Labor's 'Your child. Our future' plan for Australian education; Malcolm Turnbull's 15 per cent GST on everything



HOST: Kate, good morning, thank you for your time.


HOST: Now in announcing this policy Labor quite clearly wants to change the dynamics in an election year and put the focus back onto education. And education has obviously always been an area where the Labor party's polled well. Is the danger with this policy though, given the fairly staggering amount of money that it involves, that it's going to become a negative because a lot of people are going to be asking, where is the money coming from?

ELLIS: Well, we've announced over $70 billion in savings measures or in government programs that we would not continue. But ultimately this is about priorities. We know that Malcolm Turnbull has been a bit late to the party when he's been talking about innovation. The reality is, and the Australian public know, that you can't talk about innovation and you can't talk about economic growth in the future, you can't talk about skills for the jobs we need, if you are ripping money out of our school system. So we think that is a priority, not just as a social policy but as an economic policy to drive growth in our economy into the future.

HOST: But Malcolm Turnbull keeps talking about jobs and growth. And we heard last night, the head of treasury, who's just warned that Australia's budget is so precariously balanced that we might actually lose our AAA rating. You know all the taxes that are going to be hiked, tobacco and the assault on big business, the big corporates that aren't arguably paying their share, that's not going to leave you with much wiggle room. Isn't that the criticism? I know you're not the Shadow Treasurer, but a lot of people are going to say if we have another GFC style downturn, there's so much money locked up in this that we are going to remain in deficit evermore.

ELLIS: Look as I said, it is incredibly important that we show where this money is coming from. We've already outlined $70 billion in savings initiatives and there will be more to come. Of course it is incredibly important that we get the budget settings right. But equally, I believe we need to look at education spending not just as a cost but also as an investment. If we want to talk about the strengths of the economy, the OECD, for example, has made clear that one of the strongest indicators for future economic growth is in countries that are investing in education and skills now. Particularly in South Australia, when we want to look at where our children are going to go and work in the future, what industries they'll be working in, we know that they need a quality education, they need an investment in skills, so that they do have what is required for the future jobs market.

HOST: Shadow Minister, can you explain the South Australian Government's contribution to this? How that will work over the course of the next six odd years of the funding arrangement under the Labor policy? Is it going to be an impost on the State or does it alleviate the cost of education?

ELLIS: Well the State Government have already provisioned for the final two years of the so-called Gonski agreements. But there is a really important South Australian implication. We know that originally when the agreements were signed, the South Australian deal was incredibly back ended. What that means is that when Malcolm Turnbull says that he is not going to fund the last two years of that deal, South Australian schools will fall further behind the rest of the country because we are relying on those funds.

It is ridiculous that we've had two federal education ministers from South Australia, in Christopher Pyne and now in Simon Birmingham, who have once again seen South Australia sold out because we will be the big losers under Malcolm Turnbull's plan to not just walk away from the last two years of these funding agreements, but to rip $30 billion out of our schools over the next decade - which is the biggest cut in school funding in this nation's history and the equivalent of taking 1 out of every 7 teachers out of the classroom.

HOST: Does that then blunt Premier Jay Weatherill's call for a debate on an increase to the GST? I mean has the rod been taken from beneath him on a need for that kind of debate to happen, if the federal government is going to be giving this extra money by Gonski.

ELLIS: Well certainly Jay and indeed all premiers around Australia have been looking for ways to fill the hole that has been left by the Federal Government's $80 billion cut to our schools and hospitals. What we've announced is a way that we will fund schools, not just for the last two years of the agreements. But we can set up a permanent and adequate resourcing over the next 10 years and how we've provisioned for that. So obviously we think that that is a very big way to bridging that gap. But we will have other savings initiatives announced. And we are really clear that we need to make sure that we do have the funds for our health system and our education system. But we disagree with Malcolm Turnbull and with Scott Morrison that the way to do that is not increasing the GST and jacking up the price of everything, that there are better ways and we've already outlined a number of them.

