TRANSCRIPT: Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Pat Conroy, Member for Shortland. St Mary’s Gateshead.

Feb 1, 2017

LARRY KEATING, PRINCIPAL: Tanya, on behalf of the St Mary’s Catholic College community it’s a pleasure to welcome you here today, and likewise, Pat, on behalf of the community. It’s wonderful to have you here because as a community we’ve benefited so much from the funding from Gonski. And we see the difference it’s making in the lives of our students. They have an opportunity to grow and develop, and develop skills in particular that will set them up significantly for future employment prospects and we’re really grateful for the funding that we have received.


PAT CONROY, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY: Well, thanks Principal Keating and St Mary’s Gateshead for hosting us today. The schools in the Shortland area will suffer a $33 million cut because of the Federal Government’s failure to implement their election promise of fully funding Gonski. That’s $33 million that would be giving our kids the best possible start in their educational life. $140 million will be cut in our region, and that will have a real impact across our society. Every school I go to has got some great, positive stories about the impact of Gonski funding that has already flown through. We’ve seen schools put on extra teachers to help with literacy and numeracy for kids struggling, to lift the level with their classmates. We’ve seen other schools invest in teacher development to give our kids the best possible access to learning methods. So that $33 million of cuts in Shortland schools is a real kick in the guts to our area and I’m very glad that Tanya Plibersek, the Federal Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Education Minister could come up here to understand the impact those cuts – that broken election promise – is having on our schools. So I’d invite Tanya to say a few words.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks very much, Pat. And thank you very much to Larry Keating and the school community here for welcoming us so warmly. We know that cuts hurt schools. We know that $30 billion of cuts over the next decade will hurt schools, and hurt school children across our nation. Pat has talked about how $33 million will be ripped out of schools in his electorate alone. $140 million across this region. What that means is fewer teachers. It means less one-on-one attention. It means less support for the basics: for numeracy, for literacy, for science, for all of these skills that we hope our children will graduate with when they leave school. Now today you’ll see Malcolm Turnbull at the National Press Club and he’ll be saying that the most important thing we can do as a nation is give a big business tax cut – a $50 billion big business tax cut. That’s the equivalent of about $2000 for every man, women and child across Australia, given to big businesses, to their shareholders overseas. I really believe that if you are able to give $2000 in their hands and say, “look, you’ve got the choice: you can send this money to overseas shareholders to boost their profits, or you can invest in our schools so that every child in every school around Australia gets the very best education”. These $30 billion of cuts actually equate to every school around Australia losing on average $3 million. You think about the fundraising that schools do to raise $1000, or $5000. You think about how many sausage sizzles, how many cake stalls, how many school trivia nights parents will have to support to make up for the funding cuts from this federal government. Those cuts mean fewer teachers – it’s the equivalent of sacking one in seven teachers. They mean less one-on-one attention for kids who are falling behind. And they mean less support for the basics in our classrooms. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: The Government says that Gonski has left us with a patch work of secret deals that need to be fixed up?

PLIBERSEK:  Well the reasons there is more than one arrangement across the country is because every state and territory was starting at a different point.  Every state and territory had a different amount of funding per student.  The Gonski school deal was to bring every State and Territory up to a national minimum, a schooling resource standard, and then on top of that give extra support for kids that came from poorer backgrounds, kids who are attending smaller schools, children with a disability, indigenous children, children for whom English was not their first language.  So the whole purpose of these funding arrangements was to bring all of the schools, and all of the school systems up to a minimum and then build on that minimum.  We also forget that many of these funding deals were signed when Christopher Pyne became the Education Minister.  So yes, Labor signed a number of deals with different states and different school systems and as part of that we said that we would put in extra money and states and territories also had to increase their effort.  We said that we wanted national testing and transparency so teachers, parents could know how kids were doing and how schools were doing.  We said we wanted teacher professional standards; we wanted access for pre-school for every Australian child.  We introduced conditions on funding.  Not only did Christopher Pyne get rid of all of those conditions, he also said to the states and territories you don’t need to put in any extra money, you don’t need to lift your effort as the Commonwealth lifts its effort.  So if there is confusion about the number deals and what’s required from the states you can sheet that home to the Liberals who have cut funding and they have got rid of the requirements of school improvement.

JOURNALIST:  Do you think children are actually aware of the different funding impacts, do you think children in schools are aware of that?

PLIBERSEK:  Well I don’t think kids are paying much attention but I think they’re parents certainly are.

JOURNALIST:  Do you think are though where you have schools that are side by side and their certainly are across the State where it’s very obvious to them that one school has a lot and one school doesn’t and I’m not even talking about the private, I think you’ve given the example on the Central Coast two Catholic schools, side by side, glaringly different funding levels.  Do you think the children there are aware of that?

PLIBERSEK:  Look I think children know whether they have teachers who care for them, are invested in them that have high hopes for their future.

JOURNALIST:  But children do look at the (inaudible) and they do make, they draw conclusions from that.  What do you think those conclusions are?

PLIBERSEK:  Well I’m sure children are aware, if they go to a school that’s not got a fifty metre swimming pool and the school next door has a fifty metre swimming pool, I’m sure they are aware of those sort of differences. 

