Once again, the Catholic Church’s education sector will get special handouts from a federal Liberal government. Once again there will be one rule for private schools and one rule for public schools and blatant favouritism by the Commonwealth toward the former.

Only this time, the fault rests with Labor.

The Turnbull government’s embrace of the basic Gonski funding formula was the closest Australia got to a fair and rational education funding policy. Scott Morrison has now warped it with a special transitional handout to help Catholic schools adjust to the onerous burden of having funding calculated on the basis of what parents earn, and a bribe of a pot of money for non-public schools to dip into for whatever they like. But Morrison had no choice. And at least the deal preserves the funding mechanism itself.

The only reason the Church was bleating was because it had got a special deal from the Commonwealth for so long, the transition to an equitable funding deal across all sectors was going to slow its future funding growth a little. This was portrayed as a funding “cut” when it was nothing of the sort. Labor cynically seized on it to promise to throw more money at the Catholic system.

Ever since, Labor has gone into byelections armed with letters from local Catholic education bodies, doubtless enjoying the schadenfreude of besting the party that once accused Labor of having a “private school hit-list”.

What’s particularly galling is that the extra funding will help subsidise the Catholic Church’s policy of offering “low fee” school enrolments in wealthy suburbs where parents have ample capacity to pay higher fees if they want a private education for their children. Private school subsidies are bad enough; the extra funding for the Catholic Church is thus a subsidy on a subsidy, for an organisation that pays no tax.

All thanks to Labor and a cynical media campaign run by News Corp journalists.

Labor was eminently successful in applying relentless pressure to the Coalition over education, forcing multiple backflips from the moment Tony Abbott was elected and decided to drop his election commitment to Labor’s funding deals. Successive education ministers — Pyne, Birmingham, now Tehan — have had to reverse course and change their rhetoric (remember Turnbull and Birmingham insisting at length that more money wasn’t the answer on education?) as they kept narrowing the gap with Labor, until in May last year Turnbull embraced the entire Gonski methodology.

But that was never good enough for Labor. So now we’re back to the special deals with private schools. Well done all.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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