MON 03 SEPTEMBER 2012
Subject(s): Gonski review of school funding; Deaths of soldiers in Afghanistan; Asylum seekers
JOURNALIST: Could I be so brutal as to go straight to the money question? Now you have got $8 billion for a National Disability Insurance Scheme, you have got $5 billion extra for asylum seekers, you have got $4 billion extra for dental and now we are talking about $6.5 billion for the Gonski response.
You say that you want to sort out a deal with the premiers by COAG next year. Is your starting point the 70:30 split that you talked about today or are you going to have to pay a bit more than 30 per cent given the recalcitrant states?
PM: My starting point is that our nation's children are worth it and we should have a way of funding schools that puts each child's needs at the centre of the funding system and which means that we can improve schools over time.
My starting point here is you have got to get the right combination of change and more resources. More resources by themselves won't make a difference.
We need to combine that with greater teacher quality, lifting teaching standards, giving principals more autonomy, making sure we have all got more information.
But yes, we will work through the money issues. There will be a six-year transition. We have done that deliberately because change takes time and so we will work through all of the changes that are necessary.
To give just one example, if we are lifting entry standards to teacher education, then those new starting teachers, even if they start their course in the next couple of years, won't be teaching in our schools for several years afterwards. So change takes time.
I'm not going to flag here today questions of funding shares. We do expect the states and territories to step up to the plate and to put in their fair share. The discussions are about to start.
On the budget questions for the nation's long-term future, we are committed to this school reform work, as I have outlined today.
We are committed to a National Disability Insurance Scheme and we will do what we have done so far, which is to make choices on the Government's budget in a Labor way, to do great Labor reforms of which this is one.
JOURNALIST: Bianca Hall, Prime Minister, from the National Times.
I’m just wondering whether you would still consider it fair that the states and territories take up 70 per cent of the funding given the Federal Government will be asking them to increase their funding share by several billion dollars?
PM: That's the same question as Andrew's put another way. We all need to step up here. We need to step up. States and territories need to step up.
I'm signalling today we are prepared to step up. We want states and territories to also participate for their fair share.
You have gone to the questions of money and that's understandable. But the money is an input to drive change and the change we want is higher standards and higher outcomes for our kids.
That's the way I'm viewing the money. The money is an input to driving that change, our aspiration has to be on securing that change.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, David Crowe from The Australian.
You have talked very much about setting priorities, about choosing what is most important to achieve. Given the substantial cost of the program over the long-term, is this a kind of priority that requires a scaling back of some of the benefits that go to those who are not disadvantaged in the community?
For instance, by means testing of welfare that goes to those who may not really need it in order to fund education for those who do? Would you consider means test on a wider scale?
PM: Well, we do means test family benefits and the like now to target our assistance to families that need our assistance the most.
And as a Government we have dealt with a lot of outcries and controversy when we have more tightly targeted some means testing arrangements.
The private health insurance means test would well and truly be top of that list. So the choices we always make are Labor choices. You have seen that in our track record.
People said for years private health insurance rebate, it was incapable of change, everybody muttering about the private health insurers having lists of people in marginal seats and so on and so forth. Despite all of that pressure, we went in and we got it done.
When we are able to point to a track record like that, I think I am entitled to stand here as Prime Minister and point to a future where we will continue to make tough choices, we will bring the budget to surplus, but we will invest in those things that are closest to our heart and best for the long-term future of our country.
If I can reverse engineer your question, where do you think the budget for the Federal Government will be in the years long after you have retired from journalism?
But where do you think the Federal Budget will be, possibly not a great time indicator in the modern age, I meant many years into the future, not tomorrow - where do you think our nation will be if we have fallen behind the education standards of our region?
Their economies have got higher-skilled and higher-equipped workforces than ours.
That's one vision of the future and it's a vision that I am specifically rejecting by putting before you today this crusade, this national plan for change.
JOURNALIST: Paul Bongiorno, Ten News, Prime Minister.
