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PromiseWatch 2013: what have the parties pledged on education?

As part of our Promise Watch series, Crikey and the Centre for Policy Development examine pledges from the two major parties on education. Andrew Crook and the CPD’s Julia Hosking report.

The problem with the Gonski Review into education, Kevin Rudd told his former speechwriter in March, was that the vast majority of voters had no idea what “Gonski” means. In the manner of modern Labor governments, a commitment to increased funding for education — which has the support of three-quarters of the Australian population — had somehow become swaddled in the language of the “independent review” necessary to justify it.

Nevertheless, today the Prime Minister will announce her intention to plough forward with the government’s promises on Gonski, worth an extra $14.5 billion in federal and state funding, despite a $12 billion collapse in revenue since MYEFO.

Earlier this year, Crikey began to track Coalition, Labor and Greens promises. Now, with the aid of exclusive research compiled for Crikey by the Centre for Policy Development, we’ll track promises across policy areas, starting today with education. What have the two major parties, and the Greens, actually pledged on schools and universities?

Labor:

The Gonski promise sets a “resource standard” for primary students of $9271 per child and $12,193 for their secondary counterparts. The $6.5 billion in extra funding per year would be divided between federal and state governments, with states increasing their education spend by 3% a year to receive a concomitant 4.7% rise in federal funding.

When the Gonski nitty gritty was released two weeks ago, the Prime Minister reiterated, as part of her National Plan for School Improvement, a related promise to make Australian schools in the top five globally in reading, science and mathematics by 2025. This aims to reverse a damaging trend: in 2000, only one country outperformed Australia in reading and science and only two countries outperformed Australia in mathematics. By 2009, six countries outperformed Australia in reading and science and 12 countries outperformed Australia in mathematics.

A major sticking point remains the states — a do-nothing Council of Australian Governments meeting 10 days ago has left public servants in Victoria and South Australia scrambling behind the scenes to reach agreement before the June 30 deadline. With New South Wales signed on, the two major conservative holdouts are Western Australian and the Northern Territory.

Controversially, Labor has decided to partly fund Gonski by ripping $2.3 billion out of higher education. Peak lobby group Universities Australia has now ratcheted up its media campaign, releasing TVCs of sullen graduates frowning into the camera. Despite School Education Minister Peter Garrett spruiking graphs of real increases to higher edover the last decade, funding per student has flatlined.

The Gonski legislation is currently before Parliament but the full reforms won’t be phased in until 2014-20, when Labor is likely to be firmly entrenched in opposition. Garrett has promised the Gonski legislation will be debated before Parliament rises for the election on June 27.

The Coalition:

After the Gonski numbers were released, Tony Abbott said that while he supports the reforms “in principle”, he will reject the government’s proposals, arguing in favour of “fine-tuning the existing system rather than trying to turn the whole thing on its head”.

While its official policy has yet to be released, shadow education minister Christopher Pyne has been keen to emphasise long-held positions like greater autonomy for principals and reductions in state bureaucracies. Education should be about “values” and “more traditional” teaching methods, not money, Pyne reckons.

Under the current system that expires at the end of 2013, funding for schools is shared between state and federal governments. This is supplemented, to varying degrees, by private sources. Federal funding mainly occurs through National Partnerships. These are individual programs negotiated between states and the federal government which target particular needs such as disadvantaged schools or technical training. A review of these arrangements occurred in June 2011 and makes interesting reading.

Some clues to the Coalition’s approach are contained in its 2010 platform, that included a number of reforms including a “better teaching reward fund” and a voucher system for students with a disability worth up to $20,000. More will become clear in the weeks after the May 14 federal budget when the Coalition has promised to release its full costings after they’re assessed by the new Parliamentary Budget Office.

The Greens:

While the Greens also support Gonski’s principles, they are critical of the federal government’s current education “underspend” that will result in an increase of $1 billion in funding this year, calling for increased cash “urgently”. They claim the full Gonski reforms can be fully funded by closing the loopholes in the failed mining tax, which raised just $126 million in its first six months.

