WEDNESDAY, 21 JUNE 2017
SUBJECTS: The Liberal’s $22 billion cuts to schools; John Setka comments; Lowy Institute poll.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody. It's great to be here with Tanya Plibersek at St Thomas the Apostle. We see here what well funded schools can do for kids - they can give them hope and opportunity. It's what the parents expect, it's what the teachers work so hard to do. That is why Labor remains 100 per cent committed to opposing the $22 billion dollar cut to schools over the next 10 years. At this school, the school authorities here have made it clear that if Mr Turnbull's cuts are legislated parents at this school will have to face fee increases of $3000 in the future. Mr Turnbull is undermining the right of the parents to choose which system they send their kids to, and the cuts in government schools are equally drastic. The parents hate Mr Turnbulls cuts to schools, the Catholic education system hates the cuts to schools, Mr Turnbull's own backbench is divided about the cuts to schools.
I say to Mr Turnbull as we approach the end of this sitting week of Parliament; scrap your cuts to schools go back to the drawing board. We can work with you, lets genuinely put parents and kids first, let’s scrap the $22 billion dollar cuts to schools because nearly everyone I've met thinks they are a terrible idea.
I'd like to ask Tanya Plibersek to say a bit more then we'd be happy to take questions.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Bill. Parents think of investment in education as an investment in their child, not a cost, and as a nation we need to think of our investment in education as an investment in our future, not just a cost. That's why these $22 billions of cuts are so devastating. Public school parents and public school teachers have been fighting these cuts from day one. The Catholic schools, the low fee Catholic schools like this wonderful school we are visiting today, have been fighting these cuts from day one, and we hear that independent schools are now also opposed to the government's deals.
What's extraordinary about this is that we have Senators at the moment considering whether to back a school funding cut that parents hate, that teachers hate, that will be terrible for Australia's children, and they are doing it on the basis of secret data and dodgy data. Senator Birmingham, the Education Minister, has been asked to produce the data that his claims are based on, by the Senate Inquiry into this school funding Bill. He has refused to do that. His backbenchers are ringing the Catholic Education Commission and unions and saying, can you explain this to us, we don't have the information from the Minister. And yet we have the Greens in particular considering making a deal based on dodgy data, secret data, flawed information.
The school funding calculator that the Minister keeps pointing parents to is so bad and so flawed that the New South Wales Liberal Government wrote to schools and said, you can't trust the figures in the school calculator, and the Catholic Education Commission wrote to every school and said, you can't trust the numbers in the government's school calculator.
We will fight this Education Bill, because it cuts $22 billion from schools, because it's not fair - it's not fair when it cuts, say, $846 million from New South Wales public schools alone in the next two years, but gives elite private schools like King's a $19 million increase over the decade. It's not fair when Northern Territory public school children get the worst deal in the country. It's not sector blind when it entrenches discriminatory funding, saying that public schools will only ever get 20 per cent of their fair funding level from the Commonwealth Government, while private schools will get 80 per cent of their fair funding level. It's not sector blind, it's not needs-based when 85 per cent of public schools will never reach their fair funding level under the deal that's on the table at the moment. So schools that would have got their fair funding level in 2019 under Labor's proposal will never reach their fair funding level under this government's proposal.
So public schools hate it, Catholic schools hate it, teachers hate it, parents hate it. There's mass confusion about the actual deal that is on the table, the numbers on the table. The government has to go back to the drawing board. It cannot ram this through the Parliament this week with so much confusion and so much conflict about our children.
SHORTEN: Thanks very much Tanya. Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: With the concessions offered by the government to the Greens; they are fairly significant. Isn't the legislation with those concessions a fundamentally better beast?
SHORTEN: The politicians should take their hands off the school system and trust the judgement of the people who are in the classrooms everyday. The Catholic education system, the people who work in the government system. Why does Mr Turnbull want to cut $22 billion from schools funding? People are sick and tired of the political games. We are saying to Malcolm, listen you know that the teachers hate what you're doing, you know that the Catholics hate what you're doing, you know that the parents hate what you're doing, you know your own backbench is divided. He should actually park his education school cuts, have a rethink, go back to the drawing board.
Why should parents at this school face the prospect of a $3000 fee increase? Why should government schools across Australia face cuts to funding? The best thing this country can do is invest in our kids' education. Parents who pay their taxes to Canberra have the reasonable expectation that some of that will be invested back in their schools. Mr Turnbull can afford not to cut $22 billion from schools if he doesn't go-ahead with his tax cuts for millionaires on July 1, if he doesn't go ahead with giving multinationals massive tax cuts. The money is there to properly fund our schools without jeopardising the fees of Catholic low fee schools, and without cutting resources to government schools.
