Release type: Transcript


Doorstop interview, Adelaide


Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham
Minister for Education and Training

Topics: Delivering real needs-based funding for schools, Indigenous recognition, fair work commission, military deployment and Anthony Foster

Simon Birmingham: Thanks for coming out today. I want to say a few things about school funding.

Firstly, to really welcome the support and the endorsement we’re seeing through the Senate Inquiry process from a number of different key parties and players: impartial, independent voices backing our school funding reforms. And today we see reports around the submission from the Australian Council of State School Organisations; parents in government schools who have endorsed the Turnbull Government’s school funding reforms as being fair, simple and transparent. These are, of course, strong endorsements coming on top of support for our reforms from the independent Grattan Institute, the Mitchell Institute, and a range of other players, not least of whom being David Gonski himself, backing in the Turnbull Government’s reforms.

This is a demonstration that we have good policy that we’re seeking to apply; that it is truly implementing fair, consistent, needs based funding across Australian schools, backed by $18.6 billion worth of additional investment to support those schools to be able to continue doing great things and do even more to support their students into the future.

Yet we also still see certain campaigns that, frankly, are lacking in honesty, are lacking in consistency, are lacking in commitment to fairness. We see Bill Shorten still out there campaigning for special deals; campaigning against Gonski. It’s remarkable that the modern Labor Party, who for the last six years have endlessly talked about Gonski, now won’t do what David Gonski wants. It’s remarkable that the modern Labor Party under Bill Shorten are jeopardising funding for the National Disability Insurance System, are jeopardising support for fair, needs based, Gonski based school funding arrangements in the future.

It’s also remarkable to see other aspects of the negative campaigns that some are waging in favour of special interests. Let’s be very clear here: students should not be used as political pawns in this process. What we expect as a Government is to have proper, constructive, ongoing dialogue, as we have been, with all of the different representatives of school sectors and systems. We respect everybody’s right to campaign for the best deal for each of them, but we’re campaigning for transparent principles that support every school to continue to receive and to receive in the future a fair share of funding based on their individual need, with more than 9000 schools around the country set to receive strong growth in their funding, with more than 4500 of those schools benefitting from growth of five per cent per student per annum over the decade, ensuring the greatest amount of support flows into the schools who need it most.

Journalist: Amongst those remarkable things, what do you make of the school which appears to be making a casual clothes day contingent on parents signing a letter opposing your Gonski plan?

Simon Birmingham: Students should not be used as political pawns in the schools funding debate. We’re delivering record support for students and we expect schools to recognise that, to support us, ideally, in the delivery of that reform, to support and recognise that there will be extra money for schools like the one in question to invest in helping their students in the future. I think …

Journalist: Would you call on them not to do it? Would you ask them not to do this?

Simon Birmingham: Well, there’s a couple of points there. I think there’s a question around honesty of response. The evidence appears to be very clear cut that practices that should not have occurred did occur in relation to that school and, frankly, those parents deserve an apology rather than a denial.

Secondly, I think it is of course the type of behaviour that all Australians would think is completely unacceptable; that students in schools are there to learn, they’re there to develop skills, they’re there to be supported, and the Turnbull Government’s Gonski based school funding reforms deliver that for them.

Journalist: What would you say to concerns of the Catholic system, they’ve also got concerns with the online calculator?

Simon Birmingham: Well, Catholic school systems across Australia under our reforms are going to receive $1.2 billion extra over the next four years, $3.4 billion extra over the next ten years. That’s strong growth above inflation, above wages growth; it’s growth that allows them to invest more in their students, in their schools in the future, and it’s growth that I hope and trust will see them guarantee and keep fees affordable and access affordable for parents in the Catholic school systems around the country. But it’s done under a model that ensures every non-government school is treated exactly the same. The Christian school sector is backing our reforms, the Independent school sector is backing our reforms, the Lutheran school sector is backing our reforms. Why on earth is it that one school sector thinks that they deserve to be treated in a different way?

Journalist: Well, answer your own question, then: if it’s such a great deal, why on earth do they have such grave reservations about it?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I think what we’ve seen over decades of different deals in school funding is that, unfortunately, some people have grown accustomed to getting special treatment, to getting a better deal than one system versus the other. The principle we’re applying is fair, consistent, equitable, needs based funding across all school sectors that ensures if you change the name on the gate of a non-government school and the families stay the same and the kids are the same, then surely the notional level of government funding for that school should be the same as well based on its need, not the fact that it’s run by one sector or system versus another sector or system.

Journalist: How concerned are you with the protest we’re seeing in Melbourne with the early childhood educators and the unions and the possibility of strike action?

Simon Birmingham: Well, the Turnbull Government is really proud to have passed our reforms to childcare around the country that’s seen billions of extra dollars flow into the pockets of hard working Australian families to help them access quality early childhood education and care into the future. Now, of course, we don’t actually run childcare systems or childcare centres ourselves and we don’t employ childcare educators or early childhood educators ourselves. What we do is we back parents with what is a growing and record level of funding better targeted to low income families and hard working families to ensure they can access those services.

