Monday, 19 June 2017
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Brandis. Yesterday it was revealed that the Turnbull government's own documents, reportedly provided to the Senate crossbench, indicate that Catholic schools stand to lose $4.6 billion under the government's education package. One Liberal MP has told The Australian that:
It leaves me with a very sour taste in my mouth. I'm wondering if Minister Birmingham deliberately misled the partyroom when he gave his briefing.
I ask the minister: did Minister Birmingham mislead the coalition party room, or were coalition MPs and senators fully aware that under the government's package Catholic schools stood to lose $4.6 billion?
The answer to the honourable senator's question is no. Senator Birmingham did not mislead the party room. As to the rest of the honourable senator's question, it is based on a series of false premises. It is false to suggest that Catholic schools will lose any money at all under the proposal that Senator Birmingham has brought to the parliament. In fact, over the 10-year period to 2027 funding to the Catholic system will increase by $2.8 billion. That is $2.8 billion of the $18.6 billion of additional money that will be spent on Australian schools under the proposal that Senator Birmingham is bringing before the parliament this week.
Let me make it as clear as it is possible to be: in addition to the existing expenditure on the Catholic system, Catholic schools will receive, over the 10-year period, an additional $2.8 billion in public funding. The Catholic system know that. That is why, for example, the Archbishop of Brisbane, Archbishop Coleridge, has said that Catholic parents have nothing to be concerned about in relation to what Senator Birmingham has proposed. They know, because there is an additional $2.8 billion for the Catholic system under Senator Birmingham's proposal.
In relation to the education package, the Liberal member for Menzies, Mr Andrews, says:
To do a deal with the Greens seems madness to me, that we’re hellbent on driving our own base away in return for votes from the Greens in which we’ll never be rewarded at the ballot box.
Is the member for Menzies correct?
Senator Wong, I hope the Greens vote for our proposal. I hope all the crossbench vote for our proposal, because this is the best reform to school funding that Australia will have seen in a generation. We will be returning to the original vision of Mr David Gonski for genuine, transparent, nationally consistent needs based funding.
So I would welcome the support of the Greens for this proposal that sees an additional $18.6 billion over the 10 years to 2027—$11.9 billion in extra money to government schools, $2.8 billion more money to Catholic schools and $3.8 billion more money to independent schools. Every single element of every single system within the broader school system will benefit from Senator Birmingham's proposal. (Time expired)
Can the minister confirm that his own party room colleagues are so sceptical of the government's schools package that even Senator Back has been forced to say:
Please don't make me vote against the government in my last week in the Senate.
I saw Senator Back's interview on ABC television this morning. Senator Back, we will miss you. We will miss the intelligent contributions you always make to the debates in this House. Like all of my colleagues in the coalition, Senator Back's voice is welcome in this discussion. Senator Back's voice is very welcome in this discussion, and we look forward to Senator Back supporting the legislation that Senator Birmingham will bring before the chamber later in the week, because under the legislation every element of the Australian school system will do better—the government system by $11.9 billion of additional money, the Catholic system by $2.8 billion of additional money and the independent system by $3.8 billion of additional money on the basis of needs based, transparent and nationally consistent funding. (Time expired)
My question is to the Minister for Education and Training, Senator Birmingham. Can the minister inform the Senate of public support for the government's fair, transparent and needs based school funding reforms in my home state of New South Wales?
I thank Senator Williams for his question and his focus, in particular, on support from New South Wales. Of course, we saw support from New South Wales on day one of the announcement of the Turnbull government's commitment to schools funding, with David Gonski himself coming out and providing support for the Turnbull government's reforms. David Gonski's endorsement has been backed, time and again, by the other members of the Gonski panel, those people who the Labor Party hand-picked to do a reform package in relation to school funding. But then those opposite chose to ignore what that panel said. David Gonski, Ken Boston and Kathryn Greiner—they have all come along and said, 'It would be a tragedy if the Turnbull government's legislation is defeated,' and yet Labor continue to refuse to listen to those individuals.
Today the former education minister in New South Wales, Adrian Piccoli, who has been a strong advocate indeed for needs based funding and at times a critic of the government, has urged the parliament to pass the Turnbull government's funding. He said:
We have arrived at a crucial moment for education funding and I am calling on Labor and the Greens not to play obstructionist politics.
… … …
It's in the interests of our children to have a fair funding model and this model makes it fairer.
Mr Piccoli absolutely got it right. He is joined by the New South Wales Secondary Principals' Council, who have said:
… it's fantastic that we've got the Turnbull Government coming out and engaging with David Gonski and looking at really a genuine commitment to needs-based funding… I think it's great that there's a move away from 27 separate funding models …
Those are the 27 models, deals and special arrangements that those opposite put in place. But those 27 different models create distortions, inequities and unfairness which the Turnbull government, with our $18.6 billion in extra funding, are determined to wipe away and ensure we have fair, consistent, needs based funding, as David Gonski recommended. (Time expired)
The New South Wales government system will see strong growth, as indeed will government school systems across the country and independent and Catholic school systems as well. If you look at it, New South Wales public schools will see an average growth of 4.9 per cent per student per annum under these reforms—well above inflation and well above wages growth.
