of university fees and costs - around 54 per cent of the cost on average, as well as significantly subsidising the student loan scheme. Universities will also be asked to make a modest contribution towards financial sustainability of the system. Independent analysis shows that the cost to deliver courses has only grown by 9.5 per cent between 2010 and 2015, yet we know that university funding has grown by around 15 per cent. Our efficiency dividend for universities equates to an average of 2.8 per cent of their teaching and learning funding. It does not impact on their research funding or other revenue streams, but simply asks them to return a modest share of the efficiencies that they have generated from their record levels of funding.
Let me now turn to the issue that has dominated the last day or two: schools, and in particular Commonwealth school funding. There are two major challenges in schools policy facing Australia from a national perspective. Firstly, school funding is too complex, has too many distortions and inconsistencies. It needs to be fairer, more transparent, more needs-based, and to treat schools and parents equally across both state and sectorial boundaries. Put simply, it needs to be more closely aligned to what the Gonski review actually recommended, not the hotchpotch of different deals we ended up getting.
Secondly, we have to tackle our declining education performance, which in too many ways is real and ongoing. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister and I sought to address these issues head on. The changes we announced better reflect what the Gonski report was seeking to achieve. Our changes include ensuring that students and schools with the same need attract the same support from the Commonwealth Government regardless of where they live; transitioning all schools to an equitable Commonwealth share of the Gonski-based Schooling Resource Standard – 80 per cent of that SRS for non-government schools and 20 per cent for government schools, representing an historic high in federal support for the state government school systems. So, by 2027, all schools in their respective sectors will receive the same Commonwealth share under the same methodology in an entirely needs-based consistent manner, undertaking this transition over a decade, unlike the existing legislation which still wouldn't achieve equity of treatment after even 150 years.
For the first time, we will also be using nationally consistent data on students with a disability, so that our needs-based model of school funding also delivers additional support based on the level of adjustment assistance each student with a disability requires in their individual school setting. Our 10 year timeframe provides greater certainty to all sectors than ever before. There will be no more four or six-yearly unseemly arguments between the states and Commonwealth, no more secret deals that advantage one government school sector over another, or one non-government school sector over another. Instead, a permanent, enduring Commonwealth model that is truly based on need and truly sector-blind.
This is why David Gonski himself said: “I am very pleased to hear that the Turnbull Government has accepted the fundamental recommendations of our 2011 report, and particularly regarding a needs-based situation… I am very pleased that there is substantial additional money, even over indexation and in the foreseeable future”. We have backed these changes with additional funding. Our investment in school excellence and fairness grows from $17.5 billion in 2017, to $30.6 billion in 2027.
Having a fairer funding model with real and record funding support should allow the schools debate to focus on where it needs to be: how do we improve the performance of our school systems? That is why David Gonski has agreed to lead a new inquiry, not on how much funding there should be or who should get it – because we have resolved those questions in our reforms, accepting the work of his previous inquiry – but on how it should be used by every school to improve student achievement and school performance across Australia. The review will build on reforms we have delivered already to improve teacher training. It will complement reforms we have underway already to strengthen phonics instruction, and it will identify the priority improvements required to ensure future excellence.
Across every element of my portfolio, the Turnbull Government is focused on aspiration – the aspiration for quality education everywhere, delivered as fairly and efficiently as possible. Thanks to the reforms we have delivered and are committed to delivering, Australian families can look to the future knowing they, their children and grandchildren, can enjoy more support for meeting the costs of child care and accessing high quality preschool education; record levels of needs-based funding for Australian schools, which will be used to lift the standards and outcomes across those schools, and expanded access to university and vocational education for people from all social and economic backgrounds without upfront fees but with greater alignment to real employment possibilities.
I hope and trust that from these reforms, many more hard-working early childhood and preschool educators, school teachers, VET trainers, university lecturers, will receive the thanks that my nan enjoyed from her previous pupils. Thank you so much for your attendance today and I look forward to your questions.
Sarah Martin: Well, thank you Minister and you've very kindly given us plenty of time for questions, which you may live to regret, but we'll see how we go. So, just to start with, I just wanted to ask there has been a backlash amongst the Catholic school sector. Can you rule out doing any special funding deal with the Catholic school sector in order to calm the political storm that seems to be rapidly engulfing the Government on this?
