Press Conference – Hamersley, WA – Wednesday 31 January 2024

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
PRESS CONFERENCE
HAMERSLEY, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
WEDNESDAY, 31 JANUARY 2024

SUBJECTS: Fully and fairly funding all Western Australian public schools; Building a better and fairer education system

ROGER COOK, WA PREMIER: Thanks very much for coming, everyone. It’s great to be here at East Hamersley Primary School. I’m joined today by Federal Education Minister Jason Clare, State Education Minister Tony Buti, Early Childhood Education Minister Sabine Winton, and local members, member for Cowan Anne Aly and member for Kingsley Jessica Stojkovski.

It’s wonderful to be here at the school for a really important announcement. And as you know, as Premier my priority is to stand up for Western Australia, do what’s right for the state and set it up for the future to make sure that we’ve got great jobs for the kids in years to come.

And this is particularly important for our young people, of which around about 489,000 will return to school over the coming weeks. And that is why I’m particularly proud to announce today that we have secured a landmark funding agreement with the federal government that will see WA become the first state to publicly fund – to fund its public schools to the full 100 per cent of the school resourcing standard.

Now, the school resourcing standard is the standard of funding that Gonski in his landmark study established as what was required to give our kids the best possible start in life. So you can understand that this is an incredibly important announcement and a great initiative, and I’m very proud of the agreement that’s been reached today.

The deal will increase funding for all WA public schools from 95 per cent of the SRS, or Gonski – or full Gonski, to 100 per cent by 2026. And we’ll make sure that our most disadvantaged schools reach that funding level as of next year.

Between 2025 and 2029 this will see funding for our state public schools increase by $774 million from the Commonwealth Government, and we’re very grateful for that huge injection of funding and resourcing. That will be matched by the state and will bring us to the magical mark of full Gonski – 100 per cent of the SRS. It will deliver a massive $1.6 billion of extra investment in our state’s public schools over the next five years. It will mean more resources, more support for our students, our teachers, our school leaders, our school communities, and will provide an important funding boost for our incredibly important state school system.

Our government’s strong financial management of the state’s finances and economy as well means that we have further been able to inject $1.5 billion into school infrastructure in terms of new schools, upgrades to schools and making sure that all our schools receive the maintenance they need to provide our kids with the best possible education.

Every WA school student deserves the very best that our education system can provide. And it doesn’t matter where you live, what your background, whether you’re from a disadvantaged community, First Nations or CALD background, whether you’re in remote Western Australia or regional Western Australia – every kid deserves the best possible start in life. And funding our state’s public schools is an incredibly important part in giving them that next step in life.

It’s particularly pleasing to have Minister Clare here today, and I want to thank the Commonwealth for their support. We have around about 324,650 public school students starting school this week across our 832 public schools. So this funding is obviously timely, it’s welcome and it’s vital to make sure that we give our kids the best possible start in life.

I now hand you over to Minister Clare.

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Thanks very much, Premier. This is a great day for WA, and this is a great day for every child in WA. And this is a landmark day for public education. What this means is that Western Australia will become the first state in Australia to fully fund public schools. It means the most disadvantaged public schools will be fully funded first from next year, and it will mean that children at every public school in Western Australia will go to a fully funded school from 2026.

The Premier mentioned Gonski, he mentioned the schooling resource standard. The fact is that every non-government school across the country at the moment is funded at 100 per cent of that level or a bit above or is on track to get to that level by the end of the decade. But no public schools, except for in the ACT, no public school across the country is on track to be at 100 per cent of what David Gonski said was the level they need to be at. In fact, what happens is that funding for all of those schools tops out at the moment at 95 per cent. So there’s a 5 per cent gap.

What we’re announcing today is that we’re fixing that gap. It means the Commonwealth Government chipping in, and it means the State Government chipping in. And what we’ve shown today is that if we work together we can get this done. It’s worth over $770 million of Commonwealth money over the next five years, an equivalent amount by the WA government. And we’re going to tie that money to the things that we know work. We’re going to tie that money to the sort of things that are going to help the kids that are here at school today. We’re going to tie that money to the sort of things that mums and dads at home expect us to tie it to. We’re going to make sure that we use this money to help kids who fall behind at school to catch up and to keep up and to finish school.

