Doorstop Interview – Darwin – Wednesday 13 March 2024





SUBJECTS: Northern Territory public schools funding; education; investment in the Northern Territory; Central Australia Plan; domestic, family and sexual violence; High Court decision; AUKUS submarines; Israel-Gaza conflict; online gambling.

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: It is so good to be here at Stuart Park Primary School this morning with the Prime Minister, the Chief Minister, with Mark, and my good friend Gos, and Karen Weston, the boss of the Department. This is a big day for the Northern Territory. It’s a big day for all the kids that are growing up here in the Northern Territory. And it is a landmark day for public education right across the country. This is a big deal. This is a billion dollar deal that we are announcing today. And it involves the Commonwealth Government, the Australian Government, doubling the investment that we are making in Northern Territory public schools. And it also means that we are bringing forward the day where we are fully funding public schools in the Northern Territory by more than 20 years. We know that here in the Northern Territory there are some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country and some of the most underfunded public schools in the country. Under the Gonski model, public schools here in the Northern Territory at the moment are funded at less than 80 per cent of the original Gonski model.
What we’re announcing today is about fixing that. Working together, the Australian Government and the Territory Government, to fix that. And if we’re serious about closing the gap in opportunity between black Australians and white Australians, if we’re serious about closing the gap between kids from poor families and wealthy families, then this is what it’s about. It’s about education, investing in education, giving the opportunity to kids wherever they grow up, whoever their parents are, whatever the colour of their skin, the same opportunity in life. And that’s what this deal at its core is all about. It will make sure the most disadvantaged schools in the Territory get fully funded first and that we tie this funding to the sort of things that are going to help kids who fall behind at school to catch up and keep up and to have more kids finish high school and then go on to TAFE or university.
Albo, I want to personally thank you for this. This doesn’t happen without leadership. And this is leadership on display today. You understand the power of education, because you lived it. You grew up understanding the difference that an education can make. A boy from social housing to become Prime Minister doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because of the teachers in our classroom and the investment we make in our schools. And I know, mate, that when you talk about making sure that no one is held back and no one is left behind, that you mean it. They’re not just words, they’re backed by action. And I can think of no better action than the action that we’re taking here to make sure that schools in the Northern Territory, our public schools here, the most underfunded at the moment across the country, are going to be fully funded. And the difference that that’s going to make for children here in the Northern Territory is going to be remarkable.
Eva, I want to thank you, too. Both the work that we did as Education Ministers and now at Chief Minister. This is not just the Commonwealth Government putting extra funding into public schools here in the Northern Territory, it’s the Northern Territory Government putting extra funding into public schools as well. And I want to thank you for your leadership and the heavy lifting that the Northern Territory is doing here as well.
And finally, Mark, thank you, mate, for all the work that you have done over the last few months, working with me to get this deal across the line. This is a game-changer for the Northern Territory. And it’s a life-changer for the kids who live here in the Northern Territory. I might hand over to Eva to say a few words and then the boss.