What this translates to on a per-student basis in government schools in New South Wales is going from around $2,780 per student up to $4,422 per student in support. In Inverell High School—a school that I know will be dear to Senator Williams' heart—around 594 students will see significant funding growth, to some $6,113 per student in 2027. That is because it is a true needs based model that provides support to regional schools like Inverell High School to ensure they get the benefits and support that they deserve. (Time expired)
Our decade-long reforms will invest more than $100 billion across government schools right around the country, ensuring the neediest schools get the greatest support. More than 4½ thousand Australian schools will see annual growth rates in excess of five per cent per student per annum. We will see funding for government schools grow from around $6.8 billion this year to $13.2 billion by 2027. That is growth of $6.4 billion over that time horizon. What it is doing is providing funding to go into those schools to provide the resources they need to help the students who need it most. It means greater support for teacher aides and for speech pathologists, assistance for students who need it, greater assistance for students with disability, greater assistance for Indigenous students. It is about delivering the type of needs based model that David Gonski recommended and it is delivering it through the Turnbull government's legislation, which David Gonski himself has endorsed to this Senate.
My question is to the Minister for Education and Training, Senator Birmingham. I refer to Senator Back, who says: 'The minister is proposing a move from one system of waiting to another. The Catholic system and I are very, very concerned about the impact that is going to have on Catholic schools around Australia.' Is Senator Back correct?
Catholic schools around Australia are set to benefit from the Turnbull government's reforms, seeing real growth in their funding right around the country. It is growth from $6.3 billion of funding that goes into the eight different Catholic education commissions this year in 2017, and grows to $9.7 billion by 2027, going to those same eight different Catholic education systems. There are those who want to live in an alternative universe, where they pretend that 'funny money' that was never budgeted for somehow exists and can be provided ad nauseam to the highest—
Thank you, Mr President. I wonder if we could raise the issue of direct relevance. The minister is happy to talk about the Labor Party, but we were actually asking him about Senator Back's quote, which was referring to the system of weighting that was being changed. The minister has not actually gone to that point. It is all very well for him to talk about the Labor Party, but we are asking about what Senator Back says about this minister's changes to the system of weighting.
The legislation before this chamber, the legislation that the Turnbull government is giving needs based funding effect to, that legislation will provide over the decade around $81 billion in funding support for Catholic education. It will see growth over the next few years of 3.7 per cent per annum per student, on average, across Catholic education authorities, who will retain the absolute right to redistribute funding as they see fit.
My point of order is on the question of relevance. The question specifically asked the minister to comment on the issue of the weighting of the funding arrangements, the mechanism by which that funding is distributed. That is the nub of the issue here. I ask that the minister be asked to direct his remarks directly to the question.
The actual question was not about weighting but it inferred weighting. I do agree with you; the minister has not addressed the subject matter directly. But the minister has half the time left to answer the question. I call the minister.
The model we are proposing, net all of the changes in terms of providing consistent application of SES scores around the country, will actually put in place growing funding for Catholic education. That is the point that we have emphasised time and time again. People may wish to create scare campaigns and use scare tactics, but the truth is there is $3.4 billion of additional funding growth that will come into Catholic education in the course of the next 10 years. That is net all of the different changes to the funding model to provide consistency, to provide fairness and to treat all non-government schools across the country equally, according to the same methodology and the same formula, not special deals that might be carved out for one sector, one system or one state, like those opposite sought to do.
Given the minister's own department has revealed Catholic schools will lose $4.6 billion under his package, and schools like the King's School in Sydney will get a $19 million funding boost, how can the minister pretend that his funding system will protect students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds in Catholic schools?
Let me make it very clear for the senator. Catholic education authorities across Australia will receive $6.3 billion this year. That will grow, under our reforms, each and every one of the next 10 years to $9.7 billion. That is growth, on average, of 3½ per cent per student. It cannot possibly be any clearer to the senator that there is $3.4 billion in funding growth available for Catholic education and that that is delivered to them in a manner where those eight system authorities retain their autonomy to be able to distribute it according to their needs based formulas as they see fit, but it is a growing pot of money.
I realise those opposite want to pretend that there is some magical pot of money out there that extra funds could be poured into, because that is what they have always done when it comes to the budget. But that is not the reality. The reality is that there is more funding for Catholic education, as there is for independent education, as there is for public education, under— (Time expired)
The Executive Director of the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria, Stephen Elder, says:
Senator Birmingham is providing his colleagues—even fellow cabinet ministers—with figures to bring to meetings with principals and school communities that are wrong.
Why should anyone trust the minister's numbers when his own department has admitted that they are a product of a flawed methodology?
In relation to Catholic education in Victoria, I am happy to inform the Senate that average funding will grow from around $8,800 per student in 2017 to $12,200 per student by 2027. That is clear growth in relation to Catholic education, clear growth specifically in relation to Victoria, and it ensures that Catholic education in Victoria continues to receive per-student funding in excess of other non-government schools on average, reflecting the need of students in that system. What we are applying here is consistency, and of course those opposite do not understand that, because every fibre of their being is about doing special deals. The Turnbull government want to stand for fair, consistent application of the one funding formula across all schools, rather than doing the types of special deals that those opposite cherish but that we oppose because we are about giving a fair, needs based deal to all Australian schools.