JOURNALIST: The government says it's getting closer - the government and the crossbenchers said they are getting closer to having a negotiation, some sort of agreement, as well as the Greens. They say you are being irresponsible essentially by opposing these, that you are simply saying no for the sake of saying no. Is that the case?
SHORTEN: Someone has got to speak up for the kids in this debate. It's a $22 billion cut. The Government's own briefing document to the media says that what the government is proposing compared to Labor's arrangements is $22 billion less. But let's drill down and unpack what $22 billion of school cuts means. It means less funding for kids with disabilities in the government system in Tasmania. It means schools in the Northern Territory, which are already underfunded, will remain further underfunded. It means fee increases right across the Catholic system.
It's not Labor who is inventing criticism of Mr Turnbull's cuts to schools. This is the first time in 50 years we've seen the Catholic education system so moved to defend parents and kids in their schools, that they've taken to advertising and telephone calls. They are desperate to protect the circumstances of their parents. The right of parents to choose which school they send their kids to should not be undermined by Mr Turnbull's $22 billion in cuts.
I might also ask Tanya to supplement that answer because she has been working on a lot of the detail.
PLIBERSEK: The fact that we get to an unfair funding level faster under an agreement between the Greens and the Government gives me no comfort at all. Don't forget, 85 per cent of government schools will never reach their fair funding level with the proposal that's on the table at the moment. So they get to an unfair funding level faster in a deal with the Greens. That doesn't give me any comfort whatsoever.
Any way you cut it, this is a $22 billion cut to our schools over the decade, and the simple fact is that the Greens have wanted to do this deal from day one. We saw the Greens' education spokesperson rush out to welcome this on day one. Now, it's taken a little longer to get there because the Greens are deeply divided about whether to support this as well. It looks like the New South Wales Greens will continue to oppose this offer because they know it cuts $846 million over the next two years from New South Wales government schools. How do we know this? This is from freedom of information requests answered by the New South Wales Government.
So the New South Wales Government's own data, school by school, shows you schools losing $600,000, $800,000, $1.2 million, $1.3 million over the next two years alone in New South Wales. That's the New South Wales government data, causing the New South Wales Greens, it seems, to split with the rest of the party and say they won't back it.
It is a dud deal for New South Wales, it’s a dud deal right across the country, and getting to an unfair funding level faster, that's no consolation for parents.
JOURNALIST: If Labor is concerned about the level of funding, why wouldn't they just adopt this needs-based model and then ramp up the amount when in government?
PLIBERSEK: This is not needs-based funding. This is not needs-based funding. It is not needs-based funding when Northern Territory public schools get the worst deal in the country and elite schools right around the country get multimillion dollar increases; King's School in Sydney, Geelong Grammar, Scotch College, Churchie in Brisbane, Friends School in Hobart - they have fantastic resources already, they are brilliant schools with so much to offer their students. They get multimillion dollar increases and Northern Territory public schools; tiny schools in remote locations, really struggling - they get the worst deal in the country. Tasmanian public schools get the second worst deal in the country.
This is not needs-based funding. This is the government saying, we are only responsible for finding 20 per cent of the fair funding level for public schools in this country. We are responsible for finding 80 per cent of the fair funding level for private schools in this country. That's not a recommendation of the Gonski panel, in fact the Gonski panel said the exact opposite - that states and territories and the Commonwealth government should work together to get every school to its fair funding level. That does not happen under this deal, that does not happen. This is not needs-based, it's not sector blind, it is not fair.
JOURNALIST: The former president of the Australian Education Union says she is terrified this is not going to happen and she is appealing for you to get on board. How do you respond?
SHORTEN: Di Foggo is wrong. The fact of the matter is that Labor cannot sign up in good conscience to $22 billion in cuts to school funding. Australian parents pay their taxes to Canberra. They have a reasonable expectation that some of the taxes they pay to Canberra will be reinvested in their children's education. The simple fact which this government cannot escape is that under their proposals, there's a $22 billion cut.
The thing is, parents don't have to take our word for it, or indeed Turnbull's word, but the parents who send their children to this school, trust the principal and the teachers here, they trust the school community, they trust the local educational authority.
It's the Catholic Education Commission who crunched the numbers and they see that fees will go up in Catholic schools. We've now looked at the data and the numbers which come out of the state systems around Australia. You cannot pretend that, by having $22 billion less for schools across Australia in the next 10 years, that somehow you are actually genuinely meeting needs-based funding.