We know at the moment that one in 10 kids are below the national minimum standard for reading and for maths. We also know this: that one in three kids from a poor family, one in three kids from regional Australia are below that minimum standard. And that only about 20 per cent of kids who when they are little, when they are about 8 years old who are behind the minimum standard, only about 20 per cent of those kids ever catch up by the time they’re in high school, by the time they’re 15. And that helps explain why we’re now seeing a drop in the number of kids finishing high school across the country. Not everywhere, but in particular kids from poor families, kids from public schools.

So we want to use this money to make sure that we identify the kids who fall behind early and we intervene early to help them to make sure that they can catch up and keep up and finish school. Practical things like catch-up tutoring, where if a child falls behind in a classroom of 30 kids, you get them out of that classroom of 30 kids, get them in a classroom with only about 3 or 4 or 5 kids, because the work that we’ve done tells us that that works. That if you’ve got a child who’s fallen behind in reading or maths and you get them in a classroom with only a couple of other kids and an experienced educator, they can learn as much in six months as you’d normally learn in a whole year. So they catch up and then they keep up, and more kids finish school.

So we want to invest this money in the sort of things that are going to help our kids, whether it’s literacy and numeracy or whether it’s health and mental health, helping our teachers, too, and giving them the resources that they need to succeed.

Premier, I want to thank you for your work on this, your teamwork and your leadership. You get it. I think you understand, like I do, like Tony does, that education is the most powerful cause for good in this country. As my boss says, as the Prime Minister says, it’s education that opens the doors of opportunity for all Australians and that if we invest this money in the right way we can change the lives of children in this country, we can build a better and a fairer education system in this country. And this is just the first step. This is just the first step.

I want to work with every state and territory across the country to make sure that we fund all public schools across the country fully and fairly. That means working together to get this job done. It means the Commonwealth chipping in and it means the states chipping in, working together to build a better and a fairer education system for all Australian children. Thanks very much.

TONY BUTI, WA MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Thank you very much, Minister Clare, and also the Premier before Minister Clare. As Labor Education Minister in Western Australia, there was no way that I or the Premier as the Labor Premier were going to accept that our public schools were not going to be funded 100 per cent of the Gonski index, so the schooling resource standard. Also Jason Clare as the federal Labor Minister for Education, he was the one that started this drive. He could not accept that our public schools were not funded to 100 per cent.

So this is a landmark day in public education in Western Australia. And before I go on, I must give special thanks to the DG, Lisa Rogers, of the Department of Education, all her staff and all my ministerial staff and also the Premier’s staff. We have worked very, very hard with Minister Clare, the federal department and Minister Clare’s ministerial staff to ensure that we can stand here today and say by the 2026 every public school in Western Australia will be funded at 100 per cent of the schooling resource standard.

That means an additional $1.6 billion investment made up of federal funding and state funding that will ensure that we reach that level. But also, by being the first state to reach this agreement with the Commonwealth, we have ensured that we reach that standard by the end of 2026 and we get an additional around $250 million. Also we’ve got a commitment from Minister Clare – and it’s good that I’ve got the federal and state early childhood education ministers here – for a review of Commonwealth funding of early childhood education in Western Australia.

As Jason said, this will ensure that it doesn’t matter where you come for – whether you come from Kununurra, Broome, Albany, Esperance, Norseman, Armadale, Kwinana, whether you come from Vic Park or the western suburbs, it should make no difference. We are going to commit through the funding and through the reform that Jason has initiated and that we will reach an agreement with that we will ensure that we are striving for equity and excellence in our public schools. We will ensure that we have wellbeing at the forefront for our students and teachers, and we will also ensure that we have a sustainable, quality teaching and non-teaching workforce in our public school system.

So this is truly a landmark decision, and we can stand here – when I took over as Education Minister one of my first statements was I wanted to ensure it doesn’t matter where you come from in WA, that you will receive a quality education and that you will reach your potential. So thank you very much, Jason as the Minister and Premier Cook and also everyone else that’s been involved in reaching this fantastic landmark decision. Thank you very much.

SPEAKER: Any question for the Minister?

JOURNALIST: Every other state is holding out for a 5 per cent commitment. Why has WA caved? And have you got an assurance that WA won’t be better – worse off in case other states do get that 5 per cent?

