1 TREASURY PLACE
SUNDAY 4 AUGUST
Subject/s: Better Schools Plan
BILL SHORTEN: We have good news for the parents of 867,000 school children in Victoria who attend government schools. Children who attend 2233 schools across Victoria. The news that these parents and their students and the hardworking teachers and staff of their schools is that today the Federal Government of Prime Minister Rudd has concluded an agreement with Premier Napthine on behalf of the state of Victoria to embrace the Better Schools Plan of the Federal Government.
What this means specifically for students attending government schools in Victoria is that they will see an extra $6.8 billion from the commonwealth and an extra $5.4 billion from the state of Victoria, a total of $12.2 billion, in extra money flowing through in the next six years to every government school in Victoria.
What the Better Schools plan means for parents and children and teachers in Victorian government schools is that they will get, every child, every individual child, who we all know is unique, will receive that extra support which every child needs to get the best start in life.
The Federal Government shares the goal of the Victorian Government and indeed of all Victorian school parents that we want every child to get the best start in life for their school years.
The Better School Plan means that there will be more support for the children in terms of equipment, in terms of the books and the computers they need. There will be more support for the children who perhaps are doing it hard in skills and numeracy and really need a hand up to be able to keep up. There will be those children who are currently in Victoria's government schools who are doing really well, who really, with some extra support, could really expand their personal horizons of imagination and creativity.
What we know about this Plan is that it is based upon three years of meticulous work by both the Federal Government and the Victorian Government. We know that to have the best schools in Australia, we know that to have the children getting the best start in life, our future, that they need to be able to compete with the rest of the world with the best education they can get.
We know that Australian parents and Victorian parents don't expect their children every day to have to be happy. But they do expect and they plan that by the time they finish school after 13 years of schooling, they will at least have the educational skills to be resilient and to get a good job in the future.
We know, and parents know, that education requires 100 per cent commitment. It requires 100 per cent funding. I believe that Victoria's school parents, and school parents throughout Australia, expect politicians, regardless of their politics, to have the same forensic passion to plan for the future of their children that parents themselves display every day with the sacrifices they make and with the efforts that our teachers make.
We also know that what this plan will mean is it will mean that Victorian school children are now getting the same deal as children attending independent schools, children attending Catholic schools in Victoria and throughout Australia. That now Victorian school children will be getting the same deal that children in New South Wales government schools are getting, that children in Tasmanian, Canberra and South Australian schools are getting.
In fact now with this break-through agreement done through the leadership of the Victorian Government and the Federal Government, 78 in every 100 school children in Australia are in jurisdictions who have put their hand up and said, we want to be part of the future. We want to be part of a fully funded, fully costed, fully committed education system in this country. Better Schools will benefit every student and we would call upon those states and territory administrations who are holding out, who perceive some fear of a Canberra power grab, to understand that people across the political divide, including my Liberal counterparts here, have looked at what Federal Labor has said and they've said, we want to be part of this.
So thank you very much and I'd like to hand over to my colleague, who's worked very hard on this proposition, Martin Dixon, Victoria's Minister for Education.
MARTIN DIXON: Thank you very much, Bill, and it really is a pleasure to be here, because today this announcement is a great thing for Victorian students and every Victorian school. And I think every Victorian family who has children at school will be very pleased with the outcome of this funding deal. Because it means that, along with our funding - along with our reform agenda here in Victoria, it means that every child in every classroom will now be able to reach their potential. And it also means that Victoria can now become one of the top tier performers in the world. And that is something that we've always aspired to. That is our joint aspiration and I know that's something that every parent wants for their child.
Right from the start, Victoria entered into these negotiations with an open mind. We've always had principles on which we based all of our negotiations and they were that a funding deal had to be economically sustainable for us. It had to recognise the prime role of the state of Victoria to deliver education and manage education in their state. But also the special autonomy that Victorian schools enjoy, that no other state government schools enjoy. And we also did not want any take-over of education by Canberra. And both myself and the premier have been very, very firm on those principles. And what we have today is an agreement that meets those principles.
It's been a hard road, but it has been worthwhile for the students in each individual school and it's been worthwhile for our system of education, the top system in the country. And gives us the opportunity, with our reform agenda, to ensure that every child has the potential to - or can reach their potential.
