SUBJECTS: Labor's Plan for school funding; Religious freedoms report, Sydney Opera House advertising

FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: Well the Labor Party is setting out the ground for an election battle on education, promising $14 billion over the next ten years for government schools. This comes after the Coalition committed an extra $4.6 billion to help Catholic and independent schools. The Opposition says its plan will mean that every public school will get more cash - allowing thousands more teachers to be employed. Tanya Plibersek is the Opposition spokeswoman for Education. She's also Deputy Labor Leader - she's in our Melbourne studios this morning. Tanya Plibersek, welcome back to Breakfast.


KELLY: $14 billion over the next ten years for Government schools. On top of that, you've already pledged to match the Coalition's $4.6 billion for the Catholic schools and the independent schools. How are you going to pay for this?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we've said all along that Catholic and independent schools and public schools have lost billions under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Governments and that that funding should be restored. And we've made lots of difficult decisions in the time we've been in Opposition so that we can pay for what matters to Australia. We've talked about restrictions on negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions on housing, on high end super tax concessions, cracking down on multinational tax avoidance, doing something about discretionary family trust arrangements. There are so many commitments we've made- 

KELLY:So many new taxes. 

PLIBERSEK: -that allow us to - allow us to fund what will make the biggest difference. Parents make an investment in their kid's education, they think about it, they work hard to give their kids a great education. Well, we should do that as a nation, too. Because we know the best thing we can do for our kids is to the give them a great start in life by properly funding their schooling. 

KELLY: So $14 billion, that's a big ticket. 


KELLY: Isn't it essentially, though, the Gillard Gonski money you've been promising to put back in after Tony Abbott wound back your projections way back in the 2014 Budget? 

PLIBERSEK: Yes, we've said all along that all three sectors: public schools, independent and Catholic, should have proper needs based funding. What this does is put a clear number that's been costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office on that ten year projection - $14.1 billion - and makes clear that in the first three school years of a Labor Government, should we be elected, that's $3.3 billion extra for our schools. We'll be able to talk to parents right around Australia about the difference this will make in their school. Parents who, by the way, are probably preparing for the Bunning’s sausage sizzle that's coming up this weekend or baking cakes for the cake stall, or biscuits, or preparing for, you know, the - what do they call it? - the democracy sausage on election day - doing everything they can to fundraise for their school. Well, we're saying "We'll back you, we'll help you, we'll invest in your school, too."

KELLY:Is this a change, though? The Morrison Government says it's the states' responsibility, primarily, to fund government schools. It's put extra money into that pot anyway - the Turnbull Government did that, capping Commonwealth contributions at 20 per cent. What's wrong with that? It is the states' job to pay for their schools, isn't it?

PLIBERSEK: Hang on, who picked the figure? Who said that the Commonwealth-? 

KELLY: But it's the states' responsibility to fund government schools, isn't it? 

PLIBERSEK: Is it? No it's our responsibility together, as a nation, to properly fund our children's schooling. That 20 per cent figure, the Government just made that up. Whoever said that the Commonwealth was only responsible for funding 20 per cent of the cost of educating a child in the public system and 80 per cent of the cost of educating a child in the Catholic or independent system. Who made that up? Where did that come from? We say that together, with the states and territories, we should fund 100 per cent of the cost of educating a child in any school, in any system, in any state or territory because it shouldn't matter where you live or how much your parents earn, you should get a first rate education in Australia.

KELLY: So, as Labor would, in government, put in this extra $14 billion, how do you make sure that the states don't take out some of theirs at the same time? How do you hold the states' feet to the fire, so to speak? 

PLIBERSEK: Fran, don't worry about that. I have been a Minister before, I'm pretty experienced at making sure states don't withdraw their effort as the Commonwealth increases its effort. Of course, we have to make sure that states and territories don't reduce their spending as we increase ours-

KELLY: Will you be demanding more from them in response for this $14 billion investment promise by a Labor Government? 

PLIBERSEK: Well, we'll absolutely demand that they maintain their effort and that we work with them to get to 100 per cent of the fair funding level for every school. And Fran, the other thing is, it's about how we spend the money. Of course, extra money makes a difference; how we spend it is critical. When we were last in government, we worked with the states and territories, not only to increase funding but to have a clear reform agenda. This Government's been in power for five years, we still don't know what their reform agenda for school is. Kids who started high school when Tony Abbott became the Prime Minister have gone for five years without a clear reform agenda from the Commonwealth Government to improve outcomes in our schools.
KELLY: Didn't we get that from the second Gonski Review that Malcolm Turnbull ordered? 


KELLY: Didn't they recommend classroom teaching changes and curriculum changes? 

