After the COAG meeting last Friday failed to yield an agreement with any state the question needs to be asked as to whether the Government’s Gonski implementation package will pass into legislation and how many states and other entities will sign up by the June 30 deadline. Laura Tingle and Joanna Mather in an article Gillard picks off private schools points out that the Catholic and Independent school sectors receive their funds directly, have no agreement beyond this calendar year and are likely to take what is offering. There is little doubt that the Labor states, South Australia and Tasmania will sign. Campbell Newman says he is negotiating in good faith, looking after schools rather than playing politics.
Will the other non-Labor states sign? I think there’s a fair chance they will, apart perhaps for WA. Gillard will try to accommodate them. She’s toast without Gonski. For NSW, Victoria and Qld their negotiating position with a new Abbott government would be improved if they do. Whether WA can be brought on board I don’t know.
The LNP’s position is not clear. Last February they rejected Gonski outright, saying it was an attack on middle Australia. Recently Christopher Pyne said they would void the agreement unless all states signed up. Now they have been quoted as saying they will do so unless the majority of states sign.
Originally the LNP said the existing agreement was fine, so why fix what wasn’t broken?. Now they appear to be saying that they would base their scheme on the existing one with some fine-tuning presumably using some of the elements from Gonski.
Saying he supported Gonski in principle, Abbott argued that fine-tuning of the [existing] system was preferable in “the absence of anything which is clearly dramatically, and affordably dramatically better”.
Margaret Clark’s informative post pointed out that Labor’s Gonski implementation was lite. The LNP version is likely to be even more so. Pyne repeatedly says we just need better teachers. I’ve been away from schools for a while, but I keep hearing that the incidence of ‘special needs’ children has increased and their needs cannot be met without extra human resource input for special tutoring etc. That costs money.
The SMH editorial linked above suggests Abbott and Pyne are playing political games:
Gillard has set a June deadline for states and territories to sign up. The smart ones will, unless there is a cynical deal between Coalition premiers and Abbott. When the states do sign, Abbott will be isolated and look mean spirited.
Gillard can legislate the reforms before the election, with support from independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott. Abbott is then likely to backtrack and promise a review of Gonski after the election, giving the cultural warriors time to re-arm for their war on “progressives”.
Abbott should short-circuit the ideological nonsense immediately and commit to retaining Gonski, subject to regular performance reviews. If truth be known, most reasonable people in the Coalition know the package is just the sort of child-centred, performance-linked, parental-choice education policy they would love to take to voters.
Mark has addressed the issue of raiding university funding to pay for Gonski lite here, here and here. Rob Oakeshott who thinks the Gonski reforms are the most important issue considered by the 43rd parliament, says the universities may have dodged a bullet if that’s all they cop in the 2013 budget. He thinks there will be a bloodbath, although Swan is making reassuring noises. Oakeshott points out that while there are 125 taxes across states and the Commonwealth, just four of them do 90% of the work. The case for comprehensive tax reform is compelling.
Iain Martin, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at UNSW, points out that the policy document Australia in the Asian Century contains the following aspiration:
“By 2025, 10 of Australia’s universities will be in the world’s top 100.”
He thinks that just to maintain our existing ranking would require a real increase of 2% per annum. We’ve just shot ourselves in the foot. Under these conditions it will be difficult to recruit, develop and retain the very best staff.
Maxine McKew is scathing. She draws attention to Ken Boston’s comment on Q & A that Australia now has “one of the most socially segregated education systems in the world.” But, she says, Peter Garrett and Christopher Pyne were not up to the debate. She drew attention to a question raised in the program by Associate Professor Debra Hayes from Sydney University’s Education Faculty about adequate resourcing of the tertiary sector if emphasis is to be placed on the quality of teachers. I saw the program. Pyne and notably Garrett simply didn’t engage with her question. A pity, because once again Hayes is asked to do more with less. Abbott, by the way, has said specifically that no-one should expect that he would restore the funding.
I’ll finish with a reference to Geoffrey Robinson on Why Labor has failed to sell Gonski.
Education comes well behind in voters mind who rate health and managing the economy higher. Moreover Labor’s overall political model – what sociologists Shaun Wilson and Ben Spies-Butcher called “low-tax social democracy” – is in crisis. To cap it all off Gillard is a “late-regime” leader. Such leaders are emphatically rejected by the electorate, no matter what they do, as the electorate looks for something different.