Radio Interview with Raf Epstein – ABC Melbourne Mornings – Tuesday 12 December 2023

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
RADIO INTERVIEW
ABC MELBOURNE MORNINGS
TUESDAY, 12 DECEMBER 2023

SUBJECTS: Report into the next National School Reform Agreement; A better and fairer education system; Teacher workforce; International students; MYEFO.

RAF EPSTEIN: The divide between public and private schools, it’s getting worse; it’s not getting better. There is a benchmark we’ve had for over a decade for how much taxpayers spend on each student, the School Resourcing Standard. It sets out how much each student should get. Almost all public schools do not get enough money per student to meet the SRS and on average almost all private and independent schools get the SRS or an amount above it. A new review prepared for all of the nation’s education ministers says it is the significant issue stopping things getting better.

Jason Clare is the education minister. He is part of the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s government. Thanks for joining us, Minister.

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: G’day, Raf.

EPSTEIN: When are we going to fix that funding standard?

CLARE: We’ve got to do that in the next National School Reform Agreement. As you say, almost every public school in the country isn’t fully funded, but not just that, what this report shows is that if you’re a child from a poor family or regional Australia, you’re three times more likely to fall behind at school, and most of those children never catch up. The result of that is we’re now seeing a drop in the number of people at public schools who are now finishing high school.

So, we’ve got to do two things in this agreement next year. We’ve got to fix that funding gap. We’ve also got to close that education gap as well to make sure that children who fall behind catch up, keep up, and finish high school because we live in an age now where you’ve got to finish high school because most of the jobs being created now require you to finish school then go on to TAFE or uni.

EPSTEIN: I realise that standards and teachers and all those things are separate sometimes to funding, but do you agree we’ve doubled the increase for private schools compared to public schools? The increase to private schools over the decade is about 34 per cent per student. The increase to public schools per student is about 17 per cent. So, if we’ve doubled the increase for private schools versus public schools, are you okay with that?

CLARE: What we’ve got at the moment is – and this is partly changes Malcolm Turnbull made when he was Prime Minister – private school funding is on a trajectory down now to get to that 100 per cent of David Gonski’s SRS level. The real problem is public school funding isn’t. Public school funding will top out in each state and territory at 95 per cent in different years. In Victoria, I think it’s at 2028. In other states, it’s in the 2030s. In the Northern Territory, it’s never.

We need to level the playing field. We need to make sure that we fund all public schools properly. That’s why we said before the election that we would work with States and Territories to do this. I’ve said that since. This report is about what that money should be invested in – making that money work by investing in the sort of things that we know work, that are going to help children who fall behind in primary school to catch up, and that’s what the agreement that we work on next year has to be all about.

EPSTEIN: So, did you disagree yesterday? You met with all the education ministers and my colleague Ali Moore had a chat to our Deputy Premier and Education Minister. What is the fight over? Is it over standards? Is it where the money is spent? Where is the disagreement?

CLARE: No, there is no disagreement. What I saw in the paper today isn’t right. What we agreed yesterday is to release the report, the independent report, done by Dr Lisa O’Brien, that identifies the sort of targets and reforms that we need to look at next year and consider looking into the National School Reform Agreement.

This is a two-stage process. Number one, get an independent report to inform the work that we do next year, and number two is to do a deal next year, to strike an agreement for the next decade a National School Reform Agreement, that sets out the targets and the reforms that we tie funding to, but not just that – bilateral agreements. I’ll need to negotiate an agreement with every State and Territory that sets out the funding profile to get to that 100 per cent of the SRS and what we tie that funding to that is going to make a difference to classrooms across the country.

EPSTEIN: Jason Clare is with you, the education minister. The talk back phone number is 1300 222 774. Minister, if I can ask you about the bit of the migration agenda that is firmly in your portfolio, migration is a demand-driven thing, especially university places are a demand-driven thing. We’ve got more students than we expected to get in this country. You are going to have to cap those numbers and thus cap university revenue. Aren’t you going to have to do that to bring the migration number down?

