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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 3 September 2012: changes to school funding; Cubbie Station; Asylum seekers
Hon Christopher Pyne MP Doorstop - Parliament House 3 September 2012
SUBJECTS: Changes to school funding; Cubbie Station; Asylum seekers
Christopher Pyne: Thank you for coming to this press conference on the Prime Minister’s speech at the National Press Club today. I think the Prime Minister’s speech can best be described as all feathers and no meat. In some respects it was a non-response to the Gonski review. Some would say it was worse than no response at all because the Prime Minister has continued the uncertainty surrounding school funding rather than ending that uncertainty with a certain government policy. The Prime Minister has done the opposite of what the Coalition has done. She has laid out their aspirations and plans and a non-response to the Gonski review. The Coalition on the other hand has a very clear policy for schools; we will index schools at 6 per cent. That $4.2 billion over the next four years of the funding quadrennium. We will have a relentless focus on teacher quality, on a robust school curriculum and on principal autonomy. And we will address the inequity that currently exists in the funding of children with a disability. The sector, both the state and the territories, the Catholic sector and the independent schools will be very disappointed with the Prime Minister’s speech today. It was long on rhetoric and long on aspirations. The Prime Minister has left unanswered a number of very key questions. What is the indexation rate going to be for schools? How much money is the government going to put into a new school funding model?
This goal of being in the top five countries in the world by 2025 leaves a number of questions unanswered. Is the Prime Minister seriously comparing Australia’s performance in school education to that of Singapore, Shanghai or Hong Kong that are city states with very different challenges to the one Australia faces. Why aren’t there intermediate tests along the way between now and 2025? And since the PISA testing starts again in 2025, essentially it takes 2 years to resolve it, really she is giving herself a 15 year gap before her promise of today is actually tested. We know we couldn’t trust the Prime Minster to keep a promise not to introduce the carbon tax for one term, and yet she is expecting us to trust that she will deliver a promise for schools that lasts three terms from today. The Prime Minister also hasn’t released the modelling. The sector needs the modelling the government is relying on to know if they are worse off or if they are better off. So the School Hit List of 3,254 schools including 2,300 public schools is still very much alive today because the government has not released its modelling. In the Prime Minister’s speech she talks about a parent’s capacity to contribute to the education of their children in the non-government school sector. This by any other means is a means test for parents of non-government schools to determine the funding that school will attract. That is a significant departure from the current measure of how schools are funded.
She talked about the school resourcing standard; a benchmark for all students as though there isn’t one now. Of course we have the AGSRC; the Average Government School Recurrent Cost to educate a child. That is the current benchmark that the SES model relies on. The SES funding model is an objective test based on ABS data. Essentially the Prime Minister is expecting us to believe a promise on the never-never. Now parents expect a great deal more. Parents want to know what governments are going to do for their children today and tomorrow, not in 2020, not in 2025. Children who haven’t even been born yet that the Prime Minister is expecting us to believe that they will benefit from a policy that is being announced today that won’t have its full affect until 2020 and won’t be tested until 2025. So the Coalition is deeply disappointed with the Prime Minister’s response. The sector will be deeply disappointed and as I said this is an all feathers and no meat response. It is not a response to the Gonski review at all. In fact the Gonski report is more detailed about what they believe should happen than the Prime Minister’s response today.
Journalist: Mr Pyne, the head of the Independent Schools Association has said that she is comforted and assured by the repeated assurances that the independent schools would get money and she also said that she is also happy to keep working with the government on actually implementing this (inaudible) and it is needed for independent schools. So if the independent schools sector is saying that they are feeling happy with the assurances, why are you saying they are not?
Pyne: Well Bill Daniels is a bloke, so I assume you are referring to Bill Daniels as he is the head of ISCA?
Journalist: (inaudible) AHISA.
