Amanda Rishworth MP, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education joined the show to discuss Labor’s new policy on school funding.
The interview transcript is below:
MITCHELL DYE: Amanda Rishworth is the Shadow Assistant Minister for Education and also the Federal Member for Kingston. Shadow Assistant Minister, good morning.
AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HIGHER EDUCATION: Good morning Mitchell, and good morning to all your listeners.
DYE: Thank you very much for joining us. You are telling us about this announcement which was made late last week which Bill Shorten has called “Your Child. Our Future”. Tell us about it.
RISHWORTH: Importantly, what we’ve announced is a proper funding model for education in our schools. What we want to see is good resources, individual attention for students and also support for students with special needs as the core of our funding for our education system. What we’ve announced really will fund our schools properly and ensure that students get a very high quality education and importantly, actually prepare them for the future. We do know we are falling behind when it comes to international education results. We really need to lift that up if we are going to be a globally competitive country.
DYE: We certainly are falling behind and it is really quite concerning. I was having this conversation earlier this morning that I think a lot of teachers are ill equipped to deal with all of the challenges and information that they have to communicate. Will this funding assist increasing the standard of teaching?
RISHWORTH: You are absolutely right that we do need to invest in our teachers to ensure that they are prepared and have the skills to teach, and yes this policy does address that. Better teachers is one of the pillars of this policy, and it will include a number of things including ensuring secondary STEM teachers have a qualification in the area that they are teaching. Of course, we want to ensure that our teachers have the confidence to teach maths, to teach science. So ensuring that money is directed toward improving the quality of our teachers, as well as of course not just their subject knowledge but the way that they do teach as well, is critically important. That is part of this plan and is actually one of the five pillars of this plan, is supporting our teachers.
We’ve also committed to looking at entry standards for our teachers, but also the quality of education they are getting at university to become teachers.
DYE: How is this connected to the original Gonski plan? Because from what I understand of Gonski there are really two elements there. The first element being the actual model and how you work out how much funding to give to each school and obviously there is a formula that goes into that. Then the second element is just the raw amount of money, just how big the budget for education is going to be. So how does this correlate with what Gonski was intended to be?
RISHWORTH: From the initial years five and six, that is what is being debated of Gonski at the moment, that was ensuring the states got the full money for the six years. What Labor has committed to is to fully fund that needs-based model which is so critically important in ensuring that kids, if they come from low-socioeconomic backgrounds get extra targeted resources. Kids with a disability get extra targeted resources. We are maintaining that model in years five and six, but importantly our announcement gives some certainty over a ten year period. Because we know these results are not going to change overnight, we need to put up a sustained investment. So that is a critical part of what we have announced once again, and that is that investment. But I think the other important element of Gonski and this is unfortunately one of the things this Government has not done, and that is having this accountability mechanisms. If we are giving this money to the states and the other school systems then we need to see results. We need to ensure that the money is getting to the classroom and that it is going to evidence based practice and what we know works. So critically and importantly, what we will do is also have accountability measures, targets, as well as expectations around this money, while still allowing the flexibility of schools to do what they know works on the ground.
DYE: In terms of the years five and six funding, the main argument from the current Government seems to be that it wasn’t in the Budget or it wasn’t funded because obviously the forward estimates only go for four years. Is there anything in that, is that a fair comment?
RISHWORTH: That is not a fair comment, because the Budget only projects in a four-year cycle. But there were agreements signed with the majority of the states and territories that made the commitment for the six years. So it is a pretty weak argument. Of course the Liberal Party said at the last election ‘we are on a unity ticket with Labor when it comes to school funding’. Everyone in Australia assumed that meant they would honour the six year agreements with the states and territories and other school systems. Then they got in to Government and they squibbed on that promise. To be honest it seems a very weak argument for really a justification for breaking their promise.
DYE: Of course you have sighted there the issue of helping people with special needs and perhaps providing them with more specialist teachers. Is that the biggest thing you think is holding the education system back? If we get that right will that assist us in maintaining our current international standing or improving it?
RISHWORTH: I think it’s about a number of things. Firstly I think those with a disability have been left behind and we need to invest to ensure they have the support and the resources to become the very best they can and to lift their educational attainment. But of course it is also about ensuring that teachers do have the resources that they have the skills, and that will benefit all students. And more individual attention and targeted resources in the classroom also helps. There are a range of things that can lift our educational standards. Since 2000 we really have been falling backward, particularly in the STEM area and particularly in reading. We really do need to lift that up for all students, it has to be an inclusive model involving Indigenous kids and kids with a disability, because if we don’t invest in every child then we are not going to get the outcomes that we need.
DYE: And of course the question has to be where will the revenue for this extra expenditure come from? Will it be in the Budget? Will it be a tax increase, or will we be able to find it from other programs and savings there?
RISHWORTH: We’ve announced about $70 billion in savings from Opposition. That has been a number of revenue measures including closing loopholes for very wealthy superannuants, as well as closing some loopholes for multinational profit shifters. We’ve also announced some cuts that include not continuing on with the Liberal Party’s baby bonus that they have announced, as well as the paying polluters to pollute carbon reduction fund. We have identified a number of savings that we think are really better spent in school education and better contributed. I think though there is a really other important question when we are talking about cost and how we pay for this and that is, if we don’t make this investment what will this cost our country? What will this cost our nation? I think in the long-term this is an investment that just has to happen.
DYE: That’s true. However, you’ve got to draw some limits somewhere don’t you, because the revenue doesn’t just keep flowing in?
RISHWORTH: Of course, and this isn’t about an unlimited amount of money. This is very much about following recommendations that were made while we were in Government into a review into the funding of schools. It hadn’t been reviewed since the 70’s and indeed has become quite historical where there wasn’t a principle needs-based funding model. And of course as I said it’s not just about the extra money, it is about our model, it is about our investment, it is about accountability and outcomes. But without the resources, saying we are not going to reinvest in our schools which the Liberal Party are saying, that we’re just going to apply CPI, that is not enough to actually lift our standards.