Transcript of meeting with NSW Independent and Catholic Schools Sector
WED 19 SEPTEMBER 2012
PM: Can I thank everybody for coming to Canberra today – my colleagues of course had to be here because Parliament is sitting. But I want to thank everybody for coming to join us in this discussion.
I wanted to say to you in this discussion that we are certainly standing with you in this problem in New South Wales. We’re certainly standing with you in this fight against funding reductions in New South Wales.
I think you know from everything that we’ve said and everything that we’ve done that we want to see schools properly funded; we want to see that in independent schools, in Catholic schools, in state schools. We don’t want to see schools in any sector facing the kind of cutbacks that you are now face in New South Wales.
So across our team in New South Wales we’ll certainly be working with you and working with local schools as they mount a fight back against these cuts.
We’re working and going to continue to work on a new way of funding schools. I’m very conscious that one of the problems we now have is that the Australian Government schools recurrent cost index, the way in which we index school funding now gets manipulated downwards by state Liberal Government cutbacks. So it can become a compounding cycle as we see those cutbacks from state governments like Premier O’Farrell’s government.
So as we work through the details of school funding reform, I did want to indicate to you today that we do want to see a new way of doing indexation that’s got more certainty for schools and is less volatile because of the conduct of the state government. And know that that’s something that’s been on your mind and we’ll need to pursue in very detailed discussions.
But thank you for coming along today and I’ll throw over to you for some comments about how you’re seeing circumstances and the things that you would be doing from your schools.
Happy to go in any order, what would be the best order?
MOST REV ANTHONY FISHER OP, CHAIR OF NSW CATHOLIC EDUCATION COMMISSION: I might begin, Prime Minister, by expressing on behalf of all of us, our condolences on the death of your father and prayers and sympathies of the whole Catholic school community, I’m sure the other independent schools too. Our little children were sad for you so we’re with you.
PM: Thank you.
MOST REV ANTHONY FISHER OP: I’m delighted to hear you’re very aware of our anxiety. When first the cuts were mooted, they were going to be bigger, immediate and very unfairly distributed. As a result of the reaction of our parents and school communities, they ended up not quite as big and got a little breathing space and a bit more fairly distributed.
But they are very challenging and they will mean essentially for us higher fees, larger classes, fewer curriculum options, and for struggling families, a number of the members here are from Western Sydney, and where I’m from, and that really says to me that they’re juggling the electricity bill or the school bill because I can’t pay both.
We’re very comforted by your reassurance that you’re aware of the anxiety that this effect on us could be multiplied several times if the Commonwealth grant follows.
We think that the Gonski report and Government’s reaction to it gave great confidence, not to miss out in the education sector, that we want to be amongst the best educators in the world and I know that’s your public aspiration and now there’s the a lot of discomfort uncertainty about this and so we’re very grateful to have this conversation to see what reassurance we can go round to people with, especially those worried parents and school communities.
DR GEOFF NEWCOMBE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF AIS NSW: Prime Minister, from the independent sector in New South Wales, I think following your comments at the Press Club people there was a very positive feeling about the introduction of Gonski. Our schools realised that there would be more funding and that there would be a real focus on the disadvantaged and that’s very important to our sector.
I think one of the consequences of the decision by the state government to cut funding is now that now they’ve pushed now into an area where basically, so schools are saying to us, well what’s going to happen, will Gonski be introduced, how will the Federal Government cope with the cuts in funding by the state government? So there’s real concern.
Our funding cuts of course will be front line and whereas I appreciate the fact that they, the state government may be able to cut bureaucracy, not that we support that at all, but in independent schools we of course have very lean bureaucracy and I know the Catholic system does as well that so it will mean a sufficient per cent of increase in fees and also a reduction in teacher particulars.
And I think at a time when we’re looking for investment, we’ve looking to focus on teacher quality, we’re all a little confused as to why any government would start cutting education.