Bill's Transcripts



10 July 2013

Subject/s: Better Schools Plan, Australian Labor Party

BILL SHORTEN:    Good afternoon everyone.  Thanks for coming along. I’m pleased to announce as Minister for Education on behalf of the Rudd Government that today the Independent Schools Council of Australia and myself have finalised discussions about the future funding for the Better Schools plan for 1100 independent schools in Australia. 

Today we’ve reached an historic agreement.  There’s 560,000 children who attend independent schools in Australia who, as a result of the reforms of this Labor Government, will be receiving much needed injections of Commonwealth money to ensure that as individual children they can get the best support possible to have the best education they can across Australia. 

Today the Independent School’s Council of Australia, the peak voice, the peak group for about 1050 independent schools has endorsed the Better Schools Plan put forward by the Labor Government.  This builds upon the work of former Prime Minister Gillard and Education Minister Peter Garrett, now finalised by myself and Prime Minister Rudd which will see 562,000 children in 10 50 independent schools, signing up to the benefits of the Better School Plan.

What this means for parents who choose to exercise choice to send their children to independent schools, is that they will be getting much needed support in their schools for their children, children who might be struggling with literacy and numeracy.

The schools will be able to provide extra resources. This will allow schools to provide and cater for extra resources, the home work tutors, the maths and science tutors for bright kids who need to be stretched further than they currently are in their schooling.

This will mean, importantly, that parents who chose to send their children to independent schools will be able to get support through the schools for integration aids if their children if they have a disability. This will see greater empowerment of schools. This will also see greater support for the professional development of teachers. 

I would like to place on record my thanks to the Independent Schools Council of Australia for their work with the Rudd Labor Government and what we see is further momentum towards delivering individually better outcomes for all school children in Australia. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST:         Does it matter that Victoria for example, haven’t signed up for the Better Schools Plan?

BILL SHORTEN:     The way our funding is structured, is that there's in excess of $600 million being provided by the Commonwealth Labor Government to independent schools. Some of the state jurisdictions have already signed up which takes the total package for independent schools to about $815 million over the next six years.  This is new money, this is money which hasn't been there in the past.

Now, ideally if Victoria, Western Australia, and Queensland sign up then the total package will go to over $1 billion. Parents who choose to send their children to independent schools exercise a choice which this Labor Government can respect - that Labor Government supports improved funding for Government schools, for children in the Catholic education system and for people who send their children to independent schools.

JOURNALIST:         Does that mean you bypass the …

BILL SHORTEN:     What we would hope is that for New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, and the ACT, so half the federation of Australia, they are working with the Commonwealth.

What this would mean is that we will give the money directly to independent schools. What we hope though, is that the remaining state jurisdictions would see the same sort of logic which the heads of the national Independent Schools Council of Australia have seen, which the Premier of New South Wales has seen, which the Premier of South Australia has seen, the Chief Minister of the ACT, and yesterday the Premier of Tasmania has seen.

This issue of providing children with the best choice and the best chance in life with Better Schools is one which should be above politics. Clearly the independent schools have had a look at the detail of what Labor has done, the detail of our legislation and have said: this is good enough for us and we support an historic national agreement, the greater Labor support is providing to independent schools.

JOURNALIST:         So how much better off will independent schools be and what’s the cost to the budget?

BILL SHORTEN:     Well, in terms of the Federal Government, it is about $625 – $629 million over six years and we can provide you the precise figures afterwards, Josh. So we’ve budgeted for it.

Everyone knows that this money that we're allocating to schools is taxpayer money. There is no greater responsibility that the Commonwealth Government has than to make sure that taxpayer dollars are used for the best purposes of the Commonwealth. There can be little that anyone could disagree with, but the Opposition, that funding Better Schools so Australia's future generation get the best start in life is a great use of money.

What is worth noting here is that the independent schools have had a look at what this Government has done, Labor Government, and they've put out their hand and said we want to do a deal with you because we think that this is a package which we can support.

So yesterday we had Tasmania, in previous weeks and months we've had New South Wales, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory and today now independent schools, 1050 schools which have enrolments of 562,000 Australian school children, they've said yes. We want to be with the future. We want a positive future for our children. So every parent and every child at an independent school knows that their peak national body has said this is a good arrangement. We think this will lead to a better deal for our kids.

What's really important when all is said and done about education is that what are we doing in our schools to make sure that our kids can compete in the twenty first century with children in other countries. We want to make sure that every child gets the personal support that is available to make sure that they can keep up, or indeed where they're doing well, that they can even go further and faster and do better.

This is all about the children, this is all about supporting hard working parents who choose to send their kids to independent schools and this Labor Government is supporting all children in Australia at school.

JOURNALIST:         What’s the mechanism for deciding how funding is distributed in the sense of how much money will flow to the really elite independent schools and how much money will flow to the lesser elite?

BILL SHORTEN:     Thanks for the question.  What is important here is that we have a needs-based funding system which is transparent. What we've done and to recognise the work of former Prime Minister Gillard and former Minister for Education, Peter Garrett, is we kicked off in this country a debate about making our schools better and delivering better for our children and therefore their parents.

In 2000 Australia was doing better on OECD tables than we are now in terms of mathematics, in terms of literacy and in terms of other indicators.  The fact of the matter is that a 15-year-old is two years behind in terms of average mathematics knowledge to a 15-year-old in Shanghai. Australia cannot afford to be complacent about our schools.

Like most Australians, I've never worked in a school.  Like every Australian, I'm partly a product of the schooling I've had and the commitment of my family to schooling. I know that there are literally millions of parents who are DNA hard-wired to ensure that their kids get the best start in life. That's one thing that parents and aunts and uncles and family members want for the next generation.

