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Transcript of interview with Gary Hardgrave: Radio 4BC: 28 April 2011: schools funding review; BER; Federal Independents Entitlements

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Christopher Pyne, MP 

Shadow Minister for Education, Apprenticeships and Training  Manager of Opposition Business in the House   

Transcript - 4BC - 28 April 2011

Published 28/4/2011

SUBJECTS: Schools Funding Review; BER; Federal Independents Entitlements

Hardgrave: Now $617 million to be stripped from non-government schools, how many in Queensland?

Pyne: 101,025 students will be affected, that's a lot of students.

Hardgrave: I look through some of the schools, some of them I know very well, these are parish schools out of the

catholic system. We've spoken with the Catholic Education Commission yesterday and they're optimistic that they won't

go backwards, but I think worried they won't go forwards under what the government is planning.

Pyne: Well they've got to be very careful because there's an old saying that he who tries to ride the tiger usually ends

up inside it, and both the catholic and independent schools believe there should be change to the formula but they don't

want to give the excuse to the Labor Party to change the formula so that they actually lose money. What the

government's trying to do is say that funding maintained has to go and they don't say what's going to replace it. Now

the Catholics are assuming that they won't go backwards, but there's no basis for them to assume that. In Queensland

there are 101,000 students and $111 million dollars that would be removed and we both know and the listeners know

that that means school fees will go up. There's no way the schools will spend less money, how can you? Its fixed costs

essentially, unless you sack staff, which are 95% of the costs of the school. They will put up school fees, and it's not

elite schools, it's not Churchy or other schools like that, it's actually the local St Therese's or St Joseph's schools, parish


Hardgrave: I know these schools I'm talking about here very well. These are schools that are run very prudently, they're

run by a very effective relationship between the teaching professionals and the parents. They're run as a parish school

should be run.

Pyne: And they're run on the smell of an oily rag. Their school fees are anywhere between $2,000 and $3,000

maximum and they rely on the government funding to stay open. Now if the government takes this money away which is

$617 million across Australia, these schools with either close or they'll have to charge much higher school fees and

lower middle class Australians on basic incomes or below-average incomes who skip and scrape to get their kids into a

local non-government school will be the ones who are punished. Yet again the government is hitting the people who

they should be hitting the least.

Hardgrave: I can't see any of these schools closing.

Pyne: Well, how will they stay open? I mean unless the catholic education system comes up with a great deal more

money or the independent schools do or they put up their school fees, I mean there's only one option to closure, and

that's increasing their school fees at a time when cost of living pressures are killing families at the moment, grocery

prices, we saw the inflation figure yesterday, the prices are going up on things that we all use every day. Vegetables,

fruit, petrol, all going through the roof, putting enormous pressure on families and now the government wants to not only

add a carbon tax, which is another issue altogether, but they want to put up their school fees.

Hardgrave: And resource rent taxes and flood taxes and every other tax under the sun. Now, Chris, the point I guess

the catholic system's making is that they get a pool of funding, they distribute it based on the perceived need, so that all

these schools kind of all rise up in a kind of equal opportunity way, so one would guess that one way they could do it is

to cut their cloth in a certain way so some of the schools that were expecting to get something won't get something in

order to keep a school open, I would imagine that's how they would manage if the funds went down.

Pyne: They could do it that way, what they might also do is you might find that they find it much harder to take on more

disadvantaged students or even children with disabilities. I mean children with disabilities or children with learning

difficulties are more expensive to teach. Now if you have to cut your costs to suite your circumstances, you might find

that schools actually take fewer children with debilities or fewer children with disadvantages, so again, the most

vulnerable get hurt. You can't find cuts to spending in education without hurting people, there's no school that is over-spending, I mean as a local Member of Parliament I know in my own electorate that the smaller Christian schools and

the small catholic schools are not run extravagantly. Many of them still have transportable classrooms, but they'd rather

have their school open to suit the circumstances of the local community than close, and if these changes come through,

they'll face closure or higher fees.

Hardgrave: Well, what about the effect on the state government schools system? Because, it's my contention, and a lot

of callers to this program yesterday agreed with this view that if you don't have a non-government sector operating well,

you're not going to have parents subsidising the overall education cost, and you're just going to end up with a whole

bunch of kinds entering the state government sector, and the state government sector won't be able to cope with the

extra students.

Pyne: Well, if you can imagine this, the federal government pays $32 billion dollars to the non-government schools

sector, and that is about 40% of the costs of educating children in non-government schools, so you can imagine how

many billions of dollars, close to $40 billion dollars the taxpayer would have to find if every child in a non-government

school was in the government school sector. Now we saw what happened in the early sixties when the Catholics got

sick of the NSW State Government telling them how to run their school, they closed their schools in Gouldburn, and

2,000 students went around to the government schools to enrol. Now we need a strong government sector and we need

a strong non-government sector.

Hardgrave: Is that actually the thing that maybe they should consider, is shut a couple of these schools for a month or

two and send all the kids on to the state government schools and see how the government feel about it?

Pyne: Well you will soon get a political response from the non-government schools sector saying to their students that

we can't afford to keep you, you'll have to go to the local government school and we know that the system wouldn't be

able to take it.

Hardgrave: Well it's just like the health system; you need to have a public / private partnership.

Pyne: You do, you need both working together, they have a strong relationship and that's how it should be. We need a

strong government and non-government sector and with all these changes this year that will come through the

government funding of schools, you shouldn't sacrifice one sector for the other. It shouldn't be a zero sum game; you

shouldn't be taking money away from the non-government schools to give to government schools or vice versa. There

should be a focus on education which means that every boat rises, improving education and supporting the teachers. I

just had a meeting with Andrew Laming and local teachers, Principals and Deputy Principals and the one message out

of that was that we need to put a lot of effort into teachers and supporting teachers, training them, paying them properly

and giving them the flexibility in the school system to make good decisions.

