Release type: Transcript


Interview with Matthew Abraham and David Bevan, 891 ABC Adelaide breakfast program


The Hon Christopher Pyne MP
Minister for Education
Leader of the House

[E&OE transcript]

Subject: school funding

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Every Wednesday at around about this time, we like to talk to Christopher Pyne. He’s the Liberal MP for Sturt, he’s the Federal Education Minister, he’s Leader of the Government in the House of Representatives so he looks after the day to day argy-bargy and Mark Butler, a very important person in the Labor Party, Labor MP for Port Adelaide and Opposition Spokesman on the Environment and Climate Change.

Now we’re having trouble getting through to Christopher Pyne. It’s a big day for him because in the last 24, 48 hours it’s emerged that the Government is not going to commit to the full four years of Gonski education money.


DAVID BEVAN: I’m sure Chris Pyne will be available because he takes his commitments to his local ABC very importantly...

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: I had a text from him just about 15, 20 minutes ago saying that he was expected to be with us, so wouldn’t miss it. So we’re just having a little bit of trouble reaching him, he’s a busy man, we’ll try and find him in just a moment.

But Mark Butler is the Labor MP for Port Adelaide and he joins us now. Good morning Mark Butler?

MARK BUTLER: Good morning Matt, good morning Dave.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Mark Butler you see this decision by Christopher Pyne to go back on the promise regarding the Gonski money for education is a big deal in the weeks and months leading up to the Federal Election. You see this as the first big broken promise.

MARK BUTLER: Well there have been some other broken promises but this is a whopper. It’s hard to imagine a clearer more solemn promise that Tony Abbott gave to the Australian people before the election than this and I think everyone now understands what’s happening here. At five minutes before the election campaign it’s clear that Tony Abbott realised that Christopher’s rather hysterical campaign to run down, discredit our school funding reforms, simply weren’t working.

So it’s clear now that Tony Abbott took a political calculation that the best thing to do was to join us. He joined us in the clearest and the most emphatic terms possible by saying that he and Kevin Rudd were on the unity ticket, that schools would get exactly the same funding under exactly the same system whether Labor or Liberal was elected on September 7 and now it looks like he’s sent poor old Christopher out to welch on that solemn promise and I think this is going to reflect very, very badly on the Government.

DAVID BEVAN: Christopher Pyne joins us, Liberal MP for Sturt, Education Minister, Leader of the House. Chris Pyne do you have the dubious distinction in a government that was elected promising not to break promises of breaking that promise?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No most definitely not. We said before the election that we would keep exactly the same funding on [unclear] as Labor but we would remove the command and control features of this school funding model from Canberra because we don’t believe in the prescriptive nature of Labor’s model and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

We are keeping the funding model, the funding envelope, of one-point-six billion dollars and we’re going to remove the command and control features from Canberra.

Bill Shorten ripped $1.2 billion out of the school funding model for Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory in the pre-election fiscal outlook. He’s left me with the Shorten shambles in school funding and it’s my job to sort it out and I will sort it out.

South Australians should not expect or assume that they’ll get any less money because today we are announcing $230 million of new money, so we’re putting more money in than Labor did, for Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory so that those states aren’t treated like second class citizens the way Bill Shorten was going to treat them.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Weren’t they going to get $1.2 billion those...

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: That was exactly and [unclear] is about.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: ...states and they didn’t sign up to the Gonski deal...


MATTHEW ABRAHAM: the money was basically warehoused for when they did. You’re going to give them, you’re going to say, well we’re going to give you $250 million, fight over it?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, no that’s quite wrong. The $1.2 billion was taken as a saving by Bill Shorten. It wasn’t warehoused anywhere, it was removed as a saving in the pre-election fiscal outlook.

MARK BUTLER: That is - that is a complete furphy.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: That money went - the $230 million dollars that we are putting in today is new money for 2014 so that students in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia are treated exactly the same way as students in South Australia, Tasmania and so on.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Chris Pyne at the very least have you been dishonest with voters. In other...