And, as Bill said, it doesn't matter whether the child is at the top of the class, in the middle, or has real issues, educational or social issues, that they bring to their school, they now have even greater opportunities along with their teachers and in their schools and within their community to reach their potential. And that is what education is about and that is what is so important for us here in Victoria, as far as education is concerned. Thank you.
BILL SHORTEN: Happy to take questions.
QUESTION: How were concerns allayed that there would be a federal take-over of Victorian schools?
BILL SHORTEN: We've allayed them in three ways, but obviously Martin will have his views. First of all, the first argument which we thought about, this is not some sort of take-over. Because if it was, why on earth would the Catholic bishops of Australia have signed up to it and the Catholic Church jealously guards its prerogatives in education and they've said it's fine. Premier O'Farrell is no less a committed leader for New South Wales than any other premier in Australia and he's concluded that what we're proposing is in the best interests of school children in New South Wales.
In addition, we had constructive dialogue with both Minister Dixon and directly with Premier Napthine and we've been able to put into writing, to express our commitment that the commonwealth is not interested in any unilateral decision-making with regard to Victoria's schools. Victoria runs its schools. The commonwealth, though, guards its prerogative to make sure that we get the most efficient use of taxpayers' money. Put another way, I think that the view that what really matters here is not politics but the best interests of Victoria's school children and we're able to meet our differences and defeat them and come through united.
What is most important here is that our children in Victoria expect their adults and their leaders to show the same sort of bravery that kids approach the future with. The same sort of optimism that children approach the future with. Our children expect us to demonstrate the leadership upon which they trust adults to do. And today the largest ever injection of commonwealth funds into the recurrent costs of running schools has been announced. And we've done it in a way which has respected the role of the Victorian education system, which is older than the commonwealth, to administer its schools. And we respect that unequivocally and we put it on the record again today.
MARTIN DIXON: And that was certainly an issue as far as Victorian schools were concerned and, as I said, it was one of our principles into which that we entered the negotiations right from the very start. And it has been one of our greatest sticking points. We jealously guard our autonomy to run education within this state and our schools have a very, very high level of autonomy, more than any other state or territory. So that is something that they cherish. It makes us a top performing system and it's very, very important that every safeguard was there, right down to the smallest sub-clause in the legislation to guard that.
So we make no apologies for taking our time on that, for being thorough regarding the legislation and the regulations. And we are now pleased to - we're relaxed now that what is - the commitments that have been made by the commonwealth government in terms of regulation and legislation and in exchanges of letters and all aspects of our agreement now settle those issues that we had with a Canberra-centric education system. So yes, it was a major issue for us. It was the one that caused us the most angst. But to us, we were defending what we thought and what we know is the best aspect of Victorian education.
QUESTION: So you've got an assurance which you were seeking that Canberra wouldn't and couldn't interfere in the running of schools in Victoria?
MARTIN DIXON: We have the assurances, both in detail and also in written form, in a number of forms, that satisfy our concerns that we had, yes.
QUESTION: Minister Dixon, how concerned are you that Tony Abbott's only promising to match this funding profile for four years. So it doesn't seem to be on an ongoing basis if he wins the election.
MARTIN DIXON: Well, at this stage, and for the last couple of years, we've been negotiating with the government of the day and the agreement we have today reflects that. In terms of what happens after the next election, we're confident now that, no matter who wins the election, that there's some certainty out there for schools. And I think that was very, very - that is very, very important for their long term planning and also for our systems, to have long term confidence in the future. And we're very comfortable with - obviously with the agreement we've signed today and also with the plan that was put forward by the coalition in Canberra.
BILL SHORTEN: Josh, if I could just follow up. The Better Schools Plan, as proposed by Federal Labor, which the Victorian Government's just signed up to, guarantees six years' certainty for every school parent at a government school or a non-government school in Victoria and nationally. Six years. So if you have a child who's going into prep in 2014, with Labor, with the Federal Government, with the Rudd Government, you know the funding deal they're going to get for the time they're in primary school. If you've got a child going into Year Seven next year, you know, they don't stop going to school four years later.
