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Transcript of interview with Julie Doyle: ABC News 24: 6 February 2017: Cory Bernardi; Liberal party division and dysfunction; schools' funding

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SUBJECTS: Cory Bernadi; Liberal party division and dysfunction; Schools’ funding.

JULIE DOYLE: Tanya Plibersek, thanks for joining me. Let’s start with this news about Cory Bernardi’s impending departure from the Liberal Party. Is he tapping into some changing sentiment in the community that we’re seeing post-Brexit and with Donald Trump in the US as well? Is this an issue that you see for your side of politics as well?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Look, I think the most interesting thing about the rumours about Cory Bernadi leaving the Liberal Party is it shows just how divided and dysfunctional this Government is. I don’t know that it makes a great deal of difference - people have been expecting something like this perhaps from Cory Bernardi, but the distraction it causes is very serious for the Government. Instead of being focused on jobs, on Medicare, on education as they should be, there’s a continuation of their internal chaos and division.

DOYLE: Are there lessons here though, for Labor as well, about addressing dissatisfaction in the community? Your Party has to stay relevant as well.

PLIBERSEK: I don’t think this is about the Labor Party at all, I think this is about Malcolm Turnbull’s weak leadership, about the fact that he’s been pulled away from the ideas and values that he used to stand up for by the extreme right of the Liberal Party. And it shows it doesn’t matter how far he capitulates to their demands he can never satisfy them. I suppose one thing is important for Labor and it’s to continue to demonstrate that we are united and ready to govern. We are focused on those issues of jobs, on Medicare, on education, the things that make a difference to people’s lives. Not on internal problems the way the Liberals are.

DOYLE: Let’s talk about education funding now, which is your area as Shadow Education Minister. Now, you’ve written a letter to the Prime Minister asking him to update the Parliament about the Government’s plans for school funding. Hasn’t the Government been pretty clear so far about its policies when it comes to education?

PLIBERSEK: Well no they’ve been all over the place. I mean, originally this Government said you could vote Labor or Liberal and there wouldn’t be a dollar’s difference to your school. Their very first Budget, they cut $30 billion from Australian schools. During the last election campaign the Prime Minister said perhaps the Federal Government should stop funding public schools altogether. And there is a great deal of uncertainty in the community, there will be a COAG meeting shortly to determine school funding for next year. We say that the Government should stick to its original commitment and properly fund the full six years of the Gonski school education funding that they committed to.

DOYLE: But they’ve already said that they won’t do that though.

PLIBERSEK: Well they said in their first Budget that they were cutting $30 billion out of our schools and that is very clearly a broken promise. And the parents, the teachers, the principals, the children of Australia should hold them to account for that. But there is a great deal of uncertainty about next year, schools don’t know whether they can be employing teachers, extend the extra teachers that they’ve put on because of needs-based funding that are working one-on-one with children, that are helping them with their literacy and their numeracy, making sure that kids who are falling behind are able to catch up. We don’t know whether those programs will be able to continue under this Government. Kids deserve that sort of certainty.

DOYLE: Well you’ve asked the Prime Minister to update the Parliament and the community about how much funding the Government intends to provide to schools in coming years, how much to each system and each school, but as we’ve been talking about, the Government is negotiating with the states and territories at the moment for a new funding agreement from next year onwards, so how can they provide that information at this point, when they’re still in these negotiations?

PLIBERSEK: Well they’re providing all sorts of thought bubbles, including things like the Prime Minister saying that perhaps the Federal Government shouldn’t fund public schools at all. We know that schools need to be able to plan for the future, we know that disadvantaged schools that were benefiting most from the extra funding were doing things like putting on specialist literacy and numeracy teachers, making sure that highly skilled teachers were able to mentor newer, younger teachers, making sure that there were extra resources for kids who are gifted and talented to extend their gifts. They need the certainty to continue those sorts of programs. Disadvantaged schools in particular need to be able to plan over the next few years. They can’t do this in this world of uncertainty.

DOYLE: But how can they do that now when they’re still in these negotiations and we haven’t seen a final agreement reached with the states and territories?

PLIBERSEK: Well it would be really good to have a public discussion about this Government’s intention in an environment where they actually put some numbers on

the table that we can debate. We’ve had a different position every few months from the Government. We’ve had no difference at all between Labor and Liberal funding agreements, then we had a $30 billion dollar cut, and now there’s continued uncertainty because of these negotiations with the states and territories. Let’s have a public discussion about how we properly fund our school system, let’s talk about the huge difference that this funding is already starting to make in our most disadvantaged schools, and let’s talk about the pathway to properly funding our schools according to the needs-based funding model.

DOYLE: Now you’ve said in your letter that Labor will work constructively with the Government where possible to improve schools. One thing that the Government has been pushing a lot recently is this testing of year one students to identify problems early on, do you support that?

PLIBERSEK: We absolutely support identifying problems early on. But what you have to do once you identify those problems is have the resources to teach those children one-on-one, to help them catch up. We know that the earlier you intervene with a child who, say, starts school with poor pre-literacy or pre-numeracy skills because they haven’t been to preschool, or starts school with something like a speech impediment - the earlier you intervene, the better for that student, and in fact the better for your education costs over time. Because early intervention costs less than dramatic interventions later in a child’s schooling. So by all means, let’s identify the kids who need extra help, but then let’s put the resources into helping those children.

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

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, it’s a pleasure.