10 JULY 2013
SUBJECT/S: Better Schools Plan
FRAN KELLY The Federal Government has signed up another state to its Gonski Education Funding Reforms, otherwise known as the $14.5 billion Better Schools Plan. Tasmania agreeing to come on board yesterday, that's the first state to sign up since the leadership change, and the first for the new Federal Education Minister Bill Shorten. And Tasmania is the fourth jurisdiction now to take the money.
[Excerpt from speech]
[KEVIN RUDD]: So the state of Tasmania has signed on to the Better Schools Plan. So we have NSW, we have South Australia, we have Tasmania, we have the Australian Capital Territory and our negotiations with various others are going not badly.
FRAN KELLY Well, Bill Shorten is still negotiating with the big hold out states Victoria and Queensland and WA still to sign too ahead of the Commonwealth’s revised deadline of this Sunday.
The Minister joins us now. Bill Shorten, welcome back to Breakfast.
BILL SHORTEN: Good morning.
FRAN KELLY Before we get to Tasmania can we just look at the size of the task ahead of you. Three states and one territory still haven't agreed to sign on. Kevin Rudd says it's going ‘not badly’. To say, in the vernacular, you wouldn't say it's going ‘goodly’ either though would you?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, there's 3.6 million children go to school in Australia, there's 250,000 teachers, there's nearly 10,000 schools. Of the 3.6 million children going to school, 63 in every 100 are in one of the schools that have either signed on or a non-government or Catholic school. So I think that the opportunity to provide better schools, more individual support for children when they need it at school, is going very well.
FRAN KELLY All right, going very well, but you've still got three very large states and one territory to sign on. Your deadline is Sunday, how optimistic are you that you'll get any of those across the line?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, I can't guarantee that we'll get anyone across the line because it's up to states to agree.
FRAN KELLY: Of course not but are you optimistic?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, the reason why I am optimistic is that this is a good idea. The proposal that Australia should be putting more resources into our schools so children get the best start in life is fundamentally a good idea.
Former Prime Minister Gillard and Peter Garrett did a lot to move this project along. The idea that kids should have, if they're not doing well in literacy and numeracy, that schools should have more provision for individualised support for them is a good idea.
The idea that children who perhaps are doing very well and they're to be pushed a bit further because they can go further, that they should have extra resources is a good idea.
The idea that there should be greater funding for integration aids for children whose parents wish them to attend non-government schools. These are just three examples of why the reforms are a good idea.
And it's a matter of us listening carefully and respectfully to state and territory concerns, just as we did with Tasmania, and seeing if we can't marry our objectives and the views of states and territories in the non-government sector.
FRAN KELLY Well, you've been doing that, I understand. I think you had a phone conversation at least with the Queensland Education Minister yesterday and I think you're planning to speak to the Victorian Education Minister today.
Victoria has a plan of its own. It says it will come on board but it's got a different funding formula. It's talking about $10.5 billion and that's $3.5 billion from Victoria, $7 billion from the Commonwealth. Now that's after indexation so the figures are slightly different to what you offer, but it's a significant increase, I think, from the money required from the Commonwealth. Have you looked at that formula and are you prepared, or can you come to the table to give Victoria more?
BILL SHORTEN: The money that we've set out, and that you spelled out, is really significant. We're not going to change, nor do I have the authority, to change the overall amount. It's remarkable that a Commonwealth Government – and only a Labor Commonwealth Government would do this – is committed to reordering its priorities so we can put extra money, so we can have better schools. That's just what you get with Labor federally. You will get more money spent on education. We do this well. But having said that I'm also going to listen to what the Victorians have to say. I've done enough negotiations to not issue a whole lot of politicised negotiating pressure comments through the media, I want to hear what they have to say.
I believe that what unites people on both sides of politics at the Victorian State Government and the Commonwealth Government level is: how do we make sure that our schools are delivering for our kids. The best thing that politicians can do, just like parents, is try and make sure the children are best set up for their adult lives.
So I'll talk and listen to the Victorians. I mean, one thing is clear, if a Liberal Government in New South Wales can do a deal with the Labor Government federally to get the best deal for New South Wales school children, it's within the capacities of the Victorian Liberal Government to do the same with the Labor Government federally.
FRAN KELLY: Okay, so room to move, but not on the dollars?
BILL SHORTEN: I think the issues that the Victorians are raising, there’s – we've got to see if we are comparing the same facts in terms of expenditure and what's proposed. They will be concerned to make sure the regulations that are proposed by the Federal Government provide them with sufficient flexibility to deliver needs based funding in the way they want to do.
But for me what's important in these negotiations is: what are we doing to make sure that the kids going to primary school and secondary school in Victoria, are able to get a better deal, so that they can become the adults which – given better schools – they can become.
FRAN KELLY: One of the concerns as I understand as articulated by the Victorian Education Minister, Martin Dixon, is the level of Commonwealth control that comes with this change and that was a concern for Tasmania too. They've obviously sorted that out with you when they signed on yesterday.
But Martin Dixon, for instance, says in languages, teaching languages, he says under the new system the Commonwealth could decide which languages should be taught if schools want to get the extra money. Is that right?
BILL SHORTEN: There's theoretical problems and there's real problems, and I'm wary of putting things which are theoretical challenges into the category of being a real problem. I will listen carefully to what the Victorians say about all their concerns.
