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Dec 3, 2013

Pyne blows himself, and the Gonski reforms, to pieces

Christopher Pyne has destroyed the Gonski school funding reforms and badly damaged the government with his bungling. So what drove this balls-up?


It’s bad when governments stuff up the politics of an issue. And it’s bad when they pursue poor policy. But the very worst political debacles are a combination of policy and political blunders. And Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s handling of schools funding is one for the ages. He’s single-handedly turned an ordinary start for the Abbott government — partly through no fault of its own — into a complete stuff-up. The government will either be defined by this, or learn from it and dramatically improve its performance.

Unlike most issues of government, education is not an esoteric matter for voters. It is persistently one of the most important issues in determining how people vote, just below the economy and health. It’s an issue that cuts through. And it’s an issue where voters don’t trust the Coalition as much as they trust Labor. So the first lesson should perhaps be not to wander, smirking, into a shed full of political dynamite and start lighting matches.

But whatever the damage to the government’s credibility, there’s also now nothing left of education funding policy except smoking ruins. The Gonski reforms are dead. The only thing that’s left is additional funding. Most commentators, bizarrely, have missed the point that the funding was never the issue in Pyne’s second backflip, last week (yes, we need to enumerate the backflips — the first was the pre-election “unity ticket” backflip). Pyne sought to make funding an issue, to use a fictional $1.2 billion cut in funding to Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory as a fig-leaf for his abandonment of the Gonski needs-based funding model. But the real issue was that abandonment, in favour of the Coalition’s preferred Howard-era socio-economic status (SES) funding model, which is why Pyne could no longer commit that every individual school would get the same funding under the Coalition as under Labor.

Now, with Pyne’s third backflip yesterday, at the instruction of his Prime Minister, there’s no funding model of any kind. States can direct the additional funding (for four years) wherever they like — which allowed Pyne to partially restore the promise about individual schools to say they wouldn’t be worse off “as a result of Commonwealth actions”. But there’s no requirement on the states to adhere to the needs-based funding model developed by the Gonski panel — a state could direct all the additional funding to wealthy private schools if it so desired.

Indeed, startlingly, there’s no need even for the states to provide the additional funding to which they themselves committed as part of their agreements with the Gillard and Rudd governments, or for the non-Gonski signatories not to cut their own schools funding to offset the additional funding announced yesterday. In as remarkable a policy moment as I’ve seen in many years, Pyne declared it would simply be “poor form” if the states cut education funding to offset the Commonwealth’s additional funding.

“Poor form.”

“What drove all this, apart from Pyne’s ineptitude? One is tempted to suggest ideology, but that doesn’t quite add up.”

There are no conditions. There’s no quid pro quo, no requirements, just a blank cheque and a weird threat of club-style disapproval if the states do what states always do unless prevented — cost-shift to the Commonwealth.

And, under the cover of removing the “command and control” elements of Labor’s reforms, there won’t even be any requirements to provide performance and resources information to monitor the effectiveness of additional funding. We won’t even know if, for example, schools with disadvantaged students are getting more money.

The national needs-based funding model and an effective performance and resources information system were every bit as central to the Gonski model as the additional funding. As the report itself originally pointed out, at the moment we don’t even know if resources are reaching disadvantaged students, let alone the extent to which they are benefiting from them.

The result, perversely is exactly what Pyne himself when shadow minister, and right-wing critics of the Gonski report, complained of — simply throwing extra money at state education systems without any effort to find out if it’s actually working.

At this rate, the only clear benefit from the extra billion dollars that Pyne has had to produce to fix this disaster is his delight that Labor had to rejig its question time attack yesterday. And where will that billion dollars come from? The government is refusing to say — it will be revealed in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook. That means they want some clear air between this announcement and the revelation of what’s been cut — presumably among a number of other cuts to offset Treasurer Joe Hockey’s enthusiastic expenditure on the Reserve Bank and deteriorating revenue. That means it’s come from within Pyne’s own budget, and there’ll be some political pain from it. Not that Labor will be able to exploit it — after all, it was Labor that used higher education funding to partly fund its own contribution to Gonski.

What drove all this, apart from Pyne’s ineptitude? One is tempted to suggest ideology, but that doesn’t quite add up. Political pragmatism drove what turned out to be the original “unity ticket” lie from Abbott and Pyne. Then the Coalition’s obsession with supporting private schools kicked in and Pyne attempted to resurrect the Howard government’s SES funding model. Then he abandoned that after 24 hours. Now we’ve landed at some kind of states’ rights position — the states run schools, they can spend the money as they wish, we’re treating them like adults, etc, etc. Confused? You ought to be.