CLARE: That’s not something that we’ve adopted in the reforms we announced yesterday. The focus is getting rid of the shonks that circle international students. So, we saw international education basically knee capped by COVID. Students were told to go home, and they did. The industry was basically cut in half, a $40 billion industry dropped to about $20 billion.

This is a massive export industry for Australia. It makes universities money, it makes the country money, but it also makes us friends because when people come to study here and they go home, they take that love and affection for Australia back home with them.

You’re right; students have come back faster than predicted but so have the shonks, the sort of dodgy agents who identify a student at the railway station, encourage them to quit their uni degree, do a VET course. They don’t turn up to the VET course and they use the system as a back doorway to work here. We’ve made some changes to fix that. There’s other changes we announced yesterday to build on that and make sure we weed the shonks out of the system. We need to see the impact of those reforms before we consider others.

EPSTEIN: Do you think your government has been a bit slow on things like this? I think the migration review started in September last year. It’s no surprise that there are dodgy education providers. It’s no – there’s lots of things we’ve known about for quite some time. Has the government been too slow to address this?

CLARE: No, don’t think about this as just the response yesterday. The fact is we made announcements in July that cut back the number of hours that university students, international students, can work. The former government gave them unlimited work rights. We’ve cut that back to 24 hours a week because we want students here to study, rather than to work.

A couple of months ago I also made changes to stop students being able to enrol in two courses at once, which was used as one of these back doors by dodgy agents to facilitate people working in the country. Then there’s the reforms we announced yesterday. So, there’s a series of reforms, a wave of reform, happening here, but we don’t rule out making more changes if necessary.

EPSTEIN: So, caps are on the agenda because that’s the number one way you’ve got to as a political imperative next year reduce the migration intake from half a million to a quarter of a million. You’re going to have to use a cap on university student numbers, aren’t you?

CLARE: You’ve got to make it more sustainable. Now, whether that’s a cap or not, that’s something we’ll consider next year. We want to make sure these reforms work.

I guess the other thing I would say, Raf, is don’t think about international education as a one-way street. It doesn’t need to be just students coming from the other side of the world here to study. It’s also about universities here setting up campuses overseas. So, Deakin University in Victoria is now setting up a campus in India and one in Indonesia. They can offer those courses at a cheaper price. There are a lot of international students who will never be able to afford to come and study in Australia, but the demand for a higher education in places like India and Indonesia and Vietnam is immense and we have an opportunity to offer those courses in-country and, again, that makes money for us as a country like any other export industry without the pressures that it puts on our economy and our population by having students here in large numbers.

EPSTEIN: But not ruling out a cap then. You won’t rule that out?

CLARE: What I’ve said, just to be clear, it wasn’t part of the package of reforms we announced yesterday. We want to see the impact of those reforms before we consider others.

EPSTEIN: Do you think your government’s in trouble, generally?

CLARE: I think the Government is doing a very good job on some very important and serious matters. MYEFO will come out tomorrow, which is the midyear economic update. What it will show is that inflation is coming down and wages are going up. That’s important, as well as unemployment being low. We’re managing the economy responsibly. You can see that in the fact that we now have a surplus for the first time in 15 years. But, we know Aussies are doing it tough. People are doing it tough. That’s why we’ve got to manage the economy responsibly and we are.

EPSTEIN: Do you think anyone is hearing any of that good news?

CLARE: Well, I hope people are getting ready for Christmas, Raf, to be honest. Christmas is only a couple of days away. I hope no kids are listening. I have to move elves every night to try and make sure that my little boy is as excited as I am for Christmas. Everyone in Australia I think is looking forward to a good break and let’s hope that this summer is a time where Aussies can enjoy a bit of a break. That we don’t have the trauma of bushfires and natural disasters as well as, in our distant memory we remember the trauma of the pandemic as well. I just hope we all get a chance to have a bit of fun, a bit of a break, and a bit of time with family and friends over the next couple of weeks.

EPSTEIN: They’re all good sentiments. I’m not sure that’s an answer to my question. But I’m happy to leave it there, Minister. Thank you for your time.

CLARE: Good on you mate. Cheers.

EPSTEIN: Jason Clare there; he’s the Education Minister. He’s also one of the ALP MPs in Sydney, the seat of Blaxland.

ENDS