SUBJECT: Liberals’ school funding cuts

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well thank you for coming out this afternoon to hear Labor’s initial response to the Prime Minister’s announcement today of massive school funding cuts. It is extraordinary that after years of waiting, after months of uncertainty, after States and Territories have been pleading with the Federal Government for certainty, after Catholic and Independent schools have said they need certainty for next year, what we get today is a smoke and mirrors, pea and thimble effort to hide the fact that instead of cutting $30 billion from schools over the decade, this government will cut $22 billion from schools over the decade. It is extraordinary that the Prime Minister stood up today and boasted about the fact that instead of cutting an average of $3 million from every school in Australia, he’ll cut an average of $2.4 million from every school in Australia. We also had, of course, this announcement of another review - like this Government needs another review. Of course, every Australian should be interested in what makes the difference in our classrooms, how do we best spend extra money to get maximum impact so that our kids are learning. But the truth is, Labor laid out a comprehensive school reform agenda when we were in office; it was trashed by Christopher Pyne. That school reform agenda included things like more autonomy for principals, more decisions at a school level about how to best spend the extra funding that came with needs-based funding, it included improvements to initial teacher education, improvements to teachers career-long professional development, to make sure they were always able to continually upgrade their professional skills. All the things we know make a difference in classrooms, more individual attention for kids. That agenda already existed, so I can say to Mr Gonski that the first place he should look for his information on what makes a difference in the classroom is the school reform agenda that Labor committed to that Christopher Pyne junked when he was the Education Minister. At the end of the day, we’ve had a process that has been secretive, that has excluded the States and Territories from any discussion about how to best run schools in Australia, that’s refused to talk to Catholic and Independent school sectors, and now we have an announcement of a $22 billion cut, dressed up, lipstick put on it, sent out to pretend that this is somehow an improvement. Any questions?


JOURNALIST: Is there a sense of irony that the Liberals are cutting funding to so-called privileged private schools when that is something that the Gillard Government couldn’t do?


PLIBERSEK: Well, I mean truly, we’re talking about a couple of dozen schools, out of more than 9,000 across Australia, and some pretence that this will actually make a difference to $22 billion of cuts across the system. I mean, we’ve said all along if this Government wants to do something about schools that are above the Schooling Resource Standard, we’ll help them do that, no problem. But to pretend somehow that cutting funding to a couple of dozen schools is going to make up for $22 billion worth of cuts? It’s laughable, it’s absolutely laughable.


JOURNALIST: So you wouldn’t describe this as an act of political courage from the Federal Government in announcing this plan?


PLIBERSEK: I think this is an act of political bastardy and it’s an attack on Australian children, and their parents and their teachers and their principals are awake to it. This is a $22 billion cut and Malcolm Turnbull pretending that he’s come in and saved needs-based funding for our schools. It’s a disgrace, dressed up in a press conference the day before the Prime Minister jets out of the country, so he doesn’t have to deal with the fall-out from angry parents, angry teachers, angry principals who know that a $22 billion cut is a pretty big cut for their schools to experience over the decade - $2.4 million cut on average to every school in Australia.


JOURNALIST: Is there anything good in this plan?


PLIBERSEK: Well we don’t know what the plan actually is beyond the headlines that the Government’s put out this afternoon. The Government itself has said there will be more detail in the Budget, so of course we’ll study any of the detail, but let’s look at the big picture here. The big picture here is that in the 2014 Budget, Tony Abbott promised a $30 billion cut to our schools and in the 2017 Budget, Malcolm Turnbull wants a big pat on the back for changing that cut to a $22 billion cut. I mean, truly, these people think that we are all idiots if we’re going to swallow a $22 billion cut and be grateful for it because it’s not a $30 billion cut.


JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister said today that this will overcome what he described as a [inaudible] system and he said that under a Labor Government special deals were cut that resulted in 27 different funding arrangements. Will this provide more simplicity for schools across the country?


PLIBERSEK: Well the reason there are different deals for different States and Territories is because they were at different starting positions, but they were all moving towards one Schooling Resource Standard. At the moment, you’ve got a government that doesn’t have any deals with anybody because they haven’t talked about their plan with anyone. They haven’t talked to States and Territories beyond a very quick phone call this morning from the Minister to the State and Territory Ministers, they haven’t talked to Catholic or Independent systems, so I don’t know how they think they can just slap an announcement on the table that equates to $22 billion worth of cuts and say there, we’ve got a deal now and it’s a single deal. And the devil is in the detail. We will look very closely at this package to see whether there is anything in it that we can support, but on first blush, all I can say is tell them they’re dreaming. I mean, $22 billion of cuts and we’re supposed to be grateful because it’s not $30 billion worth of cuts. Honestly.


JOURNALIST: You don’t welcome the review but what do you make of David Gonski’s involvement, do you think he’ll have any significant contributions to make there?


PLIBERSEK: I think David Gonski is a fine Australian who has made a wonderful contribution in designing the initial needs-based funding system and in many other areas of his private business endeavour and his public service, and anything David Gonski is involved in will no doubt be done at the highest possible standard. But, we have a schooling reform agenda that States and Territories had signed up to that was transforming our schools, and Christopher Pyne junked it. So you’ll have to excuse me for being a little sceptical about another review when we had a comprehensive reform agenda that the Government said was just red tape.


JOURNALIST: So are you saying a week out then from the Federal Budget that this isn’t good enough?


PLIBERSEK: A week out from a Federal Budget, this is taking out the trash, this is getting rid of all of the negative announcements. I mean, honestly, for the Prime Minister to think anybody swallowed this performance today - this is an announcement of $22 billion worth of cuts, it’s a week out from a Budget. You know why? Because they want clear air on Budget night, because they’ll be making infrastructure announcements or some other thing that they want the attention on and they’re taking out the trash, and they’re taking out the trash a day before the Prime Minister jets off to New York to meet Donald Trump, so he doesn’t have to answer to parents, to principals, to teachers, to kids, about why they’re going to get less funding in their schools.


JOURNALIST: So this certainly won’t neutralise Labor’s attack on the Federal Government’s education policies?


PLIBERSEK: This is not about Labor’s attack, this is about an Opposition holding a Government to account. This is a Government that promised to match Labor’s funding dollar for dollar, that said to Australian parents before the 2013 election you can vote Liberal, you can vote Labor, there’ll be not a dollars’ difference to your school. And then in their very first Budget, they actually cut $30 billion from schools. This is an effort to hold to account a Government that has broken its commitment to Australian children, and will deliver them a second-rate education because of it. This is a $22 billion cut and no one will swallow the rhetoric that this is somehow good for Australia’s kids. Thank you everyone.