Doorstop Interview - 16 March 2016

SUBJECT/S: More school funding chaos from the Government; Safe Schools program

ELLIS: Yesterday we heard the Education Minister, who is overseeing a $30 billion cut to Australian schools, first try and shift blame onto the states, and then publicly claim that some of our schools were overfunded. Let's address each of those issues one at a time. 


First of all, this is the Federal Government who gave every state government a licence to cut school funding when they wrote to the state governments saying that federal funding would now be "no strings attached" and that state governments were not required to make their co-contributions or to meet minimum indexation arrangements. 


If this Minister wants to look at where to blame for state government cuts, he needs to look no further than his own Government, who has bragged about removing command and control elements from Canberra when it came to school funding. 


Secondly, we also see that this is a Minister who is claiming that some schools are overfunded. Now this is a very important point. Minister Birmingham needs to front up to the Australian public and reveal his hit list. What schools does he believe are overfunded? He needs to be upfront with the local communities and the principals and parents from those schools. 


Let's be very clear, never before at a Federal election have we had a clearer contrast when it comes to education policy. At the upcoming federal election, Australians will get the chance to decide how much they value education, how much they believe that every child should be entitled to a great school education. There is a $37 billion difference when we look at schools policies. Labor has been very clear, we know that you cannot have innovation without education. We know that Australia's future economic growth relies upon us having a strong school system. And we believe that we need to close the gap between performances in Australia's schools. That's why we have announced our fully-costed, fully-funded Your Child. Our Future policy. Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals now look intent to go to the election promising $30 billion of cuts to our school system and all their minister can do now is try and make excuses for it and try to shift the blame about it. 


On one other schools issue which we've seen some publicity about in the last 24 hours, and that is their review into the Safe Schools program. I think that Australian parents should judge the fact that we now have Liberal members of Parliament calling for their own Minister's resignation if he does not de-fund this $2 million a year program, yet they are saying absolutely nothing about the $30 billion in cuts that will affect every student, every classroom and every school. We can see very clearly where this Government's priorities lie. 


It is extraordinary that the civil war within the Liberal party is now at the point that their internal chaos and division means that their own MPs are calling for their own Education Minister's resignation, and it is even crazier that the reason they are calling for his resignation is not because he wants to go to the election promising the biggest cuts to school funding in Australia's history.


JOURNALIST: Question on Safe Schools, a Coalition MP described the review that they were given last night as a "stitch up" and said that it had been carefully orchestrated to give the result that they want. <inaudible> Are you concerned that the review actually didn't look at some of the substantial issues that MPs had with the policy? 


ELLIS: Look I haven't seen the Safe Schools review yet, and I would welcome the opportunity to have a look at it and to see any recommendations that it might suggest. But let's also be very clear, that we have said from the very first moment that the calls for a review into this program by right-wing extremists amongst the Liberal party were only about creating more momentum to call for the program to be shut down. This is about the fact that Malcolm Turnbull let them off the leash, Malcolm Turnbull now has to stand up and defend this program and defend his own Minister against the attacks.


JOURNALIST: But there were some issues that were raised by the Coalition MPs about the Safe Schools program, whether it was age-appropriate and whether teachers were giving children that were too young access to material that was questionable and that parents have a responsibility for teaching. Don't you think that it would have been better for the review to look at some of these substantial issues?


ELLIS: As I said, I'm yet to see the review but the comments that I've seen from anonymous members of the Coalition, is that they are now complaining that the review only looked at the resources which were being used in classrooms, and didn't look at some of the links to other organisations, and to other websites. I mean this is getting more and more ridiculous by the moment. These people have put forward that they were concerned about the resources being used in the classroom, now they are complaining that the review looked at the resources that are being used in the classroom. We need to be really clear about the fact that this is an important anti-bullying program that is run in our schools. Of course we need to see that it is age appropriate but Malcolm Turnbull needs to provide leadership now.


JOURNALIST: Quite a few more schools have signed up to the program since this controversy started, what do you make of that?


ELLIS: Well we see that schools, teachers, parents, principals know what this program is about and they are willing to see above the ridiculousness of some members of the Coalition, it is just a pity that the Prime Minister isn't willing to stand up, to show leadership and to actually put these people back in their box and to put the facts on the table about what is a really important way to end bullying in our classrooms.


JOURNALIST: And what's the risk to gay and lesbian students if this program is removed?


ELLIS: Well we know that gay and lesbian students have a much higher rate of youth suicide, we know that there is significant levels of bullying towards gay and lesbian students in our schools, that's why we all need to stand up and say we will take effective action to try and protect these students. Nobody wants to see more bullying in our classrooms and nobody should want to see our youth suicide rate increase. This is really serious, this is about young people's lives at a time when they are going through one of the most difficult stages in their life and I think that every member of the Australian Parliament should want to make sure that every young Australian is supported in these tough times. 


JOURNALIST: I'll take you directly to the comments that one Coalition backbencher said to me that the review is a stitch up and the Safe Schools program as a "gateway drug" into homosexual activity. <inaudible> What do you make about those comments?


ELLIS: Look I think we can see by the comments of Coalition members just how ridiculous their views are and how extreme the position that they are taking is when it comes to the Safe Schools program. What we can't see though, is either the Prime Minister or the Minister standing up and clearly explaining what this program is and what it is there for, and that's what we need to see. When there is a vacuum of leadership we see that extremists on the backbench are given the power to make increasingly ridiculous, strong and extreme statements that have the power to hurt young Australians.