SUBJECTS: Education reform; School funding; Banking Royal Commission; Budget.

TANYA PLIBERSEK MP, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well thank you very much for coming out this morning, I wanted to make a few brief comments about the new report released by David Gonski and his panel into school improvement. Of course Labor welcomes this report, we've only just received it, I'll read it in some more detail but I have had a good look at the 23 recommendations that Mr Gonski and the panel made. I suppose what I would say is they are pretty unobjectionable because most of them were already underway when Labor was last in government. Of the 23 recommendations I'd have to say, there's pretty much nothing new in those recommendations. The most, I suppose, depressing thing about the report is that so many of these things were underway until Christopher Pyne became Education Minister and dumped the reforms, saying that they were just red tape. You have a look at things like the emphasis on early childhood, well of course Labor introduced universal pre-school for four year olds and we said that there should be a strong emphasis from foundation to year 3 on literacy and numeracy. Well that turns up again in this report but we've had five years of wasted time since then. This report also calls on teachers to collaborate more, to examine their own practice and to work with other teachers in the classroom. It calls on more recognition for highly accomplished and lead teachers. When Labor got the states to agree to this and to professional standards for principals in the early 2000s, in fact this report calls for a re-emphasis on professional standards for principals and more autonomy for principals - we got the states to agree to that in 2011. This report also calls for an Evidence Institute, well Labor announced an Evidence Institute some months ago - a $280 million commitment to a National Evidence Institute. So there's nothing particularly objectionable in these recommendations but there's nothing particularly new in them either.

The only thing I would say to the Government in response to the report is you can't expect teachers and schools to make these changes while you are cutting their funding. People have to remember that the most important recommendation of David Gonski's first report was a fair level of funding for every student in every school and of course that's the recommendation that this Government has turned its back on. Under this Government 87 percent of public schools will never reach their fair funding level, they will never reach that schooling resource standard that David Gonski recommended in his first report to government, that first report that talked about needs based funding. So until this Government is prepared to  reverse the $17 billion of cuts from our schools, we know that no school will be properly funding and confident that it can make the reforms that are proposed by this second report. So Malcolm Turnbull has got a budget coming up very shortly, his response to this second report on education should be to reverse the $17 billion of cuts to our schools, to reverse the cuts to public schools in particular, to make sure that every child in every school has the resources that they need to do their best learning. Thanks, any questions? 

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister says that there are education systems elsewhere in the world are doing better than us but spending less per head on students. What do you make of that?

PLIBERSEK: It's very convenient for someone who has cut $17 billion from our schools to say money doesn't matter but we saw from the early years of needs based funding, extra funding that was flowing to our schools the difference that extra funding made. We had more teachers spending more one on one time with students who were falling behind or indeed with students who are gifted and talented, helping those students explore their gifts. This morning the Prime Minister was at Ermington West Public School. That school will lose $170,000 over the next two years alone. Is anybody seriously saying that that school couldn't do better, couldn't do more, couldn't provide more one on one attention for its students if it had that $170,000 over the next two years. Of course that money makes a difference. I visited schools right across Australia who have told me the difference that the extra early years of extra funding made. The teachers they hired, the small groups they were able to do with children who were struggling with their reading, their writing, their maths, the way that they were…today the Prime Minister was walking about this revolutionary idea that every child should progress one year for a year they spend in school, well I can tell you what, that's not a revolutionary idea to teachers in our schools. I visited a school, Doveton College, a couple of weeks ago where they've got kids who are starting schools, sometimes two or three years behind their peers and they're taken out of class in small groups and they have teachers working intensively with them to help them catch up. That's what extra funding enables, and by taking $17 billion out of our schools over the next decade that's what we're robbing our children of.

JOURNALIST: So the idea it seems is for there to be a much more individually focused teaching in classroom, from a practical perspective, is that possible?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, it's what schools are already doing. I see schools moving to this. I don't know whether the Education Minister doesn't get to many schools but the idea that teachers don't know where there students are on that progression is just not right. You can walk into half the schools in Australia and they've got every student up on a board, a data wall, where they're mapping the progress of every individual student. Teachers can tell you where their students are, what they don't have are the time or the resources where they see kids who are falling behind to intervene as intensively as they need to, to help those kids catch up. We are talking about individual learning plans for children. Teachers know that that's necessary, but their needs to be the time and the resources for teachers to plan those individual lessons for their students, to take the kids who are struggling and work with them intensively to help them catch up, to design the enrichment lessons for the kids who are gifted and talented so that they are engaged, they're not coasting as the Prime Minister said today. I agree there's too much coasting but the solution to that is not to cut $17 billion from our schools. Don't forget David Gonski's first and most important recommendation in his first report was that every child needed, at that time, in primary school about $10,000 to be educated to a certain standard; high school about $13,000 to be educated to a certain standard. That's the recommendation that this Government turned its back on when it cut $17 billion from our schools. You cannot have the level of individualised attention that students need without the extra resources that are required. How does the Prime Minister think it's going to happen when he's cutting school funding?

JOURNALIST: But the Prime Minister shared a reminiscence this morning with Mr Gonski about Sydney Grammar, being on the debating team. Do you think that's part of the problem here, it's just a lack of knowledge about schools, different schoolings and different circumstances?