School communities - and we believe in the authority of school communities - school communities work best when they have the longest possible time horizon to make decisions. We're very pleased that even when we know there'll be an election called sometime very soon - we know that - we are very pleased that the Victorian Government has stepped away from the politics and said, listen, we think that Labor's deal is a good deal. And we hear what's being said in the hurly-burly of an election, but the Victorian Government, admittedly a coalition or a Conservative government, has looked at our deal, Labor's deal, on education and said, it's a good deal.
And what I say to all the parents, what I say to people who are - and the teachers, is thank you for the efforts you're doing raising your kids and educating our children. But with Federal Labor you've got 100 per cent commitment and 100 per cent commitment to the model, the model of needs-based funding. We believe in Labor that children, if they have a disability, should get additional funding. We believe in Labor that if you come from a poor background you should probably get some more funding. We believe in Labor that whatever postcode you come from shouldn't determine the quality of your education.
What is great today for every school child in Victoria, what makes today's announcement between Martin and myself historic, in my opinion, is here you have governments of different political persuasions putting the politics and the white noise and what's the opposition saying and blah, blah, blah, to one side. And we're saying, what's in the best interests of kids? It's a good announcement today for tens of thousands of Victorian school kids.
QUESTION: What's the likelihood of you reaching a deal with Queensland or even Western Australia to do that?
BILL SHORTEN: Oh, listen, the Queensland Government's off on a frolic of its own. They have a siege mentality up there. They think that when you go and offer them extra money, they're looking for the trap. So I think the real problem with Queensland is they don't want to match even what their fraternal political brothers and sisters in Victoria are doing. The Queensland Government do not want to put up the sort of money that Premier O'Farrell's put up, that Premier Napthine's put up. So I think they've got an issue about the money. It's just not their priority and fair enough. They're their own government. They just march to the beat of a different drum.
For Labor, and indeed for the Conservative governments in New South Wales and Victoria, we just think education is something that governments should do. And we think we should put more money into it. You never go backwards, giving your kids the best start in life. So I'm pessimistic about Queensland, I have to be honest.
What disturbs me about our Opposition leader's comments is that his promise means that he'll just give money, but he won't ask the Queensland Government to stop cutting the system.
Our problem with the Northern Territory is they've had massive cuts into education, massive cuts. Our concern all along is it's not much good the commonwealth taxpayer putting more money into a state education system through the front door if you've got a state premier marching out with the bags of cash through the back door in the form of education cuts. This is where the Opposition haven't thought through federally what their policy is. These guys are the razzle-dazzle merchants. There's no strings attached. In Opposition federal land you can just have the cash. They don't require you to do anything.
So we're not signing up for that sort of approach. But would again reiterate to the leaders of Queensland and Western Australia, if people in your same party think that they're still going to be running their schools, let's get rid of the state's rights nonsense, because it's just a fiction. If we can give reassurances to people like the Victorian Government, who fiercely negotiated their corner, then what is the real problem?
The real problem is some jurisdictions don't want to put the money in. And the real problem is the Federal Opposition, they haven't spent three years talking about this education model. As late as Thursday, the Opposition spokesperson said this was a con, this was a conski, not a Gonski.
So then on Friday they have this miraculous, oh, actually, our focus groups are telling us that education is something where people don't trust the Federal Coalition, so we'd better have something to say. But just because you say something doesn't mean you mean it. And I said on Friday, I would be more likely to believe that Eddie McGuire will barrack for Carlton than Tony Abbott's going to barrack for our education reforms. Because he's spent a lot of time saying that they're wrong and now all of a sudden he says, I've got a problem because the voters don't believe me, so I'd better quickly pretend I do believe in education.
QUESTION: Does this deal with Victoria pave the way for an election to be called?
BILL SHORTEN: Oh, the election being called isn't hingeing on this. That's the prerogative of the Prime Minister. What I do know, and again, I acknowledge the leadership of Premier Napthine and Minister Dixon and the Victorian Government. I should acknowledge the hard work of Commonwealth officers, people from my own staff, people from Martin's staff, the state officers. What they have done is they have sort of put on the earphones and muffled the noise of the election and said, what is in the best interests of the children?