PLIBERSEK: Fran, they've recommended that, they have recommended...
KELLY: Do you sign on to that?
PLIBERSEK: No, no, just a minute Fran. The second Gonski review and the Government's commentary since that has said, “Oh we should do something better in our schools”, going back to the commitments that Labor already had in place with the state and territories, in many cases already legislated that were dumped by Christopher Pyne who said they were just red tape. So yes we have suggestions on the table, we don't have any agreement between the Commonwealth and the states and territories about any reform agenda yet. There is nothing that they have signed, that the state and territories have signed up to-
KELLY: What will Labor be, what will Labor be demanding?
PLIBERSEK: They haven't signed up to the funding agreements and they haven't signed up to a reform agenda. Well, we want more one on one attention for kids, particularly picking up kids who are struggling earlier so they can get the help they need to catch up. More extension for gifted and talented kids. More focus on the basics: reading, writing, maths, science, making sure kids have the basics under their belt before they progress. More choice so that kids have vocational education, languages, coding, arts - that can enrich their education. More ability for principals to say “Hang on a minute what we have is a huge group of kids who are starting school with language delays, we are going to get a speech pathologist in a couple of days a week.” More decision making at a school level so that schools invest the extra funding in proven interventions that are best suited to their students.
KELLY: I think for everyone listening, everyone in Australia, it's very hard really to work out who funds which schools, which schools get more money. Obviously, wealthy independent schools have a lot of extra money, but this notion of a fair funding level which is at the basis of the Gonski plan, whether it’s Gonski Mark one or two, is really what it’s all about. Are saying that if Labor put in $14 billion over ten years for Government schools, and accepted the money that the Morrison Government’s just put in to the Catholic schools, that each student in Australia, no matter where they are, would be operating at the same fair funding level as a basis?
PLIBERSEK: That's what we’re moving towards, so-
KELLY: Will this get us to that?
PLIBERSEK: -in the first three years we would crash through that 20 per cent artificial cap for public schools, we would get to 22.2 per cent in 2022 and we would continue to increase the Commonwealth share of funding every year beyond that. Now we have to-
KELLY: Will that get us to, the same basic level of government funding for every student in Australia no matter where they are studying?
PLIBERSEK: Well we have to work with the states and territories to get there. We have to ensure that they continue - that different states and territories are at different funding levels, we need to work with every state and territory to get to 100 per cent over time.
KELLY: You are listening to RN Breakfast, it’s quarter to eight, our guest is Tanya Plibersek, the Shadow Education Minister. Fairfax newspapers report this morning that the Ruddock Review into religious freedoms, which we haven't seen yet, the Government’s had them since May, that they recommend changing anti-discrimination laws to permit religious schools to turn away gay students and gay teachers. Now, I think there are carve outs there already for Catholics schools and religious schools not to have to hire gay teachers. How much is this a watering down of our anti-discrimination laws? What is your response to this?
PLIBERSEK: Well first of all, I'm not sure why part of this report has been selectively leaked today, the Government has had the report for five months and we haven't seen it. It's hard to comment as I say on a report that I haven't seen but my general proposition is we shouldn't be looking to increase discrimination in our community, and particularly discrimination against children. Like, honestly, who thinks it’s a great idea for adults to be telling kids, rejecting them, telling them that there is something wrong with them?
KELLY: So what would Labor do about this?
PLIBERSEK: Well I am not going to make comment on a report I haven't seen, I have given you the general proposition that we don't want to see an increase of discrimination in our community and my personal opinion, that seeking to be able to discriminate against children, is pretty pathetic.
JOURNALIST: Is it already, is it true that some states are already allow that?
PLIBERSEK: I couldn't say.
KELLY: At the same time, according to these Fairfax reports, it suggests the review dismisses the notion that religious freedom in Australia is “in imminent peril”. are you reassured by that?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it's very important and Labor certainly agrees that people should be given protection to practise their religion freely. What they shouldn't be given is the opportunity to use their religion to discriminate against others and that's what we will be looking for in this report, a balance that gives people strong protection to practise their religion but, you know, the idea that we suddenly, because of someone's religious views, allow them to discriminate against others, that to me is not a sound proposition.
KELLY: And just on another issue, you are the Member for Sydney. This week Sydney's been racked by the debate of the horse racing been projected on, well the draw for that horse race being projected onto the Sydney Opera House. It went ahead last night amid protests. What's to stop this happening again? What's your view of this?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it's tacky to use the Opera House in this way, I think the Opera House, of course, is iconic, and it’s terrific advertisement for Australia, just as it is. But I also, and Bill has said, that we do need to look at further protections for World Heritage listed buildings and so on, but I kind of think it's over now. It happened last night, let's move on to what really matters, like giving our kids a great education.
KELLY: Unless it happens again.
PLIBERSEK: Look, I wouldn't like to see it happen again. I think it's tacky, I think it really does look tacky but again, I'm not going to lie awake at night thinking about that when my job is to make sure that every kid in Australia gets a great education.
KELLY: OK. What about the role of radio shock jock Alan Jones. He also operates in Sydney in this market. He intervened here, he had that very aggressive interview, some say bullying interview, with the CEO of the Opera House Louise Herron. Do you condemn his behaviour in this?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I saw it reported yesterday that Mr Jones apologised for the aggressive nature of the interview and that's very appropriate, I'm pleased to hear that. I mean I'm perfectly prepared to say that I disagree with him on this issue and-
KELLY: It's not so much his position on this issue but the way he conducted that interview, what did you think of that?
PLIBERSEK: I didn't hear it. I heard snippets of it reported, I read that it was a very aggressive interview, I saw that Mr Jones had apologised. That's all I can say.
KELLY: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for joining us.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you.
KELLY: Tanya Plibersek is the Shadow Education Minister, joining us there from Melbourne.