SUBJECTS: Education Town Hall meeting in Townsville; Labor’s Schools funding plan.

CATHY O'TOOLE, MEMBER FOR HERBERT: It's really great to be here this evening with the Honourable Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Minister for Education. We're here specifically for an education forum. There is nothing more important to this country or the young people in this county than a quality, accessible education; and Tanya's come this evening to talk with principals, parents, friends, students, teachers about Labor's vision for education into the future. I'll hand over to Tanya.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Cathy. It's great to be here with Cathy O'Toole, the Member for Herbert and my very good friend, to talk about the importance of a great education for every Australian child. Today we've been talking about Labor's extra investment in public schools. Over the next decade Labor will invest $14.1 billion into our public schools if we're elected at the next election. Now that's very significant for a school like this, Kirwan State High School, here in Townsville, that would mean almost $2 million extra funding over the first three years alone. That allows a school like this to hire more teachers, more teacher aides, give more individual attention to kids who are struggling, help them catch up, more extension activities for kids who are gifted and talented, more subject choice so kids who want to go on a vocational path can choose more vocational subjects, other kids can focus on their maths and science, their arts, humanities subjects. So that extra investment is designed to give every Australian child, in every school, in every community, in every state and territory a world class education and I'm delighted that I'll be here tonight with Cathy, a lot of parents and teachers, talking about Labor's investment in schools.

JOURNALIST: I guess there's been a lot of talk lately about the discrepancies between private and public funding. With the investment will that see it level out, what will it look like?

PLIBERSEK: Well Labor has stood side by side with Catholic and independent schools and public schools from the very beginning. We've said that no school should have its funding cut, that all systems should have their funding restored. Just recently the Morrison Government said that they'd restore the billions of dollars of funding cut from Catholic and independent schools but not a dollar extra for public schools and it's public schools that teach two out of three kids, it's public schools that teach the majority of kids who've got additional learning needs and it's public schools that’s seen the biggest cuts. So yes we absolutely support the restoration of funding to Catholic and independent schools, but the Morrison Government has to restore funding its cut from public schools as well. Labor's commitment’s out there for everyone to see, we say $14.1 billion extra over the decade, $3.3 billion extra over the next three years alone. Almost $650 million extra for Queensland, and for a school like this, like I say almost $2 million over the next three years. We know that there are kids at this school today who need extra help, who need one on one attention, who need help with the basics to catch up with their maths, their reading, their writing. We know that kids would benefit from extra investment. As a nation we've got to give that to them. Every parent knows how hard they work, at the sausage sizzle, at the cake stall, on election day selling sausages to people who are queuing up at the polling booth, the reason they struggle so hard to raise extra funds for their school is because they know that every extra dollar makes a difference.

JOURNALIST: How important is it for you to be coming these community forums and hearing community concerns to ensure, I guess, that we are getting what we need? 

PLIBERSEK: Look Cathy O'Toole is a fantastic local member, so she keeps me very up to date in Canberra about the issues that are affecting her electorate. But there is no substitute for coming out and meeting with parents and teachers, making sure I understand all of the different educational priorities for every community across Australia. Townsville is a great example. There are a lot of schools here that have kids with high learning needs, and there is also a real problem with the Federal Government cuts to TAFE and Federal Government cuts to university. Kids who are in their later years of high school are thinking “What happens to me? What happens next?” You have got high unemployment in Townsville so it’s even more critical to make sure that kids have the skills to do the jobs that are available, and that they are able to continually learn and update throughout their working lives, so they have got the best chance of getting the jobs that are available, and also of starting their own businesses and working for themselves. So it is important to hear the regional differences in how education policy best serves the community. 

JOURNALIST: What are some of the main concerns, I guess, that you are hearing from your community in regards to education?

O'TOOLE: I think one of the main concerns that I hear the most is now that the Labor funded needs-based funding is disappearing or has disappeared, it has made it difficult for schools to provide that individualised care that they know they need. So schools like Aitkenvale State Primary School where the principal there offers a language program there for the migrant children that come to that school. He has kept that program going but it has been at a cost, he has had to rob Peter to pay Paul, so to speak. Parents in this community want the very best for their children. They want to be able to have more access to teacher aids, if that is the case. There is a real issue with literacy and numeracy skills here in lower primary school, so building those skills is important. We are also a refugee re-settlement city so we have issues with people coming in and young children with English as a second language and of course we have a large Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. Palm Island is in this electorate and we need to ensure that our First Nations' children get absolutely the best education because they deserve it as well. 

JOURNALIST: And what would more funding in education do for our unemployment rate?

O'TOOLE: I think it would make a huge difference. We have very high youth unemployment rate, between 17 to 20 per cent at any one time, if we can keep out young people engaged in school, particularly get them through to primary school, transitioning into high school, we can get them into vocational education and training as well, and that gives them an opportunity for a job. At the moment we have too many young people who are disenfranchised and they are not connected with the education system, so they don't actually have the skills to get a job, and that is very frustrating for their parents, for them. Nobody wakes up saying “I want to be unemployed”. Nobody does that. So these young people need to have access to an education that will help them get the skills that they need for the future. 

JOURNALIST: What are you hoping will come from this community forum tonight? 

O'TOOLE: The community forums that we have had here have been incredibly successful. Tanya is absolutely passionate about education. People tonight will be able to hear Labor’s vision for education. But what’s even more important is Tanya has come to listen to the people in our community and I can say that is one thing since I have been elected that I have noticed, the Labor Party listens to people in communities, that's my job, that's what I do. Every Shadow Minister that comes here makes the time to listen to the respective group in the community. When Shadow Ministers leave here the feedback I get is that people feel heard. They feel that their issues are been taken on board and something will be done about it.  Thank you.