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Estimates: Gonski Questions

Estimates & Committees
Penny Wright 18 Oct 2012

Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee
Thursday 18 October 2012

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations

Senator WRIGHT: Is the department currently drafting legislation or assisting another department to draft legislation to implement the recently announced changes to schools funding in Australia? Is it in the process of being drafted at this moment? 

Ms Paul: We have covered this.

Senator WRIGHT: When will the legislation be introduced into parliament?

Mr Cook: The Prime Minister has indicated introduction by the end of the year.

Senator WRIGHT: That is the discussion that was happening and there is a media report that I have just seen on that. So is it still the plan that it will be introduced within this sitting period, before the end of the year? 

Mr Cook: That is correct.

Senator WRIGHT: I am interested in what the legislation will look like. Will it implement recommendations from the Gonski review into schools funding and which recommendations will be included?

Ms Paul: We spoke about this earlier, too. We talked about the fact that the Prime Minister has said that the legislation will present the aspiration for schooling expectations for the country. It will be about a national plan for school improvement and it will be oriented, undoubtedly, around an aspiration to be one of the top five countries in literacy and numeracy, in particular, by 2025.

Senator WRIGHT: Given the fact that there is still so much negotiation to be done about the mechanism of funding and the definitions that would go to formulate the funding, am I right in thinking that the legislation that will be introduced will be very general, with the detail to be filled out either by way of further legislation or by way of regulation or something like that?

Ms Paul: That is still a matter for government at this point. It is still being worked through exactly what level of detail we can go to. In a way-exactly as you say-that will to some extent rely on where negotiations can get up to in that time frame.

Senator WRIGHT: What is the likely annual cost, over forward estimates, of implementing the legislation?

Ms Paul: As we said here earlier today that is yet to be settled. We cannot give a final cost on that because of course this is about all public funding for schools and so the states and territories have such a large part in it. We have not yet actually entered the point of financial negotiations. Where we are at now is a technical point of working through detailed settings in a COAG-in-confidence way, so we are not able yet to nail that down here.

Senator WRIGHT: As we know, the Gonski review put a figure of $5 billion at the time. I understand that, without understanding what share the Commonwealth will ultimately agree to shoulder and what share the states and territories will be shouldering, it would not be possible to give a definitive answer to the forward estimates from the Commonwealth point of view.

Ms Paul: That is right.

Senator WRIGHT: Is it possible to say, in terms of overall funding over the next four years, what the proposal-once it is implemented-or aspiration is as to what amount will be provided over the forward estimates for funding of schools?

Ms Paul: No, and we did talk about that earlier on in the context of what Gonski had said and its value in current terms et cetera. We made the point that we cannot do that at this point for a couple of reasons. One is that we are still seeking some feedback on the potential settings-

Senator WRIGHT: On the settings?

Ms Paul: On the settings. That is what we are going through in a technical sense, which we have described. You will find quite an extensive discussion in Hansard. Secondly, this is a matter for negotiation. So for those two reasons we do not yet know what the states can put forward and indeed they probably do not know because they have not yet been through their cabinet processes. It is not something we can plan right now.

Senator WRIGHT: What I guess I am trying to clarify is in terms of talking about aspirations. I am not asking for specific details of what the Commonwealth and the states would be proposing to pay. I was actually interested in whether, given that Gonski has put a figure of $5 billion on it, the government is inclined to accept that figure aspirationally, however it is made up by the funding of states and territories and the Commonwealth; whether, in fact, there is anything close to that figure or whether there is just no way of having any understanding of what the Commonwealth considers to be an appropriate amount of additional funding that the state schools need?

Senator WRIGHT: The Prime Minister said in her speech to the Press Club recently:
...the independent panel challenged all governments to provide an extra $6.5 billion annually in today's money... I believe as a nation we should aim to make new money of this order available to our nation's schools, provided we can ensure that every dollar of the money makes a difference by having an appropriate transition to the new system and tying the money to improving schools.
What she is saying there is pretty clear. It also goes to this notion of aspiration and that is, 'What does it take to get Australia into one of the top five countries by 2025?'

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you. I am interested to know whether the legislation will include a transition phase. Will the changes be implemented over a number of years and if so, how many years and how will it work in practice? Like many, I guess I am interested in knowing how because there has been a suggestion that it will be phased in. How is that envisaged to occur? What would the transition period be-would there be graduated funding increases and funding levels and so on?

Mr Cook: The Prime Minister did indicate in her speech on 3 September that there would be a proposal for a six-year transition period in relation to the new funding model. Those discussions are currently being held with the states and the non-government sector in relation to that proposal and also as to ways in which transition, within the six-year period, could actually be undertaken.

Senator WRIGHT: So what does that mean? That is what I am interested in exploring. I do not really know what a transition period would mean. Let us choose a figure-for instance $5 billion or $6 billion or whatever; my understanding is that that means that money would not be available in the first year even though there might be an aspiration to have annual funding of that figure. What does a phase-in period mean? Does it mean that in the first year it might be half of that figure, or a third, and then build up over time? That is what I am trying to work out. What does it mean?

Mr Cook: There is no settled position in relation to that. As I said, we are having those conversations with states and territories and the non-government sector at the moment. The Prime Minister has indicated that a six-year period is the approximate period that we would be looking at in transition. How that would look-

Senator WRIGHT: Can I just stop you there and clarify, just so that I can understand? Would the six-year period transition mean that, ideally, by the sixth year-

Mr Cook: 2020.

Senator WRIGHT: the full amount that has been agreed as being appropriate to be paid on an annual basis would be met?

Mr Cook: Ideally, that is correct.

Senator WRIGHT: All right. If that were to be the case, I am interested in exploring if there has been discussion or consideration about the fact that-certainly given the findings of the Gonski review-it is very clear that there are some schools in Australia, and some students, who are in more need of funding than others? That is just on the basis of all the indications and data in the Gonski review. Is there consideration being given to a phase-in that would take that into account? Arguably, perhaps there are some schools that have a far greater pressing need for immediate changes to funding than other schools?

Mr Cook: Sure. Again, that is part of the conversation about what the particular components are that you would have to consider in a phasing-in approach. That would be one component. Other components would be whether it is equal and whether you do the base of the actual model first and the loadings later. To clarify that: there is no settled position on all those things, but they are part of the conversation that states and territories and our non-government sector are having with us at the moment.

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you. I will have a look at the Hansard as to what was said.

CHAIR: We covered a lot of those areas in lots of details, so there will be plenty of information.

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