SUBJECT/S:  Liberals’ cuts to school funding, Gonski needs-based funding

LINDA LYONS, ACTING PRINCIPAL, BENDIGO SENIOR SECONDARY COLLEGE: Good morning everybody.  It's our great pleasure at Bendigo Senior Secondary College this morning to welcome Shadow Minister for Education Tanya Plibersek to our college and local member Lisa Chesters.  We thank them for coming along to Bendigo Senior Secondary College and taking an interest in the education of our young people. It's really important that we're make sure we're providing the best possible programmes for every individual student in our care and it's wonderful for us to share those messages with such important people here today. Thank you and welcome.

LISA CHESTERS, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR BENDIGO: Thank you very much Linda for having us out here today. Here in Bendigo we are really proud of our Bendigo Senior Secondary College.  It's the largest deliverer of VCE, VCAL and VET in the state. Over 1800 students, Year 11 and Year 12 students, are here getting those final years of education.  But we've all been here before talking about this issue.  We are very worried about the impact of the funding cuts and how they will impact this school. It's a great school delivering great programmes, resource-intensive programmes, through the trades training centre, through the Ulumbarra Theatre, through the visual arts programme, programmes we don't want to lose. And so I was really wrapped that Tanya said on day 1 of Term 2 that she would come to Bendigo to learn first-hand about this really innovative, inclusive education programme that we're running here. So I'd like to hand over to Tanya. Welcome back to Bendigo Tanya Plibersek.

TANYA PLIBERSEK MP, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much Lisa. It's always a real pleasure to be in Bendigo and I want to thank Linda Lyons and her staff here at Bendigo Senior Secondary College for welcoming us to the school and showing us around the fantastic facilities that this school has - the Trades Training Centre, the theatre here for performing arts - really beautiful school facilities and I'm very proud to have been part of the Government that delivered the Trades Training Centre for this school. It's such an investment in the future of our young people. Parents and school communities know that this type of investment is absolutely vital for young people and for regional communities like Bendigo to make the most of their future. What we see proposed by the Liberal government in Canberra are cuts over the next decade that would see $30 billion cut from our schools.  Well what does that mean in practice for this community? It means a $3.5 million cut from this school over the next two years.  It means a $36 million cut from this Federal electorate over the next two years.  Parents know that every sausage sizzle, every cake stall, every fundraising opportunity that they're doing for their kids is going into a better education for their children.  And they know how many cake stalls and sausage sizzles it would take to make up for a $3.5 million cut from a school like this. We say to the Federal government that they absolutely must fund Years 5 and 6 of the Gonski needs-based funding roll-out for schools, that schools like this can't cope with a $3.5 million cut, that communities like this can't cope with a $36 million cut. Our young people have been benefitting from the early years of needs-based funding.  They've been benefitting from more one on one attention, more help with the basics, with literacy, with numeracy, with science, with coding and other computing courses, with the sort of vocational courses that are on offer at this marvellous facility. But without continued extra funding, all of that one on one attention becomes much harder for schools to provide.  So our call today is for the Federal government to come clean.  Are they going to persist with the $30 billion of cuts to schools funding?  Will the May Budget contain a better funding arrangement for our schools or are they going to persist with cuts that will hurt communities like this?

JOURNALIST: And now the Government actually says they are not cutting any money and they're in fact they've spent more across the past four years than any other government before. What would you say to that?

PLIBERSEK: Well their own Budget papers in 2014 said that the difference between Labor's funding proposals and what the Government will do is $30 billion over the decade.   The difference between fully funding the six year roll-out of Gonski needs-based funding that Christopher Pyne promised when he was the Federal Education Minister is $36 million for this electorate and $3.5 million for this school.  So that's the difference between what the Liberals promised and what they'll deliver.  Now of course as the number of school kids goes up, as teacher salaries go up you do see some slight increase in the dollars, but there's not enough extra dollars to deliver extra services.  This is a cut based on what they promised they would deliver.