Simon Birmingham: The whole point of the reforms we've announced to school funding is to get away from special deals, to get away from ancient sweetheart arrangements, to get away from the type of situation, as I said, where every four or six years you have a school sector, a state government, coming along, trying to blackmail or bully federal governments into doing something that suits them and gives them a competitive advantage over another part of the schooling sector. We don't intend to make changes that favour one state or one sector or one system over another. We intend to deliver true, consistent, needs-based, sector-blind school funding models across Australia.
Now, we have heard a bit said, I acknowledge, from a couple of the school sectors over the recent couple of days. I looked back at some of the reaction to last year's Budget recently and I saw that at the time of last year's budget, the Victorian Catholic Education Commission, who have been one of the louder voices in the last couple of days, said, and I quote, that this future funding will continue to keep pace with the real cost of education. So, what was last year's budget? Last year's Budget was putting in an extra $1.2 billion and indexing school funding over the period 2018 to 2020 by 3.56 per cent. It provided additional funding to all sectors, including the Catholic sector. What is the difference between last year's budget and this year's budget proposal for the Catholic sector in Victoria? It's an extra $19 million.
So funding that they welcomed last year, that they said was more than adequate last year to keep up with costs, will increase into the future. That to me says there is no justification for claims that there may need to be fee increases. There is no justification for scaring principals or parents or others, that what we're seeing is a push-back to try to achieve another special deal of some sort, rather than acceptance that what we want to do is transition fairly, generously in a way that still sees real growth for all Australian schooling sectors into the future onto a common platform of funding over a 10-year period.
Sarah Martin: Next question from Peter Jean.
Peter Jean: Peter Jean from The Advertiser Minister. Just to follow up on Sarah's question, are you accusing the Catholic sector of trying to bully the government and can you guarantee to parents who have children at low-fee parish schools that those schools won't be forced to increase fees by thousands of dollar a year, or indeed, the Catholic sector won't be forced to close some of its schools?
Simon Birmingham: So, contrary to one of the other misinterpretations or misrepresentations that's occurring, I've noted that there's been a suggestion that Catholic school systems will no longer have the capacity to direct their funding to their schools. That's not true. What our model will do is it will calculate on a consistent needs basis funding for each individual school right across Australia, including those within the Catholic school systems. For those within the Catholic school systems, we will then aggregate each of those lots of funding for each of those schools and we will hand it over to the Catholic education system in that state or territory. They will then be able to choose how they distribute it between their schools. It will be calculated on our formulas on a true, consistent needs basis, but they will determine and maintain their autonomy to be able to direct it where they see fit.
And given funding is growing across the Catholic education system by 3.7 per cent per student over the next few years under our model. There is no reason as to why fees need to increase at any small parish school, indeed no reason why they should need to increase necessarily at any Catholic systemic school. In terms of the lobbying of the sector representatives, I respect their right to put their case. I respect that they, state and territory ministers and others, will push hard to get the best possible deal for the people they represent. That's what they are paid to do. I'm paid to think about Australia as a whole and our national education system as a whole and our school education system as a whole. And so what I'm paid to do is ideally to put aside any sectoral interests, any state biases or interests and make sure that in the end what we deliver is a model that treats everybody fairly and consistently.
Sarah Martin: Kylar Loussikian
Kylar Loussikian: Thanks Minister, Kyler from The Daily Telegraph. Even though the Federal Government is equalising some of the funding for public and private schools, a lot of the states don't actually have standardised funding in their case. Would you push for them to standardise so that every school is getting 100 per cent of their needs benchmark?
Simon Birmingham: Kylar, we're trying to bring consistency to Commonwealth funding. Now, the Australian Constitution is actually pretty clear that the operation of schools, indeed in many ways the funding of schools, is a state government responsibility. However, by various quirks of history, including the strong commitment made by the Liberal Party, starting with the Menzies Government to support and empower parental choice in Australian schools, which remain central to the model that we're putting forward today, over many years the Commonwealth has become more engaged and involved in school funding. We're trying to clean up a whole lot of mess there of 27 different sweetheart deals and arrangements that sit in place.
