Bill's Transcripts




9 JULY 2013

Subject/s: Better Schools Plan for Tasmania

LARA GIDDINGS: (audio break) schools they go to are given the support they need to be able to improve their literacy, their numeracy and also to set themselves up to be part of a productive nation that's taking on the challenges of this Asian century.  And we want to ensure that our children are best prepared to be able to take all of the opportunities as well that are presented through this time that we live within.

We had here in Tasmania a couple of challenges we wanted to overcome before we were prepared to sign up to this agreement.  And I'm pleased to say we've been able to reach the assurances that we required around the impact on our GST, as well as be able to be assured that the funds that we are committing today will also go to those who are disadvantaged and need it the most.  While also ensuring that every student in this state, no matter which school they go to, are supported in the appropriate way through these critical reforms. 

So I'd like to thank Mr Shorten, Bill Shorten, for the role that he's played.  It's been very good to work with you and we appreciate the fact that he has come down to Tasmania on a couple of occasions now to work with us through the issues that we had.  But I'd also like to pay tribute to the former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who showed the leadership in relation to these reforms and has led the nation.  If it wasn't for Julia, we'd still probably be around the table debating and negotiating, arguing over the money that is required in the education system.  And to see the Australian Government stand up for education in this country is very welcome. 

So with that I'll hand over to Bill. 

BILL SHORTEN: Thank you very much, Premier. Good afternoon, everyone.  I'm very pleased to be here with Premier Lara Giddings and Education Minister Nick McKim to make this once in a generation announcement for schools and school children in Tasmania. The agreement that we've reached - the Federal Government's reached with Premier Giddings today - is going to benefit every one of over 81,000 school children in Tasmania.  It doesn't matter if they're in government schools, Catholic or independent schools.  This is good news for all school children.

What we will see through this arrangement is individual attention for the needs of children in schools and indeed for children who need it most.  And for children who are excelling this will provide more resources so they can fulfil the opportunities that they could indeed achieve.  It will also ensure that school communities and principals will be empowered to be able to make more decisions.

This arrangement will see over the next six years $381 million dollars plus go to Tasmanian schools.  This will see the Commonwealth Government contribute $250 million, matched two for one by the Tasmanian Government finding the resources, because it prioritises education, of another $130 millions.

We believe that this arrangement will ensure that children going to schools in Tasmania will be able to get that important individual assistance. 

The maths and science tutoring they may need to improve their ability to do these subjects.  The homework tutoring. The support to allow kids with disabilities to be able to get that additional support which means they can fulfil the dream of an ordinary life, receiving educational support, just as other children receive. 

This arrangement now builds upon the accomplishments of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Education Minister Peter Garrett, for who had completed much of this work.  It builds upon the arrangements that we've struck with Premier O'Farrell in New South Wales, Chief Minister Gallagher in the Australian Capital Territory and Premier Weatherill in South Australia. 

I'm optimistic that there is still progress to be made with other jurisdictions. I'm optimistic that the principle of ensuring that children are funded according to their needs is one which all state and territory jurisdictions can sign up to, as indeed can the non-government and Catholic sectors.

I'm optimistic that there is much goodwill, but there is no doubt that the leadership shown by Premier Giddings today, following upon Prime Minister Rudd extending the time period to conclude negotiations, breathes new life into our proposal federally that we have better schools. 

That we have better schools which allow our children to have the best educational opportunities in life. Thank you.

NICK MCKIM: Well, thanks, Bill, and hello everyone.  Well, happy days.  A historic day for Tasmania.  A historic day for our education system.  But most importantly a historic day for over 80,000 Tasmanian students that we run our schools for.

This historic agreement is a once in a generation opportunity to invest significant increases into our education system to deliver the outcomes that we know Australians and Tasmanians want for their children. 

It's a once in a generation opportunity to improve educational outcomes, particularly for our most disadvantaged children.  And that's always been what this discussion's been about and it's always been the position that the State Government has taken in these discussions, to maximise the opportunities for Tasmania and particularly to secure this once in a generation opportunity and the massive funding increase that will now flow into the Tasmanian education system. 

This will result in significant increases, as the Premier and Mr Shorten have said.  Over $380 million over six years flowing into our education system, making sure that we continue to make the improvements that we know parents want to see for the school education of their students. 

Now we'll work very closely with principals, with teachers, with school communities, to determine how these additional funds should be spent, because ultimately it's the people on the ground, the parents, the teachers and the school leaders who know best about how to direct funding and how to maximise the opportunities that will be created.