HOST: Just in terms of the package itself Kate, clearly $37 billion is a headline grabbing amount of money, but in terms of the actual detail in the package, is their much in the way of reform to the way our children are taught? Because I reckon a lot of parents would say, look the money is great but maybe there are some sort of other aspects of the education system that have got nothing to do with money at all in terms of student outcomes, and has Labor sort of not been brave enough in terms of tackling things like the fact that is incredibly hard in the education system to get rid of dud teachers? Yet at the same time, brilliant teachers - the overwhelming majority of hardworking teachers - don't get the sort of pay bonuses that they should get as happens in other work places?

ELLIS: Look I'm very pleased to say that I agree with you on this matter Dave. This is not just about the money, it's about what the money will be used for. And part of the announcement yesterday, of course everybody is talking about the dollar figure, but it's important to note what we are doing, which is returning accountability for how that money is spent and making sure that that money goes towards programs which have a strong evidence base and make a difference to children's learning.

For example, we can talk about the dollar figure, but let's instead talk about the fact that that will be used to ensure that there is more one on one support and attention for every student and every child. It means that we can have literacy and numeracy support for those children that have fallen behind, as soon as we see that they are falling behind. But equally we can have extension programs in every school for those children that are excelling and need something more challenging. It means that we can increase our Year 12 completion rate, through vocational pathways, alternative learning pathways. And your point about teachers and teaching we know that that is one of the biggest ways that we can make a difference to children's education and what we announced yesterday is that we will enhance requirements for teaching degrees, we will improve teacher education, but we will also provide better ongoing professional development. Because if our teachers don't have the skills to teach our children then obviously our children are going to struggle to learn to the best of their abilities.

HOST: One of the stated intentions of the policy is to return Australia to the top five countries in reading, maths and science by 2025. Is that creating a bit of a false sense of urgency? Because you speak to so many academics and so many people in the world of education that say international rankings are fundamentally flawed because they don't take into account that many countries have languages that are taught that are inherently phonetic, and take a great deal more time in schooling to teaching something like English instead of maths. And therefore looking at those rankings and saying 'well we're not funding it properly because we're not ranked where we should be' it isn't really fair. What's the metric for returning us to the top five?

ELLIS: Well what we do know is that the international assessment - PISA - have actually shown that our mathematical literacy for example, has declined since 2003. Australia is now outperformed by 16 countries. And the example that Bill Shorten gave - can you imagine if we had 16 countries ahead of us on the medal tally at the Olympics? The Government would be jumping up and down and pouring heaps of money into sport. Now obviously our children's education should be viewed as a top priority and when we see that scientific literacy has not improved since 2003, that we're now outperformed by 7 countries, then we do think that we should be setting ambitious targets and taking Australia back up to the top.

The other thing which all of the evidence shows about the Australia education system is that the gap is increasing between those students in schools who are doing very well and those students who are falling behind. And I know that parents around Australia want to know that wherever they live, whatever their postcode, they've got a great local school. That's why this is about directing funding to the schools that need it the most, so we can make sure that we start closing that gap. It shouldn't be a matter of circumstance, where you happen to be born, the quality of your education, and we cannot continue to see the gap between high performing schools and low performing schools continue to grow.

HOST: Just finally Kate Ellis, we are talking to the Premier at 7.35am, do you believe in calls from people such as your colleague Nick Champion for the Premier to be effectively gagged by a Labor Party motion from stopping him from speaking out in favour of an increase in the GST?

ELLIS: Look I'm not a supporter of muzzling debate and trying to silence people and I'm really confident that we can win the debate about why we should not increase the GST and why the Australian public does not want to see the price of everything go up. But what I'd say about Nick Champion is that Nick absolutely works to represent some of the most working class areas in Adelaide and he knows that it's the people that he represents that will be amongst those that will be hit the hardest if the GST was to be hiked up as Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison are planning. So I'm not surprised that he is taking a strong position and I will join with Nick, as will every single one of my Federal Labor colleagues to say that we oppose an increase in the GST. That is our position now and that will be our position at the election and the Australian public will have a clear choice.

HOST: Member for Adelaide, Shadow Minister for Education, Kate Ellis, thank you for joining us on 5AA breakfast.

ELLIS: Thank you for allowing me onto your program.