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Labor’s frontbench, too, is a mostly private-school affair

With education reforms given an unclear future, the spotlight has been on Tony Abbott’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 Abbott’s cabinet went to a private school. With around 35% of Australian students in private education, 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 for Bill Shorten’s shadow frontbench, and we’ve found 53% of  went to private schools (though many don’t compare to the expensive ivy-league schools attended by Abbott’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 Mary’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-year stint at Marist Brothers Ashgrove.

Bill Shorten  —  who went to the private 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 Leader’s Jesuit education puts him in the company of 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 spokesman 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. Johnston’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?

  • Opposition
 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: $23,080
  • Spokesperson for defence Stephen Conroy
    PRIVATE 
    Daramalan College, Canberra
    Yr 12 fees: $7420
  • Shadow treasurer
 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-general
, spokesman for the arts 
Mark Dreyfus
    PRIVATE
    Scotch College, Melbourne
    Yr 12 fees:  $26,556
  • Spokesman for science, higher education and industry Kim Carr
    PUBLIC 
    Moreland High School, Coburg
  • Spokesman for infrastructure, tourism Anthony Albanese 
    PRIVATE
    St Mary’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
    PUBLIC 
    Canley Vale High School, Sydney
  • Spokeswoman for education, early childhood Kate Ellis MP
    PUBLIC

    Daws Road, Adelaide
  • Spokesman for agriculture
 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
9
  • 1
    christine olsen
    Posted Friday, 20 December 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    The real question is “how many Labor MPs send their kids to the local school?”

  • 2
    Aphra
    Posted Friday, 20 December 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Richard Marles’ father was the deputy head of Geelong Grammar, wasn’t he? Seems logical to me that young Marles would be schooled there and probably at a discounted rate.

  • 3
    PaulM
    Posted Friday, 20 December 2013 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    I’d split the”Private” category into “Catholic” and “Independent”. Several of the Catholic schools in the list have none of the cachet (or connections) one normally associates with a “Private” education.

    BTW, the list of Jesuit alumni in the Abbott ministry doesn’t reflect well on the much-vaunted intellectual rigour of a Jesuit education.

    But, as Christien Olsen asks, where do they all send their own kids? That’s what they have a say in.

  • 4
    Matt Hardin
    Posted Friday, 20 December 2013 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    I would be interested in knowing who in the press gallery went to private schools and how that shapes their delivery of education policy news.

  • 5
    Buddy
    Posted Friday, 20 December 2013 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    I’m less interested in where they went to school if they acknowledge that private education is a luxury afforded the few, and prioritise improving public education resources, and ensuing all students have equal access to a quality education system.

  • 6
    Ryan John
    Posted Saturday, 21 December 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Jarrod Bleijie attended Caloundra State High - it’s no guarantee of altruism.

  • 7
    leon knight
    Posted Monday, 23 December 2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    David Marr gave a keen insight into the performance of young TA during his Jesuit education, and the poor results are plain to see now. He also revealed how much Rudd enjoyed his short stint at catholic education, and maybe that is where his tortured leadership performances had their origins…!!
    Good quality secular education available for all is the proper way to go, but I have no issues with the rich squandering their money if they wish.

  • 8
    philro
    Posted Monday, 23 December 2013 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    So the majority of politicians went to private schools, does this show that paying big money for a good education with the best teachers pays off. This shows that people are prepared to pay top dollar for there kids to have the best and not to send them through the public schools,so what happens to the ones who cannot afford to do this?

  • 9
    LWW305
    Posted Monday, 23 December 2013 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    They work harder. I left school at 14 with no qualifications and still managed to give my children private school education. These people are high achievers.
    You imagine that it will give your kids a head start in life but it is never guaranteed.
    What happens when you can’t afford other things in life?

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