So again, thank you to Mr Shorten, thank you to Mr Garrett, who I worked closely with on this for a couple of years, and thank you, of course, to Premier Lara Giddings, who has shown real leadership around this issue and has negotiated strongly to deliver the best outcomes for Tasmania.  Any of us are happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Of the $380 million, how much is going to the government and non-government sectors?

LARA GIDDINGS: I think the critical issue here is that the formula that underpins the Gonski arrangements now, the Better Schools Plan, as it will be known, is the same.  So ultimately the funding will follow the student. And it doesn't matter if you go to a Catholic school, an independent school, or a public school in that respect, you will get the funding that you require, that you need, and that's absolutely critical. 

From a state perspective, however, we wanted to ensure that we were able to direct our funds into the public school system in the initial stages as best we could, because we know that's where there is real need and where our responsibility primarily sits.

But over the time of the arrangement we will phase in our part of our funding, which will go to the independent and Catholic school systems as well.  So this will certainly ensure that if there was to be a change of government - and we hope that there is not - that we believe that Federal Labor certainly has a strong record and should be able to continue to roll out these critical reforms.  That if there was a change, that Tony Abbott could not damage the public education system in this state.

QUESTION: Premier, just confirming that this funding that has now flowed, this is - there's no extra funding than what was originally expected in the agreement. So what's changed?

LARA GIDDINGS: Well, what we've always said is that we were ready and wanting to sign up to the Better Schools Plan and we had budgeted for that.  The funding from the State Government is already in our forward estimates for this plan.  So it wasn't about the quantum of the amount of money in that sense.  It was about how it was applied and, most importantly for us as a state, it was about whether or not it would impact on our GST arrangements.

So we've been able to get the assurances that we've required from the Commonwealth that this additional funds - or the additional funds that come from the Commonwealth will not impact negatively on Tasmania.  

We did face a prospect without those assurances that we could gain 50 million from the Commonwealth in a year, but in fact lose over a $100 million through the GST redistribution.  So we've received the assurances we need and that has been a critical step for us. 

QUESTION: Are you saying that the state's - just to clarify the last point - are you saying the state's contribution has been front-end loaded in the public system, if you like?

LARA GIDDINGS: Essentially.

QUESTION:  Can you quantify that in some way?

LARA GIDDINGS: Well not here and now I can't for you, but we are front loading.  The heavier weight for us is on the public school system in the early years as we phase in our funding into the independent and Catholic school system as well.  It does not make any difference for the child.  They will not know any difference here.  Ultimately this is all one pool of funds between the Commonwealth and the State and all the schools will receive what they should under this Better Schools Plan.  And these are really nuances that sit underneath it.

QUESTION: Is it fair to make students in non-government schools wait longer than other students?

LARA GIDDINGS: They won't even notice.  They won't know.

QUESTION: Why is that?  Because the federal money will fill that void in those [inaudible]?

LARA GIDDINGS: Essentially, yes.  Yes.

QUESTION: How long will it take, I guess, to consult with principals and schools as to how the money is spent?

LARA GIDDINGS: Well, I can ask the Minister to speak to that.  I do know they've already started some consultation.

NICK MCKIM: Yes, look I'm happy to speak to that.  Look, we've started discussions already and we will continue those discussions, but in the normal course of events, schools get an indicative school resource package based on the August census data in terms of enrolments. So we won't be changing the process that we use in terms of the timing to ensure that we run those consultation processes and in terms of how we inform schools of what their allocations will be.  So there's an August preliminary census that we use to inform indicative or nominal school resources packages for the following school year and that's the process we'll be following.

QUESTION: I wonder if you could give us some real life examples about what this will actually impact.  So are we talking extra teachers, extra books?  How does this actually - what will the schools see?

NICK MCKIM: Yeah, sure.  Look, again, as I said, we need to make sure that we need to do this in a consultative way with schools because ultimately schools are in the best position to determine how extra money will be spent.  So we'll run through that process but this opens up an exciting new world of opportunity for our schools.  They will see and have the opportunity to invest significantly into areas that they think can make the real difference for educational outcomes in their school communities.

BILL SHORTEN: I might just add to that about what does this mean in plain English for kids and parents.  So Tasmanian parents are saying well this sounds good, there's more money coming which hasn't been there. It sounds like Tasmania and the Federal Government are prioritising education.  That's all true. 