EVA LAWLER, CHIEF MINISTER FOR THE NORTHERN TERRITORY: I’ve worked in education for over 40 years. And today truly is a historic day for the Northern Territory education. And it’s broader than that. As Jason Clare says, it will impact our children way into the future. It is about full and fair funding for our government schools in the Northern Territory. What that additional funding will do, it will provide activities for kids, it will provide additional resources so there can be small groups with teachers so kids who are falling behind get supported to make sure they get to benchmark. It will provide job pathways for secondary schools. Whether that’s in our remote communities, kids being able to do a trade, to be able to do vocational education in a secondary setting in a remote community, our Government is focused on ensuring that we have all Territorians working into the future. We must have all Territorians on a pathway to employment to have all Territorians working. And that starts today where we’ll have that additional funding in government schools to be able to put young children on a pathway to employment. That’s vital for the Northern Territory. We cannot have more generations of young people in the Territory who are unemployed, who don’t have an option around getting employment. So, fantastic news. And it’s been a while coming but we’ve had to put in 60 per cent and the Federal Government has put in 40 per cent for us to get to that full funding. But a landmark day. And one, as a Labor Chief Minister, I’m very, very proud to be here today at Stuart Park School, a school that I went to, to see this happening today. And I thank Jason Clare for his work. It’s been hard work. It’s been hard work to get to this stage. But also, to the Prime Minister as well to recognise that this is a really positive step for the Northern Territory. And our future generations will benefit from this funding.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Well, thanks very much, Eva. Today, we make this announcement so that every Northern Territory child will have an equal opportunity to thrive in their life. We know that those early years are so important. And this investment of $1 billion, over $700 million from the Commonwealth and over $300 million from the NT Government, is to lift up the standard of education throughout the Territory, but to make a difference also for the nation. Because when one child gets left behind in this country, that is a drag on them and their life, but it also is a drag on our nation, which is why we don’t want to leave any child behind. When Jason spoke about the figure of the Gonski reforms and 80 per cent of that being reached, what that means effectively as well, to put it another way, is that one in five Northern Territory children were being left behind, was being underfunded. Now, my Government is determined to address that. This is the second agreement we’ve reached following the agreement with Western Australia. But here in the Territory I am so proud that my Government is addressing the issues, which Territorians have faced, both First Nations Territorians, but also the community as a whole. This education announcement of a billion dollars comes after yesterday’s announcement of $4 billion for housing, making sure that people can have that security of a roof over their head, making an enormous difference over a 10-year plan, making sure that that is rolled out in a way, as well, that delivered appropriate housing, that delivers jobs for locals being prioritised and providing Territorians with the skills as that is being worked through. In addition to that, in addition to education and housing, it comes on top of the last National Cabinet meeting in December last year, where the Northern Territory will benefit from our national hospitals agreement more than any other state or territory in the nation. At the moment, the Northern Territory receives about 30 per cent of its hospital funding. That will lift up to 40 per cent next year with an additional $129 million in that year alone and then will lift up by 2030, up to 45 per cent of hospital funding. That will make an enormous difference. So, education, health, housing. These are the practical differences that can assist the Northern Territory, can assist also in closing the gap, given the vast First Nations population that’s here in the Northern Territory. My Government is committed to working with the Government of Eva Lawler up until the next election and beyond, because we want to make sure that the Northern Territory doesn’t miss out, that it’s not forgotten. And that’s why I visited the Northern Territory now on no less than nine occasions as Prime Minister of Australia. Previously, this was a no-go zone from some of the former Prime Ministers in recent years. We’re coming here, we’re coming with announcements. We’re coming here with Ministers. And my entire Cabinet will be hearing from Eva this morning. And we’ll be discussing the range of issues in which we can provide assistance for the Northern Territory, which has such an important role to play in our economy as well.
Last week, I hosted the ASEAN Summit in Melbourne. What that was about was bringing together the leaders of South-East Asia to Australia to talk about the Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040 that we have. We think that our economic opportunities lie to our north. And there’s nowhere, obviously, more positioned, better positioned to benefit from that than the Northern Territory. And that’s why that was so important as we go forward. We live very close to the fastest-growing region of the world in human history. That presents opportunities. And the Northern Territory is at the forefront of that. In order to do that, we need to have a skilled workforce. That starts with early learning. That starts with education through our schools. And today’s announcement will make a big difference. I’m happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: In your time in the Northern Territory, how have you seen the challenges in terms of crime escalate since one of your first visits and since that funding of $250 million in Alice Springs? Will you commit to more funding for these areas?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we are making a billion-dollar announcement today. And we made a $4 billion announcement yesterday. And there’ll be another announcement about support for industry tomorrow. We have committed $250 million for our Central Australian Plan. That’s about CCTV. It’s about working with community organisations as well. When I came to Alice Springs, the truth is that under the former Government, funding for community organisations was due to drop off a cliff and end on July 1 last year. It was a predicament which gave no certainty going forward. Now, there are challenges here in the Northern Territory but the way around that is to work through systematically in an organised way to make sure that we’re delivering the justice reinvestment programs that we’re rolling out are, as well, making a big difference, making sure that healthcare is provided. You need to make sure that you can put a secure roof over people’s heads, you can make sure that you can give young people the opportunity in that comes through a good education. Identifying problems is always the first step. But that’s an easy thing to do. The difficulty is working through solutions. My Government’s determined to do that. That’s what we’ve been doing with the Northern Territory Government. That’s what we’ve been doing with the entire Cabinet that’s been spread out around the Territory over the last few days. And we’ll continue to be here into tomorrow before Parliament sits next week.
