With education reforms given an unclear future, the spotlight has been on Tony Abbottâ€™s private school-dominated cabinet. But a Crikey survey by Dylan Barber finds that the Labor shadow ministry isn’t the bastion of public-school alumni you might think.
Earlier this week a Crikey survey revealed that 82% of Tony Abbottâ€™s cabinet went to a private school. With around 35% of Australian students in private education,Â according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and education reforms still up in the air, the old boys’ club is alive and well at the elite level of politics.
But Labor ministries are not the bastions of public education you might assume. Crikey has conducted the same survey forÂ Bill Shortenâ€™s shadow frontbench, and we’ve found 53% of Â went to private schools (though many donâ€™t compare to the expensive ivy-league schools attended by Abbottâ€™s old boys).
This is the latest shift towards private education for our top pollies. The various Rudd and Gillard ministries were all around the 50/50 split, but since 2007 — with the exception of Anthony Albanese (St Maryâ€™s Cathedral College) — the ALP leader and deputy have tended to come from a public-school background. Don’t forget though that Kevin Rudd did a two-yearÂ stint at Marist Brothers Ashgrove.
Bill ShortenÂ — Â who went to the privateÂ Xavier College — breaks the mould somewhat. Not since Gough Whitlam has an ALP leader graduated from a private school (Paul Keating attended LaSalle College, but dropped out aged 15).
The Opposition Leaderâ€™s Jesuit education puts himÂ in the company ofÂ Liberal frontbenchers Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce, Joe Hockey and Christopher Pyne. And Shorten’s alma mater is not cheap; one of only four Jesuit schools in Australia, Xavier College fees reached $23,060 this year.
The majority of the 10 Labor frontbenchers with a private education come from Catholic schools. However, many had annual tuition fees below $8000, some as low as $1959 (Albanese) — a far cry from the multiple $20,000+ fees of the Coalition frontbench.
Two exceptions are Scotch College (shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus), and Geelong Grammar (opposition immigration spokesmanÂ Richard Marles).
Year 12 tuition at Scotch College set you back $26,556 this year; to some that would be justified by an alumni that boasts a former prime minister, three governors-general, four High Court justices and more Order of Australia recipients than any other Australian school.
Geelong Grammar, the exclusive college of media moguls Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer, former PM John Gorton and Prince Charles, tops the list at $32,400, meaning Marles pips Defence Minister David Johnston at the post for “most expensive frontbench education” in either major party. Johnstonâ€™s alma mater, Wesley College, falls just shy at $32,061.
With education a traditional pillar of Labor values, will the slight shift towards a private education for the frontbench signal a change in how the party handles education policy over time?
Oppositionâ€¨ Leader Bill Shorten PRIVATE
Xavier College, Melbourne
Yr 12 fees: $23,060
Deputy Leader, spokeswoman for foreign affairs Tanya Plibersek PUBLIC
Jannali Girls High, South Sydney
Senate Opposition Leader, spokeswoman for trade Penny Wong PRIVATE
Scotch College, Adelaide
Yr 12 fees:Â $23,080
Spokesperson for defence Stephen Conroy PRIVATEÂ
Daramalan College, Canberra
Yr 12 fees: $7420
Shadow treasurerâ€¨ Chris Bowen PUBLIC
St Johns Park High School, Sydney
Manager of opposition business, spokesman for finance Tony Burke PRIVATE
St Patrick’s College, Strathfield
Yr 12 fees: $7143
Shadow attorney-generalâ€¨, spokesman for the arts â€¨Mark Dreyfus PRIVATE
Scotch College, Melbourne
Yr 12 fees: Â $26,556
Spokesman for science, higher education and industry Kim Carr PUBLICÂ
Moreland High School, Coburg
Spokesman for infrastructure, tourism Anthony AlbaneseÂ PRIVATE
St Maryâ€™s Cathedral College, Sydney
Yr 12 fees: $1959
Spokesman for environment, climate change Mark Butler PUBLIC
Unley High School, South Australia
Spokesman for communications Jason Clare PUBLICÂ
Canley Vale High School, Sydney
Spokeswoman for education, early childhood Kate Ellis MP PUBLIC
Daws Road, Adelaide
Spokesman for agricultureâ€¨ Joel Fitzgibbon PRIVATE
All Saints College, Maitland
Spokesman for resources, Northern Australia Gary Gray PUBLIC
Whyalla High School
Spokeswoman for health Catherine King PRIVATE
Emmaus College Burwood
Yr 12 fees: $5970
Spokeswoman for families, disability reform Jenny Macklin PUBLIC
Wangaratta High School
Spokesman for immigration Richard Marles PRIVATE
Geelong Grammar School
Yr 12 fees: $32,400
Spokesman for ageing Shayne Neumann PUBLIC
Bundamba State Secondary College, Ipswich
Spokesman for employment Brendan O’Connor PRIVATE
Aquinas College, Ringwood
Yr 12 fees: $5075