You can understand why the government is in a rush to try to get its Gonski 2.0 package through the Senate: the longer debate about it goes on, the longer rentseekers like the Catholic education sector and the Australian Education Union have to stir up both the left and the right against the package.
But much like when Labor re-embraced offshore processing in government, thus delivering the Coalition a major victory, trying to declare defeat and run proves difficult when your opponents prefer you to stay right where you are.
Failure to get some sort of package through the Senate this week means the issue will drag out through the coming parliamentary recess, allowing more time for troublemakers to complain, for Labor to tout its fictional claim of a $22 billion cut, for dodgy numbers to be paraded around, purporting to show how badly off Catholic private schools will be. The government has already shifted in response to retiring senator Chris Back’s threat to cross the floor, delaying the implementation of the package by a year for Catholic schools. That’s a signal to others that they might be accommodated, too. If it drags out, it will be at the same time that the internal dispute over energy policy is bubbling away. It could indeed be a winter of discontent in Coalition ranks.
Labor would be perfectly happy for the issue to remain unresolved at the next election, just as the Coalition was happy to ensure the problem of asylum seekers remained unresolved. For all the claims that Turnbull has, by co-opting David Gonski himself, neutralised schools funding, the entire issue remains one that Labor owns.
The Greens, who have had no difficulties agreeing to back the government in the past on small matters like changes to Senate voting or company tax transparency, appear unable to come to a position despite having the government keen to do a deal, even if it costs some serious money in expediting the rollout of the full funding model in coming years. Any decision from the Greens will be tomorrow, at the earliest. On the positive side for the government, One Nation has said they’ll back the package, despite Pauline Hanson making ridiculous — even by her standards — proposals to force schools to punish students more.
Embracing Gonski and taking the hard decision to cut spending on an over-funded private school sector was always a risk for Turnbull and his minister Simon Birmingham. If it doesn’t come off this week, it might become increasingly problematic. But there are still two and a half sitting days to go, and maybe some detention on Friday if there’s the possibility of late deal. Much rides on it.