SUBJECT/S: NT Government ripping $140 million out of schools; Early education services in limbo from Mr Turnbull ending the Budget Based Funded Program

ADAM STEER, HOST: Kate Ellis is the Federal Opposition spokesperson for education. Kate, good morning.


KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: It’s great to be with you Adam.


STEER: What are you promising exactly for Territorians?


ELLIS: Well in terms of funding, I announced with Luke Gosling yesterday that just in the two years, 2018 and 2019, there will be additional $115 million flowing to Territory schools under a Labor Government. Now that’s obviously a big figure but it’s about more than that, it’s also about putting in place a model which stops the Territory Government from cutting their funding to schools. That is particularly important here because we now stand with the Territory being the only place in Australia where funding to Government schools is actually going backwards at the moment. At the same time that we know that our results are slipping in international comparisons and that the gap between high performing schools and low performing schools is getting ever larger. So this is a really key issue ahead of the election here in what will be a few weeks’ time.


STEER: People hear of Gonski and your deal is that you have to sign up to Gonski to get this money. People hear about Gonski and I reckon they switch off.




STEER: What does it mean? Why is it important, Gonski? Can you explain it in 25 words or less?


ELLIS: I can certainly try. It’s basically about needs-based funding. That being that any school, whether it’s a public school, a Catholic school, an independent school, is funded on the basis of need. We want to make sure that every school is a great school. So it means providing more funding for those schools that have additional challenges. More funding for indigenous students, more funding for students with disability, more funding for regional and remote schools. Which is why it is very very important in the Territory.


STEER: Your deal, as I said before, requires the Northern Territory Government to sign up for Gonski. Which they’ve so far refused to do. Our local Education Minister Peter Chandler says your modelling is complicated and undermines the need for national school based funding.


ELLIS: Well I understand that the Territory Government would be opposing this because under this model they would not be able to cut funding to schools. What we saw yesterday is that $140 million of funding, which has been designated to go to Territory schools, has never reached them. And that is because the Territory Government have decided to send that money elsewhere. They would not be able to do that under this model, which is why we think it’s so important.


STEER: In the Northern Territory some schools say they’re nervous about the current funding model based on attendance rates. Will you throw that model out the window? Can you?


ELLIS: Well we need to work in partnership with the Territory Government. We need to make sure that they’re the people that manage Government schools but we need to partner with them. Make sure we have got the right funding model in place and make we’ve got a Territory Government that is committed to improving educational results.


STEER: Well what about in remote schools? What would be your ideas to increase attendance rates in remote schools? Truancy officers, like Senator Nigel Scullion suggested? Are they a good idea?


ELLIS: I think we need to have policies in place which are suited to those local communities. I don’t think that there is a one-size fits all approach. But what we do know and what is a shocking statistic is that students in regional schools are on average a year behind their metropolitan counterparts. Students in remote schools are two years on average in academic performance behind their metropolitan counterparts. So it means that we need to put additional resources and additional programs in place and we need to work with the local communities to make sure that those programs are working.


STEER: It’s ten past nine on 105.7 ABC Darwin, Adam Steer with you. You’re also hearing from Kate Ellis, who is the Federal Opposition spokesperson for education. Are you happy though, if the schools are based not on funding on attendance, which is the current situation particularly in remote areas. Are you happy for teachers to have classrooms of just 3 or 4 kids at some stage. I mean those teachers will be on $80,000-$100,000 a year, the Education Department will supply a free house for them, that’s a lot of money.


ELLIS: Well certainly. What I think we need to do is have national plan to increase school attendance and to increase year 12 retention. This is really important. That we need to set targets and we need to hold people accountable to meeting them. But the other thing is, it’s not just about attendance, it’s about receiving a quality education and getting the support that you need when we get there, which is why it is so important that we have the resources to put in place the programs that work in the schools. Now we know that the upcoming election, I mean I’ve just said $115 million is what’s at stake for Territory schools. This will make a significant difference and yet we have a local member like Natasha Griggs, that hasn’t spoken up at all about this. This is why it’s so important, it’s not all about money but you need money to put in place the programs that work.


STEER: Well she has actually spoken up and she has said it’s not about money, just pouring money into doesn’t necessarily mean that you get better educational outcomes.


ELLIS: Well I don’t think that’s what families across the Territory expect from their representatives. Of course it’s not about money but it is about having individual attention for each student, it’s about having early intervention, having more literacy support, having more numeracy support, having a range of different programs in place and all of them take money. If Natasha Griggs really thinks that the Territory Government ripping $140 million out of Territory schools hasn’t had an impact on education then I think she needs to rethink that.