What this means practically for children and their parents in terms of the greater funding is schools will be able to make choices they can't currently make because of lack of resources. So, for instance, if you've got a child who's struggling with numeracy and literacy skills, it means that a school will be able to prioritise giving them a coach because kids have got to learn the basics.  We've got to make sure we prepare them for the real world after school. 

It will mean that if you're a child with a disability - and ask any parent of any child with a disability anywhere in our Commonwealth, it is a tough search to find a school which won't treat the parent as a bully for demanding resources. It takes that tension out of the system so parents of children who might have a moderate to some significant degree of autism, the parent can be very isolated in a school community because there's this tension in a classroom between saying listen my child if given some integration aide support can participate but if the resource isn't there then you've got this tension and the teacher, who's got to balance the needs of all the kids in the classroom, has to make hard calls.

What we're doing with our special loading system is recognising that if we put the money into giving kids with a disability an education that parents can make choices about special schools or mainstream education.  It means that if you're a high achieving child at a school which doesn't have a lot of resources all of a sudden if they want to push the boundaries of their own ability and their love of science or mathematics, we are providing the chance for those kids to be the best they can be.

It's interesting when you look at international data the OECD shows - they're an international body looking at comparative performance of education in different countries - shows that Australia in the last decade and a half slipped down the rankings in maths and science and literacy.  If you look at some of the best school jurisdictions in the world now they're in our region, Shanghai, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong.  If you're a child in Tasmania you're not competing with Melbourne, you're not competing with Sydney. We need to make sure that our kids are equipped to be able to compete with children throughout the world.

The fact of the matter is now that a 15 year old completing - or with mathematical knowledge in maths classes in Shanghai is probably two years ahead of our kids.  Australian kids can be the best in the world provided we provide them the best in the world resources.  That's what we're trying to do here.  That's what it means.  It means our kids get the individual attention they need so that they can become the adults who are resilient and capable of coping in an ever-changing world and economy.

QUESTION: Minister, is this deadline for other states to sign on to, is that a hard deadline on midnight on Sunday?

BILL SHORTEN: We certainly believe that the facts are out there on the table.  I'm having constructive discussions with the Victorian Government.  Today our Prime Minister is talking to the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory.  I've spoken by telephone today to the Queensland Minister.  I believe that the numbers are pretty good.  I think most fair-minded people think yep, Federal Labor has put real money on the table to allow individual support, individual assistance for our kids.

So we think that July 14 is completely doable.  I should also add that I'm having really constructive dialogue with the representatives of the Catholic Education Offices throughout Australia and also Independent schools.  What certainly has happened today is that the leadership of Premier Giddings I think breathes a bit of new life into the extended deadline and we're going to see some great outcomes for kids in Tasmania but also I think it renews the opportunities in other jurisdictions who haven't yet signed up.

QUESTION: But what happens if come the July 14th there is no more states signed up, or Queensland and Victoria in particular have not signed up?  What happens then?

BILL SHORTEN: I'm not prepared to give up.  I'm not prepared to accept that it's too hard for people with goodwill to prioritise our kids ahead of politics.  I think there is goodwill in the various state and territory jurisdictions who have not yet signed up. 

I think there's legitimate debate about what numbers are the correct numbers.  I mean one doesn’t want to overcook the difficulty of negotiations but I think the principles, most of us are on the same page.  What I think is that the detail is important.  There is detail to close.

What I do know though is that when you look at the proposition which has been embraced by the Tasmanian Government on behalf of Tasmanian parents and kids, the idea that we can provide greater individual assistance for children in schools, be it the kids who are struggling or the kids who are excelling.

The idea that we can do something about children in small schools who mightn't have the same resources, or children in remote parts of Australia. 

The best thing that politics can do in this country is deliver the best chance for our kids to be able to make a future in this modern, tough world ahead of them.  That's what parents are committed to.  That's what politics should be committed to. So I don't think July 14 is a doable date in terms of us achieving agreement by them.

QUESTION: But what happens then is the question?  Does the Government walk away?  When do you - this will be the second deadline.  If that's not met, when do you walk away?  When do you say well if you're not going to sign maybe you're not going to sign up?

BILL SHORTEN: Matthew, you're an experienced journalist and you know that if I start war-gaming what happens after July 14th, people start moving their horizons beyond that date.  I think Australians work well with deadlines.  I don't know about you but I think we all do.  And I think that what really matters - journalists have to work by deadlines, I don't think the rest of us are any different.