Pyne: That’s AHISA. Well AHISA is one organisation in the school sector. The key organisations in terms of the funding of schools are ISCA which is the Independent Schools Council of Australia and the NCEC which is the National Catholic Education Commission and all the states and territories. Now I would be very interested to see their response because they abhor uncertainty. It takes years to turn a school around in terms of funding. It is not possible that a school can have year-by-year funding and the Prime Minister has not put any meat on the bones today of what the government will be doing in terms of the funding, the actual dollars on the ground in schools. I would expect school sectors to come out and say they welcome the government or the Prime Minister’s interest in schools. I note she now has an education crusade. Tony Blair of course had an education crusade, she is simply borrowing from Tony Blair’s copy book in her rhetoric. We had the education revolution in 2007 and now we have the education crusade but what parents what to know, what principals must know is where is the money coming from? How much is it going to be, what is the Commonwealth’s contribution to that going to be? What is the indexation going to be? Now the Coalition can promise 6 per cent indexation. Schools need to know how much indexation the government is going to provide. But they also want to know what this means test for parents of non-government schools is going to look like. The Prime Minister in her speech today talked about her pride in introducing a means test for the Private Health Insurance rebate. So non-government school parents can look forward to a means test on the funding for non-government schools. They need to know what the details are. The sector was expecting detail today and they got nothing at all. They got all feathers and no meat.
Journalist: If Julia Gillard does manage to reach an agreement with the states and territories and the Catholic and independent school sectors, are you still committed to repealing it if you become education minister? (inaudible) Would you tell them to hold off and you will get a better deal under a Liberal government?
Pyne: Repealing what? We don’t know what the government’s response will actually be,. The Prime Minister should actually come back to the National Press Club next Monday and do another speech where she actually outlines the detail of the government’s policy. The Coalition can’t commit to
repealing something that doesn’t exist. The government has said they will introduce legislation. Now we know that the legislation will be a new national bureaucracy, more red tape. Labor is very good at introducing red tape and bureaucracies but not very good at delivering actual outcomes for students. If all the government’s Bill is going to be is an aspiration then how can the Coalition commit to repealing or not repealing an aspiration? So we need to see what the government’s real response to the Gonski review is and we didn’t’ get that today.
Journalist: Given that the government has to put in new funding arrangements of some description for 2014 because there is no money that year, won’t it be very difficult for the Coalition if you get government in the next election to wind that back anyway because that will be set in another 4-6 year agreement or whatever it is?
Pyne: Well let’s wait and see what the government actually does. The Prime Minster is talking about coming to an agreement with the states and territories next year. Well as you know Justine the funding model finishes at the end of 2013. What this legislation is going to look like this year before any agreement has actually been reached with the states and territories is essentially a moot point. Parents and principals and the non-government sector and the state education ministers are no more the wiser today from listening to the Prime Minister’s speech. So the Coalition will obviously consider whatever the government actually comes up with eventually in legislation and in a plan next year and see how that fits with our ambitions for school funding. If it doesn’t fit with what we think is good for schools, we will look at how we can address that in government but my sense is that the government will roll over the SES funding model again to buy more time to get through another election without actually having a policy and we didn’t get a policy from the Prime Minister today.
Journalist: So Mr Pyne are you saying that you don’t see the Prime Minister and states coming to an agreement by the beginning of next year and it becoming a big election issue?
Pyne: Well the Prime Minister has set herself a very long term goal as she wants the Parliament to consider the legislation this year. We don’t even know what that looks like. She wants to get an agreement with the states sometime early to mid next year. As you know the election is due in August next year so my sense is that she will say we haven’t been able to reach an agreement, we don’t know what the detail is and we will have to run through the SES funding model again to get through another election because if the government actually has to put meat on the bones what will become apparent to people is that there isn’t any money and that therefore they will be losers.
Journalist: So you think the states will reject this?
Pyne: I don’t know what the states will do. What the states will do is a matter for them. But I think that if you talk about Western Australia where there are 50% of their children are now in independent schools; more than 50% of their teachers are at independent schools. Western Australia is the only state that is reversing the shift so rather than there being a movement from government schools to non-government schools. In Western Australia there is now a move toward non-government schools to government schools; the only state in the country because they are making their independent government schools more like non-government schools. Now why should Western Australia sign up to a new national school authority that seeks to impose on them a new regulatory red tape environment when they are actually doing the job that parents want otherwise they wouldn’t be taking their children out of non-government schools to put them into government schools.
Journalist: If the Prime Minister does reach an agreement with the states and the other school sectors early next year, are you open to keeping that in place?