The party is also critical of the timeframe of the National Plan for School Improvement, which will not see the Gonski reforms fully implemented until 2020. They have previously announced five principles by which they will judge the plan:

  1. A new needs-based funding model that promotes equity and high standards
  2. Significant investment by the Federal government in public schools, with the $5 billion Gonski figure as a minimum
  3. A new funding model that directs new funding to public schools
  4. An education system that meets the needs of all students, particularly those with special needs
  5. All non-government schools that receive government funding should comply to high standards of transparency, accountability and community standards.
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  • 1
    Stephen
    Posted Monday, 29 April 2013 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Even if the unelectable Gillard got elected, the earliest possible date we could Get Gonskied is 2019. By which time, Howard’s friendly funding formula for the god schools would have been in force for two decades.

    In other words, what the parties effectively have pledged on education is a continuing and unremitting assault on a free, secular schooling that rewards ability and not birth.

  • 2
    Achmed
    Posted Tuesday, 30 April 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure how “new” the PBO is, since it was set up by Howard in 1999.

    This is the same PBO that Abbott refused to provide his election costing to in 2010

  • 3
    Achmed
    Posted Tuesday, 30 April 2013 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    The Liberal manifesto released in the last couple of months gives an insight to the Abbott stance on education. “Real Solutions for all Australians” sets out the Abbott policy but has no costings.

  • 4
    Achmed
    Posted Tuesday, 30 April 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    What is surprising is the extent to which Coalition policies will result in a significant redistribution of wealth upwards rather than downwards. Consider the following Coalition policies:

    ■ Lower the tax-free threshold from $18,200 to $6000. This will drag more than one million low-income earners back into the tax system. It will also increase the taxes for 6 million Australians earning less than $80,000.

    ■ Abolish the low-income superannuation contribution. This will reimpose a 15 per cent tax on superannuation contributions for people earning less than $37,000.

    ■ Abolish the proposed 15 per cent tax on income from superannuation above $100,000 a year. The combined effect of these two superannuation changes is that 16,000 high-income earners with superannuation savings in excess of $2 million will get a tax cut while 3.6 million workers earning less than $37,000 will pay more than $4 billion extra in tax on their super over the next four years.

    ■ Abolish the means test on the private health insurance rebate. This will deliver a $2.4 billion tax cut over three years for individuals earning more than $84,001 a year, or couples earning more than $168,001. People on lower incomes will receive no benefit.

    ■ Introduce a paid parental leave scheme that replaces a mother’s salary up to $150,000. To put it crudely, this means a low-income mum gets about $600 per week while a high-income mum gets close to $3000.

    ■ Abolish the means-tested Schoolkids Bonus that benefits 1.3 million families by providing up to $410 for each primary school child and up to $820 for each high school child.

    These policies will result in low- and middle-income earners paying billions of dollars more in tax while those on higher incomes receive billions in tax cuts and new benefits. Rather than take from the rich and give to the poor, the Coalition policies are a case of take from the poor and give to the rich.

    Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/abbott-not-gillard-is-the-true-class-warrior-20130428-2imis.html#ixzz2RtgcQgau

  • 5
    Edward James
    Posted Tuesday, 30 April 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    The problem Kevin Rudd told his former speechwriter in March, was that the vast majority of voters had no idea what “Gonski” means. In the manner of modern Labor governments. Well thats interesting Julia and Andrew , do the majority of voters know what “corruption” means? Edward James

  • 6
    GF50
    Posted Tuesday, 30 April 2013 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Agree with the comments 1-4 and will add: Remove public funding from ALL non public schools NOW. IN FULL. All Government funding belongs to the public NOT with Private CHOICES.

  • 7
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 1 May 2013 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    I reckon, if you’ve got the money to send your kids to “private schools” - send them to private schools.
    If you don’t, send them public - why should we all subsidise such elitism? Taking money from public education and other greater public “services”.

    ……. which is funny, because then those elites will label anyone labelling them elite, as “elitists”?

  • 8
    Achmed
    Posted Wednesday, 1 May 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    klewso - looks like we may disagree on this one. Private schools should get govt money. If the private schools were not there all those students would be in the public system increasing the education expenditure.

    The problem comes when the private schools are getting more Govt money than the public schools. This is what needs to be addressed. The richest organisation in the world, the Catholic Church, should not need and even want Govt subsidies, they are taking money from the people who need it most. Something I would have thought goes against the “spirit” of their religion

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