Just last week at the National Press Club came an announcement one of the first confirmed and specific funding cuts. Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, in his address flagged that the Coalition will dump the Schoolkids Bonus, a policy change made by the Gillard Government. The upfront payment replaced a tax refund, which required the provision of receipts before the payment was made. To date, the government has made payments to more than 1.2 million families, totaling $588 million dollars.
This decision caused some debate, but, in as important a policy area as education, there can always be more attention focused on the impacts of political actions.
In announcing the decision, Tony Abbott remarked that the Schoolkids Bonus was, “a cash splash with borrowed money”. Is it really that simple? Or should we be looking a little more critically and thoughtfully? And in conclusion, was it right for the Coalition to make the decision to dump the payment altogether?
In politics, every single decision, often every phrase, even almost every word is subjected to the political spin cycle. And politicians love to engage in hyperbole, even if they do not know how to pronounce it. And not much is different here.
The change made by the Gillard Government, in that sense, is open to being called exactly what Tony Abbott referred to it as. The timing of the move and new mode of delivery for the payment are questionable, at least on appearance. It’s an election year and probably close to 9 out of 10 people would expect the government to lose at the September 14 poll – the opinion polls have been saying so and even the betting has the Coalition as stark favourites. So the payment of course could be painted in a way as an electoral bribe. It is also borrowed money.
But on closer inspection, the payment itself is actually of the utmost importance. It’s to be used for the education of Australian children – our nation’s future. The Coalition will have you believe that the payment will not be used for education purposes in all cases and they may be right in some cases. But that way of thinking is very illiberal for a supposed Liberal Party. Conservatives see human nature as flawed, and not liberals. Liberals have a largely positive view of human nature.
Scrapping the payment altogether, apart from being illiberal, is also a bad thing for education and equality. For ‘equality’, read equality of opportunity – that should be the main game in education policy as equality of outcomes is a completely unattainable and unreasonable aim in the area of education policy.
We should be ensuring that absolutely every child and young adult has access to an education. It must not be a one size fits all approach, but access to education tailored to meet the needs of those engaged in it must be without roadblocks. That includes assisting families with the cost of school-related supplies.
What the Coalition should have done, rather than deciding to scrap the payment altogether, was announce that they will seek to reinstate the old Education Tax Refund. But of course the budget is in a bit of a mess and they have instead planned to cut funding in an area of policy-making which should be quarantined from cuts in most circumstances.
The decision is not an electoral game-changer, but it’s not a good choice of policy.