And a final point on this balls-up. If you’re an industry demanding a handout, or a rent-seeker wanting protection, you now have your political guide: this government can endure six days of bad headlines, tops, before they cut and run and start flinging money to make a problem go away. We better hope this disaster is a lesson for the government, rather than defines it.


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49 thoughts on “Pyne blows himself, and the Gonski reforms, to pieces

  1. lulu2503

    Actually, I hope it’s what defines this government — then perhaps all those who voted the Coalition in, will finally wake up to the truth – of how inept and devious this government is.

  2. Jimmy

    Great article completely nailed the issue – if it wsan’t for the fact that trashing this reform will have massive impacts for years to come I would actually enjoy the “adults” self inflicted wounds – hopefully they are fatal.

    Also of some joy is watching conservatives describe yeterday as a win for Abbott!

  3. klewso

    And now he and Abbott have been lying about lying.

  4. klewso

    To wage class warfare successfully, first you have to have some.

  5. botswana bob

    I suspect its genetic- Pyne, Phoney Tony and the other bottom feeders are hard wired to support the big end of town. So handing another wad of ca$h to rich private schools while screwing the riff-raff in State schools are what they are on about. Then again Pyne is a pompous self-important little wimp who may be the only pollie who struts sitting down. [I say “may’ as there is Brandis to consider]. He really thinks he is a rough tough tuff ruffie though he consistently comes across as a self important little under-achiever with a ticket on himself. As Disraeli put it- a self made man who worships his creator.

  6. paddy

    [So the first lesson should perhaps be not to wander, smirking, into a shed full of political dynamite and start lighting matches.]

    Cracker of a line Bernard. Rundle would be jealous.

    Also a bloody good summary of the whole train wreck.
    Best I’ve read anywhere. Kudos.

  7. Matthew of Canberra

    Just as long as we all agree that the promise was never broken in the first place …

    Can backflipping be considered an actual form of transport?

    And no, I don’t think they’re going to learn and grow. This is (IMHO) pretty standard first-term stuff. It’s not over yet, either. What they’ll learn to do, though, is be more careful about they say in future.

  8. klewso

    Too much arrogance their heads are full.

  9. MG99

    What a rabble! Unbelievable. It is not even three months since the election.
    The only way they will last the distance if they do zilch for the next three years and shut down Parliament as well.
    @kwelso To wage class warfare successfully, first you have to have some. A classic.

  10. Catherine M

    Excellent article. Thank you. It will be fascinating, and slightly sick making probably, to watch exactly what unfolds with this funding debacle. How soon will the first show of “poor form” appear?

  11. Sharkie

    The big question is, what exactly was Pyne doing for the last 6 years? Judging from this week’s shambles, I can only assume Pyne has spent the last 6 years whinging, and 0 hours on education policy development.
    6 years as shadow education minister and when gets the keys to the department, he delivers nothing, absolutely nothing of substance. It really is amazing. We could have saved some tax payers money and made the office goldfish the shadow education minister. In terms of policy development nobody would notice the difference.
    Labor should knock back the government’s carbon and mining tax legislation and beg Abbott to bring on a double dissolution.

  12. MJPC

    Excellent article BK on a total disaster for the ‘new’ government. Ideology ran this one, and the next wil be industrial relations. The tea party lites fanning the winds of change to screw the workers, RAbbott just has to swallow pride and follow the wind vanes, then it will be the end of them. It has to happen, it’s in their genes: Revolution Now!

  13. zut alors

    One suspects Pyne spent the past 6 years as a political dilettante easily distracted by confected nonsense pertaining to Slipper, Ashby etc rather than formulating any workable policies in his portfolio.

    In today’s QT he sprung to his hind legs boasting about the extra money Queensland now has for education. Meantime Newman’s LNP government has earmarked approximately 55 state schools for closure & to be sold as real estate – what’s the bet that won’t change.

  14. Malcolm Street

    Sharkie – it’s not just in education – it appears this government spent its years in opposition not doing any policy development. So much for the myth of Abbott being a brilliant opposition leader – part of the job is preparing for government and he’s stuffed it up mightily.

