FRIDAY, 23 JUNE 2017
SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull’s cuts to education; Remuneration Tribunal decision; South Australian Budget.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon, everybody. It's great to be at this fabulous school talking to great students with great teachers, and obviously, parents who are very keen to be able to get the best education possible for their kids.
I want to talk specifically about the education cuts which passed through the Parliament in the middle of last night. From the start, we made it clear that Labor was not going to be bullied into accepting Malcolm Turnbull's first unfair cuts. As a consequence, the Government has had to put at least an extra $5 billion to remedy some of the unfair cuts. However, the basic problems remain in Mr Turnbull's unfair cuts. Specifically, the cuts which are happening in education were not the spending which was promised in previous years by both sides of politics. And there is unfairness to government and low-fee Catholic schools.
So today I want to make a simple commitment to parents and teachers right across Australia; if the Turnbull Government does not fix the unfairness in its school funding cuts at the next election, we will.
I would now like to ask my spokesperson and Deputy Leader to talk further about what's happened in the last 24 hours to cuts to school funding.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well, thanks very much, Bill, and I think today is a terrific illustration of the unfairness at the heart of the Turnbull Government's school funding policy.
Today is a tale of three schools. Here we are at Holy Trinity Primary School. This is a school that charges about $3,000 a year in fees, and it will actually lose $288,000 over the next decade. Now, the Prime Minister is at Santa Sabina in Strathfield in Sydney. That's a school that charges $22,000 a year in fees. It will actually get a $19 million increase over the decade. So this low-fee parish Catholic school actually gets a funding cut of almost $300,000, and Santa Sabina, which has fantastic resources already and very high fees, actually gets a $19 million funding increase.
Now, I would add to that, while the Prime Minister is in Strathfield, he should go down to Strathfield South High School, the local government high school, about a kilometre away from Santa Sabina. That's a school that will lose a million dollars over the next two years alone. So a public high school will lose a million dollars over the next two years alone. The Prime Minister is in the neighbourhood, he should drop in, and see whether he thinks Santa Sabina, with fantastic resources already, really needs a $19 million increase over the decade. While Strathfield South High gets a million-dollar cut over the next two years alone.
This illustrates the unfairness at the heart of the Turnbull Government proposition. This is a funding system that entrenches under-funding for public schools, for low-fee Catholic schools, and continues to give very substantial increases to some of the wealthiest schools in the country. It is fundamentally unfair.
The Government keeps talking about consistency. Well, it is consistent, but it's consistent in the way of, if you put a 4-year-old and a 14-year-old on the football field and say, the rules are exactly the same for both kids. Well, that's consistent, but it's not fair.
We will continue to oppose these funding cuts. We will not be grateful for the fact that instead of cutting $22 billion from schools, this Government will only cut $17 billion from schools, because we know that those cuts hit hardest in our public system, and in low-fee schools like this.
JOURNALIST: Bill, does your pledge mean that every school will get at least what they were promised in funding agreements, or will Labor parcel up the $22 billion differently now that the Government Bill has passed this?
PLIBERSEK: Can I answer that. That is a very important question because we have already agreed that some schools, wealthy overfunded schools will actually receive less funding. They will be brought down to the schooling resource standard more quickly under Labor, so that does necessarily mean some redistribution within that funding pool.
JOURNALIST: So the schools that are below their resource standard will get at least what they were promised in those funding agreements?
PLIBERSEK: Well, we will be working with school systems; with public school systems, with state governments, not as this government has done, thinking that they can impose a funding system on the states with no consultation. We will be working with the Catholic systems to make sure that the largest increases in the shortest time go to the neediest schools.
JOURNALIST: So therefore, what's your message to the states and how they respond to this package?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think the states are horrified because in the first place they miss out on years five and six of the original six years needs-based funding package, that was designed to get every school in every system in every state up to that fair funding level, 95 per cent of the schooling resource standard.
So states are horrified because, for example, in New South Wales they will lose $846 million over the next two years alone. Queensland will lose $730 million over the next two years alone. Victoria will lose $630 million over the next two years alone, these are from their public school systems. Tasmania will lose $68 million from its public school system.
