SUBJECTS: Fully and fairly funding all Western Australian public schools; Building a better and fairer education system; Teacher workforce; Bigger tax cuts for more Australians.
GARY ADSHEAD: Yeah, Jason Clare Federal Education Minister is on the line. Thanks very much for your time, Minister.
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: G'day, mate. Great to be here.
ADSHEAD: Now, obviously there's a lot of backslapping going on about bringing the funding up to 100 per cent of the schooling resourcing standard. That's what's going on now. Well, why hasn't it been done before now?
CLARE: We were out of government for ten years. The last government ripped this up. We're putting it back together and making sure that we fund our schools properly. The fact is, mate, that private schools at the moment are funded at that level that David Gonski said they should be or they're above it and coming down to that 100 per cent level. But public schools aren't. Right across the country they aren't. Except for the ACT, public schools are funded up to 95 per cent at the moment of what they should be. What this deal is about is making sure that Western Australia, working with the Commonwealth Government, gets funding for public schools up to 100 per cent. Western Australia is going to become the first state in the country to do that. That's a great thing and that'll roll out from next year. The most disadvantaged schools will get to that level first and every school, every public school in WA will be at that level by 2026.
ADSHEAD: What do you hope the sort of tangible benefits of this will be? That parents might be able to see, that teachers and principals can see?
CLARE: If you're a mum and dad, you've got a little boy or little girl in third grade today, you get those NAPLAN results and says that your son or your daughter is falling behind. You'd want to know that the school’s got the resources it needs to help that child to catch up. At the moment, if a child falls behind when they're little, the data tells us that only about 20 per cent of them catch up by the time they're in year nine at high school. This explains why we're now seeing a drop in the number of young people finishing high school. You’ve got to identify kids who are falling behind early, even before third grade, back in kindy, back in year one, and then intervene early. So, what does this money do? It gives us the potential to use this money on things like catch-up tutoring. It's what I was talking to Premier Cook about today, where we know that if a child is identified early as falling behind, get them out of a class of 30 kids, put them in a class with three or four other kids and they can learn as much in six months as they'd learn in a year. So, they catch up. It puts them in a better position when they go back into the big classroom to keep up. They're more likely to succeed at high school and finish high school.
ADSHEAD: Okay. Well, one of the key issues there is staffing, getting the teachers and the teachers that might do that, tutoring off to the side into the classrooms, because that seems to be, well, according to Matt Jarman, of course, who's from the State School Teachers’ Union this morning, who's written a back-to-school piece which says that more and more of his colleagues are walking away from the profession. How will the funding get them into the classroom and where they're needed?
CLARE: We’ve got to do more than just this funding to fix that. We’ve got a teacher shortage crisis right across the country. This is ten years in the making. Over the last ten years, we've seen about a 12 per cent drop in the number of young people going from school into uni to study teaching. But we've also got too many people resigning rather than retiring from teaching. Too many people leaving the profession that they love. There's a bunch of things that we need to do here. Pay is one part of it, workload is part of it. The idea that teachers clock on at 9 and finish at 3 is frankly rubbish. Anyone who knows a teacher knows that there's a lot of work before school, after school, on the weekends as well. Funds like this provide the opportunity for schools to employ admin people to take some of that burden off teachers and give them more time to teach.
And part of it, mate, is about just simple respect. A shocking piece of data that came before me last year was a survey of teachers showed that most teachers don't think they're respected by the local community. There's a link between that and the number of teachers deciding to leave the profession in a place like Singapore. The same survey shows that about 60 or 70 per cent of teachers think they're respected by the community. And in Singapore, you've got a line out the door of university of kids wanting to become school teachers. If we want to turn this around, there's a bunch of things that we need to do. One of them is change the way that we as a country think about our teachers and change the way teachers think the country thinks of them.
ADSHEAD: I wonder whether it's time to go back to basics. And I don't even mean in the classroom in terms of reading, writing, arithmetic. I mean that should a teacher really have to deal with emails from parents just because the technology is there now to allow parents to email a teacher whenever they want about whatever they want. I mean, why don't we just scrap that and go back to the times when there was a parent teacher meeting once or twice a year? End of story.
CLARE: Good question. A teacher told me the other day that the average primary school teacher has 30 parents in their pocket and that the average high school teacher has over 100 parents in their pocket that can email and contact them any time of the day or night. We're starting to see, in different states across the country, different parts of agreements with teachers that the phone doesn't ding at 1 in the morning when the parent has time to send a message to the teacher. Give teachers time to switch off. And that's an important part of dealing with this workload question that is causing a lot of teachers to leave the job they love.
ADSHEAD: Just in terms of the affordability of this package, the $3 billion overall, that's, what, coming out of the surpluses that have been generated?
CLARE: The final number will depend on the agreements we strike with every state across the country. This investment for WA is $770 million over the next five years to help to close that gap. And so that's money from the Commonwealth Government. You’ve got to balance the books properly to be able to make this investment. That's what we're doing, delivering the first surplus, I think, in about 15 years, with last year's budget, hoping to make sure that we get the budget into similar circumstances in the years ahead. That's what you need to do in order to make sure you got the money to do these things.
ADSHEAD: Just a couple of other things, if you don't mind. Inflation figure down to 4.1 per cent. That should keep interest rates on hold, shouldn't it?
CLARE: I won't pre-empt what the Reserve Bank does. Good news that inflation is coming down. I think all of us want to see inflation coming down. And it's also good news wages are going up. We're now seeing real wages growth, the fastest wages growth, I think, in 15 years. Unemployment low as well. But there's still a lot of Aussies that are doing it tough. That's why those tax cuts are so important. A tax cut for every Aussie taxpayer. And there's about 11 million Australians that are going to get a bigger tax cut as a result of this.
ADSHEAD: How do you assess that going down in Western Australia in terms of the workforce and so on? Do you think that those that are at that $180,000 plus are going to be forgiving of the broken promise?
CLARE: I think they'll know that every Aussie is going to get a tax cut. They'll know that whether you're on $80 grand or $180 grand, there's a lot of Aussies doing it tough. Everybody needs a bit of extra help, and this will make sure that every Aussie taxpayer gets a tax cut. And it also means 84 per cent of Aussies get a bigger tax cut. That's an important part of making sure that we help Aussies with the cost of living.
What's hard to understand is why Peter Dutton still doesn't know whether he's going to vote for it or not. He’s quick to bag Woolies when they weren't selling what he wanted them to sell. Quick to bag journalists in Canberra for not saying what he wants them to say, but still can't work out whether 11 million Australians deserve a bigger tax cut.
ADSHEAD: Well, I mean, it's going to come down to whatever he says. His word will have to be his bond, won't it?
CLARE: Let's wait and see what he decides. I just can't work out for the life of me why it's taking him so long to work out whether 11 million Aussies deserve a bigger tax cut.
ADSHEAD: All right, he's got a Cabinet Meeting in Perth today, so maybe we'll find out the answer a little bit later on this afternoon. I appreciate you joining us, Jason.
CLARE: No worries, mate. Cheers.
ADSHEAD: Jason Clare, Federal Education Minister. Basically, setting the funding at what it should be.