Doorstop Interview - Adelaide - 22 September 2016

SUBJECTS: Gonski needs based school funding; the Grattan report; Essential poll on Muslim migration; Safe Schools

KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TAFE AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION: Welcome to the Halifax Street Children’s Centre here in Adelaide. This is a remarkable service where we can see we are surrounded by children who are getting the very best start in life through high quality early education. Earlier this week, of course, we've seen the Government come out and say that they want to ensure that people can stay off welfare, that they want to try and break the cycle. Yet, what we know is that they are just posing more questions than they're answering because, at the very same time, this is the government that is seeking through their current proposal to cut the access that the most vulnerable children in Australia have to quality early childhood education. We're saying to Malcolm Turnbull, and we say to Simon Birmingham, if you want to prove that your government isn't just all talk, then you will reverse your cuts to the activity test that are currently proposed, and make sure that the most vulnerable children in Australia get every opportunity to have the best start, and have the greatest likelihood of not ending up welfare dependent. If they don't do this then we can see, it's just more threats, it's just more clever politics, it's just more lies. That is true of early childhood education, but it's true of education across the board. And I'm so delighted that Tanya is here and will make some remarks about [inaudible] education.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well thanks very much Kate, and it is a real pleasure to be here at Halifax Street because what you see here is the difference that investment in early childhood education makes to the lives of these children. Kate is quite right to point to the fact that this Government is talking about a cycle of welfare dependency. We know the best thing we can do to ensure that people lead full, rich lives and make the most of all of the opportunities that are offered to them is invest in early childhood education, in schools, in vocational education and our universities. And on Friday, Simon Birmingham is going to put a proposal to the states that undermines all of that. He is already winding up to say to the states they should be doing more with less funding. You know, before the 2013 election, Christopher Pyne promised that no school would be worse off under the Liberals, that the Gonski school funding agreement would be fully implemented. And all we've seen since then is back-pedalling. And on Friday, Simon Birmingham is going to say that in the next few years, states should accept a cut of about $3 billion to their school systems. It's just not acceptable. Of course, we agree that it's not only about extra funding, it's about what we do with that extra funding. Just this morning I was talking to principals who tell me that they are able to show me the results of what the extra funding means in their schools. At every school I visit, teachers and principals are able to show me what the extra investment has meant for their schools. We are only at the very beginning of needs-based funding, with two thirds of the funding to be rolled out in years five and six of this agreement. So we need to see the work go into this so that schools begin to meet the student resource standard that we expect for every student in every school around Australia.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the way that the deals are being made under the various states and territories, is it fair?  Because the Education Minister is asserting that they may not be quite right at the moment.

PLIBERSEK: No it's not quite right because Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia, didn't sign an agreement with the Federal Labor Government when we were in government. They waited, and they got less money when they signed an agreement with Christopher Pyne, and they got less requirement for transparency and accountability. Christopher Pyne boasted at the time that he wasn't going to require states to continue to invest in their schools, that they could get a bit of extra money from the Federal Government and they could cut their own funding. Christopher Pyne boasted at the time that he wasn't going to require states to show that they were lifting standards with extra investment - he just called that red tape. So yes, I think there is a difference between the agreements that were signed with a Federal Labor Government, and the agreements that some states signed with Christopher Pyne. What we need to focus on is the future, and making sure that every school in every state gets the extra support it needs, so that every child is able to get the individual attention that would help them soar at school.

JOURNALIST: But a new national deal, a four year deal that the Education Minister would be looking for, would you support that idea, the idea of a national platform - less deals, rather than the mismatch that we have at the moment?

PLIBERSEK: Sure. I think it's very important in the future to look to a time when every student, in every school around Australia gets all of the support they need. But Simon Birmingham is starting from a false premise: he's saying that the way to equalise things is to cut $3 billion from schools, and that is a ridiculous, mendacious approach to the schools funding debate. We know that as we invest more in schools, principals and teachers are using that extra support to help kids. Now, Simon Birmingham can't say that the way to fix inequalities in school funding between states is to make the cuts he's talking about. Yes, over time greater matching up between states and territories is fine. But remember, the reason we have different deals in different states is because Christopher Pyne gave less money and expected less transparency and accountability when he became Education Minister.

JOURNALIST: As you suggested, the bulk of that money was coming in the 5th and 6th years in the deal, the money has got to come from somewhere, so the idea of making efficiencies is possible, do you support that?

PLIBERSEK: Well, in our proposal every single school would benefit from the Gonski needs-based funding arrangement. What Simon Birmingham is saying is that some states, and some schools, should cop cuts so that others can do better. And it's really not acceptable. And what we know from today's Grattan Institute report is that by 2020-2021, in fact, schools will be losing money under the Birmingham proposals. So, this is all about window dressing for cuts. We know that it has been the Liberal agenda, since Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne, to take money out of schools. There is no scenario in which Simon Birmingham is proposing anything other than a substantial cut over the next couple of years and the next decade in particular. We're talking about $3 billion over 2 years, almost $30 billion over 10 years. This is the problem with his proposal: it's not about equity between schools and states, it's about cuts and the window dressing to get them through.

JOURNALIST: Now just on another issue, we had a poll that came out recently that 49 per cent of Australians favouring some sort of ban on Muslim immigration. You’re suggesting it might be a failure of leadership. Maybe if you could pinpoint exactly what kind of leadership you’re pointing at here, is it a political class that are failing us or someone else?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's very important that we say and say again that Australia is an enormously successful multicultural community; that generations of migrants have made our country stronger. And the best thing we can do to enhance and support harmony, cooperation, cohesion in our community is not to single out particular groups in our community but to talk about the contributions that successive waves of migrants have made. Now of course, people need to be able to put their hand on their heart and say that when they become Australian citizens, they'll do what is expected of Australian citizens: that they support our rights and liberties, that they obey our laws, that they support our democratic way of life and the good things that our citizenship pledge alludes to. But beyond that - where they come from, their religious background - that doesn't matter to me. What matters is that people choose Australia, fully commit to Australia, and abide by those pledges we make in our citizenship.

JOURNALIST: But are you suggesting maybe our current political class, maybe our current government might be failing, letting down the Australian public in terms of their rhetoric and the things that they're saying?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's very important that political leaders encourage cohesion and make sure that our multicultural and harmonious community is explained and defended at every opportunity. You look around the world - where would you rather live than Australia? This is one of the greatest countries on earth and it's been made great by successive waves of migrants throwing their effort, their love, their hard work into this country. We should be celebrating that, not fearing it.

JOURNALIST: What do you think of NSW’s move to an 'opt-in' model for Safe Schools, rather than 'opt-out' model?

PLIBERSEK: This is only a very recent announcement, so of course we'll be looking at the details of the announcement. But my understanding is if schools don't want to run this, there's no requirement for them to run it. And I think it is obviously important to have strong anti-bullying resources at schools. I think it's very important that kids who are being singled out, marginalised, they get the help and support they need in their school environment to cope with that. And that in a broader sense all children are being taught that bullying of any form is intolerable. Thanks everybody.