When the Abbott government threatened to come up with a new model for funding schools, many state-school parents panicked. Would the government redirect taxpayers’ money from public to private schools?
State schools may have had good reason to worry. A Crikey survey has found that 82% of Tony Abbott’s cabinet went to private schools, with annual fees as high as $32,000 in 2013. This compares with the general public, where 35% of students attended private schools in 2012, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Crikey calculated it would cost $234,142 in mandatory tuition fees to send the cabinet back to the schools they went to for year 12 in 2013.
The Crikey survey found that 14 out of 17 cabinet ministers were privately educated. Two ministers were excluded from the survey; Nigel Scullion and Mathias Cormann refused to tell us where they were educated (in Cormann’s case, it was in his native Belgium).
Members of the cabinet attended some of the nation’s most prestigious secondary institutions, with tuition fees ranging from $4000 to over $30,000 per year. Some, like Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, went to Sydney’s elite Greater Public Schools group.
The majority come from religious schools, some in the Roman Catholic tradition, such as St Ignatius Riverview in Sydney (Abbott and Joyce). Anglican institutions like The Peninsula School, Mount Eliza are represented (Environment Minister Greg Hunt), while others come from non-denominational independent schools, such as Brisbane Grammar (Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane).
Topping the fees list for cabinet members is Wesley College in Perth, the alma mater of Defence Minister David Johnston. In 2013, tuition for year 12 students was a cool $32,061.
Small Business Minister Bruce Billson, Employment Minister Eric Abetz and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison are the only ministers flying the public school flag in the cabinet meeting room.
It all makes for interesting discussions around the cabinet table as the Abbott government looks at education funding. Before the election, Coalition education spokesman Christopher Pyne (St Ignatius, Adelaide) pledged a “unity ticket” with Labor on the Gonski school funding model. Replacing a Howard-era model that was criticised for sending too much taxpayer cash to already over-privileged private schools, the Gonski model was designed to allocate funding on the basis of need, to combat disadvantage.
All that changed when Pyne recently publicly rejected Gonski. A furious backlash followed, including from some Liberal premiers, and the Coalition had to backtrack and restore Gonski.
For now …
Interactive graphic: roll your mouse over the image below to see which cabinet MPs went to public schools: