JOURNALIST: As you have been hearing in our news bulletins the Federal Opposition has promised to put $4.5 billion towards funding the Gonski School Education Agreement for the 2018-19 school years. Of course the Coalition has said that they will not fund those final two years. Instead it is trying to broker a new deal with the States and Territories, with me now on the line is Member for Cunningham, also Opposition spokesperson for Vocational Education and Training, Sharon Bird, good morning
BIRD: Good morning
JOURNALIST: Look the decision of Labor to promise this $4.5 billion to fully fund the Gonski school reforms, the big question being asked this morning is how does Labor plan to pay for it?
BIRD: It’s quite clear that we made a lot of really hard decisions last year that in the end we have to make the savings or increase the revenue to deliver on what we think should be the priorities for the country and that’s fair enough. People I am sure will remember last year that we talked about our multi-national tax reforms indicating that we feel many multi-nationals are paying no tax in Australia and they should actually be paying tax here.
We also announced some reforms around high level earners on superannuation, for example, also the cigarettes tax increase. So we did announce a number of things last year that would come to around $70 billion over the next 10 years because we do want to be able to fund and announce priorities that are really important to communities like ours and education is absolutely clearly one of those.
JOURNALIST: I guess the criticism that gets levelled at Labor by the Government is you might be diverting funds from one place to another or trying to raise money through various exercises but it doesn’t do much in terms of budget repair in the long term?
BIRD: You have got to be able to do a number of things in government but I do think if you are not investing in education then it’s a false economy because we know the jobs of the future, and parents can see this already if you have kids that have left school, that you have to have high level qualifications to get the sorts of jobs that will be there in the future.
I know that might be a TAFE qualification, it might be a University degree and if we need our kids to be able to succeed in life they have to have a really solid foundation at school. Education is actually an investment, it’s not just an expenditure, and if we don’t do it we are looking at slowing growth in this country, not having the innovation certainly that the Prime Minister wants to talk about. The issue that has proven as right is when you get the investment in education right and give people those opportunities you actually find it pays off for the nation and so we do prioritise it. We don’t make any apology for that.
JOURNALIST: So are you looking at refunding the Gonski reforms that were always destined to run until 2018 and the Government says what it’s trying to do is map out some sort of deal with the States that would take us from 2018 and beyond into the future, what happens after 2018?
BIRD: The entire package that Bill and Kate Ellis announced yesterday is $37.3 billion now. $30 billion of that is for reversing the cuts that Tony Abbott made to education, that Malcom Turnbull continued, and those cuts significantly changed the way schools were getting money across the country. In our own area in the Illawarra, which covers my seat and Stephen Jones’, it was about $391 million taken out of local schools over that ten years, so we have not just announced the years five and six for Gonski, which is about $4.5 billion. We’ve also announced a reversal of the cuts that the Government did make over the ten year forward as $30 billion for schools and at the local level that is a really significant injection back into our local schools.
It is important to get Gonski right and the Government seems to forget that that was actually a long drawn out process of really intensive policy work to get the Gonski outcome and, I’m a former teacher, for the first time in my life I have seen an education debate that wasn’t divisive between school sectors and everybody was on board and said “yes, this is great, this is the way to go”. So all the work has been done the problem is that they don’t want to bite the bullet and put the money into it.
JOURNALIST: So are you saying that you are convinced that any less than Gonski would not lead to better outcomes? The Coalition is saying that they believe that there is some deal that can be brokered that is fiscally responsible and will improve educational outcomes for kids?
BIRD: I guess I don’t understand why they would go through that process when we have had somebody as well regarded as the Gonski panel who have spent years doing all that work and then you have extensive negotiations with the states, although there were two states that didn’t come on board, but all of the other states signed up and indeed his own Liberal colleagues in New South Wales continued with the Gonski model and Gonski funding. I just think it’s a sneaky was of saying we don’t really want to put the extra money in and you are going to find some other mechanism and some other way.
I don’t believe that, I think that we have had all the research, we have had all the work, we have had all the negotiations and it is quite clear in the time that has gone on, now we are going backwards. I talk to my local schools, I have been to many of them that have raised literacy programs or HSC support programs with that money and they are just saying to me that it is making a huge difference. So when it stops the next kids coming through won’t get access to it and it does make a big difference. We just have to bite the bullet and do it - the work has all been done.
JOURNALIST: Well not all the work has been done as there are a couple of the areas, where Labor says it’s going to try to save money, will certainly be a battle for Labor. Even if some of them have popular support you will be up against some powerful lobby groups cracking down on multi-national tax avoidance, $14 billion. I’m sure Labor doesn’t expect that to be easy, reducing super tax concessions as well, again something that many members of the public won’t agree with but again something that will be difficult to get through. You will be facing at least a public relations battle to get those through, what happens if you don’t find those savings if that proves to be too difficult?
BIRD: I mean that is the challenge for government at any point in time. I would say the biggest challenge is that we have to win an election first and you know that is why we think these things need to be debated and on the table. It does frustrate me enormously that at the last election, at that time, the Abbott opposition went out and told people that would get exactly the same from them, on the Gonski funding, as they were getting from Labor, and I think that that was a great betrayal of a promise that was made before an election.
We have laid out a plan, we’ve shown in government before that we are able to get the funding mechanisms in place, despite the Liberal claims, we did it with the NDIS and I am confident that we can do it here because, to be honest, we have to. People in the community know if we don’t get education right then we are all going to pay a cost in terms of jobs and growth and our economy and so you have to actually make sure that, not only our school education. We have an announced policy to provide guaranteed funding for TAFE and an announced policy for student funding guarantee for Universities so we don’t face $100,000 degrees. It is hard in Government, there are no two ways about that, but I just think that it is too important to everyone’s future for us not to pursue it.
JOURNALIST: Alright Sharon Bird, thanks very much for your time this morning.
BIRD: Thank you so much.