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Gonski Another Lacking in Detail Policy Almost Certainly Heading for the Scrap Heap

Well, the long-awaited response to the Gonski review into education has finally arrived- or has it? The Prime Minister made an appearance at the National Press Club to launch what was supposed to be her response to the the recommendations of the report by businessman David Gonski into how to better fund our education system in the future. Julia Gillard spoke of the need for a new model of funding along the lines of that suggested by Mr Gonski in his report. But what was missing was the dollar amount though the Prime Minister says the Gonski recommendations would require about $6.5 billion. After winding us all up with expectations of new education dollars the exact financial commitment was left unsaid.

The new model of funding that the Prime Minister has accepted calls for a base level of money which is directly in relation to the number of students enrolled in a  particular school. On top of that, the Gonski scheme of school funding calls for loading for schools that are in a rural or remote area, teach children with poor levels of English, if the school is smaller, has students from low income families enrolled or caters for people with a disability or those from an indigenous background.

From the outset, the Gillard Government knows that they have little money to play with and that any would be borrowed, so this is not a good starting point.

Like the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the future funding of the new system of education will be fought over in Council of Australian Governments meetings. This is certainly why the PM didn’t announce a price tag for the much needed education reforms.

The Prime Minister today signalled that negotiations over the joint funding of the future of education will take place between the commonwealth and the states. This could well lead to the collapse of the proposed policy before it begins, the COAG process isn’t exactly a walk in the park, and at the very least this will result in protracted negotiations.

There’s also the small matter of the timing of the implementation  of the new framework. Prime Minister Gillard announced that there would be a six year process of policy implementation which would start in 2014. Based on this timetable alone it is within reason to think that the Prime Minister is not serious about setting up the new system. It’s increasingly likely that the Prime Minister and her government will not be in power from 2013 and we already know that an incoming Coalition Government would get rid of this vital education reform.

It seems clear that this announcement today is about pretending to do something while not taking seriously the need to put the ideas that Mr Gonski put forward after his review into action. There have been a number of policies where either the money has been announced or just the policy itself, or in the case of the NDIS, some cash put towards the scheme, but not enough. This isn’t brave, it’s just pure politics.

The report has been sat on for months and all that the ALP have managed to come up with is a timetable and a promise to negotiate with the states and territories, knowing full well that at the very least negotiations will take a long time. and at worst, the talks will collapse completely without an outcome. Or alternatively, and more likely, a Liberal and National Party Government would repeal the legislation and money upon taking office.

What is a real shame about the half announcement today is that there was no immediate commitment to the loading payments for various types of disadvantage which have been overlooked with previous ways of dealing with education costs. Indigenous students, children from low income families, rural and regional students and those with a disability are the most in need of increased support and have fallen behind because that extra financial commitment for their specific needs has not been available.

This is clearly a policy response on the run and gives the appearance of action to the naked eye. When you look closely there’s no clear goals, other than for Australia to be in the top 5 countries in reading, science and maths by 2025. This is another policy area that the Labor Government would well know is almost certainly not going to come to fruition and that’s a big shame given that it’s about education and providing equal access to learning opportunities. This should, for the most part, be a politics free zone, especially when developed from expert advice.

The Sunday Sandwich (That’s a Wrap)

The hostilities in the battle that is Australian politics have ceased for the week as our politicians rest and recuperate for the last sitting week until the May budget begins next week. It was a frantic week in Australian politics with plenty of vigorous and often over the top debate. Parliament this week welcomed (well mostly), Senator Bob Carr, the new Gillard Government Minister for Foreign Affairs, a former NSW Premier and more recently private citizen who brought some public commentary baggage to the role and created controversy with comments this week on Papua New Guinea. Our politicians, particularly Coalition, ALP and the Greens were engaged in fierce debate over tax cuts to big and small business related to the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) before the Senate. There was also debate over the appointment of a new Future Fund chairperson and for a time, debate on customs and border protection.

Sadly, Saturday saw the passing of Margaret Whitlam, wife of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam at the age of 92 not long after a fall which saw her hospitalised. Gough and Margaret Whitlam shared an enduring partnership, a testament to their undying love for each other which lasted almost 70 years.

Parliament House in Canberra saw the arrival of a person who Labor seem to be resting an amount of their hopes on, Senator and new Foreign Minister, Bob Carr. The Senator sat on the back-bench for his first day of parliament after being officially welcomed as a member of the Senate on the first sitting day of the week. Later that day Senator Carr was sworn in by the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce as a minister and member of the Executive Council.

It didn’t take long for the newly sworn minister to create controversy with comments threatening to impose sanctions on the PNG Government if their political woes are not resolved. This quickly drew rebuke from the government in Papua New Guinea and just as swiftly led to a political backdown of sorts with the Senator saying his comments were taken out of context.

The Minerals Resource Rent Tax, or MRRT for short again took a central role in the political debate of the nation, a part that it has played since the Gillard Government re-negotiated and re-framed. The MRRT, before the Senate has caused the Greens and the Coalition, according to the Labor Party at least agree that higher taxes for big business are the go, even though the Coalition have clearly stated that they oppose the tax and therefore the tax cuts associated with the package. The tax will go to a Senate vote next week.

The Future Fund has received a big focus this week through the Gillard Government selection for the role, businessman and recent education review chief David Gonski getting the gong. A government nomination for a public board is usually a political appointment so there is nothing new from this angle on the appointment of Mr Gonski.

What is different though about this is the utterly shambolic process entered into by the government and the fact that the ALP Government did not listen to the recommendation of the board. David Gonski was appointed to search for a replacement to the outgoing head of the Future Fund and to  consult with other members of the board for their thoughts. The board wanted current member, Peter Costello, the former Treasurer and creator of the fund and the government then went ahead this week and announced that the man who was to search for the replacement, Mr Gonski himself would be appointed to the role, ruffling feathers.

Customs and border security earned a place in Question Time and political debate in Canberra this week and in the NSW Parliament after an Australia Post licensee in the Sydney suburb of Sylvania Waters was charged with importing and selling 150 Glock firearms since August 23 last year police allege. Both Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell linked this crime to customs and border security.

Parliament returns again next week for the final sitting week before the budget is handed down by Treasurer Wayne Swan in May and looks set to continue to be a fiery affair. The Minerals Resource Rent Tax will face a vote this coming week in the Senate and looks set to be the focus of most debate in both chambers for the week and undoubtedly outside of the parliament. The Fair Work Investigation into Craig Thomson will surely share some of the focus at least as fair as the Coalition strategy goes. The only question remaining is what unknown issues will take up the remaining attention of our parliamentarians as they race toward the major fiscal announcement in May?

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