I think we've all got to stop and take a breath here. Why does this government want to take $22 billion from schools and at the same time give $65 billion to big companies? Why does this government want to force fee increases at low-fee Catholic parish schools, yet on July 1, give millionaires a tax cut.
Mr Turnbull has the money not to cut school funding, he just doesn't choose to not cut school funding.
JOURNALIST: What is your response to Richard Di Natale's comment that Labor is just choosing to campaign on education, rather than to try and fix a fundamentally flawed system.
SHORTEN: Of course we are going to campaign on education. We will fight every day until the next election to properly fund our schools. I don’t know - the Greens are divided, I think they are a protest looking for a cause. The problem for them now in education is that they are in danger of having a Meg Lees moment on the GST. People might remember that the Democrats, they were going to keep the people honest, keep the bastards honest they used to say, then they sold out on the GST. I hope Senator Di Natale does not sell out government schools and low-fee Catholic schools, to this Government for a few trinkets.
The fact of the matter is it's a $22 billion cut to schools, fees will have to go up in Catholic low-fee parish schools and in government schools, either the teachers are going to get squeezed, the resources or the kids will just miss out. It's not good enough.
No one has made the case that this legislation needs to be passed this week. I think it is beyond reasonable doubt that a lot of people are unhappy with this train wreck of a policy. Why is Senator Di Natale, or indeed, Mr Turnbull, so keen to have it all done and dusted this week when there is clearly a sincere and deep amount of criticism and concern about these cuts to school funding.
What's the rush Malcolm? What's the rush Richard? Why don't we work together and not cut school funding and find other ways to help pay for the best possible education for our kids.
JOURNALIST: Just quickly on Syria, can I get your thoughts quickly on the current escalation over there and Defence's decision not to fly into Syria at the moment?
SHORTEN: Well there are very careful rules of engagement, which the RAAF follow and they will be acting on the best advice from the coalition forces. I want to congratulate the work that our ADF have been doing in the Middle East, they have been confronting terrorism in parts of Syria and Northern Iraq and they are making real progress in Iraq. But at all stages, if the ADF and the RAAF make a decision about what keeps our airmen safe, considering of course any of their tasks put them in harm's way, well I'm going to back the experts.
JOURNALIST: CFMEU Boss John Setka has threatened to find out the names and addresses of ABCC inspectors and hound them down in their homes and communities. Is it time that we put a stop to the lawlessness of the CFMEU?
SHORTEN: I repudiate in the strongest possible terms what was said yesterday. I understand there is frustration over penalty rate cuts. I understand there is frustration in the construction industry and that construction workers have a separate set of laws covering them compared to all other workers. But bad laws get changed at elections, bad laws get changed at the ballot box.
I and Federal Labor disassociate ourselves from the remarks which were made yesterday, that's not that way to advance your cause. We believe that the best way to change bad laws is to change a bad government, not by breaking the law.
JOURNALIST: A Lowy Institute poll released today, found that six out of 10 Australians said that Donald Trump negatively impacted their perception of the United States, has he negatively impacted yours?
SHORTEN: I think that there is also a question in the Lowy Institute Report that says that, while there is some concern in Australia about President Trump that support for the American Alliance has in fact increased. I think what this reflects is that Australians respect the American Alliance. Whatever spins out of American domestic politics, that's a matter for the yanks, but we do support the Alliance and I think most Australians share that view.
JOURNALIST: Just back on education funding quickly, the Grattan Institute has asked the crossbenchers not to listen to scaremongering on these reforms, do you think you have oversold the ramifications of this proposal?
SHORTEN: I think that a cut of $22 billion is scary. I think an average cut across every school of $2.4 million across ten years, I think that is bad. This is all about the future. You know governments have choices about where they spend scarce taxpayer dollars.
I would rather spend the $22 billion dollars on educating our kids than giving large corporations a tax cut. I would rather see low-fee Catholic parish schools remain low-fee Catholic parish schools, rather than giving millionaires a tax cut on July 1. This debate about school funding cuts is not in isolation of the other decisions of the government.
Governments have got choices about the vision they have for this country. My vision for this country is for a more equal society and the best way you have a more equal society, where each Australian can fulfil their own potential, is by the best possible education. I reject completely the notion that if you cut school funding, somehow you are bettering Australia. You can't look at the progress of our kids in isolation of the resources that we give our kids.
I actually think that the government, whatever happens this week, needs to fundamentally reconsider their approach on schools funding. I think they should park the legislation; I think that they should park the cuts. I think they should listen carefully to the Catholic Education Commission; I think they should listen carefully to the representatives of teachers; I think they should listen carefully to the states.
I have not seen the case made out why these kids parents, that we've just seen, should pay $3000 more just to educate their kids.