But what the states and territories do beyond that, once we've transitioned, is a matter between the states, territories, their school systems, and their electorates. But what I do hope is that by getting to a point of consistency, where if the Commonwealth is paying 20 per cent of a needs-based Schooling Resource Standard across every state and territory around Australia, then the remaining debate around schools funding is not one where it can be disproportionately pushed back onto the Commonwealth as has been the case in the last few years, but one where states and territories can be truly held to account by their constituencies. Now, there are reasons as to why they might choose to distribute according to a different methodology or why they might choose to fund at a different level and they're reasons they should explain to their electorates and be held to account to their electorates.
I do want to emphasise because again it's a point that can be misinterpreted that in terms of providing that common 20 per cent share, it is a needs-based share. So what it means is that a state with higher level of needs, such as Queensland or the Northern Territory or WA, with very large, remote areas, with higher populations of Indigenous students, with significant low socioeconomic students, on a per-student basis will receive more than other states and territories. That's the point of a needs-based funding model. But, of course, those states and territories will still be getting 20 per cent of that model just the same as any other state or territory.
Sarah Martin: Julie Hare.
Julie Hare: Minister, Julie Hare from The Australian. Just in terms of higher education, a lot of the commentary in the past day or so has been that despite having a year to work on your reform package, you have shirked real reform in preference of making just budget cuts. To that point, will your government address the very vexed issue of funding for research in universities and the cross-subsidisation of research from teaching funds? And also can we hope for some vision for the vocational education sector in the upcoming budget, other than just the fact you have fixed VET-FEE HELP. Thank you.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks Julie. Firstly, can I say in terms of the scale of reform and approach, overwhelmingly, the university sector urged us to keep the demand-driven system in place and indeed most, especially regional universities and others, urged us to provide expansion of access into sub-bachelor places so there could be more one and two year degrees, diplomas, associate degrees, et cetera, offered. We've delivered on those things, but in determining that we should continue to allow universities the autonomy to enrol as many students as they choose in whatever disciplines they choose, with the knowledge that they will then be automatically funded by the Commonwealth Government, we thought it was necessary and appropriate to ensure there was some performance metric put in place.
This will be a substantial reform because it will ensure that 7.5 per cent of teaching and learning funding in universities will ultimately be dependent upon a university applying appropriate standards around their admissions practices, appropriate support for students to progress through their course to completion, and appropriate evidence that universities are helping to ensure graduates are trained appropriately to get a job in the end.
And that sort of measure, though we will take it cautiously and carefully as you heard the other night in my presentation to the Vice-Chancellors and others, that sort of measure is a fundamental reform to try to ensure that we make the demand-driven system work in a way that holds universities clearly accountable, gives taxpayers, public policymakers confidence that we do actually have a degree of responsiveness in terms of the way our university sector works to public policy priorities, to national economic interests.
Now, our universities I've said do an outstanding job already. They are ranked at the top of the world. They do a great job in many areas of research, as we have identified in the National Innovation and Science Agenda. They of course, as universities, receive some of the highest rankings in terms of publications in the world. Although, as we equally identified, they're at some of the lowest rankings in terms of collaboration that actually leads to commercialisation and some of our reforms from the NISA go directly to the heart of driving change in those areas of research activity.
Elsewhere in the NISA, we of course committed to ten years' worth of certainty and funding for the National Research Collaborative Infrastructure Scheme, ensuring that those who run and operate some of our most critical research facilities across different institutions have long-term funding certainty for the future. A problem and a legacy again that we inherited that we fixed through the NISA and I do pay tribute to my predecessor who was Innovation Minister Christopher Pyne, helped to ensure that was the case.
Equally, we've got in place the process that's reported recently around the Research Infrastructure Road Map that will look at the bigger-picture needs in terms of research. So, we have a lot of work underway there in terms of research and we will remain as a government, because of the centrality of the innovation agenda to what we do, deeply committed to ensuring that research is supported, but again we have to do so mindful of our overall budget pressures and mindful of the reality that we need to drive the best value for money from every investment the Commonwealth makes.
