Doorstop Interview - Sydney - 31 March 2016

SUBJECT/S:  Malcolm Turnbull’s plan to walk away from public education.

LINDA BURNEY, CANDIDATE FOR BARTON: Kate Ellis joining us here in Barton this morning, particularly in light of the Federal Government’s position when it comes to funding schools in Australia. In Barton alone over the next ten years we are seeing a withdrawal of $170 million worth of funds. And today, we see the Federal Government bizarrely making the announcement that they are going to, or they want to withdraw from funding schools across Australia, and of course that means New South Wales. For the Commonwealth to take the position that they have, and for the Prime Minister to come out and this morning and say he does what he has said, says one thing to me - that they do not understand the importance of federal funding for schools, they do not understand the importance of education within the electorate. And that's federal funding that's a fundamental responsibility to education, particularly in terms of having policy levers but I'll leave it up to the Shadow Minister to expand on that.


KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Thank you Linda for having me here today for this visit, but also for your tireless work over some period of time now to advocate for Australia's education, and indeed for the next generation of Australians to have every opportunity. 


We've seen some extraordinary remarks from the Prime Minister today, who has now confirmed his proposal which is both extreme and it is reckless. What the Prime Minister is advocating in abandoning public schools across Australia, undoes not just years of federal policy, but actually decades of work that governments - federal governments - Liberal and Labor have put in to move towards a national approach to Australia's school education system. 


What the Prime Minister would do, is undoing a researched approach, that would ensure that things like the national curriculum, things like the national approach to teacher quality, things like the national approach to leadership accreditation, to a whole range of initiatives, would be put in dire jeopardy. We also know that [inaudible] there would be consequences such as cost-shifting, which is when the states and territories people trying to move students from the government to non-government sectors. This is something that was identified in the report on federation reform options, that a proposal to split government and non-government funding would result in significant confusion amongst the bureaucracy. This is one of the reasons why we have always advocated that we need a national, sector-wide needs-based funding model, and all of that is at threat if this Government is re-elected. 


The other thing that would be lost under Mr Turnbull's proposal is the checks and balances which we have ensured are in the system as an important part of the Gonski agreements. These agreements don't just mean that federal funds go to our public schools, but it also means that the Federal Government can demand that state governments make adequate co-contributions to education, and also that state governments have to stop their cuts to school funding. Under this proposal there would be nothing to stop state governments from cutting school funding, and that is something that the Prime Minister acknowledged, when he said that they would never hand over the non-government school sector to the states because they're worried that the states would not give them a fair go and fair funding. 


Well Mr Turnbull should stand up for all of the students that attend public education as well, and adopt our plan to end those state cuts. The important thing I just want to stress is: there is a reason why school reform is so vital to Australia's future. We know that there are significant equity issue in Australia's education system. In fact, the OECD has identified that the gap between the top five percent of performing schools, and the bottom five percent, is greater than the OECD average, and this has a major impact on Australia's future economy. But the other thing we know is that there is huge discrepancies in Australia's school system when you cross state and territory borders. In fact, we know that there is a gap of one and a half years in literacy achievement and science achievement when you cross a border, and that there can be a gap of up to two years when it comes to maths. 


Most importantly though, the reason that Labor will stand up and fight every step against this proposal, and stand up and demand that the Government matches us in our Your Child; Our Future policy to see the current school funding agreements delivered in full and on time, but also school funding guaranteed over the next ten years, is because we actually know that the school system is too vitally important for the national Government to walk away from. This is about Australia's future economic growth, and there is no better way that we have to ensure that our children have the skills they need for the jobs of the future, than to make sure that we have strong federal schools funding policies in place - something that Labor has done. 


JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister says he has mounted a powerful case. Do you think he's mounted a powerful case? Or is anybody listening to him? 