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Absolutely not.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Well hang on, let me explain why people may feel that. What you’re doing is you’re only guaranteeing effectively that the Gonski model for one year, that’s 2014, and then you say that the model is going to go - revert to the Howard model of deciding this.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No I haven’t said that at all.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: You weren’t saying that during the election campaign, there was no mention of the Howard model.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: But I’m not saying that now Matthew. I’ve never said that we’d be reverting to the Howard model so I don’t know where you’ve got that idea from.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Well it’s on the front page of the Fin Review.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well the Fin Review is wrong.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: It’s on the front page of The Australian.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well they’re wrong as well.


DAVID BEVAN: You’ve promised...

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ..What I said was that the Howard model was a needs-based model and some people in the press gallery decided that means we’re returning to it. I haven’t.

I’ve just simply said that the Gonski Report suggested a needs-based model, which I support, but the SES funding model that it would replace was also a needs-based funding model. It’s just that it only applied to non-government schools and the Gonski model applies to all schools.

Now if people don’t understand quite how complicated this is, but it’s wrong to suggest that I’ve said we’ll go back to the Howard model. That’s factually false.

DAVID BEVAN: You promised the same commitment as Labor over four years. You’re now scrapping the school funding formula after a year.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: We promised the same funding envelope as Labor over the forward estimates and that’s exactly what we will deliver.

DAVID BEVAN: But that's not what…

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: In fact we’ll put more money in. We’ll put more money in because we’re putting $230 million more in next year so that Queensland, Western Australia and Northern Territory are treated the same way as every other state and I will come up with a new funding model for 2015 to ’17 using exactly the same funding envelope as Labor so we are keeping all of our election promises.

DAVID BEVAN: Okay. Is this the way it works - the money that was going to go to the states that signed up before the election will now be augmented by another $230 million and...


DAVID BEVAN: ...and that entire pool will be divided up between every state and territory?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: You’re correct and then the $1.6 billion for all the other states and territories will remain in the Budget across the forward estimates so there’s no reason why South Australians should expect to get any less money other than they would have under the Labor Party’s proposal. In fact...

DAVID BEVAN: ...But that must mean less.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, it doesn’t mean less. We’re putting $230 million more in next year so that there isn’t less and in fact then I will come up with a new model for the following year.

DAVID BEVAN: …but the envelope...

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: That must mean less Chris Pyne surely because...

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well you’re assuming that we might not be able to do something in years two, three and four.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: But you were giving promises over four years.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: And my promise remains over four years.


MARK BUTLER: Well this is just a shambles.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Yes, it's a big Shorten shambles.

MARK BUTLER: I mean Christopher did say it’s about a school funding model, he said he’d - you had a pretty good run Christopher - he said he’d stick with our school funding model for four years.

He said that as late as last week and now people must be even more confused because I think everyone assumes he wanted to go back to the Howard model, because that’s what all of the media reports over the last 48 hours have indicated, and now he’s said he doesn’t want the Gonski model or the Howard model so the Lord knows actually what model he’s going to put in place.

He also said he’d guarantee the funding arrangements for four years, he said that last week, and now we understand it’s maybe only one and he said - to be very clear he and Tony Abbott said that schools would get the same amount of funding for your school - those were their words - the same amount of funding for your school under Labor or Liberal and what we are seeing now are these sort of weasel words of a funding envelope.

I don’t think anyone understand quite what Christopher means when he says don’t worry the funding envelope will be the same.

DAVID BEVAN: Well maybe Labor left him with the mess.

MARK BUTLER: Well no this is the other furphy, the $1.2 billion. This is an absolute furphy. What happened is that we said that the schools that - sorry the states that had not signed up to our school funding arrangements by the time the secretaries of Treasury and Finance prepared their pre-election fiscal outlook, the pre-election Budget papers effectively, they said quite rightly that those funds were not yet committed.

But we said in the election campaign as clearly as we possibly could that we would make sure the money was available if those states signed onto the arrangements after the election. So this is a complete furphy that Christopher’s peddling to cover up his broken promise.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Mark Butler, the Independent Education Union - that represents 75,000 teachers, principals, ancillary staff and Catholic and other Independent schools, pre-schools and early childhood centres across Australia - they say look, this is just being alarmist.

It shows little appreciation or understanding of the considerable work needing to be done on measures such as a loading for students with disabilities or English language proficiency.

They say they’d anticipated that whoever formed government at the last election would need to, in the early years of the new funding model, review the manner in which the model operated.

MARK BUTLER: Oh and we were crystal clear about that, particularly...