Sarah Martin: So, just following up, the central part of Julie's first question, in terms of the problem of cross-subsidising research with teaching grants, do you recognise that that is a problem that needs to be addressed?
Simon Birmingham: Well, that depends very much on the university. Obviously, different universities do have different cost structures and from those cost structures, some choose quite effectively to cross-subsidise, some choose to invest more in terms of the support they give to the teaching and learning prospects of their students. Others cross-subsidise out of other revenue streams that they receive. So, I recognise that there's extra money that flows into research.
Of course, it is also notable that in the way in which the funding is calculated and the industrial arrangements that different university apply, there's also an expectation that those who are funded to provide teaching and learning spend part of their time engaging in research activities as well. So, there's a degree of almost inbuilt cross-subsidisation between the arrangements as they do apply.
Sarah Martin: Next question from Katina Curtis from AAP.
Katina Curtis: You've spoke about the return to the original Gonski panel's recommendations. Will you revisit some of the things that were changed or left by the wayside in that, such as the loadings? I'm thinking particularly of the doubling of the recommended number of students classified as disadvantaged, the use of reference schools- high performing reference schools to set the level of the SRS, and the establishment of the National Schools Resourcing Body, an independent body to help governments work out what level funding should be at.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks Katina. I will take the last part of your question first because it is perhaps fundamental to the decision we have taken to determine that the Commonwealth should apply a consistent share of the Schooling Resource Standard across each of the states and territories. The recommendation for a national school funding advisory body - I forget the name in the original 2011 Gonski report - was partly premised on the idea that the states and territories would agree that we all would be tipping money in and some autonomous body would be making decisions about how it would be allocated. I think the prospect of the states and territories agreeing to give up that level of their constitutional autonomy, in terms of the funding of Australian schools, is pretty slim, which is why I felt and the Government felt that applying something more analogous to the hospital funding model was the right way to end the school funding wars.
When the Commonwealth engages with the states to fund Australia's hospitals, we provide funding to a level of 45 per cent of the efficient price. So what we are proposing in relation to Australia's schools, is to provide funding to 20 per cent of the agreed schooling resource standard. Now, that 20 per cent is an historic high, as I noted in my speech. You don't have to go back too many years and that was in single digits in terms of the Commonwealth contribution to public schools.
In terms of the way in which the Schooling Resource Standard is built, I've not proposed changes, and we are not proposing changes at present to the loadings or the way in which the base SRS is calculated. Because I didn't want, in proposing these reforms, frankly, for them to be getting more complicated than they already are. We are trying to simplify a system, and so, making sure it is clear, we are taking everybody on the same journey and being able to explain to them, and particularly those different school stakeholders, about what that means and how it applies is best achieved by using the loadings as they currently understand them.
Will there need to be, over time, opportunities for states, territories, Commonwealth, non-government school representatives, to work together to make sure that the data is the most robust possible data and the structure of those loadings is as appropriate as possible? Yes, of course. That will occur in the future. It may be a task that future ministers will oversee - it may still be me, we will see. But what I hope and trust is that we can get the big fundamental reform right. I think the detail is - it was sufficiently well developed at the time for us to continue to work with it at present and, of course, then we can work to improve it, as you always should in any type of model, as you continue through the various stages of implementation.
Sarah Martin: Sheradyn Holderhead.
Sheradyn Holderhead: Sheridan from The Advertiser. Minister, today you have outlined a number of reforms that you have embarked on - vocational education, child care, and now schools and higher education. I just wondered if you could tell us which do you think when reflected on will be the most difficult to get through parliament and why?
Simon Birmingham: Perhaps what I should say to that one, Sheridan, is pass. Each comes with its own complexity. Now, two of them, and in a sense you are right, there were four substantial areas after the election that we needed to address, and I am two down, two to go. How it is that we play through and work through the remaining two remains to be seen. I hope that common sense across both will prevail, that we can deliver certainty of funding and stability, both to schools and universities and university students, and make sure that people understand exactly how the models will be working right into the future. I think it is in the interests of all of our schools, all of our universities, of Australia for that to happen.
