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.
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?
Leader Bill Shorten
Xavier College, Melbourne
Yr 12 fees: $23,060
- Deputy Leader, spokeswoman for foreign affairs Tanya Plibersek
Jannali Girls High, South Sydney
- Senate Opposition Leader, spokeswoman for trade Penny Wong
Scotch College, Adelaide
Yr 12 fees: $23,080
- Spokesperson for defence Stephen Conroy
Daramalan College, Canberra
Yr 12 fees: $7420
- Shadow treasurer
St Johns Park High School, Sydney
- Manager of opposition business, spokesman for finance Tony Burke
St Patrick’s College, Strathfield
Yr 12 fees: $7143
- Shadow attorney-general
, spokesman for the arts
Scotch College, Melbourne
Yr 12 fees: $26,556
- Spokesman for science, higher education and industry Kim Carr
Moreland High School, Coburg
- Spokesman for infrastructure, tourism Anthony Albanese
St Mary’s Cathedral College, Sydney
Yr 12 fees: $1959
- Spokesman for environment, climate change Mark Butler
Unley High School, South Australia
- Spokesman for communications Jason Clare
Canley Vale High School, Sydney
- Spokeswoman for education, early childhood Kate Ellis MP
Daws Road, Adelaide
- Spokesman for agriculture
All Saints College, Maitland
- Spokesman for resources, Northern Australia Gary Gray
Whyalla High School
- Spokeswoman for health Catherine King
Emmaus College Burwood
Yr 12 fees: $5970
- Spokeswoman for families, disability reform Jenny Macklin
Wangaratta High School
- Spokesman for immigration Richard Marles
Geelong Grammar School
Yr 12 fees: $32,400
- Spokesman for ageing Shayne Neumann
Bundamba State Secondary College, Ipswich
- Spokesman for employment Brendan O’Connor
Aquinas College, Ringwood
Yr 12 fees: $5075