THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
THURSDAY 20 SEPTEMBER 2018
SUBJECT: School funding.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much for coming out this afternoon. I’ll have to be very quick because, of course, we’ve got Question Time in a moment. But I did want to give some initial responses to the Government’s press conference just now on education funding.
Well, after more than a year of denials, today was an admission from the Government that they have cut billions of dollars from schools. Restoring some of that funding to Catholic and independent schools is a completely inadequate response to the $17 billion cut from schools over the next decade.
Now of course, Scott Morrison was the Treasurer who cut $17 billion from our schools. He knows that the cut is real because he's the Treasurer that wanted to cut $17 billion from our schools while giving the banks a $17 billion tax cut. Now, Labor has been saying all along that this $17 billion cut from schools should be restored. Every single dollar should be restored.
What we won't accept is the Government's proposition now that the problem's solved because they've admitted cutting funding from Catholic and independent schools, they've restored part of that funding - well, what happens to public schools? Today, the Prime Minister has turned his back on the two and a half million children that go to public schools around Australia. He's said to the five million parents of those children - we don't care about your kids, we're prepared to properly fund Catholic and independent schools but we're not prepared to properly fund public schools.
Public schools teach the majority of kids from a poor background. Public schools teach the majority of kids who have a disability, Indigenous children, children in remote locations. All of them - the majority go to public schools and so, what we saw with the Government's funding proposals was that 85 per cent of the cuts in the first two years alone hit public schools. Public schools have been the hardest hit by these $17 billion of cuts.
So, today's response that goes some of the way to restoring the billions cut from Catholic and independent schools is totally inadequate as a resolution to the funding crisis that this government has created in our school system. It is not acceptable to admit that billions of dollars have been cut from Catholic and independent schools, to restore some of that funding but to continue the pretence that funding has not been cut from public schools at the same time. This government must restore the $14 billion cut over the decade from public schools. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: So, does Labor accept that the thinking, you've just sort of phrased it now, that independent and Catholic schools are, now, as a result of these changes, properly funded?
PLIBERSEK: No, absolutely not. Absolutely not and in fact, the earlier response we've seen from the Catholic sector is that this is an interim fix and that there will be a great deal more work that has to be done with the Government to actually provide a long-term solution. We don't believe that this restores all of the money that's been cut from Catholic and independent schools, it certainly doesn't go anywhere near restoring any of the money, the $14 billion cut from public schools.
Now I just wanted to add this - the Prime Minister, today, was talking a lot about choice in education and Labor supports choice in education, we were very quick to say that every dollar that's been cut from Catholic and independent schools would be restored under Labor. But for parents to have genuine choice in the education of their children, they need a well-funded public school system to turn to if they wish and right now, what the Prime Minister's saying is if you send your kids to Catholic schools, that's fine, we'll give you extra funding. If you send your kids to independent schools, that's fine, we'll give you extra funding. But if you send your kids to public school, too bad, you're on your own.
JOURNALIST: Was Labor naive to give more money to Catholic schools when it was always open to them to go to the Government, strike a better deal, cut a peace deal and, you know, cut Labor out?
PLIBERSEK: Well, this isn't actually a better deal. In fact, it's not a better deal. It's an interim arrangement and I don't blame any school sector that's had billions of dollars cut from it - for accepting an interim arrangement that leaves them better off. Don't forget, schools and school systems are trying to finalise their budgets for 2019 right now. It's September. We're halfway through September - by this time, schools should know how many kids they've got next year, how many classes they'll have, how many teachers they can hire, what sort of extra programs they can offer, what sort of supports they can offer kids who are struggling, falling behind. That's all impossible if they don't know what their budgets are for the next school year.
So, of course, I'm not at all surprised that Catholic and independent schools would accept the Government's offer right now. But, the Catholics have made it very clear that they see this as an interim arrangement with more work to be done. But, you know, the focus of my comments today is not on the details of the interim funding arrangement that's been struck for Catholic and independent schools.
The focus for today has to be on the five million or so public school parents around Australia who are asking themselves - well, what about my child, what about my child? Why doesn't my child get a fair funding deal? Why isn't the $14 billion cut from public schools replaced by this government, as the part of the money cut from Catholic and independent schools has been today?
JOURNALIST: Just to split it up, so obviously the lion's share of the money being put back in comes from going to this new SES model. Does Labor commit to that new model, first of all, and secondly have you got a comment to make on the $1.2 billion fund that's only available to private schools?
PLIBERSEK: I saw the Education Minister say that he's got a sector-blind fund that apparently isn't open to public schools. I think, given what the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government has said about a proliferation of funding deals, I think it's incredible that it seems now that individual schools and individual school systems will be able to choose their own funding arrangement with the Government. We'll look at the details of these funding arrangements, but to me, this approach looks desperate. It looks like a Prime Minister who is trying to get an issue off the table - well I can tell him that the millions of public school parents, teachers, principals and students around Australia will be so upset today that the Prime Minister has acknowledged - he's admitted - today that billions have been cut from schools, but he's only proposing to fix the problem with Catholic and independent schools, not with public schools. I'd be very surprised if the states and territories will accept this arrangement. It's interesting that the COAG meeting, of course, has been delayed because I don't think any state system would accept a proposition that admits that billions of dollars have been cut, restores it for two sectors, but refuses to restore funding for a third sector, for public schools that teach the majority of kids.
JOURNALIST: Is this the end of the push to get proper needs-based funding in Australian schools? Is it done now?
PLIBERSEK: Look, this government's approach to education has been chaos from day one. They came into government years ago, under Tony Abbott saying you can vote Labor, you can vote Liberal, not a dollar difference to your schools. In their first budget, they cut $30 billion from schools. That was reduced by Malcolm Turnbull to a $22 billion cut, and reduced in the Senate to a $17 billion cut. This is still billions of dollars less than all schools would've got under the original arrangements struck by Labor with states and territories, with the Catholic and independent systems.
But what's worse is it's not just the billions of dollars that've been cut from schools, it's the wasted time. We had a national school reform agenda that set all sorts of ambition for reform in our schools to make sure every kid got a great education. Five years later, those kids who started high school when Tony Abbott became Prime Minister are finishing high school with none of those reforms in place, and the new Minister's saying I might talk to my state and territory colleagues about whether we should have a reform agenda sometime. I mean, billions of dollars of cuts, years of wasted reform time, and now this final insult that says if you send your kids to Catholic or independent schools that's great, we'll back you - if you send your kids to public schools, tough luck, you're on your own, we don't care about your children. That's what you've heard from this government today.