Now, in the end I think the Labor Party, of course, should support us in these reforms. Many of them are not dissimilar to some of the changes that they proposed. They proposed, prior to the 2013 federal election, around $6 billion worth of cuts to universities, including, I note, an efficiency dividend which they then opposed after the 2013 election. One of the grounds they used to oppose it was to say that they weren't going to support it because we weren't investing more in schools. Well, guess what? We are investing more in schools, so I hope the Labor Party will reconsider their position in relation to that measure. But, more fundamentally, I hope they will reconsider their support for the overall level of reforms, because they will actually make sure we have accountability and efficiency in higher education.
In relation to what we have seen in school education, I am frankly gobsmacked at the response of Bill Shorten and the Labor Party, and I am pleased that his hypocrisy was called out this morning as he stood there complaining about what he claims are cuts to schools, in a school that over the next 10 years will receive $4.3 million more in funding under our proposed reforms. He stood there complaining about cuts in a school that next year will receive enough extra funding to put on an extra teacher if they choose to do so, to employ more expert speech pathology assistants in their school. Is the Labor Party really going to stand in the way of reform to Australia's school funding model that deals was the issues that they squibbed on, in terms of making sure we treat everybody consistently, and actually does provide real, substantial, ongoing growth to Australian schools in terms of their funding?
Now, if Labor wants to go to the next election promising even more money than what we are putting in at present, even more than the $18.6 billion extra that we have put in, well good luck to them. That is their prerogative, and of course at the next election they can explain how it is they would pay for that. But in the interim they actually have a responsibility as elected members of Parliament, as the alternative government, to think not just about whether or not we are implementing their policy, but whether or not the policy the Government is putting forward is at least an improvement on the alternative. And I would contend that in fixing a broken legacy of 27 different school funding arrangements, based on legacy sweetheart deals, and providing more funding to Australian schools than would occur if we were to revert back to the arrangements in the Australian Education Act as they currently stand, is surely something that the Labor Party ought to support and ought to get on board with, even if they choose to preserve their right to promise to tip more in at a later stage.
Sarah Martin: Phoebe Wearne.
Phoebe Wearne: Minister, Phoebe Wearne from The West Australian newspaper. The WA Government actually does quite well out of this deal over 10 years, but even they are saying that they are facing a $93 million shortfall for the 2017-18 year, and $56 million shortfall over the first four years. I am just interested in how you expect those schools to cope during those earlier years of the deal before the funding wraps up, and also how you expect them to improve results if that is the situation?
Simon Birmingham: Phoebe, Commonwealth funding to Western Australian government schools will increase under our model by 7.3 per cent per student over the next few years. It is the single most generous growth rate for any of the sectors in Australia. Now, the Western Australian Government is trying to play a little game of ducks and drakes in the way in which they have claimed that there is reduction, but in no possible way can anybody see 7.3 per cent growth as a reduction.
WA unquestionably got the worst deal of any state when it came to the school-funding deals that were struck ahead of the 2013 election. Why? Because the Gillard Government took the perverse decision of deciding that because a state had funded its school education system relatively well, they would punish that state. We are taking the position that every state should receive federal funding based on the individual need of the schools in that system.
Now, I have taken – and, in structuring this reform package, I sat down and I met with the wonderful folk at the Commonwealth Grants Commission - who are not terribly popular in Western Australia, I note - but the point that they made to me in our discussions was that if we are applying a consistent share of a needs-based funding arrangement to each state and territory, there is no reason at all why those states and territories, if they choose – to come back to Kyla's question – can't manage to put in the rest of it. But that is a matter of policy priorities for them. If they want to pay 80 per cent of our School Resourcing Standard they can do that; if they want to instead spend some more money on police, they I can do that - roads, hospitals, take your pick for state governments.
But in WA, we will see a steady transition for Western Australian Government students from, in 2017, per student funding of $2241 to, by 2027, per student funding of $4341 – essentially, a doubling over that 10-year transition because they got such a dud deal in the first place.
Sarah Martin: The next question is from Michael Keating.
Michael Keating: Minister, Michael Keating from Keating Media. This morning, South Australian Education Minister Susan Close said that her state's level of Gonski funding would be reduced from $335 million under the Gillard arrangements to $70 million over the next two years. Does this mean the Turnbull Government is looking to make substantial cuts before implementing a new plan in the 2019 Budget?
