This week in parliament the government were finally able to pass their school funding reform through the senate and then the lower house. For the government this helps alleviate an area of concern with the public being that Liberal governments look to cut funding in public services, particularly education and health. In order to pass the legislation through the senate the Government needed to do a deal with the senate cross bench/ the Greens and the backbench to ensure it’s passage. This essentially boiled down to the amount of money pledged to schools increasing by 5 billion dollars from the 18.9 billion dollars which helped get the independents on board particularly with the money being spent over 6 years rather than 10 years which meant the money would be spent sooner. To placate the backbench and the Catholic schools sector they were then promised to have their current arrangement of funding kept for an extra year. This was needed as the Catholic sector were unhappy with losing money from some of the richer schools which by nature of the needs based funding arrangement meant for schools to receive money some schools needed to lose money.
Sadly although not completely surprising under the current political environment the Labor and the Greens were both opposed to the measure, although in the case of the Greens this opposition came late. Now the argument the Labor party gave was that they were committed to the spending proposed under Gonski 1.0 and that the government were now walking away from a commitment to match the spending back in the 2013 election. Now that commitment from Tony Abbott was a mistake but the Labor party are also culpable because their plan of funding was over 10 years and what they don’t mention is that the Liberal Party only planned to match the first four years of spending. The other issue with the first Gonski deal was that in the dying days of the second Kevin Rudd government Bill Shorten the then Education minister made special arrangements with individual states to get the policy agreed too, this meant that only 4 states and the ACT agreed to the Gonski arrangements and the other states then had a seperate arrangement. This meant that Christopher Pyne the Education minister under Tony Abbot was able to claim that because the deal done by Bill Shorten was not nationally agreed by the states and territories the Liberal party could pull their support for the deal and implement their own policy that saved the government money to fix the budget issues that they claimed to have inherited. This allowed the Labor party to run the line then as they did with this version of the Gonski deal that the Liberal party were cutting money from Education. From (1) and (2) we see that these claims are slightly misleading, now the Labor can claim they are going to spend more money on Education however that does not mean the Liberal Party are cutting money from the budget, a cut suggests that the current amount of money given to schools will reduce in the next year not increase at a slower rate. The take away line from (2) was that the Labor party wanted to claim that the government had cut 22 million dollars from Education which would cause 22 thousand teachers would lose their jobs, this is not true, the correct phrase would be to say that because of the policy differences 22 thousand teachers could not be hired. The other flaw with the Labor policy is that they continue to offer budget figures for 10 years even though yearly budgets are meant to be forecast over 4 years only which means that funding amounts for 10 years are hard to project past the 4 years officially included in the budget. This is a growing trend by both sides of government on big ticket issues to plan spending over longer year amounts and then push a lot of the money into the latter years of the plan which allows them to save more money immediately and push out the higher spending to later on when the other side of politics might be in Parliament and have to wear the bill. A similar thing appears to have happened on spending on the National Disability Insurance Scheme where the big spending money in the budget was pushed out to the later years of the forecast amount when the Labor Party had a high suspicion they’d be in opposition. The Labor Party also made the strange move in Parliament of asking question after question of why the Liberal Party were cutting money from rich Catholic schools and not allowing parents to choose where they send their kids to school. This line of attack along with the Education Unions attack on this issue is strange because Labor parties tend to be pro public education and always looking to hammer home the attack that Right side of centre parties seek to be anti Public Education. Indeed over in the UK I was following a post 2017 budget attack by Jeremy Corbyn asking why more money was being pledged by Theresa May and the Conservatives on private tuition education instead of public school spending a complete opposite argument to what Labor appeared to be pushing in Australia, I might comment that at least in Australia public school spending is actually mainly done by state governments and then federal governments provide money to the Catholic and Independent schools as states aren’t generally responsible for these sectors. This fact is relevant because the government pledged to introduce an independent umpire to ensure states still provide adequate funding to public schools something that people were concerned might not happen under this Gonski arrangement. The Greens eventual opposition to this deal and I suspect at least part of the Labor’s disagreement with this issue was because of the Education Unions opposition to this deal. Again the Education Union don’t claim to be good friends of the Catholic and Independent schooling system but they seemed to not want to give the Coalition government a win on this issue because the appearance of the government being stuck on this issue allowed the Labor Party to run the line that the Government couldn’t achieve any big policy wins.
It’s that last line that sets up a lot of what I think will determine where this policy heads to now. It was clear watching the Parliament proceedings for the bill passing the lower house that the Labor Party will want to make this an election issue by claiming they plan to spend more money on schools. How effective an attack this will be now that the policy has passed the house will be intriguing to see, the Government remain stuck on 47 or 48 percent 2 party preferred which would see them comfortably lose the next election so if the Labor party attack does not work it might allow the Government to make inroads on those polling numbers (again it is my suspicion voters may have switched off this government despite not viewing Bill Shorten as someone they want to be PM). I am hoping that this issue along with some of the other big policy issues can become settled now because it is not a good thing that over the last 10 years Governments have passed policy through Parliament and then the opposition plays politics and runs a scare campaign on the issue and unwind that policy when they win office. I’ve thought for a while that Bill Shorten will win the next election but if he continues to play the negative politics game that Tony Abbott used from late 2009 to winning office in 2013 then he will find it hard to transition into becoming a Prime Minister that can govern for a longer period of time.