SUBJECT: Schools’ funding.

JULIE DOYLE, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, the Government says that school funding will now be sorted out by the June COAG meeting, isn't that enough time to allow schools to prepare for next year?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well it's a joke. I mean, the Education Minister has been saying for years that school funding is just about to be sorted out, he's just about to announce the 2018 funding and we've been waiting for years. I mean, this was supposed to be concluded by the end of last year, then it was supposed to be concluded by the first Education Ministers' meeting after the new year. The Education Minister's now saying it won't be until June. The reason for these constant delays is because the Government is embarrassed about the fact that there are $30 billion of cuts coming and they don't want parents, principals, teachers, to know where those cuts are going to fall.

DOYLE: Now the Government argues though that back in 2013 when Labor was signing these deals that some of those were signed as late in the year as August, so are you being hypocritical on this?

PLIBERSEK: We were making a massive change to school funding that went from John Howard's old, unfair system to a system based on need, so that every student attracted the Schooling Resource Standard and students that have higher learning needs attracted extra funding, so that schools would be able to give them the individual attention they needed. Of course when you've got a big change to make, you have to negotiate with states, negotiate with the independent and catholic sectors. But here you've got Simon Birmingham that's been promising now for two years that he's just about to reveal the schools' funding for 2018 and now completely unwilling to do so.

DOYLE: But that was a big change though and there was still enough time, being signed that late into the year, to bring it into effect.

PLIBERSEK: Well we were in constant negotiations with the states and territories, the catholic and independent sectors. At the moment, you've got independent schools, catholic schools, and states and territories saying we don't have a clue what this Government's proposing for next year. So the Ministers are meeting, the Education Ministers are meeting tomorrow, the biggest issue on their plate as Education Ministers is what is going to happen to schools' funding next year.

DOYLE: Now on that meeting tomorrow, as you mention, the Government's not going to outline its plans at that meeting, but we do have a pretty clear indication of where the Federal Government is heading. They've been talking about some schools being overfunded, shouldn't school funding go to those that need it the most?

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely. And under Labor's plan, the biggest increases in the fastest time go to the neediest schools. But I would be, frankly, amazed if Simon Birmingham ever comes up with a concrete proposal to cut or reduce or slow funding to overfunded schools. At the moment, we know that there's a $30 billion cut that will affect every school, in every system, in every state, but we don't know exactly how those cuts will be distributed.

DOYLE: Well on that $30 billion cut, that's a figure that Labor talks about a lot -

PLIBERSEK: Well hang on a minute, that's actually a figure -

DOYLE: That's the money that was promised over a decade by Labor, now -

PLIBERSEK: Julie I have to correct this. That is a figure that is in the Government's own Budget papers. On page seven of the Budget overview of 2014, it's got a graph that shows $30 billion of cuts from schools over the decade. That's not our figure, that's the Government's figure and if they're backpedalling from that now, then they've got a $30 billion cut in their Budget that they have to make up for. That number is in their Budget.

DOYLE: So that money that was projected over that decade, the Government's argument is that would never be there and that Labor would never have been able to provide that. Are you saying that that money could've been found?

PLIBERSEK: It was always there, of course. This is a nonsense argument from the Government. We've had a series of excuses from the Federal Government, much like the dog ate my homework series of excuses that you get from my son on occasion when he's trying not to hand his homework in. There has never been a problem with the funding. We made some very large structural changes to our Budget when we were last in Government.

DOYLE: Let's look a little bit at the notion that the Government talks a lot about, about trying to make the next funding deal fairer for schools, and more equitable. Do you see, in principle, that where some schools are being overfunded, that they should lose some of that money and it should go to schools that are underfunded?

PLIBERSEK: Well I've heard Simon Birmingham say that, I've never seen any evidence that that's what he intends to do, the only evidence is a $30 billion cut that hits everyone. But if Simon Birmingham -

DOYLE: But would you support doing that though?

PLIBERSEK: I've said many times if Simon Birmingham actually has a proposal to slow the growth of overfunded schools we're happy to look at that. We'd be delighted to work with him on that, as long as he's actually addressing the real issue here which are the $30 billion of cuts that hit the poorest schools hardest. The schools that were going to have the greatest growth because they've got the largest number of students with a disability, non-English speaking background, Indigenous students, small and remote schools, they're the ones that would really benefit massively from this extra needs-based funding – they’re the ones that have the greatest to lose. I want to see the Education Minister focusing on that.

DOYLE: Alright. Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much, we'll leave it there.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks Julie.