You are going to legislate an aspiration by the end of the year and they then you have a six-year transition which of course is two parliamentary terms. Judging on the comments that are coming from the Opposition today, both the Opposition Leader and Opposition spokesman, you don't have bipartisan support for this.
Do you have some political strategy that would put an Abbott-proof fence around it? In a sense, aren't we really talking about the never-never here?
PM: Paul, thank you for your question. We do take a very different approach from the Opposition, absolutely. I'm for improving the nation's schools. I'm for better investing in the nation's schools.
They’re for cutting back funding to our schools. They stood at the last election campaign wanting to cut more than $2 billion out of our schools.
They verified those cutbacks in Opposition. And as you know it is Mr Abbott's view that public schools very too much money.
We have got diametrically opposed world views here. I'm for improving our schools and better investing in education. The Opposition is for ripping money out of our schools.
This will be one of the great contests of the 2013 election, and Australians will have a choice.
It will be a choice between better resourcing and improving our schools but a choice between two competing visions of our nation's future.
Do you want us to be a nation on a high skill, high wage, high productivity path to prosperity or do you want to take our chances as we fall behind the skill levels and standards of the competitor nations of our region?
Do you want a nation where the only kids that can get good quality education are the kids where parents can truly, truly, truly step up to the plate and pay for it, or do you really believe that every child in every school is a precious person who should get a great quality education?
Well I am passionately for that. I am incredibly personally conscious that the difference between me standing here and not standing here is the difference between Unley High and having gone to a different state school.
That's the difference. Yes, a whole lot of other things came in play. Politics is about luck and circumstance and effort and capacity and all of those things, but it's certainly true that if my parents had chosen to move to a different suburb, if I had gone to a disadvantaged school, I wouldn't be standing here today.
That is the transformation education brings and I don't think we should be denying it to any child.
JOURNALIST: Lyndal Curtis from ABC News 24, Prime Minister.
If it's going to take six years to fully put in place a system that will in 13 years put Australia into the top five schooling systems while not willing to replicate the methods of the schools that are already in the top five and given by the time COAG reports next year, you will have had the Gonski Report for more than a year, if you are really on a crusade to right a moral wrong for those children at school now, are you taking a little too long to saddle up the horse?
PM: The horse has been saddled and on that track since we were first elected to Government. When we were first elected to Government, I was appalled by the approach that was being taken to education.
I was appalled by the fact that we were slipping behind the standards of the world. I was appalled by the fact that the best policy people that we have, and we have got great policy people here in Canberra in the Department, but the best policy people with all of their hard work and goodwill could not produce for you a list of the most disadvantaged schools in the country.
Just not possible. No one had it. The Education Minister didn't have it, it was not possible to have.
So we set about changing that. We have laid this out piece by piece deliberately. MySchool, so we could all have more information. Low SES partnership, $1.5 billion going into disadvantaged schools.
More than $500 million going into literacy and numeracy work. Around $500 million going into teacher quality. Computers in schools. Building the Education Revolution, National Curriculum, Teach for Australia.
And because we have laid those pieces out in the order we have laid them out, I don't come here today saying I think I can improve schools.
I don't come here to say, "I'm going to have a go at improving schools". I'm here today saying "I know how to improve schools".
We have been out there and improved some. We have improved some with the reform agenda we have laid out. And we can now pretty forensically tell you what difference the money makes.
That's work we have done and work that David Gonski and his panel did so you as a taxpayer don't have to sit there saying how do I know it's this amount of money and not that amount of money.
We can show you the difference the money makes through the work we’ve done. So that’s why it’s the right moment to now move to an approach across 9,500 schools.
I've timed the work of David Gonski and his panel deliberately because I knew I was putting our nation in a position where you could all test these propositions for yourself, get on MySchool, look at the national partnership scores, look at the improvements, look at two schools that get different amounts of money and get different results.
Work it out for yourself now you can. So it's the right time to broaden it to all schools.
But there are capacity constraints in the system. I can't click my fingers and generate teachers that have gone into teaching with higher entry standards, a higher entry calibre and get them teaching in 9,500 schools. I can't click my fingers and do that. I can do that over a number of years.
In terms of working with teachers already in service, professional development, accountability, we can do that over time. But there are hundreds of thousands of them.
So these are the challenges that we are going to work through. We are going to start in 2014 but we are going to build over the six-year period.
If we just went, "Here is all the money in 2014", we wouldn't get the result because of the constraints in the system. So I want to make sure every dollar counts and that's why we are going through the transition.
JOURNALIST: Malcolm Farr from news.com.au, Prime Minister.
To put the perspective to your 2025 timeline. The first children to enter a secondary system ranked in the top five in the world have not yet been born. What sort of political capital does the Government have to expect the patience from the electorate in this sort of - you termed it a patient investment?
PM: I think people can judge us on what we have done to date and having seen us do all of that, they can judge our intentions for the future. They can go to, look at, think about schools that have already been transformed and changed.
I've spoken about a couple of them in my speech today but they are all around the nation.
I can go to low-fee Catholic schools in my electorate, a school like Bethany, doing a fantastic job against the odds where we have brought change.
So when we can show this change to people, I think that that will give people a lot of faith that we know that we can broaden and deepen this change around the country.
And I think too, people intuitively get it, that when you are changing something as large as our education system, three and a quarter million kids go to school. There are hundreds of thousands of people who work in schools.
They do it out of 9,500 places around the country. Changing all of that does take some time.
For every dollar to count, for every dollar to make a difference to a child's life, we will take the right amount of time.
JOURNALIST: Laura Tingle from the Financial Review, Prime Minister.
If every school gets an increase in funding under this scheme but you are trying to transition to a different scheme which funds per student, how do you actually go about changing that grandfathering arrangement?
Do you have different rates of indexation for schools that are currently above the standard to the ones that are below the standard?
PM: Well, there are issues with the way in which school funding is indexed now. For example, there are a number of schools who have their funding frozen and don't experience any growth in funds.
Under the system that we want, that would not be the case. There would be no school that is frozen and experiencing no growth in funds. In terms of working out what is the appropriate indexation rate, we will need to work that through in discussions with state and territory colleagues.
That's part of the work that we have to do and obviously part of the work that goes to the partnership and financing arrangements here over the long-term.
JOURNALIST: Jessica Marszalek from News Limited.
I'm just wondering about the disadvantage loading, do you envisage each would be paid at the same rate, for example would a low socio-economic child compared to someone with a disability, would they get the same rate and how might you decide who fits these categories and also what happens to children who fit several of these categories?
PM: We have got very good data about who fits these categories. So if you go on the MySchool website now, for example, you would be able to click up a chart that would show you the preponderance of kids in different quartiles from the poorest quarter through to the most advantaged quarter.
So we have got good information about the kinds of kids and where they are in school. For example, to take disadvantaged children, we are looking at a loading for children who are in the too lower quartiles, from the poorer homes, but there would be a sliding scale from the most disadvantaged.
Now each of these loadings is being worked through as purpose-specific. There's not one number that you would get out and use and say that's the right number for a child with a disadvantage in the sense they come from a low SES home and that number is exactly the same number as for a child with a disability.
We are not taking that approach. It's much more fine-grained and consequently more complicated and that is part of the discussions that have been happening in the working groups that Minister Garrett has overseen and part of the discussion that needs to continue with states and territories.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Kieran Gilbert from Sky News.
I want to ask you about the most recent asylum seeker tragedy of last week. Until recently when boats have been intercepted in the Indonesian search and rescue zone they have been taken to Christmas Island for processing.
This one last week – it was obviously dealt with at the time of the tragedy, the survivors were taken to the port of Merak in Indonesia. Was there any communication between the Government and the Navy or the Defence Force to direct that boat to go to Merak?
Does it mark a shift in policy or is it just coincidence it comes at the same time you are toughening the policy elsewhere?
PM: This was a search and rescue that was oversighted by the Indonesian search and rescue agency, and it is my understanding that they made the decision to transfer the survivors back to Indonesia.
