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Nov 13, 2012

Get Fact: are the Greens 'backing down' on private school funding?

An "exclusive" front-page report in The Australian newspaper claimed the Greens will dump their most hostile policies towards private schools. But the truth is somewhat murkier.

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A low-circulation broadsheet newspaper has egg on its face after it printed — on the front page — an erroneous story riddled with inaccuracies in a botched attempt to attack its favourite political target.

The story, penned by former Crikey political correspondent and Robert Hill staffer Christian Kerr, appeared yesterday in News Limited’s The Australian and stated the Greens will “dump their most hostile policies regarding private schools” to lift their poll numbers.

Under the headline ‘Greens back down on private schools’, Kerr wrote that he had obtained a “draft” version of the policy that was “prepared at last week’s national conference and circulated to party members for approval”.

That is untrue. Unfortunately for the genial assault fop, the actual education policy — not the “draft” — was prepared at conference, circulated to delegates and then sent to all media last Monday, a full week before his alternative interpretation appeared in print.

By conflating the contents of a draft with the actual things the Greens “will” do, it’s likely The Australian‘s readers were mislead. And if Kerr was aware the draft had actually been superseded, there was no reference to this in his report. In the latest instalment of Crikey‘s Get Fact series, we subject Kerr’s report to the truth test by comparing the previous Greens education policy with the actual new policy.

1) Kerr says the draft education policy “ends plans to freeze Commonwealth funding for private schools at 2003-04 levels”. This is technically correct. But the final policy also says the “substantial growth in federal funding to non-government schools” has had “an adverse impact on public education”.

The party says “any funding to non-government schools” should be arranged “so that total public subsidy to the non-government sector does not advantage private education at the expense of public education” and must “take into account the resources of each individual school, a direct measure of parental socio-economic status, and the school’s capacity to generate income from all sources, including fees and other contributions”.

2) Kerr says the Greens policy has removed “references to investing money saved from ending public subsidies to the ‘very wealthiest’ private schools into a national equity funding program for public institutions”. In fact, the Greens, while removing the specific reference to a “national equity funding program”, say they will do the same thing by continuing to reinvest “the money saved from ending the public funding of those non-government schools that are very wealthy … into public schools with the highest proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds”.

3) Kerr says his draft “justifies the moves by saying the existing policy is ‘inconsistent’ with supporting the arrangement recommended in the Gonski review”. The “draft” may well say that, but in the final policy it’s nowhere to be seen.

4) Kerr quotes Christine Milne as saying the draft “re-affirmed our commitment to accessible, high quality public education”. But Milne wasn’t commenting on the draft, she was commenting on the actual policy. The lines were from an official media release that included the new policy as a PDF attachment.

5) Kerr says the Greens “citing ‘cost implications’, have removed commitments to fund the construction of new public pre-school facilities”. The actual policy, while removing the reference to pre-schools, doesn’t cite “cost implications” at all. A construction fund for public schools and buildings will be established from the proceeds of the sale of public land.

6) Kerr says the draft removed a commitment “to abolish all fees and charges for educational services at TAFEs”. The actual policy maintains a commitment to a “fee and charges free TAFE system”.

7) Kerr says the policy will “remove plans to increase and cost-index per-student funding of all public universities and ensure adequate funding to all rural, regional and outer-suburban universities”. In fact, according to the policy, the Greens will “increase the cost-index per-student funding of all public universities, and ensure adequate funding to all rural, regional and outer-suburban universities”.

8) Finally, Kerr says the draft “removes a clause rejecting the use of funding vouchers, saying the stance is ‘unnecessary'”. In fact, the Greens continue to specifically reject vouchers.

Kerr told Crikey this morning he had made it clear he was referring to “proposed policy” that was “not materially different to the document circulated last week”. However, an actual comparison reveals this to be dubious at best. There is some evidence that the Greens have tweaked their education policy to comply with the recommendations of the Gonski review — but this is not adequately reflected in The Oz‘s write-up.

Perhaps more disturbingly, the “EXCLUSIVE” attack appeared to have been shoehorned into the “inverted pyramid” style of a hard news story in order to convey a false sense of objective legitimacy. Accordingly, we rate Kerr’s claims as “mostly rubbish”.

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