Pyne: Well David I think we are jumping the gun dramatically here. There are a lot of ifs. The Prime Minister didn’t actually resolve any of the “ifs” today. She left more questions unanswered. She created aspirations for 2025, for 2020 this new scheme is supposed to be in place that’s more than three elections away. She didn’t explain what the indexation levels were going to be, she didn’t answer any of the questions that the fourth estate put to her today about the share between the Commonwealth and the states. The states haven’t got an enormous amount of money. Western Australia is the only state budget that isn’t really broke. The federal government has made massive commitments in recent months to the NDIS of over $10 billion, the dental scheme of over $4 billion, the submarines in South Australia $36 billion. If $6.5 billion comes from the Commonwealth for this Gonski reform that is over $26 billion in the four year cycle. This is a massive budget blackhole that the Government needs to fill has not been answered. How are they going to do that? Where is the money going to come from?
Journalist: The funding is going to be negotiated with the states. Today wasn’t about announcing a new funding model, a needs based funding model. Earlier you said you would be keen to hear what Bill Daniels has said. He does express concern over the lack of detail and timeframe but he supports that funding model.
Pyne: Well we already have a needs based funding model. It is the SES funding model. Schools get more funds depending if their parents come from low SES backgrounds and they get less funds if their parents come from high SES backgrounds. And that is for both government and non-government schools. We didn’t see from the Prime Minister today any commitment to any kind of model. It was full of rhetoric and all on the never-never down the track. Now we can’t trust the Prime Minister to deliver anything. They are very long on promises and very short on delivery, this government. And I think Bill Daniel’s response, and I am sure the Catholic’s response, will be what can we say about this speech today when it has absolutely no detail in it. And schools need to know what the rate of indexation will be. That is vitally important. The Prime Minister constantly speaks of no school losing one dollar but if there isn’t the 6% indexation then in real terms they will lose dollars. So schools will lose, they will be losers. And we know that there will be 3,254 losers just in the Gonski modelling. If the Prime Minister has nothing to hide, if the government has nothing to hide, why don’t they release their modelling?
Journalist: Half of all the non-government schools are not funding according to the SES model, so they are not funded on the basis of that?
Pyne: Well they have a funding maintained model.
Journalist: …it is not correct to say we have a needs based model now.
Pyne: Well Justine the government says no school will be worse off. So if they are going to keep funding maintained but not call it funding maintained that means a massively higher indexation rate for those schools. Now one of the things that Mr Gonski talked about was how complex the current system is. If the government introduces a model with differential indexation it will be even more complex and convoluted than the current system. So if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The truth is the SES model is working; schools are getting funds to go to need. 80% of the funding from all governments goes to public schools and they educate 66% of the students. 20% goes to non-government and they educate 34% of the students.
Journalist: On this legislation (inaudible) we would be a top five performing school system by 2025. This is going to be introduced this year. Will you vote for that or do you see this as a stunt?
Pyne: Well what does that mean? A goal of 2025 being in the top five schools? South Korea, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore are in the top five school systems in the world at the moment. Three of them are city-states and one of them has a homogenous system. Finland is another one
and has an entire homogenous population of 4 million people. I mean the Prime Minister has established this new benchmark for herself. I doubt she will be the Prime Minister in 2025 and so she has yet again raised expectations amongst parents and parents are not mugs. Parents want to know what governments are going to do for their children tomorrow, not in 2025. (inaudible) Vote against what? We haven’t got any legislation. It is impossible for the Coalition to say we are going to vote an aspiration. How do you vote against an aspiration; we have no legislation on the table. The Prime Minister hasn’t indicated what will be in the legislation. Will the indexation rate be in the legislation? Will it simply be the new National Schools Authority? Is that what they are going to do? Establish a bureaucracy? We don’t know. So the Prime Minister has gone out and given a speech, expects applause and praise for announcing basically a great nothingness. Parents of the 3.5 million children in schools want real answers. The Coalition can give it to them. We are going to have 6% indexation on the current quantum. That means more money for all schools both government and non-government schools. We are going to relentlessly focus on teacher quality, on a robust curriculum, implementing real principal autonomy similar to what is going on in Western Australian.