Hardgrave: We've put a lot of money on infrastructure....

Pyne: $16 billion.

Hardgrave: Schools have got an assembly hall through the P'n'Cs effort a few years ago and another hall from the

taxpayer. I've seen these examples.

Pyne: It's horrific. I've been to schools in Australia where they have one library and a metre and a half from the old

library is a new library. And they just laugh and say, "how could this have happened."

Hardgrave: It had to happen.

Pyne: And they were just told they had to have it. 16 billion dollars was spent on Building the Education Revolution.

There's a hall in Queensland - a school hall was built next to the town hall. For 100 years the school had been using

the town hall for their speech days and so forth and they were told they had to have a school hall. The waste has been

extraordinary and all that money that's been wasted could have been spent on supporting teachers, on finding the

resources necessary for kids with disabilities or learning difficulties. And I think that people are - they're happy to say,

"We appreciate our new infrastructure. Of course we do...

Hardgrave: Everyone loves their new hall.

Pyne: Of course. How could you not, but nobody wants to be ripped off either. I mean if you want to put a pool in the

back of your house, if you can afford it, you're happy to have the pool but you don't want to be ripped off having it put


Hardgrave: I guess then the other question is what about the co-location of facilities. I've seen them in South Australia;

I think it was up in the Makin electorate.

Pyne: The north east of Adelaide.

Hardgrave: Where you saw the Uniting Church School, the Catholic School and State School. What a fantastic

arrangement. All three schools had a common boundary and they share...

Pyne: The biggest school in Australia. 3000 children.

Hardgrave: 3000 children educated across the campuses where they've got the critical mass for all of the subjects

which each school themselves could not possibly provide.

Pyne: It's been an enormous success and having tremendous outcomes for the students and the cross pollination of

the teachers - teaching the subjects they wanted to teach or were good at rather than being asked to teach things

they've never been trained for.

Hardgrave: You couldn't get enough teachers for year 10 chemistry from one school, but you could from the three

schools so chemistry was offered to students from all three schools.

Pyne: And the same with the sporting teams and so forth. I mean, this is innovative thinking which is what's needed in

school education rather than the ideological approach that central education departments have taken in this country for

a very long time, which crushes competition and crushes innovation.

Hardgrave: I know of schools on south side where the Catholic School is next to the State Government School and

they both got a new hall.

Pyne: It's frustrating.

Hardgrave: It's insanity.

Pyne: I know of a school in my own electorate that built through the teachers and parents own efforts a $100,000 new

playground with all the new play equipment and soft things to land on and so forth and that's where the department

decided they had to put the new school hall; on top of the new playground. The new playground was gotten rid of and a

new school hall was put on top of it.

Hardgrave: Roz is at Mount Crosby and we'll take her call, Roz are you happy to talk to Christopher Pyne about your


Caller 1: Oh, absolutely. Something that has concerned me over many, many years is that I cannot understand how

people who oppose government funding to Catholic Schools, Independent Schools, Private Schools, cannot seem to

understand that these schools actually subsidise the Government in supporting education. I mean you suddenly take

away all of those private and independent schools and suddenly put them out into the public system, how's the

Government going to be able to afford to educate all those kids?

Pyne: Well that's a very good point and of course they won't be able to do so and the whole system will grind to a halt

and that's why you have to have both a very healthy non-government sector and of course a very healthy government

sector. What the coalition wants to do if we get elected at the next election - God willing we will - is actually introduce

some non-government characteristics in government schools, so that we give principals more autonomy with the

capacity to actually hire the staff they want and to pay differentiate, pay more to the staff that stay back after school and

take the basketball team or the debating team or whichever they do which is what is happening in Western Australia.

And the interesting thing in Western Australia is that the schools that are applying to be public independent schools are

the school in the hard luck tough areas where the principal of that school and their leadership team has chosen to go to

that way because they want to make a difference.

Hardgrave: Well I think there is something in that, rewarding a great teacher with an even greater pay packet. Not a

bad idea. On another matter just while we've got you here, some of the Labor backbenchers are complaining that the

independents that seem to run this country at the moment have received a lot of additional entitlements more than

ordinary private members on both sides. This entitlement thing is always a prickly one, have you got a view on that?

Pyne: Well the backbenchers in the Labor party are complaining about lots of things to do with the independents,

another one I've heard is that their complaining that they cant get any access to ministers or the Prime Minister or even

their staff and yet the independents can get access at the drop of a hat. And that Bob brown of course is seeing the

Prime Minister or speaking to her whenever he feels like it.

Hardgrave: Bob Brown the co-Prime Minister.

Pyne: Well I call him Mr Prime Minister when I pass him in the corridor which he rather likes, but no-body else does. But

they are right, the Independents are being given a bigger staff entitlement and of course the daddy of them all is that to

choose the government, to choose the current government, they got enormous benefits for their electorates and

whether that's being done on merit or whether its being done for other reasons is a very good question.

Hardgrave: OK, thirty pieces of silver eh?

Pyne: Oh you said so, OK.

Hardgrave: Alright, Christopher Pyne, good to see you. Thank you for that. The hit list for private schools from 2004 is


Pyne: Well there were 67 schools on the Latham Hit list; there are 1075 on the Garret hit list

Hardgrave: OK, alright, thanks for your time, Christopher Pyne the Shadow Minister for Education