Today’s confected outrage is education funding. It’s a great example of why politicians these days are so reform-shy.

The actual story is fairly simple: the Abbott government is developing a green paper on reform of the federation. Few people have any confidence this government is capable of the slightest piece of complex reform, but for the moment let’s accept that on its merits. A draft has been circulated to the states and territories, a sensible thing to do. A copy made its way to Fairfax, which zeroed in on one discussion point in relation to public schooling — a state and territory issue, not a federal issue — relating to charging high-income families who use public education.

By labelling it a “confidential discussion paper” and linking it to the Liberal Party’s undoubted favouritism to private schools at the expense of public schools, Fairfax portrayed it a secret anti-public school agenda on the part of the government. Cue social media outrage.

Maybe it is a secret anti-public school agenda. But more likely it’s one suggestion put forward by officials seeking to stimulate a wide debate about issues that have vexed politicians of all levels of government for decades.

Of course, the story immediately put the government on the defensive, with Christopher Pyne having to point out it was not government policy and not going to be and a matter for the states and territories anyway. All reminiscent of the time a mention of road pricing in a report to the previous government conjured an entire Daily Telegraph story about Wayne Swan planning to tax motorists, despite not controlling any roads.

The media constantly decries the inability of the current generation of politicians to undertake difficult economic reform. But look what the media does the moment anyone — politician or policy adviser — dares to even mention, let alone advocate, new ideas.

It’s not always the politicians who are the problem.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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