SUBJECT: Liberals’ school funding cuts.

FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: The Shadow Education Minister, Tanya Plibersek, has denounced the policy as an act of political bastardy. She joins me in the Breakfast studio. Tanya Plibersek, welcome back to Breakfast.


KELLY: $18.6 billion in extra money for schools, the Government has now signed on to a genuine needs-based funding model. Isn’t the Coalition delivering the spirit and intent of the Gonski plan that Labor loves and always wanted to do?

PLIBERSEK: This is absolutely the opposite of what we would have done in government. This is a $22 billion cut compared to a proper needs-based funding system which Labor committed to when last in government and had set in motion. I think it’s amazing that people have been talking about Gonski 2.0, including Mr Gonski himself of course. This is like Snowy 2.0, you look at the detail and it turns out to be a $500 000 feasibility study. This is more like New Coke than Gonski 2.0. It is a $22 billion cut, it’s the equivalent of sacking 22 000 teachers, it’s the equivalent of taking $2.4 million out of every school in Australia.

KELLY: It is less money though, it’s $22 billion less over 10 years than Labor was promising that is true, but it is a needs-based funding model, it is a Schools Resource Standard –  

PLIBERSEK: Do you know what they’re actually doing Fran? When you look at the detail of this, they are changing the Schooling Resource Standard, they’ve worked out that they can can’t reach the Schooling Resource Standard. Labor’s plan would have seen the vast majority of schools reach the Schooling Resource Standard by 2019, a bit later in Victoria –

KELLY: A lot of them weren’t going to reach it for a hundred years according to the Government.

PLIBERSEK: No, no that’s actually not true, that’s not true. The vast majority of schools would have reached the Schooling Resource Standard by 2019, 2021 in Victoria. This plan actually, from what we can tell, there’s scant detail but from what we can tell, will actually lower the Schooling Resource Standard and the vast majority of Government schools will not reach that lower Schooling Resource Standard within the decade. You can’t cut –

KELLY: What is, when we’re talking the lower and the higher, what was it set by Gonski, and what is the Government now proposing? Do you know those numbers? I don’t have them in front of me.

PLIBERSEK: Yes, I do know the numbers Fran. David Gonski looked at high-performing schools and what they spent per student, and he took a figure there. Now, that figure’s jumped around a little bit because of inflation but it’s a few thousand dollars, about around $10 000 for primary, higher for a high school student.

KELLY: Right.

PLIBERSEK: The figure is subject to inflation in the schooling system and the CPI and so on, and then of course we added extra loadings for disadvantaged kids. It appears from the information the Government have released so far they will actually lower the Schooling Resource Standard and nevertheless, most Government schools will still not meet that lower Schooling Resource Standard within 10 years. But look, we’re talking about –

KELLY: The Government says all schools will reach a consistent share of funding within the decade.

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, a share of funding. They’ll reach 20 per cent of the lower Schooling Resource Standard within a decade. There’s no mention of what the States will do, they have said that the States can’t cut. Well not cutting is not the same as keeping pace, even with inflation, within the schooling system.

KELLY: Isn’t it good though, isn’t it good policy from any government, Labor, Liberal, whoever’s in government, to get the model right and then adjust the size of the funding pot. In these straightened times, isn’t it still a major step forward that this government is backing Labor’s sector-blind, needs-based funding model. How can you object to that?

PLIBERSEK: Because they’re actually not doing that Fran. They’re saying that there will be a share of Commonwealth funding, a share of the Schooling Resource Standard from the Commonwealth to schools, doesn’t matter what the States do. They’ve lowered the target, they’ve said ok, we can never meet the Schooling Resource Standard, we’re going to get a lower Schooling Resource Standard –

KELLY: We’re going to get a uniform standard. Every school will reach –

PLIBERSEK: Uniformly low? Is that a good thing for our kids? I mean seriously, this is a $22 billion cut on top of the cuts to TAFE, on top of the cuts to preschool, on top of the cuts to universities. At the same time we are cutting tens of billions of dollars from the education budget we’re giving a $50 billion big business tax cut. What matters more to the future of this country?

KELLY: The Government is putting in $19 billion more over a decade of school funding and it is rearranging within the model that Labor set up and the funding share that Labor set up so that 24, we know 24 schools, some of them very wealthy, Loreto Convent, Riverview, Melbourne Grammar, who are currently, under the model Labor set up, receiving more than 200 per cent of the School Standard.

