Television Interview with Greg Jennett – ABC News Afternoon Briefing – Wednesday 31 January 2024

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
TELEVISION INTERVIEW
ABC NEWS AFTERNOON BRIEFING
WEDNESDAY, 31 JANUARY 2024

SUBJECTS: Fully and fairly funding all Western Australian public schools; Building a better and fairer education system; The Australian Universities Accord; Bigger tax cuts for more Australians

GREG JENNETT: All right. The first of what should become a national sweep of new public School Funding Agreements is close to being locked in now. Jason Clare has struck an in-principle deal with West Australian Premier Roger Cook for both levels of government, his and Roger Cook’s, to increase their share of school funding over five years.

Now all up it should deliver more than a billion dollars in extra funding to state schools in the west over a five-year period, and also stand as a beacon of encouragement for other states to follow suit and sign up.

We caught up with the Federal Education Minister from East Hamersley Primary School in Perth.

Well, Jason Clare, thanks for joining us there from Western Australia. A fair bit of activity happening around Perth at the moment.

Throughout this year your job will be to clinch these new five-year School Funding Agreements with all states. You’re starting there with what’s called a Statement of Intent. Before we get to what this extra funding will buy, and we’ll get to that, run us through the numbers. By how much in total will public school funding increase in Western Australia?

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: G’day mate, and happy new year. This is a landmark day for public education today. Today we’re announcing that Western Australia will become the first State in the country where all public schools here are fully funded, and that will come in from 2026.

The most disadvantaged schools here in WA will be fully funded next year, and then all schools, all public schools in WA will be fully funded from 2026.

You ask how much that is. It works out at around about $777 million of extra Commonwealth investment matched by a similar amount from the WA Government to get us there to that full funding level that David Gonski talked about all those years ago.

Private schools are at that level now, public schools aren’t, right across the country, except the ACT. And this investment today will mean that WA becomes the first State in the country where public schools are fully funded at that full funding level.

JENNETT: I think as you broaden this out and bag deals state by state nationally, correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re budgeting on about an extra $3 billion a year on top in Commonwealth funding alone. Where does that come from though? How much of that is all new money? Will any of it be clawed back from non-government schools?

CLARE: It’s a significant investment. The actual final amount will depend upon the deals that we do with every State and Territory across the country, and that work’s now underway.

I don’t want to just do this here in WA, I want to do a deal with every State and Territory across the country to make sure that every single public school is funded at that full and fair level. That involves the Commonwealth chipping in, and it’s got to involve the States chipping in as well. It involves extra money, that’s why it’s important that we bring the budget back into balance, which we’ve done.

The money’s important, Greg, but what’s even more important is what we spend it on. We’ve got to fix that funding gap I talked about, where public schools aren’t funded at the level that private schools are funded at.

But we’ve also got to fix the education gap that exists in this country. The fact is we know today that one in ten kids, when they’re little when they’re eight years old are below the minimum literacy and numeracy standards we set for them, but one in three kids from poor families are below that level, and one in three kids from the bush are below that level.

And think about this: this should shock everyone watching here today. Only 20 per cent of those kids who fall behind, of all those kids who fall behind when they’re little, ever catch up by the time they’re in high school, which helps to explain why we’re now seeing a drop in the number of kids finishing high school. Not everywhere, but we’re seeing a drop in the percentage of kids finishing high school in public schools and kids from the bush, kids from poor families, and this is happening, mate, at a time where it’s more important to finish school than it was when we went to school. You’ve got to finish school today because most of the jobs being created require you to go to TAFE or uni to get the qualifications for those jobs.

We’ve got to make sure that more people finish school. That means going right back to the start, identifying kids when they’re falling behind when they’re little, and intervening early.

This money is important. What’s even more important is using it on things like catch-up tutoring. Find a child who’s falling behind, get him out of a classroom of 30, put him in a classroom of three or four or five, and we know from what’s happened in New South Wales and Victoria after the pandemic that a child like that can learn as much in six months as they would ordinarily learn in 12 months, so they catch up and they get put back into the mainstream classroom where they can keep up. Ultimately that means more kids finishing high school.

JENNETT: Yeah, no, that equity of opportunity argument is a compelling one, and I really don’t want to get bogged down in a numbers and budgeting debate. But just on that, this specific question of the gap, if you like, the over-funding relative to the School Resourcing Standard in non-government schools, do you rule out any clawback, any transfer from non-government into these public deals that you’re clinching this year?

CLARE: Non-government schools are at that level now. Those schools that are above that 100 per cent Gonski level are on a track to come down automatically. That’s one of the features of the changes that Malcolm Turnbull made a number of years ago, so that will happen automatically, non-government schools come down to the hundred per cent level.