And what I admire about what Victoria's done is, with this election speculation, they haven't said, it's all too hard. They've said, let's get on and do business, because that's in the best interests of Victorian school kids.
QUESTION: Mr Shorten, you're quoted in the Sunday Age today as saying the Victorian premier doesn't appear to work on weekends, or something to that effect. How surprised or concerned are you that in fact he's not here and why did you make that comment?
BILL SHORTEN: Oh, fair's fair. Friday night there was a bit of disappointment about the stopping of talks. But I take my hat off. The Victorian Government certainly rallied very quickly and they worked very hard. This bloke's done a lot of work and Premier Napthine took a very direct interest. He's down in Warrnambool. He's got a Minister to make the announcement. I - for me, what matters and what matters, Josh, to every parent of every government school child in Victoria is there's a deal done. Certainty is there.
Do you know at Essendon Keilor College, these national Better School reforms will mean nearly a million dollars a year in extra for current funding? I've spoken to the principals of that school at Essendon Keilor College. It means more teachers. It means more choices for those kids. School communities across Victoria and their teachers and their parents are doing remarkable things. I'm a parent of a child at a government school. I know that extra resources will mean that the remarkable things they're already doing will be even better.
Last Saturday night I went to the State Schools Spectacular. It was better than the opening of an Olympics. Thousands of kids at government schools, secondary and primary school, future winners of The Voice for sure, they were performing. And what I realised there, these kids are brave, these kids are optimistic. They're doing amazing things already in the Victorian education system. Imagine what more they can do if they can - if each of them can have an instrument to practise on, if each of them can get to do performing arts.
I'm telling you, what I saw then just reminded me that Better Schools - strip aside the rhetoric and the money and all that debate - it means that for 867,000 children at Victorian schools, they will now not just be competing with each other. They will now not just be competing with Sydney or Brisbane, will be competing with the rest of the world. And we've just given our kids a fighting chance to grow up to be adults with skills which will be world class.
MARTIN DIXON: And just on that, I'd just like to say that the Premier and I have been in constant contact. The premier has been across all the details. In fact, since he became Premier he's shown an incredible interest in education and he has worked incredibly hard and his office and his officials along with me over the last - as things have come to a head, especially over the last few weeks. And both education ministers are here today to make the announcement. The signing will be done elsewhere. And we've - I've had incredible support from the premier.
Yes, he drove a hard bargain, and rightly so. He wanted to jealously guard - and I support him in jealously guarding - Victoria's autonomy and every Victorian school's autonomy. And that has paid off and we've got a deal that meets our concerns.
MARTIN DIXON: Sorry?
QUESTION: When will schools start seeing this money? And what will they spend it on?
MARTIN DIXON: The funding will start flowing through next year, 2014. Again, schools have been looking for some certainty about that, both government and non-government schools. And the sorts of things that that money will be spent on, it will be supporting our reform agenda. So it's all about student learning. So it's about every single child reaching their potential. It's about the child with a disability. It's about the gifted child. It's about the child from a low socio-economic area. It's about a school that's in the low socio-economic area. So it will be about the individual teaching programs, the individual attention for those children, and the resources that support that sort of teaching.
And so what that means for every individual school will be worked out over the coming months and we'll refine that, because we want to give some certainty for schools for next year, because they are planning for 2014 now. And that will be further refined over the coming years, because this is a six year agreement, and we want those real changes, those real - that real difference to be made and to be seen to be made.
QUESTION: This isn't the two-for-one funding which Victoria originally wanted. How important was it for you to step back from that? And would you still be signing up to this deal if the coalition hadn't flagged that it would match the Gonski plan?
MARTIN DIXON: Well, all along, we've been after the best deal for Victoria, according to the principles that I laid out, and we've been focused on that right from the start. And in terms of the amounts of money, again, that - over the months those amounts have changed. The goalposts have changed. And I must say in the last month or so we've had more certainty, and the last few weeks more certainty about what amounts of money were actually on the table. What was needed from the Victoria Government in terms of the base, but also the two-for-one on the extra money.