BUTI: A couple of things. We have a no-disadvantage clause in the agreement, so that answers your second question. But if any negotiations with other states results in further improvement, we will receive them. I don’t know how you could say we caved in where we’re actually receiving an additional $250 million on top of what we would have done if we had have waited.

Now, the 5 per cent that the other states are seeking from the Commonwealth, that’s a matter for them and the Commonwealth to deal with. We are in a sound financial position. The reason that we can reach this agreement today is that we have the ability to commit to that increase in funding from the Western Australian State Government to ensure we get to 77.5 per cent of the SRS.

JOURNALIST: I suppose does this potentially undermine the solidarity that all the states had, you know, standing together, resisting the call to accept 2.5 per cent? Do you think this will, you know, essentially undermine their push to secure 5 per cent?

BUTI: What I think it will do is hopefully motivate them to reach an agreement with the Commonwealth. Minister Clare is very open to reaching agreement so that, as he said, he wants every student in Australia to reach their – to be publicly funded. But I’m the Minister for Western Australia. The Premier is the Premier for Western Australia. Our number one priority is the education of the public students in Western Australia. That’s what I’m focused on. And in regards to issues in other states, you’re best to ask the Minister for Education in the other jurisdictions.

JOURNALIST: How many teachers are in classrooms today that aren’t fully registered?

BUTI: No, they are fully registered. Well, when you say fully registered, they are registered, otherwise they can’t teach.

JOURNALIST: Who haven’t finished their –

BUTI: Well, that doesn’t – that’s a different question…

JOURNALIST: Well, how many of them?

BUTI: Well, okay. There are, of course, some students that are in the final year of teaching training. Actually, some of those are some of the best teachers because they have the state-of-the-art new teaching methodologies. They are very enthusiastic, and some of them are in front of our classrooms today. There’s nothing new about that. What I can say is that today in every classroom in Western Australia there is a qualified, registered teacher before the classroom.

JOURNALIST: What are some of the practical things that a school like this might able to implement once that funding arrives?

BUTI: Well, Minister Clare talked about catch-up tutoring. That is something that he has been very enthusiastic about that I am also very enthusiastic about. It may also look at what allied services, how can we maybe make a school like this maybe a community– a full-service school possibility. So where can we bring in allied services to help the staff and also students. Also how can we ensure that our teachers are even better prepared for the school system.

So these are reforms that we will be discussing with Minister Clare and other ministers from other jurisdictions. And everything will be geared – Minister Clare and myself are committed that the reforms are there to ensure that we have a first-class public education system. So those reforms are geared towards that, but particularly that those students in disadvantaged surroundings, that they receive a first-class quality education. It’s all about equity and excellence.

JOURNALIST: Does the Statement of Intent, does that include counting the state’s capital funding towards the standard?

BUTI: I suppose you’re talking about this 4 per cent. That has been always considered as part of the funding agreement. Every other state does it. That 4 per cent goes to ensuring that we have a quality education. I mean, you need to have good schools to ensure a student is able to be educated. So we see that as all part of public funding of our education system.

JOURNALIST: So that’s on top, then, of the 2.5 per cent that we’re pitching in for this right now?

BUTI: This 2.5 per cent is an actual amount of money, which is $770 million from the Feds, from the Commonwealth, and an equivalent amount from the Western Australian government. That funding will be tied to reforms that we reach between the Commonwealth and the states.

JOURNALIST: So just to be clear, then, that capital is still – WA is still [indistinct]?

BUTI: Well, of course we are. Of course we are. We have – I think the Premier mentioned – over a billion dollar capital investment program.

JOURNALIST: That 5 per cent shortfall, how has that been playing out in schools? Is that resources that haven’t been available to schools, or is it a shortfall that parents have been covering?

BUTI: No, I think that funding will be going to those reforms that we haven’t been able to do, like catch-up tutoring, for instance. Ensure that we can have other support services in a school situation. So it’s not that the parents have to cover that shortfall. This is actually just going to be increased funding to allow better reforms so we can ensure that we have a quality, first-class, fairer and better public education system in Western Australia.

JOURNALIST: If the 100 per cent index is the measure of what funding is required to meet the educational needs of students, surely that suggests that in some way, shape or form there’s been a shortfall or that shortfall has been picked up somewhere else.

