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Transcript of interview with Fran Kelly: ABC RN Breakfast: 7 December 2016: school's funding; the Government's climate change policy review

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SUBJECTS: Schools’ funding; the Government’s climate change policy review.

FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, good morning, welcome to Breakfast.


KELLY: Simon Birmingham says these results are worrying and they certainly are, because they show us not just standing still while others go ahead, but our students are actually going backwards in terms of standards of maths, reading and science. This is a real concern, isn’t it?

PLIBERSEK: Of course it is, Fran. We saw results last week from TIMSS that showed Australia flat lining and other countries overtaking us, but this is a different test, PISA shows that we are actually, on the raw data, actually going backwards in some areas and that is a very significant concern.

KELLY: So what to do about it, and I know you’ve been engaged in this discussion over the last few weeks on the airwaves, but school funding, here’s the facts: it’s increased by 50 per cent in this country since 2003, and yet all this time results have gone backwards. How can we be spending 16 billion on schools alone this year, and have our reading abilities dropping by a full year? Clearly, something is very wrong. More money, worse results.

PLIBERSEK: Well Fran, I think the figures that you’re quoting kind of hide the facts. The biggest cost increases to education are the normal wage increases that you see in any workforce, and of course we’ve got more kids going to school. What we’re missing is a proper needs-based funding system that directs extra funding to the kids

who are falling behind. And what the PISA results show is a highly inequitable education funding system, leading to highly inequitable results. In fact, if you look at the period between the year 2000 and 2015, where our results have really taken a dive over that 15 year period, school funding has become less equitable: we see kids in remote areas, regional areas, falling behind, and we see kids from low SES schools, poorer schools, falling behind. So as our funding distribution has become less equitable, our results have got worse. And the OECD evidence about this is very clear: what you need is a high excellence education system and a high equity education system, so that all our kids get the chance to achieve their best.

KELLY: So that means, because look at the dollars, and Australia ranks fifth highest in the OECD when it comes to education funding, so we were up there in terms of our total of funding, but if the equity is the issue, then why did you tell Fairfax media a few days ago that there’s no compelling case to cut funding to wealthy schools and redistribute funding to other schools?

PLIBERSEK: Because, Fran, it doesn’t even touch the sides Fran. First of all, I don’t believe Simon Birmingham would really ever do that, I don’t believe he’d be allowed to by his Cabinet -

KELLY: Well that’s not the question though, the question is when you look at the Grattan model, for instance -

PLIBERSEK: Yes, the Grattan model would actually take $100 million a year from what they call overfunded schools, they’re talking about a billion dollars over a decade. $30 billion is what the Government has cut from our school system. It does not even begin to touch the sides. So it’s not a priority area. And what Simon Birmingham wants to do is set school against school, system against system, state against state, all as a cover for the $30 billion that they’ve cut from our schools, Fran. This is the central issue here.

KELLY: This is the money [inaudible]?

PLIBERSEK: The central issue is the massive cuts from the 2014 budget and the fact that Simon Birmingham will be meeting the state education ministers on the 16th of December, and he still doesn't have a proposal for years five and six of the Gonski needs-based funding that should have been rolled out, that states were promised, that kids were promised - he still doesn't have a proposal for whether he's going to properly fund those years five of six or whether he's going to break that promise to Australian school children.

KELLY: Ok but the Grattan scheme is - ok there's going to be more money in the system in these without the out years funding that you're talking about, which is a big whack of money, I appreciate. But within the system, given inflation rates have dropped, wage indexation has dropped, there's an extra $3 billion, and the Gonski model says, "let's take that off the schools that are getting above the odds, according to the SRS, and give it to those who are still lagging behind and then we'll be at 95 per cent of the Gonski recommended per student funding". Isn't that a good start?

PLIBERSEK: Fran, we would have reached the recommended level - for the majority of states that signed up with Labor - in 2019. They would have reached the Schooling Resource Standard, which is the rate that the Gonski model -

KELLY: Not some of the poorer schools, according to the Grattan modelling.

PLIBERSEK: Fran, the states that signed up early would have reached the Schooling Resource Standard by 2019. There is no year now in prospect where they're going to reach the Schooling Resource Standard because of these cuts. And the Grattan model essentially says that all schools should accept a lower level of funding, and they should get it more slowly. So, I'm not a big fan of what they're proposing. I think the proposal is about investing in highly skilled teachers, I think that's a good element of this report. But any suggestion and any cover for the Government that says we should fund our schools less, and we should do it more slowly, I don't support. And I think that this is exactly what Simon Birmingham wants us to be doing, which is arguing over system against system, school against school, when the central problem here is we've got underfunded schools, particularly in remote and regional areas, particularly in poorer neighbourhoods, and everything this government has done takes money away from those schools and undermines the reform agenda. Now what you hear from the Government is "it's not all about the dollars, it's also about what we do in our classrooms", of course that's true. We 100 per cent agree with that. That's why in the National Education Reform Agreement that we signed with the states we had four pages of reforms that we wanted - a list of four pages of reforms. So, about initial teacher education, about how to select great teachers, about how to support them in continuing professional development when they're in the classroom, about more individual attention for kids who are struggling, or more individual attention for kids who are gifted and talented, to extend them. I mean, all of these reforms are something that we have always demanded of the states and when Christopher Pyne became the Education Minister he said, "I'm going to treat the states as adults, I'm not going to require any of these transparency, accountability, or reform measures.

KELLY: Can I ask you-

PLIBERSEK: Fran, can I just tell you one more thing about the funding. These tests, both PISA and TIMSS, were taken about - one of them a year into the extra funding, one of them a year and a half into the extra funding -

KELLY: Into the Gonski funding.

PLIBERSEK: Yes. You're talking about seven to nine per cent of the extra funding having flowed, and I think it's very problematic when the Government says, "well, you know, you put extra money in and it doesn't make any difference". We know the extra funding is making a difference in schools. I see it in every school I visit, and it's important that people know that.

KELLY: Alright. On another issue, on climate change, because the Government appeared to be floating in an emissions-intensive scheme for the electricity sector, which is essentially a base load and credit scheme, involves emissions trading. It's

now slammed the door shut on that. Should the Government be ruling things out so early on in the process?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it's extraordinary that you had Josh Frydenberg say that, yes the Government was considering it, and then the right wing of the Liberal Party come out and yank his chain and he's gone right back to "no I never said it". What an absurd proposition. What we know that what electricity generators and what industry and business more broadly say they want from an Australian government is some certainty, some predictability. And what they're getting instead is chaos. They've got an ideological war in the Liberal Party actually directing what happens with energy policy in this country. Of course, the best way we can reduce carbon pollution is to put a price on it. We believe that that would give one of the elements of certainty we need in Australia to invest in renewable energy, and we know we have to do that.

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

PLIBERSEK: Thanks Fran.