    Slogans aren’t a substitute for policy once you’re in government…

  15. Rubio Diego

    Great article Bernard, you’re not alone in wondering what they were possibly thinking when they embarked on ” their education policy . ”
    The problem with this rabble, trying to disguise itself as some sort of government, is that they’ve been operating on perception, making enough voters believe in perceived emergencies like debt, refugees, carbon reduction and anything else they could blame on the Labor Party.

    The fact that they won government without thought out policies, is the main reason they’re in such disarray. It’s very much like the dog that finally catches the wheel of the bus a nd then doesn’t know what to do with it !

  16. Bill Hilliger

    A strutting Conski Pyne commanded by flip-flop rAbbott.

  17. Ben heslop

    Nailed it Sharkie – a DD would be wonderous.

    God knows why Labor are putting off the CT vote…

  18. bushby jane

    Labor has made some strange comments lately, including the idea of supporting Quantas.
    A DD sounds good to me too, though perhaps it would be better to see what havoc they can create with Health first. Then perhaps not, too scary.
    Good article Bernard.

  19. Electric Lardyland

    Strange, how none of the State Education Ministers, seemed to be intimidated by the antics of Christopher ‘The Raging Poodle’ Pyne.
    Though the whole torturous episode, does make you wonder what is actually is going on in the heads of both him and Abbott? I mean, they both seem to be claiming victory on the issue. Are they both that seriously self deluded? Or is it just that words no longer have any real world meaning for them? Or maybe it’s the arrogance that comes from knowing that whatever garbage comes out of their mouths, there is always going a large section of the commercial media, that will make every possible effort to magically convert their t*rds into treasure.

  20. Electric Lardyland

    Oh, by the way, Klewso, nice line about class warfare.

  21. Glen

    A complete archive of schoolfunding.gov.au is of course available at the Wayback Machine, including the famous report. Memo to Chris: Mate, it’s really not possible to delete anything anymore.

  22. shepherdmarilyn

    As they went to an election with nothing but a shiney pamphlet what did you expect.

  23. michael crook

    Christopher has brought new meaning to the word, “porkypyne”

  24. zut alors

    There’s a word which distresses the Crikey m0derat0r and the House of Reps’ Speaker: it begins with ‘l’, has three letters and means a ‘porky pie’.

    After this latest effort by the government, instead of porky pie we can substitute Tory Try.

  25. JP Preston

    Any chance that the member for Adelaide could start using some of these gems as the basis for her question-time attacks on the government rather than the limp lettuce ones she has been relying on?

  26. The Pav


    In response to your question as to what Pyne did as Shadow Ed Minister he
    Got ejected 26 times
    Asked five questions…..None about education
    Did not develop any policy or release any discussion papers
    Refused an inviation to have the policy explained to him

    and finally showed how adult he was by poking his tongue out to the speaker

    The real reason why Pyne wanted to dump Gonski was that he wanted to return to the preferremnt that the catholic secor received under Howard. This vehement catholicism that he shares with Abbott explains Abbotts support of despite his multiplicity of failures.

  27. Andybob

    So this is why we can’t vote in the Coalition no matter how bad Labour’s infighting becomes.

  28. Hominoid

    Sad but true, Andybob. Pyne is one sick catholic poodle. He has a few motivations around this, all of them ugly. His urge to favour christian and independent schools is made worse by his sheer vindictiveness towards Rudd’s/Gillard’s legacy. No labor reform should ever stand because, well, they’re not Liberal ones. He is a virus.

    As for Coalition governments generally, the one thing Tories do well is inertia. This one is no different. The reason Abbott has brought very little policy development to government is because he’s still implementing Howard’s policies.

  29. LucyJr

    I think Pyne messed with funding for self-serving frivolous reasons. He appears ravenous for panel shows and opposition baiting, but lacks appetite for the mundane staple of governing.

    Pyne reminds me of the bored child who prefers bad attention to none. His delighted smirk after the hostile state ministers’ meeting tells all.

  30. Sharkie

    Thanks The Pav.
    I’m sure that’s not all Pyne did in 6 years. I heard he played a fair bit of office cricket and set an Australian record for “paper toss”.

  31. Electric Lardyland

    Well, it was some sort of ‘tossing’, Sharkie.

  32. Liamj

    Pyne may look like a very stupid li4r to most, but he still ‘succeeded’ in throwing Gonski reforms into chaos. The Tea Party is alive & well in Oz, & Cardinal Pell will be pleased.