BUTI: Well, what it does mean is that we have committed to ensuring that by the end of 2026 we have 100 per cent funding. I’m going forward, the Premier is going forward, Minister Clare is going forward. And we’re ensuring that we have a public education system that is truly and completely 100 per cent funded by the end of 2026.

JOURNALIST: Is that better off? Is it better off in that schools will now have better resources or is it better off in that parents will have to pay less?

BUTI: Schools will have better resources.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask Minister Clare a question? Will the rest of the country get this 2.5 per cent while negotiations continue or do they get nothing until they come on board?

CLARE: There’s 2.5 per cent to be invested over the next five years. So an extra 1.25 per cent next year so that we’re making sure that the most disadvantaged schools here in WA get to that full funding first. And then the full 2.5 per cent invested here by 2026 carries on forever after that. So that money that we’ve agreed to today will be invested, staged by 1.25 per cent next year and then up to 2.5 per cent in 2026.

What we need to do is strike an agreement across the nation, develop a new agreement for the whole country on the targets and reforms that we need to implement to build a better and a fairer education system not just here in WA but right across the country, to tackle some of the issues I mentioned a moment ago about children falling behind, helping them catch up and keep up and finish school.

This agreement today is just the start. We want to strike an agreement like this with every state and every territory across the country to make sure that we fully and fairly fund all our schools across the country and make sure that all our children have the benefit of the sort of reforms that we’re talking about here today.

JOURNALIST: Why not deliver equivalent funding interstate while negotiations continue?

CLARE: We’re negotiating with states right now. This is just the start. Negotiations have started with state colleagues. If we’re going to take the same approach with other states that we have in WA – and I want to pay tribute to you, mate, for being first out of the blocks; top of the class – the Commonwealth’s got to chip in and the states have got to chip in if we’re going to finish the job. It means working together. Here’s a classic example of a Commonwealth Government and a State Government working together to both understand the power of education and the importance of this money. This is not just money; this is money that will be used to help children who need it the most.

And I want to work with my state colleagues to do that in other parts of the country as well. But I’m not going to negotiate the deal on tele. That’s not the right thing to do. I’m going to do what I did with Tony; we’re going to work on this together and make sure we get this done.

JOURNALIST: Back in 2018 we were at government funding of over 84 per cent. It’s sort of dropped down to 75 per cent. So even with this increase are we still below what we were, you know, some years ago?

CLARE: That’s before my time as Education Minister so I won’t go to the detail of that. I’d just make the point, we’re not at 100 per cent. No public school across the country except for the ACT is at 100 per cent. Non-government schools are; public schools aren’t. That’s not fair. I want to fix that. I want to make sure that wherever you go to school you get access to the same amount of funding that David Gonski said was the standard that we need to set and that we use that money on the things that work, that we use that money to help our kids.

We all know how important education is in our own lives. I suspect everybody here behind the cameras can remember that teacher that changed their life. And we all know that every day we spent at primary school or at high school or at TAFE or at university has brought us to this moment where we stand here today. We wouldn’t be pollies or journos or teachers if it wasn’t for that teacher and for that school and for that investment that former governments have made. But we can do more. And we live in a world today where it’s more important to finish school than ever. Today nine out of 10 new jobs being created require you to not just finish high school; you’ve got to go to TAFE or uni after that.

And a moment ago I said that we’re seeing a drop in the number of people finishing high school, particularly at public schools and particularly poor kids and kids in the bush. So we’re setting them up for failure unless we do more to help to make sure that if they fall behind that they catch up and we help them to finish school and then go to TAFE or uni so that they get a job and raise a family, buy a home, set them up for life. That’s what education does. That’s what opening the door of opportunity is all about. That’s why this is important – making sure that we fund our schools fairly and we use that money in the right way to help the kids that need it the most.

JOURNALIST: Minister Buti, are you able to answer that question about the 2018 funding and then drop off?

BUTI: I am the Minister for Education in 2024. [Indistinct] the job at the end of 2022, I think. And I’m standing here with a landmark announcement that we are going to fully fund our public schools by the end of 2026. And we are going to be looking at those reforms that will allow those students, those most disadvantaged students, to be fully funded according to Gonski. That’s what I’m about. That’s what I’m concentrating about. And I’m very, very happy to be here standing as the Labor Education Minister to say that we have reached this landmark decision with the federal Labor government to ensure that we are the first state in Australia to have 100 per cent funding according to Gonski by the end of 2026.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, I appreciate that, but you still would have an understanding of the portfolio before you came into it.

