PM Malcolm Turnbull has announced a new funding package for the nation’s schools.
MUCH of the painful political hangover left by Tony Abbott’s clunky 2014 Budget might finally ease with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s Gonski 2.0 school funding proposals.
The PM could harness growing exasperation over the mess left from that Budget with a pledge of certainty and stability to get his spending framework through the Senate.
It will be an expensive cure — the Gonski 2.0 package involves an extra $18.6 billion investment in education — but the benefit in terms of funding consistency and political truce would be worth it to both the government and the school system.
And when it comes to cures, the next Budget step to ease the 2014 hangover is likely to be treatment of Medicare to remove or reduce the freeze on rebates. The Government has already dumped proposals for university fee deregulation in its higher education funding package, another lingering ache from 2014.
A strong indication of the exasperation on school funding has come from, of all places, the Greens.
“People are sick of the argy-bargy between the states and the Federal Government, they’re sick of the hyper-partisan fights between the Government and the Opposition, we’ve got to get the politics out of this,” Greens education spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young told ABC radio.
She said there was no Greens hostility to the Turnbull proposals and that the party would consider them all. Which could mean the Government would need just one additional cross bench vote to get them through the Senate.
There are 9000 state, religious and independent schools. The Budget will see some 24 non-state schools lose funding and about 350 will get less support under the proposals released by Education Minister Simon Birmingham.
But Labor will not allow an easy run, and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has not been tentative in accusing the Prime Minister of reverting to the old state aid prejudices.
“The Catholic education system is being specifically targeted by Malcolm Turnbull cuts to school funds,” said Mr Shorten today.
The Catholic educators — who received a special deal under Labor to get their agreement to Gonski funding — have been quick to provide Mr Shorten all the ammunition he needs.
And there is a broader Labor position today stated bluntly by shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek: “We know for sure that you can’t trust the Liberals when it comes to educating Australians.”
An Essential Media poll this week found 54 per cent of voters wanted education to be the Budget priority, running second to the 62 per cent who named health their top priority.
However, last December when an Essential survey asked who would better manage education, almost a third of voters said they didn’t know. Some 39 per cent gave it to Labor and 28 per cent to the Liberals.
Then there is the giant hypothetical hanging over the education debate; the $22 billion Labor says has gone AWOL.
Labor is arguing that Turnbull’s Gonski 2.0 proposals are skimpy, even though they amount to an extra $18.6 billion over 10 years, with $2.2 billion for the coming four years.
The Government says its scheme would pay 20 per cent of funding for state schools, up from 17 per cent, and 80 per cent for non-state schools, a rise from 77 per cent.
The Opposition claims this represents a $22 billion reduction of what a Labor government would have delivered had it not been knocked off in 2013.
However, there has never been any firm announcement of where Labor would have found this money and it remains a promise it couldn’t deliver — and might never have been able to deliver even if it had held on to power in 2013.