JOURNALIST:  So doesn’t this become a moral issue at some point, if you start looking at it from the point of view from the children, and that’s where, rather than it being a political issue which is what it is now, that we should start looking at it as a moral issue from the point of view of the children and what it is saying to them about what is valued, who is valued.

PLIBERSEK:  I think that’s a very good way of looking at it.  I think that every child should get a great education and it shouldn’t depend on the suburb they grow up in or their parent’s bank balance.  Every Australian child should be loved and valued and that’s why we say that every school should benefit from increased funding.  A basic amount which is the schooling resource standard and then extra support for schools that need extra support, who have more children from poor backgrounds, from non-English speaking backgrounds, Indigenous kids, kids who go to smaller schools or remote schools, children with a disability.  All of them deserve extra help so that they are not left behind their peers.  And what we’ve seen with the early years of Gonski needs-based funding is that extra funding flowing fastest to the neediest schools.

JOURNALIST:  If it is a moral issue then, if that is, we can open the door to that, isn’t over funding then a moral issue, $215 million.  If you’ve talked about the amount that schools have to do to raise $1,000, $215 million in over funding, which you’ve said is a drop in the bucket, can’t we look at that morally and say that’s sending a message and that’s not a good message.

PLIBERSEK:  Well let’s see what the Government’s actually proposing on over funded schools. 

JOURNALIST:  Well that’s what Labor’s saying it supports and it’s still sending a message and doesn’t it undercut then Labor’s position?

PLIBERSEK: I’d like to see what the Government’s actually proposing on schools that they say are overfunded but the basic problem here is that every school in Australia will lost $3 mllion under the Government’s current proposals.  There is no certainty for school year 2018, for school year 2019. Schools can’t tell teachers whether they’ll have a job in 2018 or 2019.  They can’t plan for the next years’ school year because this government is refusing to confirm that it will fully fund years 5 and 6 of the Gonski needs-based funding reforms as they promised to do, as they have consistently promised to do.  Under this Government’s current proposal, every child in every school in every system in every state will lose.

JOURNALIST: How are we going to bring about some comment? How do you challenge the government then in changing its position when this argument has been going along for years?  Obviously what Labor is doing isn’t challenging the government enough.  What’s going to make that happen to bring about the change?

PLIBERSEK: We had the most thorough investigation of school funding needs in Australia’s history through the Gonski Review.  That eminent panel of people, including people like Kathryn Greiner who are certainly not Labor Party members or supporters, came up with a very thoughtful analysis of what our schools need to be high performing and high equity schools.  Labor was 100 per cent committed to implementing those recommendations and when Christopher Pyne was the Shadow Education Minister he said he was 100 per cent committed too. He said you could vote Labor, you could vote Liberal, there’d be not a dollars’ difference to your school.  That promise is broken. All we are saying is that we’ve done the work, we know what’s needed, both sides have previously committed to fully funding the Gonski needs-based funding model.  One side has broken that promise. One side has walked away.  There doesn’t need to be a political argument over this if the Liberal’s simply return to keeping their promise.

JOURNALIST: Shouldn’t Labor then say that $215 million in over funding, we’re going to stop that because that wasn’t in the Gonski model, and that’s a shift in Labor’s position that sends a message about what the priority is, which is the children.

PLIBERSEK: Truly, you’ve got $30 billion worth of cuts and there are some people who are obsessed with going after one small part of our schooling system.  If the Government has a specific proposal on overfunded schools of course we’re happy to consider it, but my focus is on stopping $30 billion of cuts, $3 million cut on average from every school around Australia.  That is thousands of sausage sizzles that parents will have to make up for because this Government has broken its promise on school funding. Now I know we’ve got a couple of other people who wanted to ask questions as well, you were trying to get one in?

JOURNALIST: I was just going to quickly ask, in September when Mr Shorten visited the region, he met with residents of the Williamtown contamination red zone, saying Labor would be taking immediate action on that to step up its fight.  What has been done on that front?

PLIBERSEK: We have been very concerned about the lack of Government action for families that are trapped in homes, that they are worried they are dangerous, that they are unable to sell, and we will continue to work at a federal level to push the Government to provide some security, some resolution for those families.

JOURNALIST: But since September has any progress been made on that front?

PLIBERSEK: We’ve got a Government that’s clearly dragging its feet on this front.  It’s a very serious issue and we’ll continue to push the Government to act.  Did you have a question as well?

JOURNALIST: Have you got a comment on the confusion at the moment regarding the US travel bans?

PLIBERSEK: Just very quickly, this really is the last one.  It really is extraordinary that leaders of the UK, France, Germany, Canada, all very good friends of the United States, have managed to say, in a principled way, that it is wrong to discriminate against people on the basis of the country that they come from or their religion.  Our Prime Minister has not managed to say that.  There has been speculation that the reason he didn’t say it was because we had a deal in the wings on Manus Island and Nauru, and today we see that that arrangement to get those people who desperately need to be resettled off Manus Island and Nauru, it seems that that arrangement is up in the air as well. Leave it there.  Thanks everyone.


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