JOURNALIST: Under the current agreement, states and territories can claim four per cent in non-school costs such as capital depreciation as part of the SRS contributions. Can we expect those clauses to be removed?
MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: That’s not part of this agreement. What I’ve said we’ll look at that with all the states and territory as part of negotiating the next national school reform agreement, as part of making sure we build and better and fairer education system. The point I made about this, I mentioned it to Speersy a couple of weeks ago on Insiders, is I want this money to glow in the dark. I want parents and teachers to be able to trace this money and see it go into the schools to make sure it has the maximum impact. Eva talked a moment ago about catch-up tutoring. This is one of the things that we want to invest this money in. We know that if little kids fall behind when they’re in first class, second class, third class, only one in five of them catch up by Year 9. If you’re an Indigenous kid, it’s about one in 17. So, catch-up tutoring is one of the things that we know works. That if you get a child out of a class room of 30 into a class of about three, they can learn as much in six months as you’d learn in 12 so they catch up and it helps them to keep up and finish school. We live in a world now where you need to finish school. Because most of the jobs require to finish school and then go to TAFE or uni. So, they’re the sort of things we want to tie this money to.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there’s been an announcement about needs-based funding in education today here in the Northern Territory. One of the long-standing calls here has been the need for needs-based funding for domestic, family and sexual violence. Is that a priority for your Government as well?
PRIME MINISTER: Have a look at what we’re funding through, for example, the Central Australia Plan. $250 million. Since then, there has been further money announced to put that figure up to $300 million. We know that domestic and family violence is a priority. It is a priority for my Government. And it is a tragedy that throughout Australia, there is a woman who will lose their life, on average, to someone they know every week in Australia. And in recent times, we’ve seen that, frankly, be even more often than that. Every one of those lives is a tragedy. We are doing our best to work with authorities. But we’re also putting in place practical measures. The 10 days of family and domestic violence leave that my Government introduced, the other supports that we are giving to community-based organisations as well. We know this is a scourge. It is up to governments to act, but it’s also up to civil society as well to have those discussions. Men need to take responsibility for their actions. They need to be prepared to speak about those issues. And where they see issues, be prepared to raise them. It is a scourge, as I’ve said. It is a stain on our society. And it is far too prevalent. One incident of domestic violence is one too many.
JOURNALIST: Just on the immigration issue today, how can Australians have confidence in Andrew Giles after the latest fumble on reissuing visas?
PRIME MINISTER: There was a technical issue. And that technical issue has been resolved. All of the visas have been issued in an appropriate way. This is a technical issue that goes back to 2013.
JOURNALIST: Will Australia’s acquisition of nuclear subs be impacted about the US scaling down production of the Virginia-class vessels from two to one?
PRIME MINISTER: No. Our plans are very clear going forward. We have an agreement that was reached with the United States and the UK. That legislation went through the US Congress last year. That was a product of a lot of hard work. It is in Australia’s interest to have a defence of our nation that is appropriate. You’ll see, I was at Tindal yesterday, you’ll see as well an increased presence of ADF personnel and assets in the northern part of Australia. That was part of the Defence Strategic Review. Richard Marles is here in the Territory today, again, meeting with our Australian Defence Force personnel. And it is an important part of my Government’s commitment to serving the national interest is serving the defence of Australia.