Journalist: Those points on teacher quality and principal autonomy, they are really tying into the government’s program as well. (inaudible) The independent report said there needs to be a big injection of funds into the schooling system to fix the poor performance at the moment. So how much more money will it take to improve teacher quality and implementing principal autonomy?
Pyne: Well that is a good question because implementing teacher quality and principal autonomy doesn’t cost a huge amounts of money. It is not billions of dollars. It is about the Coalition government negotiating with the universities throughout our University Compacts to get better quality teacher training. It is about better professional development for teachers. It is about encouraging the states to pay their teachers commensurate to their ability. In terms of principal autonomy, that is a matter for each of the states to implement and the Coalition would encourage them and support them in doing so. But that doesn’t cost huge amounts of money. But the Coalition is committed to $4.2 billion of new money for schools through 6% indexation. Now what the sector wants to know is where is the modelling? What is does the government’s modelling show that they will not release? Why are they so frightened to come clean with the sector and release their modelling? And what is the indexation rate going to be? Secondly, how much more red tape is there going to be as a consequence of these new reporting requirements. Schools already have a whole slew of reporting requirements because they are run by the state governments. Is this going to be simply another level of bureaucracy and red tape and reporting requirements on top of what they already do?
Journalist: So you don’t think we should be benchmarking against I guess other countries? You are not concerned about falling behind these other countries?
Pyne: Well I am concerned that we are spending 44% more on public education in the last ten years and our outcomes are falling. I am concerned that the government is yet again not focusing on the things that matters. That is high quality teachers primarily, parental engagement, the curriculum and principal autonomy. We should be benchmarking ourselves against countries that are like Australia. Like Canada for example which is a very good example which they have a similar indigenous population. They have a multicultural population, they have a land mass not unlike our own and similar traditions and so on. Now comparing ourselves to a city-state like Singapore or Hong Kong or Shanghai is not a genuine comparison. This is simply meaningless rhetoric that the Prime Minister has created to try and get a cheap headline today or as she leaked it to the News Limited papers yesterday and I’m sure she will regard that as an achievement. Yet again the Prime Minister is squibbing the real decisions that needs to be made in education. And it is not about rhetoric is it about real results.
Journalist: The Union is actually characterising your response to this and has over time as an attack on the public school sector. Today they have made an appeal to either get on board or get out of the way. What is your response to that?
Pyne: Well I would ask the education unions; get out of the way of what? I mean what we have seen today is a great blancmange of a speech from the Prime Minister harkening back to her school girl days at Unley High School and expecting to tug on all of our heart strings. Public policy is not about tugging on people’s heart strings. It is about real, genuine policy reform. Which the Coalition is offering using the example of the Western Australian independent public schools. I can’t get out of the way of a blancmange and that is what the Prime Minister has offered today. I am prepared to work with the unions and with the sectors to produce good policy in government. I have always been open to doing that and we all want higher quality teaching and we all want good student outcomes. And if the unions want that then I’m with them.
Journalist: Would a Coalition government introduce a minimum entry standard for teaching in universities?
Pyne: Well we would consider it, Justine. I don’t think it is the answer to the problems amongst teacher quality. The reason the ATAR scores for entry standards for teachers is so low is because there is a low demand for students to do teaching and therefore the ATAR score is low. The more attractive teaching is as a profession, the more if you work harder and you get paid more it makes the teaching profession more attractive. If you get rewarded and recognised for your hard work in the school it becomes more attractive and therefore people will want to enter into teaching as a profession. It is not about setting benchmarks for ATAR scores which don’t reflect the demand for the particular courses. I notice the Prime Minister talking about Teach for Australia today as her example of what could be done. The government didn’t support Teach for Australia; they established another scheme called Teach Next. They absolutely copied Teach for Australia, they can’t get the demand for Teach Next that Teach for Australia gets because governments never do these things as well as the private sector and yet the Prime Minster was trying to wear the clothes of Teach for Australia while she was the Minister that introduced Teach Next. Now if Teach for Australia is so good, then why did she introduce Teach Next?
Journalist: Just going back to what you said before about if the system ain’t broke, don’t fix it - don’t the results of where our students are at the moment show that the system is broken?
