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.
It’s Thursday folks and that means, for those who get their political fix from watching the nightly news bulletins that it’s the last day of the week that you have to endure shouty and often silly grabs. It’s been a rather subdued week of Question Time from Canberra with the House of Representatives not seeing a single motion to suspending Standing Orders in the three days that have elapsed in this sitting week and that doesn’t look set to change today. It has however been a week full of one-off vitriolic comments and that is an immense shame. It has been a very predictable week in Australian politics again and that will almost certainly continue today to round out the week.
The Coalition have spent the first 3 days of Question Time this week focusing on the Roy Hill Enterprise Migration Agreement (EMA) and the reported consultation gaps (read complete lack thereof) between the Prime Minister and her Minister for Immigration. Aside from the nearing carbon price commencement on July 1st this issue has completely dominated political debate in the parliament since the decision was announced by the Immigration Minister last Friday at the National Press Club.
Things could change slightly today in Question Time in the wake of comments from the Prime Minister to a group of miners overnight which could precipitate a return to questions around the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.
Of course, the other focus of the Coalition as it has been since the broken promise just after the 2010 election will be on the carbon tax which will be commencing in just over a month. It is entirely possible that this could become the main focus of tomorrow ahead of, or in place of the EMA debate which only has so much to give.
The Gillard Government will undoubtedly pursue the same two-pronged post-budget, pre-carbon price commencement Question Time strategy that has been used almost continuously since the budget was delivered on the 8th of May. This will mean most attention is drawn to selling the family and low income earner assistance that was delivered as part of the supposed surplus-returning fiscal statement delivered by Treasurer Wayne Swan only three and a bit weeks ago. The questions as they have relentlessly, will focus around the education payments and the increased family tax benefits.
The other focus which has been essential for the Gillard Government in an attempt to claw back ground on the issue after losing it just after the election has been to highlight the overcompensation that many will receive after the carbon price commences in July. This means many questions about how the Household Assistance Package will help the electorates of those asking Dorothy Dixer’s to the Prime Minister, the Minister for Climate Change, the Minister for Family Services, Communities and Indigenous Affairs, Treasurer and perhaps other ministers.
Further, although minor in focus during Questions Without Notice and not guaranteed, the ALP Government backbenchers have asked their ministers about environmental issues and education, although the latter has largely been tied to the payments tied in with the budget.
So that’s likely to be Question Time for Thursday with only minor exceptions likely or the level of focus of each topic varying a little bit. After today we’re set for two weeks respite from the Canberrra theatre before two more weeks of parliament and then the long winter recess saves the day for those of us not too keen on the theatrical side of politics, especially when it ain’t no Shakespeare and isn’t funny enough to match the likes of Gilbert and Sullivan.
It’s State of Origin Wednesday and although that doesn’t matter to many in Canberra you should still expect to see a few Queensland and New South Wales MPs trotting around parliament in the appropriately coloured tie or supporter pins, perhaps arriving adorned in maroon or blue scarves. But I digress. It really will be just another Wednesday in Parliament House with two days left in the parliamentary week to try and land blows and for the government to deflect a few and try and land some themselves though that is, to say the least beyond difficult at the moment. That means two days of Question Time, about 2 hours and 20 minutes to cause as much political trauma for each other as the two sides possibly can. Oh, and some badly acted theatre.
The Coalition will be set to continue with the same two-pronged strategy that they have engaged with over an extended period of time in the Australian political discourse.
The Coalition seem set to continue to focus on the carbon tax, carbon price, however you’d like to refer to it as has been the strategy pretty much since that now infamous promise was broken nearing two years ago in the wash-up of an election that delivered the first minority parliament Australia has seen for decades.
The pricing of carbon begins on July 1st and the Opposition will use any report of purported damage to individuals and to the economy of having the carbon price in place that they can find.
But amongst the debate over the carbon tax lies a debate over the future of the Member for Dobell, Craig Thomson who just at the start of the week finally made his long-awaited statement to the parliament over the allegations of civil wrongdoing which have been made against him. The Opposition though, while having some small wins in the debate since the speech on Monday are running out of and also being starved of opportunities in the matter, with the statement to go before the Privileges Committee.
The Gillard Government will also be continuing their theme from the post-budget sittings of parliament and continue to try to sell aspects of the budget which contain extra spending for families and low and middle income earners.
More broadly in relation to the budget too, the ALP Government will undoubtedly use Question Time to try and sell the idea of returning to surplus, though this might just prove a significant challenge.
With just two days left to go in the parliamentary week and with the state of affairs as tense and troubling as they have been in this 43rd parliament, you can expect the 94a to be rolled out and whacked across the noses of offending MPs and Senators.
As always, Question Time begins from 2pm and you can catch it pretty much anywhere you are as long as you at least have a laptop and an internet connection. The countdown to Question Time begins!