PLIBERSEK: Sure, big deal, they can have that - we’ll give them that, fine, no problem - we’ve said all along if they want to deal with that, no problem. You’re talking about a couple of dozen schools out of more than 9 000 schools across Australia. The vast majority of those 9 000 schools will cop it in the neck. They will all lose under this model –

KELLY: No they won’t lose, they won’t lose –

PLIBERSEK: Compared to what they would have got under Labor’s model, they will lose $22 billion and there is no other way of looking at that.

KELLY: Let’s look at it in the shorter term, under the Government’s plan school funding will top $30.6 billion by 2027 on the numbers we’ve been given, under the former Labor Government plan, as I understand it, funding would have reached that level by 2025. So same amount, but two years earlier. Is that much of a difference?

PLIBERSEK: This is, any way you cut it –

KELLY: Is that wrong?

PLIBERSEK: I honestly can’t remember the year-by-year figures Fran. But any way you cut it , this is a cut over the short term and a cut over the long term. There is a reason that the Liberal Education Minister in New South Wales is talking about taking the Commonwealth Government to court over a broken promise. There is a reason for that Fran. When you talk to, as I did, to many of the State Education Ministers yesterday, none of them are saying they’re happy with this deal, none of them are saying their schools will be better off. The Catholics have come out very strongly and said their sector will be worse off. I don’t see a lot of people welcoming this who actually work in schooling, not principals, not teachers, certainly not parents.

KELLY: Well the Prime Minister says this will put to an end the school funding wars and they’ve released a list of stakeholders who do welcome it, the Independent Schools Council, the Primary Principal’s Association, the Council of State Schools Organisations, Independent Schools, the Grattan Institute. So there are some who are congratulating the Government. This is, in retrospect, did Julia Gillard, as Prime Minister, make a mistake when she agreed under the original Gonski plan that no school would be worse off? That’s led to inequities, that’s lead to 27 different agreements, the Government is trying to reform that. Is that worth reforming?

PLIBERSEK: I cannot believe that people have swallowed this line about 27 different agreements. Every State and Territory was starting at a different position. All of them had different funding per student. You have to, to get people to a single point down the track, you have to start where they are. So there’s no surprise that there were different funding arrangements in every State and Territory because they were all at different starting points. We were headed towards a single Schooling Resource Standard, with loadings for disadvantage. What this Government is headed to is a lower Schooling Resource Standard, much further down the track. That’s why there’s $22 billion less over the decade.

KELLY: So you’re not arguing over the model, you’re just arguing over the final money? Is that right?

PLIBERSEK: Well hang on, no, we have to look very carefully at the model they’re proposing. First of all, they assume that States and Territories will sign up to this, I don’t think States and Territories will sign up to it, we’ll see, but for the Northern Territory, let’s take that as an example. The Northern Territory under this model actually loses funding. So the worst performing school system in the country, in the Territory that has the most difficulty in raising its own funds, with the huge number of small and remote schools that are really struggling, actually loses money if it goes to a Commonwealth share of 20 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard.

KELLY: David Gonski, the architect of Labor’s school funding policy, is backing this. Have you spoken to him?

PLIBERSEK: Well is he? He’s agreed to do –

KELLY: Well he was standing alongside the Prime Minister.

PLIBERSEK: He’s agreed to do a second report for the Government about a reform agenda. Well Labor had a reform agenda, Christopher Pyne junked it when he came into government. We had, when we signed States up, a reform agenda that included more principal autonomy, more support for principals to be great school leaders, better initial teacher training, more career-long professional development for teachers. We know what works in classrooms, we got States to agree to it, Christopher Pyne got rid of it, and now, six years later we’ve got, from Christopher Pyne trashing this initial agreement, they’re starting to say –

KELLY: Have you talked to David Gonski?

PLIBERSEK: No, I haven’t yet - they’re starting to say yes we really need an agenda for school reform. Well we had that agenda, we had States signed up to it, it was the Liberals that trashed it. They’ve finally agreed, with Labor, that we need to put more money into schools and we need a reform agenda, but they’re not putting as much in and they’re searching around for a reform agenda that already exists.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek, we’re out of time, but this will require legislation. Will Labor stand in the way of this more than 9 000 schools getting extra funding?

PLIBERSEK: We’ll stand in the way every single day of a cut of more than $22 billion to Australian schools, you bet we will.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for joining us.