I appreciate that there is a wage dispute that has been underway for some period of time that’s before the Fair Work Commission and, as is consistently applied by the Turnbull Government, we will back the findings of the independent umpire, recognise and respect that process, and that’s what we should let play out.

Journalist: Do you believe that $20 is appropriate wage for that sector?

Simon Birmingham: Well, if I were to offer that opinion that would not be backing and respecting the findings of the independent umpire. There’s a proper process through the Fair Work Commission that needs to play out, it is playing out, and we’ll see where that lands.

Journalist: Are there any plans, though, to- for Federal funding to help boost any of those wages?

Simon Birmingham: Well, the Turnbull Government is putting billions of extra dollars into Australia’s childcare system to support families, particularly hard working, low income, Australian families to better meet their childcare bills, and that’s the type of support that I trust those who run childcare centres will be mindful of in their staff negotiations.

Journalist: Would the Turnbull Government be willing to work towards a new representative body for Indigenous Australians and towards treaties? These are recommendations that have obviously come out of the Uluru Convention.

Simon Birmingham: Well, the Convention’s only just concluded and I certainly haven’t had a chance to have a look at the detail of their recommendations, and nor has the Government had an opportunity to consider the detail of those recommendations. But consider them we will, thoroughly, properly, and respectfully.

Journalist: Can you give us an insight into your personal view on the matter?

Simon Birmingham: Well, again, Simon, it’s a nice invitation but I’m a member of the Cabinet in a Government that believes in Cabinet style decision making. That means that we will respectfully and carefully consider these recommendations, we’ll discuss them as a Cabinet, and we’ll come to a position as a Government.

Journalist: Yet the Government is supportive of constitutional recognition; are you concerned that those sorts of suggestions, treaties and a new representative body, could undermine support for a minimalist position in terms of constitutional change?

Simon Birmingham: They are all factors that have to be weighed when we consider these recommendations and, of course, weighed they will be.

Journalist: And is- but is there a risk in that? Tease it out a bit more: is there a risk in those sorts of things, if you go down that path do you undermine, in your mind, the support that exists for a minimalist position in terms of constitutional recognition?

Simon Birmingham: As I say, there are risks, absolutely, to be weighed and we will weigh them properly. We want to make sure that due consideration is given in a respectful manner to these recommendations. But, of course, if we are to proceed with constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians we need to make sure we proceed in a way that gives it the best chance of success, the best chance of being unifying, the best chance of being the type of celebration that type of change should be for all Australians and especially our Indigenous brothers and sisters.

Journalist: Do you think that that’s what Pat Dodson was on about when he says he cautions the Turnbull Government not to abandon the detailed work that has already been done? Is that what he’s talking about?

Simon Birmingham: Well, Pat would have to explain what he means by his comments. And of course, always open and welcome a good conversation with Pat.

Journalist: Well, his point is, is not to abandon the work that’s already done. In light of these statements, is this a sensible position?

Simon Birmingham: The Government won’t be abandoning the work that we’ve done; we’ll be looking at that work, how we can best build on it and progress it, and we’ll be considering respectfully the recommendations that come from Uluru as well as being very mindful of how we best guarantee that, if we are to proceed with Indigenous recognition, recognition of Indigenous Australians under the Constitution, that it has the best possible chance of success

Journalist: What’s your understanding of the request for more troops to the US and would the Turnbull Government consider sending more troops to the Middle East?

Simon Birmingham: Oh, well I’m the Education Minister, not the Defence or the Foreign Affairs Minister, so I’m not going to pretend that my understanding is superior to those who should be answering questions on that matter and I’m sure would address them. We, of course, make already a very significant commitment to the fight against terror, to the defeat of organisations such as Islamic State in Iraq, in Syria, and, of course, we will continue to do what we can to support that where it is in the best interest of Australia to do so.

Journalist: Does that mean Cabinet will consider this?

Simon Birmingham: Look, Cabinet will consider matters that are brought by the Prime Minister and the respective portfolio ministers. It’s not for me to run commentary on what might be on the agenda, and it’s certainly not for me to speculate what the Prime Minister, the Defence, Foreign Minister or others may bring to Cabinet.

Journalist: Just a final one on Anthony Foster, a child abuse campaigner from Melbourne, he passed away. What do you make of his passing?

Simon Birmingham: I don’t know and didn’t know Mr Foster, but I would say that we owe a debt of gratitude as a nation to many people who have sought to expose wrongdoings in the past and ensure that we have a far better understanding of how to structure polices and approaches for protection in the future, and ensure that heinous crimes such as child sexual abuse are not repeated in the future the same they occurred in the past. And of course that debt of gratitude is extended to all who worked in that space and continue to work in that space and, obviously, I offer my condolences to any family and loved ones.