TRANSCRIPT: ABC RN Thursday 22 September 2016






SUBJECTS: Gonski needs based school funding; Essential poll on Muslim immigration

ALISON CARABINE, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, good morning.


CARABINE: Very well, thank you. Gonski was Labor's funding model. We know the Coalition won't be funding it beyond next year. And it's now released some figures showing that some states were favoured over others. Was Gonski, as the Minister Simon Birmingham was saying this morning, corrupted?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it's important, Ali, to know your history, and Simon Birmingham pretending that it wasn't Christopher Pyne as Education Minister who actually signed the agreements with Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. We are very proud of the Gonski needs based funding model which means that every child in every school gets a great education. And that relies on the states and the Commonwealth working together. When we left office, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory hadn't signed up to these agreements - they were signed by a Liberal National Government with conservative state governments. And not only did they sign up to agreements that provided less funding, they allowed those states not to even pass on the money that we had contributed. So in the case of Victoria, the money didn't really start flowing to schools until the Andrews Government was elected. And most importantly - and this was the thing that was really, really troubling about the way that Christopher Pyne behaved when he took over education - the requirements that we had put in place to improve teacher quality, to focus on numeracy and literacy, to make sure that schools were getting individual attention to kids who were falling behind, or extending kids who are gifted and talented - none of those expectations that went along with the extra funding were implemented. Christopher Pyne said, "hands off, you can do what you like, states. If you take money out of the system, that's fine; if you drop investment in teacher quality, that's fine too".

CARABINE: But you've nailed it on the head when you talk about giving kids a greater education. But when you compare like for like, didn't some kids get a greater education than others? A school in Tasmania, for example, received $3,300 per student, while WA lagged well behind on $2,600. That's a 30 per cent difference. Do you conceive there were or are some inequalities embedded in Gonski?

PLIBERSEK: That's actually not embedded in the Gonski school funding model - that is what happened when the government changed nationally and Christopher Pyne as the new Education Minister said, "we don't really care about Gonski, we made this commitment during the election, we're going to try and skate through on the minimum amount of possible investment". And he allowed states to sign up to agreements that actually delivered less funding, including real cuts from state governments for their education budgets. Now, we believe - this is a really important point - no state has yet met the minimum amount that we want to see invested per child. We need to make sure that both the Commonwealth funding - the $3.9 billion that the Commonwealth plans to cut over years 2018 and 2019 - that has to go back into the system. But states and territories absolutely have to be held to account, to make sure not just that their investment is as it should be to meet this minimum resourcing standard, but that they engage in reform in their systems. So there's one place I would agree with the Education Minister: it's not just about dollars, it's about what you do with those dollars. Where I differ from him is I say you can't actually achieve that great change without extra dollars.

CARABINE: And if those $3.9 billion dollars extra do go back into the system, isn't that just another excuse for states like Victoria, but not just Victoria, WA and Queensland, to once again cut their own state funding to schools?

PLIBERSEK: They must not. And that's part of signing up to a new agreement, is making sure that there is transparency and accountability about state efforts; about their own investment in their own schools, but also about the reforms that are needed. We know that the biggest difference to a child's education is what's happening in the classroom with the classroom teacher. We absolutely believe that we have to attract the best and brightest to teaching and support them while they're teachers to make sure they can continue to be great teachers. These reforms matter, but the cash matters too.

CARABINE: Well, can you point to any evidence that shows Gonski in its early years has lifted results and led to increased performance?

PLIBERSEK: I absolutely can. Every school gate that I walk into you can see the evidence. Now, two things to say about this: the early years, only a fraction of the funding has flowed through. The majority of the funding was coming in 2018 and 2019 - two thirds of the extra funding was in 2018 and 2019. So first thing to say is, only a fraction of the extra money has started to flow and it does vary from state to state, as you pointed out. But when I walk into schools and I have teachers in disadvantaged schools telling me that their kids used to start school not able to hold a pencil - they've got occupational therapy now. Not able to speak in sentences - they've got speech pathology now. They've got breakfast clubs, they've got social workers, meaning that kids come to school able to learn and ready to learn. That makes a world of difference. When I talk to teachers that are able to bring in extra support for numeracy and literacy to make sure that their kids who are left behind are catching up, that makes a difference. You can see it in schools everywhere, Ali.

CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek, if we could leave the Gonski funding for just a moment, and if I could take you to the Essential poll which shows almost one in two Australians agree with Pauline Hanson, that there should be a ban on Muslim immigration - that's one in two Australians. What did you make of that result?

PLIBERSEK: Well I haven't looked closely at the size of the poll or the methodology or anything like that, but I guess there are a couple of things I'd say. The first is I think people generally overstate the number of Muslims that we have in Australia - it's a tiny fraction of our community. And the second thing I'd say is what matters to me when we're choosing people to become new Australians, to become Australian citizens, is that they're able to sincerely adhere to what we ask of Australian citizens, and that's that they share our democratic beliefs, that they respect our rights and liberties and uphold and obey our laws, and beyond that, I'm not interested in where they're from, or who they are or what religion they follow. It's about being able to fully commit to being a citizen and I see great Muslim citizens who have made a huge contribution to Australia.

CARABINE: But a number of Labor's supporters don't necessarily see it the way you do. According to this poll, 40 per cent of Labor voters support the ban. Does that make them racist or just ignorant?

PLIBERSEK: No, it means that we're not doing a good enough job as national leaders to bring harmony and cohesion to our community because the thing that keeps us strong, and the thing that keeps us safe is harmony and cohesion.

CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek, we'll leave it there. Thank you for your time.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks Ali.