JOURNALIST: Speaking to the Senator earlier today he said that the needs-based principle that's in the Gonski reforms is embedded in the Coalition's ongoing funding for schools.

PLIBERSEK: Well who would know? I mean, this is the best kept secret in Canberra. We've got public fights on display every day about what's going to be in the Budget when it comes to housing, and no information from Simon Birmingham or from anyone else in the Government about what sort of funding schools can expect next year.  The Catholic systemic schools have asked for funding certainty for next year, independent schools have asked for funding certainty for next year, and public schools around Australia are crying out for funding certainty for next year, and all we have from the Federal government is a string of the dog ate my homework excuses about why they haven't yet said what funding will be available next year. Now this was to be determined early in 2017.  Well early in 2017 is very fast disappearing and we still have no indication.  All we have to go on is the $30 billion of cuts that appeared in the 2014 Budget. If the number is different to that then Simon Birmingham should tell someone.

JOURNALIST: He has said as well that despite more funding going into schools like this results aren't really showing any progress, so he's saying that money needs to be invested in needs-based or I guess things that can create those results.  Would Labor invest in programmes like that?

PLIBERSEK: Well there's two things to say about that. The first is only 10% of the extra needs-based funding had flowed when the big tests that Simon Birmingham is talking about happened - the PISA test and the other international tests - only 10% of the extra funding had flowed, so it's not proof of anything other than extra funding, extra resources, more one on one attention, more teachers, are absolutely critical to achieving better results from Australian school children.  The other thing we'd say is that Labor's never said that it's only about money.  It's also about reform. When we signed the original agreements with states we said that we had to invest in improving teaching quality by accrediting initial teacher training better, by allowing mid-career teachers to invest more in upgrading their professional skills, collaborating more with others, using the best and most innovative and tested approaches to improving what's happening in every classroom across Australia.  Instead of insisting on those reforms Christopher Pyne when he was Education Minister said "hand's off, the Federal Government's got nothing to do with quality in schools and a reform agenda in schools, do what you like, let it rip" and that is the real tragedy.  Now we've got a Federal government saying someone ought to do something, there should be reform in this area.  Well we laid out a comprehensive reform agenda that was junked by the Liberal Government and now they're looking around for a new one.

JOURNALIST: The Senator said the Victorian government has actually cut funds to government schools by 1.3% in real terms and calls any calls for extra Federal funding hypocritical. How would you respond to that?

PLIBERSEK: Well I'd say a Federal government that's cut $30 billion from schools will always look around for someone else to blame.  This is a Government that first of all promised there would be not a dollar's difference between Labor and Liberal in funding for your schools and then in their very first Budget introduced $30 billion of cuts that are outlined, with a graph, on page 7 of their Budget Overview document, showing the cuts.  They're now trying to say there is no cut and they're looking around for other people to blame.  This is a government that should take responsibility both for improving the funding of our schools and for pursuing a reform agenda that truly delivers for all children, for every child in every classroom, in every part of Australia, so they can get an excellent education. 

JOURNALIST: And just to increase funding in the education sector, how would Labor find that money?

PLIBERSEK: We found the money when we were in Government.  We made very significant structural changes to our Budgets in our last time in Government including when I was the Health Minister doing things like means testing private health insurance, including changes to family tax benefit, and I'll tell you the biggest difference - we've got a Government that's prepared to spend today $50 billion on big business tax cuts.  We know $7.6 billion of that goes to the four biggest banks, but they're not prepared to properly fund our schools.  If you ask economists across Australia what will contribute better to our prosperity in the future, they'll tell you investing in our kids is the surest way for us to be a prosperous, high wage, high skills nation in the future. The big business tax cut, $50 billion worth of them, we'd be better off spending that on schools.

JOURNALIST: Senator Birmingham has said that funding will continue to increase for Victorian schools from the Federal government, are you confident that he will deliver on that?

PLIBERSEK: I'm not confident of anything this government says about school funding because they've broken every promise they've made so far. Thank you.