Protesters target Education minister Simon Birmingham at Press Club speech

Protesters target Education minister Simon Birmingham at Press Club speech

Student protesters disrupted a speech by federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham on Wednesday, as he pushed the case for the Turnbull government's plans for higher university course fees and an overhaul of national school funding.

"No cuts, no fees, no corporate universities," the protesters chanted as security staff removed them from Canberra's National Press Club.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham announced a needs-based funding model.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham announced a needs-based funding model.

Photo: ABC

Under the plans announced by Senator Birmingham this week, all Canberra Catholic schools will face a 10-year funding freeze, expected to leave them with less funding in 2027 than received in 2017.

A further nine ACT private schools currently funded above the school resourcing standard may also face cuts.

Facing growing criticism from the Catholic sector and warnings of a "robust" debate in the Coalition party room from former prime minister Tony Abbott, Senator Birmingham ruled out making special deals with Catholic or independent school bodies, saying the plan was designed to end special deals for non-government schools made by former governments going back decades.


He brushed off the protesters, while small groups also targeted his Adelaide electorate office and the Sydney office of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

"I think there has probably not been a year in the last few decades when we haven't seen university students protesting at some stage," Senator Birmingham said.

"It is part of the rite of passage of university students nowadays."

A separate protest by Australian Education Union ACT representatives took place outside the event, calling for the original Gonski funding package deals with states and territories to be honoured by the Coalition.

The union said the government's latest proposal was not a needs-based system and money from the original Gonski package, announced by the former Gillard Labor government, was already making a difference in schools.

Canberra schools facing cuts include Brindabella Christian College, Burgmann Anglican School, Canberra Girls' Grammar, Canberra Grammar, Orana Steiner School, Daramalan College, Emmaus Christian School, Radford College and Marist College.

Senator Birmingham said there was no reason for fee increases at Catholic schools considering funding growth under the proposed changes.

Catholic Education Office Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn director Ross Fox said from the additional funding allocated to schools in the next decade, none would flow to ACT Catholic schools.

"I'm uncertain how the government expects us to not increase fees in the next 10 years when there's no additional funding for any salaries, any increasing costs or any increasing student needs," he said.

Senator Birmingham used the speech to guarantee a further year of free access to preschool for Australian families, with an extension to the joint state and federal government program costing $428 million to the federal budget.

The extended funding represents $1237 per child, regardless of their preschool location.

"The 2018 extension of the national partnership agreement will provide certainty and consistency for Australian families, preschools and long day care centres as we implement our school and child care reforms next year," Senator Birmingham said.

He said schools in the Catholic system would retain the ability to direct their own funding.

"For those within the Catholic school systems, we then will aggregate each of those lots of funding for each of those schools and we will hand it over to the Catholic education system in that state or territory and they will then be able to choose how they distribute it between their schools."

Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek said the government's policy represented a $22 billion cut over a decade, an average of $2.4 million from every school in Australia.

"What happened in the 2014 budget was that the Abbott government came in and cut $30 billion across the decade," she told the ABC.

"The Liberals are asking us to accept instead a $22 billion cut across the decade and call that some sort of improvement on the situation that would have existed if Labor were in government today."

Tom McIlroy is a political reporter for the Financial Review in the federal press gallery at Parliament House.

Doug Dingwall is a reporter for The Canberra Times covering the public service and politics.