What I do believe is that when you have a look at the deal that the Tasmanian Government's picked up on behalf of Tasmanian children and parents and teachers, you know, this is a good deal and it's a matter of us just working through the issues.  I respect the fact that state and territory and non-government sectors deliver education services.  They've been doing it for a long time.  They want to make sure the regulations are appropriate.  They want to make sure that, you know, things work as they're intended to.  So I'm respectful of the fact that we haven't got to an outcome but there's no reason why we can't because this is fundamentally a very good idea.

QUESTION: This funding [inaudible] for today is this different from what we heard two weeks ago? Because I think we were reporting two weeks ago that there was $260 million that would come from the Commonwealth and $140 million from the state.

LARA GIDDINGS: No, there's no change.

QUESTION: It added up to $400 million.

LARA GIDDINGS: Yes, it's no change.  It's actually about $382 million in total.  Our discussions have not been about the quantum of the funds at all.  It's been also for us about ensuring that we can use our fairer funding model to distribute those funds within the public education system that ensures that the money goes to those students who need it the most.

So we want to make sure that every child has the chance to really realise their full potential no matter where they come from, where they live, what school they go to, that the resources they need are there.  So for us it was ensuring that those children particularly in disadvantaged areas, in schools that are doing it a bit tougher, that they get the resources they need. And with the fairer funding model that we have here in Tasmania, that helps deliver that within the public education system and was a critical part of our discussions with the Commonwealth.

QUESTION: You must have a breakdown of how much each sector is getting.  Why won't you provide it in terms of out of the 380 million how much to the state, how much to the Catholics, how much to the independents?

LARA GIDDINGS: It's not a matter of us not being willing to share it with you.  It's we just don't have it right here in front of us.

QUESTION: In terms of this split what is - you said it won't actually make a difference to the student, they'll still get the allocation in the end, so why is it so important to make sure that the state money went to public schools?

LARA GIDDINGS: This is a new way of delivering funding to the education system and it is a critical one.  And we support the whole principle of this Better School Plan that it does not matter what school you go to you will get the support you need to realise your full potential in that respect.

But what we wanted to ensure that with the State Government funding that we were able to support the public education system in the first instance as we ramp up our support also for the independent and Catholic School system.

Now, that has meant just a little bit of rejigging of the cash flows of funds, but the quantums stay the same.  The actual division in the end will be the same as what you'd expect but in the front years we are a little slower to pick up our portion of the independent and Catholic school system, but the quantum's the same.

QUESTION: Sorry, with the moneys following the student how is it then

LARA GIDDINGS: Well, it's pooled, so the Commonwealth and state funds come together in that respect, so the money will flow to the child.

QUESTION: Minister, could I ask you, Christopher Pyne has said that Gonski needs an overwhelming support threshold before the Opposition will take it on and support it.  Does Tasmania signing on provide that threshold? Is it the tipping point for the Liberals now? Should they support it?

BILL SHORTEN: Yes, I think that when you have half of the state and territory jurisdictions backing in a better deal for our school children, when we've passed the Australian Education Act, which will see greater funding for the non-government sector, something like 63 in every 100 children in Australia now are covered by arrangements which will see the Better School Plan implemented. 

I do not believe the Conservatives should be using education and the future funding of children's resources individually at school as a political football.  We've costed the promises that we've made. 

A Labor government just happens to believe that you have to make the room to fund better resources in schools and better schools.  So what we would say is that ,you know, Premier O'Farrell plays for the Liberal footy team but he's been happy to sign on to this set of rules, the Better School Plan. This is not a partisan issue.

What is partisan about an individual child being able to get the resources they need to get the best start in life?  Where is the need for politics and the idea that kids should have better technology and resources at school?  Why on earth should it be a political issue if we want to increase indexation on average across our education system federally by 4.7 per cent in terms of funding? 

This is good news for our kids.  The 13 years that kids spend in school should at least be a safe haven from politics and what we are doing is providing more resources so every set of parents who are engaged with their children's education can know that they have, in Federal Labor, a plan for better schools.  They know in Tasmania 81,000 children as of this afternoon, and their parents, can know there's more going to happen, which is good.  You know, the specifics do matter. 

What on earth could someone object to about the availability of more integration aides for kids with disabilities in the mainstream schooling system?  What on earth could someone object to about making sure that there's homework tutors to help kids who are struggling with numeracy and literacy?  What on earth could someone object to if there are more options offered so that kids can do creative arts, performing arts at school? 

