SUBJECTS: School funding; Wentworth by-election.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well thanks very much for coming out this morning. Scott Morrison yesterday admitted what Labor has been saying all along. That the Liberals have cut billions of dollars from Australian schools. And yesterday Scott Morrison said he was going to restore some of that funding but only to Catholic and independent schools. Right around Australia today, public school parents have woken up and said 'why is my child worth less than a child who goes to the Catholic or independent school down the road?' Now Labor has stood with the Catholic and independent sectors from day one. From day one we have said we would restore every dollar cut from the Catholic and independent sectors, but we also said that we would restore every dollar cut from public schools. Yesterday, Scott Morrison said to the two and half million public school children around Australia that their education matters less to him than to children who go to Catholic or independent schools. He said to public school parents that their children matter less than the kids who go to Catholic and independent schools. Now, curiously, we've got the New South Wales Liberal Education Minister standing up to Scott Morrison today saying it is not acceptable to cut funding from public schools. You've got the New South Wales Liberal Education Minister refusing to back Scott Morrison's dodgy deal that rips money out of public schools. I think it's very telling that if the New South Wales Education Minister won't trust Scott Morrison with the education of public school children in New South Wales, why would parents trust him? If the New South Wales Liberal Education Minister doesn't trust him, why should parents trust him? Any questions?
JOURNALIST: What do you think would have been told to Mr Stokes overnight since making those statements from Scott Morrison's office?
PLIBERSEK: I don't doubt for a second that Rob Stokes is under enormous pressure from the Federal Government just to suck up the billions of dollars of cuts to his school system here in New South Wales. I don't doubt for a second that Liberal Education Ministers and Premiers around Australia have been getting frantic phone calls overnight being told just to suck it up. But it would be absolutely betraying the children of Australia if any state Education Minister signed on to this rip-off of public schools. Two thirds of Australian children go to public schools, two and a half million children, and the majority of children who come from the least advantaged backgrounds economically, the majority of kids who go to rural and remote schools, Indigenous kids, the majority of children with a disability; all in the public system. It's the public system that educates the majority of children. It's the public system that educates the majority of children with additional learning needs. To rob those children of help, as this Prime Minister did yesterday, is absolutely unconscionable. No state Education Minister should stand for it. And more importantly no parents should stand for it. Honestly, millions of Australian parents, thousands of teachers right across our state and territories today are being told that kids who go to public schools don't deserve the same help as kids who go to Catholic or independent schools.
JOURNALIST: Is this just a political pay-off to the Catholic sector?
PLIBERSEK: I think this is an effort to get the issue of schools funding off the agenda before the next Federal election. There's no doubt that the Catholic and independent schools have made a very strong case that the billions of dollars of funding they've lost should be replaced. We agree with it. We've said that from the very beginning, that this funding should never have been cut in the first place. But you cannot, you absolutely cannot, restore the funding cut from Catholic and independent schools and not restore the funding cut from public schools that educate the majority of Australian children. I don't think any parent who sends their child to a public school around Australia will put up with that.
JOURNALIST: So you agree then with this Choice and Accessibility Fund that they've set up of $1.2 billion?
PLIBERSEK: Do you know what? Labor has always supported the right of parents to choose to send their child to a Catholic or an independent school and to make sure that the fees of those low-fee Catholic and independent schools are affordable for Australian families. But there is no genuine choice in education unless you properly fund public schools as well. The local public school has to be well resourced, well-funded, have the ability for teachers to work one-on-one with kids who are struggling, have programs for gifted and talented children, music, sport, art, coding, maths, science, great facilities. Unless public schools are also properly funded there is no genuine choice for parents.
Just on the fund that you've mentioned, this $1.2 billion, how extraordinary that the Prime Minister still can't answer any questions about how this money will be distributed. I saw him say yesterday that this $1.2 billion fund is sector-blind. Except public schools can't apply to get any of this funding. I heard the Prime Minister say that some of this money would go to help kids who are going to schools in drought-affected areas. Well of course we support anything that helps struggling families doing it tough during this once in a hundred year drought. But does the Prime Minister genuinely believe that there aren't public school kids struggling in drought affected areas? Why is it that kids who go to a Catholic school or an independent school in drought affected areas get extra help, but kids who go to a public school in a drought affected area don't get any extra help? I mean it is incredible that this Prime Minister would seek to divide Australians into deserving and undeserving. What he said yesterday is that some children deserve extra funding for their schools, and some children don't deserve extra funding for their schools. What kind of Prime Minister divides Australian children into deserving and undeserving and allocates funding to some children but not to others.
JOURNALIST: You called that $1.2 billion fund a 'slush fund'?
PLIBERSEK: It's plain that this $1.2 billion fund has no rules associated with it. The Prime Minister can't explain what the rules are. It's looking a great deal like the Great Barrier Reef fund that this Government set up with no rules, no clarity, no understanding of how the money will be distributed. We support extra funding for Catholic and independent schools, but that extra funding must also be given to public school children. And when you've got a fund like this, allegedly to help with the drought and so on, saying that public schools who are affected by a once in a hundred year drought don't get any assistance; I don't get it. I don't understand how any Prime Minister can say that. 

JOURNALIST: What kind of rules should apply to the fund?

PLIBERSEK: I'm not going to, honestly, I'm not going to try and make up rules for a government fund that's just been plucked out of the air. Schools should be properly funded according to their need. What this looks like is a desperate political fix to try and get this issue off the table before the next election. We say, we have said from the very beginning, that every dollar that has been cut from school funding should be restored; in the Catholic system, in the independent system, and in the public schools system. You don't need special funds, you don't need special deals, you need a fair deal for every child. So that every child, in every school, in every part of Australia gets a proper education. 

JOURNALIST: In Wentworth, Kerryn Phelps has announced she will preference the Liberal Party. With these preferences does it make it almost impossible for the Government to lose that seat?

PLIBERSEK: We have always said that it is very unlikely that the Liberals will lose Wentworth, they have got a higher than 17 per cent margin in Wentworth. But nevertheless, we have a fantastic candidate there Tim Murray who is fighting every day to draw attention to the issues that matter, to the people of Wentworth and the people of Australia. His campaign will be focused on health, on education, on local services and I am proud to support him. 

JOURNALIST: Where will Tim's preferences go?

PLIBERSEK: I don't know. 

JOURNALIST: Not back to the independent though, not back to Phelps?

PLIBERSEK: I simply don't know, that a question for head office here in New South Wales.