BUTI: And I have the understanding of the portfolio today, and I understand that I have announced today with the federal Minister that we’re going to have an additional $1.6 billion invested additional to the normal funding in our education system. So that’s what I – students that are in the class today, they are concerned about us making announcements that this funding is going to be available going forward. They’re not concerned about what was happening in 2018. So we are standing here today ensuring that kids in Kununurra, the kids in Norseman, the kids in Armadale are going to be fully funded according to the Gonski standard.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

COOK: Can I just say this is an historic agreement, a really important one for our education system and I’m also very proud of the combination of not only the $1.6 billion but the $1.5 billion around capital infrastructure for our schooling system. It’s a good day for education. It’s a great day to make sure that our kids get a great start in the year and in life.

JOURNALIST: Premier did the Commonwealth want you to contribute more to state schools?

COOK: No, one of the good things about the opportunity we have today is that the Commonwealth recognises that we are already fairly well advanced in relation to our funding levels in Western Australia. So the opportunity to be able to top up by $774 million from both Commonwealth and state over the next five years provides a good early step for the Commonwealth in reaching agreement with the states on these national education reforms.

And I just want to say that the letter of intent that we’ve signed today ahead of the finalising of the agreement places obligations on the Western Australian education system to be part of the national education reform process. So this will be an important part of ensuring that Western Australia is providing a national standard of education and education opportunities and supports. So it’s a really important day.

JOURNALIST: Any response to Libby Mettam’s call for a trial into free lunches for vulnerable kids and to review how much individual schools are spending on that program?

COOK: Look, I would have loved it if you’d asked the Education Minister that question, but I’ll give it a crack. Look, we continue to provide good support services for kids who are coming to school and need that extra bit of assistance. Around 450 schools already provide a breakfast program, and that program itself is being reviewed by the Education Department at the moment to see what else we can do. But we continue to make sure that kids who come to school who don’t have the start to the day that we would like obviously get those supports.

JOURNALIST: There’s a new research out by Notre Dame University on nicotine in vapes showing that 90 per cent of WA vape stores are located near a school. Do you have concerns about these sorts of businesses targeting school children?

COOK: Look, I have huge concerns about the impact of vapes on our society. We all thought that we had, you know, got on top of the tobacco beast, the tobacco monster, but it’s back, and it’s back in the form of vapes and it’s back in the form of companies targeting young people to get them hooked early in life so that they can then go on and be happy customers for big tobacco. So we’ve got to get on top of this at the education – and the Health Department is working hard on these issues.

While we’ve got a federal minister and a federal member with us, can I just commend the Commonwealth Government on the really strong steps that they’ve taken to reduce or eliminate the importation of nicotine vapes. And the Health Department is on top of this. They’ve done 620 tobacco compliance inspections of vape stores in recent times and have now seized over 425,000 nicotine vapes from those stores. So we’re fighting back and we want to make sure that we protect our kids, their health, their future health and make sure they don’t get hooked on nicotine.

JOURNALIST: Should action against the illegal sale of vapes be prioritised if they are in the proximity of a school?

COOK: Well, we are limited in what we can do in relation to a legitimate retail outlet. We can obviously police what is sold at that outlet, particularly if they go against our laws around, you know, the Tobacco Protection Act. So we would continue to make sure that we get on top of this situation and eliminate any nicotine vapes in our community.

JOURNALIST: Do you have an update on the live export ship and where that’s at – are the animals coming off today?

COOK: Look, my understanding is that the earliest those animals can come off the vessel is tomorrow. We did offer a berth to the export company on Tuesday. They decided to delay docking. It could be for a range of logistical reasons. So those animals hopefully will be disembarked tomorrow or destocked tomorrow.

The other information I have is that they’ve done significant efforts in making sure that they clean the stalls, provide new bedding and water and food for those animals. You might argue that they might be better off on the vessel on water today rather than in a hot holding yard inland in Western Australia. So we continue to work with the Commonwealth to provide whatever supports that we can to make sure that we can look after the welfare of those animals.

JOURNALIST: Did the Education Minister want to also answer the –

BUTI: [indistinct] 450 schools.

SPEAKER: Thanks, everyone.

COOK: Thanks very much, everyone.

ENDS