July 1st 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY 'Safe Schools' and every school's duty of care

CANBERRA OBSERVED Catholic education: not gone but Gonski'd

EDITORIAL Oh dear, Prime Minister, Brexit is harder now

ELECTRICITY Blueprint author did not ask about the weather

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Call for referendum after Taiwan court backs same-sex marriage

EUTHANASIA Death-dealing bills break out like hydras' heads

GENDER POLITICS New breed of young women takes on the United Nations

CULTURE AND HISTORY The past is a foreign country

LITERATURE The Road to Wigan Pier and the roads beyond

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY The 'Brisbane line' and other scandals

MUSIC Carla Bley: sophisticated lady

CINEMA Churchill: The regrets of a Lear

BOOK REVIEW Charting 15 years of changing emphases


GENDER POLITICS The Pied Pipers of gender dysphoria

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Catholic education: not gone but Gonski'd

by NW Contributor

News Weekly, July 1, 2017

Malcolm Turnbull’s “Gonski 2.0” education policy, which was chiefly designed to eliminate one of the Government’s key policy vulnerabilities between itself and Labor, appears to be turning instead into a massive migraine for the Government that will see no relief on election day.

What seemed a good idea at the time – conceding a policy victory to Labor on a national, transparent and needs-based education funding model albeit with a bit less money – has not been embraced.

For all sorts of reasons, most of which are self-serving and extraordinarily hypocritical, Labor and the Greens and, worst of all, the teachers unions, refuse to accept the Government’s effort to find a middle ground on the policy.

Gonski II: The wrong shade of green, it seems, for the Greens.

At the same time key Liberals such as West Australian Senator Chris Back and former cabinet minister Kevin Andrews are expressing deep reservations about the Government’s proposal. They say that the Catholic sector will be impacted both by being pared back from the planned future funding growth for all schools and because some of its schools expect to be significantly worse off.

The Catholic education sector itself has gone full throttle against the Government’s plans, lambasting it for failing to consult on the policy and not understanding its funding models.

According to The Australian newspaper, a senior executive of the Catholic Education Commission has told Education Minister Simon Birmingham that the Government would “wear this like an albatross around its neck until the day of the next election”.

According to The Australian, a source inside a special meeting arranged with the Minister, which was brokered by rebel Liberal Senator Back (who has threatened to cross the floor to block the package), Senator Birmingham was told: “In the 50 years we have been dealing with governments, we have never had a government not engage with us on major changes to policy.”

The essence of the “Gonski policy” introduced by Labor is that every school is allocated funding on the basis of objective need (as determined by the Federal Government), thus no special deals for religious schools or state governments.

The truth, though, is that Labor never delivered on its own policy.

In fact, Julia Gillard, in order to get her schools funding package through, signed 27 separate deals with different states and territories and independent, religious, and private sector groups. It was not national, nor transparent nor purely needs based. It was just a series of deals to win over sectional interests.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott agreed to continue with the first four years of Gonski funding, but under Minister Birmingham the Coalition plans to make changes for the last two years.

Adding irony to it is that the Greens, who by any objective assessment should support the Government’s proposal as it is the closest thing yet to their own education policy, are now walking away from it.

The Greens have pulled back from their initial statements of support, despite the Government being willing to negotiate over their demands, due to strong pressure from the Australian Education Union, which represents the nation’s teachers and whose arguments have traction among the Greens’ hard-left faction, led by NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon.

Pressure from the union has split the Greens, leaving them paralysed and the Government increasingly reliant on the Senate crossbench to secure the passage of its bill. The Gonski 2.0 reforms propose to inject an extra $18.6 billion into schools on a needs basis over the next decade.

Labor opposes the package because it falls $22 billion short of what it says it will spend. It also believes that the Catholic sector would be poorly treated by the education bill, and is putting itself forward as more friendly party towards the Catholic sector.

With Liberals inside the Government alarmed, the Catholic sector up in arms, and the Greens not supporting what is essentially their own preferred policy model, the Coalition is now running out of friends.

For decades the Coalition had been allies with the Catholic education sector since the Menzies government took the initial step towards state aid for Catholic schools in 1962 (against opposition from the Labor Party of the time).

It took until Gough Whitlam’s government for Labor to fully embrace the policy, but successive Coalition governments, including most recently John Howard’s, have prided themselves on supporting the Catholic sector.

It may be the reality that most Catholic schools are not the poor cousins they once were, but launching a war against a core constituency that you’ve been on friendly terms with for decades is very risky politics.

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