Interview on ABC Radio Perth

May 2, 2017

SUBJECTS: School funding; Higher education funding; GST distribution. 



Good afternoon Prime Minister.


Good afternoon, great to be with you.


Now the Government has been locked in a school funding dispute with the states who have been calling for the Commonwealth to stump up the full funding recommended under ‘Gonski 1’ if you like. How far does this announcement go to bring that dispute to an end?


Well, this is delivering exactly the vision that David Gonski laid out in 2011, Belinda.

What David Gonski said, and his panel said, was that schools funding should be needs based and it should be consistent. And that is exactly what we’re delivering.

It’s not what Labor delivered, they had 27 different agreements. They were all conflicting. There was inconsistencies - students in one state, a student with the same needs in one state, would get dramatically different levels of Commonwealth funding in another state. And what we’re doing is bringing the all into one consistent system, so that we are actually realising, as David Gonski acknowledged today, we are realising his vision of school funding being equitable, being consistent and being needs based.

And it’s going to result in a substantial increase in Commonwealth Government funding for schools in Western Australia, which had been a good case of why the Labor, sort of, the Labor corruption of the Gonski idea - I mean Ken Boston, who was one of the members of the Gonski panel, described the deals that Bill Shorten and Julia Gillard did as having failed to deliver the consistency that David Gonski had proposed.

Now what we’ll see over this period of the next decade, we’ll see in Western Australia, funding for government schools will grow at an average of 6.8 per cent per student, per year, with Catholic and independent schools growing at 3.8 per cent and 4.5 per cent respectively. And what that is going to do is provide the support that will mean, in Western Australia, as everywhere else in Australia by 2027, the Commonwealth will be providing for government schools, 20 per cent of the schools resourcing standard, and for non-government schools, it will be 80 per cent of the schools resourcing standard.


But Prime Minister, will any schools miss out on any of this funding?


No school will miss out. There is a very small number of schools, none of which are in Western Australia I might add, which will have a net reduction over the ten years. The Education Minister estimates this to be around 24 independent schools. But this is a modest net reduction and that is because of all the conflicting deals that were done. But the overwhelming majority of schools, well over 9,000, will receive additional funding over this period.

The important thing is where you end up. In 2027, you will have, all schools will be receiving consistent, fair, needs-based funding from the Commonwealth.


Deputy Opposition Leader and shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek has said the announcement is really just smoke and mirrors, an effort to hide the $22 billion in funding cuts from schools. Let’s just have a listen to what she said.


It is extraordinary that after years of waiting, after months of uncertainty, after states and territories have been pleading with the federal government for certainty, after Catholic and independent schools have said they need certainty for next year, what we get today is a smoke and mirrors, pea-and-thimble effort to hide the fact that instead of cutting $30 billion from schools over the decade, this Government will cut $22 billion from schools over the decade.

But the truth is, Labor laid out a comprehensive school reform agenda when we were in office. It was trashed by Christopher Pyne. That school reform agenda included things like more autonomy for principals, more decisions at a school level about how to best spend the extra funding that came with needs-based funding. All the things we know make a difference in classrooms.

I can say to Mr Gonski that the first place he should look is the school reform agenda that Labor committed to, that Christopher Pyne junked when he was the Education Minister.


The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with you on ABC Radio Perth this afternoon talking through the Government’s education school review and the funding boost which was announced today.

Prime Minister, Tanya Plibersek also says that the Government abandoned the funding package originally recommended by Mr Gonski, saying it is laughable and the schools will be $22 billion worse off under the Coalition than under Labor. What do you say to that?


Well what I say is that she is talking about money that the Labor Party promised in a shambolic set of 27 agreements, all of them inconsistent - one of the biggest losers being Western Australia, as Western Australians would well understand - and this was a set of arrangements which did not reflect David Gonski’s vision.

I mean, David Gonski was standing there with me today and he acknowledged that what we are doing is fulfilling his vision and it is one that makes a lot of sense because-


So why is it necessary to have a second review? Gonski mark 2?


If you let me finish I’ll just explain.

David’s vision was that all schools, all students should get Commonwealth funding on a needs basis – understand that? And it has got to be fairly allocated and consistently allocated. That’s what we are doing. There is no question about that.

Gonski 2.0 is not about funding. It is about ensuring that we pursue and achieve educational excellence in Australian schools.