PLIBERSEK: I don't doubt for a second that the Prime Minister and Mr Gonski got an excellent education at Sydney Grammar. What I'd like to see is every child in every school in every part of Australia get that same opportunity. That's what Labor is about.

JOURNALIST: On another issue, just to add, did Catherine Brenner take too long to quit as Chairwoman of AMP, given how damning the evidence at the Banking Royal Commission has been?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's plain that this is the right decision now, I'm not going to comment on when it should have happened and so on. I think it's the right decision. I think it is something that needed to happen. What I would say is that this is only the very beginning of the Royal Commission and while it is important to follow up individual instances of poor behaviour or illegal behaviour, it's important that people face the full force of the law if they've done something illegal, or face their shareholders if they've done something unprincipled or unethical. I think we need to wait and have a look at what the Royal Commission throws up in terms of systemic reforms that need to happen. I think it's wrong to just treat this as a series of bad apples and think that the response that is needed is just one or two people to fall on their swords. We do need to make sure that we have a strong and principled financial services system with a strong regulator and that will depend on the recommendations of the Royal Commission for system strengthening.

JOURNALIST: Just back to Gonski. Do recommendations like a review of the Year 11 and 12 curriculum have merit to prepare students for the future?

PLIBERSEK: A child who started school when this Government was elected - started high school when this Government was elected - will be graduating. We've had five years of lost opportunity and today we see the launch of a report that recommends another report on senior school education. We said when we were in government that there should be a national curriculum for years 11 and 12. Progress on that has also stalled. It is frustrating beyond measure that many of these reforms were legislated, they were agreed with the States, they were in the National Education Reform Agreements, and we're now pretending somehow that it's a revelation, that we need to have a more consistent curriculum, more reflective of the 21st century. We know this. We've known this for years, and having a recommendation, a report recommending another report, I think is...if you're a parent and you've seen your kid go through high school in the time this Government has been in government, and you've seen the funding cuts and you've seen the stalled progress on reform, you would just be breathing a deep sigh of frustration I reckon.

JOURNALIST: Just back to the Banking Royal Commission, should executives at other financial institutions accused of misconduct follow Ms Brenner and former AMP Chief Executive Craig Mellor in resigning?

PLIBERSEK: If people have done the wrong thing I think they should use their judgement and take the proper course of action and I think in many cases shareholders will expect that of them, but I think, like I say, it's a mistake to focus just on the individual cases of poor behaviour, unethical or even illegal behaviour. The reason for a Royal Commission is of course to catch out people who have done the wrong thing. But it's also the strengthen the whole system, to make sure that we don't have people who are caught out, dealt with as individuals and then we move on to the next lot of bad behaviour.

JOURNALIST: Are the banks kidding themselves if they think that Australians will have confidence in them again if they just sack a few people?

PLIBERSEK: That's the problem with just imagining that we can deal with this situation by a few people falling on their swords. Yes, it's proper for people how have done the wrong thing to resign and if they've done something illegal then they should face the full legal consequences of that. But dealing with this as though it's a few bad apples misses that there are systemic problems that require a systemic response.

JOURNALIST: And you say do you that the tax cuts gained for banks should go to schools instead, based on what we're hearing?

PLIBERSEK: I say this Government has got exactly the wrong priorities and they've got a budget coming up shortly where they can show that they have listened to the Australian people. If you ask Australians would you prefer your school was properly funded or would you prefer the banks get a $13 billion tax cut, I know what most Australians would say. If you ask them would you prefer that TAFE and apprenticeships received proper funding or do you think that the banks need a tax cut, I know what most Australians would say. This budget is an opportunity to cave on the tax cuts for big business as they have caved on the tax increase for ordinary working people and instead to invest in early childhood education, in pre-school, in schools, in TAFE and apprenticeships, in our universities, in our hospitals, in aged care, in the things that matter, in productivity-enhancing, job creating infrastructure. In the things that matter to Australians.

JOURNALIST: Just briefly, Mr Gonski will brief the states this Friday. What's your message to the Premiers?

PLIBERSEK: I don't know that this briefing is going to give either Premiers or more likely to be State Education Ministers a great deal of insight that they don't already have. I think a lot of these suggestions have previously been recommended, in many cases they were underway when Christopher Pyne, as the new Education Minister, said they don't need to happen because they're just so much red tape. I don't think I need to send the Education Ministers any message. I think they've worked this one out for themselves.

JOURNALIST: On that point then, on that point, doesn't Mr Gonski, isn't he in a position here where he needs to point that out?

PLIBERSEK: Sorry he needs to point what out?

JOURNALIST: He needs to point that out this morning.

PLIBERSEK: That these reforms were already underway?


PLIBERSEK: Well I think the report does that pretty successfully. I mean, you go through it, Evidence Institute - already Labor policy; professional standard for principals - already underway; better career development for teachers, keeping high performing teachers in the classroom, mentoring the other teachers - that was already underway; emphasis on early education - Labor already did that; emphasis on the foundation year, kinder, whatever you want to call it - it's different in each state to Year 3, foundational knowledge in literacy and numeracy - that was already underway. I think most Education Ministers will just think: well, we were doing this under the agreements with Labor, we're being asked to do it again - big deal.

Thank you everyone.