I mean states are horrified by that funding loss, but they are also, I think, horrified by the fact that this Government has removed every reform from the school funding arrangements that Labor negotiated. So every ambition of getting more kids to finish Year 12, every ambition of getting more Australian students up to those international levels that we aspire to in literacy, numeracy, science and so on. We've removed the ambition of closing the gap on Indigenous education. We've removed the ambition of better teaching quality. We've removed the ambition to give more school autonomy so decisions can be made about the distribution of resources in the way the school community decides is the best investment for that school community. We've removed all of that reform agenda which remember Christopher Pyne said 'was just so much red tape'.
JOURNALIST: Are you going to move away from the model of giving the same proportion of the school resource standard to states and won't that disadvantage states like WA, Tasmania and the ACT, that put more than the 80 per cent into their public schools?
PLIBERSEK: Well, we'll work very cooperatively with the states and all of the school systems and you can be certain that the way we will distribute our funding is to give the greatest increases in the shortest time to the neediest schools.
When we were in government, 80 per cent of our extra school funding went to the public system because that's the system that was teaching the majority of the neediest kids. What we see under this government are cuts to public schools, massive cuts to public schools, massive cuts to low-fee parish Catholic schools and continued increases for some of the wealthiest schools in the country.
At the same time, New South Wales public schools are losing almost $850 million over the next two years. You see the Kings School in Sydney gets a $19 million increase over the decade. In Victoria, you see a $630 million loss from public schools over the next two years, you see Geelong Grammar getting a $16 million increase over the decade. That fundamental unfairness will not be present in a Labor education policy.
JOURNALIST: If the argument here is that basing funding on postcodes doesn't work, is it time that we looked at something similar to what happens in day care, where you look at what a parents' tax return is and then you can truly work out the resources that the school needs and how underprivileged, perhaps it is?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think, this debate that we've had in recent weeks has shone a light on the fact that the socioeconomic status funding model is flawed. Now we knew that. We knew - the Gonski review panel said that the SES funding model is flawed. Labor, in government, in our national education reform agreement said that we would have reviewed the SES funding model by 2017. The Federal Government has now been dragged kicking and screaming to admitting that the SES funding model needs review, so of course we are determined to have a better, more fine-grained approach to judging parental capacity to contribute.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any confidence that this review board which the Government has talked about setting up, and the Minister said today that if it finds the Catholic schools are underfunded, the Government will find the money for that. Do you have any confidence in that system?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's disappointing that every discussion we've had previously about a schools funding board like this has suggested an independent board, and what we've got from the Minister is a compromise to address some crossbencher concern that he will have a hand-picked panel that will answer to him. I mean, who knows what this will do? I'm not convinced of the independence or the integrity of the process the Minister will set up.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, on July 1, you want the Government to step in and stop the penalty rates decision. What do you make of the fact that on that same day now you and other politicians will be getting a 2 per cent pay rise?
SHORTEN: Well, the process for setting the wages of politicians is done at arm's length to try to take the politics out of it. But you're quite right, on 1 July, hundreds of thousands of workers will get a penalty rates cut at the same time as millionaires will get a tax cut. Unfairness has been a hallmark of this government since it first got elected, and it doesn't matter what the policy is, unfairness is a central plank. They've got the take from the poor and give to the rich tax policies. They've got support for cutting penalty rates, and even in schools, we still see unfair cuts to needy schools.
This government always manages to find an unfair way of doing any of its policies. We think it's overdue for Mr Turnbull to understand that working and middle-class Australians, they are doing it hard, they have the energy prices going up, it's not enough to blame Labor when the Liberals have been in the for the last four years. This nation can't afford, when battlers are doing it hard, when schools aren't properly funding, energy prices are going up, when penalty rates are being cut, this is exactly the wrong time to give millionaires a tax cut.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, isn't the Remuneration Tribunal independent like the Fair Work Commission?
SHORTEN: It is at arm's length but let's be really straight here, what's on people's goats is that most Australians are not getting pay rises at a time when the energy prices are going up. In New South Wales on 1 July, energy prices are going to increase between 14-16 per cent. Nearly a million Australians, 700,000 Australians who work in pharmacy, retail and fast food are having their official penalty rates reduced and millionaires are getting tax cuts. This is why Labor has fought so hard and we will continue to, this is not the time to give millionaires a tax cut when hundreds of thousands of workers are getting their penalty rates cut.