The real problem is that public schools aren’t on a trajectory to get to that 100 per cent, and it’s five per cent short, it’s billions of dollars that need to be invested there. It requires the Commonwealth to chip in and it requires the States to chip in as well, but it also requires us to make sure that we tie the funding to the sort of things that we know are going to work for kids who go to schools like this, the sort of things that mums and dads at home would expect us to invest this money in that are going to make a real difference in children’s lives, help to make sure that more kids finish school.

Ultimately what this is about, whether it’s the work we’re doing here in schools, the work that I’m doing in universities or the work that we’re doing in early education, is building a better and a fairer education system for the whole country.

JENNETT: Yeah. Now as you say there is much the states will have to do. You’ve said before that you’re not into writing blank cheques, and you’ve already run through here catch-up tutoring and other measures that will be written into these deals, but what are the consequences for the states if they underperform or under deliver against some of those criteria?

CLARE: I’ve been asked before, if a school doesn’t reach a certain level do you rip the money out? The answer to that’s no. That would be contradictory to everything that we’re trying to achieve here. I went to a disadvantaged school. I went to a school where there was a lot of kids who had English as a second language, where there were lots of kids struggling, where every dollar matters.

What we’re trying to do here, what we’re doing in WA and what I want to do across the country is tie the funding to reforms; to work together, Commonwealth Government and State Governments, to make sure that we tie this money to the sort of reforms that we can roll out across the nation, identify kids that are falling behind early and intervene early to help them. That’s what this is about.

And I’m doing great work with the States right now on making changes to the degrees that students do at university to become a teacher, to make sure they’re better prepared, that they’ve got the skills that they need from day one to teach kids to read, to teach kids to write, teach kids doing maths, to improve the practical training that they get while they’re still at university.

That’s a great example of the collaboration between the Commonwealth and the States. I want to do the same thing here right across the country, fund our schools properly and use that funding to help the children who need it the most.

JENNETT: All right. An important first step you’re taking unquestionably there in public schooling. Just to cover off a couple of other quick elements. We’ll come to inflation in a moment.

CLARE: Sure.

JENNETT: But one remaining one in your education portfolio, universities remains a major piece of work for you. That’s probably an understatement for this year. The Accord Review, you have its full and final report.  When will we get the Government’s response to that?

CLARE: I’ll release that report shortly, and I mentioned a moment ago that this is not just about schools, it’s about early education and it’s about tertiary education as well.

Just as I said that one in three kids from poor families are more likely to fall behind when they’re little and not catch up, the data that we’ve got tells us that you’ve got around about 45 per cent of young people in their 20s today with a university degree, but only about half that much for people from poor families. 

We’ve got to do more as a country to make sure that we help more people finish school and then go on to university. What the Interim Report of the Accord told us is that in the years ahead more people are going to need a university degree because more and more jobs will require university qualifications.

We’ve got to break down that barrier that exists, that artificial barrier between TAFE and university, make it easier for people to move between the two; we’ve also got to do more to help kids from the bush, help kids from poor families to make that big leap into university and get the skills they need for the jobs that are being created now and in the years ahead. I’m looking forward to releasing that report in the next couple of weeks.

JENNETT: All right. Well, the next couple of weeks I reckon we might be able to pencil you in for a follow-up on that. Jason Clare, just finally, inflation’s fallen faster than expected ending last year at 4.1 per cent. Timing is everything in these things. Is there some risk with your revamped Stage 3 tax cuts that the timing is out, that you’re going to land them five to six months too late against the peak cost‑of‑living pressures?

CLARE: We know that Aussies are doing it tough. That’s why the childcare changes that we’ve made that have cut the cost of childcare by 11 per cent are important, that’s why the changes we’ve made to cut the cost of medicine is important too, the changes we’ve made to help with electricity bills are important, but Aussies are still doing it tough.

Journos like you are asking us what more can we do. Giving every taxpayer a tax cut is an important part of helping Aussies with the cost of living and making sure that 11 million Aussies get a bigger tax cut is a really important part of that. It’s good that inflation’s coming down. You bet it is. It’s good that wages are going up. Wages are now going up at the fastest rate in 15 years. Unemployment’s low as well. But there are lots of Aussies doing it tough, and that’s why this tax cut for every Aussie taxpayer is important.

What I find hard to believe is that Peter Dutton can’t make up his mind about whether he thinks that 11 million Aussies deserve a bigger tax cut. He’s quick to bag Woolies, he’s quick to bag the journos up there in the Press Gallery, but he can’t work out whether he supports 11 million Aussies getting a bigger tax cut. It tells you everything you need to know about Peter Dutton and his priorities.

JENNETT: Yeah, rest assured we’ll keep asking Peter Dutton and other members of the Coalition about where they might land on Stage 3.

Jason Clare, a warm day and a busy day for you there in Western Australia. We appreciate it as always whenever you can join us on Afternoon Briefing.

CLARE: No worries.

ENDS