Simon Birmingham: No, it doesn't, Michael, and without repeating much of the answer I just gave Phoebe about growth in WA, I'd highlight in South Australia that per student funding grows on average by 5.8 per cent over the next four years. In fact, of the states, it's the second most generous after WA, because once again they got a dud deal in which they volunteered to have all of their funding back-ended, essentially, which is a part of what Minister Close seems to be claiming. But what's disingenuous about all of these positions is that they are seeking to contrast what they say the Labor Party promised them with the model that we are planning to implement.
The alternative is the Australian Education Act as it currently stands. The alternative isn't the Labor Party's policy. We won't be implementing the Labor Party's policy. The alternative is the Australian Education Act as it currently stands, or our reforms, and under our reforms the South Australian Government is better off, just as the Western Australian Government is better off. In fact, all of the states end up being better off as a result of the reforms we're implementing, relative to alternative propositions.
So, what I would urge each and every state and territory minister to recognise is that they can continue to plead for the special deals that they negotiated in some instances, and in other instances that they didn't, with the previous Labor Government. But the best thing that they could do for the future of school education in Australia is to get on board with real reform - not more special deals - and real reform that delivers true needs-based, consistent funding in a sector-blind, state-blind manner right across the Commonwealth.
Sarah Martin: Minister, is that also your message to Coalition MPs who are suggesting that they're not happy with the deal that you've outlined?
Simon Birmingham: Well I've had, I have to say, pretty much nothing but praise and pleasure from many of my colleagues, and I'm confident that they want to see us fix this issue, that they're pleased and happy that they'll be in a position to go out and explain to schools in their electorates how much extra funding those schools are going to receive under the Turnbull Government, and, to parents and others in their electorates, how it is that we're going to make sure that funding is used for quality reforms and improvements in Australian schools to lift performance.
Let's not forget that across the country we have got around 9500 Australian schools, and the vast majority of those - essentially around 9400 of them - are winners, many of them very, very big winners. And so, Coalition MPs right around the country are going to be able to go out, school by school, and explain to those schools how much it is that those schools stand to gain, just as we were able to make sure that people understood that the school Bill Shorten visited this morning will receive $4.3 million extra under the Coalition Government's reforms, and $73,000 extra next year, $70,000-odd extra the year after, $70,000-odd extra on top of all of that the year after that, and it keeps building into the future.
Sarah Martin: Tim Shaw.
Tim Shaw: Minister, Tim Shaw from Radio 2CC Canberra. Sarah, thank you for your composure, and Minister, also we've just had clearly had some protesters that have realised they have to repay some of their HECS debt.
Simon Birmingham: I couldn't ask for any tougher company up on stage in such a circumstance.
Tim Shaw: No. Look, critics are saying, Minister, this week it is all about money. It is not about teacher quality, it's not about content. Have you had the opportunity to meet Eddie Woo yet? He is a great maths and technology teacher from Cherrybrook High School in New South Wales. I spoke to him on the program today. We didn't talk politics, we talked about teachers, like your grandmother. And Eddie is passionate about teacher content and quality, he's also passionate about technology.
I guess, he talked about the Holy Trinity - excuse the pun. He said the relationship between teacher and student, student, parent and carer. Will you be asking David Gonski to look closely not just at where the resources should be, but the kind of relationship and responsibility between the teacher, the student, parent and carer, and the outcomes that follow from that? Secondly, the Premier of New South Wales told me that her Education Minister Rob Stokes is very bright, he's got a PhD, and he's considering looking at litigating against the Commonwealth for the breach of Gonski Part 1. Do you concur with the call of the Premier of New South Wales? She says 7.7 million in New South Wales she is responsible for, and that people like us in the ACT and Tasmania, particularly in education, shouldn't have an equal voice at the chair at Education COAG. Your response to that?
