Interview with Chris Smith, 2GB

Transcript
23 Jun 2017
Prime Minister
School Funding; Remuneration Tribunal; Neil Prakash
E&OE
Education and Childcare

CHRIS SMITH:

I have the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the line, right now. Prime Minister thank you very much for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning.

CHRIS SMITH:

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham has described your passing of Gonski 2.0 as an historic opportunity but boy oh boy, it came at a cost didn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well yes, it was a long debate and it is a very substantial increase in funding for schools - an extra $23.5 billion from the Commonwealth on schools over the next decade.

But Chris, this is a very historic achievement. This is real reform. For years, we’ve had school funding that has been inconsistent, it hasn’t been transparent, it’s been one deal, one special deal after another. Labor of course had 27 separate and sometimes secret deals with complete inconsistency.

What we’ve delivered now for the first time in the history of the Commonwealth is consistent, national, transparent, needs-based funding.

So if a school has the same needs, it gets the same level of funding whether it’s in New South Wales or in Victoria, whether it’s a Christian school, whether it’s a Protestant Christian school or whether it’s a Catholic school and of course the public schools are treated on the same basis all around the country as well.

CHRIS SMITH:

But you hadn’t planned to spend an extra five thousand million dollars on this, had you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well certainly it wasn’t what we planned to do, Chris, but I have to work with the Parliament the Australian people elected and that means that sometimes we have to reach compromises.

CHRIS SMITH:

But every time we go to the crossbenchers, you’re pulling out cheques for billions of dollars out of your back pocket.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well not always but often that is what you need to do to get legislation passed. Chris, the alternative is that you don’t get anything done.

I mean, you know, cast your mind back to the last Parliament, the Parliament before the election - the Senate, we struggled to get anything through the Senate. Since the election, when many people said, you know there were some people that said my Government was in office but not in power. They said: ‘Oh look, you’ve got only one vote majority in the House, you’re in a minority in the Senate, you won’t get anything done.’ Look at what we’ve achieved.

CHRIS SMITH:

Sure.

PRIME MINISTER:

And the way you do that is you’ve got to respect the Australian people. They’ve elected the senators that they did and we work with them.

CHRIS SMITH:

Okay, you’ve still lost the Catholics from all reports today. Would it have been better in hindsight to get them into the negotiation room before you got this together?

PRIME MINISTER:

I wouldn’t accept that generalisation.

CHRIS SMITH:

Well that’s what they say.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, depends who you mean by ‘they’. We’ve had strong support from Catholic principals, Catholic parents, around the country. The fact is that funding, money for the Catholic sector is growing. It is well over $3 billion over the decade, over $80 billion in total funding over the decade.

So it’s a very substantial increase going to the Catholic sector as indeed it is to the government sector and of course, the independents.

But the important thing is and this is fundamental, you know, if you think about the values of Catholic education, fundamental to that is fairness. Catholic social justice speaks to fairness. And what we’re doing here is ensuring that all schools, whatever their denomination or affiliation, are treated on the basis of needs. It’s common sense, I mean the Government has got scarce resources - it should be allocating them on the basis of need and that’s what we’re doing.

CHRIS SMITH:

Can you give some guarantee though that we’ll see the result, say, in 5 years’ time? Because the history of this in the last 15 years, and we learned this from some international education studies that came through in December and January that despite the bucket-loads of money we’ve thrown into education over the past 15 years, our results just continually go down the gurgler.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Chris, thank you, hooray. You’ve raised the most important point and that’s what Gonski 2.0 is really about. The real issue is we’ve now got the funding right - it’s national, it’s consistent, its needs based, its fair. What we now need to do is make sure that we get the educational ‘bang’ for the taxpayer buck. That our kids get to the top of the class where they should be.

CHRIS SMITH:

Please!

PRIME MINISTER:

Now Gonski, David Gonski is chairing a second panel which is going to look at precisely this question. This is what we should be debating. The funding wars should now be over. We should be focusing on what we do to make sure we get better teachers, teachers with better support, better qualifications, and we get better outcomes in our classrooms.