STEER: You’ve also said 107 early education and care centres in the Northern Territory are under threat from the Federal Government’s child care changes, how so?


ELLIS: Yeah Adam this is really concerning. Over a year ago the Federal Government announced a child care package. They wanted to find a way to try to make child care more affordable and more accessible, which of course we would all support. Unfortunately that legislation has never come on for debate in the Federal Parliament and it hasn’t passed. So those changes will not come into effect, except as a part of that package, the Federal Government announced that they would end the funding for what’s called Budget Based Funded Services. What these are, is there’s 107 across the Territory. They’re early childhood services in remote communities, in indigenous communities, in communities where a normal market based model just wouldn’t work. The Government doesn’t need to pass laws to end the funding to these services and they’ve announced that they will do just that. These services will have to transfer and charge market based fees, like any other service, and we’ve heard that that means a significant number will close. Now the problem is that we know early childhood education is one of the most significant investments we can make.


STEER: Do you know exactly, so there’s 107 in the Northern Territory that you’ve identified, you’re saying that’s out of a total of 300 out of the whole country, so a third of all of them…


ELLIS: That’s right. 35 percent.


STEER: …of all the centres that will be affected are in the Northern Territory. What sort of areas, where are those services?


ELLIS: A lot of those services are in remote areas. But some of them are not so remote. I’m going to visit one shortly, which is not very far away from here in Bagot. So we know that these are services in communities where the normal model wouldn’t work. Now that might be because there’s not enough children so support a service and make it viable, or it might be because the community may not be able to afford market-based fees. So traditionally, and this has been the case for decades now, the Government has funded these services. And some people might say, well why should they get it any different? The answer to that question is because we know if we can invest in early childhood education we can give those children the absolute best start and we know that means we will have returns right throughout their lives. People who have quality early childhood education are more likely to have higher educational attainment, have better health outcomes, have better social outcomes and even things like the Juvenile Detention Rates are lower in communities where children have access to quality early childhood education.


STEER: I’m a little confused, Kate Ellis. When I send my child to a child care centre I pay a nominal amount of money let’s say $100 a day for argument sake, my understanding at the moment though is if I was receiving Centrelink payments I’d get a significant reduction in that, it would suddenly be around $10 or $20 a day. Why can’t that happen for everyone? If it happens in my child care centre, why can’t that happen in these other child care centres?


ELLIS: Well it may be that it’s a community where there are only 10-15 children for example. So a fee of $100 a day would not come close to covering the costs of setting up that centre and making it viable. A number of different services come under this model. But what it means is, the Government themselves have said that there is only a small number of them that would be able to transfer to a fee system without having to close down. This is really significant across Australia. But as you said, 35 percent of these services are in the Territory which is why it is such an important issue right now.


STEER: So you’re suggesting that if you win power in the July, let’s presume it’ll be a July election, an election sometime this year, that you’re going to put a lot of money back into the education system. You’re going to make sure these 107 early education and child care services are provided by the Government, funded by the Government. Where are you getting the money from?


ELLIS: Well that’s a very important question. We’ve announced over $100 billion in savings measures, and this is really important so that we can have the funds available to invest in our priority area. They range from some tough measures that were really hard decisions, like the tobacco excise increase for example, superannuation co-contributions, we’ve announced a crackdown on the loop holes around multinational tax avoidance. But we’ve also said that there are some current programs that we would end. There is spending that the Turnbull Government are currently committed to which we would not deliver. An example of that is the billions of dollars which currently go towards big polluting companies. But also Malcolm Turnbull made a deal with the National Party to reintroduce the baby bonus as part of the deal when he became Prime Minister, we’ve announced that we would not support that and we would put those savings…


STEER: So you’ll continue the 18 weeks for maternity leave or parental leave?


ELLIS: The Paid Parental Leave program is currently in place. They’re not talking about changing that, the Government were talking about introducing on top of that a baby bonus for some mums out there which we think is unnecessary and wasteful spending and we would redirect that towards our priority areas. And we’re making very clear ahead of this election, education is absolutely our priority area. We know it’s important not just for those children but we know it’s important for the national economy. And it’s important to make sure that we have the skills for the jobs of the future, we’re not going to be an innovative society and a prosperous economy unless we invest in education


STEER: Kate Ellis thanks for coming in today, good to talk to you.


ELLIS: Great to be with you, thank you.