Simon Birmingham: There are some fights that probably are not worth having, Tim, and trying to reform the actual way in which COAG itself works at a meeting structure is one that I am happy just to make what is there currently work. I will take issue with one phrase you used. The original agreements, the deals that the states stitched up, shouldn't be called Gonski Mark 1 because they didn't actually reflect truly what David Gonski's report recommended. Those deals, those arrangements, were special deals stitched up just ahead of the 2013 election as Bill Shorten, then Education Minister, scurried around the country trying to desperately get states to sign on board so that they could claim a political victory. But they weren't Gonski deals, they were Con-ski deals. And in the end, what we are doing now is a true and accurate reflection of what David Gonski's work really advised governments to act on.
In terms of the threat of legislation, I note Minister Stokes stepped back from that yesterday, and I welcome that. In fact, I am not really sure in fairness to Rob that he ever actually did suggest it. I think he failed to rule it out when asked a question, and to our friends in the gallery, in true journalistic style, somehow that found its way into a big story.
To the heart of your question at the start about Eddie Woo, teacher quality, as I touched on in my speech, we are already delivering in aspects of teacher quality. We are getting universities to recalibrate the way in which they do initial teacher education so that in future all those who are training as primary school teachers will also have to undertake subject specialisation, so we can end up with more specialist English teachers, specialist maths teachers, specialist science teachers, specialist languages teachers in our primary schools - not just generalists, but specialist, able to help one another out, able to take classes both for students who need additional help, and for students who might be gifted and should be extended in terms of their assistance.
In terms of what David Gonski and his panel of educators will look at, I absolutely expect that they will receive representations on the really critical issue of parental engagement and how it is that the Holy Trinity - as you put it - between students, schools, parents is actually properly engaged together. Our Government has really sought to try to elevate the importance of parental engagement as part of the school's policy mix. We released the Learning Potential app to try to give parents more tools from the very earliest years - I have used it for my kids - from the very earliest years of how you engage them better in areas of literacy and numeracy development.
We also invested, as a result of a commitment in the last election campaign, more funding for The Smith Family for their Learning for Life program, which delivers really practical support for families who struggle and who need it, and to ensure that those children, when they need a bit of additional assistance to make that Holy Trinity work, are getting it. And I saw an incredibly emotive speech from Prime Minister Turnbull at that event in which, where we committed that funding and met some of the graduates- because Malcolm was really touched by the change that The Smith Family had made, working with parents, working with schools, working with students. I expect that is the type of element, just one element, but one element that David's work will pick up on.
Sarah Martin: After sledging the media at the National Press Club, I hope there is a tough question from Paul Karp
Simon Birmingham: It was a very gentle sledge, Sarah. It was not a footy sledge.
Paul Karp: Paul Karp from Guardian Australia. Thanks Minister. Yesterday, Tony Abbott questioned whether the schools funding policy harms parental choice. I wanted to ask if you could please address whether that criticism has any merit? Secondly, you said your colleagues are pleased about Gonski 2.0, but are you concerned that when you release the list of 353 schools that will be worse off under Gonski 2.0 than the Gillard-era agreements, that some of them will see it as a Mark Latham-style school hit list?
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Paul. As I touched on before, there 9500 Australian schools. Because we want to get them all to a consistent point in share of school funding, their transition pathways are different. But, for more than 9000 of them, their transition pathways make sure they are real winners in what actually happens, and that their share of funding, their funding, keeps growing through that timeline. For 24, over the next couple of years they will see some very modest reduction in their funding. And for some others, they sit in a position where, because of indexation arrangements and so on, they will still continue to receive some nominal growth, at least over the next couple of years, and then eventually they will also be transitioning to the same common share.
Now, I think the fairness in the model we are proposing is compelling. When I have spoken to any of my colleagues about the different transition arrangements that we are putting in place and how they apply, they have come to all understand and appreciate the fairness of that approach. Because of the additional funding we have committed, we are able to do this in a way where every school sector - be it government across the country, independent across the country or Catholic across the country - receives growth in funding that is real growth above any measure of inflation, above any measure of wages growth, far above the type of growth that most household budgets are experiencing at present, far above the type of growth that most government revenue streams are experiencing at present.
So, we have taken decisions there to make sure this is done in an orderly, seamless way, but we don't make any apologies either for taking the substantial decision to make sure that we didn't do what the Gillard Government did and squib it by starting to do special deals. Because, to come right back to Sarah's first question, once you start to do one or two, you have to do three or four and eventually you are right back to where you started from with another amazing mess of special deals and sweetheart arrangements.