But you’re absolutely right - we’ve been spending more, and getting worse results. Now that doesn’t mean that more money means worse results. What it means is, we are not getting the value out of the investment that we are making.

CHRIS SMITH:

I wonder whether there’s a link between what you’ve achieved with Gonski this week and what Pauline Hanson has raised. In that, it seems as if the experts are admitting that we’re not teaching teachers to deal with kids with special needs, whether it’s autism or disabilities or whatever. We’re not teaching the teachers well enough. I wonder whether we can dedicate $23.5 billion, some of it anyway, to getting the teachers taught better to deal with those situations?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look the whole objective Chris, of all of our disability policies, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the substantial loadings that we pay to schools with kids with disabilities and of course, disabilities range from very severe to mild –

CHRIS SMITH:

Very broad.

PRIME MINISTER:

You can’t generalise about it. But the whole object is to ensure that people with disabilities maximise their potential and lead a full and rewarding life, to the maximum of their potential, in the community. So that’s why with kids who have disabilities - and there will be well over 400,000 receiving support loadings with respect of disabilities through the school system across the country as part of our new policy – what we want them to do is of course, is to participate in their schools, to get the support they need, so that they can then lead the fullest and most productive and most satisfying lives.

CHRIS SMITH:

But there are circumstances where some who have extreme disabilities can be disruptive in the classroom and that is another thing that needs to be, I guess, handled and it might best be handled outside of mainstream school.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Chris, look, I don’t want to get into an argument about, sort of at a theoretical level – the object of everything we want to do with children or indeed adults with disabilities is to ensure that they are playing the maximum part they can to maximize their abilities and talents in the community and that is why you see kids with disabilities are doing well in schools because they are provided with some extra support and assistance where they need it and I think teachers are very alert to that.

I know there has been the suggestion that there should be some sort of segregation – we do not accept that, we reject that. Obviously you can’t generalise about every case but as a principle what we want is children who have disabilities to be given the maximum opportunity to do their best in the community, in the mainstream, in the classroom.

CHRIS SMITH:

Okay – you’ve got a pay rise overnight.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, that’s right.

CHRIS SMITH:

Yeah, and I would’ve thought we should be paying the prime minister $1 million anyway so I have got no problem with what you’re earning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’m not complaining.

CHRIS SMITH:

No, no – of course not. But I tell you what a lot of people out there who live in the real world are and they are saying: ‘Well, hang on - we’ve got debt and deficit and it is nothing to be proud of. We’re shaving the cream off super for some. Spending continues to grow. We’ve got a Medicare freeze. Power prices just about to explode. And in 17 months the pollies have got a 2 per cent pay increase and another 2 per cent pay increase.’ David Leyonhjelm says it is badly timed. Would you agree?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s a decision by the Remuneration Tribunal and there is never a good time to increase the pay of politicians but the alternative to having an independent tribunal set the politicians pay is to have the politicians setting it themselves and no-one would want that.

So it is I believe a 2 per cent increase over 18 months. That’s from the last time. But you know, it’s the Remuneration Tribunal’s decision and-

CHRIS SMITH:

Sure – you wonder whether they are in the real world when everyone is not having increase in wages. But anyway, one quick thing before we let you go – Neil Prakash, the Islamic State member is telling a Turkish court that he doesn’t want to come back to Australia. Would you welcome that outcome?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we want him to come back here to face the music in an Australian court and then have a very, very long term of imprisonment for his crimes.

I mean, he is one of the worst, worst examples of terrorist financing and organisation. Because we do have an extradition treaty with Turkey, we have the prospect, the ability to bring him back to Australia to face the music. Can I just say to you Chris – as far as we are concerned we will track terrorists down wherever they are. And he is an Australian. He may have thought he was safe over there. He very narrowly escaped being killed. He is now in a Turkish jail and we are seeking to bring him back here to face the music in an Australian court.

CHRIS SMITH:

Okay – I appreciate your time this morning. Have yourself a good weekend.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you, same to you.

[ENDS]