What this Commonwealth Labor Government is doing is building upon the reforms of former Prime Minister Gillard, now being helped finalised by Prime Minister Rudd, is we've said that education is the number one issue for this nation.

So what we will do is that if you have a child with disability, if you're a child from an indigenous background, if you're a child who goes to a small school which mightn't have the resources of larger schools, if you come from a poorer area, or a poorer post code of Australia, that these will all attract special loadings.

We are focussing that we make sure that schools have resources to make sure that every child in Australia can live the Australian dream, that regardless of your postcode you get a quality education. This brings up necessary resources and support for the quarter of a million of Australia's hard working teachers who are doing great things for our kids. 

So all in all this is a good package which will make our schools better and the bottom line for every parent today, and every parent going forward, and every child today and every child in the future is that we want Australia’s schools to be equipping our children for dealing with adulthood, for dealing with their maturity, to be able to get jobs as economies change and as industries change, to make sure that our children are resilient and that our schools are getting the necessary resources.

I congratulate the independent schools for taking the same path that Premier O’Farrell has done, that Premier Wetherill has done, that Chief Minister Gallagher has done, and Premier Giddings.  And I look forward to constructive discussions in the next number of days with remaining jurisdictions to see if we can, through a meeting of minds, put the children first and secure Better Schools.

JOURNALIST:         The Gonski deadline is this Sunday.  If the states don’t get on board how hard fast is that deadline?  Is that it, if they don’t get on board this Sunday?

BILL SHORTEN:     I think it is a truism in Australia that we all tend work best with deadlines.  It doesn’t matter if you are a politician, or a journalist, or indeed a bus driver.  By putting the deadline what we are trying to do is focus the states and territory administrations and say what do we really disagree on?  Where are we apart on the facts?  Where are we apart on the opinions and how do we bridge it?

I’m optimistic that we can achieve quite a lot between now and Sunday.  To be fair, there’s been a lot of work already done.  I have the privilege to help try and close some of the deals.  There’s been a lot of thinking done by Australia’s teachers, by Australia’s parents, by Australia’s educators, by this Labor Government over the last number of years.

So I’m optimistic we can close gaps.  I don’t want to necessarily relinquish any deadlines because if you move a deadline then everyone starts thinking about the next deadline. So yesterday Tasmania signed up, which is great.  Today the independent schools have said yes, we’ve got a deal here that we can get behind and support. 

And I remain optimistic that I can keep having the constructive dialogue with the National Catholic Education Commission, with the Victorian Government, with the Territory, Western Australia and with Queensland.

JOURNALIST:         So you haven’t given up on WA?

BILL SHORTEN:     I don’t know how to give up.

JOURNALIST:         Does the agreement with independent schools mean that money will start flowing and if so, when will it start flowing?

BILL SHORTEN:     From the 1st January next year.

JOURNALIST:         And as it stands now, what’s the difference between an independent school in Victoria, for example, which hasn’t signed on, and an independent school in New South Wales which has?

BILL SHORTEN:     Well, I think that’s it’s a factor of well north of $100 million is at stake if Victoria doesn’t sign up to our arrangement with independent schools.  Ultimately the Federal Government can send its money directly through Victoria to the independent schools. 

I had a good meeting with Victorian Education Minister today, Martin Dixon.  We need to make sure that we’ve got the same facts and we’re on the same page.  I don’t think we disagree about the importance of putting more money into schools.  Premier Napthine is taking an interest as is Prime Minister Rudd.  It is certainly the case that independent schools will gain more if state jurisdictions sign up to our arrangements and I’m pleased to say that in half the Commonwealth that’s already happened.

JOURNALIST:         So as it stands then, the fate of independent schools is tied to whatever the state government is doing?

BILL SHORTEN:     Not for the Commonwealth funding.  So our $630 million or $625 million will flow directly through to the schools. But what I do know is that the ability to get funding from the states is in the hands of the state government.  This is a significant increase.  We are honouring our commitment that schools won’t be worse off in real terms.  We’re making sure that need gets prioritised.  And what’s really pleasing is that the Independent School Council of Australia has said they support what we’re doing and we’ve reached an agreement today.

So this is a good news story for 562,000 children, many of whom are on school holidays.  Their parents can know that when they wave their kids back to school in the next couple of weeks around Australia that by next year there will be more funding flowing through and much more over the total of the next six years.

JOURNALIST:         Have you run out of money for the Victorian Government in terms of…

BILL SHORTEN:     We’ve got a very good offer on the table with the Victorian Government and we’re having constructive talks.  I’ll just leave it at that.  We’re not going to offer new money. 

This Labor Government in its two terms has spent more money on the infrastructure on schools from the Commonwealth than any of our predecessors have ever have and now what we’re doing is providing greater stability, greater certainty. Most importantly, what all this talk of money boils down to is that taxpayer dollars being used efficiently and equitably to make sure that every individual child gets the support they need to have the best chance in life through Better Schools.

JOURNALIST:         Mr Shorten, on another matter, do you have any thoughts on whether or not pre-selection contests should be determined solely by the national executive effectively bypassing the rank and file…

 BILL SHORTEN:     In terms of our pre-selections that will be a matter for the Labor Party.  Today for me is all about what we’re doing on education. As I said earlier, I’m not taking an active role in pre-selection matters.  Thanks very much.

 JOURNALIST:         (Inaudible)

 BILL SHORTEN:     Well first of all I’m a life member, and no I haven’t spoken to Mr Ludwig in recent days.  I talk to the AWU.  I talk to all stakeholders.  I’m respectful of the role that a modern trade union movement plays in Australian economic life. I believe that Australian trade unions do provide a voice for workers at work and I also know that cooperative relations are what I push for, as Workplace Relations Minister, between employers and employees.  So none of my views have changed on any of these matters.  Thanks very much.