TRANSCRIPT: ABC 7:30, Thursday 22 September 2016




ABC 7:30

SUBJECTS: Gonski needs based school funding, Essential poll on Muslim immigration, marriage equality plebiscite

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: I spoke to Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Opposition Leader and Shadow Education Minister a short time ago. Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for coming in.


SALES: The recent NAPLAN results show there hasn't been an improvement in school results in the last two years since the Gonski funding was introduced. We know changes take a while to be felt. From Labor's perspective at what point would it be reasonable to start to see change and improvement?

PLIBERSEK: Changes do take a while and that point has been made by a number of the education ministers and education academics but of course you would expect to see improvement over time when the Gonski funding is properly and fully implemented. What we see now is a very half-hearted attempt from the Federal Government to cover up for the fact that they're not properly committed to the full Gonski needs-based funding approach. We know that Christopher Pyne when he became the education minister actually said to the states that hadn't previously signed up for the Gonski funding that they could sign up with no strings attached. They wouldn't have to maintain their own funding and wouldn't have to do any of the other educational reform issues that we wanted states and territories to do with extra funding. I think Simon Birmingham is quite right to say that it's not just about extra dollars but it is about how you spend those extra dollars and you can't make the improvements we want to without extra dollars.

SALES: Are you saying then it is either the full package or you see no results. I'm just wondering - there has been extra money go in over the past two years so why…

PLIBERSEK:  Not at all. If you talk to schools, if you talk to principals and teachers they will tell you the sort of improvements - Merrylands High is one example. They have seen a 5% improvement in attendance, they’ve seen a 14% improvement in kids handing in their assignments and work but they have seen the number of students offered a university place double in just three years. I could give you 1 million examples like this from principals I have talked to, or schools I have visited. But to see the big system-wide changes, to see the big lift in the international scores we hope to see over years will take some time and it will take a continued focus on extra funding yes, for sure, but also on reforming the system.

SALES: There are certain topics around which politicians work really hard to find consensus, the line usually is, "This is too important for politics". National security is one of those things, indigenous recognition is one of those things.  Why can't education be on that list?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think there are a number of things that we do all agree about. We all agree we need to lift the bar for young people going into teaching as a career. We really want to make teaching a profession of choice for our brightest students. What we don't agree on is the notion that you can cut $30 billion from schools over the next 10 years and it won't have an impact. Of course it will have an impact if we rip the guts out of funding for our schools. 

SALES: But that money was never accounted for, you’re saying they were going to rip it out.  It was never there in the first place?

PLIBERSEK: It was 100% there. We were also going to fund years 5 and 6 of Gonski and of course we would continue - we expected to meet the standard of 95% of the student resource standard for schools by 2019. We were on track to do that. Two-thirds of the funding, yes, came in years 5 and 6 but we always had the commitment that we would be meeting that increase in funding. What we've seen from the Liberals is talk about being committed to needs-based funding, an implication before the 2013 election that they'd do the full 6-year Gonski funding package and then they've fallen at the first hurdle.

SALES: If we can turn to some other matters, Essential Media released a poll this week that found almost half of Australians would support some sort of limits on Muslim immigration. And they repeated the poll because they thought at first surely the result couldn't be right, and then got the same result a second time. Why do you think so many Australians have that unease? 

PLIBERSEK: It is very important that we continue as leaders to emphasise the benefits of our strong multicultural community. And I think maybe we have't been doing that well enough in recent times. I think there is certainly some disquiet because there have been a number of very serious, deadly, large-scale terrorist attacks by Islamic organisations or people inspired by Daesh, IS, whatever you want to call it. This does give people a feeling of disquiet and it is very important that as leaders we need to continue to say that our best protection against extremism is working with the vast majority of the Islamic community in Australia that completely, whole heartedly, thoroughly rejects this type of attack.

SALES: Just one final issue before we run out of time, the Liberal MP and same-sex marriage advocate, Warren Entsch, has called on Labor to try to negotiate, sit down and negotiate over the same- sex marriage plebiscite, to come forward with a list of conditions that would satisfy you guys so you can agree to have a national vote. Why can't Labor do that in the interests of seeing same-sex marriage happen as soon as possible?

PLIBERSEK: Same-sex marriage could happen as soon as possible. It could happen in the next parliamentary sitting week if Malcolm Turnbull wasn't beholden to his right wing of his Liberal Party.

SALES: But compromise is essential in politics, as you know. They’ve got the plebiscite there. Why can't you guys try to find a way to meet them halfway on that?

PLIBERSEK: We are still talking to affected communities about the plebiscite in this period before parliament goes back and, in fact, I had a meeting yesterday with Twenty10, which is a gay and lesbian youth counselling service here in New South Wales.  The very, very strong message I had from the young people and the counsellors I spoke to yesterday is this debate is already causing harm. It will be divisive and it will cost $200 million. In my electorate I've got a health service for homeless people that's shut, it's closed after 40 years of operation because the Federal Government can't find $900,000 a year but they can find $200 million to have this expensive, divisive debate?  It just doesn’t cut it.

SALES: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks Leigh.