The vessel in question was very close to, relatively speaking, close to the coastline of Indonesia.
JOURNALIST: Michelle Grattan from The Age.
Ms Gillard, you have put a quite short timeframe on the discussions for this scheme and I'm just curious as to why you won't at this point say how much you want the states to bear of this, and when will you be telling the states that fairly vital amount?
And secondly, would you envisage that the bulk of the new spending would be loaded to the back end of the six years, the last couple of years or so?
PM: Michelle, I've had a fair bit of experience negotiating with states and territories as it happens. You know, getting that health agreement done, getting the skills agreement done.
When I was Minister, getting all of the partnerships done that we've been speaking about today. So you will have to excuse me if drawing on that experience about how it's best to negotiate with states and territories or have discussions with them in a COAG context, you will have to excuse me if the approach I take is the one that I've outlined to you.
There are a series of things we will say in discussions to our state and territory colleagues that I am not going to flag publicly today.
We have got a lot of work to do with them. This is a challenging agenda and it's challenging for all governments and it's challenging for all governments at a time when there are plenty of pressures on budgets, our budget and state budgets. I understand that.
But I'm also cheered by the fact that premiers like Premier O'Farrell, in responding to the review when it was first released made positive statements about the insights and work of the independent review panel.
And many of the jurisdictions are enthusiastic about the kind of reform directions I've outlined today. We know that because we have worked with them through the national partnerships that are already out there driving change.
JOURNALIST: Mark Riley from the Seven Network, Prime Minister.
You are going to be requiring a lot of teachers under these new programs.
Higher entry levels so students at universities who will be looking at careers in other areas are much higher paid and annual reviews.
What is your commitment to improving conditions for teachers? Shouldn't they be paid higher if they are going to be expected to doing a higher grade of work?
PM: We already have a policy. One of the changes we have brought to schools which rewards teachers for higher and higher skill levels as part of our work in disadvantaged schools.
We have seen jurisdictions use Federal Government money so the partnership we have with them to provide rewards to the best teachers who are prepared to go and work in the most disadvantaged schools.
So as part of the reform work we have already done, we have recognised and rewarded excellent teaching, and I believe that that's appropriate.
I also know from the work we've done with Teach for Australia and just from meeting many people who have gone into teaching, there are many, many high-performing Australians who, when they got that tertiary education rank and were making a selection about what they with would do and with the rest of their lives or at least what they’d do with a section of their lives, could have made another decision than going teaching.
They chose to go teaching because they had that sense of passion and enthusiasm and commitment and I'm full of admiration for it.
So there's a combination here. Yes, rewarding excellence in teaching I think matters. I think valuing our teachers matters.
Changing the national conversation so that it's one about how great it is to be a teacher, about what incredible work people in teaching are doing for the nation, about how they’re the arms and legs that are galvanising our nation in a crusade towards a goal that we all share.
I actually think that discussion about status and valuing is also very important and you will certainly hear a lot more about that from me and Minister Garrett and the Government as we go about these reforms.
Personally, when I go to schools I'm blown away by the calibre of people I meet. You meet some incredibly remarkable Australians who just go and do what can be really tough things day after day and are fired up every day about getting results for the kids that they teach.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Phil Coorey from the Sydney Morning Herald.
Can I ask you about Afghanistan and the deaths of the five soldiers last week and you urged the Australian public to hold our nerve on our commitment there.
We have had President Hamid Karzai criticising the Australians, that mission and a conflicting version of events as to the nature of the people we killed on that mission.
Are you worried that going to further erode public support for this war, and do you have any plans to speak to President Hamid Karzai in the near future to smooth things over?
PM: Going through it from the top. We work in a close partnership with Afghanistan, with the people of Afghanistan and obviously we work training soldiers for the Afghan National Army.
I've met with President Karzai and personally received his condolences when we’ve lost Australian soldiers and it's been apparent to me in those meetings that he feels those losses very deeply and when I've spoken to him about some of the family circumstances for people we've lost, you could see that hitting him very hard.