  33. K.D. Afford

    Ah! But they roll on to the war against science and climate change, “NO CARBON TAX!” and in telling people that a money back gift to use electricity as they want is how we make a contribution to fixing the climate (dare I say it, Crisis!).
    They came in without policy, just slogans and found lying easy, but this is the next dreadful step of what we now expect from a non-caring riff-raff, dangerous government.
    Oh! Trounced Turnbull now wants to silence the ABC!
    Lets hear it from Clive, he wants his contributions to the Carbon Tax back!

  34. AR

    Even Jones has stopped using the boiler-plate “grown-ups in charge now”.Forged by Peta?
    Odd how all the paleocons used it for weeks until overwhelmed by the horror, the horror of what they’ve wrought?

  35. Kevin Herbert

    If this keeps up, it will mean there’s little leadership talent in either of the major parties.

    Howard, Gillard, Rudd…and now this!!!

  36. Keith Thomas

    Get used to the country being governed by internet trolls, who will go about “creating their own reality” until the real reality cannot be avoided.

  37. Mike Jones

    I keep confusing Chrissy Pyne with Ja’mie. They both have something to do with school and more self regard than actual substance.

  38. Joe Fitzpatrick

    I’m trying to imagine the hysteria if an ALP government did this:

    – Demand a $200b lift to the debt ceiling without specifying why and refusing an interim offer of $100b; then claiming it was all because there was too much debt.

    – “Throw money at” an area of policy with no strings attached, no accountability provisions

    – Claim that TPVs are necessary to deter asylum seekers, when there is already an iron-clad guarantee of non-settlement for those who arrive by boat.

    Instead, I’ll just wonder why the ALP is so slow to nail the government on this specific point. Why, for example, where there no questions/implications of the sneaky/rushed timing of the announcement on Monday.

  39. Joe Fitzpatrick

    Oh, and let’s go back in time.

    In 2011, Pyne goes on radio to laugh off critical comments in an article by Marieke Hardy. He says it doesn’t annoy him in the “least bit”. He makes it an issue of his magnaminity about freedom of speech: “People write nice things, people write ghastly things. There’s no point in getting too fussed about it.”

    ON THE SAME DAY, he begins legal proceedings by issuing a statement of intention to sue and demanding a settlement.

    Leopard, thy spots show.

  40. John Taylor

    Are we all having fun yet?

  41. Bort

    It’s easy to work out what is going on when you assume that Pyne is a certifiable loony.

  42. cordialsteve

    Great to have this analysis. Too confusing for ordinary people to keep up with the Abbott “backflips” trampoline.

  43. Joe Fitzpatrick

    They haven’t taken the (to use their fallback word) ‘hate’ to this level before though. It’s the ABC they’re after.

    Forget the talk about government funding, it’s about silencing the only MSM voice out there that remains objective.

    These are dangerous times.

  44. Elvis

    A first rate summary and commentary. Thanks.

  45. Hamis Hill

    The original authors of the term putting the “illegitimate” into “illegitimate government”.
    This what minority rule looks like.
    How many people did not vote “Liberal”?

  46. klewso

    “We better hope this disaster is a lesson for the government, rather than defines it.”?
    Now we’ve got Brancid and his ASIO raiding Collaery’s concerns – re Howard’s Foreign Minister Downer’s responsibility, “trying to short-change East Timor’s future, to the benefit of Australian companies(?)” – on the grounds of “security”?

  47. zut alors

    Now that Pyne has demonstrated his urgent need for trainer wheels we have Senator Brandis stepping into the spotlight. The entertainment is coming thick and fast, folks.

  48. Interrobanging On

    Yes, nailed it.

    But I have little hope that people will realise the problem is not solved and what is shows about the debased Liberal Party.

    Obviously, a lot of the media will not report or will be deceptive – it was startling, but not surprising, to see ABC Online leading with a “Pyne Delivers National System” headline to make him the hero.

    One can only hope it brings on the inevitable fatigue that eventually changes the key “middle” voters minds.

  49. Robyn White

    I believe Mr. “Wpyne” received education at Jesuit School in Adelaide. Unfortunately, his tinme was not well spent.

    “Jesuit education has always been world-affirming, encouraging a study of all reality and seeking to produce wisdom”.

    Something seriously went wrong.

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