There's two sets of objectives here which I think can be married but whether or not they will get married is another issue. One is these is Commonwealth taxpayer money. The money which we want to put into schools is ultimately not my money or your money - well, it’s taxpayer money - so we've got to make sure, we want to make Australia's education system in the top five in the world by 2025.
We want to make sure that education money goes according to need so that where people live and the circumstances of where they live, doesn't dictate the quality of education they get. So they're our objectives, amongst others. There's been a lot of work go into this.
By the same token the Victorian Government, just as the Catholics do and the non-government sector, they deliver - they have a line of sight to the actual schools. We have a line of sight on taxpayer dollars.
We want to make sure that teachers get the best professional development, that there are those resources which empowered school communities can allocate to meet the needs of children in their own schools.
The question is: can our discussions land on a common point? We, the Commonwealth, are determined to try and achieve better schools for every child in Australia and it'll be a shame if children living in some states are getting more resources and children living in other states are, not. And merely because in some states we couldn't work through the issues to secure better schools for children in the future.
FRAN KELLY: On that front, the Tasmanian schools seem to be happy with the fact that they will get the extra $380 million dollars over six years and the State Government is confident that it's negotiated the best terms for that. But there's still three states and one territory to go. The Coalition - the Federal Coalition - said it's in disarray and they say they will repeal the reforms if the overwhelming majority of states that haven't signed up, if they win Government.
BILL SHORTEN: Well, in Australia, as I said at the start of this interview, we have 3.5 million children going to school, about a third are in the non-government sector and two thirds in the government sector. Half of the government sector is agreeing with what we're doing, and that doesn't matter if you're a state Conservative or a state Labor government.
The non-government sector is an important sector in Australia. Both the National Catholic Education and the Independent Schools Council of Australia, we're allocating greater resources to children in those schools as well.
So I think that you'll find that if you've got most children in Australia, when their education authorities are signing up to better deal with more money which will lead to greater individual support for children at school getting the systems they need, I think that, that train has left the station.
And the Coalition would perhaps be better, rather than just name calling and sloganeering, just recognising this is an area that should be a sort of political safe haven. And the debate should be how do we ensure that the regulations deliver the flexibility that educational jurisdictions need, but we deliver on the promise of a better future for our kids.
FRAN KELLY Minister, talking about Coalition name calling, Tony Abbott yesterday alleged Kevin Rudd was waging a smear campaign against him because he's being questioned about $9000 worth of travel expenses that he incorrectly claimed back in 2009. He repaid the sum in 2010 when it was brought to his attention. Is the Government running a dirt file on Tony Abbott?
BILL SHORTEN: No, I think there was clearly a mistake's been made. Minister Gary Gray came out and said that the mistake which had been made by Mr Abbott has been rectified. But in terms of the Opposition saying that the Government's too negative about him, I sat through this Parliament for the last three years and I've seen the sort of negativity which has existed, that's why people are responding to Prime Minister Rudd's call for a more positive politics in Australia.
We would like to see this selection fought on who's got the best vision for disability reform, who's got the best vision for lifting superannuation so people have more to retire on, we would like to see this election fall on a policy of idea about: how do we get more resources into our schools so children get the best start in life. The issues of how do we create and maintain jobs.
So the Labor is approaching this election - I believe - trying to go for the high ground of being positive and optimistic about our future. The challenge for the Opposition - they've been a successful Opposition in that negativity has worked for them, however, as we get close to the election I believe Australian's are saying, looking at both sides of politics, and saying who's got the policy vision for the future? Who should we trust to run the country? Who's got an idea about what's good for us, as opposed to just arguing between themselves.
FRAN KELLY: What about arguing within Labor? Tony Sheldon from the Transport Workers Union says he's not happy with Kevin Rudd's notion that unions be, sort of, locked out of the process of electing the Labor leadership, because it'll be half caucus member's half party members and he and others prefer the British model which is a third for the unions as well.
You're the former head of Australia's oldest union. Why should unions be cut out of this process?
BILL SHORTEN: Well first of all union representatives should be entitled to have a say and that's what's happening, so I welcome that. In terms of the…
FRAN KELLY: How are they having a say?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, they're having a say in the media, you've just said that. I mean I'm saying you asked me what I think about Mr Sheldon's view…
FRAN KELLY: Oh, I see.
BILL SHORTEN: And I welcome hearing his view and the views of others because that's important. Labor does listen to trade unions as opposed to the Coalition who have no time for unions.
In terms of the issue of the reform of how we pick our party leader, currently it's just caucus members. Prime Minister Rudd has proposed that the caucus change its rules. We'll have that debate in a week and a half's time.
What this will do is extend the franchise to every rank and file member. Currently, only caucus members have a say in who picks the leader, so this is a significant expansion.
What is interesting is it's the same - allowing just the party members as opposed to any other colleges, electoral colleges, it's how we elect our national party president.
I believe that the Labor Party is saying to Australians: we get that people want stability, we get that the way in which politics has been done needs to modernise. We also want to encourage people to get involved in politics.
Now I get that some people on most Saturday's perhaps half of Australia won't support Labor but the other half on most Saturday's probably would think about voting for Labor, or giving us their preference. For this group we want to say to them: you're actually encouraged to get involved in politics.
So for me, this is about how do we improve participation. There's a lot of people who can make a contribution to Australian political life. If you have a say in how the leader gets picked, that is a way of showing that your sincere about engaging people's opinions and the way in which politics should happen in this country.
FRAN KELLY: All right. Bill Shorten, thank you very much for joining us.
BILL SHORTEN: Thank you, good morning.