And, yes, we've come up from our three-point-five billion dollars that we originally announced when we sat down and started negotiating in detail with federal government. We needed to align in the same time periods that we were talking about. So that meant there was actually more money available from the Victorian Government. We've actually found some extra funding to put into it and we've had to make some education savings to support that as well. And so that we could get to an amount that was fair for all parties and was going to give the greatest possible benefit to every Victorian school.
MARTIN DIXON: The savings that we've made is through - the education maintenance allowance will no longer be available from 2015. That amount of money is paid to families in low socio-economic areas and low socio-economic incomes to enhance the education of - to help them with the education of their children. And what this agreement is about putting extra resources into those schools, the schools in which those students go, and to the individual learning programs for those individual students. So I think any parent would be very, very pleased that their child, their child's school, will be receiving more support than they have received through this funding plan. And the overall benefit for their child will be tremendous.
BILL SHORTEN: And, Peter, if I can go to your question, have political positions and statements outside of the negotiations forced Victoria's hand into accepting it? I just want to put on record, in my opinion, the Victorian Government - and this is after all of the discussions which we had yesterday - has not been influenced by the conduct of the - of any other statements anywhere outside.
What I think is interesting and does deserve comment is that it would have been easy, I would have thought, for the Victorian Government to do nothing. If apparently, as some would say, that the opposition can - you know their statements are the equal of ours. But interestingly, the Victorian Government, after having heard the policies, pressed ahead with the deal with the Government. I think that shows some confidence in Labor's education bona fides.
When you have Conservative states working with Rudd Labor federally to get the best deal for the school children in those states, I think that tells you what people think about Federal Labor's education bona fides.
The other thing is, our proposition is not just money, as some in the opposition have tried to make it out federally. It's not just about the money. It's about what you do with the money. It's about needs-based funding. It's about helping every individual child. And I'm pleased that the Victorian Government has had a look at what Federal Labor's had to offer and even in this fevered environment of election speculation they've actually said, Federal Labor's governing well and we want to deal with Federal Labor on education. We're not going to put it into the too-hard basket. The kids are too important for politics.
QUESTION: Mr Dixon, you look a bit uncomfortable there. How do you feel about being used as an election weapon for Federal Labor?
MARTIN DIXON: Well, as I said, we've been focused on education here and in Victoria, in Victoria's schools and Victorian students and Victorian families. And that has been our focus all along. And we certainly - we made a public statement welcoming the coalition's education policy. We have to work with the government of the day. And no matter what happens now after the election, I think we're in a very, very good position, no matter - with both parties as to, they know what we expect, what we want for our schools. And they know the funding that we've put on the table and we know the funding that is available. And we can work with any government.
And all along we have been blinkered in our view. We had to improve education in here in Victoria to take it from a good system to a great system. And that has been our focus all along, without all the white noise, of which there was plenty, along the way.
QUESTION: But are you happy now that…
FEMALE COMPERE: Last one, thank you.
QUESTION: …Kevin Rudd and Mr Shorten are going to go campaigning around the country saying, you can trust Labor on education. Even the coalition in Victoria thinks so.
MARTIN DIXON: Well, what I'll be doing and what will concentrate my mind is - over the coming weeks is that we'll be up there in our schools, talking to our families, talking to our teachers. Telling them that the Victorian Government have put in an extra $5.4 billion into the education of their children and the great things that will do to help their individual child, no matter what their circumstances are, to reach their full potential. So that is our focus and that's what we'll be concentrating on over the next few weeks.
There may be other things happening out there over the next few weeks, but my job will be to - and my department's job will be - to work with our schools so that they understand the great opportunity we have here.
BILL SHORTEN: And let me finally add, I do congratulate the Victorian Government for coming to an arrangement with the Federal Government. Premier Napthine, Minister Dixon and plenty of others have worked hard with us. What I would also say is that you can trust Federal Labor on education and it is clear that with Federal Labor on education state governments, Conservative and Labor, believe they can work with us, because we have put the hard yards in to build a needs-based education, which will be the best outcome for children and parents of children going to government schools in Victoria. Thank you. Good morning.
MARTIN DIXON: Yeah, thank you.
Media contact: Kimberley Gardiner 0427 138 106
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