Finally, the point you make about parental choice. Parental choice is at the heart of the model that we propose. The way the Schooling Resource Standard as applied works, ensures that schools with families from lower socioeconomic backgrounds receive more funding and more support to help those families attend those schools. Low-fee schools in the non-government sector will be clear winners out of the reforms that we are proposing, and that will only help to empower, embolden, enable greater parental choice in the future.
And again, that is a point that I think, once all of the details for all of the schools are out there, will be warmly welcomed when people see the 9000-plus schools who win, and stop fixating on 24 schools who might go backwards a little bit, and recognise that actually the sum total and scale of the winners will help government systems, will help independent systems, will help Catholic systems, ultimately will help us have a better education system.
Sarah Martin: The next question from David Speers.
David Speers: David Speers from Sky News, Minister. Tony Abbott has predicted, I think his words were a ‘robust debate’ in the party room next week on this. Can you just explain how what you've done for the Catholic and independent schools in particular compares to what he did in 2014?
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Speersy. We have looked at, I guess, different comparisons in structuring the model and looked, of course, at what happens compared to just status quo at present. We have taken a number of decisions since Malcolm became Prime Minister and I became Education Minister. Last year we put an extra $1.2 billion into the Budget; this year we put an extra $2.2 billion into the Budget. I answered a question earlier in which I highlighted the fact that the Victorian Catholic Education Commission is around $19 million better off over the next four years compared to what they were under last year's Turnbull Government Budget. So an improvement for them, for their schools, and for their capacity to support activities in their schools.
We looked back at what it would have been like before this year's Budget and before last year's Budget. In terms of the arrangements in 2014, that would have, at the end of this year, under the proposal, seen all school systems transition to purely receiving CPI indexation. And for the Catholic system across Australia, in terms of the difference there, our proposal will see additional funding of around $1.07 billion over the next four years for that system. Next year, it is around $109 million. In 2019, it is around $214 million and it keeps growing, as I say, from there. Over that 4-year horizon for the Victorian Catholic Education Commission, compared to the 2014 Budget they will receive an additional $281 million in funding. So, there again is a substantial improvement.
Your question related specifically to the Catholic sector, but that improvement, of course, is realised everywhere to a very substantial degree because, again, we are delivering a fair, consistent, equally applied needs-based funding model for all Australian schools.
Sarah Martin: And final question from Peter Jean.
Peter Jean: Peter Jean from The Advertiser again, Minister.
Simon Birmingham: The ‘Tiser can never have enough questions, Peter. Hometown favouritism.
Peter Jean: Thank you, Minister. Just to stick on the Catholic schools at the moment. I mean, the Catholic Education Commission is already campaigning quite strongly about what has been announced. You say it is fair. How are you going to convince the parents of the kids in those schools if the leaders of those schools are not on board?
Simon Birmingham: Peter, I think there is a distinction between the leaders of schools – school principals, school chairs, the figures who work within the schooling system – versus, I guess, some of the advocates and the lobbyists who might work in the various systems. Yesterday morning I was on Adelaide radio and I was delighted when a school principal rang in - he happened to be Michael Honey from the Nazareth Catholic College primary campus in the western suburbs of Adelaide. He said, I think this is a fabulous deal for South Australia; every school in South Australia will benefit from this - every single one.
Michael is dead-right, and over the coming days we will make available an online estimator for all schools to be able to have a look at what the Turnbull Government's comprehensive school improvement and quality package means for them. And what those school principals, school leaders, parents, will be able to be reassured by is they will be able to see the real growth that is there for their schools. As I outlined before in answers to early questions, with 3.7 per cent average growth in the Catholic sector across Australia at present, under our proposed reforms over the next four years, there is no reason, no rhyme nor reason, as to why schools need put their fees up, as to why there is any threat that parents should be worried about.
And I trust that the facts will speak for themselves, and I trust that school principals, teachers, council leaders, council bodies, will take the time to look at the detail and see how it helps them, benefits them and, overall, creates a much fairer system for everyone.
Sarah Martin: Ladies and gentlemen, let's conclude on that note and thank the Minister, Simon Birmingham.