You see, what we’ve seen in recent years is that while we have been spending more money on schools - the federal government has been spending a lot more money on schools, state governments have been spending more money as well, parents have been spending more money – our performance relative to other countries has been going backwards, particularly in reading and mathematics.

And what we need to do is, we owe it to our kids and our grandkids to ensure that we get a better result from better outcomes from our investment in schools.

And so that is what David Gonski is looking at. Gonski 2.0 is the next stage.

We believe we have the funding right. We have delivered on the right level of funding. It is consistent with the schooling resource standard that David Gonski set out in 2011.

The Commonwealth, as you know, is the majority government funder of the non-government sector and the states are the majority funder of the state sector. So we’ve got the ratios right.

We are going, for state schools, government schools, Belinda, we’re going from currently funding on average 17 per cent, we are going up to 20 per cent. For non-government schools we are currently around 77 per cent, we are going up to 80 per cent. So it is very significant increases in support.

But now the next question, and this is what parents, this is what parents are focused on, and grandparents are focused on is why aren’t we getting better outcomes from the schools, from our massive investment in schools?

David Gonski foreshadowed this in his report, back in 2011, that this was the next step and that’s what we are asking him to do now.


And when will that be handed down?


That’s going to be delivered to us by the end of the year. I expect this will be, this is going to be a very lively discussion. This is what we should now be focused on. I believe that time has come to end the school funding wars. We are committing a record amount of money to school funding. We are seeing the federal government’s commitment to schools increasing by 75 per cent over the decade to come. That’s a massive increase.

So the money has been committed and the issue now is to ensure that we get the value out of that investment in terms of great outcomes, great schools, great teachers, great results for our children and grandchildren.


On ABC Radio Perth – the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with you this afternoon.

And Mr Turnbull, this announcement comes hot on the heels of a major announcement about higher education funding which was made last night by the Minister, announcing the Government would introduce an efficiency dividend which will effectively mean a $2.8 billion funding cut for universities. Did you pay for your university education?


Well, no I didn’t. I am probably a bit older than you, a lot older than you I expect and I went to university before HECS. So I did not pay fees to go to university.


So how do you balance that with the announcement today then? Taking away the funding cut from universities with today’s announcement?


Well look the bottom line is that it’s been established and accepted for a very long time that university students should contribute to the cost of their university education. I mean we all, HECS was introduced originally under the Hawke government I recall, so this has been around for a very long time. And this is about maintaining the sustainability of the higher education system.

Now, over the last five years the funding for universities on a per student basis has increased by about 15 per cent, and the cost for educating students at universities has increased by about 9.5 per cent. So there is scope for the universities to return some of that, by way of efficiency dividends, to return some of that to the taxpayer and I believe that there is also the opportunity for students to make a larger contribution.

But it is a modest increase in the contribution and it is very measured and it is part of ensuring that we have a sustainable higher education system that is fair.


And I can’t let you go today without raising the Government’s call for the Productivity Commission to review how the GST is distributed - a hot topic here in Western Australia. Under the Grants Commission Formula WA in 2017-18 will get only 34 per cent of the average national per capita distribution of the GST. Are you confident this review will see an increase to Western Australia’s share?


Well I’m confident that the Productivity Commission will do a very thorough examination of the way in which the Commonwealth Grants Commission’s formula impacts on productivity right across the country.


Do you think WA deserves more than that 34 per cent?


Well as you know I have said in the past and I am the first Prime Minister to have done so, that plainly when Western Australians see they’re getting on a per capita basis 30 per cent, or a little bit more now, of the GST you can entirely understand why they feel that is unfair.


So it’s unfair?


Well you can entirely understand the point of view of Western Australians. But what we need to do is to ensure that the Grants Commission system works fairly and effectively and that it enhances productivity. That is the goal. So we are certainly looking at that, or the Productivity Commission will be looking at that.

But I do understand very keenly how big an issue this is in Western Australia - I can assure you.

All of my Western Australian colleagues have made that point to me as have many, many other Western Australians so I understand it keenly and that’s why I presented last year a way of resolving the issue. But I think we need to get the benefit of the Productivity Commission - with the benefit of their work I should say.

Part of the problem with the Commonwealth Grants Commission if I may say so, is that nobody really understands how their formula works. It’s very much a black box in that sense and I think it’s important that that be unpacked and the Productivity Commission is the right agency - you know, that’s the top economic think tank of the Government and that’s the right agency to do that.


Malcolm Turnbull, thank you for talking to us on ABC Radio Perth this afternoon.


Thank you so much.


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