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: …So you were going to review the model as well?

MARK BUTLER: No, no, no, no, no we were not going to review the model. We said that there needed to be more work done on the loadings for example, the precise quantum of the loadings for students with disabilities depending on a variety of types of disability, a variety of types of need. We were crystal clear about that.

What Christopher is saying though is he’s going to throw out all of those years of work that school systems have done, that parents' groups have been involved in, that the Gonski Panel had done, and say he’s going to start again, by himself, not using a panel, not using experts. He’s going to do it all by himself next year and come up with something much smarter than anyone else in Australia could come up with.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Chris Pyne you won’t meet with the Gonski Panel, I think that’s correct, is it?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No that’s also not correct...


CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I mean in this fevered reporting of these matters there’s a lot of things that...

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: …Or are you just all over the place? Like the media’s - is the media reporting your thought bubbles and you’re then having to go around and correct them?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: … No, no that’s quite unfair. It’s not my fault if some people in the press gallery don’t understand the complicated nature of the school funding model. I never said to anybody that I wouldn’t meet with the Gonski committee. In fact, I met with Kathryn Greiner, with David Gonski, with Peter Caddick on numerous occasions over the last 10 months and I understand...

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: …So voters are just - voters are just not very bright, they didn’t really understand how complex this was?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: … No, no I didn’t say voters. Let’s not - let’s not get confused, I didn’t say voters, I said members of the press gallery. So while...

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: ….They’re not very bright.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: …. while they certainly vote - while they certainly vote they don’t necessarily represent the entire enormity of the Australian population.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: …Oh okay, so you reckon the Australian public was crystal clear on this?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: … Absolutely and the Coalition was crystal clear. We’ve kept the same funding envelope as Labor, which Bill Shorten ripped $1.2 billion out of and so we’re now left with 1.6 [billion]. Bill Shorten claimed that a majority of states and territories have signed agreements with the commonwealth. It turned out to be not true.

When I got elected I discovered that Victoria and Tasmania had never signed an agreement with the commonwealth and that the Catholics had not signed an agreement with the commonwealth.

Bill Shorten was ruling by press release not by substantive policy and unfortunately as the Education Minister it’s my job to sort out the mess that he created and that’s just exactly what I’m going to have to do.

Now that means that...

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: …Now, if you think the public clearly understood what you were on about and what your promises meant, is Barry O’Farrell a bit dim?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ….No Barry O’Farrell is fighting for the New South Wales corner and they want year five and six of an agreement that we never agreed to and that’s fine, good luck to them, that’s what they should do, but the Australian taxpayers always funded schools on a four-year rolling agreement, not six years, and Labor made all sorts of outlandish promises which they knew that they could never keep which they took to the election.

We broke those down and realised that we could commit to the same funding envelope over four years and that’s exactly what we’ve done and we’ve kept that promise.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: …Is it also the case that you - fundamentally you have a problem with just seeing money as the answer to these problems and that’s why you always had a problem with Gonski, just you saw it as throwing money at a problem?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ….. I think that there are very good aspects to the Gonski principles in his report and Labor was introduced in the Gonski model, well that the Gonski model would have cost $115 billion over 12 years.

That’s what he proposed, but he did propose very good principles around needs and around supporting disadvantaged students and of course we’ve always supported disadvantaged students. Previous governments, whether it was Labor or Liberal, did them through national partnerships and other programs and will continue to do that.

The issue you raise that day was a good one because funding isn’t always to say isn’t always the problem in schooling. We’ve spent 40 per cent more on schools in the last 10 years than before and our results have declined, and that’s why the Coalition wanted to focus on things like teacher quality, curriculum, local decision-making and parental engagement, as well as funding, because money doesn’t solve every problem.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: …Christopher Pyne thank you, Liberal MP for Sturt. He’s Education Minister and Leader of the House, Chris Pyne and Mark Butler, Labor MP for Port Adelaide and Opposition Spokesperson on Environment and Climate Change. Thank you to Mark Butler.

MARK BUTLER: Thank you both.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: And Kate Ellis, MP has tweeted, no Christopher Pyne you said before the election and again last week that you were committed to this new funding model quote unquote. That’s on our Twitter feed 891 Adelaide and David Bevan 891 and Kev Corduroy. [Ends]