Radio Interview with Rebecca Levingston – ABC Brisbane – Thursday 31 August 2023

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

RADIO INTERVIEW

ABC BRISBANE

THURSDAY, 31 AUGUST 2023

 

SUBJECTS: School funding; NAPLAN; The Voice

 

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Jason Clare is the Federal Education Minister. Minister, good morning. Welcome to Brisbane.

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: It is beautiful here today.

LEVINGSTON: Have you got $2 billion for Queensland schools?

CLARE: Funding is a big part of this. We said before the election that we’ve got to work with the state and territory governments to fix that funding gap, but that’s not enough on its own. A big part of this is what we invest that money in. The NAPLAN results last week tell us that. It shows that one in 10 young people at school are below that minimum standard, but we also know that about 80 per cent of young people who are below that minimum standard when they’re eight years old, when they’re in third grade, are still below the minimum standard when they’re 15, when they’re in Year 9.

Education is the most powerful cause for good in this country. I believe that in my heart. But it worries me that at the moment, if you’re a young person who falls behind at school when you’re very young, that you’re still behind when you’re in high school.

The negotiations that we’re going to have with, not just the Queensland Government but with every government in the country next year, are about filling that funding gap that the AEU are talking about, but also fixing that education gap. Making sure that we invest that money in the sort of things that are going to help that child that I just spoke about, the child that falls behind, to catch up when they’re at primary school, and then to keep up when they’re at high school, because children that fall behind and stay behind usually drop out, they don’t finish high school, and one of the most terrifying statistics at the moment is the number of young people finishing school is now dropping.

LEVINGSTON: So let me alter the question slightly. Have you got $2 billion for Queensland schools in combination with the Queensland Government?

CLARE: Well, that’s what the negotiations will be all about next year. That’s what they’ll be all about.

LEVINGSTON: But is that the plan, Minister? Do you want to hit those targets? ‘Cause I mean we have been having this conversation for so long about a shortfall in funding for public schools.

CLARE: I want to finish the work that David Gonski started, I want to make sure that all schools are funded fairly and properly, and that’s not the case at the moment.

LEVINGSTON: So what are you going to do about that?

CLARE: Let me set it out for you. Non‑government schools at the moment by and large are funded at or above the level that David Gonski set, and they’re on a pathway to go down to that level by 2029.

LEVINGSTON: So private school funding will come down.

CLARE: Government schools aren’t, no government school, except for the ACT is funded at 100 per cent of what David Gonski said they should be, and none are on track to be there. Every government school in every State and Territory except for the ACT will top out at 95 per cent of that over the next decade. For Western Australia and South Australia, they’re at 95 per cent now. For New South Wales, they’ll hit that in 2025. For Victoria and Tassie, it’s about 2027. For Queensland it’s about 2032. And for the Northern Territory, it’s never.

LEVINGSTON: Can you understand, Minister, why ‑ I mean my listeners will hear that figure, that number, 2032, and they’ll immediately go to Olympic funding, and they’ll go, “There is money for Olympics.”  The example I use there, out of the West Wing, “He referenced money for Defence.”

So I still want to go back to that question. Is the goal to inject another $2 billion into Queensland?

CLARE: The goal is to fill that gap. That 5 per cent gap, and making sure that that money, however much it is, that we fill that gap, and tie that money to the things that are actually going to fix some of the big problems in education.

Let me just make this point, Rebecca, because I think listeners will be interested in this. The previous iterations of Gonski, the money was untied. What’s going to be different next year is it’s going to be tied, tied to the sort of things that fix some of the problems we’re seeing in education at the moment.

LEVINGSTON: Okay. Well, give me some specifics there, and talk to me like I’m a classroom of 12‑year‑old kids.

CLARE: Okay. I mentioned a minute ago one in 10 young people are below the minimum standard. It’s worse than that if you’re an Indigenous young person, one in three young Indigenous people are below that minimum standard. One in three young people from the bush are below that minimum standard. One in three young people from poor families are below the minimum standard, and it’s young people in public schools, it’s young people from poor families who are dropping out of school at greater rates than they were before. If we go back to say 2016, 83 per cent of young people in public schools finished high school. Last year it was 76. And this is happening at a time where you’ve got to finish school.

LEVINGSTON: Okay. So we’re going backwards. They’re the problems. You’re in power now though. So what are the solutions?

CLARE: One of the things that I think we need to do, that Dr Lisa O’Brien, the former head of the Smith Family is working on a report for me and for Grace Grace and other Education Ministers on, is potentially tying this funding in the agreement we strike next year to things like catch‑up tutoring.

We know that if a child falls behind in a classroom of 30 kids, if you take them out of that class four or five days a week for half an hour with one teacher and maybe two or three other students, that they can learn as much in 18 weeks as you normally learn in 12 months. That’s one practical thing that the evidence shows works. I’ve seen it in a number of schools.

One of the things we’re looking at is whether you industrialise that, whether you roll it out in every school, particularly in our most disadvantaged schools, where this is most acute, where this is most widespread, where you have a lot of the children I just talked about who are falling behind.

I don’t want us to be a country where, when you fall behind, you’re stuck there forever. Part of what our education system should and can do is make sure that we identify that child, and that’s what NAPLAN’s about, and then help them. That’s why I say, close the funding gap, close the education gap, tie the funding to the sort of things that are going to help children like that.

LEVINGSTON: The Federal Education Minister, Jason Clare in Brisbane today. This is ABC Radio Brisbane; my name is Rebecca Levingston. Minister, why did we get to a situation where private schools received higher funding from the Commonwealth and public schools?

