Sky News PM Agenda - 2 May 2016

SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull’s school cuts; the Liberals’ election promise to provide $3.5 billion less funding for schools by 2020 compared to Labor

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Moving on from our conversation with the Education Minister Simon Birmingham a short while ago, we're now joined by the Shadow Minister, Kate Ellis, thank you for your time this afternoon.


SPEERS: The Government has announced $1.2 billion more, it's not what you're promising, I think there's a $3 billion difference or there about. What do you say to the argument that more money doesn't always equal better results? We have slipped backwards on things like reading, literacy, maths, science over the years.

ELLIS: Well I think we all know that it's not the money, it is the programs that the money can put in place. It's the resources, it’s the additional support, the additional literacy programs. Of course it's not just money alone...

SPEERS: So how do you know the Government hasn't got it right with what it's put on the table?

ELLIS: Well this is the Government that said they would make their school funding "no strings attached". They sent a blank cheque out to the states and territories and bragged about the fact that they would remove the control and command of Canberra. So they haven't directed what the money goes towards and in many cases it's not even going towards our schools. Which I had a chance to see firsthand in the Territory last week, where there's been $100 million of additional Federal funding yet Territory schools are receiving $40 million less than they did before. That's the Territory Government diverting $140 million.

SPEERS: But it is now saying he wants to tie money that he's putting on the table to various things whether it's literacy and numeracy testing at the very early age, whether it's kids doing maths and science in year 12. You must welcome the fact they are putting some strings back on this money?

ELLIS: Well we've always said that there needs to be accountability and that Federal funding needs to go towards the programs which are evidence based and that we know lift results. So it's a bit of a straw-man argument that the Government, nobody is claiming that money alone fixes these, it is money that goes towards supporting great teachers, great programs, and great support.

SPEERS: So again, what's wrong with what the Government's now announced?

ELLIS: Well what's wrong with what the Government's now announced is that they, I mean they lied to the Australian public about schools policy at the last election and now they're just treating the Australian public as it is... What's wrong with it is that they've announced that would take $30 billion out, now they're saying we're putting $1 billion back in and we want you all to jump up and down and tell us how great we are for Australian schools. Australian schools will go backwards majorly if this Government is re-elected and at least Malcolm Turnbull and Simon Birmingham are being upfront about the fact that they will be the ones who throw on the scrapheap the hard fought reform, they will be the ones who rip $29 billion out of our schools and they will be the ones that are making it up as they go along when it comes to school funding.

SPEERS: Alright but as you can see it's not necessarily more money is not necessarily the answer here. So if we can just stick to what they are doing, the Minister wants to improve testing of kids in year one for literacy and numeracy, some states do that already. Should that be Nationalised? Standardised?

ELLIS: Well a number of states do do that already so he's offering nothing more to most of the country in that, with less money...

SPEERS: Well it's saying he wants a National approach on that.

­ELLIS: Well the issue is one, it's one thing to get tests and conduct tests but the really important thing is what do you do in response and if they're ripping $29 billion out of our schools then they don't have the funding for the early intervention programs that should be in place in response. They don't have the money for the additional literacy support, numeracy support, at really young ages so that we can make sure that we lift those children up before they fall behind forever.

SPEERS: But surely we do have the money for that sort of support? I mean it’s something like $16 billion a year, the states obviously have a big role in what happens in these schools. There is the money to do something about it.

ELLIS: Well this actually isn't about the Liberal Party or the Labor Party and what our views are on money. What this is about is what the evidence suggests. That's why we went through the biggest review of our schooling system in over 40 years and came up with what's now referred to as the Gonski report. Now that was an independent report, which came up with the student resource standard that was required, the level of funding that was required to make sure every child in every school can get a great education.

SPEERS: Just on that, the Minister just said that your plan doesn't even meet the student resource standard.

ELLIS: Well under our plan every state and territory would reach 95 percent at the end of the first six year agreements. And this is really important because we know that the states and territories, there are huge gaps in different states and territories, in funding levels and in educational outcomes. What the Government haven't said in their announcement is how they're going to divvy up this tiny portion of money they're putting into the system and whether they're actually going to close those gaps. It means for a state like mine and Minister Birmingham's we've got the most to lose from this Government throwing away those signed six year agreements and I certaintly hope the Government doesn't think that they can go to an election without saying how much money is going to each state and territory and to government and non-government schools. They cannot just make it up as they go along, as they seem to be doing.

SPEERS: Well it is, the Minister indicated something to be negotiated and presumably we have until the end of this year before that needs to be negotiated, because we're talking about 2017 and beyond.

ELLIS: Well you would think that voters in South Australia, voters in Tasmania, voters in Queensland, might want to know how much money is going to their schools. I mean this is a Government that just a few weeks ago wanted to walk away from public schools altogether, and now they're saying 'trust us'.

SPEERS: - Couldn't you say Labor's lost its negotiating position by not demanding more from the States for the money that you're offering?

ELLIS: Well I don't think that's fair at all. We have said that we would put in place greater accountability, greater transparency. We've already talked about a number of evidence based programs that we want to see rolled out across Australia, that we want to see in more schools and we've tied funding to that and we're focused on the evidence, we're focused on the programs. But we also know that you need to back this up and it can't just be about politicians talk, it needs to be about having the resources to do the job properly.

SPEERS: On higher education Labor has announced its policy largely in that respect. Part of it is to write off the HECs debts of 100,000 students who complete a STEM degree, science, technology, engineering, maths. Why? Just remind me what the thinking is behind giving them a free HECs debt?

ELLIS: Well we want to make sure Australians have the skills for the jobs of the future. The reality is a lot of those jobs don't exist at the moment and some of them we probably can't even imagine what they look like, that our children or grandchildren might go on and do. But we do know that all of the analysis shows the skills that will be required to do those jobs.

SPEERS: But the people who do these degrees and work in these jobs, they earn decent money. Wouldn't you be better targeting that sort of HECs-free offer to those who aren't going to earn as much in child care or teaching or whatever?

ELLIS: Well there's a couple of things here. One is we need to make sure we have more graduates in these areas so that we can be strong in these areas and compete internationally in these areas. But the other thing is...

SPEERS: Is it realistic though that a free degree is going to...

ELLIS: Well I can tell you after Bill Shorten's Budget Reply speech where he announced this policy, I've been out in schools talking to secondary school students in their science labs and a lot of them have said that that would absolutely encourage them to go on and study this. But the other really important thing about this David is, we need people in our classrooms who have got a great passion and a great expertise for these areas. We need get people who are teaching who have a background in science, in technology, in engineering, and so we want to encourage incentives to upskill existing teachers in these areas but also to encourage people with a background in the sciences into our classrooms to share that passion with the next generation.

SPEERS: Kate Ellis I'm sure we'll be talking more about education both in school and universities...

ELLIS: I hope it is each and every day up until the election.

SPEERS: You can see the Government's policy on higher education, it's coming during the election sometime. Thank you very much for joining us this afternoon

ELLIS: Good to speak.