JOURNALIST: Canada, who you released joint statements on Israel and Gaza, they’ve announced one million to an inquiry into sexual and gender-based violence in Palestine. Should Australia do the same?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, it’s not up to me to determine what other nations do. What Australia has done is we doubled our funding for UNRWA. We have put out a very consistent position, including two joint statements with the Prime Minister of Canada and the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Those joint statements have condemned the terrorist act by Hamas on October 7. They’ve called for the release of hostages. They’ve called for a sustainable ceasefire. They’ve called for humanitarian assistance to be able to be delivered to the people of Gaza. They have called for a long-term political solution in which you have a two-state solution, is what is required. Consistently, my Government has been consistent about putting those issues forward. We’ll continue to do so. We’ll continue to look at avenues for further humanitarian support for the people of Gaza, who are suffering terribly. And we’ll continue to say that innocent lives, too many have been lost, both Israeli and Palestinian. And we will continue to put forward that consistent position. The international community have a role to play in this. And we’ll continue to do our part.
JOURNALIST: I know you say it’s a technical issue, Prime Minister, but do you accept your Government has handled this issue badly, given that you appear to have had so many bungles in this area over the past few months?
PRIME MINISTER: Let’s be clear, the High Court made a decision. The High Court made a decision, not my Government. And as the Opposition have said, in moments of candour in between their moments of trying to spread fear, they have acknowledged that no government is above the law. My Government isn’t. And no government is.
JOURNALIST: The Northern Territory Government is the regulator of online gambling right across the country. A report that was handed down by the late Peta Murphy recommended that the Federal Government step in and regulate this space and it comes at a time when the NT Government is reforming and there’s been some criticism around proposed reforms the NT Government is pursuing. Is the Federal Government prepared to step in in this case?
PRIME MINISTER: We’re examining the report. We’ve made a number of changes already, including the register, which stops people gambling, of which there have been more than 10,000 people registering, including the changes to the advertising that comes after these ads, including changes to restrict use of credit cards in online gambling. A range of measures we’ve put in place. There’s more to do. And we will be doing more. We’re examining the report, we’re consulting with stakeholders.
JOURNALIST: How will today’s education funding impact school-based mental health services in the Territory?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, what it will do, and I’ll ask perhaps Jason and Eva might want to comment on this as well, but if you don’t have proper funding for schools, then issues like mental health, which can be an impediment to a child being able to fulfil their potential, because it can’t even be identified, the problems. If you have underfunding of schools, then you have classrooms in which teachers are struggling just to get through the essentials, where children can be falling behind due to a range of issues, developmental issues, mental health issues, and they’re not identified and therefore the solutions can’t be found either. What appropriate funding is about is making sure that where there are issues, where a child is falling behind, that they get the support they need. That ends up saving money. It ends up making such an enormous difference. If I can talk about an issue in my electorate, a long way from here, something I have been to, from time to time, and it’s incredibly eye-opening and it’s something I bring to this debate about education, is the work that someone called Reverend Bill Crews does, where he takes essentially kids who are often living on the street, involved in crime, involved in being marginalised at a very young age in society, he gives them a chance by bringing them into the system, not in a school-based system, but through Exodus Foundation, it’s associated with a church, but just accepts everyone. It brings them in. And so, there are kids who are committing crime, involved in drugs, some are involved in prostitution, who are at risk of that being their road in life. What he does is bring them in, with compassion, give them the opportunity. Quite often it will be because an issue in which they haven’t been able to gain literacy skills, be able to read or read, has not been identified at a very early age. And they’ve responded to that, rather than being embarrassed and putting their hand up and saying why it’s the case, they might stopped in a violent way towards fellow students or towards their teachers, so they get kicked out of school. They get kicked out of the mainstream and marginalised. Going to their graduation is one of the most amazing things that you could ever do, where kids, all of a sudden, are, by being given that opportunity, that one-on-one support. And that’s the principle I bring to education as well. And that’s one of the reasons why I was very keen for this bloke here to be the Education Minister. Because he gets it from his local community as well. He went to Cabramatta High School and living in Bankstown, where a bunch of kids can often be left behind. That’s the thing that makes a difference. And mental health is one of the issues that can be identified. Kids might have problems at home that they won’t talk about, including some of the issues that we spoke about in a previous question about family violence. How do we address these things? And the reason for this increased funding as well is that some will say, ‘Oh, you’re just putting more money in’. If you don’t address these issues early, it costs taxpayers down the road because people aren’t in employment, they’re not paying tax, there’s issues with justice and issues with incarceration. It costs a lot less to teach a kid in school and give them the opportunity in life than it does to keep them in incarceration down the road as well.
MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: It’s a really, really good question. I’m so glad that you asked it, because you hit it on the head. There’s a real and obvious link between the health of children, mental and physical health of children, and how they go at school, or whether they go to school at all. We can see the link through the evidence that if you’ve got a mental health challenge when you’re in school, then your results are going to suffer. And if your results are suffering, if you’re falling behind at school, then your mental health is going to suffer at school as well. So, what we do here really matters. There are three things that we want to focus this money on. Number one, helping kids who fall behind at school to catch up and keep up and finish school. The second is to make sure we’re providing extra resources and support for our teachers in the incredible work that they do. And the third is there in the mental health and the physical health of our kids. And that could involve, and each deal with each state will be a little bit different depending on what they’re already doing, but it could be investing in extra psychologists and counsellors and OTs and speech therapists, and all the sorts of supports that you need at school that can help make a difference in children’s lives. So, if they’re experiencing problems at home or at school, it helps to make sure that they get the support that they need here.
MARK MONAGHAN, NORTHERN TERRITORY MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: One of the great things about this funding is it’s absolutely going to be targeting the most disadvantaged kids in the most disadvantaged communities in the most disadvantaged parts of the country. And we know, I’m a past educator, my Chief’s a past educator, our Federal Prime Minister gets it about disadvantage. So does Jason Clare. We know as a team, we have to address it. Why? Because the cost going forward to those families, to their livelihood, to their ability to engage in their lives and have a future for them. If we don’t do it, it’s going to be traumatic. I know, firsthand, having worked in remote communities, mental health issues, disadvantage, lack of inclusive education. And it goes to what the Prime Minister said before. It’s not about equity. It’s not about equality. It’s about justice. It’s about justice for people and for families. And I’m so pleased I spoke to, in our conversations most recently with my colleague, federal colleague, Jason, for some reason, the planets have aligned in this space, not only from an economic point of view, an opportunity here in the Territory and what’s going forward from that aspect, but from the aspect of we’ve got four people in leadership position who get it and who are prepared to put their hand up, who are prepared to invest. And the Prime Minister talked before about his Rabbitohs taking 41 years to get a grand final.
NORTHERN TERRITORY MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: The Territory kids have never had a grand final until today. And we celebrate that. That’s what we celebrate.
JOURNALIST: You spoke about justice, Mark. What about justice for victims of crime? Because it seems there’s a lot of kids in the Northern Territory at the moment who have been let down by the education system, who’ve been let down by the child protection system, who are now 10, 11, 12, 13 years old who are committing horrendous crimes that the public is having to deal with. And there doesn’t seem to be any justice for those people that are the victims of those crimes.
NORTHERN TERRITORY MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: And that’s exactly why today’s most important. Because the justice will come through an education and a health reform. We currently are facing the outcomes of 50, 60 years of not doing that. We’ve currently faced the outcomes of past governments slashing education budgets, of all things. They didn’t get it. They didn’t understand that if you do that, you get problems down the track. Because people not only feel disadvantaged, they are disadvantaged. Because at the core of this, mental health, all of this, the core of it is poverty. And we know the way out of poverty is a job and a future. And we know the way into that job and a future is quality education and quality health. So, if we want to keep making the same mistakes, God help us in 40 years’ time. But today, we’re drawing a line in the sand and we’re saying, as a Territory Government as a Federal Labor Government, we’re going to back our kids, we’re going to back their futures.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much.