CLARE: It’s historical. The way it works is that the Commonwealth Government provides 80 per cent of the funding to non‑government schools, and the State Governments provide 20 per cent, and then it’s the reverse for public schools; the Federal Government provides 20 per cent of the funding for public schools and the States provide the rest. As I said, states across the country are providing about 75 per cent. That’s why we’ve got a 5 per cent gap. And the negotiations next year are about, how do we fill that 5 per cent gap? What does the Commonwealth chip in, what do the States chip in and what do we spend the money on.

LEVINGSTON: And when you say negotiations, like who is the barrier here, what’s the stumbling block, ’cause a lot of what you’re saying everyone can get behind. So, what’s the hold of up?

CLARE: Well, every five years we have a National School Reform Agreement, and it ends next year. So every five years we have to negotiate who contributes what, and that’s what those negotiations will be about.

LEVINGSTON: So it’s an argument between you and the State Government?

CLARE: I wouldn’t call it an argument, but it’s a negotiation about reform.

LEVINGSTON: Well, there’s a shortfall where funding targets haven’t been met ‑‑

CLARE: Yeah, that’s right.

LEVINGSTON: ‑‑ and I can dispute ‑‑

CLARE: And this should have been ‑‑

LEVINGSTON: Maybe we need to have a mediator back in the room. But I guess there’s a level of frustration that I hear from teachers, parents, students. As I said, education, you started off by saying, that, you know, this is the kind of the heart of all of the biggest issues we try and solve. So why is there a kind of, “Well, you know, we’ll negotiate and see what we can do, and we try and meet” ‑ like why isn’t there a level of enthusiasm the likes of an AUKUS deal announcement or an Olympics funding announcement when it comes to public schools?

CLARE: It’s not a negotiation where, “Let’s see what we can do.” I am determined to fix this. I’m a kid who grew up in public schools. I’m a kid who grew up in a disadvantaged part of Western Sydney. I know what the power of education is all about because I’ve lived it. I know how important public education is. I know that most of the children in this country who live disadvantaged lives rely on public education to help change their lives, and I’m determined as Education Minister, for as long as I’m in this job, to do something about it.

Funding’s part of it. But I don’t want to be on the rocking chair in 20 years’ time and have reporters like yourself say, “Well, they put extra money in, but it didn’t work.” I’m determined to make sure that the money works. And that’s what the negotiations are about.

LEVINGSTON: Yeah. I guess you also know, as a publicly educated kid, like me, like most people, you know, they’re organising the school festival for a couple of weeks where people are baking cupcakes and putting plants aside to try and get 50 cents here, 50 cents there. Like that situation, and again, are you a West Wing fan? Did you watch that series?

CLARE: A long time ago with a lot less grey hair.

LEVINGSTON: So you know that speech from Rob Lowe? I guess I’m trying to get a sense from you if, you know, so often we hear politicians say there is no silver bullet. Arguably, education is a silver bullet. Do you see it that way?

CLARE: I do. I think education, when it’s done right, has the potential to change lives. Everybody listening here will know their own story about the teacher that helped to change their lives. I do think though that it’s more complicated than one thing. It’s not just what happens in the classroom that can affect a child’s life, it’s their parents, it’s their health. There’s a lot that happens outside the classroom that has an impact here, but what we do in the classroom counts. That’s why making sure that our teachers have everything they need is a critical part of this, and making sure that the money’s invested in the sort of things that are going to work.

LEVINGSTON: Okay. When will we ‑ when’s that negotiation happening?

CLARE: We get Lisa’s report at the end of October. Education Ministers will look at it in December, and then those negotiations kick off at the start of next year.

LEVINGSTON: Start of next year. And when will a decision be made?

CLARE: We’ve got to do it next year.

LEVINGSTON: Do it next year. All right. Well, I’ll come back to you, and we’ll see what kind of a report cart you get. Federal Education Minister, Jason Clare. You’re in Brisbane today. I just saw you were outside the ABC studios with a whole flock of journalists and cameras in front of you. What were you talking to them about?

CLARE: The Prime Minister said there’s something that’s going to happen on 14 October. We’re going to get a chance to vote, a national vote around the country, and for most of us who are over the age of 40, we remember a thing called a Referendum, but if you’re under 40, you’ve never voted in one before. It’s not like an election. And there’s an opportunity over the next few weeks to talk to Australians about why that’s important, about the change that we can make in this country for the better.

I think most Aussies believe in a fair go. Fairness, we talk about it in the pub when we’re watching the footy, we talk about it in the Parliament, it’s the barometer by which we judge things in this country. It’s in the title of our National Anthem, and I think when most Australians look at this question, they’ll think it’s fair enough that we recognise Indigenous Australians in the Constitution, after all Indigenous Australians were here long before Captain Cook arrived.

Aussies are practical people too, and I think most Australians know that there are a lot of Indigenous Australians doing it tough. I just told you that one in three Indigenous kids are below that minimum standard. We want to make sure that our taxpayers’ money is spent on the things that will work, not just in education but in health as well, and they’re not at the moment. That’s just a fact.

The good news here is The Voice is not the idea of politicians like me, it’s the idea of Indigenous people from right around the country, that we set up an advisory committee to listen, because whether it’s in politics or business, or whether it’s just at home, if we listen we tend to make better decisions and get better results, and that’s ultimately what this is about.

LEVINGSTON: Jason Clare, the Federal Education Minister. He’s voting yes. I’m interested to hear where you’re at too. Send me a text this morning. 0467 922 612. Minister, great to have you in Brisbane. We’ll see you again soon.

CLARE: Great to be here, thank you.

 

ENDS