24 July 2017




SUSAN CLOSE, SA MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Here we are at Trinity Gardens Primary School, one of the wonderful government schools in South Australia.  South Australia signed up to a six year arrangement with the Federal Government, which was known as Gonski at the time. The last two years are where most of the funding sat – 75 percent of the money was to come in in the last two years.  And while the South Australian Government has stuck to its commitments, we will continue to pay what we said we would in the final two years.  In the next two years because the Federal Government has abandoned us, we are going to miss out on $210 million in just two years across all three sectors – Government, Catholic and independent. That’s $157 million just for the Government schools alone.  That money would have made a huge difference, because we need a world class education for our students and to have world class education takes money.  The economy is changing, the demands on our students and on our education system are changing constantly, and we need proper financing in order to meet the expectations of parents and teachers in this new world. I’d like to introduce Tanya Plibersek to say a few words about the impact of this devastating cut in school funding at a national level.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thank you. It’s such a pleasure to be here with Susan Close, the South Australian Education Minister, with my friend and colleague Senator Penny Wong and with Labor’s candidate for Dunstan, Matt Loader, today at a beautiful school, Trinity Gardens Primary School.  This fantastic school would lose about $680,000 over the next two years alone because of the Liberals’ cuts to education.  Across South Australia, as the Education Minister has said, about $210 million lost from schools, right across South Australia, because the Liberals have cut education funding.  What’s particularly sad about this is that the Liberals said that you could vote Labor, you could vote Liberal, there would be not a dollar difference to your schools’ funding, and yet we see schools like this losing $680,000 over two years. The Xenophon Team also said you could trust them to back in needs-based funding, and yet the Xenophon Team voted with the Liberals in the Senate to cut school funding.  Now the difference that better education funding makes in every school is more one on one attention, more help with maths, literacy, science, coding, more help with the basics, more help for kids who are falling behind, more extension activities for kids who are gifted and talented, a greater investment in our teachers so that they can continue to do professional development that keeps them at the peak of their profession.  That extra investment makes the world of difference to the outcomes of our children, and it’s a tragedy to see cuts on this scale. We know that the Liberals’ proposal for school funding cuts is not fair, it’s not needs-based and it’s not sector-blind. It’s not fair to see cuts to schools like this, particularly when you’re seeing large increases to some of the elite schools.  Just down the road from here, St Peter’s is getting a $16.5 million increase over the next decade.  It’s not sector-blind when students in public schools will only ever receive 20% of their fair funding level, while students in private schools will get 80% of their fair funding level from the Commonwealth Government. And it’s not sector-blind, it’s not needs-based and it’s not fair when you see some of the most disadvantaged students, some of the most disadvantaged schools, some of the most disadvantaged sectors in the country actually see their funding decrease, while funding for some elite private schools continues to increase.  The irony of all of this of course is that these school funding cuts, $17 billion worth of cuts over the next decade, are necessary simply to pay for Malcolm Turnbull’s big business tax cuts.  Because Malcolm Turnbull is giving people on $180,000 a year or more a tax cut, because he’s giving big business a tax cut which will see most of the benefits flow to overseas shareholders, billions of dollars has to be found and those billions of dollars are coming from schools, from universities, from TAFE, from our health system.  It’s terrific to be here with Senator Penny Wong today, and she’s going to say a few words now.

PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Great to be here at Trinity Gardens Primary.  Can I say thank you very much to our Deputy Leader, Tanya, for coming to South Australia, and also my dear friend Susan Close for hosting this with us.  Can I particularly thank Marg Erwin who’s the Principal here for her hospitality and showing us around this wonderful school and the wonderful student ambassadors – Zoe, Scarlet, Charlotte and Henry – who showed us around – they did really well. I just want to talk about two things very briefly.  First about Nick Xenophon’s Team.  Nick Xenophon’s political party, as Tanya said, gave a very clear commitment to the people of South Australia at the last election. They said, we give a rolled gold commitment, a guarantee, that we will support the full funding, the full implementation of Gonski.  But they didn’t. They didn’t. They didn’t say to South Australians, “but we’ll cut a deal”.  They didn’t say to South Australians “it depends what the Government puts up”. They said very clearly this is what we support, this is what we’ll be standing for, and they broke their word.  And as you walk around today at this school and I’m sure at many schools, you see the reason why Labor has always stood for the proper funding of our education system. It’s because we want these kids and every kid in Australia to get the education they deserve and the education we need them to have.  And Nick Xenophon and the Liberals should be explaining to the parents and children of Australia why they don’t believe every child in this country is entitled to a great education.  Thanks very much.

JOURNALIST: Just a question for the Deputy Leader.  These reforms have gone through Parliament now.  Do you need to accept defeat on this?

