Transcript of joint press conference, Canberra.
- Minister for School Education
- Minister for Early Childhood and Youth
- Parliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations
SUBJECTS: Gonski Review on School Funding, Labor leadership
PETER GARRETT: Thanks everybody for coming in here today for this really terrific Schools Funding Forum and we'll have more of these really important forums happening around Australia over the coming months. And I'm here with my parliamentary colleague Senator Jacinta Collins.
This important education report that we're talking about today provides a warning for us that we need to get a model for funding education right in Australia, so that all our kids can perform to the best of their ability, and so that kids have the skills in place, so that they can get the good jobs of the future.
And we will immediately start work discussing the important agreements around funding principles with our state colleagues, establishing working groups around those areas of disadvantage that Mr Gonski's panel identified as important for any proposed schooling resource standard, and also have good conversations and discussions with the principals, the parents and the school communities about what a future funding model might look like.
And this is very important for this country. It's important that we have a constructive, reasonable and mature debate, that we take questions around school funding step by step, recognising that the Commonwealth Government, the state governments, the school systems, the parents and the students all have an interest in us getting this right, all have an interest in us doing this job in a constructive and mannered way.
JOURNALIST: How are you going to get the states and territories on board, given that Colin Barnett this morning has already said that he is not that keen on the idea at all?
PETER GARRETT: Look, I saw the Premier of Western Australia's comments and I also noted that he saw some things of interest in this important report. They've put in a submission – like the other states have – to Mr Gonski and we are not in any way talking about administering or taking over state school systems. The states run their schools – they are the government schools of this country – and they run them well. But we have a national interest in making sure that the funding that the Commonwealth provides and the resources that are provided by the states as well, are directed in such a way to get the best education possible for kids, wherever they're living and regardless of how much money their parents earn.
That's what we've got to do and I encourage the states to recognise this is an important national task for us all and I very much look forward to sitting down with the Education Ministers to discuss these matters further.
JOURNALIST: Bit how exactly are you going to do it, given the last time you attempted to change a funding model with the public hospital reforms, which ended up failing significantly and ended up not the outcome you initially were after. How are you going to exactly negotiate this with the states?
PETER GARRETT: We've already started to have a negotiation at officials’ level around funding principles. I am pleased to see that the states are willing to consider what those funding principles ought to be. And I think we should be able to – as a country in 2012 – come to some common agreement points about what funding principles ought to be in place.
I'll say one other thing about this: the Commonwealth has provided significant, additional investment in education. We have nearly doubled the spending in education – money which has gone to both non-government schools and government schools. We've established, initiated and delivered a National Curriculum, for the first time ever. We are totally committed to continuing to reform education so it serves the interests of our students the best that it can and we're committed to doing it with state governments.
Now I believe they share those goals. We are not interested in a fake debate about hit lists, about alleged means tests, or about takeovers of schools. That's not what this debate is about at all and I need to be very clear that this debate is about co-operation, constructive engagement, making sure that every school's a great school, because it is in the national interest and the Commonwealth does provide significant funding to schooling in this country.
JOURNALIST: But it's also about funding, as you mentioned there, and you couldn't answer the question today about when that new funding will come. When will you answer that question?
PETER GARRETT: Well, I've made it very clear that – and Mr Gonski did in his recommendations as well – further important and extensive work needs to be done. We want to do that work. We will do that work. And I've also said that it's our intention to legislate a new model this year. We must reach agreement with the states and stakeholders and we're going to sit down and do that work.
So people can't start sort of putting, you know, artificial finishing lines in a process which is actually very complex and where the interests of Australian students in us getting right are at stake.
JOURNALIST: If you need to legislate by the end of the year, will you consider going – not getting agreement for all the states, like what happened on health? Or do you need the agreement of every single state and territory?
PETER GARRETT: I want to sit down with all of our state counterparts to begin these discussions. I already have an established working group, which includes all of the senior officials from all of the state education departments. That's the working group that, as far as I'm concerned as Federal Minister, has been an extremely constructive one. I see no reason why we can't continue with that working group and the other timetables that I've outlined and I see no reason why all the states won't be sitting down there at the table with us.