Now on the recent issue, the view of the Afghan authorities about a recent operation – let me be very, very clear. This was an authorised operation, it was a partnered operation, and it was conducted in accordance with our rules of engagement.
Our ambassador in Kabul has already made representations to the Afghan Government to make those points very clearly.
JOURNALIST: Katina Curtis from Australian Associated Press. Prime Minister, if the funding under the new system is linked to improve schools’ performance, what’s going to happen to under- or low-performing schools?
PM: We’re going to drive their performance up. That’s why it’s linked to school improvement.
Because of the way that we’ll do the accountabilities, because of the transparency about the data that I now have, that you now have – everyone has – we’re in a position to be very clear that there’s not places that people can sweep under-performance under the carpet.
If there’s under-performance it will need to be addressed. Each and every school will be required to have a school improvement plan and people will be held to account against that plan.
And as I made the comment in the speech, we ask our kids every day to set a goal, to strive to reach that goal, we test them to see how they’re going to reach that goal. We encourage them if they need to improve.
I want to see us put extra supports in if they need to improve. If we’re prepared to ask that of the children, then we should be very passionate about asking that of the adults in the system being held to account for what is happening in our schools.
JOURNALIST: Chris Johnson, Canberra Times, Prime Minister.
You’ve spent $16 billion on the Building the Education Revolution, which while it provided some nice new school halls it hasn’t had a huge impact on student results or raised Australia’s international standing.
Now the pressure’s on for this $6 billion plus for Gonski which you want the states and territories to contribute to. Do you feel that the priorities were right, or has there been wastage here?
PM: I think that’s a substantial rewriting of history and I’m not going to let it go uncorrected. Number one, we did Building the Education revolution to support Australian jobs during the global financial crisis and downturn, which has swept millions of people around the world into the ranks of the unemployed.
And if you want to go an live through that experience take yourself to Detroit, take yourself off to Spain, take yourself off to Greece, walk the streets of London and talk to them about what ait is like to have sizeable numbers of people unemployed with no hope and no prospects of getting a job in the short term.
We didn’t want our nation to go through that kind of crisis and we avoided it through economic stimulus, one of the – indeed it’s been reviewed as the best-targeted and best-designed stimulus package in the world.
Now when you’re stimulating the economy to support jobs, there’s various ways of doing it. You could get people to paint rocks. We took a different view, because of the value we put on Australian schools and Australian education.
We said if we’ve got to get a lot of money out there quickly, in a way that’s dispersed around the nation so it supports jobs in communities around the nation, who are we going to benefit, how are we going to do it, and schools came up top of our list. And that was the right priority.
That’s exactly the same kind of passion and enthusiasm for school and school education I’m asking the nation to show today.
And then in terms of the difference the capital’s made, well I’m not a woman with a great deal of time but if I had a great deal of time I could ensure that apart from weekends you did not go home between now and Christmas as you went around the country, school after school after school, where you could see how that capital is making a difference to the way they teach kids.
Multi-purpose areas, teachers don’t want to teach anymore in 1950s-style classrooms – door closed, kids in rows, one teacher.
The capital forces a lot of that teaching style, where what people want now is flexible spaces, get kids over here doing the work that matters for their personalised learning, team teach – have a coach over there sitting with the young boy who’s falling behind, running his fingers over the words, spelling out the letters.
The flexible capital makes that possible.
Flexible capital has made possible a new approach to libraries, a new approach to digital technology. We need to improve in science – one of the areas we need to improve – and the science labs will make a difference to that.
Kids don’t want to sit there with a coloured book which has got a photo of someone else doing the experiment.
They want to be hands-on in a modern lab doing the experiment themselves, learning from doing it, doing all the little things we want scientists to do. Generate the hypothesis, test the hypothesis.
So if you want to pack your bags I’ll make sure you get home Christmas Eve, and I’ll be very, very grateful if you write a story across your newspaper group every day in between.