ELLIS: I think the Prime Minister has released an ill-conceived thought bubble, which would have devastating consequences on every school in every sector across Australia. Nobody wants for us to go back to the divisive school funding arguments of the past. We've moved past private versus public debates about school funding, to talk about student need. To make sure that every student in every school in every postcode across Australia could get a great quality education, and the Prime Minister would be undoing all of that. 


BURNEY: In fact, one the first announcements of the Turnbull Government, only a few days maybe a week or two in was Simon Birmingham, making the announcement that the Turnbull Government was not committed to the full rollout of the Gonski reforms. That said to me they had no idea of what needs-based funding is about; what the Shadow Minister has articulated. And the idea that somehow rather that tax reform will sort out the funding for education is not only ill-conceived, it just says that there is no understanding about the relationship between the federal government, the states, and within the states, the relationships of various sectors of education, be it catholic schools, or be it state schools. 


JOURNALIST: The PM says that the Federal Government has enough of education bureaucracy and doesn't employ a single teacher. Wouldn't it be better to devolve and to have education run by state governments? 


ELLIS: We know that it's incredibly important to Australia's international competitiveness that we have a strong school education system. It's incredibly important to Australia's future economy, and that is why governments for decades now have been moving towards the national approach to education. Parents don't want to change jobs, to move states, and have their child discontinue their education as it was and move into a totally different sector with a different funding structure with different policies, with potentially different curriculum. This is something that we have worked on for years and the Prime Minister would be turning his back, and taking us back to pre the 1970's when the Federal Government had little involvement in our public education system. 


JOURNALIST: On the Gonski reforms, Simon Birmingham says that Labor has set up a multitude of different funding agreements and the Coalition wants to simplify it. 


ELLIS: Well, the Minister is clearly talking rubbish to try and cover up for the fact that his Government is advocating the biggest cuts to Australian school funding in our nation's history. Let's be clear that these are the exact same agreements that prior to the last election the now Government stood up and said they were on a unity ticket with us on, and said that they would see through these reforms, that they accepted the need for these reforms. They've changed their tune entirely now, because Simon Birmingham clearly can't either mount or win a single argument about the need for the federal government to have strong school policy.


JOURNALIST: Is there blurred accountability? 


ELLIS: Well, of course we know that both the federal and state governments play a key role in our education system. But I should say that the Federal Government, the Turnbull Government on the one hand, are saying "we shouldn't be funding schools because we don't employ teachers; we don't run any schools". They don't employ any teachers or run any schools in non-government sector either, but they're still maintaining the importance of them having a funding arrangement there. We’re saying that we don't want a divided school --- in Australia, we want all schools to be regarded based on the need of the students within them, and we don't want this Government turning back the clock to what will be an incredibly divisive debate amongst parents, amongst principals, and amongst the school sector.


JOURNALIST: So the state aid debate that communities... (inaudible)


ELLIS: What we know is that this will be incredibly divisive in creating a two tier system. It will be divisive between government and non-government schools, but it will also be incredibly divisive amongst different states and territories which will have totally different quality education. The whole point of all of the national reforms has been to bring up every school in every state in every sector, so that we can ensure that they are delivering the quality education that Australia's future is reliant on.


JOURNALIST: Why do you think it's a thought bubble, not something that is planned over a period? 


ELLIS: Well I think the fact that the Prime Minister and Treasurer can't seem to agree on what their policy is, let alone bring in the rest of their Ministers, to show that this is a Government that is divided and chaotic, this is now a Government that is extreme and is ridiculous in the proposals that they are putting forward. You wouldn't actually believe that Australia's Prime Minister had stood up and advocated for this if you had heard or seen him yourself. This would be the most devastating move for Australia's school system in generations. 


BURNEY: And no consultation or discussion. It's just fallen out of the sky. 


REPORTER: And your figures on Barton, how are they calculated? The Gonski funding that won't be delivered? 


ELLIS: It's the Gonski funding that won't be delivered in the last two years of the agreement, but the cuts to school funding which has been announced by the Abbott and now the Turnbull over the period of ten years. 


JOURNALIST: Thank you.


ELLIS: Thank you.