JOURNALIST: Minister, can you give us an indication of when you hope to finish these discussions with the state governments?
PETER GARRETT: Well, let's sit down and have a discussion with them. I'm not going to start imposing a timetable on them right now. What we've said is that we want to do it immediately. My expectation is that we will start approaching all those stakeholders and laying out for them, both who we want to be members of the working groups around disability, around Indigeneity and the like and also lay out a timetable of discussion round the Ministerial Reference Group.
I would like to see the Ministerial Council meet sooner rather than later, but that is a matter for the states. And I want to do this in a co-operative fashion with the states, as I have in the past, in the reforms that we have delivered.
Now, let me just take you back in time for a second. A couple of years ago we had people asking us questions and saying there was no way you could reach an agreement with the states on a National Curriculum. Everybody was opposed to it – the states said they weren't going to come along for the journey. But we worked closely with them, we listened to their concerns, we had effective co-operation and consultation and we now have, for the first time, a National Curriculum in place. It is being delivered as we speak. It will be implemented over the coming years. If we can do a National Curriculum with the states, we can sit down and start talking about a new funding model for education.
JOURNALIST: Minister, on the issue of leadership, Simon Crean this morning denied that he is being touted as a third candidate in the spill – I guess the stalemate that's continuing. You've obviously said a number of times you support Julia Gillard. Do you think that putting Simon Crean in the mix is helping or only making it worse for the Labor Party?
PETER GARRETT: I don't intend to make any comments about these issues at all today. I have said everything that I need to say and I've answered every question about it clearly. You will continue to ask these questions and commentators will talk about it. I'm focusing on education. That's what I've said previously, that's what I'm saying today.
JOURNALIST: Minister, do you actually believe that Kevin Rudd hasn't agitated for the leadership?
PETER GARRETT: Well, I refer you to the answers that I've just given.
JOURNALIST: Haven't heard this question asked before.
PETER GARRETT: Well, look, I'm not going to be spending time commentating on questions that are put to me around these issues. What I think and what I know Australian students and parents want to see is us working constructively on a better education funding model so that kids have got a world class education, which is what they're going to need in the future.
PETER GARRETT: Again, I refer you to my two earlier answers on this and we won't go round the world for sixpence here. It's very clear to me that this report is an absolutely seminal piece of work when it comes to education reform in Australia. I think Mr Gonski and his panel have served the nation well. There is much in their recommendations for governments to properly consider and there's much at stake to get it right. We're serious about education, we're fair dinkum about the support that we've been giving, but we need to make sure that every kid, wherever they're living, however much money their parents earn, can be the best-educated kid possible, to get the best job for the future. That's our focus, that's our priority and that's what I'm talking about.
JOURNALIST: Jacinta, are you disappointed about what's happening in the Labor Party at the moment?
JACINTA COLLINS: I've indicated, as has Peter, that I strongly support the Prime Minister. I believe she has very strong caucus support and many, like myself, support and admire her focus on improving our school education system.
JOURNALIST: But should the Prime Minister call a leadership ballot to clear the air?
JACINTA COLLINS: We should be focusing, as Peter indicated, on the policy areas we're striving to improve. Education is a key one for the Prime Minister.
JOURNALIST: But the policy message isn't getting through at the moment, so don't you think a leadership ballot needs to take place to get it off the table and actually get some of your messages through?
PETER GARRETT: Well, let me refer to that question. I have been extremely pleased to see this week the wide level of stakeholder support for both the recommendations of this panel, this education, important education panel review, and also the Government's response. I've seen positive responses from the Business Council of Australia, from the principals of Australia, from the education unions of Australia, from the independent schools associations in Australia, from state governments in Australia.
Now we have had positive responses to both what we want to do and what challenges Mr Gonski has left with us. That's the important work of the moment, that's the work that we're going to get on with now. Thanks very much everybody.
JACINTA COLLINS: Thank you.