Pyne: Well the SES funding model is needs based, it is also based on objective data and it rewards private investment in schools. The question you are asking is a good one because it suggests that funding is the only way to improve student outcomes. The Coalition and parents across the country knows that is simply not true. If we have increased our funding by 44% in the last ten years, and our outcomes have declined, then clearly increased spending is not the answer to better student outcomes. Better student outcomes will be achieved and even Mr Gonski said in his report that 87% of the reasons why students did better at school was because of parental engagement, was because of quality curriculum, because of teacher quality and because of principal autonomy. He said only 13% of the reasons why students didn’t do well at school was because of socio-economic status.
Journalist: So are you concerned then if you increase funding into schools it will be throwing our good money at the bad?
Pyne: We will want to see the correct and appropriate amount of money for schools so that they can do the job that we want them to do which is to improve the outcomes of our students and set them up for a good quality life. But I don’t fall for the myth that that somehow big billion dollar promises is the panacea of all of the ills of the school system, because it isn’t. I mean let’s just take the current model; the Catholics spend less per student than students in public schools have spent on them, right now. Sure, independent students have more money spent on them, Catholics are lower
than public school system spending yet the Catholics are getting fantastic results. So if it is all about money how does that fit with the facts?
Journalist: They often have smaller class sizes and a very different way of teaching which may contribute to that which you may not be conceiving in your answer there.
Pyne: Well if they have a different way of teaching that produces better outcomes, then shouldn’t we make our public schools more like the non-government schools that have better results? And in terms of class sizes, all the research will tell you that class sizes is a great myth that somehow small class sizes produce better outcomes. That is simply not true. Our school class sizes have been declining over the last 10-20 years; our outcomes have been becoming worse. School class sizes have been a holy grail for states and territories. It has been a great race amongst both Coalition and Labor governments at the state level to have the smallest class sizes. Tragically, what’s been proven is that it hasn’t made any difference to student outcomes.
Journalist: The Prime Minister indicated she is comfortable fighting school funding at the next election, are you?
Pyne: Well the next election will be a referendum of the carbon tax. It will be a referendum on who is best to manage our borders. I think on both of those issues the Labor party is a long way behind the Coalition. Education funding is a very important issue. In 2004 the Labor party had a School Hit List which arguably damaged them in the election campaign. There is now another 3,254 School Hit List and in the absence of the government’s modelling that is the only figure we have to work off. That is one in every three schools will be worse off if the government’s Gonski review would be implemented. Education is always an important issue and as a father of four children in schools it is a very important to me. But it is not the only issue for the next election.
Journalist: Can I ask you another issue then in relation to Cubbie Station, can you clarify the Coalition’s position on where you stand; do you support the sale?
Pyne: I think that foreign investment is very important to Australia. Our country is being built on foreign investment. The Foreign Investment Review Board is, as I understand it, reviewed the sale of Cubbie Station and has agreed been agreed to by the Treasurer that that should go ahead. I am comfortable with that outcome.
Journalist: On another issue if we are going to go to non-portfolio matters, Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison’s plan to send Sri Lankan asylum seekers sort of directly back without setting a foot in Australian soil is they put it in their press releases. Did that go to Shadow Cabinet and is that something that you are supportive of?
Pyne: Well I never talk about things that happen in Shadow Cabinet but turning back the boats where it is safe to do so is a very important leg to the Coalition’s three-legged stool of defending our borders. Re-opening Nauru and off-shore processing, turning back the boats where it is safe to do so, and of course Temporary Protection Visas. And the fact that the boats are still arriving in great numbers indicate that unless the government does all three the boats will keep coming.
Journalist: So that was a considered position taken by the Coalition?
Pyne: Well turning back the boats when it is safe to do so has been our policy for about eleven years.
Journalist: In terms of Sri Lanka though?
Pyne: Well Sri Lanka has had a civil war and the civil war has finished. The Sri Lankan government is welcoming Tamils back to their country and if it is safe to return those asylum seekers if they are
economic refugees then economic refugees are not the kinds of refugees we have accepted in Australia, essentially for decades.
Journalist: Even though Sri Lanka is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention?
Pyne: Well I think I have answered the question. Okay, thank you.