PLIBERSEK: No.  We will never accept the fact that the Liberal Government has cut $17 billion from schools across Australia, and now that I’m in South Australia today I want to make a particular point about the Xenophon Team.  They promised that they would support the full roll-out of needs-based funding.  They’ve broken their promise.  That’s costing South Australian schools $210 million over the next two years alone.  I don’t know how Nick Xenophon and his team can justify a firm commitment to support the full roll-out of needs-based funding and then vote with the Government to cut school funding.  Now I have to be very clear about this.  If the Xenophon Team had not voted with the Government, schools would not be suffering this funding cut today.  Their votes were critical in getting this funding cut through the Senate.  So I am here today to make sure that every South Australian knows that Labor will restore every dollar of the funding that’s been cut.  I’m here to say we will campaign every day between now and the next election on our education policies, on making sure that we support our principals, our teachers, our school communities, to offer their children the best possible education with the most individual attention, helping them achieve their full potential.  And I’m here to say, as well as campaigning on our positive education policies, as well as campaigning on restoring every dollar of the $17 billion worth of cuts, that we will hold the Liberals to account for the cuts, and we will hold the Xenophon Team to account because they enabled these cuts to happen.

JOURNALIST: How would that exactly work in terms of restoring the funding, given the timing of when that was originally promised and the next election?

PLIBERSEK: Well what we’ve said is that we would at least restore the funding that’s been cut.  We will work with the states and territories, with the Catholic systemic schools and other schools to make sure that we have a fair funding offer that gives the biggest increases in the shortest time to the schools that need it most.  The schools that have the largest populations of kids with additional needs will see the biggest funding increases in the shortest time. That’s always been our commitment.  That’s why when Labor was in Government 80 percent of extra school funding was flowing to the public sector because that’s where the majority of kids with additional needs were educated.  Under this Government, 50 percent of extra funding is going to private schools.

JOURNALIST: Just on another matter what’s your personal take on these fixed Federal election terms?

PLIBERSEK: Well I’ve always supported four year terms.  I think fixed terms- four year terms, fixed four years terms are a great idea.  I think it gives governments an opportunity to do more governing and less electioneering.

JOURNALIST:  The Australia Institute was saying this morning that the problem is not so much the length between elections but Prime Ministers calling them early. Is that fair?

PLIBERSEK: Well that’s true.  If you look at the average length of a government it doesn’t even get to three years, it’s more often close to about two and a half years.  But I think a four year term does give you a bit more time really to convince the Australian people of some of the more difficult reforms that governments should be encouraged to make and it means that governments really are able to focus on rolling out their policies, making sure that the policies are delivered properly and appropriately, and that governments aren’t always looking over their shoulder waiting for the next election to roll along.

JOURNALIST: Referendums have a patchy record in Australia.  Do you think the public would support this?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think it’s very important that we do have bi-partisanship.  There’s no point taking a proposal for four year terms or fixed four year terms to the Australian public if there isn’t bi-partisan support for it, because if you look at the history of referenda in Australia they don’t succeed unless they’ve got bi-partisan support.  But the Prime Minister has frequently said that he is a supporter of four year terms, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten supports four year terms, you’ve seen people on both sides of politics say that they’re supporters of four year terms.  I’m sure we can actually get there given that we’ve seen so much support across the political spectrum for four year terms. We can meet bi-partisanship on four year terms, it would be great to do it.

JOURNALIST: I’ll just ask Senator Wong – how do you think this would impact upon the Senate?

WONG: Oh look, I agree with Tanya.  We’ve had support for four year terms in the Labor Party platform for some time and it’s been a position that the Labor Party has supported.  And the reason is really, as Tanya articulates, I think that you need to govern as well as to electioneer, and we have a lot of state governments that have four year terms and I think it serves proper governance well if you have a longer period of time. Obviously we would have to explore what happens with the Senate, that has always been the technical issue that would need to be resolved but with good will and bi-partisanship that’s something that could be talked about.

JOURNALIST: It might mean that you would end up with some Senators for even longer than you’d prefer to deal with them.

WONG: Or less, depending on what’s resolved. But I mean I think the first proposition that we need to resolve though is do we think it’s a good idea for government, and if that’s the case then obviously the Senate also needs to be dealt with.

JOURNALIST: And just quickly as a South Australian, are you concerned with the revelations coming out today about the Murray Darling Basin plan?

WONG: I haven’t seen all of those reports but I would say this.  As the former Water Minister, as someone who was obviously intimately involved in the development of the plan, we know that the Federal Government with Barnaby Joyce having the influence he has, simply don’t support the sort of implementation of the plan that South Australians want.  We all remember Barnaby Joyce, what did he tells us to do? Move where the water is. That was his Murray Darling Basin plan. So we know what he thinks about South Australians, we know what he thinks about the importance of restoring the Murray to health and restoring the basin to health.  He’s been on the record, clear about this.  His interests are not the interests of the people of South Australia.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks everyone.