JOURNALIST: But you must concede that strikes somewhat of a hypocrisy. If the penalty rates decision was made at arm's length, and your pay increase is made at arm's length, you will accept the pay increase but you won't accept the penalty rates cut.
SHORTEN: I'll never accept cutting the wages of ordinary workers, Jonathan -
JOURNALIST: Would you accept cutting your own wage?
SHORTEN: Well, I'll never accept the cutting, look that process is done at arm’s length. We want to take the politics out of the process of the setting of remuneration, of what politicians and other people get. But I understand why people are frustrated because what you've got, is you've got the government who are saying, righto, that's an independent process, but they're doing nothing to reverse penalty rate cuts. I will not stand by and seeing people's weekend rates being arbitrarily cut.
There is no compensation for workers for this. There is a big problem in this country. The rich are getting richer, the poorer are getting poorer and the middle class being squeezed. We see it in needs-based funding in schools. This is a low-fee Catholic parish school. This government is putting in place policies which will mean that fees will have to increase in the future by an additional $2,000. That's not Labor numbers, that's the numbers that the local Catholic educators are telling us, and at the same time if you're a parent who sends your kid here, you've got to pay higher electricity prices in Turnbull's Australia, you have to see your penalty rates cut if you work on the weekends in retail, and you've got to pay more to send your kids to a Catholic school if that's what you choose to do.
JOURNALIST: Would you accept and perhaps take the moral high ground and support those who are having their penalty rates cut and say, I won't accept the pay increase.
SHORTEN: Well, that process is done independently.
JOURNALIST: But you've got that power?
SHORTEN: Well, you could always give the money to charity, of course. But I'm going to go to the core issue here. You can talk about politicians, I want to talk about the whole system. I think in Australia at the moment confidence is down. Economic activity in the high street of Australia is down. It's because the majority of Australians are not getting pay rises.
My track record is I want to see all Australians get a pay rise. That's what I've spent my adult life working for. That's why I'm opposing penalty rate cuts. It is an absurd situation that on July 1 if you earn a million dollars in this country, in Turnbull's Australia, you get a tax cut of $16,400, but if you are a working mum, working part-time on the weekends, you get a pay cut? At the same time electricity and gas bills go up and up.
Every time Malcolm Turnbull says he has fixed the electricity problem, the electricity bills go up. He keeps talking about how he's fixed the problem and Australians keep getting bills from the gas and electricity companies with increased prices. This is an out of touch government.
JOURNALIST: Tanya you have criticised the government for rolling over a special deal for Catholic and Independent schools for another year, but won't your pledge here today mean that the next Labor Federal Government is going to have to do separate deals with each school system in each state and territory?
PLIBERSEK: Well, that's the great irony again at the heart of the Liberals' funding policy. There are now about 30 separate arrangements because every system in every state has a different rate of indexation, and within some systems, you actually have a six -year funding transition or a 10-year funding transition, so we've got at least 30 different arrangements for schools in the legislation that has passed through the Parliament. You then add in all of the concessions and amendments and so-on that we have seen in the last couple of days.
This policy is chaos, it’s a mess. We've got the state governments outraged that the Commonwealth is making things up with no consultation. States are concerned not only that there are funding cuts at the heart of this, but the reform agenda has been junked, and this policy has at least 30 separate arrangements. I don't see how there is any consistency or predictability in that.
JOURNALIST: But you won't tell us whether you will stick with the system of a fixed proportion of the resource standard or go back to separate deals for every sector?
PLIBERSEK: What we say is that every school in every system in every state and territory should be at least 95 per cent of the schooling resource standard. We say the fastest growth should go in the shortest time to the neediest schools; that is the principle at the heart of Labor's funding arrangements.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, what do you make of South Australia's decision to implement its own bank tax. Do you think it's appropriate?
SHORTEN: Well, they've clearly followed the Commonwealth's lead. I think Premier Weatherill can speak for himself, but the problem that Premier Weatherill has got is that Malcolm Turnbull is cutting school funding and hospital funding. Malcolm Turnbull is making cuts in South Australia, so the South Australians have to find a way to provide a safety net of services and they have to fund that. So they've probably had a look at the Federal Government and said, that's a good idea, we will copy it.
It is a little bit rich of Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals nationally to complain about someone else putting in a bank tax when they did.
Thank you, everybody.