SUBJECTS: Liberals failing our schools; national energy crisis.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I’m delighted to be here in Redfern today with my colleague, Andrew Giles, doing the first of a number of state and territory based consultations with the parents of children with a disability, to talk to them about the schooling needs of their children. It is completely unacceptable that, having promised to properly fund education for children with a disability in 2013, the Government have still not got a response to the needs of these children. Four years later we’re still waiting, and these families are still waiting, and I’ll ask Andrew to say a bit more about that in a minute.

This is just one of the education failures of this Government. Before they came into government, they said you could vote Liberal, you could vote Labor, there would be not a dollar’s difference to your child’s school. Since then, in the 2014-15 budget, they have cut 30 billion dollars from Australian schools, an average of three million dollars per school right across Australia.

In the last election campaign, we had the Prime Minister saying that perhaps the Federal Government shouldn’t fund public schools at all. And now, with the education funding issue due to be sorted out at the April COAG meeting, we hear that that meeting’s been cancelled and schools are facing another delay.

Schools are already planning for next year. They are working out how many classes they’ll have, how many teachers they need, what sort of special programs they can offer. Except, these schools have no funding certainty. They don’t know how much they will have to spend next year. Whole school systems are in chaos. States cannot determine what they’ll spend in their schools next year, because the Federal Government has not made them an offer. The independent sector, the Catholic sector, have all complained that they are trying to work out how much they’ll have to invest in schools next year and they are unable to. It is completely unacceptable that the COAG meeting has been cancelled and school children are yet again thrown into limbo. I’ll ask Andrew to say a few words about the work that he is doing with the disability loading for education.

ANDREW GILES, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR SCHOOLS: Thanks so much Tanya. When we supported the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Australians said that every Australian counts, but, sadly, that doesn’t apply when it comes to schooling. Kids and young adults with disability are not getting every opportunity to fulfil their potential when it comes to school. And, as Tanya said just a moment ago, this was supposed to have been addressed by 2013. We are now well into the 2017 school year, and these issues have not been addressed, and this is why Labor, Tanya and I have started consultations today in Redfern, but over the course of the next few months right around Australia, in every state and every territory. To listen to parents and kids with a disability, to give respect, to give voice to their experiences, and to make sure that every Australian can count when it comes to school.

We recognise that there are big challenges here. Looking to the evidence, but also listening, listening to kids. One parent said, “No one asks our son what he wants when it comes to school.” This isn’t good enough in Australia in 2017, and we are going to ensure that it won’t be good enough for Australian kids and Australian families into the future. Thanks very much, Tanya.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks, Andrew. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: I just wanted to find out, what specifically are you hearing from parents in Redfern? Where do they feel that the system is failing them in terms of, particularly, education of children with disabilities?

 PLIBERSEK: Well, we had parents from all different parts of the state today, and the stories had a lot of common links, and a lot of individual struggles as well. A lot of parents are saying that they genuinely want an inclusive education for their children. They want their children properly supported in mainstream schools, and a lot of teachers want to see that for those students, but they don’t feel confident as teachers that they have the skills and the experience to properly teach and properly include children with a disability. So, we need to look at initial teacher education. We need to look at supports in the classroom to make sure that teachers feel confident to teach those children. We need to make sure that schools are able to accommodate children with a disability, with all the different types of disabilities that we see.

 We saw physical barriers. We heard from parents who said, “My children can’t get into the old demountable buildings” that inhabit so many school playgrounds these days; they are not built for children with mobility issues. We heard of special schools that are struggling to accommodate children as well, because of the range of disabilities that children face. And, so, children who have a great capacity to learn are being taught in the same classroom as children with much more limited capacities, holding back the children with a greater capacity to learn.

 There are so many issues that we face in this area of teaching children with a disability, to make sure that they can be confident, included members of our community. To make sure that they realise their full potential, that they’re able to pursue their dreams - a right they have as an Australian citizen to an education, to pursue their dreams, to prepare themselves for the world after school, including the world of work. And parents say that every day is a fight, every day is a struggle to get the attention that their children need.

JOURNALIST: So, can you tell me, you said that COAG is off. Has it just been postponed? I mean, surely it can’t be cancelled indefinitely?

PLIBERSEK: Well, who knows, I mean we’ve seen, first of all Simon Birmingham, as Education Minister, say that the states were going to get an offer at the end of last year. Two education ministers’ meetings passed with no offer to the states on their funding for next year. Then Simon Birmingham said COAG would sort it out at the beginning of the year. All we know is that the next Council of Australian Governments meeting has been cancelled, rescheduled, call it what you like - schools are running out of time to plan for next year.

They are running out of time to plan, to employ staff, to tell staff who are on temporary contracts that they’ll have a job next year. It is unacceptable, in a system as large and complex as the education system, that we don’t know how much the Federal Government’s going to spend next year.

JOURNALIST: We also know that all eyes are on Adelaide. We are talking about energy at the moment. The Government has announced that it is spending five hundred million dollars on a new gas plant. What more needs to be done to ensure energy security for Australia?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we need a Federal Government that will take an interest and set a direction that gives investors confidence to invest in low carbon pollution forms of energy for the future. We know from all of the experts that there is paralysis in the system now because we have a Federal Government on an ideological crusade against renewable energy. We need to have certainty and predictability. That means an Emissions Intensity Scheme, as Labor has proposed. It also means, of course, supporting initiatives like the South Australian Government has proposed, but it is quite shocking that the states are having to do all of the heavy lifting and you’ve got a Federal Government that has just brought the shutters down on trying to deal with the energy crisis. What we know is that the uncertainty is pushing up prices. We’ve got higher prices, higher carbon pollution, and less certainty in our energy sector now because of the insecurity that the Federal Government has introduced into energy markets.

JOURNALIST: I think that’s all we need, Tanya Plibersek, thank you.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.