What on earth is the problem with seeing greater empowerment of schools?  What on earth is the politics about making sure that our music teachers are able to offer smaller classes so that kids can learn their favourite instrument at an earlier age?  What on earth's wrong with the idea of children being exposed to the wonder of learning a different language at school? 

We want Tasmanian children, regardless of their postcode, to get the best start in life.  So I would say to our conservative counterparts, by all means, you know, argue why you should be in government but do it positively not negatively.  Outbid us, I say to the Opposition, outbid us on the quality of your ideas not the strength of your negativity.

QUESTION: Bill, Gonski was meant to be about the needs of the child regardless of which sector they're being educated in.

BILL SHORTEN: That's right.

QUESTION: So why are you comfortable to allow the state to redirect or to direct most of its funds in the first years, into the public system and to backend the other - the non-government system?  Why as the Federal Minister are you content, given that that seems to be out of whack with the thrust of Gonski?

BILL SHORTEN: Just so I can understand your question better, Matt, are you objecting to the fact that we're funding…

QUESTION: I'm not objecting to anything, I'm just asking what I think is a pretty fair question.

BILL SHORTEN: No, I just want to make sure that I give you the most detailed answer that you're looking for. 

We know that historically in Australia, states have funded the lion's share of government schools, but really over the last forty and fifty years, and please excuse me, Matt, I've been in the portfolio for less than 14 days - but my understanding is that really from the time of Menzies and Whitlam onwards the Commonwealth Government expanded its funding into the non-government sector. 

So historically it has evolved.  The Federal Government pays a larger portion of funding in non-government schools and our states and territories have to do the heavy lifting in the state sector.  Now, Tasmania, as I understand it, and we've got two experts here who can more than supplement what I'm saying, has got their particular model of funding needs in terms of government schools. 

What we are doing is we recognise it is taxpayer dollars; whether or not the taxpayer pays the State Government or the Federal Government, this is taxpayer money.  So when we look at the educational reforms we're committing to, we're committing to need.  We're committing to that being the basis, but what we do when we look at it is we as the Federal Government have put more resources into it, Tasmania has stepped up, has stepped up to also, in its scarce budget needs, prioritise education. 

So when you look at how we do the distribution between government and non-government, you have to look at the total pool of Commonwealth and state money.  And what we have, when you look at the total pool of taxpayer money, because it's ultimately the taxpayers' money, and then we look at the total outcome for students in Tasmania, 81,000 they're all getting a good deal.  They're getting that individual one-on-one assistance.  

Schools are going to have greater say; we're going to work on the professional development of teachers.  We're going to create the capacity where parents can engage with schools and see more choices for their children.  So you have to look at the total funding pool, Matt, and that's what we're doing.  That's how we look at it. 

We're not sectarian, we're not having the old state aid arguments.  Commonwealth and states come together.  What motivates us is the best outcomes for Tasmanian kids regardless of the educational system they're in and we're very respectful of the qualities of the Tasmanian education system in terms of identifying its priorities, in particular in the state system.

QUESTION: But doesn't that mean that no government schools have more to - their share is more at risk if there's a change at the Federal Government end and then obviously the Liberal Party [inaudible]

BILL SHORTEN: There's no doubt in my mind that if there was a change of government federally, they haven't committed to - the Opposition have just committed to the status quo. 

There is a big risk for children at government schools and non-government schools.  The Opposition haven't committed to any of what we've committed to, and that's why, again, I'd just say that if you don't want to risk funding for your child's education, there's a simple answer, just support the Government.

QUESTION: Just a whole entire other issue, Minister.  We've seen another improvement in the polls for Labor.  Does this vindicate your decision to put Kevin Rudd back in, back at the helm?

BILL SHORTEN: What matters in Australia is that we have a positive choice at the next election.  What we've seen in a very difficult period of minority government is that Labor, led by Julia Gillard, has made some hard decisions and we've made some real reforms, but there's no doubt that Australians don't like the negativity of politics. 

Kevin Rudd has provided us an opportunity to talk positively about the future, and that is why we are talking about a plan for jobs and growth.  That is why we're talking about tackling issues as important as education and disability reform. 

But fundamentally, I think what Australians want at the election is they want to know that this is a choice between competing positive visions for the future of Australia.  Who's got the right vision about making sure that our economy's functioning well, that our education system is delivering for the kids, who's got the right vision for making sure we have a good disability insurance scheme?



Media contact: Jessica Lindell 0408 642 804